WHA’s LIKE US?

SCOTS WHA HAE…

My eldest daughter Joanna is working as the Night Manager in a prominent Glasgow hotel, of a well known hotel group. She enjoys the job.

Of course in a city like Glasgow, it is impossible to escape forever some contact with violent drunks, but we have always felt that the majority of Glaswegians, from all walks of life being kind, friendly and helpful – gentlemen in the truest sense of the word – more than compensates for this problem. Glasgow men do not lack courage and initiative either. They dealt with terrorists at Glasgow Airport some years ago with deadly despatch before ever the police etc had arrived.

Joanna arrives on the scene with the incident in full happening and has to deal with it unaided and on the spot. She believes that generally the fact that she is a woman (and not one easily intimidated) is helpful because even a Glasgow villain would hesitate to attack a woman, certainly not in a public place. This man however is so drunk and so vicious and abusive in what he shouts at her, coming right up to her and yelling obscenities in her face that for a moment or two her courage fails her and she feels wobbly. She thinks, if he touches me, or if he reaches for a weapon, I will shout for someone to call the police. But in general she hopes to see the drunks off, either safe in their room if they are resident (often they are very big spenders with only occasional lapses) or out of the hotel if they are not resident. If the police are called, they come with all guns blazing, (metaphorically!) and the noise and disturbance upsets the other guests.

Somewhat to her surprise however she feels the offender hesitate, and he ceases abusing her, and just occasionally mumbles some protest sotto voce. He is not a resident, and he grudgingly agrees that she may call a taxi for him. Still feeling quite shaky, and thankful for the mystery of his swift capitulation, she turns round to get someone to summon a taxi.

Standing behind her is every male member of staff who is on duty, from the banqueting manager, the bar staff, the concierge, the night porter. Chefs are present in their white coats, one or two with the kitchen knives they were working with still in their hands. Other men are hastening towards them. They are standing, a dozen or so strong, quite silent, with their arms folded across their chests, in much the same way as the administration of the Scottish parliament received Cameron when he was foolish enough to go there. They are an intimidating sight. No wonder her drunk thought better of his treatment of her.

You could certainly ask of Glasgow men, Wha’s like us? (The answer being, Gey few, and they’re a’ deid – which isn’t exactly encouraging!) I’m married to a Glaswegian so I know all about this.

I’ve never been a daughter of the city of Glasgow though I’m fond of the city, and would be proud to be reckoned as one of that august body. I do not know if Joanna would count herself one of them either – she grew up in Sussex after all. However, the ladies of the City of Glasgow should be dealt with using extreme caution. If anything, they are more deadly than the males.

THE HOUSES OF OUR FORMER LIVES

Last year on our annual pilgrimage to the land of our birth, we indulged ourselves in some nostalgic revisiting of old haunts.

We visited John’s eldest son and his children, who live in Manchester, so we looked up where John had gone to school in Sale but we could only find the section for girls. Later we discovered that the boys’ school had been demolished and houses built on the site. We drove along roads he had walked and cycled and looked at houses that his parents and their friends had occupied.

In Glasgow we had lived – he for the first 12 years of his life and me for 6 months with my Grandparents – in much the same part of the city. He has more interest in re-visiting former homes than I do, but when we visited Holmwood House – another Alexander ‘Greek’ Thompson ‘masterpiece’ (not!) which backs on to a cemetery, I realised that my grandparents’ house was very near that same cemetery. I still had the map in my head, and I recalled the house number and street. I realised that the area of the city which you knew as a child, and walked or cycled and could remember and navigate was actually very small; just a grid of a few streets. There were some little detours off these well known streets that you could recall perhaps from trips to a library, the city centre, a friend’s house; but this recollection was vague and not to be relied on. I directed John to the address, somewhat to his surprise.

