Fran & Anna

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I give you the rarity of one of the few unculled albums belonging to Fran & Anna – the Coatbridge siblings who make The Krankies look good.  They were the very epitome of the kitsch heather-and-haggis approach to Scottish light entertainment that I grew up with, always looking as if they had just stepped off the lid of a nearby shortbread tin.

 

What they lacked in vocal ability (and believe me, it was much) they more than made up for in, well, their plaid sartorial appearance. Loudly dressed in their trademark mini-kilts, bespoke tartan bunnets, and fishnet tights, Fran & Anna were easy targets for mockery. But then again, mockery is what made them.

 

As the Prince Sisters in the 1950s and 60s, they gained a loyal overseas following performing cheesy standards in the music hall and international cruise circuits. It was not until the 70s, and their metamorphosis into Fran & Anna, that they found success. They became household names when Jack McLaughlan, the self-styled Laird O’Coocaddens, made them a regular feature in his STV early 1970s Scottish country dance show Thingummyjig, where he constantly described them with jibes of ”the gruesome twosome” and ”the bags in drag”.

 

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Hidden down the rambling cobbled mews of Ruthven Lane, just off Byres Road, in Glasgow’s achingly hip West End, The Hanoi Bike Shop is the city’s first and only Vietnamese restaurant – and even were there legions of Vietnamese restaurants on offer across the city, this one is so charming, so cool, so moreish, that I suspect it would still be the best on offer.

 

From the time you wander along the cobbled lane and see the quaint little two-storey former mews house with two ancient, badly beaten-up and buckled bikes lying outside – which has become their trademark, and so beloved and treasured that they get chained to the wall for safety – there is a sense of anticipation.

 

All of which makes for a wonderful occasion – and that’s even before you have ordered any food!  But even better is when you do, as there comes a taste of the fiery food that turns it all into an outstanding and highly recommended dining experience. One not to be missed, if you are looking for good, simple food at a fair price with an unusual decor.

 

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The exquisite tones from Sandy Denny is generally considered to make her the greatest English female folk singer (sadly she died in 1978) but I’ve always had a fondness for the voice of Steeleye Span‘s Maddy Prior, even when I thought Folk was beyond the pale. OK, simultaneously there was also a big teenage thing going on there with Maddy & Me. 

 

And the new summer look from my favourite Glasgow charity shop mannequins took me on yet another  pop trip down memory lane, as they reminded me of dear old Maddy and Steeleye Span with my soft spot for their big 1975 hit ‘All Around My Hat‘. Now it isn’t exactly trad Folk with its big pop production, but it is very Hey Nonny Nonny with its merry, skipping around the maypole vibe that makes you want to sink a pint of cider, grab the nearest rosy-cheeked wench, dance a jig with her and have a roll in the hay afterwards.

 

A few months back, I managed to see Maddy live in concert in Frome, just outside Bath.  She may have aged, but the voice is still as distinctive as ever, not to mention her fondness for merrily dancing around the stage – and she can still belt out ‘All Around My Hat’ as if it were 1975 all over again.  Ah, memories, memories…

 

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With tongue in cheek, John Cleese once said that Monty Python’s silly walks sketch was only funny because of the ‘brilliance of my performance.’ There was probably a kernel of truth here, as several sketches from the anarchic Pythons were hit-or-miss – and certainly, without the gangling figure of Cleese, this sketch probably wouldn’t have worked. 

 

But who could forget the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch, as Cleese ludicrously perambulates to a job in the aforementioned ministry?  And along the way, he also takes the stereotypical bowler-hatted political drone and ruthlessly skewers him: All the self-importance, bureaucratic inefficiency and laughable circuitousness of Whitehall is summed up in one balletic extension of his slender leg.

 

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In what was thought to be the biggest national peace demonstration north of the Border since the last Iraq war, an estimated more than 10,000 Scots took part in anti-Trident protests at the weekend ahead of this week’s Commons vote on renewing the nuclear weapons system.

 

Anti-Trident protests were held in 36 Scottish cities, towns and villages, with locations including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness, Dumfries and Largs, which were all organised within days of it being announced the Westminster vote would take place – and that subsequently saw the renewal of Trident, by 472 votes to 117.

