Here Be Dragons

 

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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It’s been a week since British PM Theresa May officially triggered article 50 to leave the bosom of the EU, and here’s what the last 7-days has seen: an outbreak of jingoistic, Union Jack flag-waving in certain sectors of the English press; the threat of going to war with Spain over Gibraltar; the spending announcement of £500 million on a new, very patriotic dark blue passport (instead of funds going to the NHS, as it said on the bus); and to cap it all, a bunch of right-wing fundamentalists’ now calling for the return of imperial measures.

 

Honestly, the idea that voting to leave the EU was a vote for an exciting new world of 21st-century British sovereignty, rather than a desire for a nostalgic, rose-tinted vision of a Jerusalem-infused green and pleasant Land of 1950s and 60s Britain, is really becoming harder to sustain with each passing day. I look forward any day now for the excited call from Jacob Rees-Mogg and his like-minded ilk for the re-introduction of rationing.

 

Imperial Linear Measure, ie. miles, yards and inches etc are still used in the U.K. despite metric measures, meters, kilograms etc, becoming more prevalent. The plaque and the standard imperial measures of length have been a permanent fixture on the front entrance to the wall of Glasgow City Chambers since 1882 (along with another larger one painted on the pavement beside it), and many – like moi – have walked past it without even giving it a second glance.

 

Good job it’s still there, though – because the way things are going, at least we’ll all have something to help refresh our memories of what’s coming to go with the next round of harsh austerity measures that’s on the horizon. 

 

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Lunchtime on Great Western Road, just off Byres Road in Glasgow’s trendy West End; outside three young  ladies rush from their place of employ to join students and theatre-goers as they head for the Òran Mór nightclub space, where there’s barely bum space to be found, as yet another packed audience, having picked up said sustenance of pies and pints, squeeze into their seats to watch the opening performance of this week’s new play, the fourth of 13 in the current 26th season.

 

It’s thirteen years now since the Wildcat theater veteran, the late David MacLennan launched his stunningly simple concept of A Play, a Pie & a Pint in the converted church at the heart of Glasgow’s West End, that’s been hailed as ‘one of the most magical theater initiatives of the last decade.’

 

Sadly, MacLennan died in 2013, but he left his legacy to the city and the arts’ world with his legendary lunchtime activity, where workers could spend their break-time with a cheap pint and a pie along with a fix of culture in the form of a short afternoon play – and the Play, Pie & Pint phenomenon has now taken off in different cities around the world.

 

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Hard to imagine it was so long ago, but 25 years ago this week, Nevermind entered the pantheon of the all-time great rock albums, as the unmistakable riff to Nirvana’s seismic debut single, Smells Like Teen Spirit, almost overnight  transformed the band from “grunge” unknowns into one of the biggest rock groups of the era – Nevermind the toll that fame and fortune subsequently contributed to the sad demise of their legendary frontman, Kurt Cobain.

 

And for anyone looking to indulge in the macabre of Kurt – as I regularly discovered during my almost decade-long Seattle sojourn – then the No.27 Metro Bus is but a quick journey from Downtown to Lake Washington Boulevard and the mansion where Cobain lived with Courtney Love and controversially took his own life.  However, this is now a private residence – and the garage-outhouse where the star blew his brains out has long been demolished to avoid ghoul seekers…but it failed.  

 

Cobain’s body was cremated, with his ashes scattered in an undisclosed spot in the Wishkah River near his hometown of Aberdeen, Washington.  So in the absence of any other shrine, devoted fans congregate on Nirvana/Cobain anniversary moments at the more permanent Viretta Park, a small patch of grass directly next door to the mansion, and in particular the lone bench there – and today’s photo was one of a series taken in 2014, on the 20th anniversary of his death – where he’s said to have spent time reflecting on his life and music, that has now become a de facto memorial to the grunge icon, where they’ll leave candles and flowers as well as scrawl messages. 

 

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Don’t you just hate it when the person behind you in the coffee queue is getting just a tad impatient and showing signs of becoming über-aggressive, just because they’ve not had their double frappuccino fix yet?  It could be worse, I suppose, it could be a Dalek standing in the line at the ‘Tardis‘ coffee kiosk on Wilson Street in Glasgow, during the recent Merchant City Festival – and the double frappuccino fix might explain why they continually whizz around like demented dodgems while frantically shouting “Exterminate!”.

 

It’s the phrase that’s become synonymous with the TV cult classic Doctor Who that I adored as a kid (and still do today), but  just how many times do you think we’ve actually heard it uttered (or rather shouted) by the natives of Skaro? How often do you think each Doctor hear that menacing threat? Which Doctor had it said to them most? And when was “Exterminate!” first said at all? 

 

Luckily for us, there’s a nerdy Whovian – surprise surprise – keeping a tab on all those stats for us. 

 

It turns out, we’ve actually heard the Dalek catchphrase quite a lot – and a lot more often than you may think.  Across the 53 years Doctor Who has been running, the Daleks have said the famous words to the Doctors no less than 514 times, including times they have said “Exterminated”. On average, that’s nine times each year for the show’s run.

 

While the average per Doctor’s regeneration was fairly low, the actual number varies heavily for each Doctor. Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, had quite a peaceful reign with just 12 threats of extermination. This is quite odd when you remember Tom Baker’s seven-year reign as Doctor was the longest regeneration – and also despite being in at their birth, in what many believe to be the best-ever Dr. Who adventure, ‘Genesis of the Daleks‘. The highest instances came from David Tennant’s tenth Doctor, with a staggering 83 “exterminates” from Daleks across his five-year stint in the Tardis.

