Brown Bread

 

Before the rise of the Internet, cockney rhyming slang was once a quintessential part of the British culture.  But sadly experts now say the changing face of society has made the phrases that almost took up half the dialogue in Only Fools and Horses are now obsolete – with the new social media generation popularising their own phrases instead.

 

One popular cockney rhyming slang was “Brown Bread”, meaning to be dead, passed on, ceased to be, kicked the bucket, shuffle off your mortal coil, as the Monty Python parrot sketch would have it.  Which I always found slightly ironic when I was growing up as a kid, because health-wise, brown bread, all full of wheatgerm and fibre, was supposed to be nothing but good for you – and the most identifiable brand being Hovis.

 

And for those of a certain age, the very mention of Hovis should brings back fond memories of 1970s television, as a small boy struggled to climb a steep cobbled hill in his early 1930s delivery bike (replete with big wicker basket laden with loaves of bread) to the strains of Dvorak’s New World Symphony – and it turned out to be an instant advertising classic. The iconic 1973 Hovis ad, voted Britain’s all-time favourite, was directed by a promising young filmmaker by the name of Ridley Scott – I wonder whatever happened to him, eh? – and was meant to depict an industrial northern town, but was actually shot at the other end of the country on Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, Dorset, now known as ‘Hovis Hill’.

 

And as this photo from a recent Hovis street campaign shows, where the company gave away hundreds of loafs to the public on Argyle Street, that indelible image of the delivery bike still resonates for us all – but my, hasn’t the little lad grown? But this is Glasgow, and let’s admit it, we’re not all that health conscious, are we? When handed the free offering by this rep, a wee Glesga wifie looked a little puzzled at the hue of the offering, and then I overheard her asking in the local vernacular “Hiv ya naw got any white breid, son?”

 

And that, in a nutshell, might well explain why this dear and much-beloved City of Glasgow finds itself right at the top of just about every European-wide bad health league for all the self-inflicted, nasty dietary and lifestyle things that end up making many of its citizens Brown Bread in the first place!

 

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In the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London, many protests took place across the country to demonstrate that Britain’s social housing is in crisis – a crisis that was the direct result of the legacy left to us by Maggie Thatcher’s right-to-buy policy back in the early 1980s.

 

And, as witness this photo from Buchanan Gallery steps from a day of action in support of the victims of the Grenfell disaster and against landlords and social housing, Glasgow played a vocal part in its support that was attended by a few dedicated hundred or so, as many ask and wonder whether our country’s postwar housing ideal can possibly be revived.

 

I couldn’t but help think that the numbers though had to have been a far cry from another era in the city when Glasgow was at its most vocal and Socialist best over a lack of social housing and bad landlords, as just over 100 years ago housewife Mary Barbour emerged as a very unlikely local hero as she organised the 1915 Rent Strike that one leading academic believed “could well have been the most successful example of direct action ever undertaken by the Scottish working class.”

 

Today, we need the spirit of Mary Barbour and more direct action because our social housing crisis has been the long-term lasting effects of Thatcher’s right-to-buy policy – and the irony here, of course, is that this policy was probably the most popular ever introduced by a Conservative government. It was wonderful for many who benefited from it – even if some found that property ownership was not the promised land they had expected – but very destructive of local authorities’ ability to respond to housing needs.

 

The selling off of publicly owned housing – and not allowing councils to use those funds to replenish their dwindling housing stock – has directly contributed to the ever more immense bill for housing benefits and created the absurd and wasteful situation whereby local authorities have to pay high rents to house people in homes the councils once owned, but have now been bought by private landlords.

 

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June 21 marked the Summer Solstice in 2017. And as well as being the longest day of the year, the Solstice is also a time for great Druid revelry and naked shenanigans at Stonehenge (where not everything stops when the music does!), as apparently a crowd of 13,000 watched and welcomed the sunrise strike up across the Neolithic landmark.

 

So “Hello Summer” then as most of England baked in a near tropical heatwave with a 41-year record temperature high – but here in Glasgow, the temperature was somewhat subdued with the traditional solstice celebrations of pouring rain, interrupted only by the occasional thunderstorm as everyone dived for cover.

 

And that also looks to be the case for WALL-E, Pixar’s small waste-collecting robot, who as I took this photo looked not so much as he was covering himself from the rain, but somewhat sheepishly as if he had perhaps been on the razzle and recovering from a rough night in Glasgow.    

