Òran Mór

 

Kelvinside Parish Church was designed and built in 1862 by architect JJ Stevenson to serve the fashionable new residential development of Glasgow’s west end. And after standing derelict for four years, a consortium led by Colin Beattie turned the vacant building into what’s now become a vibrant arts and leisure center.

 

It was rechristened ‘Òran Mór’ – which for those hard of Gaelic means ‘great melody of life’ or ‘big song’ – and opened its doors once again in 2004 to a new congregation. It’s since become the beating heart of the trendy west end, playing host to new musical talents, comedy nights, club nights and the hugely successful A Play, A Pie & A Pint series.

 

And happily, it still retains a sense of its former spiritual guise with many couples choosing to marry here – and not only marry, but also handy for the quick dash downstairs for the reception!

 

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A central feature very popular with tourists and locals alike on trendy Buchanan Street shopping precinct is one of three wonderful 3D Topographical Relief Maps that’s to be found in the city; the other two being located in Cathedral Precinct and at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

 

All three were cast in bronze by sculptor Kathleen Chambers, a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art. And the Map on Buchanan Street  – erected in 1990, to mark Glasgow’s status as European City of Culture – is not only an impressive work of art in itself but very practical, enabling you to picture the city from above and find your way around. 

 

One design quirk I love about it, whether intended or not, is that when it rains (which in Glasgow it does on a regular basis, as can be witnessed in today’s photo) the River Clyde – “the wonderful Clyde”, as the song would go at school – fills up with water and flows over the edge.

 

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Weather-wise, the festive period here in Glasgow was bleak, wet, dark and gloomy – almost dystopian in appearance.  It was decidedly indoor weather, and with this being Glasgow, a trip to the Arty Garties (or Kelvingrove Art Galleries and Museum to give it its proper Sunday name) was the order of the day.  Several days in fact, as the weather dictated.

 

There can be few who visit here who are not taken by the impression sight of the full-length oil on canvass portrait in today’s photo of Mr & Mrs Robert N. Campbell, suitably resplendent in Regency-style clothing within a landscaped background of their estate in Kailzie at Traquair, Peeble-shire.  It was painted in 1805 by Edinburgh artist Sir Henry Raeburn (1756 – 1823), and titled simply “Mr and Mrs Robert N. Campbell of Kailzie”.  

 

Raeburn was the most famous Scottish portrait painter of his day, and painted many of Scotland’s important people, such as politicians, judges and landowners. His talent lay in his ability to catch character with just a few strokes of paint – and apparently this was how the artist had just encountered the couple after they had returned arm-in-arm from a romantic stroll. 

 

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The single Don’t You Want Me shifted gazillions and was said to have made the cutting-edge British synthpop band the Human League. It came from their 1981 album Dare!, and was one of my favourites from the early Eighties.

 

But you can boil down the lyrical content of Human League’s big hit to the catchiest and, perhaps, most thematically important line: “You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar.” The gist of the entire song boils down to that anyway, right? And then at 1:35 on the video, Susan Ann Sulley takes up her half of the duet with Philip Oakey and responds “I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar, that much is true. I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar. I guess it’s just what I must do.”

 

What’s clearly important here is that both sides understand that the woman was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar; perhaps even a cocktail bar and brasserie not too dissimilar to this popular one in Glasgow, Urban, that once had a previous life as formerly being the home to the Bank of England’s Scottish headquarters.

 

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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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This coming Sunday is when British Summer Time, also known as Daylight Saving Time, ends, and we get to Cher-like turn back time (In the U.S., the clocks will be turned back on Nov. 1,) by changing our watches, clocks and digital devices for a glorious extra hour in Slumberland, also twinned with Duvetville.

 

Why we keep up this confusing practice of moving the clocks – first proposed as a joke by Benjamin Franklin in 1784 to save on candles, but in fact championed by British businessman and golf fanatic  William Willett, who is also credited with the idea as a way of getting up earlier and so having more daylight hours after work to play a round – seems to be lost in time.

 

The moving of the clocks was first introduced at the start of World War One by Germany and Austria, and then in 1916 by the allies, to save on coal usage. In 1940, clocks were not put back at the end of summer, and so for the remainder of the war the nation was on Double British Summer Time – two hours ahead of Greenwich meantime in the summer months, and one hour ahead during winter.

 

While the UK has always had daylight savings time since it was first introduced, it only came into widespread use across the world during the 1970s because of the energy crisis; and many now believe the time is right to stop the practice of clocks being turned forward and backwards.  And I remember the last time we experimented with this when I was a kid.

 

In 1968, good ol’ Harold Wilson’s government began a three-year experiment which saw the nation’s clocks put forward an extra hour – but not everyone was a fan of darker winter mornings. We Scots, in particular, protested that double BST would leave the nation in darkness until 10am. Getting to school in pitch-black mornings during this period, I all but looked like the Orange Tango Man, bedecked in reflective orange vest, hat, schoolbag and arm-bands while also carrying a torch.

