The Woman in Black

 

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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An advertising hoarding for a coming new shop on Glasgow’s bustling Buchanan Street, featuring a pair of knee-length black leather boots, was all it took to transport me back to my youth and the late 1960s, as it immediately brought back vivid memories of the then oft-repeated late night cult action spy series The Avengers – one of my favourite adult shows as a kid.

 

It began life as a tough, no nonsense spy-thriller vehicle for the multi-talented Ian Hendry, with his sidekick being the non-dapper and bowler hat-less Patrick Macnee – but it soon came to incarnate the ‘Swinging Sixties’ when Hendry left after the first season, the show having a very surreal makeover and retooling, as suave and sophisticated John Steed (Macnee) went all Savile Row on us and memorably partnered in turn with Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson, until its demise in 1969 (a victim of poor US ratings).

 

Dapper Steed’s first foxy sidekick, Cathy Gale (Blackman), caused particular excitement with her ‘kinky’ black leather costumes, especially the then-fashionable titular footwear, that lead to the two TV stars in 1964 going on to record a novelty single for Decca, ‘Kinky Boots’, that was not initially a hit, but a 1990 re-release peaked at No.5 on the British singles chart in December of that year.

 

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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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The Skull is the companion piece to the Cherub mentioned in the previous blog, and the pair of bronze sculptures, powder-coated with gold, designed by Kenny Hunter, can be seen on opposite corners of Glasgow’s Tron Theatre. They form a single work: Cherub/Skull – and the skull is the one not so well known, as its hidden in its little niche on the much quieter Parnie Street.

 

But for me, this is the one I always go out of my way to walk past when I’m in town, as looking up to this image brings back memories of being a kid in the early 1970s and that wonderful ’Don’t Watch Alone’ series, the title created by Scottish Television that covered all those horror movies shown on a Friday night, starting at 11pm. It was my first introduction to those atmospheric old black and white Universal, RKO and also colour-infused Hammer Horror classics that still to this day have remained my favourites.

 

And the reason I always look out for it is my fondness for the underrated and relatively unknown gem I first saw as a 10-year-old, The Skull (adapted from a short story by Robert Bloch, author of Psycho), a wonderful 1965 movie from Amicus, the British horror studio that attempted to rival Hammer Horror.  And The Skull (streaming on Netflix) is a fearsome, finely acted and moody tale of Gothic horror and demonology with a solid cast of British thespians. 

 

The premise is that the skull of the Marquis de Sade has been taken from its grave, bringing terror to those who own it, and it stars those two legendary masters of the macabre, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who team up for the umpteenth time together as occult collectors in this doom-laden shocker – but with the twist being that this is the only movie featuring the gruesome twosome where Cushing plays the bad guy to Lee’s good guy. 

 

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The Tron Theatre is steeped in Glaswegian history. Having stood in the heart of the Merchant City for almost five centuries, it has been a Christian place of worship, a meeting hall, a market, a store house, a police station and a theatre. And walking towards the Trongate, you can’t but help look up and be transfixed by the evil lurks from the cherub that sits on the corner of the main entrance.

 

Cherubs are supposed to be angelic, representing innocent little children singing the praises of God. Not this little guy, he has a distinctly menacing and impish look about him. According to the website of the Merchant City Public Art Trail “the cherub steps confidently forward from an already existing ornate niche in the screen wall, as if about to fly or jump into the bustle below”.

 

This is one of a pair of bronze sculptures – the Cherub and the Skull – powder-coated with gold, installed in 1998 and designed by Kenny Hunter, that sit on opposite corners of the new-build Tron Theatre that refer to the span between childhood and death, suggesting that all human endeavour is reflected within the walls of the theatre.

 

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In 2014, Sheffield-based photographer and graphic designer Dave Mullen Jr started Geometry Club, a collaborative Instagram project in which people submit images of buildings forming carefully composed triangle shapes. Mullen is now creating an app to simplify the meticulous formatting process, and says the project is “a test of building an audience based on curating the same thing”.

 

The account has attracted more than 25,000 followers and welcomes contributions by professional and amateur photographers. And the first rule of Geometry Club is to make contributions – and here’s one of my contributions, it’s the Wolfson Centre for Bioengineering at Strathclyde University, built 1970-71, and designed by architects Morris & Steedman.

 

It is, of course, a prime leading example of pure Scottish Brutalisim of the era, consisting of 5-storeys of very distinctive full-height ribbed chevron-shaped white reinforced-concrete cladding panels.

