Love & Hate

 

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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As sartorial elegance goes, it isn’t a sight you see every day, but as is my wont of aimlessly ambling around Glasgow in my sensible Doc Martens, I recently found someone wearing a pair of uncomfortable looking, über pointy-toed winkle-pickers, a decadent, downright underground style of shoe so associated with rock ’n’ roll but, in fact, comes from deep Medieval regal origins.

 

It was once called a crakow or poulaine, and indeed hailing from 15th-century Poland. Worn by the upper class, the shoes had stiff exaggerated beaks, and when rendered in silver or another metal (just as in the photo), they were frequently used as a weapon, sort of like the memorable Bond villain in From Russia with Love, Colonel Rosa Klebb, whom 007 quipped at the end, “had her kicks.” 

 

But the dagger-toe shoe became more popular by their British term, winkle-pickers, famously worn by Teddy Boys through the Fifties and Sixties – and just like loveable Rosa, they used them also as lethal weapons in many a seaside Bank Holiday fracas between the tribal warring factions of the Rockers and the Mods of the era – and the seaside was where they picked up their nickname from. 

 

The main characteristic of the shoe as a winkle-picker is the very sharp and long pointed toe. Imagine you are in one of the many British seaside towns in the late 1950s and having a traditional snack there of periwinkles and you are picking the winkle out of its coiled shell with a long sharp pin…and you soon get the point of how they became known as winkle-pickers.

 

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New study material in schools these days is Susan Hill’s wonderfully atmospheric 1983 horror novella, The Woman in Black, very cleverly written in the style of a traditional gothic Christmas ghost story that we’d normally expect from the late Victorian/early Edwardian era.

 

It has since inspired a movie and an ongoing popular stage production with successful long runs in the West End and Broadway. And perhaps inspired by the title, street artist “Klingatron” unveiled a stunning new addition to the Glasgow mural trail – and with it, Scotland’s answer to Banksy also revealed he’s giving up his anonymous street life and now going legit.

 

His real name is James Klinge, and he hails from Shawlands in the Southside of the city, and he’s now specializing in intricate stencil portraits and showcasing in a number of exhibitions around the world.  Among the collection can be found “Study of a Woman in Black”, which is actually a portrait of a friend.  And in collaboration with the Art Pistol gallery, he adapted it to adorn a wall in the city’s Saltmarket.

 

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There’s a widely held belief that Elton John’s 1971 hit “Levon” (and let’s not forget with lyrics by Bernie Taupin) was inspired by the one and only Levon Helm, the legendary linchpin drummer and gravel-throated singer for the Band. But in Susan Black’s biography Elton John in His Own Words, Mr. Crocodile Rock explains all: “It”s about a guy who just gets bored doing the same thing. It’s just somebody who gets bored with blowing up balloons and he just wants to get away from it but he can’t because it’s the family ritual.”

 

And this also could be the case for the chess world’s very own “Levon”, Armenia’s Levon Aronian.

 

Here’s a creative force in the game who could well have gotten “bored with blowing up balloons” of playing solid, risk-free chess as he attempted to become an official challenger for the world crown. The affable Armenian had a rough couple of years attempting to and failing, but now he’s back to his brilliant and creative best with a series of big wins in 2017 – and I wouldn’t rule him out achieving the dreams of his nation by going on to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the world crown.

 

And it was nice to meet up once again with Lev during my recent sojourn to the US Midwest and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis for the day job at America’s Foundation for Chess – and for those wanting more of an insight into this true artist of the chessboard, then look no further than the July issue of The New Yorker magazine that can be read by clicking here.

 

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An advertising hoarding for a coming new shop on Glasgow’s bustling Buchanan Street, featuring a pair of knee-length black leather boots, was all it took to transport me back to my youth and the late 1960s, as it immediately brought back vivid memories of the then oft-repeated late night cult action spy series The Avengers – one of my favourite adult shows as a kid.

 

It began life as a tough, no nonsense spy-thriller vehicle for the multi-talented Ian Hendry, with his sidekick being the non-dapper and bowler hat-less Patrick Macnee – but it soon came to incarnate the ‘Swinging Sixties’ when Hendry left after the first season, the show having a very surreal makeover and retooling, as suave and sophisticated John Steed (Macnee) went all Savile Row on us and memorably partnered in turn with Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson, until its demise in 1969 (a victim of poor US ratings).