 

In 1971 the House of Commons voted to abandon the experiment by an almost unanimous majority due to safety fears.  It was only years later they discovered that all the data showing it to be dangerous was seriously flawed – it was actually the statisticians here that were the one’s working in the dark!

 

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The last time I bought a Deacon Blue compilation CD set, it would have probably have been “The Very Best Of” which was really rather magic. But in 2015 “Dignity: The Best Of Deacon Blue” came out which is similar to “The Very Best Of” but there are good compilations and not-so-good compilations, and this one seems to be stuck in both sections.

 

Dignity was, of course, the Glasgow band’s first official release; a song that set them on a trajectory to pop stardom. The rest, as they say, being history. And one of the best pop songs ever with lyrics that are so inspirational, it starts:

 

There’s a man I meet, walks up our street
He’s a worker for the council, has been twenty years
And he takes no lip off nobody and litter off the gutter
Puts it in a bag and never thinks to mutter

 

Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross (he’s originally from Dundee, but we’ve now taken him to be a Glaswegian at heart) tells the story of how he was inspired to write the song. Working as an English teacher and living in a flat in Kenmure Street, Pollokshields, Ross used to look out of the bay window of his Glasgow tenement at the street-sweepers of the city cleansing department as they changed shifts. Watching them walk by with their cart and brushes, wondering about their lives, it gave him the idea for the song.

 

It’s one of those rare songs which transcend their writer, Dignity, which came out in 1987, has now become part of the fabric of Scottish life. You hear it at the football, on the radio, at the shops; at weddings and funerals; works nights out; and a very popular choice at pub karaokes. Dignity is special, in a Glasgow sort of way: ​an anthem for the decent, aspirational working life of the ordinary citizen – and still sounds great nearly 30 years on.

 

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No, nothing to do with comedy: It’s National Poetry Day, held ever year on the first Thursday of October. And no doubt everyone will be celebrating today by reciting their favourite poems by heart, whether that be from Robert Burns, John Betjeman, Walt Whitman, William Blake via a lot of Shakespeare.

 

My contribution is today’s photo of the statue in Glasgow’s George Square of Robert Burns, where he has an ongoing battle for respect from the seagulls. Burns, regarded as the ‘heaven-taught ploughman’, is Scotland’s most famous poet, her undisputed national bard. He may have been born in rural poverty in Alloway, the son of a tenant farmer; but he was also a true son of the Scottish Enlightenment – intelligent, articulate, well read and educated.

 

Everyone will have heard or sung his most universally known New Year anthem, Auld lang syne. But it’s no wonder he had a reputation as a ladies man (and several of them, at that), with his most famous verses being his love songs, such as Ae fond kiss and O my luve is like a red red rose. And there’s none better reciting his work today than Glaswegian chanteuse Eddi Reader – and here she is singing My Love is Like a Red Red Rose.

 

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Salvador Dalí’s iconic masterpiece, Christ of Saint John of the Cross, is, for better or worse, probably the most enduring vision of the crucifixion painted in the 20th century – some say it is the most breathtaking painting not only from the studio of Dali, but in all of 20th century art. And it can be found right here in Glasgow, and free to view.

 

It first displayed in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum on 23 June 1952 – and it came to find its way to Glasgow thanks to the perseverance of one man, Dr Tom Honeyman, then the Director of Kelvingrove. He managed to endear himself with Dali and negotiated not just the painting for the City of Glasgow but also for the copyright to be included in the purchase price of £8,200 — much, much lower than its catalogue price.

 

Apart from Honeyman’s tactful handing of Dali, Glasgow had another thing going for it in the eyes of the artist: he had a friend who liked Glasgow and told him what a wonderful city it was. That was enough to convince the surrealist legend to sell it to the city. Honeyman and Dali thereafter struck up a lifelong friendship and, over the proceeding years, corresponded regularly. Their letters are now held in the National Library of Scotland.

 

Yet despite pulling off the deal of the century, City fathers originally balked at acquiring it, because, they complained, the price tag seemed outrageous and irresponsible at the time. Today, Dali’s Christ of St. John of the Cross – the best-loved and voted Scotland’s favourite painting – monetarily has been valued somewhere north of $80 million. Of course, its aesthetic value is immeasurable. It has also helped to put Glasgow on the art map: Kelvingrove is the most popular free visitor attraction in Scotland and the 14th most popular major gallery in the world.

 

But in a city with a sectarian divide, this proved to be a controversial work of art with a backstory of considerable drama attached to it. Some claimed the painting was sacrilegious; others that it was a tad too Catholic. The painting has also twice been attacked and restored, most famously in 1961 when the canvas was almost slashed in two by a deranged fanatic.  You might think that this was the result of religious outrage, but in fact it was motivated by the fact that the attacker considered it was a very bad likeness of Christ. He should know, since  he claimed to be Jesus, and the painting looked nothing like him!

 

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