 

Today’s photo was taken at one of the largest demonstrations, held on Saturday in Glasgow, at the Buchanan St. steps, under the ever-watchful eye of the statue of Scotland’s first First Minister, the much-missed wise old owl himself, Donald Dewar. However despite the large crowds, it nowhere neared the enthusiasm shown in the 1950s and 1960s during the anti-nuclear weapons Aldermaston marches led by the likes of Labour’s Michael Foot.

 

Sadly, despite many making the comparison, current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is no Michael Foot – and I severely doubt whether Footy would have had the chutzpah nor the audacity to speak from the front-bench in defiance of current Labour policy. He would have had the decency to do the honourable thing, and resign first before doing so.

 

Labour has always believed fiercely in ridding the world of nuclear weapons. When Nye Bevan famously demanded in 1957 that he not be sent “naked into the conference chamber”, he was not championing nuclear weapons. As he said in the same speech: “It is not a question of who is in favour of the bomb, but what is the most effective way of getting the damn thing destroyed.”

 

That same principle drove Harold Wilson to negotiate the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 1968, and drove Margaret Beckett to announce a series of concrete steps towards “a world free of nuclear weapons” alongside the Trident vote in 2007. In other words, Labour has always believed that maintaining nuclear weapons for the medium term must also go hand in hand with efforts to eliminate them for good.

 

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It’s a little belated now, what with our recent Southside saunter around Battlefield and the Brexit blogs, but it would be remiss of me not to mention here the recent passing of the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, who died after a long illness earlier this month.

 

As a kid in school, I knew nothing about Vietnam, Islam, or Black Power, but just thought of Ali as a real-life superhero, the stuff of legends, as did everyone else at school.  When he fought Joe Frazier for the first time in 1971 at Madison Square Gardens, in what became known as the ‘Fight of the Century’, everybody in my school wanted Ali to win – and shocked when he didn’t. 

 

But that was only to be the first of the three-fight trilogy staged by these two iconic pugilists that raised the profile of the age-old art of boxing in the public eye, and it evolved into a conflict in the ring that ennobled both gladiators and defined the essence of what is, essentially, a brutal sport.  And  the popular media lapped it up, and how. 

 

Even to this day, I remember the thrill of the Saturday night in December 1971 when Ali became a popular figure in the UK after appearing on a TV show – only this time, it was the tongues that were doing all the lashing with his memorable first verbal match-up with Michael “Parky” Parkinson on his BBC talk show.  

 

By the common consent of viewers, Ali, on his 1971 debut, was the greatest chatshow guest British television has ever seen. The host echoes this verdict in his memoirs, although noting that the boxer’s second and third appearances, in 1974 and 1981, showed Ali as first a more complex, and then ultimately a tragic, figure, with the greatest fight of his life ahead of him ironically being not with Parkinson but Parkinson’s disease.

 

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Situated in the South Side of the city, Queen’s Park was named and constructed to commemorate the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots.  Opened in 1862 – the year of Queen Victoria’s Silver Jubilee – it is one of Scotland’s best surviving examples of Victorian park design, and laid out by the most eminent park designers of his day, Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-65), an English gardener, architect and Member of Parliament, best known for designing London’s Crystal Palace.

 

And a later addition nestled in a quiet spot of the park is the Glasshouse built in 1905 (by Simpson and Farmer of Partick), and this is one of Glasgow’s hidden gems.  Perhaps not as spectacular or as culturally significant as the Botanical Gardens in the West End, the Glasshouse nevertheless has been a favourite place to take the kids on an outing for years: a stunning building with a wide array of exotic plants, a koi carp pond and a reptile house with lots of creepy crawlies. 

 

In the summer you can sit in the outside gated gardens under the weeping willows and enjoy a cold drink or three – but not for too long, because for some strange reason or other the opening hours are somewhat restricted, with the gates only open Mon-Fri 10am-4pm.