 

Dapper Steed’s first foxy sidekick, Cathy Gale (Blackman), caused particular excitement with her ‘kinky’ black leather costumes, especially the then-fashionable titular footwear, that lead to the two TV stars in 1964 going on to record a novelty single for Decca, ‘Kinky Boots’, that was not initially a hit, but a 1990 re-release peaked at No.5 on the British singles chart in December of that year.

 

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Our tribute to Elvis Presley in the 40th anniversary week of his death continues with what I think is arguably one of the best, later touring years caricatures of the King, titled “Return To Sender” – coincidently also my favourite Elvis song, from his 1962 movie, Girls! Girls! Girls! – by artist Sean Read, that can be found in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, the most visited UK museum outside of London.

 

And this is one particular shot from my pre-blog archives that only colour film could do justice to!

 

It shows the King blinged-out and wearing one of his outlandish, trademark jumpsuits he wore on stage between 1969 and 1977; his comeback years when he toured the US almost non-stop and struggled with depression and addiction that accounted for the bloating, so hence the need for easily-adaptable outfits.  

 

According to the Graceland archives, Elvis had over 60 jumpsuits in his collection and would wear each for about six months at a time, and accompanied by many dry cleaning and repair bills for each suit.

 

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Sitting here overdosing on the sunshine by the pool in Saint Louis, in the US Midwest, tuning-in to the TV in the evenings offers up almost end-to-end promotions for a week of festivities in tribute to the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, who died on August 16, 1977. And despite being on a month-long work/vacation, I thought we’d pay tribute also by delving into the Seattle archives to bring the King out of the shadows – well, at least his hidden bronze statue, that is.

 

The unmistakable lip-curling, hip-wiggling, quiff-quivering, guitar-gyrating stance is there for all to see in this statue – but only if the public look carefully for it, as it’s hidden in the shadows of a courtyard off Broadway on First Hill (directly across from the Elliott Bay Book shop on 10th Ave). It was one of three statues of rock icons – Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry and Presley – commissioned by Mike Malone, a music-loving real-estate developer.

 

The statue of Hendrix, directly on Broadway, at Blick Art Supplies, is by far the most iconic and most photographed. But Malone also commissioned Seattle artist Daryl Smith to do similar ones of Elvis and Berry – and all three can be found within a few blocks of each other.

 

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One of the most famous photographers of all time is/was a little Frenchman who went by the name of Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004). HCB was one of the original founders of Magnum Photos, and was a pioneer in the use of the small format of the Leica 35mm camera for reportage, and the first to coin the term “the decisive moment”.

 

He left behind a large legacy of iconic photos, but his most famous, Derrière la Gare Saint-Lazare (Paris 1932), was named ‘The Photo of the Century’ by Time magazine and set a record when its print sold at auction in 2011 at Christie’s for $590,455. This fantastic image is more commonly referred to as “the puddle jumper”, and perhaps best exemplifies the decisive moment, as time practically stands still with HCB magically catching his subject just as his heel was about to touch the water.

 

I don’t think there is a photographer since/ever who won’t try in some way or form to recapture that little bit of HCB inspiration when they come across a puddle – and with all that rain hitting Glasgow, when it finally did relent, the destination to head for is Exchange Square, near the rear of the GoMA, as that’s an ideal happy hunting ground to find puddle jumpers!

 

And our little tribute to HCB will be the last blog entry of the summer, as I get ready to pack my bags and head to the decidedly warmer climes of sunny Saint Louis in the American Midwest for practically all of the month of August!

 

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Given the challenging nature of the Scottish weather, it comes as no surprise that there are a whole host of interesting words to name and describe the actions of the elements.  In fact, a recent Scottish Government poll found that the word ‘dreich’ – meaning dull and miserable weather – was the nations favourite word.

 

And while it’s claimed that the Eskimo’s have 50 words for snow, here it’s estimated that there are considerably far more Scottish words for rain.  Dreich tops the list, and other personal favourites include ‘drookit’, ‘bucketing’, ‘hammering’, ‘mizzling’, ‘lashing’ and ’spitting’ to name but a few.

 

But it doesn’t matter what the word you use to describe it, July has been nothing but wet wet wet – though thankfully for everyone concerned, not the Marti Pelow variety! – with just about all the words used throughout the month, as it’s been one of the wettest summers I can recall. 

 

Some would even say it’s been more like the ‘monsoon season’, as the fitting photo from Buchanan Street taken over the July Fair Holiday Weekend would testify to, as all the tourists could be found huddled in the somewhat seasonally overcrowded North Face shop in the elusive search for all things Gore-Tex.

 

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