The Skull

 

The Skull is the companion piece to the Cherub mentioned in the previous blog, and the pair of bronze sculptures, powder-coated with gold, designed by Kenny Hunter, can be seen on opposite corners of Glasgow’s Tron Theatre. They form a single work: Cherub/Skull – and the skull is the one not so well known, as its hidden in its little niche on the much quieter Parnie Street.

 

But for me, this is the one I always go out of my way to walk past when I’m in town, as looking up to this image brings back memories of being a kid in the early 1970s and that wonderful ’Don’t Watch Alone’ series, the title created by Scottish Television that covered all those horror movies shown on a Friday night, starting at 11pm. It was my first introduction to those atmospheric old black and white Universal, RKO and also colour-infused Hammer Horror classics that still to this day have remained my favourites.

 

And the reason I always look out for it is my fondness for the underrated and relatively unknown gem I first saw as a 10-year-old, The Skull (adapted from a short story by Robert Bloch, author of Psycho), a wonderful 1965 movie from Amicus, the British horror studio that attempted to rival Hammer Horror.  And The Skull (streaming on Netflix) is a fearsome, finely acted and moody tale of Gothic horror and demonology with a solid cast of British thespians. 

 

The premise is that the skull of the Marquis de Sade has been taken from its grave, bringing terror to those who own it, and it stars those two legendary masters of the macabre, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who team up for the umpteenth time together as occult collectors in this doom-laden shocker – but with the twist being that this is the only movie featuring the gruesome twosome where Cushing plays the bad guy to Lee’s good guy. 

 

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The Tron Theatre is steeped in Glaswegian history. Having stood in the heart of the Merchant City for almost five centuries, it has been a Christian place of worship, a meeting hall, a market, a store house, a police station and a theatre. And walking towards the Trongate, you can’t but help look up and be transfixed by the evil lurks from the cherub that sits on the corner of the main entrance.

 

Cherubs are supposed to be angelic, representing innocent little children singing the praises of God. Not this little guy, he has a distinctly menacing and impish look about him. According to the website of the Merchant City Public Art Trail “the cherub steps confidently forward from an already existing ornate niche in the screen wall, as if about to fly or jump into the bustle below”.

 

This is one of a pair of bronze sculptures – the Cherub and the Skull – powder-coated with gold, installed in 1998 and designed by Kenny Hunter, that sit on opposite corners of the new-build Tron Theatre that refer to the span between childhood and death, suggesting that all human endeavour is reflected within the walls of the theatre.

 

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Standing equally proud as they share the same plinth in Springfield Court, which you’ll find located at the rear entrance (no pun intended) of Princes Square, are a man and a peacock, whose tail feathers lie flat, wrapping around the side of the column both stand upon.

 

The piece, titled “As Proud As….”, is newish to Glasgow. It was erected in 2000 and is one of many new public art installations by local Glasgow sculptor Shona Kinloch that you’ll now find dotted around the city. All her work is figurative (birds, animals, and chunky people) and often come with a hint of humour attached to them.

 

The elusive title stems, of course, from the phrase “as proud as a peacock.” It has been suggested that the small bronze bird mirrors the giant metal peacock that adorns the front of the Princes Square building. Yet here it is the man who stands tall, hands clasped, staring north and very, very naked, who appears to be more of an exhibitionist than the peacock hiding behind him!

 

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Continuing much in the vein of Geometry Club from our previous blog entry, a recent addition to the ever-changing Glasgow landscape is the very striking, triangular-shaped Technology and Innovation Centre (TIC) at Strathclyde University, designed by BDP, the internationally acclaimed architects, designers, engineers and urbanists.

 

TIC opened in 2015 and tackles the mysteries of atoms, plasma, lasers, bio-nano-micrology and even street-lighting – and all a stone’s throw from the oldest buildings in the heart of Glasgow, it could barely be more downtown than this. The parallel of its locale is drawn with San Francisco, Boston, and New York, where run-down or neglected downtown areas have become the hubs for science/engineering innovation.

 

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In 2014, Sheffield-based photographer and graphic designer Dave Mullen Jr started Geometry Club, a collaborative Instagram project in which people submit images of buildings forming carefully composed triangle shapes. Mullen is now creating an app to simplify the meticulous formatting process, and says the project is “a test of building an audience based on curating the same thing”.

 

The account has attracted more than 25,000 followers and welcomes contributions by professional and amateur photographers. And the first rule of Geometry Club is to make contributions – and here’s one of my contributions, it’s the Wolfson Centre for Bioengineering at Strathclyde University, built 1970-71, and designed by architects Morris & Steedman.

 

It is, of course, a prime leading example of pure Scottish Brutalisim of the era, consisting of 5-storeys of very distinctive full-height ribbed chevron-shaped white reinforced-concrete cladding panels.

 

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If you are still recovering from 1st January, then now’s the time to head towards your nearest Chinatown district and say “Kung Hei Fat Choy” (Happy New Year) and let your liver go through it all again, as we welcome in The Year of the Rooster!

