Hip Hop Marionettes

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As well as helping to brighten up unloved buildings, the Glasgow Mural Trail – part of the Style Mile city centre strategy – is also helping to support young artists.  But it has a very serious side to it, helping to rejuvenating streets and revitalise buildings and vacant sites that are looking a bit tired and reincarnating them as beautiful pieces of public street art.

 

And taking influence from the Beastie Boys and Run DMC, Rogue-One’s Hip Hop Marionettes graces the side of this Strathclyde University building on John Street, adding more than just a splash of colour, life and humour to what was an otherwise drab, plain brickwork to brighten up our streets.

 

And as one reader eloquently put it in his comment in our previous entry, it certainly beats a time and era in Glasgow when the only thing we would see daubed with paint on the side of buildings would be the once ubiquitous gangland catchphrase of “Tongs ya bass”!

 

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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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In what was thought to be the biggest national peace demonstration north of the Border since the last Iraq war, an estimated more than 10,000 Scots took part in anti-Trident protests at the weekend ahead of this week’s Commons vote on renewing the nuclear weapons system.

 

Anti-Trident protests were held in 36 Scottish cities, towns and villages, with locations including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness, Dumfries and Largs, which were all organised within days of it being announced the Westminster vote would take place – and that subsequently saw the renewal of Trident, by 472 votes to 117.

 

Today’s photo was taken at one of the largest demonstrations, held on Saturday in Glasgow, at the Buchanan St. steps, under the ever-watchful eye of the statue of Scotland’s first First Minister, the much-missed wise old owl himself, Donald Dewar. However despite the large crowds, it nowhere neared the enthusiasm shown in the 1950s and 1960s during the anti-nuclear weapons Aldermaston marches led by the likes of Labour’s Michael Foot.

 

Sadly, despite many making the comparison, current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is no Michael Foot – and I severely doubt whether Footy would have had the chutzpah nor the audacity to speak from the front-bench in defiance of current Labour policy. He would have had the decency to do the honourable thing, and resign first before doing so.

 

Labour has always believed fiercely in ridding the world of nuclear weapons. When Nye Bevan famously demanded in 1957 that he not be sent “naked into the conference chamber”, he was not championing nuclear weapons. As he said in the same speech: “It is not a question of who is in favour of the bomb, but what is the most effective way of getting the damn thing destroyed.”

 

That same principle drove Harold Wilson to negotiate the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 1968, and drove Margaret Beckett to announce a series of concrete steps towards “a world free of nuclear weapons” alongside the Trident vote in 2007. In other words, Labour has always believed that maintaining nuclear weapons for the medium term must also go hand in hand with efforts to eliminate them for good.

 

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In the previous blog entry Victoria, we saw an image we most associate with Britain’s second longest-reigning monarch: the prudish – “We are not amused!” – Queen Victoria, who went into the deepest mourning for decades following the premature death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, in 1861, and drastically curtailed her public appearances.  And from this perceived image we find it hard to imagine that she was once young, vivacious and mischievous, a fun, excitable, character who led the most extraordinary romantic life.

 

And soon we are going to get a glimpse into this early life, with a new lavish 8-part TV period drama Victoria, that’s scheduled to air in the autumn.  The series chronicles the public and private life of Queen Victoria (Jenna Coleman), from her accession to the throne in 1837 at the tender age of 18 through to her courtship and marriage to Prince Albert (Tom Hughes), and eventually to her death at the dawn of the 20th-century – and through it all, making her one of history’s most interesting and influential monarchs.

 

And it is to that younger Victoria we turn to with the latest blog photo.  In 1849, Victoria’s first visit to Glasgow was deemed so momentous that it prompted the city elite to commission a statue from the eminent sculptor Baron Marochetti, who was responsible for some of Britain’s best-known public monuments.  No expense was spared, as he used only the finest bronze and granite.

 

In 1854 when the completed work of Victoria – riding side-saddle on her horse, holding aloft an imperial sceptre – was unveiled to tens of thousands of cheering Glaswegians, it was originally situated on the junction of St. Vincent Pl. and Buchanan St.  But following Prince Albert’s death, Glasgow once again turned to Marochetti for a matching equine tribute piece to her husband, and in 1866 this statue of Victoria was relocated to George Square so that the couple would forever be together, side by side.