 

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Ross Sinclair’s photo “Real Life” was the beginning of a life-long project after he got the words “Real Life” tattooed on his back in 1994, turning his body into a tool for his art practice. Sinclair had the tattoo done in Terry’s Tattoo Parlour in Glasgow, since then “Real Life” has featured in all of his works.

 

And one of his latest installations, We Love Real Life Glasgow, is a Commission for Centrum Building, Queen St, Glasgow that opened in early May of this year. This is a sculptural neon work (3m x 2m) in the foyer of the city center office building. The architects and owner had seen Sinclair’s large scale 13 part neon work, We Love Real Life Scotland, in the Glasgow School of Art exhibition ‘Devils in the Making’ that exhibited through 2015/16.

 

And when this neon work was then installed for 6 months on the exterior façade of Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), the artist was asked to use that neon display on the GOMA as his starting point to develop a new project for the Centrum Building.

 

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For those of a certain age and a different generation, you’ll remember the BBC comedy It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, where, in deepest India, amongst the British Artillery Concert army camp of ‘raving poofters’, there would be a small contingent of local idealistic chai wallahs (or char wallahs, as they were called in the show) who, in the traditional role, would carry around an urn of hot tea to keep everyone refreshed.

 

But there’s something a bit different about this Chaiwallah in Glasgow’s trendy West End. Maybe this is down to the fact that it occupies what used to be public toilets that I talked about in the previous blog. Located on Eldon Street right beside the Gibson Street gate of Kelvingrove Park, you can now enjoy a nice latte and light lunch from the comfort of a glorified loo. 

 

Chaiwallah West End opened its doors (which, by the way, are complete with a ‘ladies’ and ‘gents’ entrance) in early May. Yet prior to this most recent success, this late Edwardian public convenience had been left derelict for nearly 25 years. It was only in 2015 that the Glasgow City Council granted a planning application for the refurbishment of the site, thus proving that a shine can be found even in the dirtiest of situations. 

 

The disused building has been wonderfully restored and refurbished, and the best part is that the new owners, BeanYet Ltd., not only transformed it into a modern functioning community hub but, in doing so, they managed to retain most of the original Edwardian fabric of the building, including its impressive green and white marble tiles universally used in public conveniences of the period. 

 

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See modern art?  See Glasgow?

 

An empty gallery has been unveiled as the latest work by an artist who “cancelled” her exhibition at one of Glasgow’s leading venues.  Marlie Mul asked for no exhibition be held in the city’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) on Royal Exchange Square. Instead, Gallery 1 at GoMA will lie empty. 

 

The massive billboards outside the gallery advertising the exhibition states “Cancelled” – and the sign has caused much infuriation for the staff at the GoMA, who since the banner went up, have had to patiently explain to the public that the show is indeed going ahead, and unfortunately for the staff, it is called “Cancelled”.

 

The show opened on Friday and runs through until the end of October.  People are being invited to “visit and interact with the space – and suggest alternative uses for the gallery during the five months set aside for the show. Apparently, the Dutch artists’ “conceptual gesture” was to act as an “implicit critique of what is displayed within museums and galleries”. 

 

GoMA curator Will Cooper adds: “By removing what would traditionally be considered an art object we are instead presenting the gallery as an empty space, giving us a moment to question the value in turning over exhibition after exhibition after exhibition.”

 

Yes, but is it art?

 

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There are homeless bad-news stories, such as the previous blog entry – but sometimes, just sometimes, there comes along hope for our society with a homeless good-news story.  And one such can be found right here in Scotland, with a new venture that was created back in late 2012 – and already it has piqued the interest of two legendary Hollywood A-listers.

 

Josh Littlewood is an entrepreneur who was so upset and concerned with seeing the rising level of homelessness on the streets that he came up with the brainwave of being the creator and co-founder of Social Bite, a successful sandwich chain with five stores in Scotland – two in Edinburgh, two in Glasgow and one in Aberdeen – that’s now set to expand nationally and possibly internationally.  

 

The mission of Social Bite – whose food costs about the same as Pret a Manger and Eat – is to be more than an upmarket soup kitchen. Apart from 100% of the profits going to helping the homeless, a quarter of its staff have experienced homelessness and paid a living wage; and now subsequently fully trained to work in a cafe/kitchen environment.  The chain also offers “suspended coffee and food”, which means customers can pay in advance for a coffee or any item of food from the menu and a local homeless person can go into the shop to claim it.

