Have A Wonderful Christmas

 

What Christmas movie is complete without a miserable person deciding to end it all? Obviously the big one here is It’s a Wonderful Life, wherein good guy Jimmy Stewart goes all suicidal on us and almost jumps to his death, driven by the Human Embodiment of Hyper-capitalism in the guise of Mr. Potter, and only prevented from doing so by a little old man in a nightie looking to get a set of wings.

 

It is, of course, Frank Capra’s black-and-white classic from 1946 all about small-town America that has become a staple of Christmas television programming the world over – but it didn’t have such auspicious beginnings. In fact, it was regarded as being something of a Christmas turkey after being lambasted on its release by the critics.  But what do they know?

 

It’s a Wonderful Life was considered such a flop by the studio that they let its copyright lapse – and inadvertently, this proved to be its salvation, turning it into a perennial holiday favourite that has bonded families and communities together for eons. This meant that, by the Seventies, there was a festive Frank Capra film available for networks to screen for free – and It’s a Wonderful Life was duly screened, every day and practically every hour, on almost every channel throughout the whole month of December.

 

I knew the movie as a big holiday classic, but I only discovered all about the ad nauseam screening during my decade-long stay in the US of A. I remember one Christmas Eve in Seattle, I decided to play TV roulette with it. I literally kept changing channels and came upon it in different stages of its progress. Yet still so infectious, you simply can’t not watch. You can’t turn it off.

 

And because there’s little or no copyright, advertising images from the movie can be all but freely used, such as here with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed at The Butterfly and the Pig pub at Shawlands Cross in Glasgow’s South-Side, for everyone to “Have a Wonderful Christmas” there. Actually, this theme pub would be the worst of all places to celebrate Christmas, as now it is like something out of Pottersville, the “bad” town from the movie, and not the Bedford Falls “good” town watering hole of the old Corona Bar that we all once loved and frequented.

 

Remember now everyone: Have a wonderful Christmas!

 

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No, not another homage to my childhood with Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade, but this time it’s more like “Cartoon Arcade”, with an exhibition and sale this month at Plan B Books in Shawlands Arcade of the political cartoons from the hand of the redoubtable Jim Turnbull, who for over 30 years was the cartoonist for the Glasgow Herald newspaper.

 

It runs December 2-21, with Plan B opening hours being Wednesday to Saturday, 12pm-5pm.  And there, you can take a political walk down memory lane with possibly the largest exhibit of Jim Turnbull’s wonderful cartoons, with over 100 of his masterpieces focusing on the Thatcher years and his famous Scottish lion – a lion that became an instant hit during the first ill-fated 1979 referendum on devolution through portraying Scottish people as a feart lion for not showing greater support.

 

While many of Turnbull’s caricatures may well be instantly recognisable thanks to his skill in both drawing and catching the political zeitgeist of the time, one or two seemed to confuse some of an earlier generation.  Today’s photo, showing Enoch ‘Rivers of Blood’ Powell separating out the black jelly babies was one, some wondering just who he was.  I tried explaining to them to imagine Nigel Farage without the beer or the fags, though speaking Latin!  

 

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For almost 200 years it has been a jewel in Scotland’s architectural crown and a magnet for shoppers. Today, Argyll Arcade, in the heart of Glasgow, remains almost intact, the oldest covered shopping mall in Scotland, well known for its jewellery shops.

 

The iconic L-shaped arcade was built in 1827 in the chic Parisian style, and cut through old tenements, creating a short-cut between Argyle Street and Buchanan Street, the biggest retail street in the UK outside of London. It’s accessed through a centre bay with paired mosaic, semi-domed tympanum at each entrance; and the main one, on Buchanan Street, has recently taken on a cat-like appearance with some imaginative work with its Christmas lights makeover.

 

Designed by John Baird (1798-1859), the building was Grade A listed in 1970 recognising its special architectural and historic national importance as Europe’s oldest covered shopping malls (and is the only remaining arcade now in the country). It was restored to its original Victorian pomp and splendor after a two-year, £750,000 conservation programme that was completed in 2011.

 

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“Look!  It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive…It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, IT’S ALIVE!”  And with that famous Henry Frankenstein line, from the late 1931 Universal horror classic, Frankenstein, there entered Boris Karloff in the tragic role that made him a star overnight, in what many consider one of the greatest horror movies ever made.

 

Ironically, the part of the Monster in James Whale’s iconic horror movie was originally offered to Bela Lugosi, after his success earlier that same year in Universal’s Dracula. But Lugosi famously turned it down, saying that there was no dialogue in it for him. A few days after Lugosi rejected the defining horror role, Whale discovered Karloff at the Universal canteen and was immediately taken by his gaunt, jaundiced-like facial features and somber eyes. The rest, as they say, is history.

 

The English director paired the unknown English actor with the legendary Jack Pierce from the Universal make-up department, and his artistry combined with a rare pathos in Karloff’s stand-out performance meant more to horror than anything else that had gone before, including Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula – and indeed, it also defined the starting point of the intense rivalry that developed between those two legendary masters of the macabre.

 

I described in an earlier blog how STV’s early 1970s Friday Night Horror feature, ‘Don’t Watch Alone’, influenced me as a kid – and the first movie they showed in that series was also Frankenstein,  and I was so taken by the movie and Karloff’s performance that I was immediately hooked (and still even today) on all those old wonderful Universal and RKO horror classics.

 

Today’s iconic Frankenstein image from that first 1931 Universal movie comes from the Strathclyde University ‘Wonderwall’ series, located on George Street, that covers more than 1000 square meters and several stories, making it the UK’s largest outdoor mural.  It’s part of the City Center Mural Trail and was commissioned in 2014 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Royal Charter that conferred the university’s status, and created by street artists Rogue One and Ejek.

