Here’s Wishing

 

Well, there goes 2017.  It really flew by, didn’t it? But it’s almost over now and tomorrow morning 2018 looms large for everyone. 

 

Hard to imagine how the new-found dawn of 2018 could be any worse than the last few grains of sands currently dropping through the hourglass that is 2017.  Although with that said, and with the banality of Brexit, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least in 2018 if the UK went full Royston Vasey with Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown staging a coup and declaring himself PM.  Admittedly, it couldn’t be much worse than Theresa May now, could it?

 

I suppose we can all wish that the next 365 days are better and more prosperous than the previous 365 days. And as the photograph from Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street suggests: We can all wish, can’t we?  So, despite my somewhat morbid outlook that more resembles the Hogmanay institution that is the Rev I.M. Jolly with it being “a helluva year”, I’ll take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy New Year!

 

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It’s a scene at this time of year that plays out in just about every big city: thousands of Christmas tree sellers plying their trade on the streets.  And this seasonal tradition is now the subject of a heart-felt new feature documentary that shines throughout with community spirit and more than just a twinkle of Christmas cheer.

 

Tree Man” explores the lives of those tree sellers, many of whom leave their homes and families behind and must endure living out of cars and vans for the holiday season. This film centres on those plying their trade in New York’s Upper West Side, and primarily revolves around Broadway seller François, a migrant worker from Québec who leaves behind his young family at his Canadian home to return to the same Manhattan street corner every year for five weeks to deliver the magic of the season.

 

All of this is hard and demanding work, with long hours in freezing weather with rain, wind and the snow. François lives and sleeps out of his beloved ‘Elvis’, a 1994 Chevy van, as a one bedroom apartments at this prime location runs at over $4000 a month…that is, if you could even find one. But he’s become a firm favourite of the local dwellers and has developed lasting relationships with some of his customers, and a mentor and father-figure to two formerly troubled young youths who now work for him.

 

This is a little gem of a documentary that got several good critical reviews when it hit the film festival circuit. But no review could be better than that of a longtime customer in the film who now lives in the Queens and makes the long trek to the French Canadian tree man of Broadway, explaining that, “This has nothing to do with trees anymore.”

 

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Situated in the heart of Glasgow’s shopping metropolis on Buchanan Street, the Argyll Arcade was built in 1828 by the architect John Baird Snr. for John Reid Robertson. By the 1840s there were sixty-three shops ranged along the glass-roofed L-shaped thoroughfare, selling a wide variety of luxury goods.

 

Today the arcade is predominantly occupied by high-end jewellers’ shops, offering the largest and finest selection of diamond rings, diamond jewellery, wedding rings and luxury watches in the one single location in Scotland; and the largest diamond repository outside of London’s recently ill-fated Hatton Gardens.

 

But for those of a certain age, before the jewellery takeover, this was the location where generations of small boys would immediately run towards – and especially at Christmas time! – to press their well-snotted noses’ up to one certain window, in the shop at the corner of the “L”, underneath the glass roof supported with ornate hammer-beam roof trusses.

 

It could only be the fabled ‘Boys’ Own’ Glasgow toy and model shop, Clyde Model Dockyard! Initially established in 1789 as a producer of models for the Admiralty, then shipping models, parts and accessories, it went on to be located at 22-23 Argyll Arcade from the mid-1950s through to the late 1970s, and dealt with a veritable Aladdin’s cave full of model railway products, steam engines, model aeroplanes, racing yachts, steamboats, motors and Meccano.

 

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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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According to recent figures released, UK retails sales are falling off a cliff, and Scotland is losing shops from its high streets faster than anywhere else in Britain.  Vacant and boarded up shopfronts have now become a permanent fixture in town centres, all a casualty of rough economic times – and don’t expect it to get any better with Brexit playing out now like some piece of surreal performance art that you’d normally expect to see during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!

 

Whether or not you support Brexit, it is hard to deny that Theresa May and the Tories are going about it in the most catastrophically incompetent way possible. It’s not a question of hard Brexit or soft Brexit – it’s that we’re getting stupid Brexit. We’re getting the most disastrous, stupid, incompetent version of Brexit led by clueless stupid people, making stupid clueless mistakes – and all because of a schism in the Tory party.

 

Effectively we are looking at a ten-year recession. Nothing ever experienced by those under 50 (been there, seen it, got the “Maggie! Maggie! Maggie Out! Out! Out!” tee-shirt).  Across the board we will see prices rising, more high street shops closing, and we are going to lose a lot of manufacturing. And the irony is that without cheap seasonal foreign workers, domestic agriculture won’t be able to compete. And just don’t get me started on the impact on the NHS.