The house had fallen on hard times. The front garden was a weed strewn mess. The two rowan trees that had stood, guarding the house from evil spirits, were gone. I was glad I could not see into the ruin of the back garden where I had played for hours in the shade of a pergola covered in that lovely rose, New Dawn, still one of my great favourites The door and whole sections of the windows were crumbling into neglect.

Other houses in the street were in much better condition so it was not the area which had deteriorated; just this one house. I felt sorry for it. Once I had loved it, and my grandparents had looked after it, but nobody loved it now.

Then I thought, as I always do about things from the past – that is all gone. All we have of then are memories. The present reality of that house belongs to someone else’s life, and not mine. In my recollection of that house, the rowans will always guard the gateway; the pergola will always be heavy with scented roses, their buds pink on opening but fading into white; my brother, a beautiful boy with blonde hair and brown eyes will hide among the potato rows with their tiny purple flowers; my grandmother will carry a tray out with milk and biscuits for us and tea for them in pink fluted cups with gold stars; and my grandfather, with his wonderful masculine smell of honey, the smoke from the bellows used to subdue the bees, and pipe tobacco, will fall asleep in his deck chair while reading the paper.

It is strange to reflect that we in our turn have become the grandparent in the garden of someone else’s memory.

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!

TOUR OF SCOTLAND

We’ve been on our annual pilgrimage to Scotland, and returned. I wonder how many thousands of miles we’ve travelled over the years, just there and back?

The weather wasn’t great, but we enjoy being there. We stay with Joanna, whose guest accommodation is so comfortable that we feel guilty about how often we withdraw to our quarters, skulking like teenagers.

We go through to the East Coast, for John and Lawrence to attend golf at Gullane, and John and Eugene to go to St Andrews. We arrive at my brother’s for one day, and linger for three, enjoying their glorious garden. (Yes, I do know this is expressly forbidden in the Ladies Guide to Etiquette and Good Behaviour).Susan and I go to Falklands Palace, where somebody once rode a horse up the stairs, and where I on a previous visit, dressed all in black sitting in a quiet spot on the stairs. waiting for John and the children to emerge from the kitchen, was mistaken for a ghost by a startled passer-by. Did he think I was the ghost of Mary Queen of Scots, I wondered, or some Witch of Doom?

Another day, with Eugene and Susan, we go to an exhibition in Dunfermline of the Embroidery of the History of Scotland. The hall is full of people from all walks of life, examining the work with great interest. It is beautiful, interesting, amusing in places and skilful. We buy a book, and I hope to see it again.

On another day, Joanna and I, escaping the children left in care of the men, travel to Linlithgow and have coffee with my oldest (ie she’s known me the longest ) friend and her husband, and talking to her flows as smoothly and easily as it did when I was 19. The Company Secretary of the Brewery we both worked for brought her to me when she arrived and said, Please look after Miss B – and we’ve been looking after each other ever since.

Later that day we had lunch with a friend of my mother’s, whom I had not met for maybe 40 years (she is younger than I am) and we were lucky hat she had been one of the team of ladies who had laboured to produce the Scottish embroidery, so we were able to question her about the methods they used and the difficulties they had to overcome. She is also an authoress and a book has been published from her father’s war time diaries of the Arctic Run. (Ice and Fire by Leona Thomas).

John and I go back to Linlithgow later where I visit Norman Cummings fabric shop. I have just finished an enormous spool of white thread which I bought there 30 years ago, so I buy another and two pieces of train fabric, which Ewan has inspected and requested a cushion cover and pyjama bottoms which should be possible.   I also bought in Glasgow xome pink cherry blossom Japanese type cherry blossom cotto (gils’ dreses; bluse and trousers for me), plus some green gingham to back a quilt in progress for the swing, and a blue linen with seagulls on it.   I quite fancy a dress of it, but my friend Barbara, whose advice I value, thought it might look like a sofa…   You know if you made up the dress you’d see ‘sofa’ whenever you looked in the mirror.  I think she’s right as well.)   We collect our friends Nan and Steve and cross the river (the third bridge has its pillars solid in the water stretching their arms out to meet their neighbour) to an attractive little eatery in North Queensferry which used to be a post office and is now a rather elegant restaurant though not easy to manoeuvre. The food is delicious and we reminisce about our holiday in France last year and plan future outings.

