Return Of The Blob

 

Here’s a blast from the past, a controversial Glasgow bronze statue, ‘The Spirit Of Kentigern’, which perched for more than two decades outside the House of Fraser store in Buchanan Street, baffling shoppers and dividing critics into those who loathed it and those who simply tried to forget it.

 

Arguably it was the most reviled piece of public sculpture in Scotland, even although the abstract statue of the bird depicted the story of Glasgow founder St Mungo – also known as St Kentigern – who is said to have brought back to life a wild robin. It was the first modern art installation in the city, and all the more controversial because it didn’t represent imperialism, and nor did it have Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns or John Knox atop it.  

 

More often than not, it was referred to by Glaswegians as “The Blob”, and usually mistaken for a ship’s propeller, a whale, or something glimpsed on a bad acid trip. It was part of city life from 1977 till 2001 and then put in storage because it didn’t fit in with Buchanan Street’s snazzy new streetscaping. But now Glasgow City Council has brought it back to life by loaning the Spirit of Kentigern to the City of Glasgow College, and its new resting place can be found close to the Allan Glen’s entrance of the City campus, just off Cathedral Street. 

 

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One hundred years ago, attacks were fought near Ypres from 31 July to 10 November 1917, in Belgium battlefields that turned to liquid mud and witnessed the biggest loss of life of any battle in the First World War with over half a million British, Commonwealth and German troops killed, wounded or missing.

 

Scottish regiments played a pivotal role in the Passchendaele campaign with extremely heavy losses, and it is remembered as one of the harshest of the war, with heavy rain contributing to the Allies gaining only five miles of ground in three months – or, as it was more bitingly put in Blackadder Goes Forth, “Field Marshal Haig is about to make yet another gargantuan effort to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin.” 

 

And yet a century on, the absurdity of war, that battle, and hundreds upon hundreds of thousands’ of simple little wooden crosses is still best remembered by war poet Siegfried Sassoon’s bleak line from ‘Memorial Tablet’: “I died in hell, they called it Passchendaele.” 

 

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The window display of the Cats Protection Shawlands Charity Shop was cleverly done, but it had a very important message nevertheless behind it for this time of the year, as it proclaimed – much like the renowned and often imitated slogan about a dog and Christmas – that “A black cat is not just for Hallowe’en – it’s for life!”

 

And no matter whether it be Easter, Christmas or Hallowe’en, this little charity/thrift shop on Pollokshaws Road always gets into the “spirit” of things with seasonal displays that tempts you in – and once lured in, it was another spirt of sorts that grabbed my attention.  Well, perhaps not so much spirit, more like a spectre.

 

Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a national holiday that was normally held 1-2 November and would largely consist of sedate family gatherings at the graves of their departed loved ones in celebration of life and death.  But that all changed spectacularly with the opening scene to the 2015 James Bond movie Spectre, where 007 literally brings the house down as he chases a villain through crowds of Mexico City revelers in what resembled a parade of people in skeleton outfits and floats.

 

Despite the utterly ridiculous helicopter fight, perhaps even the most unbelievable part of the entire scene was a Day of the Dead parade even happening in the first place at all, because it was all artistic license on the part of the filmmakers, as no such procession had ever taken place in Mexico – that is, not until a year after the movie came out in 2016!

 

Inspired by the global popularity of the movie’s opening scene, and in a clear case of Hollywood influencing real-life events – or perhaps more likely, a cynical money-making tourist attraction opportunity – government officials have now moved the Day of the Dead more towards our tradition Hallowe’en date, with similar Spectre-styled parades and revelry throughout the country, the largest and most influential held on Saturday, in Mexico City itself.

 

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Halloween is on the horizon,  and with it brings strange things…or perhaps even Stranger Things as the case may be, as I ready myself for a marathon binge-session over the weekend with Netflix set to release season two of their series of the same name, which, admittedly, is a bit of a homage to American pop culture tropes of the 1980s, especially those seen in Speilberg-related films like ET, The Goonies, and Poltergeist – nerdy kids on BMX bikes, sleepy suburban towns and supernatural happenings.

 

Season one left me wondering about the possibilities of there being a British version set in the 1970s when I was growing up and influenced by hair-raising kids TV shows like Ace of Wands, The Tomorrow People, Children of the Stones, the Jon Pertwee Dr Who, and all those really creepy public information films of the era, especially the one seemingly scripted by M.R. James warning about the dangers of playing beside water that scared the bejeezus out of me simply because we lived beside a canal!

 

The Stranger Things soundtrack also reached back to the 80s with throbbing analog synths straight out of Miami Vice or a John Carpenter film. In my imaginary show, the music would be influenced by the eerie themes of those 70s kid’s shows. They still sound scary today, especially if you were an impressionable kid when they were originally broadcast – and whenever I hear them, I still feel the hairs immediately rising on the back of my neck.

 

Yes, the more I think about it, Winona Ryder and her Hawkins crew have it tame by comparison dealing with the Upside Down.

 

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Yes, the sign on the window display of the Oxfam Book Shop in Glasgow’s Royal Exchange Square has everything to do with Game of Thrones, as it was timed for the selling of George RR Martin’s fantasy book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, with the ending of its latest TV run, as winter comes ever-nearer.

 

But where exactly does the expression “Here Be Dragons” come from?

 

In old times, mapmaking was a fairly imprecise task, due to the lack of advanced technology for exploration purposes. So, to fill great blank areas on the maps, mapmakers used to include graphic warnings of the dangers of going into uncharted territory. Such warnings took the form of sea serpents, dragons, cannibals and many other mythical and, sometimes, even real creatures.

