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Billy Connolly has always stood tall in Scotland – but the Big Yin has just got even bigger.  Bigger by 50ft in height, to be precise, as three new murals recently went up across his home city of Glasgow, and based on official portraits commissioned by BBC Scotland to celebrate the comedian’s 75th birthday.

 

The portraits, by leading Scottish artists Jack Vettriano, Rachel Maclean and John Byrne, all now hang with pride of place in the People’s Palace, the Big Yin’s favourite Glasgow Museum.  Not only that, but the journey of the artists and the comedian, from first sitting to final portrait, was captured in a recent BBC documentary, Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime.

 

But there was a further twist to the story for Connolly, when the City Council surprised the comedian by replicating – with the permission of the artists – the portraits on murals erected at Osborne Street, Dixon Street and the Gallowgate.

 

Two of the murals were done by legendary Glasgow street artist, Rogue One; and this is the first, located on Osborne Street – behind the Trongate, and just across from the St. Enoch’s Centre – and based on John Byrne’s portrait “Billy Connolly”.

 

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Before the rise of the Internet, cockney rhyming slang was once a quintessential part of the British culture.  But sadly experts now say the changing face of society has made the phrases that almost took up half the dialogue in Only Fools and Horses are now obsolete – with the new social media generation popularising their own phrases instead.

 

One popular cockney rhyming slang was “Brown Bread”, meaning to be dead, passed on, ceased to be, kicked the bucket, shuffle off your mortal coil, as the Monty Python parrot sketch would have it.  Which I always found slightly ironic when I was growing up as a kid, because health-wise, brown bread, all full of wheatgerm and fibre, was supposed to be nothing but good for you – and the most identifiable brand being Hovis.

 

And for those of a certain age, the very mention of Hovis should brings back fond memories of 1970s television, as a small boy struggled to climb a steep cobbled hill in his early 1930s delivery bike (replete with big wicker basket laden with loaves of bread) to the strains of Dvorak’s New World Symphony – and it turned out to be an instant advertising classic. The iconic 1973 Hovis ad, voted Britain’s all-time favourite, was directed by a promising young filmmaker by the name of Ridley Scott – I wonder whatever happened to him, eh? – and was meant to depict an industrial northern town, but was actually shot at the other end of the country on Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, Dorset, now known as ‘Hovis Hill’.

 

And as this photo from a recent Hovis street campaign shows, where the company gave away hundreds of loafs to the public on Argyle Street, that indelible image of the delivery bike still resonates for us all – but my, hasn’t the little lad grown? But this is Glasgow, and let’s admit it, we’re not all that health conscious, are we? When handed the free offering by this rep, a wee Glesga wifie looked a little puzzled at the hue of the offering, and then I overheard her asking in the local vernacular “Hiv ya naw got any white breid, son?”

 

And that, in a nutshell, might well explain why this dear and much-beloved City of Glasgow finds itself right at the top of just about every European-wide bad health league for all the self-inflicted, nasty dietary and lifestyle things that end up making many of its citizens Brown Bread in the first place!

 

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In the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London, many protests took place across the country to demonstrate that Britain’s social housing is in crisis – a crisis that was the direct result of the legacy left to us by Maggie Thatcher’s right-to-buy policy back in the early 1980s.

 

And, as witness this photo from Buchanan Gallery steps from a day of action in support of the victims of the Grenfell disaster and against landlords and social housing, Glasgow played a vocal part in its support that was attended by a few dedicated hundred or so, as many ask and wonder whether our country’s postwar housing ideal can possibly be revived.

 

I couldn’t but help think that the numbers though had to have been a far cry from another era in the city when Glasgow was at its most vocal and Socialist best over a lack of social housing and bad landlords, as just over 100 years ago housewife Mary Barbour emerged as a very unlikely local hero as she organised the 1915 Rent Strike that one leading academic believed “could well have been the most successful example of direct action ever undertaken by the Scottish working class.”

 

Today, we need the spirit of Mary Barbour and more direct action because our social housing crisis has been the long-term lasting effects of Thatcher’s right-to-buy policy – and the irony here, of course, is that this policy was probably the most popular ever introduced by a Conservative government. It was wonderful for many who benefited from it – even if some found that property ownership was not the promised land they had expected – but very destructive of local authorities’ ability to respond to housing needs.