Back in Glasgow, we take the children to Largs for the day to give their parents a day to themselves.

John and I go to Hill House in Helensburgh, a Charles Renee Macintosh house overlooking the Clyde. There is a party of Americans visiting, whose tour seems to rejoice in the appellation ‘Rhodes Scholars.’ Whatever the ‘Rhodes Scholars’ may (or perhaps not) have studied, good manners is clearly not on the list, for I hear several peremptory commands barked out to hapless waitresses, “Tea! I feel like intervening and saying to the ill mannered customer, ‘Your rudeness is not acceptable here. ‘Please’ is mandatory in polite English.’ But needless to say, I pass quietly on to other pleasures. Joanna and I go looking at shops, having coffee etc. I buy a black and white Linea dress in a sale.   We have lunch with Joanna and the girls in the House for an Art Lover.   I buy a handbag ( as I do nearly every time I come here) in the Burrell.

We have lunch with Lawrence’s parents. John and Lawrence and his father play golf. We go to the Transport Museum; and on an outing to Luss, we take a boat out on Loch Lomond.

Then it is time for us to return. Joanna comes driving in tandem with us, and we stop on the M6 tollway motel for the night. You always think as you pull in that it’s too early, you could make it home; but once you stop driving you find you’re really tired, and next morning that it’s a long way still to get home.

When we came down to England first, we used to cheer when we crossd over the Border into Scotland. We still do that, but now we cheer when we come across the Border into England as well. It is, I’m happy to report, still an open border.   Do visit Scotland.   It’s a lovely place and the natives are, for the most part, friendly!

GAMESMANSHIP

One always watches Opening Ceremonies (of countries about whom one cares) with slight anxiety. If it all goes horribly wrong, it doesn’t bode well. If it’s all incredibly slick, but vastly expensive and boastful, that’s not good. There’s a huge potential for error. Then there’s the messages – the overt and the hidden. So I commenced watching Glasgow’s Welcome to the Commonwealth Games with trepidation.

Glasgow is a very distinctive city. It comes high on my list of Ten Favourite Cities of the world. It’s scarred but still lovely. It’s full of contrasts. It has a tendency towards self pity and drowning its sorrows in drink; it can lurch with startling speed into violence; and it also has an amazing resilience and capacity for endurance and regeneration. It can be stylish and witty and fun. It’s people are big hearted, generous and friendly. But they also have a strong sense of egalitarian self belief, consider themselves the equal of anyone, have (mostly) little time for snobbery or pretension and they have an assassin’s keen eye, swift hand and cruel tongue. I cannot claim to be a daughter of the city of Glasgow, though I know it quite well and have always loved it; but I know to tread carefully. I briefly went to school there, and a wee local toughie of a schoolboy said to me, (I translate) ‘When you came here first, I thought you were a right wee snob: but I see now that you’re not.’ In its bluntness, directness, acuteness and generosity that’s a very Glaswegian remark, and I was highly complimented.

So, Glasgow’s lovely; Glasgow’s friendly; but it’s definitely Not for Messing With.

