Hogmanay!

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It’s Hogmanay and the Scots take over, wherever in the world they might happen to be – because few are as passionate about the New Year than we Scots thanks to the endeavours of the scowling firebrand John Knox, as we more or less invented the concept because he banned Christmas for being a tad too poperish for his puritanical liking.

 

Here in Glasgow, for centuries – since 1626, to be precise – people would congregate at the Tolbooth Steeple in the heart of the Merchant City (shown in today’s photo) to ring out the old and ring in the new. And indeed, when Scottish Television first went on the air at 11:30pm on 31st December 1957, they did so with their first-ever Hogmanay Show being aired live from there.

 

Despite many theories as to its origins, no-one knows for sure where the word “Hogmanay” originated from. What is known is that Hogmanay is the Scots word for the final day of the year, and today it is most frequently used to refer to the evening’s celebrations. Theories have placed “Hogmanay” as a product of Gaelic or Norman-French origin, with the similarities to “Homme est né” (“Man is born”) in French also being noted.

 

Scotland’s raucous new year celebration is also the descendant of a Viking festival which acknowledged the winter solstice. In addition to this, Christmas in Scotland was a very muted affair for over 300 years, as it was seen as a mainly Catholic festival by John “Opportunity” Knox and his Scottish Protestant kirks who duly banned it after the Reformation.

 

As well as banning the celebration of Christmas, Scotland was one of the earliest nations to change its New Year’s day from 25 March to 1 January; marking a clear moment in winter where one year ended and another began. Crucially, though, it gave the nation another event to celebrate that was culturally distinct from Christmas and its Catholic connotations, with presents exchanged and family and friends reuniting during Hogmanay.

 

And with regards to those Norse roots, firework displays and torchlit parades are still common over Hogmanay throughout Scotland, with the Stonehaven Fireball Ceremony being one of the most famous and oft televised. Here, large fireballs are swung on metal chains down the town’s main street, signifying the Winter Solstice and the rejuvenating power of the sun.

 

Also for those that remember the blog history lesson from New Year’s Eve 2013, Around Midnight, Robert Burns’ world-famous Auld Lang Syne is traditionally sung after the New Year bells have tolled. And as an added bonus, Scotland is lucky enough to have 2 January as a bank holiday (unlike the rest of UK), a perfect excuse to continue the party well into 2016…so a Happy New Year to All!

 

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The River Clyde is an integral part of Glasgow’s history and recent regeneration along this glorious and historic stretch of water has given it a new lease of life following the demise of its industrial past. There are some 21 bridges spanning the Clyde, stretching from the Dalmarnock Bridge in the east to the Millennium Bridge in the west.

 

One of the newest – opened in 2009 – is officially known as the Broomielaw-Tradeston Bridge, a pedestrian and cycle crossing, that very quickly was dubbed by the locals as the “Squiggly bridge” because of its distinctive winding ‘S’ shape – and not to mention the little fact that, when it’s a bit windy (which happens a lot in Glasgow), there’s a certain amount of, shall we say, “play” that can be felt as you cross it. Believe me: a very strange experience when crossing on a windy night after a few drams in The Pot Still!

 

The bridge forms a link between the Tradeston area on the south of the river and the city’s financial district on the Broomielaw. It didn’t take long, though, for the local daredevils to also use the bridge for a dangerous new Glaswegian Olympic discipline known as “doing the Squiggly”, of running over the top of the footbridge’s two arches.

 

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In Pioneer Square, the unofficial motto of this neck of the woods could well be “Scaring tourists since 1853”. Venturing out here at night, you run the risk of waking up at Harborview ER – or even worse, not waking up in their morgue – as its  a bit of a scary and dangerous locale noted for muggings, stabbings and gun fatalities.  Even the native public artwork comes with its own scary horror story.

 

In the heart of the historic neighbourhood, at Occidental Square, you can find totems by Chinookan carver Duane Pasco. For the uninitiated, Pasco is the unrivalled master of traditional Native American art in the Pacific Northwest style. His works were donated by art gallery owner Richard White and installed in and around the park in 1987 and 1988.

 

This is his “The Fearsome Whistling Tsonoqua”. The whistling was said to be the sound she made of the wind in the cedar trees, and according to ancient mythology, she was a female giant and “nightmare bringer” whom mothers called to scare naughty children into obedience, as by profession she captured children and took them home to eat them.

