Dry Bones

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If anyone is looking for something out-of-the-ordinary to visit, dare I suggest ambling along to ‘Skeletons: Our Buried Bones’ exhibition at the Hunterian Art Gallery at Glasgow University?  If nothing else, it will give you a cheery day out with an insight into the lives of individuals (Neolithic, Pictish, to the Black Death and through to the Victorian era and their many pauper funerals), including fractures and trauma, multiple myeloma cancer, the effects of syphilis, rickets or  arthritis, and tooth decay.

 

The exhibition has been jointly created by the Museum of London, which has one of the largest collections of human remains taken from one location anywhere in the world, the Wellcome Collection, and the Hunterian medical museum in Glasgow, which has contributed remains from its own collection and from other Scottish museum collections.

 

It’s a powerful image seeing all those broken and decaying bones laid out in front of you in the darkened, atmospheric setting for this exhibit.  And what’s even more impressive is watching the deft hand of the very talented artist Lisa Temple-Cox at work, who specialises in “experimental work inspired by methods of preserving the human body documented in the medical museum, framed by the aesthetics and discourse of the vanitas.”

 

And yes, the inner-child in me just couldn’t resist it: As I walked around it, what continually reverberated around my head was the wonderful scene in Dennis Potter’s singalong noir The Singing Detective, as Michael Gambon and the hospital cast broke into a rendition of ‘Dry Bones’…Toe bone connected to the foot bone / Foot bone connected to the heel bone / Heel bone connected to the ankle bone.

 

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The last in our current series on Battlefield is not in anyway connected to Mary, Queen of Scots, nor to Queen Victoria, but in fact more to do with her son, Edward VII, who heralded in the Edwardian era that gave us what we now know as the Battlefield Rest bistro – and architecturally, I rate this as being one of the finest structures in all of Glasgow’s Southside.

 

But it didn’t start life as a bistro, it was originally a tram shelter.  Trams reached Langside in 1901 and the Battlefield Rest, hailed as the finest tram shelter in the city, was constructed in 1915.  With its clock tower, balustrade, flag poles, seating, public conveniences, kiosk and the old Glasgow Corporation Council livery of smart green and cream tiling, people could wait in comfort for trams to trundle along from the terminus at the junction of Holmlea and Battlefield Roads.

 

And once the trams ceased service in the city in 1962, people could still wait there for the trolley and motor buses. But the building fell into disrepair, lost part of its wonderful structure to fire and was at risk of being lost to the wrecking ball of demolition before locals mounted a successful campaign to save it by having it listed.  It was then restored to its former glory in 1994, when it become a popular Italian bistro owned by Marco Giannasi. 

 

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With Doctor Who returning to our screens on Saturday, and Glasgow’s very own Peter Capaldi back in charge of the Tardis – short for Time and Relative Dimensions In Space; with “It’s bigger on the inside!” being the standard reaction to anyone entering for the first time – now is the ideal time to tell the story of this iconic police box and its relationship with our fair city; and not to mention my own lifelong addiction to the cult sci-fi series.

 

Like many, Doctor Who was something that resonated with me as a kid, coming to it halfway through Pat Troughton’s era in the late 1960s, when the Cybermen came to the fore (put your duffle coat on back-to-front, followed likewise by the schoolbag on on your chest, and going home from Elmvale Primary School in Springburn, you were an instant Cyberman!); but the Doctor I really “grew up” with was the underrated third incarnation, Jon Pertwee (1970-1974), the dandy in the purple velvet suit with frilly shirts and cloak, who championed Venusian karate and was exiled to Earth by the Time Lords – and I dare anyone not to be impressed by his first adventure, Spearhead From Space, which I well remember being riveted by when it first aired on Saturday, 3rd January 1970.

 

In 1963, when Doctor Who began, there was hundreds of the Tardis-like police boxes scattered across the UK; all based on the iconic 1929 design by a Scot, Gilbert MacKenzie Trench, who was the Chief Architect and Surveyor of the London Metropolitan Police. Mainly the livery for these police boxes were what we know now as ‘Gallifreyan Azure’ – but Glasgow was different, and their boxes were originally painted red.

 

In the series, the Tardis was meant to adapt and blend into its surroundings, but as all Whovians are well aware, a fault in its ‘chameleon circuit’ left it frozen in the form of a Police Box when it first landed on Trotter’s Lane in London. Through the fifty some years of the television series, the police box has become internationally recognised, yet only around 1,000 examples were installed – and Glasgow is the only city in the UK that has preserved four boxes (now Category B listed buildings), and repainted all of them in their iconic blue paint.