 

But the saying “Here Be Dragons” soon thereafter fell into folklore, but the actual line was found only once in print (and in Latin, HIC SVNT DRACONES), on the 16th-century Lenox Globe – but is way too cool to give up.

 

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Recent years have seen an explosion of street art in Glasgow, providing a welcome burst of colour in this often, all-too grey city. The playful nature of these murals is a fitting complement to the “gallus” (that’s cheeky, bold, in Scottish slang) character of the city.

 

This hidden, realistic street art gem – which can be found in the narrow Gordon Lane off Mitchell Lane which runs between Buchanan Street and Mitchell Street, leading to The Lighthouse – is the work of the celebrated local artist James Klinge, formerly known as graffiti artist ‘Klingatron’, whom I explained in a previous blog, has now gone ‘legit’ with his work displayed in galleries all around the world.

 

Unfortunately, his striking giant “Glasgow Panda” mural on the rear of the former BOAC building is often obscured by commercial-sized wheelie bins – but is well worth making the short detour from Buchanan Street just to see it. Klingatron used hand-cut stencils to bring the black and white panda to life, almost at times looking as if it is rummaging through the bins in search of some bamboo shoots.

 

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For the cheapest cup of tea in the city, just head a little further down Victoria Road from the previous photo to the Bungalow Cafe. It’s a great little greasy spoon spot if you’re looking for a simple breakfast; and at last check, a good cup of tea in a real cup can be had for only 40p – and as the tea-foisting housekeeper Mrs. Doyle from Father Ted would say, “Go on, go on, go on…”

 

It’s been owned by Italian immigrant George Verrecchia since 1948, and now run by his daughters Nicola and Paula – both of whom have more than just a little bit of the Mrs. Doyle persona about them. In a street of flux, the Bungalow Cafe has remained a constant – largely unchanged since the 1940s, with an original Cadbury’s advert in the window apologizing for the rationing of milk, cocoa and sugar…which just might come in useful again when Brexit reality begins to kick in!

 

Inside, as you pass the wooden shelves behind the glass counter where there’s a wonderful array of old-fashioned sweeties displayed in glass jars, there’s a large Coca-Cola Bakelite radio in livery red with nobs to find a station, and also old-fashioned wooden booths with yellow Formica tables, all giving a surreal sense that perhaps time really did stand still here.

 

Just remember to bring cash, as – surprise surprise – they don’t take cards!

 

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Ah, hipsters…don’t you just love ’em?  Apart from drinking out of jam jars (honestly, what’s wrong with just using a plain glass?), riding around on absurd bikes, and overly ostentatiously having a love for vinyl, they’re seriously hirsute and seem to take their grooming cues from the latest series of Vikings, and like to show off their very visible animal tattoos. 

 

They are the ones who globally embrace Movember, supposedly “for charity”, but really because they just love any excuse to manscape. Yes, they are the ones with waxed beards, ‘taches and sideburns, tattooed from head to toe, and invariably accompanied with various body-piercings (private or otherwise).  And with it, they like to scream “I am a hipster.  Hear me roar.” 

 

They also like wearing statements on their (almost always) goth-like black apparel, whether that be t-shirts or hoodies, the latest craze being “Metal & Ink / Beard & Kink”, as spotted here on Glasgow’s Viccy Road.

 

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This is practically on my doorstep on Victoria Road (more affectionately known to all as the “Viccy Road”), the main artery of Govanhill – easily the most racially and culturally diverse communities in Scotland, a district on the south side of Glasgow, home to some 15,000 souls, with people from an estimated 42 different nationalities all living and managing to coexist with each other within one square mile.

 

Here, you’ll find two mosques, one synagogue, and about half a dozen churches.  Its boundaries are narrow yet its horizons are broad, with community action having a long tradition in the area. On May Day, 1960, thousands marched along the Viccy Road to Queen’s Park demanding better housing, led by Paul Robeson, the radical American civil rights activist, who sang Ole Man River for them.

 

And this year proved a special one for the community, as the same venue hosted recently the inaugural Govanhill International Carnival, a new addition to the UK-wide summer festival circuit – and to help its launch, it also included a music festival that ran alongside the main carnival, and the political speeches coming from Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

 

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I love the uplifting community attitude of the Milk Café on my doorstep on the very diverse Victoria Road in Glasgow’s Southside – it’s a shabby chic social enterprise with all of the profits going to supporting Asylum seeking women and aiding the local community. There’s a great food choice, and everything is served in gloriously miss-matching old-style crockery with no uniformity whatsoever. The chalkboard menu changes daily, often including unusual ethnic dishes prepared by volunteers from the local migrant community.

 

They also have a policy of donating to the local community – many of whom in these austere times, have to rely on foodbanks – the surplus free bread that’s been donated to them. And this will come as spiffing good news to the austerity pantomime villain that is Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative backbencher with designs on becoming Tory leader, who today showed  that one of the benefits of an Eton education is that you don’t develop a moral compass, or the ability to read reports from charities that are actively involved in organising foodbanks.

 

The honourable member for the 18th century – who wouldn’t be out of place in a Charles Dickens storyline – caused a bit of a stushie by claiming today that the very existence of such foodbanks was “uplifting” because it showed how charitable people are and that the state doesn’t need to provide for those in need. Not only that but also the real reason there’s been such a prolific rise in their numbers of late, is that previous Labour governments deliberately didn’t tell the public all about them!

 

Honestly, words just fail me when it comes to politicians of the ilk of Jacob Rees-Mogg.

 

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