In the event, I thought the ceremony a triumph. It obviously had a modest but adequate budget which I thought was entirely appropriate. It mastered modern technology successfully. It was self mocking about its cliches. The tartan uniform was not old-fashioned kitsch but up to date and edgy. The pipes were played but in a modern funky style. There were in jokes. Dancers were dressed as Tunnocks Tea Cakes (of which this Scot is also inordinately fond.) They showed quick camera shots of the statue of the Duke of Wellington with a traffic cone on his head. (Students had traditionally placed traffic cones on the head of the statue, and Glasgow City Council proposed raising the statue out of reach on a plinth, (though there is no height that would be unscaleable by a drunken Glaswegian) at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds. In a matter of hours, tens of thousands of signatures were obtained on an objection, and some pundit declared that the City of Glasgow cared more for the traffic cone than for the statue. The Duke remains, with a traffic cone on his head.) Billy Connolly appeared and spoke affectionately of the city and its people, and reminded us that Glasgow was the first city to name the street which held the S African consulate, Nelson Mandela Street… So Glasgow said, with all its warmth and openness: Welcome to the Games. But it also said, And all will go well, so long as you remember: Do not mess with us.

The crowd was well behaved and good natured. (It couldn’t believe its luck that it sat out hot and dry as darkness fell.)

There’s always a Daddy-O of games – some recently retired, very high achieving athlete of impeccable reputation who seems to steady everything with his very presence and is everywhere at once. For the Olympics, it was Steve Redgrave; for the Commonwealth Games it’s Chris Hoy. (Is this an official position? Is the athlete approached and asked: Are you willing to be the Daddy-0 of these games?). Chris Hoy did everything asked of him with modesty, grace and charm.

The crowd – oh, they were magnificent. They stood in absolute pin dropping silence in honour of the dead in the Malaysian plane. They applauded each and every entering team, including the English.

The tension which the Queen, with all her experience, displays these days at any major Scottish event, shows that she does not fall into the trap with English politicians and consider the whole referendum issue to be one of minor relevance, a provincial matter She knows that if things go badly wrong, her heirs (though not herself) stand to lose a quarter of their kingdom. The Queen herself was received with great warmth. It was noticeable however that when the National Anthem was played, the crowd stood politely, but it did not sing.

The Provost of Glasgow spoke with passion of his city and from a working class perspective and why should he not? Billy Connolly spoke warmly of the city but reminded us that Glasgow was the first city to name the street with the South African consulate, Nelson Mandela Street. Alex Salmond, class act that he is, scored no political points but swiftly discharged his duty as First Minister of all Scotland. The Queen was gracious. The Games were open.

Magnus Linklater in his article in The Times of July 26 drew entirely different conclusions to mine. He said the crowd sang the National Anthem with gusto. Is he joking? Has he never heard the rugby crowd at Murrayfield roar through a second verse of O Flower of Scotland, unaccompanied by the orchestra – because it will sing what it likes and won’t be dictated to? That’s gusto and you could almost hear them in Glasgow.

And he said the crowd cheered the Queen and only rendered polite applause to Alex Salmond. The Queen, an elderly lady, much respected, who has treated the Scots with cautious respect over the referendum issue, (which they have observed and will remember) will be welcome in Scotland, irrespective of the outcome of the vote, for as long as she lives. Why ever did he think they might not cheer her when she graced the Games with her presence?   They have better manners than that.   And she’s not just Queen of England, after all.

As for politely applauding Salmond, that’s appropriate too. This was a sporting occasion, not a political one. Besides, we don’t need him to be Daniel O’Connell. (Not yet anyway.) But I felt Salmond was moved and relieved as he drew his brief remarks to a close, and it is rare for him to show any emotional reaction. The people of Glasgow, on behalf of Scotland, had done him proud. They’re not stupid. They know how to behave as a dignified and modern nation should. With their own voice they had welcomed everyone in the spirit of warmth and hospitality for which their city and our country are famed.

Let Glasgow flourish.

THE ORANGE BLIND

My lovely friend Nan has sent me a bright card that came whizzing through the dull skies the other day.   It is called The Orange Blind by Francis C B Cadell.   (Google will display it for you if you wish).    I realise I have seen the painting before.    It is owned by the Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow.

