The Mall Model

 

Situated in the heart of Glasgow’s shopping metropolis on Buchanan Street, the Argyll Arcade was built in 1828 by the architect John Baird Snr. for John Reid Robertson. By the 1840s there were sixty-three shops ranged along the glass-roofed L-shaped thoroughfare, selling a wide variety of luxury goods.

 

Today the arcade is predominantly occupied by high-end jewellers’ shops, offering the largest and finest selection of diamond rings, diamond jewellery, wedding rings and luxury watches in the one single location in Scotland; and the largest diamond repository outside of London’s recently ill-fated Hatton Gardens.

 

But for those of a certain age, before the jewellery takeover, this was the location where generations of small boys would immediately run towards – and especially at Christmas time! – to press their well-snotted noses’ up to one certain window, in the shop at the corner of the “L”, underneath the glass roof supported with ornate hammer-beam roof trusses.

 

It could only be the fabled ‘Boys’ Own’ Glasgow toy and model shop, Clyde Model Dockyard! Initially established in 1789 as a producer of models for the Admiralty, then shipping models, parts and accessories, it went on to be located at 22-23 Argyll Arcade from the mid-1950s through to the late 1970s, and dealt with a veritable Aladdin’s cave full of model railway products, steam engines, model aeroplanes, racing yachts, steamboats, motors and Meccano.

 

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According to recent figures released, UK retails sales are falling off a cliff, and Scotland is losing shops from its high streets faster than anywhere else in Britain.  Vacant and boarded up shopfronts have now become a permanent fixture in town centres, all a casualty of rough economic times – and don’t expect it to get any better with Brexit playing out now like some piece of surreal performance art that you’d normally expect to see during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!

 

Whether or not you support Brexit, it is hard to deny that Theresa May and the Tories are going about it in the most catastrophically incompetent way possible. It’s not a question of hard Brexit or soft Brexit – it’s that we’re getting stupid Brexit. We’re getting the most disastrous, stupid, incompetent version of Brexit led by clueless stupid people, making stupid clueless mistakes – and all because of a schism in the Tory party.

 

Effectively we are looking at a ten-year recession. Nothing ever experienced by those under 50 (been there, seen it, got the “Maggie! Maggie! Maggie Out! Out! Out!” tee-shirt).  Across the board we will see prices rising, more high street shops closing, and we are going to lose a lot of manufacturing. And the irony is that without cheap seasonal foreign workers, domestic agriculture won’t be able to compete. And just don’t get me started on the impact on the NHS.

 

So anyone who considers themselves “Just about managing” right now will wistfully look upon this time as carefree prosperity. Believe me, there are going to be a lot of very pissed off people very soon.  Just remember pitchforks folks, only pitchforks. Nothing will change until the pitchforks come out.

 

Well, that’s that rant out of the system!

 

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New study material in schools these days is Susan Hill’s wonderfully atmospheric 1983 horror novella, The Woman in Black, very cleverly written in the style of a traditional gothic Christmas ghost story that we’d normally expect from the late Victorian/early Edwardian era.

 

It has since inspired a movie and an ongoing popular stage production with successful long runs in the West End and Broadway. And perhaps inspired by the title, street artist “Klingatron” unveiled a stunning new addition to the Glasgow mural trail – and with it, Scotland’s answer to Banksy also revealed he’s giving up his anonymous street life and now going legit.

 

His real name is James Klinge, and he hails from Shawlands in the Southside of the city, and he’s now specializing in intricate stencil portraits and showcasing in a number of exhibitions around the world.  Among the collection can be found “Study of a Woman in Black”, which is actually a portrait of a friend.  And in collaboration with the Art Pistol gallery, he adapted it to adorn a wall in the city’s Saltmarket.

 

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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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According to a new research study, it seems that the traditional fish and chip shop is taking a veritable “battering” and could make a shock disappearance from British streets – and all because those pesky, dietary-savvy millennials are shunning deep fried food in favour of more exotic takeaways.

 

Fish and chips are now deemed “out of touch” with modern times (but no doubt Nigel Farago and Ukip will somehow blame all this on the EU), and burger bars – even high-end, boutique burgers for the hipster clientele, such as Meathammer Ltd., located in oh-so-trendy Byres Road in Glasgow’s West End – are cashing in on this market with lighter takeaway menus that come replete with salads for those that like to adhere to the strict five-a-day regime.

 

Growing up in early 1970s Kirkintilloch, it was the ‘Chippies’ that ruled supreme in an era when “five-a-day” would often amount to your daily fried food intake, not forgetting to include a tasty dessert of the Scottish invention of a deep fried Mars Bar. And in those innocent artery-clogging times, we even had dear old departed Bert Schiavone’s mobile fish and chip van – a fire hazard on wheels, as he often called it – that toured the scheme, just like an ice-cream van.

