Veganuary

 

Yes, it’s that time of year again when diet fads pop up literally everywhere.  Many of us over-indulge during the Christmas and New Year break, and so hopefully resolve on January 1 to atone for it all by swearing to eat healthily, perhaps even a total body detox, to help shed the extra weight put on.

 

Now I grew up in an era where ‘body detox’ usually meant taking a double dose of Alka-Seltzer the morning you return to work after the festivities – but now there are many fancy fads to help kick-start your body back to reality.  ‘Dry January’ is a popular option, not imbibing on the hard stuff for the month.  Another new charity trend is ‘Veganuary‘, as people are urged to do try being vegan during the month of January, helpfully supported by lots of supermarket promotions and media articles on vegans and vegan recipes. 

 

And in view of today’s photo, I thought it might help if I passed on this useful, failsafe piece of etiquette for you all.  How can you tell if someone is a vegan? Don’t worry about it, they’ll soon tell you.

 

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What Christmas movie is complete without a miserable person deciding to end it all? Obviously the big one here is It’s a Wonderful Life, wherein good guy Jimmy Stewart goes all suicidal on us and almost jumps to his death, driven by the Human Embodiment of Hyper-capitalism in the guise of Mr. Potter, and only prevented from doing so by a little old man in a nightie looking to get a set of wings.

 

It is, of course, Frank Capra’s black-and-white classic from 1946 all about small-town America that has become a staple of Christmas television programming the world over – but it didn’t have such auspicious beginnings. In fact, it was regarded as being something of a Christmas turkey after being lambasted on its release by the critics.  But what do they know?

 

It’s a Wonderful Life was considered such a flop by the studio that they let its copyright lapse – and inadvertently, this proved to be its salvation, turning it into a perennial holiday favourite that has bonded families and communities together for eons. This meant that, by the Seventies, there was a festive Frank Capra film available for networks to screen for free – and It’s a Wonderful Life was duly screened, every day and practically every hour, on almost every channel throughout the whole month of December.

 

I knew the movie as a big holiday classic, but I only discovered all about the ad nauseam screening during my decade-long stay in the US of A. I remember one Christmas Eve in Seattle, I decided to play TV roulette with it. I literally kept changing channels and came upon it in different stages of its progress. Yet still so infectious, you simply can’t not watch. You can’t turn it off.

 

And because there’s little or no copyright, advertising images from the movie can be all but freely used, such as here with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed at The Butterfly and the Pig pub at Shawlands Cross in Glasgow’s South-Side, for everyone to “Have a Wonderful Christmas” there. Actually, this theme pub would be the worst of all places to celebrate Christmas, as now it is like something out of Pottersville, the “bad” town from the movie, and not the Bedford Falls “good” town watering hole of the old Corona Bar that we all once loved and frequented.

 

Remember now everyone: Have a wonderful Christmas!

 

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It’s a scene at this time of year that plays out in just about every big city: thousands of Christmas tree sellers plying their trade on the streets.  And this seasonal tradition is now the subject of a heart-felt new feature documentary that shines throughout with community spirit and more than just a twinkle of Christmas cheer.

 

Tree Man” explores the lives of those tree sellers, many of whom leave their homes and families behind and must endure living out of cars and vans for the holiday season. This film centres on those plying their trade in New York’s Upper West Side, and primarily revolves around Broadway seller François, a migrant worker from Québec who leaves behind his young family at his Canadian home to return to the same Manhattan street corner every year for five weeks to deliver the magic of the season.

 

All of this is hard and demanding work, with long hours in freezing weather with rain, wind and the snow. François lives and sleeps out of his beloved ‘Elvis’, a 1994 Chevy van, as a one bedroom apartments at this prime location runs at over $4000 a month…that is, if you could even find one. But he’s become a firm favourite of the local dwellers and has developed lasting relationships with some of his customers, and a mentor and father-figure to two formerly troubled young youths who now work for him.

 

This is a little gem of a documentary that got several good critical reviews when it hit the film festival circuit. But no review could be better than that of a longtime customer in the film who now lives in the Queens and makes the long trek to the French Canadian tree man of Broadway, explaining that, “This has nothing to do with trees anymore.”

 

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No, not another homage to my childhood with Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade, but this time it’s more like “Cartoon Arcade”, with an exhibition and sale this month at Plan B Books in Shawlands Arcade of the political cartoons from the hand of the redoubtable Jim Turnbull, who for over 30 years was the cartoonist for the Glasgow Herald newspaper.

 

It runs December 2-21, with Plan B opening hours being Wednesday to Saturday, 12pm-5pm.  And there, you can take a political walk down memory lane with possibly the largest exhibit of Jim Turnbull’s wonderful cartoons, with over 100 of his masterpieces focusing on the Thatcher years and his famous Scottish lion – a lion that became an instant hit during the first ill-fated 1979 referendum on devolution through portraying Scottish people as a feart lion for not showing greater support.

 

While many of Turnbull’s caricatures may well be instantly recognisable thanks to his skill in both drawing and catching the political zeitgeist of the time, one or two seemed to confuse some of an earlier generation.  Today’s photo, showing Enoch ‘Rivers of Blood’ Powell separating out the black jelly babies was one, some wondering just who he was.  I tried explaining to them to imagine Nigel Farage without the beer or the fags, though speaking Latin!  

 

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For almost 200 years it has been a jewel in Scotland’s architectural crown and a magnet for shoppers. Today, Argyll Arcade, in the heart of Glasgow, remains almost intact, the oldest covered shopping mall in Scotland, well known for its jewellery shops.

 

The iconic L-shaped arcade was built in 1827 in the chic Parisian style, and cut through old tenements, creating a short-cut between Argyle Street and Buchanan Street, the biggest retail street in the UK outside of London. It’s accessed through a centre bay with paired mosaic, semi-domed tympanum at each entrance; and the main one, on Buchanan Street, has recently taken on a cat-like appearance with some imaginative work with its Christmas lights makeover.

 

Designed by John Baird (1798-1859), the building was Grade A listed in 1970 recognising its special architectural and historic national importance as Europe’s oldest covered shopping malls (and is the only remaining arcade now in the country). It was restored to its original Victorian pomp and splendor after a two-year, £750,000 conservation programme that was completed in 2011.

 

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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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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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