 

The selling off of publicly owned housing – and not allowing councils to use those funds to replenish their dwindling housing stock – has directly contributed to the ever more immense bill for housing benefits and created the absurd and wasteful situation whereby local authorities have to pay high rents to house people in homes the councils once owned, but have now been bought by private landlords.

 

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There are homeless bad-news stories, such as the previous blog entry – but sometimes, just sometimes, there comes along hope for our society with a homeless good-news story.  And one such can be found right here in Scotland, with a new venture that was created back in late 2012 – and already it has piqued the interest of two legendary Hollywood A-listers.

 

Josh Littlewood is an entrepreneur who was so upset and concerned with seeing the rising level of homelessness on the streets that he came up with the brainwave of being the creator and co-founder of Social Bite, a successful sandwich chain with five stores in Scotland – two in Edinburgh, two in Glasgow and one in Aberdeen – that’s now set to expand nationally and possibly internationally.  

 

The mission of Social Bite – whose food costs about the same as Pret a Manger and Eat – is to be more than an upmarket soup kitchen. Apart from 100% of the profits going to helping the homeless, a quarter of its staff have experienced homelessness and paid a living wage; and now subsequently fully trained to work in a cafe/kitchen environment.  The chain also offers “suspended coffee and food”, which means customers can pay in advance for a coffee or any item of food from the menu and a local homeless person can go into the shop to claim it.

 

And all of this has attracted much interest and many plaudits. In the last 18 months, Hollywood superstars George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio have both made high-profile visits to the two Edinburgh Social Bite stores that originally started the revolution – and there’s mounting speculation that the A-listers could well be looking to help expand the chain into America.

 

And like the store on Glasgow’s St. Vincent Street in today’s blog photo, each Social Bite store frontage comes with a donated reworking of a piece by the renowned Australian street artist, Meek, in Banksy’s “Keep Your Coins. I Want Change”, seen as a damning reminder of the unsympathetic march of economic progress.    

 

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Fifty years ago, housing association Shelter was launched on the back of a TV programme and it immediately took to examining Britain’s many slums and rogue landlords – after photographer Nick Hedges snapped a series of very powerful images of some of the country’s poorest families that accompanied Ken Loach’s gritty and seminal docudrama Cathy Come Home

 

Hedges went on to collaborate with Shelter for their first Christmas appeal for the homeless. The unavoidable truth about life in Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Bradford, Peterborough and other disadvantaged areas depicted in his very raw images provided a stark contrast to the idealised image of the swinging 60s.

 

And earlier this week, Channel 5 tracked down the kids in Hedges’ distressing photos, as they went in search for an update on their lives for their new documentary Slum Britain: 50 Years On. The programme contrasted the often-cited slums of the 1960s with the 21st-century housing crisis many are experiencing today. So it does indeed really beg the big question half a century later: Has anything really changed?

 

Channel 5 used the documentary to  promote the latest Shelter Appeal that will support the 120,000 British kids who will wake up homeless on Christmas Day. 

 

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It’s time to dust off the tinsel and open the box of baubles – or should I say bottles?  Yes, I do miss the Seattle Christmas scene, especially Belltown’s beloved Rob Roy Cocktail Bar, who came up with the wonderful wheeze of a special Advent calendar where, when you opened a box for each day of December leading up to the big day, you would find a different bottle of craft beer.

 

Not to be outdone in the Yuletide drinking makeover stakes, Glasgow has come up with its own version with a Buckfast drinking duo taking a Blue Peter approach to their decorations this year by making a Christmas tree out of all their empties of the fortified wine normally associated with squalor and violence.

 

Yes, 98 empty bottles of Bucky turned into a Christmas tree – only in Glasgow!

 

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With a true sense of the timing and the moment of the man, Leonard Cohen released his final studio album, You Want It Darker, just as his American neighbours were in the process of electing Donald Trump to be their next president – and as they did so, sadly the legendary Canadian poet and singer-songwriter asked the same question of himself, as he shuffled off his own mortal coil last night. 

 

He was the poet of sex and death, who made music to nourish the soul; not only to nourish but also noirish the soul, as often his mordant words and mournful voice hauntingly resonated like the image of a soulful black and white photograph from some  bygone era – and I was a late converter to Cohen and his wonderful body of work; and arguably his body of work was more worthy of a Nobel prize for literature than Bob Dylan’s.