 

Today’s ‘Tardis’ can be found in Wilson Street, and was one of the original Glasgow red police boxes. There are others scattered around the streets of Glasgow, and new Doctor Who Peter Capaldi paid homage to them and his home city by landing his Tardis on the site of the one on Buchanan Street at the end of his first adventure, as he tried to explain to Clara why, after his regeneration, he ‘suddenly’ developed a Glaswegian accent to go with his new body.

 

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If Sleater-Kinney – the Olympia, Washington all-girl indie band that sounds more like a management consultancy group – can make a comeback, then I suppose I can hold out hope also for The Long Blondes from Sheffield, who were far more glamorous than your average indie band.

 

There was a time when Kate Jackson and her fellow scarf wearing pals looked as if they were going to make it big. NME and Radio 1 loved them – and like so many Sheffield bands before them, they made intelligent indie music with some of the wittiest lyrics in town; one of my own particular favourite being the mini-road movie, loosely based on Thelma & Louise, Separated By Motorways.

 

Wipe your eyes darling, it’s OK 
Meet me on the dual carriageway 
Separated by motorways 
The A14 and the A1 
Separated by motorways 
Two lonely girls go on the run

 

And as was hinted in the previous blogs on Renfield St Stephen’s Church, in the mid-1960s Glasgow was not so much separated by motorways but almost destroyed by one that was nothing short of an act of architectural vandalism. While many cities in the UK were benefiting from ring roads, the City Fathers and their planners – in their infinite wisdom – decided to bulldoze the M8 motorway network (to Edinburgh) through the heart of Glasgow.

 

Charing Cross was ground zero, so to speak – some of its finest Victorian buildings became victims to the wrecking ball in the name of progress. Thankfully, due to a large public revolt, some of these historic buildings managed to survive only by a last-minute reprieve, such as Sir John J. Burnet’s magnificent Charing Cross Mansions with its French Renaissance Beaux-Arts style curved façade that overlooked the cross. 

 

Charing Cross Mansions was designed in 1889 for one of Glasgow’s leading businessman of the time, Robert Simpson. The clock face is bordered by signs of the zodiac, with a male mask representing Old Father Time. Also included are the Glasgow coat of arms and monograms either end of the bay windows carved with the entwined letter R and S, representing Robert Simpson.  

 

Many to this day believe it was a shame that the west end of the Sauchiehall Street shopping section – and the Charing Cross area in general – was destroyed to such an extent. But nevertheless relieved that the Charing Cross Mansions, possibly the finest red sandstone building in Glasgow, did survive. But the landscape it inhabits is far removed from the one it was designed for, separated by motorways, watching over a mesh of constant commuter traffic.

 

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Glasgow gave birth to the original ‘troubled detective’, as Jack Laidlaw laid the blueprint for Rebus and Co. to follow – but award-winning author William McIlvanney became the forgotten man of tartan noir. Now, like a good cold case, some 40 years after the first of his Laidlaw trilogy was published, he’s back from the wilderness – and by accident rather than by design.

 

The story goes that McIlvanney was receiving less and less royalty payments each year that he thought nobody was buying any of his Laidlaw books any more, so decided that was that and he’d had a good run. He then discovered, by accident, that the reason no one was buying his books was because the publishing company he originally had been signed to, had decided – in its infinite wisdom – to let it go long out of print without telling him.

 

McIlvanney casually mentioned this as smalltalk while a guest at a literary function dinner – only to discover that sitting across from him was Jamie Byng, the head honcho of Canongate Books. That week, Canongate had signed up McIlvanney and immediately set about reprinting his classics – not only re-introducing it to a new audience, but also for the first time doing a big sell of Laidlaw to the American market.

 

The new front-cover to the eponymously named Laidlaw, sees one of Jack’s Glasgow villains making a mad dash for it across the Carlton Bridge that spans the Clyde, which we’ve tried to reproduce in today’s photo. Fitting, really, because, now like McIlvanney’s books becoming popular in America, the wonderful arch pylons of the Suspension Bridge proved to be the calling card to America for Glasgow architect and chartered engineer Alexander Kirkland (1824-92), who went on to become the Commissioner of Public Buildings in Chicago.

 

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A beat-up, run-down bicycle often is evidence of years of use and wear. But a clandestine group of activists have scattered dozens of battered, twisted bikes, painted stark white, across Seattle to raise awareness about safety issues facing riders, who are somewhat cruelly – but perhaps accurately – described by the medical fraternity as “healthy organ donors.”

 

Ghost Bikes are small and eerie memorials for bicyclists who are killed or hit on the street. A bicycle is painted all white and locked to a street sign near the crash site, accompanied by a small plaque and flowers if at the scene of a fatality. The activists are part of an organization called GhostBikes.org, who have mapped the locations of about 140 accidents around the city. Then, under cover of darkness, they placed over 40 painted bikes at collision sites.