 

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One from the “Words that will come back to haunt you” department.  Back in early August of last year, former Leicester striker Gary Lineker, now BBC sports presenter, famously said he would present the first Match of the Day for the next season in only his pants if Leicester won the league, with them being outrageous outsiders at 5,000/1 to do so. 

 

Guess what?  Yes, Gary is now busy rummaging through his underwear drawer….so  bookies Paddy Power are now offering odds on what colour his briefs will be, with Leicester’s colour of blue odds on at 4/9. Gary himself pointed out the flaw in this betting when he contacted Paddy Power on social media to ask: “Can I have a thousand pounds on polka dots at 33/1?” 

 

Somehow I can’t ever imagine the late great Arthur Montford of Scotsport fame – he of the many varied chequered sports jackets and memorable catchphrases including “What a stramash”, “It’s a sensation!” and his omnipresent “Disaster for Scotland” to name but a few – ever getting involved in such an unseemly event, could you?

 

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The blog entry Wild West End highlights my favourite piece of public art in Glasgow, namely the famous “Lobey Dosser” bronze sculpture on Woodlands Road.  But unfortunately the council removed it recently after it was vandalised by – as we would say in the Glasgow vernacular, and immortalised as Lobey’s archenemy – a “Rank Baijin”.

 

But fear not, because there’s also now a relatively new companion piece, the “G.I. Bride”.  For those, like me, who as a kid lived through the early 1970s revival of Partick-born cartoonist Bud Neil’s original 1950s Glasgow cowboy surrealism, you will recall that the G.I. Bride lived in his mythical Calton Creek, a small town in the Arizona desert which was populated solely by Glaswegian emigrants. However, like many real-life Scottish women she had married a G.I. and followed him to what she thought would be a better life in American only to return home disillusioned.  

 

In the cartoon strip which she appeared in from time to time – usually with nothing at all to do with the storyline; originally a ’filler’ who went on to became a popular reoccurring theme  – she was depicted looking suitably forlorn, with her baby son Ned under her arm, constantly trying to thumb a lift back to Glasgow off of a passing posse or stagecoach, often with the one-word plea “Pertick?”

 

Well, after all those years thumbing  a lift, she finally made it back to “Pertick” by now being immortalised in bronze in her home town with this 2011 statue by sculpture Ranald Maccoll. It was commissioned for the refurbishment of the new Partick Railway and Underground Station by patrons of the arts Colin Beattie in partnership with Strathclyde Public Transport and C. Spencer Ltd. 

 

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You’ll find many interesting charity shops as you saunter down Byres Road in the trendy west end of Glasgow – and the window display in this one piqued my interest, not because of the very retro-looking scarfs on the mannequin bust, but more to do with their quirky decor of using the ripped up pages of academic books and high-brow novels pasted on the walls.

 

Well, this is University-land after all, so they have to find some way to make use of all the useless study books left behind by students – and this probably beats the Nazi method instead of burning books. The Death of Tragedy is by George Steiner, who regarded himself as being the God of critics, and this book was seen as his antidote to Frederick Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, for all those looking to expand on their existential growth.

 

But Steiner is a critic whose reputation is the subject of considerable controversy, chiefly over the question of whether he knows as much as he leads his readers to believe he does. And as a kid, I am afraid I was duped by my local librarian to an early – way, way too early – introduction to this pompous prat. In the aftermath of the 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Chess Championship match, he wrote a book  called The Sporting Scene: White Knights of Reykjavik. So imaging my unbridled joy when, as an innocent 11-year-old, my local librarian told me she’d kept this new book for me, rather than putting it on the shelves.

 

I ran all the way home clutching it in my hands…only to discover there was a somewhat sparsity of chess moves in it, but instead lots of pious philosophical babble about the match. And brazenly, Steiner managed to give the impression that he knew more about chess than any person who’s ever lived, and that Fischer and Spassky would have been hard pressed to beat him.

 

This started a lifelong avoidance of anything written by George Steiner – and I even managed to give The Death of Tragedy a deft body-swerve when it was on the reading list for a past Open University course I was on. But  finding one of his titles being used as wallpaper just served to show me that you can find a use for his books after all!

 

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