 

And all of this has attracted much interest and many plaudits. In the last 18 months, Hollywood superstars George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio have both made high-profile visits to the two Edinburgh Social Bite stores that originally started the revolution – and there’s mounting speculation that the A-listers could well be looking to help expand the chain into America.

 

And like the store on Glasgow’s St. Vincent Street in today’s blog photo, each Social Bite store frontage comes with a donated reworking of a piece by the renowned Australian street artist, Meek, in Banksy’s “Keep Your Coins. I Want Change”, seen as a damning reminder of the unsympathetic march of economic progress.    

 

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Damning figures revealed this week that four homeless people are dying every month in the streets of Glasgow – that’s one death each week.  And for me, that’s one death a week too many in my own hometown.

 

Figures obtained by the Sunday Herald newspaper from Glasgow City Council via a Freedom of Information request showed the shocking statistic that at least 39 homeless people have died in Glasgow in the space of just 10 months. The deaths occurred between May 2016 and March 2017 with, alarmingly, the council admitting that these numbers more than likely underestimate the full scale of the scandal on our streets. 

 

This is nothing short of shameful for a society in the 21st-century – and, regretfully, I can only see this epidemic of rough sleepers dying getting worse.  As I walk around this beloved city, it haunts me that a large number of closed stores in fabled shopping arteries, such as Sauchiehall Street – where this recent photo was taken – have now been taken over by the homeless, who have more or less taken up permanent residency in those locked-up high-street doorways that once regularly swung open-and-shut with bustling shoppers.

 

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Yet another year has spun around since the last Record Store Day, but last weekend stores, labels, and enthusiasts around the globe geared up for a milestone 10th celebration of the collision of music and vinyl. And today’s photo, taken at the somewhat overcrowded FOPP store in trendy Byres Road on Saturday, was one of the many RSD venues from around the globe that took part in the occasion. 

 

Although the digital revolution certainly has stymied the survival of record stores worldwide, it never managed to completely eradicate their influence. In fact, vinyl sales are storming up the charts for the tenth year in a row, according to industry reports. That’s not too much of a shocker, given that vinyl’s skyward trend has been accompanied by the ten-year run of RSD that allows us to pick up limited and special edition LPs.

 

It’s nice, though, seeing a resurgence in something that we all once took for granted before the rise of MP3 — but vinyl records are far, far more sexy. Unlike an MP3, with vinyl you can rush home holding it tenderly under your arm, and then begin the seduction of undressing it out of its jacket – and perhaps underneath, if you are lucky, you’ll find another white hidden layer before you get to hold it naked in your hands.

 

While this may seem perverse to some 21st-century listeners, that’s how most of us started our intimate, groovy kind of love with music, through vinyl. Do you remember your first time? My first trip to a record shop was in 1971 – Sound Developments’ in Kirkintilloch – to spend my hard-earned pocket money on the 7” No.1 hit by Sally Carr with Middle of the Road, Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep (we’ve all got to start somewhere).

 

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Glasgow has always had a reputation as a city of buskers. A healthy folk music scene has provided the streets with a steady supply of acoustic musicians, and the city has never been short of drunk men with tin whistles, chancing their luck in shop doorways.

 

But one of my favourites is Alec Johnstone, Glasgow’s answer to Acker Bilk, the solo jazz clarinetist who can be found in his usual pitch in Exchange Place – just off the hustle and bustle of Buchanan Street – nearby the city’s famed Rogano Restaurant, where he once used to work.

 

Govan-born Alec has played his fair share of jazz clubs throughout the country and would easily pass as the doppelgänger of another Glasgow jazz legend, George Chisholm, though sans trombone and instead his trusty clarinet. And influenced by a lifetime performing in the smokey atmosphere of those jazz clubs, he’s a chain-smoker, and between songs, he’ll stop for a quick drag and will often rest his half-smoked fag on his clarinet, almost as if the instrument has also picked up the habit!

 

He always starts and ends each busking day with “Stranger on the Shore“, Acker Bilk’s iconic signature tune – originally called “Jenny”, and named for his young daughter – that became the second No.1 hit single by a British artist in the United States on the Billboard Hot 100 when it was released in 1962.

 

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