MILES BETTER

I’m someone who doesn’t belong to any place. Oh, of course I’m Scots – heart, soul and spirit; but that’s our country. There is no town or city that, when I go there, is obliged to take me in.

I think this is because I left the town where I was born too soon ( and have spent in the 60 years since then about half an hour in it, spread over 2 or 3 visits). Then we moved a lot, so in terms of home town, I feel like the cat ‘that walks by himself, and every place is the same to me.’

Nominally there are probably 6 cities in Scotland, but the four smaller ones don’t really count. Inverness – I’ve never liked it, and a Macdonald ancestor once razed it to the ground because the king had chosen to imprison him in it, and I don’t care; Aberdeen, a grey fastness full of alien oil men and located in a frozen region of permafrost and perpetual haar’ (fog) and top of my list of places to which I hope never to return; Dundee, jute mills (used to be anyway) and the River Tay which swallowed up trains and attracted bad poetry. Of course these places have their attractions like anywhere else, but they never appealed to me. Perth is lovely but I think it is actually a town, and it’s just Scots who refer to it as ‘the fair city’. That leaves however the two lovely cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, between whom there is no love lost. (I did not realise until recently that Glasgow’s catchy slogan, ‘Miles Better’ had the unspoken corollary, ‘Than Edinburgh.’) I am not a citizen of either city, but I once went to work near Glasgow having come from Edinburgh, and when I was introduced, a woman fixed me with her gimlet stare and said, ‘From Edinburgh, are ye? Fur coat and nae knickers.’ Fortunately she left there shortly after my arrival!

Edinburgh is beautiful, with its mediaeval and Georgian architecture, it’s one sided Princes Street, and its air of genteel superiority (it, after all, is ‘The Capital.’) I went there for the first time one Spring when I was about 17. The cherry blossom was out in the gardens in the Georgian Squares and I promptly fell in love with it, and it has remained firmly on my list of Ten Most Beautiful Cities in the World ever since, though I have subsequently visited many other contenders.

I’ve just spent ten days in Scotland, and though I have never been and could never become a daughter of the city of Glasgow, I’m very fond of it and feel very comfortable in it. It has a reputation for drunken violence which it’s quite comfortable about, but if you’re savvy and streetwise it can also be a place of great warmth, kindness and generosity. It is handsome, with its Victorian tenements and its merchant palaces and modern areas of development. There are many trees and parks and the great River Clyde glides smoothly through it all. Glaswegians are witty and stylish. They have a subversive humour (hence the Duke of Wellington, whose statue is permitted to remain unmolested, but always with a traffic cone on his head. Sometimes officials of the city come and remove the cone, but it is invariably back on his head by morning, and it is rumoured that sometimes in dead of night it’s the police themselves, or the fire brigade, or even passing city buses who organise the return of his head gear. Of course there are never any witnesses to this event.) On the whole, its people are good-looking. They take no prisoners and they consider themselves the equal of any man, but there’s a rock solid foundation of proper values that is wonderfully comforting.

We visited Glasgow Cathedral, to which I had never before been. I did not care for it ; it was dark, forbidding ad cavernous, and it felt in fact like one of those intimidating Catholic churches deep into Spain. Reading its story we realised that it was (for various differing reasons ) a survival from pre Reformation days, hence its lack of Protestant ‘plainness.’ We descended to its crypt and then visited a nearby ‘museum of religious artefacts ‘ (Was this interesting? What do you think?) However it had a welcoming coffee shop. It also had a fabulous view of Glasgow’s necropolis, whose monuments dominate the skyline.

We climbed up towards it. Towering overall was a statue of a man in robes, dominating the entire scene. I thought, oh dear, surely that’s not an English king, one of the despised Georges? So we climbed right up to see who it was who had been according first ranking. Imagine my relief when we saw that it was a statue of John Knox. And even though he wrote about the ‘monstrous regiment of women’ he’s one of our own, and I was glad to see him.

This city doesn’t disappoint. Let Glasgow flourish!

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About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

6 Responses to MILES BETTER

  1. Eugene Windsor says:

    Didn’t you once go back to Glasgow with a thought of maybe working there again and go into a newsagent and ask for a Citizen, some years after it had ceased publication. The shop man said, “Where have you been hen, Australia?” You replied Edinburgh and he countered, “oh, further”.
    Think you are being slightly harsh on Dundee and Aberdeen. While there’s no doubt the lack the refinement and “capitalness” of Edinburgh and the swagger and scale of Glasgow, they have their own strengths. Dundee has been reinventing itself in the last 30 years and is now a major centre of bio-sciences and one of the top world centres for digital media, both of which have made it much more cosmopolitan and less parochial. It will be transformed by the V&A within the next couple of years. It is going to really put it on the tourist map. Aberdeen has a lovely old town and there is a certain grandeur in the grey granite, even if in some weathers it looks a bit grim. Footdee (“Fittie”) is a lovely harbour village within the city.

    • adhocannie says:

      I don’t recall the Glasgow incident but it certainly sounds like something I would have found amusing and recounted. I’m sure you’re right in your comments – it’s many years since I’ve been in some of theseplaces. There’s no logic o ones like or dislike of places – rather as with people I suppose – Inverness (you don’t defend it?) is quite pretty. I’m prepared to acknowledge the redeveloping charms of Dundee, but on Aberdeen, I’m standing firm!

      • Eugene Windsor says:

        Fair enough, though I see both Edinburgh and Aberdeen are in the top 5 UK cities to live in in one of these pointless business surveys (published today) that come along regularly. Inverness, well it’s greatly improved on what it used to be, it’s embracing its role as the highland capital quite well, it’s got BBC Alba and some other institutions – An Commun and so on, and it’s got a few decent restaurants including one owned by Albert Roux. And it had nice parks and open spaces and Eden Court. But it does not feel to me like a full-blown city, more of a medium-sized town. And being stuck in the middle of massive rural area makes it feel like a market town where people come in at the weekend, not that there’s anything wrong with that…

  2. Sue Ng says:

    Thank you for this Anne. I am adding your musings to my knowledge of Edinburgh and Glasgow. I am a relative latecomer to these magnificent cities although I did visit them both, but appreciated neither, when I was in my early twenties, I suppose I had a different agenda at that time.

    Two years ago i visited Glasgow and was so impressed with its solidity and its art treasures, a very deserving second city of Great Britain as it was once known. This year we spent five days in Edinburgh during the festival, I was absolutely enchanted by the place, the architecture, the setting and its vibrancy. Admittedly it was not raining but even so I am planning my visit next summer.

    Now I am thinking that these are the cities I will be choosing for the next NADFAS chairman’s trip, not for a couple of years, but I think they will offer up an exciting menu of art and history for our members. What more do mainland European cities offer? Any ideas?

  3. adhocannie says:

    Thanks, Sue. I think the two cities, within 50 miles of each other, would make an interesting contrast. In Edinburgh, among many other attractions, you could visit the National Portrait Gallery; the Scottish Parliament Building which is modern and interesting, not to say controversial (I like it) and Holyrood House which is opposte it. If you went during the Fesival you could go to the Tattoo. I should point out however that the atmosphere during the Festival is – while very enjoyable – not typical of Edinburgh the rest of the year! Glasgow has the magnificent Kelvingrove Art Gallery; you could visit the House for an Art Lover, built in the 20th century to a design by Charles Renee Macintosh, and you could take a trip to nearby Helensburgh to vist Hillhouse, also by Macintosh, giving your party some views of the Clyde as you go. I think we might come with you!

  4. adhocannie says:

    Quite. Couldn’t have described Inverness better!

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