 

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With a true sense of the timing and the moment of the man, Leonard Cohen released his final studio album, You Want It Darker, just as his American neighbours were in the process of electing Donald Trump to be their next president – and as they did so, sadly the legendary Canadian poet and singer-songwriter asked the same question of himself, as he shuffled off his own mortal coil last night. 

 

He was the poet of sex and death, who made music to nourish the soul; not only to nourish but also noirish the soul, as often his mordant words and mournful voice hauntingly resonated like the image of a soulful black and white photograph from some  bygone era – and I was a late converter to Cohen and his wonderful body of work; and arguably his body of work was more worthy of a Nobel prize for literature than Bob Dylan’s.

 

Cohen was luminous and often wryly funny. In recent years, I was lucky to see him a couple of times in Seattle during his long 2008-2013 tour.  What set him apart from so many others of his generation was that he actually got better over 60 with such brilliant songs as ‘The Future’ and ‘Almost Like the Blues’; he didn’t just churn out his back catalogue. 

 

And no sooner had I broken the seal of You Want It Darker – I hesitate to say his ‘last album’, as I’m sure he has other, as-yet-unreleased recordings to come now –  news began to filter through of his death at the age of 82 in the early hours of this morning. So to paraphrase one of his famous songs from his back catalogue, So long, Leonard. 

 

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As the turmoil surrounding Brexit continues to wreck havoc with the economy and the rapid rise of dog-whistle politics, last week the UK home secretary, Amber Rudd, had a somewhat disgraceful ‘Mein Kampf moment’ as she fanned the flames of xenophobia with her proposals to force UK companies to disclose how many foreign workers they employ. 

 

And yes, sure enough, this little policy nugget could be found in chapter two of Herr Hitler’s book. Business leaders described her measure as divisive and damaging, with the government drive being to reduce net migration and encourage businesses to hire British staff. One frustrated punter summed up the growing xenophobic trend on social media in the aftermath of Rudd’s speech: ‘Can’t we just shave our heads, lace up the Doc Martens, don our Fred Perrys and admit who we now are?’ 

 

The skinheads didn’t own Doc Martens but they tried to make it theirs – and they nearly succeeded, because along with the shaved heads, a Fred Perry shirt, a pair of jeans and wide braces, this was all but a über-rightwing militia uniform. When I was growing up, wearing DMs to school was frowned upon because of those skinhead connotations. Nowadays, if you’ve ever visited one of the many Doc Marten high street boutique stores, then you’ll have quickly discovered that this fabled footwear has gone from being the subculture of skinheads and gangs of the 1960s and 70s to now a mainstreaming, trendy fashion item for the popular kids. 

 

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“The truth is out there” was, of course, the tagline for The X-Files, as Mulder and Scully went about searching for aliens and UFOs.  Finding aliens and UFOs look’s a breeze though compared to trying to fathom out the truth the Tory UK government has for Brexit, after David Cameron stupidly gambled the house on holding the referendum vote on June 23rd, his cunning wheeze to outfox his own barmy band of backbench Brexiters and Nigel Farage’s Ukippers.

 

Here in Scotland, we voted 62-38 to Remain; and there were similarly large margins for this in Northern Ireland and London. But in the rest of England and Wales, they foolishly fell for all the fibs and declared that they wanted to Leave – and that carried the vote that split the country, with the final tally being 52.5-47.5. And on Sunday, it will be 100 days since the vote to leave the EU – and there’s mounting concerns that the government still doesn’t have the foggiest notion of what they are doing, especially after new PM Theresa May’s ridiculously vacuous statement that “Brexit means Brexit”.  

 

But now many of those that said they wanted to leave are beginning to regret their decision, as the wonderfully whimsical ‘Passport to Pimlico’ outlook painted for them by the “Three Brexiteers” – Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Brexit Secretary David Davis and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox – is now looking more like heading for the reality of the slow-motion car crash that’s the so-called ‘hard Brexit’.  And that car crash analogy is fitting when you hear the worrying news today from car giants Renault-Nissan.

 

The Franco-Japanese company – which builds around one in three of all of Britain’s total automotive output at its Sunderland plant – are now demanding the UK Government to pledge compensation for any extra costs as a result of Brexit before it invests in the future of its Sunderland plant (one of the biggest employers in the region) or else they’ll up sticks and move elsewhere in Europe.

 

There are many hardships coming, and many jobs are set to be lost, particularly in those regions that voted to Leave, such as Sunderland.  Many in the Leave side are now beginning to regret the folly of their vote, and they become somewhat sheepish when you ask them how they voted. From where I’m sitting it’s all beginning to look like France after 1945 – “Me? Vote Leave? Nah, mate – I was with the Resistance.”

 

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