Fade Away

 

Booze, drugs, guitar solos, groupies, all-nighters, trashed hotel rooms, tortured lyrics, smashed guitars, whirlwind marriages, band rivalries; nobody has summed up the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle better than Neil Young when he sang out ‘It’s better to burn out / Than to fade away.’ That sentiment may well have been true for the many short-lived, 27-year-old stars – but certainly not the fans.  

 

Despite their advancing years and accompanying hip replacements, they are still going strong with the only thing fading about them being their well-worn trademark leather jackets.  And one old rocker I caught up with recently – casually supping on his lager outside Glasgow’s The Two-Heided Man pub – is London boy ‘Anarky George’, who now lives and works here in the city. He’s been a well-known ‘hanger-on’ around the rock ’n’ roll scene for years.

 

Rockers were associated with motorcycles, and in particular with the larger, heavy and powerful Triumph motorcycles of the late 1950s. They favoured black leather, much like American motorcycle gang members of the era, hence Anarky George’s ‘uniform’.  And he’s also been a long-time frequenter of the fabled Ace Cafe, the ultimate London greasy spoon transport cafe made famous in the 1960s as a meeting point for the ‘ton-up boys’: bikers, rockers and petrolheads, who all raced at high-speed along the North Circular Road.

 

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‘Halfway down the stairs/is a stair/Where I sit.’ And with that opening line, who could forget Kermit’s nephew, Robin (voiced by Jerry Nelson), when he famously made his debut on The Muppet Show in the mid-1970s?  Amidst the mayhem, madness and all the Mahna Mahna, there came along a fleeting moment of peaceful tranquillity with the stunned stillness of Robin singing Halfway Down the Stairs.

 

The song reached the dizzy heights of number 7 in the UK single charts of 1977, making this the Muppets’ highest ever chart position – but what many didn’t appreciate was that this was a poem by another children’s icon: A.A. Milne, he of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin fame.  Milne included Halfway Down in his 1924 collection When We Were Very Young; and the tune was subsequently composed by Harold Fraser-Simpson, who set many of Milne’s poems to music.

 

And with Glasgow’s Buchanan Street steps being at the apex of the city’s bustling retail triangle, capturing a moment of stillness halfway down was this lone figure all curled up, quietly sitting there reading his book – and the first thing that went through my head was that memorable ‘Muppet moment’ watching Robin’s debut.

 

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‘I love you. You love me too. It’s no use pretending it hasn’t happened, ‘cause it has.’  A memorable line from a memorable movie, and with Valentine’s Day on the horizon, there’s an upcoming screening of David Lean and Noël Coward’s classic weepie, “Brief Encounter“, coming soon to the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra playing the soundtrack live.   

 

They’ve remade just about every other classic film from the golden age, but thankfully not this one, hailed as one of the greatest romances of the big screen. I imagine it must have passed through some agent’s mind: starring Kate Winslet, maybe, and possibly Hugh Laurie. But then they will have screened it and realized immediately it would be impossible. A contemporary audience wouldn’t have any patience with the unconsummated romance in a railway station buffet between happily-married but bored Home Counties lady Laura (Celia Johnson) and the stoic, equally-married Alec (Trevor Howard).

 

It would demand that she surrendered immediately. It would probably regard her insistence on decency as another word for hypocrisy. The film would last fifteen minutes, tops. But while Brief Encounter has never been remade, there was, however, one very, very memorable parody of it, and so wickedly well-done it could only have come from the late great Victoria Wood and hailed as one of her cleverest, funniest and heartwarming sketches.

 

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Yes, it’s that time of year again when diet fads pop up literally everywhere.  Many of us over-indulge during the Christmas and New Year break, and so hopefully resolve on January 1 to atone for it all by swearing to eat healthily, perhaps even a total body detox, to help shed the extra weight put on.

 

Now I grew up in an era where ‘body detox’ usually meant taking a double dose of Alka-Seltzer the morning you return to work after the festivities – but now there are many fancy fads to help kick-start your body back to reality.  ‘Dry January’ is a popular option, not imbibing on the hard stuff for the month.  Another new charity trend is ‘Veganuary‘, as people are urged to do try being vegan during the month of January, helpfully supported by lots of supermarket promotions and media articles on vegans and vegan recipes. 