 

The latest placement can be found downtown at a notoriously dangerous one-way bike lane on the left side of the busy arterial on Second Avenue at University Street, where lawyer and mother Sher Kung was killed late last month after a box truck turned left to University Street across the bicycle lane. It was the 61st bicycle-and-vehicle collision on the street in the past four years.

 

The irony is her death came just a week or so before a new protected bicycle lane opened on Second Avenue. The new cycle track is physically separated from traffic, includes lanes going in both directions, and features traffic signals indicating cars are prohibited from turning left when bicycles have the right-of way. Nonetheless, many drivers have disobeyed the rules—leading the city to install more signs that read, “No turn on red.”

 

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Seattle Gas Light Company (1906-1956) left behind some of Seattle’s most visible ruins: The rusty, hulking, industrial skeleton in Gas Works Park are beloved for their steampunk eeriness – see previous blog entry, Gassed.

 

But also impressive are the concrete train trestles that still stand near the northeast entrance of the park, where coal cars once rode up and deposited quarry into Northern Pacific Railway trains waiting below. They may be a ghost train of the past but, just like the former gas plant, these, too, have taken on the appearance of looking like an art installation through the years.

 

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We’re going from punk to steampunk today, as steampunk is the impression you first get when you hit the impressive Gas Works Park in the Fremont/Wallingford neighbourhood – so-called, because the 9.1 acres public park is on the sight of the former Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant that was in operation from 1906 to 1956.

 

There are tall towers, big pipes, valve handles, and it’s just a really cool piece of machinery that over the years since its closure, has almost taken on the appearance of being a sculptured piece of art work installed in the park. It is fenced off though so you can’t actually go in and climb all over the stuff. There are though some notable bits of graffiti on the valves and pipes, so some brave budding Banksy scaled the fence to leave their mark on the instillation.

 

Besides the obvious cool factor of the plant, this is really one of Seattle’s best and most unusual public park that, apart from the visually stunning gas plant, offers grassy hills for kite flying, sunbathing, picnics, and wide vistas of Lake Union and the city.

 

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With last year’s closing of the much-loved Gas Works Park Kite Shop there are no dedicated kite shops left in the Seattle area. Which is a pity, as the artificial “Kite Hill” at the top of Gas Works Park is one of the best places to catch some wind in the city to go fly a kite – hours of entertainment for all,  as the young boy I watched and photographed there recently with his family showed.

 

But the mere sight of seeing kites flying on a hill always reminds me of a street busker who ‘left’ me and went on to become a big star: none other than the Glaswegian chanteuse Eddi Reader. In the late 1970s, one of Eddi’s favourite pitches to play was Buchanan Street Bus Station in Glasgow. And each time I passed her on the way to college, I would always put some money in her guitar case and she would give me a sweet smile.

 

She disappeared into thin air, with none of her regulars knowing what had happened to her. But a couple of years later, when I was listening to the radio, I suddenly heard a distinctive voice – it was Steady Eddi, and she was now the lead singer for Fairground Attraction, singing their debut song, Perfect, that went on to become a big No.1 smash hit.  And when Eddi went solo, her fourth album was the incredible Angels & Electricity, with the first track being the simply haunting Kiteflyer’s Hill, all about a tender look back at a lost love.

 

If you ever get the chance to see Eddi live, do so, as you’ll never forget the experience – not only an unbelievable voice, but she ‘sings’ with the whole of her body. She lives each song. I still remember vividly an unbelievable performance she gave unplugged, on a bitterly cold late December evening in 1998 at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh.  Her performance that night, coupled with the weather, the time of the year and the surroundings, sent more than a shiver up my spine. 

 

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Everyone has heard of the famous Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle – but another not to be missed, and well worth a visit, is the out-of-town Ballard Farmers Market on Sundays.  But no matter what farmers market it is, Seattleites take their organic foods to outlandish proportions, being the sort of people they are. I once offered to cook a turkey for a local family Thanksgiving here, and before we sat down for the meal, I almost had to show everyone the turkey’s full family tree, what it was fed on, what nice parents and friends it had, and how nice the local free-range farm it was raised on was.

 

It was all just a little too close to the neighbouring Portlandia chicken sketch, where two smugly enamoured couple sit in a restaurant, their hands clasped as they fret over the menu. The chicken, for instance: can the waitress tell them a little bit about its provenance? Of course she can, because this is the kind of cool restaurant in Portland, Oregon, where patrons regularly seek elaborate assurances about the virtuousness of their food. The waitress informs the couple that the place serves only local, free-range, “heritage-breed, woodland-raised chicken that’s been fed a diet of sheep’s milk, soy, and hazelnuts.”

 

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