 

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As they readied themselves for last Sunday’s 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming tumbling down, city officials admitted that something was missing: they had somehow “lost” Berlin’s giant Lenin statue. The monument torn down in 1991, was carved up into pieces, and buried no one knows where, so it missed out in being part of a major exhibition for the 25th anniversary celebrations.

 

But this was no ordinary statue of Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich – this one was a movie star. It was the unwitting star of Good Bye Lenin!, Wolfgang Becker’s wonderful tragicomedy set around the fall of the Berlin Wall, and suspended from a helicopter, seemingly waving goodbye to the crumbling socialist republic.

 

And I also recently said my good byes to Lenin – to the Lenin statue in Fremont. And Fremont Lenny has also had a rough time of it of late. He’s had his hands daubed with red paint (presumably for the blood he’s had on them), and, more recently, someone has painted in gold “JESUS IS LORD” on his ever-striding right thigh. And if that isn’t enough, with Christmas coming, he’ll also soon be suitably decked out for the Holidays (see previous blog entry Red Christmas). I think there’s a glass mausoleum in Moscow with something spinning profusely in it by now.

 

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In Halloween week, fittingly we head in the general direction of what’s arguably the most visited public art project in Seattle: The Fremont Troll, that lives underneath the George Washington Memorial Bridge – that’s the Aurora Bridge, for a very, very large majority of those in Seattle, who apparently are none the wiser than a Glaswegian smart-alec interloper (see blog entry Under Aurora).

 

But thanks to the Troll, the space under the bridge is far from the dump it once used to be. Back in 1990, you would find mattresses and beer cans lying around, until the Fremont Arts Council set about rehabilitating the area, with the Troll sculpted by four local artists: Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead.

 

The Troll soon became a Fremont and Seattle institution – so much so that Aurora Avenue North was officially renamed ”Troll Avenue” in 2005. The artists’ came up with the troll-under-the-bridge theme from the Norwegian folktale, Three Billy Goats Gruff.  And yes, it is indeed clutching an actual Volkswagen Beetle that the artists incorporated into their work; making it look just as if it had swiped it from the busy arterial roadway above.

 

“Trolling” also takes on a different meaning in this Fremont area, as there’s always a busy line of tourists and locals making the – mainly weekend – pilgrimage, as they wait patiently in turn to be photographed alongside the troll. Kids venture up as far as its head – but most (such as today’s photo) like to pose with a hand sticking up its left nostril; perhaps in search of the Bogey Man.

 

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In 1911 neon, a new form of lighting, was born. Its French inventor Georges Claude first put the luminous tubes of gas to commercial use, after showing off the results at the Paris motor show the previous year. And before long its raffish charm had lit up the streets of urban America and cities worldwide; and in the past century or so since its existence, along the way it has inspired film-makers and artists, from Hitchcock and Coppola to Bruce Nauman and Tracey Emin.

 

Neon also has a certain alchemy to it, as it makes the transformation of street life from day to night. One of my favourite downtown Seattle neon signs can be found atop the Hard Rock Cafe on Pike Street, that pays tribute to local boy Kurt Cobain, the incendiary rock musician who committed suicide 20 years ago at age 27, with a large neon-inspired replica of the Nirvana frontman’s Fender guitar.

 

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British pop and rock is our great gift to the world. But it has never just been about the music, as a fantastic new BBC three-part documentary, Oh You Pretty Things: The Story of Music and Fashion. It tells the story of the link between brilliant musicians and maverick designers who unleashed a uniquely British talent for fusing the best sounds with stunning style and fashion to dazzling effect.

 

The series looks at how musicians and designers came up with the coolest and craziest looks and how we emulated our idols. The series was a delight, its kaleidoscopic soundtrack illustrated by glimpses of the wild fashions inspired by the Golden Era of Pop. It starts with the 1960s, with the chart-topping mod legends, The Small Faces, through to the psychedelia period of the Beatles and the Stones; going on to the frilly shirts and cross-dressing of David Bowie and Marc Bolan; the glittering rise of glam rock with the leather-clad Suzi Quatro and über-cool Roxy Music; the brutal shock to the system of punk and the all-gobbing Sex Pistols, and culminating with the new wave and new romantics of OMD and Duran Duran.