 

So anyone who considers themselves “Just about managing” right now will wistfully look upon this time as carefree prosperity. Believe me, there are going to be a lot of very pissed off people very soon.  Just remember pitchforks folks, only pitchforks. Nothing will change until the pitchforks come out.

 

Well, that’s that rant out of the system!

 

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The window display of the Cats Protection Shawlands Charity Shop was cleverly done, but it had a very important message nevertheless behind it for this time of the year, as it proclaimed – much like the renowned and often imitated slogan about a dog and Christmas – that “A black cat is not just for Hallowe’en – it’s for life!”

 

And no matter whether it be Easter, Christmas or Hallowe’en, this little charity/thrift shop on Pollokshaws Road always gets into the “spirit” of things with seasonal displays that tempts you in – and once lured in, it was another spirt of sorts that grabbed my attention.  Well, perhaps not so much spirit, more like a spectre.

 

Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a national holiday that was normally held 1-2 November and would largely consist of sedate family gatherings at the graves of their departed loved ones in celebration of life and death.  But that all changed spectacularly with the opening scene to the 2015 James Bond movie Spectre, where 007 literally brings the house down as he chases a villain through crowds of Mexico City revelers in what resembled a parade of people in skeleton outfits and floats.

 

Despite the utterly ridiculous helicopter fight, perhaps even the most unbelievable part of the entire scene was a Day of the Dead parade even happening in the first place at all, because it was all artistic license on the part of the filmmakers, as no such procession had ever taken place in Mexico – that is, not until a year after the movie came out in 2016!

 

Inspired by the global popularity of the movie’s opening scene, and in a clear case of Hollywood influencing real-life events – or perhaps more likely, a cynical money-making tourist attraction opportunity – government officials have now moved the Day of the Dead more towards our tradition Hallowe’en date, with similar Spectre-styled parades and revelry throughout the country, the largest and most influential held on Saturday, in Mexico City itself.

 

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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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I love the uplifting community attitude of the Milk Café on my doorstep on the very diverse Victoria Road in Glasgow’s Southside – it’s a shabby chic social enterprise with all of the profits going to supporting Asylum seeking women and aiding the local community. There’s a great food choice, and everything is served in gloriously miss-matching old-style crockery with no uniformity whatsoever. The chalkboard menu changes daily, often including unusual ethnic dishes prepared by volunteers from the local migrant community.

 

They also have a policy of donating to the local community – many of whom in these austere times, have to rely on foodbanks – the surplus free bread that’s been donated to them. And this will come as spiffing good news to the austerity pantomime villain that is Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative backbencher with designs on becoming Tory leader, who today showed  that one of the benefits of an Eton education is that you don’t develop a moral compass, or the ability to read reports from charities that are actively involved in organising foodbanks.

 

The honourable member for the 18th century – who wouldn’t be out of place in a Charles Dickens storyline – caused a bit of a stushie by claiming today that the very existence of such foodbanks was “uplifting” because it showed how charitable people are and that the state doesn’t need to provide for those in need. Not only that but also the real reason there’s been such a prolific rise in their numbers of late, is that previous Labour governments deliberately didn’t tell the public all about them!

 

Honestly, words just fail me when it comes to politicians of the ilk of Jacob Rees-Mogg.

 

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As sartorial elegance goes, it isn’t a sight you see every day, but as is my wont of aimlessly ambling around Glasgow in my sensible Doc Martens, I recently found someone wearing a pair of uncomfortable looking, über pointy-toed winkle-pickers, a decadent, downright underground style of shoe so associated with rock ’n’ roll but, in fact, comes from deep Medieval regal origins.

 

It was once called a crakow or poulaine, and indeed hailing from 15th-century Poland. Worn by the upper class, the shoes had stiff exaggerated beaks, and when rendered in silver or another metal (just as in the photo), they were frequently used as a weapon, sort of like the memorable Bond villain in From Russia with Love, Colonel Rosa Klebb, whom 007 quipped at the end, “had her kicks.” 

 

But the dagger-toe shoe became more popular by their British term, winkle-pickers, famously worn by Teddy Boys through the Fifties and Sixties – and just like loveable Rosa, they used them also as lethal weapons in many a seaside Bank Holiday fracas between the tribal warring factions of the Rockers and the Mods of the era – and the seaside was where they picked up their nickname from. 

 

The main characteristic of the shoe as a winkle-picker is the very sharp and long pointed toe. Imagine you are in one of the many British seaside towns in the late 1950s and having a traditional snack there of periwinkles and you are picking the winkle out of its coiled shell with a long sharp pin…and you soon get the point of how they became known as winkle-pickers.

 

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