This is where I had my first experience of ‘Culture’ with my mother.    The museum is a fine old Victorian building – which is still fine and still standing – and houses an interesting collection of objects.     There I first set eyes on Roman vases, with that beautiful mother of pearl patina that they apparently didn’t have when in use.   Then there were marvellous Egyptian artefacts that I longed to see in the desert.   My mother and I shared an interest in ceramics.    I remember the wonderful teas – which, surprisingly, are just as good today – and I recall that occasionally a great organ was being played which filled the huge space with its thunder.

The painting is very Glaswegian somehow.   A lady sits on a green sofa in rather an elegant salon, waiting.   The room is of tall proportion and is lit by the slightly unhealthy glow from the dominant orange blind.     The chamber is handsomely but sparsely furnished.    There is a chandelier of opulent magnificence, an impressive Oriental screen, and a grand piano at which a man sits playing.   Before the lady a table with a white cloth is set with a silver tea service, and four white and gold cups and saucers.   There is no cake.

The scene is not easy to interpret.   It is wealthy.   But although the piano would suggest it is a tea room, there is only one table and otherwise empty space.   It does not have the relaxed and intimate feel of a sitting room.    You do not feel there is any connection between the lady and the pianist.

The lady looks as expensive as her surroundings.  She is wearing a black dress with a rose like decoration, a black hat, stylish it its simplicity, and dangling pearl earrings.   Draped around her shoulders is a fur coat, so reminiscent of elderly ladies at Scottish weddings, where the heads of the unfortunate animals whose fur made the coat are displayed like trophies on the garment.   (As a girl, I glowered disapprovingly at any lady wearing such a jacket.)

And yet .. it is not a happy scene.   Lit by the livid light the lady sits with tension, her hands laid out flat on the seat beside her as if she was readying herself for a speedy get away.     She awaits with anxiety, not anticipating pleasure.   Four cups are set out so this is not a meeting to do with any romance.   With this type of pictorial art, I cannot seem to help myself from constructing a story around what I see.

So…   The lady has become engaged to the owner of this establishment.   She is not in his mother’s opinion a suitable person to dislodge Herself, His Mother, from the position of mistress of this house.    The fiancé however, persists in his headlong rush into what his mother believes will be unhappy matrimony, and has introduced his fiancée to his mother and insisted that she must be invited to tea.  The mother has complied with the letter of her son’s command, but with a grudging spirit.    The pianist has been instructed to play dirges, laments and music from operas about love affairs that do not have happy endings.    The maid has shown the visitor into this salon, and instructed her to wait.    After as long an interval as she dares leave it, the dowager lady will enter the room –  followed meekly by her two docile daughters, all of them dressed in unrelieved black.

Our lady of the foxes, who is sitting calmly and patiently, though exhibiting some signs of stress, will rise gracefully to her feet on the entry of her hostess and will treat this begrudging woman with all the courtesy that she herself has not been given.    At this moment, the  transfer of the ownership as mistress of this salon from the sour-faced woman who has been in possession of it for several decades to the gracious fiancée becomes inevitable.     In due course, the new lady of the house will order the removal of the lurid orange blind.   And when she receives visitors, she will always offer cake.

However, I am not entirely happy with this  scenario.  Actually the more I examine the painting the more I feel that the artist’s principal interest was in the contrasts of light and shade and the effects of the dying, dazzling light and on the colours and that any ‘story’ to be constructed was of no concern to him.   Some of the subject’s emotional turmoil can be expressed by the painter if he is watchful and skilful, (think John Singer Sargent) but it is all  a question of interpretation.

Although I have enjoyed looking at and thinking about this painting, personally I prefer a more abstract subject – one that does not demand that a story be told around it.   As I wait, I fiddle around with possible plots but I can never reconcile the tension of the woman;  the tea, set for four; and the wretched pianist.

This exercise rather reminds me of those homeworks at school where you had to write a story including 8 given words, seven of which were perfectly mutually appropriate, but the eighth of which was something like extra terrestrial, cholera, logjam, federation,  or – why not – inappropriate!