 

If you want a sneak preview, someone has nicely posted episode 3 in full on YouTube by clicking here.

 

And today’s photo, featuring yet another of the Westlake Park (ir)regulars in Downtown Seattle, is almost an amalgam of the whole BBC series, with a mix of flower-power sunglasses, spiky punk hairdo and distinctive neck tattoos, and the cross-dressing frilly girls blouse and skirt. David Bowie eat your heart out – Oh! You Pretty Things indeed!

 

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Situated between Ballard and Wallingford, and connected by the Burke-Gilman Trail, Fremont is also a neighbourhood that proudly flaunts its many displays of public quirkiness. These include a pair of topiary apatosauruses lingering off Phinney Avenue; a larger than life-size bronze homage to Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik totalitarian dictator, who seems to be perpetually striding away from an Italian gelateria behind him; a one-eyed VW-grabbing troll under the Aurora – sorry, The George Washington Memorial – Bridge; and last but not least, a mounted silver rocket pointed into the sky, as if ready for takeoff.

 

Looking like something out of a Flash Gordon 1930s sci-fi adventure, many mistake this 55-foot rocket to be simply just an art installation.  It is in many ways, but it actually is a REAL Cold War-era rocket – constructed from military surplus, using the tail boom of a Fairchild C-119 ‘Flying Boxcar’ transport aircraft dressed up with rocket-like fins – rescued from a surplus store, that has been a symbol of the neighbourhood’s offbeat character for years.

 

On the side of the rocket is the Fremont unofficial motto of De Libertas Quirkas (“Freedom to be Peculiar”). It’s also said that once, during a fight with the city over neighbourhood boundaries, Fremonsters – in a typical display of defiance – re-positioned the rocket in the general direction towards City Hall.

 

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Having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave as the Irving Berlin song goes. Here in Seattle, a heat wave constitutes highs in the upper 80s and low 90s. And we’ve been getting lots of that recently, with a big glowing yellow orb being predominantly visible in the clear blue sky.  

 

But Seattleites, probably still overdosing on Vitamin D, and more accustomed to having grey clouds and rain, are wondering why they have had so many continues days of bright sunshine.  Just don’t stare, Seattle. It’s not good for your eyes, I warn you. 

 

At least the kids know best how to cool off – and it doesn’t involve multiple ice bucket challenges. If they’re not heading for the International Fountain at the Seattle Center (see Here Comes Summer), then, like today’s photo, you can find them cooling off at the newish water spray path attraction at Lake Union.

 

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One of my favourite thriller movies from the 1930s is the RKO classic The Most Dangerous Game (and thanks to YouTube, you can view in full by clicking the link), based on a Richard Connell short story of the same name (and also published as The Hounds of Zaroff). It involves a big-game hunter (Joel McCrea) finding out that he himself is the quarry, and hunted by a ruthless Cossack aristocrat (Leslie Banks) after being washed up on his private Caribbean island.

 

It’s all gripping stuff, with a lot of deaths. But strangely enough, it seems all these years that I’ve been playing chess – just because I didn’t like anything physical when I was younger, as I have a paranoid fear of being injured, and it didn’t require the need for padded protection (save from playing my brother) – that now, according to the media, who really have to be short of a story or three during this particular silly season, that chess could well be the most dangerous game for me after all.

 

Now, a lot of you reading this who don’t play the game, are probably thinking that the worst that can happen to you at chess – and being ‘bored to death’ doesn’t count – is getting a splinter in your finger from moving all those fiddly little wooden pieces on a wooden board. But the UK media hyped up a story about two competitors who died within hours of each other at the recent Chess Olympiad in Tromsø, Norway – and, good grief, one of those players actually did so while playing a game!  

 

Firstly, lets put this in prospective: there were over 2,000 players taking part from 174 nations; so this is a massive event – the fourth biggest sporting event after the Summer Olympics, World Cup and Winter Olympics. And secondly, both players were in their mid-to-late 60s and died of natural causes; and the one who died “with his boots on” at the board, did so after a sudden seizure.  BREAKING NEWS: These things can – and often suddenly do – happen within very large gatherings when there are people in their 60s involved.  It’s a dangerous age, never mind a dangerous game; regardless of what the activity, whether it be sedentary or physical.

 

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