 

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One from the “Words that will come back to haunt you” department.  Back in early August of last year, former Leicester striker Gary Lineker, now BBC sports presenter, famously said he would present the first Match of the Day for the next season in only his pants if Leicester won the league, with them being outrageous outsiders at 5,000/1 to do so. 

 

Guess what?  Yes, Gary is now busy rummaging through his underwear drawer….so  bookies Paddy Power are now offering odds on what colour his briefs will be, with Leicester’s colour of blue odds on at 4/9. Gary himself pointed out the flaw in this betting when he contacted Paddy Power on social media to ask: “Can I have a thousand pounds on polka dots at 33/1?” 

 

Somehow I can’t ever imagine the late great Arthur Montford of Scotsport fame – he of the many varied chequered sports jackets and memorable catchphrases including “What a stramash”, “It’s a sensation!” and his omnipresent “Disaster for Scotland” to name but a few – ever getting involved in such an unseemly event, could you?

 

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Ever wondered what to do to wile away the time when you are stuck at a railway station waiting for a train, other than staring aimlessly at the arrivals and departures board?  Well, through February, Glasgow’s venerable Central Station, one of the busiest train stations in Scotland, found a novel way for passengers waiting for their trains to take in an exclusive, free-to-view classic rock photography exhibition.

 

The 32 images were all taken by the popular rock photographer, Denis O’Regan, as he brought his ‘Rock Through The Ages’ exhibition, showcasing music legends of the 60s, 70s and 80s direct to the general public, with well-loved and notorious British and international music stars whom he has spent more than 40 years photographing, both on and off stage, including David Bowie, Oasis, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones; and he was also the official photographer at Live Aid in 1985 at Wembley Stadium.  

 

The exhibition of the renowned rock photographer’s selected favourites is all part of a year-long tour of popular railway stations across the country.  “I have photographed great musicians and travelled to extraordinary places to capture classic moments in music,” said O’Regan when he launched the tour at Liverpool’s Lime St. Station in January. “Railway stations are a great way of connecting people with art in their everyday lives and it is fantastic to be able to share my photos with rail passengers and station users around the country.” 

 

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‘Tobacco Road’ is remembered as Erskine Caldwell’s 1931 novel that was made into a movie of the same name; but more famously perhaps as John D. Loudermilk’s song that became the big trans-Atlantic hit of 1964 for the British band with the very American-sounding name doing American blues, The Nashville Teens

 

But there’s also another sort of ‘Tobacco Road’ found in the heart of Glasgow’s stylish Merchant City, where you’ll find Virginia Street, Virginia Court and Virginia Place all cobbled together in the one little area – and the irony wasn’t lost on me either when I took this photo, because across the road there are two ladies in the doorway of their place of employ taking a quick – cough cough, wheeze wheeze – cigarette break.  

 

In Virginia Street, you’ll find a plaque that marks the spot of the Tobacco Exchange where sugar and tobacco were traded in the 18th century – and this is what brought great wealth to Glasgow. On the back of slave labour, tobacco became the most important commodity brought in from America, as Glasgow’s strategic sea trading position on the west coast meant a trip across the big pond to Virginia (and vice-versa) could be completed 20 days faster than a trip from London.

 

This resulted in almost half of the tobacco coming into Europe being distributed through Glasgow, as it was then exported on to England, France, Holland and Germany – and the wealth generated through this soaring tobacco trade is what helped to build Glasgow and established it as the Second City of the Empire.

 

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The shop signage just off of Glasgow’s trendy Buchanan Street shopping precinct may indeed say “New Look”, but beside it was the old story of growing homelessness, as most people casually walked past what looked like some rubbish placed outside, but was in fact someone less fortunate sheltering from the elements under a tarpaulin.

 

Fifty years ago the national housing charity Shelter was founded, just weeks after the screening of Ken Loach’s seminal work, Cathy Come Home.  That film shocked the nation to the core. Shelter’s haunting early photographs of slum conditions ensured that the housing crisis stayed at the forefront of national politics, with famous images of families exploited by racketeering landlords living in freezing squalor.

 

But believe me, for Shelter, today’s environment is just as bleak, and this is not a happy 50th birthday they wish to be seen celebrating. Amazingly, half a century on, society still needs their campaigning voice to be heard, as research figures show the number of people sleeping rough in the UK has increased by 30% in the past year – and chancellor George Osborne is now warning that his budget next month will bring us a heap more of austerity.

 

So happy birthday Shelter – you are needed more than ever today, no thanks in large to an austerity Conservative government who doesn’t give a feck about housing and social well-being; and not only that, they are now attempting to curb the powers of charities to speak up on such social issues. If Charles Dickens were alive today, he would have no shortage of material to write about.

 

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With his lugubrious presentation, Scottish comedian/actor Duncan Macrae (1905 -1967) became a mainstay of television Hogmanay celebrations in the 1950s and 1960s with a rendition of his song (in Scots), “The Wee Cock Sparra”. It’s stuff of legends here in Scotland, and one that never fails to bring a smile to my face of nostalgic Hogmanay’s past.

 

And it was also with a smile I headed up the High Street in old Glasga, where on a grey and gloomy February day, I discovered a Wee Cock Sparra-inspired gable-end mural that had been unveiled earlier this month – and what a jaw-dropping new city mural it turned out to be; both in its technical brilliance, and its touching, somewhat tender subject matter.

 

And the smug bugger who did the worthy work – and by perhaps channelling Duncan Macrae – to brighten up the locale, could only be the now legendary Glasgow-based Australian graffiti artist Sam Bates, otherwise known as Smug – someone who is literally making his mark across the city!

 

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