The Argyll Arcade

 

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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One hundred years ago, attacks were fought near Ypres from 31 July to 10 November 1917, in Belgium battlefields that turned to liquid mud and witnessed the biggest loss of life of any battle in the First World War with over half a million British, Commonwealth and German troops killed, wounded or missing.

 

Scottish regiments played a pivotal role in the Passchendaele campaign with extremely heavy losses, and it is remembered as one of the harshest of the war, with heavy rain contributing to the Allies gaining only five miles of ground in three months – or, as it was more bitingly put in Blackadder Goes Forth, “Field Marshal Haig is about to make yet another gargantuan effort to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin.” 

 

And yet a century on, the absurdity of war, that battle, and hundreds upon hundreds of thousands’ of simple little wooden crosses is still best remembered by war poet Siegfried Sassoon’s bleak line from ‘Memorial Tablet’: “I died in hell, they called it Passchendaele.” 

 

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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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Recent years have seen an explosion of street art in Glasgow, providing a welcome burst of colour in this often, all-too grey city. The playful nature of these murals is a fitting complement to the “gallus” (that’s cheeky, bold, in Scottish slang) character of the city.

 

This hidden, realistic street art gem – which can be found in the narrow Gordon Lane off Mitchell Lane which runs between Buchanan Street and Mitchell Street, leading to The Lighthouse – is the work of the celebrated local artist James Klinge, formerly known as graffiti artist ‘Klingatron’, whom I explained in a previous blog, has now gone ‘legit’ with his work displayed in galleries all around the world.

 

Unfortunately, his striking giant “Glasgow Panda” mural on the rear of the former BOAC building is often obscured by commercial-sized wheelie bins – but is well worth making the short detour from Buchanan Street just to see it. Klingatron used hand-cut stencils to bring the black and white panda to life, almost at times looking as if it is rummaging through the bins in search of some bamboo shoots.

 

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For the cheapest cup of tea in the city, just head a little further down Victoria Road from the previous photo to the Bungalow Cafe. It’s a great little greasy spoon spot if you’re looking for a simple breakfast; and at last check, a good cup of tea in a real cup can be had for only 40p – and as the tea-foisting housekeeper Mrs. Doyle from Father Ted would say, “Go on, go on, go on…”

 

It’s been owned by Italian immigrant George Verrecchia since 1948, and now run by his daughters Nicola and Paula – both of whom have more than just a little bit of the Mrs. Doyle persona about them. In a street of flux, the Bungalow Cafe has remained a constant – largely unchanged since the 1940s, with an original Cadbury’s advert in the window apologizing for the rationing of milk, cocoa and sugar…which just might come in useful again when Brexit reality begins to kick in!

 

Inside, as you pass the wooden shelves behind the glass counter where there’s a wonderful array of old-fashioned sweeties displayed in glass jars, there’s a large Coca-Cola Bakelite radio in livery red with nobs to find a station, and also old-fashioned wooden booths with yellow Formica tables, all giving a surreal sense that perhaps time really did stand still here.

 

Just remember to bring cash, as – surprise surprise – they don’t take cards!

 

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Ah, hipsters…don’t you just love ’em?  Apart from drinking out of jam jars (honestly, what’s wrong with just using a plain glass?), riding around on absurd bikes, and overly ostentatiously having a love for vinyl, they’re seriously hirsute and seem to take their grooming cues from the latest series of Vikings, and like to show off their very visible animal tattoos. 

 

They are the ones who globally embrace Movember, supposedly “for charity”, but really because they just love any excuse to manscape. Yes, they are the ones with waxed beards, ‘taches and sideburns, tattooed from head to toe, and invariably accompanied with various body-piercings (private or otherwise).  And with it, they like to scream “I am a hipster.  Hear me roar.” 

 

They also like wearing statements on their (almost always) goth-like black apparel, whether that be t-shirts or hoodies, the latest craze being “Metal & Ink / Beard & Kink”, as spotted here on Glasgow’s Viccy Road.

 

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This is practically on my doorstep on Victoria Road (more affectionately known to all as the “Viccy Road”), the main artery of Govanhill – easily the most racially and culturally diverse communities in Scotland, a district on the south side of Glasgow, home to some 15,000 souls, with people from an estimated 42 different nationalities all living and managing to coexist with each other within one square mile.

 

Here, you’ll find two mosques, one synagogue, and about half a dozen churches.  Its boundaries are narrow yet its horizons are broad, with community action having a long tradition in the area. On May Day, 1960, thousands marched along the Viccy Road to Queen’s Park demanding better housing, led by Paul Robeson, the radical American civil rights activist, who sang Ole Man River for them.

 

And this year proved a special one for the community, as the same venue hosted recently the inaugural Govanhill International Carnival, a new addition to the UK-wide summer festival circuit – and to help its launch, it also included a music festival that ran alongside the main carnival, and the political speeches coming from Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

 

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