Nevermind

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Hard to imagine it was so long ago, but 25 years ago this week, Nevermind entered the pantheon of the all-time great rock albums, as the unmistakable riff to Nirvana’s seismic debut single, Smells Like Teen Spirit, almost overnight  transformed the band from “grunge” unknowns into one of the biggest rock groups of the era – Nevermind the toll that fame and fortune subsequently contributed to the sad demise of their legendary frontman, Kurt Cobain.

 

And for anyone looking to indulge in the macabre of Kurt – as I regularly discovered during my almost decade-long Seattle sojourn – then the No.27 Metro Bus is but a quick journey from Downtown to Lake Washington Boulevard and the mansion where Cobain lived with Courtney Love and controversially took his own life.  However, this is now a private residence – and the garage-outhouse where the star blew his brains out has long been demolished to avoid ghoul seekers…but it failed.  

 

Cobain’s body was cremated, with his ashes scattered in an undisclosed spot in the Wishkah River near his hometown of Aberdeen, Washington.  So in the absence of any other shrine, devoted fans congregate on Nirvana/Cobain anniversary moments at the more permanent Viretta Park, a small patch of grass directly next door to the mansion, and in particular the lone bench there – and today’s photo was one of a series taken in 2014, on the 20th anniversary of his death – where he’s said to have spent time reflecting on his life and music, that has now become a de facto memorial to the grunge icon, where they’ll leave candles and flowers as well as scrawl messages. 

 

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There’s a wonderful 1959 Peter Sellers movie called The Mouse That Roared, all about the economic woes of the fictitious smallest country in the world, The Duchy of Grand Fenwick. They’re on the brink of bankruptcy, and come up with the wheeze of declaring war on America – the plan being to invade with a token force armed with bows and arrows, immediately surrender with no casualties on either side, after which the US, which it has historically done, will provide vast financial aid to rebuild the country.

 

Of course, it all goes comedically wrong. Sellers’ main character, Tully, somehow against the odds and everyones expectations, ends up winning the war and Grand Fenwick is horrified at the prospect that they now might have to provide financial assistance to rebuild America! But what does all this have to do with today’s photo showing books of Lenin and a “Lenin”-like corduroy hat in a Glasgow Oxfam bookshop display, I hear you all ask?

 

The answer is the newly-elected Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn MP – his stunning victory today reminds me so much of The Mouse That Roared. When he threw his own Lenin cap into the ring just a few months back, he was the 200-1 token candidate of the hard left who scraped into the contest only thanks to charity nominations from Labour MPs. Now, in one of the biggest earthquakes in British politics, he was swept to power and now leads them! (And for Americans  perhaps wondering what Corbyn’s political leanings are, let’s just say that by comparison Bernie Sanders could be considered a staunch Republican!)

 

But in this age of austerity with grotesque levels of inequality in our society, things had to dramatically change in British and particularly Labour politics – you simply can’t have a two-party state consisting of Tory and Tory Lite. Labour learned that to their electoral cost here in Scotland, by being all but politically wiped out by a leftwing-leaning nationalist tsunami. And yes, as a former Labour party apparatchik, I duly paid my £3 supporters fee and voted for Jeremy “Jez We Can” Corbyn.

 

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My favourite piece of public art is on Woodlands Road in Glasgow, on the cusp of the city’s west end – the ‘Wild West End’ as the case may well be, because that’s where you’ll find the world’s only two-legged equestrian statue, called El Fideldo (or “Elfie” for short), who is carrying on her back Lobey Dosser, a cartoon sheriff, and his persistent nemesis, Rank Bajin (a right bad one in the Glaswegian vernacular).

 

The bronze effigy pays homage to the work of Bud Neil, the legendary Partick cartoonist whose “Lobey Dosser” comic strip appeared regularly in the city’s Evening Times through the 1950s.  Capitalising on the interest in Westerns of the time – and an outlet for the artist’s childhood love of westerns – it’s the surreal adventures of the Sheriff of Calton Creek, a township in the Arizona desert that for some reason or other seemed to be populated entirely by Glaswegians.

