The King in the Shadows

 

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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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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Crivens! Help ma boab!  The Broons, Scotland’s most famous fictional family – Maw, Paw, Maggie, Hen, Joe, Daphne, Horace, the twins and the Bairn (not forgetting Grandpa), who live in a tenement flat at 10 Glebe Street in the fictional town of Auchenshoogle – are set to tread the boards for the first time in a play by Rob Drummond at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal this month. 

 

For our American cousins perhaps not altogether au fait with the Broons, this is a long-running comic strip published weekly by the fabled D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. in the Scottish Sunday Post newspaper with a book collecting the strips being published every two years or so (And it really is long-running, first appearing in 1936, it’s characters are older than Batman and Superman). 

 

The original writer/artist was the great Dudley D. Watkins – who also created the neighbouring comic strip of ‘Oor Wullie’, and also several characters in ‘The Dandy’ – but he died in the late 60s and since then a series of writers and artists have continued the strip in exactly the same style (there have been no Frank Miller-type Dark Knight re-imaginings of the Broons, though it’s an intriguing thought).

 

Each Christmas growing up as a kid, it was alternate annuals of The Broons or Oor Wullie (which I preferred). And I can guarantee you that one (or all) of the four standard Broons storylines will be played out on the stage:

 

1. “The Bairn overhears something”. Simple but versatile, the youngest of the brood overhears someone talking about one of the clan (usually Grandpa Broon), gets the wrong end of the stick, mobilises panic-stricken family members until it all sorts itself out. Key phrase: “Ha ha! My wee lamb!”

 

2. “Paw is mean”: Paw Broon tries to save money in a ridiculous way while lecturing the rest of the family on their spendthrift ways. He always comes a cropper and ends up spending more to get less. Key phrase: “Auld Skinflint.”

 

3. “The But and Ben”: All 11 Broons decamp for a holiday in a two-room house in the Scottish countryside. Key phrase: “Look at that teuchter!

 

4. “The Broons vs Modern Life”: A member of the family will enthuse about a new trend or technology, such as electric shavers or computer games, only for the Broons to put their own stamp on it. In this year’s book, Grandpa Broon comes up with a mince & tatties smoothie, the idea of which is making me feel a bit queasy as I type. Key phrase: “Now that’s what I call a –insert technology name-!”

 

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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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Thankfully for the well-being of the neighbours, these badass speakers aren’t the real deal but in fact a sculpture entitled ‘Badussy’ (Or Machu Piccu After Dark) by the Peruvian-born and Miami-based visual artist William Cordova.  His edifice was made from 200 donated 1970s- and 1980s-era chipped, clunky old stereo speakers that were generously donated by Seattleities for the sideshow to a major exhibit on the Inca’s of Peru that ran through the fall of 2013 at the Seattle Art Museum.

 

It alludes to modern urban subcultures, and it refers back to the glory days of vinyl and album rock (there was a few LPs scattered on the floor on the other side, mainly of the funky variety with Earth, Wind & Fire), when baby boomers piled huge stereo systems into their tiny rooms.  Today, of course, mp3s and smartphones have made such hi-fi connoisseurship obsolete. Music is portable, not monumental. And that, partly, was the the point of machu picchu.

 

Cordova’s mini-mountain is about 15 feet high; it’s less a tower than a large stump. Nobody wants these speakers any more; nobody listens to music that way. The programme blurb reads: “Cordova has produced the semblance of an antiquity. Dimly lit, machu picchu after dark looms as if it were a monument visited at dusk; familiar as a form, though unfamiliar in its significance. Neglected or collected, the objects have been repurposed. This is how the past persists, whether walls or songs, even when its origins are forgotten.”

 

Well, okay – but remember to keep it down.

 

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They say some of the best engineering projects are the simplest – but best of all, this unlikely one solves a social problem and makes a big difference to the lives of homeless people living on the street at this time of the year, as temperatures plummet and wet weather increases the risk of illness.

 

We’ve all witnessed homeless people using broken-up cardboard boxes (such as in today’s photo) for sleeping rough on – but one of the biggest issues is trying to sleep, as the cold, hard ground cuts right through to the bone and causes joint pain. But psychology graduate and former primary school teacher Elliot Lord put his creative mind to finding a solution; and he came up with an almost IKEA-like approach to the problem.

 

He created cardboard beds for a warmer, more comfortable Christmas on the streets for the less fortunate – and using the same, flat-pack cardboard they would be using to sleep on anyway. Lord has set up a site, called “CardBeds”, dedicated to this novel approach to sleeping rough, including the free template, which he is keen for people to take and use it themselves. “Once you’ve got the template all you have to do is draw around it and cut it out,” says the inventor. “It takes one hour. [The designs are] public domain, are as easy as possible and free.”

 

The video is well-worth watching to see a simple solution to a very serious problem. Thank the Lord, as they would say.

 

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The idea of street art is surely that it is often reacting against things, it is temporary and spontaneous, whereas nowadays much of the stuff in Glasgow has been commissioned by the city council and even features in a city centre walking tour leaflet.

 

And this colossal one in today’s photo, that adorns the gable end of a building on Mitchell Street, behind upmarket store House of Frasers – Glasgow’s answer to Harrods, though with less Arabs – is called “Honey I Shrunk the Kids”, by the Australian-born, and now Glasgow-based graffiti artist Sam Bates (AKA Smug), who has been practising his craft for over fifteen years, having developed a photo-realistic style that he has freely exhibited up and down the country.

 

The Disney Honey I Shrunk… franchise is obviously a bit too modern for my nostalgic fix – but every time I see this image, it brings back childhood memories from the early 1970s, and running home from school on a Thursday to watch arguably the best of Irwin Allen’s classic US sci-fi TV imports (others being Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space), Land of the Giants, that for some god-forsaken reason had a scheduled starting time of 4.25pm.

 

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Some years ago, the Dutch documentarian Bert Haanstra made a short nine-minute film called Holland is a Mirror (available to view on YouTube, by clicking the link) which consisted entirely of shots of buildings reflected in Dutch rivers and canals.  The 1950 B&W film was an impressive piece of work but, as might have been expected, slightly lacking in human interest.

 

And you might have been mistaken for thinking in today’s photo that your intrepid film blogger was about to embark on a similar project, but this single shot of the MOHAI (Museum of History and Industry)  reflecting into Seattle’s Lake Union exhausted my interest in what is, after all, really the belabouring of a gimmick. As the Wicked Queen in Snow-White used to remark: “When you’ve seen one mirror shot, you’ve seen ’em all”.  

 

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Oh, the unbounded “joys” of being forced as a kid at school – much against my will – to learn Scottish Country Dancing: The Gay Gordon, The Dashing White Sargent, Strip the Willow and the Eightsome Reel. It was torture having to learn all those bloody dance steps whilst at the same time having a panic attack dealing with your first real one-on-one contact with a member of the opposite sex!

 

Trouble is, I also had – and still have to this day – two feet so left that in the summer I wear flip-flips. What I really needed at school was one of those “Easy Guide” to the dance steps. Like those at regular intervals on the east and west sidewalks along Broadway, between Pine and Roy streets, where you can find a collection of inlaid bronze footprints and dance instructions designed by Seattle artist Jack Mackie. Each of the eight groups depicts different dance steps, such as the rumba, mambo, waltz, and tango.

 

Its part of the Seattle 1% for Art Program, in conjunction with a major facelift of the Broadway sidewalk completed in 1982. The idea is for passerby’s to be encouraged to participate and become part of the artwork by learning the dances.

 
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