 

And in view of today’s photo, I thought it might help if I passed on this useful, failsafe piece of etiquette for you all.  How can you tell if someone is a vegan? Don’t worry about it, they’ll soon tell you.

 

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What Christmas movie is complete without a miserable person deciding to end it all? Obviously the big one here is It’s a Wonderful Life, wherein good guy Jimmy Stewart goes all suicidal on us and almost jumps to his death, driven by the Human Embodiment of Hyper-capitalism in the guise of Mr. Potter, and only prevented from doing so by a little old man in a nightie looking to get a set of wings.

 

It is, of course, Frank Capra’s black-and-white classic from 1946 all about small-town America that has become a staple of Christmas television programming the world over – but it didn’t have such auspicious beginnings. In fact, it was regarded as being something of a Christmas turkey after being lambasted on its release by the critics.  But what do they know?

 

It’s a Wonderful Life was considered such a flop by the studio that they let its copyright lapse – and inadvertently, this proved to be its salvation, turning it into a perennial holiday favourite that has bonded families and communities together for eons. This meant that, by the Seventies, there was a festive Frank Capra film available for networks to screen for free – and It’s a Wonderful Life was duly screened, every day and practically every hour, on almost every channel throughout the whole month of December.

 

I knew the movie as a big holiday classic, but I only discovered all about the ad nauseam screening during my decade-long stay in the US of A. I remember one Christmas Eve in Seattle, I decided to play TV roulette with it. I literally kept changing channels and came upon it in different stages of its progress. Yet still so infectious, you simply can’t not watch. You can’t turn it off.

 

And because there’s little or no copyright, advertising images from the movie can be all but freely used, such as here with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed at The Butterfly and the Pig pub at Shawlands Cross in Glasgow’s South-Side, for everyone to “Have a Wonderful Christmas” there. Actually, this theme pub would be the worst of all places to celebrate Christmas, as now it is like something out of Pottersville, the “bad” town from the movie, and not the Bedford Falls “good” town watering hole of the old Corona Bar that we all once loved and frequented.

 

Remember now everyone: Have a wonderful Christmas!

 

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No, not another homage to my childhood with Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade, but this time it’s more like “Cartoon Arcade”, with an exhibition and sale this month at Plan B Books in Shawlands Arcade of the political cartoons from the hand of the redoubtable Jim Turnbull, who for over 30 years was the cartoonist for the Glasgow Herald newspaper.

 

It runs December 2-21, with Plan B opening hours being Wednesday to Saturday, 12pm-5pm.  And there, you can take a political walk down memory lane with possibly the largest exhibit of Jim Turnbull’s wonderful cartoons, with over 100 of his masterpieces focusing on the Thatcher years and his famous Scottish lion – a lion that became an instant hit during the first ill-fated 1979 referendum on devolution through portraying Scottish people as a feart lion for not showing greater support.

 

While many of Turnbull’s caricatures may well be instantly recognisable thanks to his skill in both drawing and catching the political zeitgeist of the time, one or two seemed to confuse some of an earlier generation.  Today’s photo, showing Enoch ‘Rivers of Blood’ Powell separating out the black jelly babies was one, some wondering just who he was.  I tried explaining to them to imagine Nigel Farage without the beer or the fags, though speaking Latin!  

 

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Here’s a blast from the past, a controversial Glasgow bronze statue, ‘The Spirit Of Kentigern’, which perched for more than two decades outside the House of Fraser store in Buchanan Street, baffling shoppers and dividing critics into those who loathed it and those who simply tried to forget it.

 

Arguably it was the most reviled piece of public sculpture in Scotland, even although the abstract statue of the bird depicted the story of Glasgow founder St Mungo – also known as St Kentigern – who is said to have brought back to life a wild robin. It was the first modern art installation in the city, and all the more controversial because it didn’t represent imperialism, and nor did it have Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns or John Knox atop it.  

 

More often than not, it was referred to by Glaswegians as “The Blob”, and usually mistaken for a ship’s propeller, a whale, or something glimpsed on a bad acid trip. It was part of city life from 1977 till 2001 and then put in storage because it didn’t fit in with Buchanan Street’s snazzy new streetscaping. But now Glasgow City Council has brought it back to life by loaning the Spirit of Kentigern to the City of Glasgow College, and its new resting place can be found close to the Allan Glen’s entrance of the City campus, just off Cathedral Street. 

 

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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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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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