 

Bud’s cartoon strip (which had a revival in the early 1970s) was my first vivid recollection of waiting patiently in the family hierarchy to read a newspaper  – and being the youngest in a family of seven, it was often a long wait. The statue was installed in 1996 and paid for by donations following an appeal in the Diary columns of the Glasgow Herald (the Evening Times’  big sister). Art students Tony Morrow and Nick Gillon took no fee for designing and building the monument.

 

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This year marks the bicentenary of one of the major events that changed the course of European history – the Battle of Waterloo. The countdown to the official June anniversary date is already underway, including a 3-D film and the biggest re-enactment of the battle ever staged. But for most Glaswegians, there will be a big surprise when they discover that the Duke of Wellington didn’t charge into battle on his trusty steed, Copenhagen, to take on Napoleon while wearing an orange traffic-cone top hat on his head – after all, for many, that’s the only hat they’ve ever seen him wear.

 

His once imposing equestrian statue, located outside the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) on Royal Exchange Square, has now become an iconic part of Glasgow’s heritage, and means far more to the people of Glasgow than imperialistic figure-head Wellington himself ever has. I can barely still remember a time when, as a kid, the duke didn’t have his cone hat. The tradition is believed to have started in the early 1970s during a Glasgow University student “Rag Week”; and no matter how many times council workmen removed the traffic cone hat, by the next morning he was sporting a new one. Even the city cops couldn’t – or perhaps didn’t want to – crack the case of just who the cone culprits were.

 

But our killjoy city fathers say that they spend £10,000 a year removing the cones and other various items of clothing (such as flowery Hawaiian shirts and cravats) from the statue that appears on the list of the “top 10 most bizarre monuments on Earth”. So, in 2013 – citing the all-catching Health & Safety rules – they announced they were going to raise his plinth by another six-feet, at a cost of around £60,000, in an attempt to “deter all but the most determined of vandals”. And after all, raising the statue is a very sound idea because, as we all know, if there’s one thing every Glaswegian loves it’s being told what they can and cannot do.

 

They soon had to back down though after a campaign was launched to “Keep The Cone“, that almost immediately attracted 10,000 people signing an online protest petition and 72,000 Facebook likes within 24 hours. The campaign also discovered that figures over the last four years, showed that the council received only 10 calls complaining about the traffic cone.  And besides – and you really have to laugh at this bit – it was also shown that the council actually made money on the duke sporting the cone! The GoMA does a thriving business selling to tourists postcards, greeting cards, posters, tee-shirts and cups featuring the cone-crowned statue of one Arthur Wellesley, aka 1st Duke of Wellington.

 

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‘It’s A Man’s Man’s World’, so says the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.  And nowhere is this more evident than in Glasgow’s many manly statues, because, after all, the city already has a surplus of female commemorative sculptures. Three, to be precise – Queen Victoria in George Square, Lady Isabella Elder in Govan, and La Pasionara on the Clyde Walkway.

 

Many Glasgow citizens fought and died during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 – and this is the city’s monument to the International Brigade which fought in the civil war, and is that of Dolores Ibárruri, a communist from the Basque country who played a prominent role on the Republican side. ‘La Pasionaria’ (The Passion Flower), as she became known, was a great orator and propagandist who coined the phrase, “Better to die on your feet than to live for ever on your knees.”

 

But could a new statue – and this time a true, local working-class heroine – be set to join the other ‘sisters’ in Glasgow?  Govan housewife Mary Barbour (1875-1958) was instrumental in organising the famous rent strikes of 1915 that changed British law. She took on and exposed unscrupulous landlords who – exploiting the fact that men had left their homes to fight in WWI – tried to steeply increase rents in the city.

 

A doughty champion of social issues, she went on to become Glasgow’s first woman Labour councillor and campaigned successfully on a range of welfare issues, securing pensions for mothers, free school milk for children and pioneered the city’s first family planning clinic. The campaign to raise money for her statue has also recently seen the Govan-born ex-Man Utd boss Sir Alex Ferguson making a return to his Socialist roots to donate £5000 to the Remember Mary Barbour appeal.

 

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Only in Glasgow could this possibly happen.  Fifty Shades of Grey might advocate a little light violence between consenting adults, but cinema-goers in Glasgow took it a step too far on Valentine’s Day last weekend, by “glassing” a man over the head during a screening of the BDSM movie.

