Stranger Things

 

Halloween is on the horizon,  and with it brings strange things…or perhaps even Stranger Things as the case may be, as I ready myself for a marathon binge-session over the weekend with Netflix set to release season two of their series of the same name, which, admittedly, is a bit of a homage to American pop culture tropes of the 1980s, especially those seen in Speilberg-related films like ET, The Goonies, and Poltergeist – nerdy kids on BMX bikes, sleepy suburban towns and supernatural happenings.

 

Season one left me wondering about the possibilities of there being a British version set in the 1970s when I was growing up and influenced by hair-raising kids TV shows like Ace of Wands, The Tomorrow People, Children of the Stones, the Jon Pertwee Dr Who, and all those really creepy public information films of the era, especially the one seemingly scripted by M.R. James warning about the dangers of playing beside water that scared the bejeezus out of me simply because we lived beside a canal!

 

The Stranger Things soundtrack also reached back to the 80s with throbbing analog synths straight out of Miami Vice or a John Carpenter film. In my imaginary show, the music would be influenced by the eerie themes of those 70s kid’s shows. They still sound scary today, especially if you were an impressionable kid when they were originally broadcast – and whenever I hear them, I still feel the hairs immediately rising on the back of my neck.

 

Yes, the more I think about it, Winona Ryder and her Hawkins crew have it tame by comparison dealing with the Upside Down.

 

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Yes, the sign on the window display of the Oxfam Book Shop in Glasgow’s Royal Exchange Square has everything to do with Game of Thrones, as it was timed for the selling of George RR Martin’s fantasy book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, with the ending of its latest TV run, as winter comes ever-nearer.

 

But where exactly does the expression “Here Be Dragons” come from?

 

In old times, mapmaking was a fairly imprecise task, due to the lack of advanced technology for exploration purposes. So, to fill great blank areas on the maps, mapmakers used to include graphic warnings of the dangers of going into uncharted territory. Such warnings took the form of sea serpents, dragons, cannibals and many other mythical and, sometimes, even real creatures.

 

But the saying “Here Be Dragons” soon thereafter fell into folklore, but the actual line was found only once in print (and in Latin, HIC SVNT DRACONES), on the 16th-century Lenox Globe – but is way too cool to give up.

 

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Given the challenging nature of the Scottish weather, it comes as no surprise that there are a whole host of interesting words to name and describe the actions of the elements.  In fact, a recent Scottish Government poll found that the word ‘dreich’ – meaning dull and miserable weather – was the nations favourite word.

 

And while it’s claimed that the Eskimo’s have 50 words for snow, here it’s estimated that there are considerably far more Scottish words for rain.  Dreich tops the list, and other personal favourites include ‘drookit’, ‘bucketing’, ‘hammering’, ‘mizzling’, ‘lashing’ and ’spitting’ to name but a few.

 

But it doesn’t matter what the word you use to describe it, July has been nothing but wet wet wet – though thankfully for everyone concerned, not the Marti Pelow variety! – with just about all the words used throughout the month, as it’s been one of the wettest summers I can recall. 

 

Some would even say it’s been more like the ‘monsoon season’, as the fitting photo from Buchanan Street taken over the July Fair Holiday Weekend would testify to, as all the tourists could be found huddled in the somewhat seasonally overcrowded North Face shop in the elusive search for all things Gore-Tex.

 

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In 1987, Deacon Blue released their iconic debut album, Raintown, that propelled the Glasgow band to international stardom.  And as we celebrate its 30th anniversary, Raintown has stood the test of time by not only being universally regarded as the “perfect pop album”, but the songs it featured continue to litter every Deacon Blue live set.

 

Rarely is Raintown spoken about without the artwork getting a mention: The bleak yet beautiful cover shot captured by Glasgow photographer Oscar Mazaroli (1933-1988), is rightly hailed as a stroke of genius, as it perfectly encapsulates the mood and feel of the album – and Glasgow!

 

This town certainly gets the wet wet wet stuff, even at the start of the Glasgow Fair Fortnight, the Friday in mid-July that’s traditionally the start of the holiday season, as today’s image taken on Buchanan  Street will testify to, as even the pipers resort to craftily attaching an umbrella to their bagpipes in a forlorn effort to stay dry.

 

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Rachel Maclean’s Billy Connolly tribute, entitled “The Big Yin”, is now part of the Glasgow City Centre Mural Trail and can be found in the Gallowgate – and the young Edinburgh creative multi-media artist’s offering is the most outrageously outlandish and striking of the three official portraits commissioned for the comic’s recent 75th birthday. 

 

Her digital print of Connolly in a specially created outfit features references to many of his fabled jokes from throughout his career, such as ‘mini bike parked in bum’ epaulettes, a sporran with an ‘aged’ nose sprouting hair and makeup reflecting his famous ‘pale blue Scotsman’ joke. The crowning piece though, literally, is his tea cosy crown of one of my favourite Connolly stand-up jokes: “Never trust a man, who when left alone with a tea cosy, doesn’t try it on.”

 

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This is the second of two commemorative Billy Connolly 50ft high murals – based on a series of three portraits by leading Scottish artists to celebrate the Big Yin’s recent 75th birthday – installed by street artist Rogue One, and can be found located on the gable wall in the beer garden of the Glasgow Hootenanny Pub in Dixon Street.

 

It is a reproduction of the Jack Vettriano painting taken from a scene from the comedian’s much-vaunted World Tour of Scotland series for the BBC in 1994, which – for reasons only fathomable to the artist himself – he titled “Dr. Connolly I Presume”, and features a very windswept and somewhat drookit Billy on a storm-lashed coast near John O’Groats at the very tip of mainland Scotland. (And thanks to one blog reader commenting below, there’s also a time-lapse video of this mural being done that you can watch by clicking here.)

 

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. The journey of the artists and the comedian, from first sitting to final portrait, was captured recently in a BBC documentary, Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime.

 

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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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June 21 marked the Summer Solstice in 2017. And as well as being the longest day of the year, the Solstice is also a time for great Druid revelry and naked shenanigans at Stonehenge (where not everything stops when the music does!), as apparently a crowd of 13,000 watched and welcomed the sunrise strike up across the Neolithic landmark.

 

So “Hello Summer” then as most of England baked in a near tropical heatwave with a 41-year record temperature high – but here in Glasgow, the temperature was somewhat subdued with the traditional solstice celebrations of pouring rain, interrupted only by the occasional thunderstorm as everyone dived for cover.

 

And that also looks to be the case for WALL-E, Pixar’s small waste-collecting robot, who as I took this photo looked not so much as he was covering himself from the rain, but somewhat sheepishly as if he had perhaps been on the razzle and recovering from a rough night in Glasgow.    

 

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Ross Sinclair’s photo “Real Life” was the beginning of a life-long project after he got the words “Real Life” tattooed on his back in 1994, turning his body into a tool for his art practice. Sinclair had the tattoo done in Terry’s Tattoo Parlour in Glasgow, since then “Real Life” has featured in all of his works.

 

And one of his latest installations, We Love Real Life Glasgow, is a Commission for Centrum Building, Queen St, Glasgow that opened in early May of this year. This is a sculptural neon work (3m x 2m) in the foyer of the city center office building. The architects and owner had seen Sinclair’s large scale 13 part neon work, We Love Real Life Scotland, in the Glasgow School of Art exhibition ‘Devils in the Making’ that exhibited through 2015/16.

 

And when this neon work was then installed for 6 months on the exterior façade of Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), the artist was asked to use that neon display on the GOMA as his starting point to develop a new project for the Centrum Building.

 

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