 

The very first time the Daleks uttered the word was in the second story, fittingly titled ‘The Daleks’. This early William Hartnell story may only have featured two instances of the battle cry, but it was a start of a long cultural reference still alive and well today. 

 

Just don’t get one behind you in the coffee line, that’s all I’m saying on the matter.

 

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Recent years have seen an explosion of street art in Glasgow, providing a welcome burst of colour in this often grey city, which in the rain stakes makes my previous haunt of Seattle seem more like an all-the-year-round, 24/7 sun-kissed tropical hot spot.  The playful nature of these colourful murals – part of the City Centre Mural Trail – is a fitting complement to the city’s “gallus”  and welcoming character. 

 

And this mural of a taxi floating at the end of a cluster of balloons, titled ‘World’s Most Economical Taxi’, which can be found in Mitchell Street, is so detailed that artist Rogue-One even went to the lengths of painting bricks onto the wall. He later commented, with just a touch of irony: “Can’t believe I painted a wall to look like a brick wall just because I wanted a brick wall!”

 

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Street art in Scotland has long since escaped the stigma of vandalism that once rendered now-revered works by the likes of Banksy as rebellious eyesores rather than cherished landmarks. And Glasgow has wholeheartedly embraced and encouraged its local street artists.

 

In 2014,  Glasgow City Council officially set up the Glasgow Mural Trail, mapping eighteen different pieces of large-scale, original street art at various locations across the city, some of which have been around since 2008.

 

The number of murals on the trail continues to grow, although sadly the temporary nature of the pieces – which for the most part are sprayed onto the side of vacant Glasgow buildings – means that preservation of the Mural Trail isn’t guaranteed. The upside here is that the project is far more flexible than a conventional art exhibition and, with no confines to speak of, has the potential to develop and grow indefinitely.

 

Many are designed though to raise a smile. Running around the corner of Howard Street and Dunlop Street – beside St. Andrew’s Cathedral – is this fun one, Big Birds, created by Rogue-One and Art Pistol, that features birds in and escaping from captivity – and facing dangers!

 

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No, not Phil Spector’s legendary Wall of Sound from Gold Star Studios in the 1960s, with assistance from engineers Stan Ross, Larry Levine, and the unsung star session musician conglomerate known as “the Wrecking Crew” (who incidentally, feature in a wonderful Netflix documentary of the same name).  This one from the archives, with the omnipresent Space Needle peering over the top, is the stacked speakers mural painted by Jonathan Wakuda Fischer, on what was once the previously drab exterior walls to the KEXP radio station in much-missed Seattle.

 

But fitting nevertheless, as today is Record Store Day that will flood music outlets around the globe with new releases, reissued classics and thousands of fans looking to bring those coveted titles home, with everyone from Big Star to Justin Bieber getting in on the act.  The full list of 2016 RSD offerings include more split singles and vintage vinyl than you can shake a stick at.

 

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A charity shop  window display in my locale of the Viccy Road in Glasgow professes ‘Love’ in the run-up to St Valentine’s day – but I wonder how many are aware as to why Glasgow is sometimes named ‘The City of Love’?  And no, it has nothing to do with all those famous ‘Glasgow kisses’ we’re so fond of giving.

 

Not far from the shop, what are said to be the “genuine remains” of the patron saint of lovers, dead more than 1700 years, are held in a church in the Gorbals.  St Valentine was martyred in 269AD and some of his alleged remains were brought to Glasgow by Franciscan monks.  There is a gold casket marked ‘Corpus Valenrini Martyris’ on display in the entrance to Blessed John Duns Scotus’ church.

 

These remains – along with other shrines and relics – would have been hidden in 1559 to save them from being destroyed by the merry band of reformers and Puritans who had accompanied John ‘No Popery Here!’ Knox when he returned to Scotland, as he preached against the veneration of Catholic idolatry. Back then, you see, it was far easier for Scottish men to ignore St Valentine’s Day, simply by claiming that fiery fire and brimstone Knox wouldn’t approve – and some do try this excuse even today!

 

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Ever since I was a teenager people have been telling me to see the French noir heist movie Rififi, made in 1955, where the object of the gang’s desire is a jewellery store. I’ve been so convinced by their argument that it’s a classic I’ve probably told people that I’ve seen it when I hadn’t. With not much on TV at Christmas apart from a couple of old seasonal episodes of Porridge (“Norman Stanley Fletcher, you have pleaded guilty…”), I finally got round to actually seeing it on Netflix.

 

Of course it’s quite brilliant; a masterpiece even. Now that I’m older I can appreciate things about it that I wouldn’t have quite got when I was a kid: the look of post-war Paris, the shiny old cars, old-school gangsters, the glistening pavements, the cruel glitter in the eyes of the leading man, the extraordinary look of the jazz clubs, the extraordinary half-hour robbery sequence which is done without words, the difficulty of making a phone call and the way that feeds into the drama.

 

Glasgow’s famous Argyle Arcade (1827), which houses more than 30 jewellers and diamond merchants – such as the Antwerp Diamond Co in today’s photo – is one of Europe’s oldest covered shopping arcades and Scotland’s first ever indoor shopping mall, that likes to describe itself as “the Hatton Garden of Scotland”.  Not a good comparison, considering that London’s Hatton Garden was robbed recently in a daring raid of Hollywood movie-making proportions – and by a gang of geriatrics in their sixties and seventies, who were all old enough to have done the original Rififi job! 

 

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