 

Three women were arrested at the old-style Grosvenor cinema (and yes, only two hours after I had taken this photo!) off Ashton Lane, during a particularly rowdy screening which saw people vomiting in the aisles – and apparently the vomiting had nothing to do with how bad the movie was. “Besides being the worst film I have ever seen, three women were getting arrested and put in a police van when we arrived,” 33-year-old Michael Bolton told The Mirror newspaper.

 

“A woman came out the theatre and said that a guy had been glassed. One woman was in handcuffs and another two women were in tears. She said that three or four girls had been very loud and were shouting. The man had asked them to shut up and he was glassed.”

 

And for those American readers of the blog perhaps not nuanced on all things Glaswegian, “glassed” is being physically attacked (in the face or head) by a glass – and in Glasgow, the drink in it is invariably first consumed! – being used as a weapon. Apparently it was also reported that cinema staff were frantically mopping up the blood and wiping down seats before the start of the 8.20pm screening.

 

In a previous blog, Sex in the City, I told how EL James’ erotic novel was set beside where I used to live in Seattle’s Belltown, and how the British author (and I use that word loosely, unlike the bondage knots), having never once visited the city – nor any other part of the US, for that matter – and based her background scenery on what “research” she could glean by online Real-estate listings, Google Street View and restaurant reviews.

 

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Scotland had oil, as the joke goes, but it’s running out thanks to all that deep frying going on at the ubiquitous chip shop, commonly known as the “chippie” – and I counted seven within a 5-minute walk of my new locale here just off of Glasgow’s Victoria Road.

 

But Scotland’s diet is no laughing matter, as it has the worst of any developed country in the western world, and the highest incidence of heart disease. And our “culinary” adventures with deep frying is the biggest culprit – you name it, and we’ll attempt to fry it, and invariably all washed down with a bottle of “the other national drink” of Irn Bru.

 

One delicacy is the deep-fried Mars Bar, covered in a protective layer of batter, and first reported as appearing on the chippie scene here in August 1995. And since then, the menu has stretched also to Snicker bars and Cadbury’s Creme Eggs. One Scottish chippie even came up recently with a new festive fare of the deep-fried yule log – all with a stonking great 950-calorie count.

 

And if you are off chocolate, there’s always the deep-fried pizza – and with some chip shops even going as far as adding chips in the pizza fold before deep frying. Other dishes include deep-fried black pudding and the deep-fried haggis, a speciality of one of my local chippies, The Flying Haggis.

 

Goodness, I can almost feel my arteries hardening just writing this blog.

 

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Now celebrating its 40th Anniversary, Seattle International Film Festival creates experiences that bring people together to discover extraordinary films from around the world. Recognised as one of the top film festivals in North America, SIFF is the largest, most highly attended film festival in the United States.

 

The 25-day festival is renowned for its wide-ranging and eclectic programming, presenting over 250 feature films from over 70 countries each year. SIFF also helps promote local films and film-makers.  And in 2011, one of the big sleepers shown at SIFF turned out to be the local Bainbridge Island-based comedy, Old Goats – and this year, Taylor Guterson and his team have released a companion piece, Burkholder, for another quirky, life-affirming, low-key comedy about friendship and the joys of ageing.

 

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Load up on guns, bring your friends

It’s fun to lose and to pretend

She’s over bored and self assured

Oh no, I know a dirty word

 

These are, of course, the opening lines to Nirvana’s angst-fuelled anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit. And last Saturday, on the 20th anniversary of the death of Kurt Cobain, I – along with Leica compadre Don Fleming – headed over to the Nirvana frontman’s Lake Washington home, where he committed suicide in 1994; his body only discovered some 3 days later.

 

Cobain’s ashes were scattered in the nearby Wishkah River. As he has no grave, fans visit the sole park bench in Viretta Park – which borders the house where he used to live with Courtney Love – at the foot of E. John Street at 39th Avenue E., stretching down to Lake Washington Boulevard, to pay their respects. The bench has become the de facto memorial to Kurt, covered with graffiti messages to the grunge icon.

 

And last Saturday, on the anniversary day, a steady stream of Nirvana fans paid tribute to Kurt Cobain at the bench: They lit candles, left flowers, necklaces, messages, cigarettes and his favourite Rainier beer. A guy named Adam even left his shoe. Nevermind.

 

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