 

The first Chinese restaurant in Glasgow was the Wah Yen, at 455 Govan Road, opened by Jimmy Yih in the late 1940s. Today, the community, which is largely based in and around the Garnethill area, numbers just over 10,000 – and today’s fitting photo comes from Glasgow’s very own Chinatown, in Cowcaddens.

 

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It’s a quintessentially modern Seattle tale: downtown Seattle’s Icon Grill on Fifth Avenue will shut its doors this coming weekend to make way for  – yes, that’s right, you’ve guessed it – yet another yuppie high rise development slated for its prime downtown location.

 

To me, Icon seemed like a permanent anchor on Fifth Avenue and Virginia Street, and perhaps more familiar to millions of passersby over the years for its snarky readerboard (like the much-missed ‘Lusty Lady’) below its iconic Icon Grill neon signage; one memorable message in 1999 reading, “Thanks WTO. It’s been a riot.”

 

The Icon Grill was one of my favourite haunts, mainly because it was always right there on my doorstep, and served up wonderful comfort food in a tasteful, flashy interior inside an eclectically adorned dining room, replete with blown glass decorations and local art.

 

Sadly, Icon’s closure follows hard on the heels of other recent departures forced by development, including Old Spaghetti Factory, Tini Bigs and Hula Hula – and again, all were lovable haunts during my lengthy Seattle sojourn.

 

Progress, don’t you just love it?

 

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I emerged from the festive season hibernation feeling a bit decrepit – decrepit, but not dead, as some readers worried with the lack of blog activity. But having scarcely left my humble abode since winter began, I was in need of a haircut. What hair I have left on my head is sparse, but it was getting long.

 

Yes, it’s a sad fact that with advancing years I have started to become follicly challenged – or follicularly challenged, but let’s not split hairs on it – but either way a haircut was the order of the day, so I ambled along Viccy Road  to the confines of Soran Gents Barbers to seek out Soran for the job.  Believe me, it was a quick job.

 

But being follicly challenged made me even more depressed when I returned to find in my mailbox a link to the latest gizmo: the internet hairbrush, which left me feeling for the first time that technology could well be passing me by. I’m sure there are many hirsute millennials out there who will probably think it’s cool to connect their hairbrush to the internet.  But no, definitely not here.

 

Almost every other bit of my anatomy can be – and is – monitored effectively. I have the body scale and the blood pressure monitors – which readers and family members will be only too glad to hear that they constantly reassure me I am still alive –  but now I feel excluded. I haven’t needed a hairbrush for many, many years now.  You see, there’s nothing left to brush anymore and consequently no brush to brush nothing with.

 

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I know, just as the chalkboard outside my local social enterprise Milk Café on Victoria Road says, the liberal consensus is that 2016 was an annus horribilis, as Lizzie once famously coined it. Yes, 2016 was a year somehow jinxed by karmic voodoo, despite the contradictory liberal consensus that no supernatural agency must ever be acknowledged, as in Charlie Brooker’s wickedly wonderful Black Mirror

 

But here’s my review of 2016. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died. Stupid Vote. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died.  Someone Famous Died. Stupid Vote. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died. Christmas. Someone Famous Died.  Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died.

 

In many ways, David Attenborough on TV brought us the perfect visual metaphor for 2016: Planet Earth II’s plucky iguana running past a cavalcade of vicious snakes. Well, we made it.  And now there’s a rush to get it over with, a quick rendition of Auld Lang Syne, new calendar, fresh start – but don’t go wishfully thinking that 2017 will be any better, as we only have 23 more sleeps before Donald Trump gets his tiny little fingers on the nuclear codes….

 

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No matter how upbeat Slade and Wizzard catchily sang in my youth, apparently the best Christmas songs are the sad ones: “Fairytale Of New York”, “It’s A Big Country”, “Blue Christmas” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, which for my money is probably the best actual Christmas song of all, and from one of my favourite movies.

 

The lyrics were written by Hugh Martin and the music by Ralph Blane. It was unveiled in 1944 for Judy Garland’s classic film Meet Me In St Louis. There, Garland sings it to comfort her young sister, who’s upset at the news that the family is in the process of moving to New York.

 

And the lyrics have changed through the years. The film’s director, Vincente Minnelli, thought it was too sad and persuaded Martin to change “it may be your last” to “let your heart be light”. When Frank Sinatra came to record a version on an album called A Jolly Christmas he asked him to change it again. This time “until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” became “hang a shining star upon the highest bough”.

 

In later life Martin, who was a Seventh Day Adventist, re-wrote his song as “Have Yourself A Blessed Little Christmas” and performed it as “we will all be together, if the Lord allows”, a form of words he claimed were in the original but were swapped for “if the fates allow” to make the song less religious.

 

The reason I bring all this up is that this week – with nothing much else on TV – I caught Larry Lamb and the cast of Gavin and Stacey doing it at the end of a repeated Christmas special. I think “if the fates allow” is actually the best line in the whole song. And as we re-group for Christmas 2016 to reflect on what’s been a veritable annus horribillis, who’s here, who’s not and what’s changed, that’s the line that really tugs at the heart strings.

 

If the fates allow, have yourself a merry little Christmas.

 

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