 

And proving that it’s definitely a man’s world statue-wise here in Glasgow – as we told in the blog entry Glasgow Sisters – Victoria is one of only three (soon to be four!) women to have statues bestowed on them by the city: the other two being Lady Isabella Elder in Govan, and Dolores Ibárruri (‘La Pasionara’ of Spanish civil war fame) on the Clyde Walkway.

 

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I was recently listening to the wonderfully nostalgic trip down memory lane with the three-part BBC Radio 6 Music documentary ‘The Davies Diaries’ on the iPlayer, as the legendary rock raconteur and Kinks’ frontman, Ray Davies, takes a personal look back at music and events from his life during the period 1964-69. 

 

He tells how they needed a new hit single every three months and he was the one who supplied them: You Really Got Me, All Day And All Of The Night, Tired Of Waiting For You, Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy, Set Me Free, See My Friends, Till The End Of The Day, Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, Sunny Afternoon, Dandy, Dead End Street, Waterloo Sunset, Autumn Almanac, and Days.

 

That’s fourteen smash hits in four years, and arguably the greatest hot streak in the history of pop. Even more amazing when you consider they were all written and sung by one person. That’s what you call pressure. And Davies recalls the pressure of having to write another song for an album to a strict deadline just after that golden period, with the added burden being heaped on him from his then wife to name their new-born daughter – so Davies being Davies, he opted to kill two birds with the one stone by naming her Victoria.

 

And ‘Victoria’ kicks off the Kinks’ seventh album in 1969, Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire); a concept album about 20th-century England.  ‘Victoria’ pays sarcastic tribute to the good ol’ days of prudish Queen Victoria and her once-powerful empire, which was built on the backs of the poor – or, as pop storyteller par excellence Ray Davies lyrically puts it, ‘Long ago life was clean / Sex was bad and obscene / And the rich were so mean’.

 

Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary was erected to commemorate Victoria’s Golden Jubilee of 1897.  Albert Hemstock Hodge was employed to create the carved decoration on the infirmary’s façade and, in 1914, also was commissioned to further produced the bronze, imperialistic statue of Victoria that sits somewhat prudishly – as was her wont – atop the entrance to the Jubilee Block that was built to commemorate her long 63-year reign.

 

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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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You’ll find many interesting charity shops as you saunter down Byres Road in the trendy west end of Glasgow – and the window display in this one piqued my interest, not because of the very retro-looking scarfs on the mannequin bust, but more to do with their quirky decor of using the ripped up pages of academic books and high-brow novels pasted on the walls.

 

Well, this is University-land after all, so they have to find some way to make use of all the useless study books left behind by students – and this probably beats the Nazi method instead of burning books. The Death of Tragedy is by George Steiner, who regarded himself as being the God of critics, and this book was seen as his antidote to Frederick Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, for all those looking to expand on their existential growth.

 

But Steiner is a critic whose reputation is the subject of considerable controversy, chiefly over the question of whether he knows as much as he leads his readers to believe he does. And as a kid, I am afraid I was duped by my local librarian to an early – way, way too early – introduction to this pompous prat. In the aftermath of the 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Chess Championship match, he wrote a book  called The Sporting Scene: White Knights of Reykjavik. So imaging my unbridled joy when, as an innocent 11-year-old, my local librarian told me she’d kept this new book for me, rather than putting it on the shelves.

 

I ran all the way home clutching it in my hands…only to discover there was a somewhat sparsity of chess moves in it, but instead lots of pious philosophical babble about the match. And brazenly, Steiner managed to give the impression that he knew more about chess than any person who’s ever lived, and that Fischer and Spassky would have been hard pressed to beat him.

 

This started a lifelong avoidance of anything written by George Steiner – and I even managed to give The Death of Tragedy a deft body-swerve when it was on the reading list for a past Open University course I was on. But  finding one of his titles being used as wallpaper just served to show me that you can find a use for his books after all!

 

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