 

Cohen was luminous and often wryly funny. In recent years, I was lucky to see him a couple of times in Seattle during his long 2008-2013 tour.  What set him apart from so many others of his generation was that he actually got better over 60 with such brilliant songs as ‘The Future’ and ‘Almost Like the Blues’; he didn’t just churn out his back catalogue. 

 

And no sooner had I broken the seal of You Want It Darker – I hesitate to say his ‘last album’, as I’m sure he has other, as-yet-unreleased recordings to come now –  news began to filter through of his death at the age of 82 in the early hours of this morning. So to paraphrase one of his famous songs from his back catalogue, So long, Leonard. 

 

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Poor America. Such a tough choice of who to vote for today: a lying, misogynist, racist, dangerous, unpredictable narcissist who can’t even be trusted with his own Twitter access let alone the nuclear codes, or a woman who might as well be reading her top-level-security emails off the jumbotron at Yankee Stadium?

 

It’s little wonder they are pissed at everything and not enough cardboard to list their many complaints, as the photo shows. And no, we are not taking you back…hell, as if we haven’t enough problems of our own right now trying to fathom out the self-inflicted mess we voted ourselves into with Brexit.

 

It all reminds me a little too much of Paddy Chayefsky’s wickedly wonderful 1976 satirical/black comedy Network that I recently watched for the umpteenth time, as TV news anchor Howard Beale (fantastically played by Peter Finch, in a true Oscar-winning performance, albeit posthumously), takes a nervous breakdown live on air, ignores the teleprompter and lets out all of his frustrations of the world in which he lives before ranting “I’M AS MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” and then urges all the viewers to open their windows and do the same.

 

It’s all getting to be strangely prophetic – where’s Wolf Blitzer when you need him most of all?  

 

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As the turmoil surrounding Brexit continues to wreck havoc with the economy and the rapid rise of dog-whistle politics, last week the UK home secretary, Amber Rudd, had a somewhat disgraceful ‘Mein Kampf moment’ as she fanned the flames of xenophobia with her proposals to force UK companies to disclose how many foreign workers they employ. 

 

And yes, sure enough, this little policy nugget could be found in chapter two of Herr Hitler’s book. Business leaders described her measure as divisive and damaging, with the government drive being to reduce net migration and encourage businesses to hire British staff. One frustrated punter summed up the growing xenophobic trend on social media in the aftermath of Rudd’s speech: ‘Can’t we just shave our heads, lace up the Doc Martens, don our Fred Perrys and admit who we now are?’ 

 

The skinheads didn’t own Doc Martens but they tried to make it theirs – and they nearly succeeded, because along with the shaved heads, a Fred Perry shirt, a pair of jeans and wide braces, this was all but a über-rightwing militia uniform. When I was growing up, wearing DMs to school was frowned upon because of those skinhead connotations. Nowadays, if you’ve ever visited one of the many Doc Marten high street boutique stores, then you’ll have quickly discovered that this fabled footwear has gone from being the subculture of skinheads and gangs of the 1960s and 70s to now a mainstreaming, trendy fashion item for the popular kids. 

 

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We are in the midst of a vinyl revolution. You’ve heard that phrase over and over again, but it really is true. People all over the world—young and old—are discovering and rediscovering the warmth and tonality of high fidelity vinyl sound and experiential listening one record sleeve and liner note at a time. But where does one procure such archaic wares?

 

Well, outside of your parents’ basement, eBay, not to mention charity/thrift shops, there are still in existence these little places called “record stores,” with scuffed wooden floors, a couple of turntables strewn about, and packed to the gills with thousands of records. It smells like the attic at your grandma’s house, but the soundtrack playing in the store is really somethin’ else.

 

If you’re lucky, you have one of these incredible retail establishments in your town –  and when I was in Seattle, I was spoiled for choice, but the ultimate destination was always Dave Voorhees’ wonderful Bop Street Records, in Ballard, where you felt you’d died and gone to vinyl Heaven. But, if you’re not so fortunate, you may have to hunt far and wide for a suitable shop. Here in Glasgow, what there is is very tiny in comparison to Bop St., such Play It Again Records (as the photo taken inside) at the back of Ruthven Lane, just off Byres Road.

 

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