 

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BHS’s stores are a pretty depressing place right now, as administrators crack on with the closing down process while the poor staff soldier on at minimum wage to sell off what’s left of their ransacked stock to the circling vultures, such as at the main BHS Glasgow store on Sauchiehall Street and Renfield Street in today’s photo – which has always been there since I can long remember, and many, many more years besides (thanks for the childhood memories of the legendary macaroni cheese & chips in the restaurant!). 

 

It’s grim walking through the entrails of this once fine high street institution.  And as this anonymous diary from one of their loyal workers puts it in today’s Guardian, “If there were a Dignitas for department stores, I would make the call.”   It’s no different in Glasgow as it is in London, as the retailer has fallen prey to the unacceptable face of capitalism, as 11,000 loyal hard-working staff are now without a job and a massive pension deficit thanks to a systematic plunder by former owner Sir Philip Green (aka “Sir Shifty”), as he extracted millions from BHS and then sold it on to a bankruptee who went on to receive further millions from the company.  

 

In the midst of all this, Sir Shifty (and his Monaco-based wife, who is in-name-only in charge of the family money laundering operation) has taken delivery of a £46m private jet and a new £100m superyacht to add to his collection of superyachts. Meanwhile, after a very damning Commons committee report was published today, politicians say he should be stripped of his knighthood if he doesn’t make good on the near £600m pension shortfall.  

 

My haemorrhoids really bleed for him with the “threat” hanging over him of losing his gong.  But the choice of returning the money or losing his knighthood shouldn’t be an option here after such an audacious act of avarice against a loyal workforce and pensioners – but automatically being stripped of one should also come along with the return of the money or a lengthy prison sentence. 

 

Preferably all three, if I had my way.

 

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One of my favourite sense memories of Glasgow is when as a kid on a shopping outing, is stopping off at a cafe for an ice cream. Sadly, Queens Café on Victoria Road is one of the few true 50s style Italian cafe/ice-cream parlours left in Glasgow. Its art deco stylings with battered faux leather booths and Formica tops instantly take you back to another era, when the city was full of cozy confines like this.

 

Now there are only two left in the city  – and the Queens Café is one of them, and situated literally right on my doorstep on Victoria Road on the south side of the city, and leads up to the exquisite and very imposing wrought-iron Victorian-gated entrance to Queen’s Park. And herein lies a story, because Queen Victoria would not be amused at all, as the park was named not after her but instead another queen, a controversial queen.

 

And over the next few blog entries, it’s going to be ‘history time’ once again, as we explore the landmarks surrounding the park that was the scene of the last battle of a sectarian rivalry between Roman Catholics and Protestants to take place in Glasgow, Old Firm encounters past, present and future naturally not withstanding. 

 

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From my over-extended sojourn in Seattle, there was many wonderful indie coffee shops to frequent rather than the evil empire of a Starbucks.  I remember one in particular that claimed to say what type of person you are depending on what type of coffee you drink. Under mocha it stated: “You claim to have seen a ghost but it was actually a Scottish person sunbathing.” 

 

I disputed that with one of the coffee pourers – sorry, baristas – by telling her that the natural skin tone of a Scot is blue, and  we needed at least a week in a tanning saloon before we turn milky-white.  But things could be set to change, for a rare event is apparently about to hit Scotland: A scorcher of a summer that will rival the top European hotspots. In the Scottish vernacular, it will be pure roastin’ and taps aff, as some say we could be on track for a three-month scorching spell and possibly the hottest summer in 40 years. 

 

And that would be just about when this wonderful ‘70s-style mannequin I recently discovered at the Michael Rodgers Salon on Glasgow’s Victoria Road first came on the scene (and my equally wonderful 50mm Summilux pre-asph lens that captured it, come to think of it!).  And with her  “Summer Colour Cut” message, then I’m guessing that the hue will be more of a burning, reddish variety as we’re not exactly au fait with the sunscreen protocol and more prone to slapping it on only after a prolonged period in the sun. 

 

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Americans often pride themselves on their shinning ‘pearly whites’ by investing heavily in dental plans – however, I often used to remind them that where I come from, here in Glasgow, a ‘dental plan’ would often involve having to chew on the other side of your mouth. 

 

All of which brings me to a certain Partick dental emporium known as “Glamorous Geggies”. For those hard of Glaswegian, a “geggie” is your mouth, and in this part of the world you can be told ”shut your geggie” instead of ”shut your mouth ”.  And visitors and natives alike have been snapping pictures of the Glamorous Geggies bizarre yet beloved frontage for years – 41, to be precise. 

 

But don’t let the travelling show signage fool you – this long-established business is a bone fide provider of speedy dentures and dental repairs, not to mention the occasional gruesome set when Halloween rolls around. It was also featured by little-known yet fantastic Glasgow indie band Belle and Sebastian, in their video for Come On Sister.

 

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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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