The Cherub

 

The Tron Theatre is steeped in Glaswegian history. Having stood in the heart of the Merchant City for almost five centuries, it has been a Christian place of worship, a meeting hall, a market, a store house, a police station and a theatre. And walking towards the Trongate, you can’t but help look up and be transfixed by the evil lurks from the cherub that sits on the corner of the main entrance.

 

Cherubs are supposed to be angelic, representing innocent little children singing the praises of God. Not this little guy, he has a distinctly menacing and impish look about him. According to the website of the Merchant City Public Art Trail “the cherub steps confidently forward from an already existing ornate niche in the screen wall, as if about to fly or jump into the bustle below”.

 

This is one of a pair of bronze sculptures – the Cherub and the Skull – powder-coated with gold, installed in 1998 and designed by Kenny Hunter, that sit on opposite corners of the new-build Tron Theatre that refer to the span between childhood and death, suggesting that all human endeavour is reflected within the walls of the theatre.

 

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In 2014, Sheffield-based photographer and graphic designer Dave Mullen Jr started Geometry Club, a collaborative Instagram project in which people submit images of buildings forming carefully composed triangle shapes. Mullen is now creating an app to simplify the meticulous formatting process, and says the project is “a test of building an audience based on curating the same thing”.

 

The account has attracted more than 25,000 followers and welcomes contributions by professional and amateur photographers. And the first rule of Geometry Club is to make contributions – and here’s one of my contributions, it’s the Wolfson Centre for Bioengineering at Strathclyde University, built 1970-71, and designed by architects Morris & Steedman.

 

It is, of course, a prime leading example of pure Scottish Brutalisim of the era, consisting of 5-storeys of very distinctive full-height ribbed chevron-shaped white reinforced-concrete cladding panels.

 

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I know, just as the chalkboard outside my local social enterprise Milk Café on Victoria Road says, the liberal consensus is that 2016 was an annus horribilis, as Lizzie once famously coined it. Yes, 2016 was a year somehow jinxed by karmic voodoo, despite the contradictory liberal consensus that no supernatural agency must ever be acknowledged, as in Charlie Brooker’s wickedly wonderful Black Mirror

 

But here’s my review of 2016. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died. Stupid Vote. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died.  Someone Famous Died. Stupid Vote. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died. Christmas. Someone Famous Died.  Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died.

 

In many ways, David Attenborough on TV brought us the perfect visual metaphor for 2016: Planet Earth II’s plucky iguana running past a cavalcade of vicious snakes. Well, we made it.  And now there’s a rush to get it over with, a quick rendition of Auld Lang Syne, new calendar, fresh start – but don’t go wishfully thinking that 2017 will be any better, as we only have 23 more sleeps before Donald Trump gets his tiny little fingers on the nuclear codes….

 

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No matter how upbeat Slade and Wizzard catchily sang in my youth, apparently the best Christmas songs are the sad ones: “Fairytale Of New York”, “It’s A Big Country”, “Blue Christmas” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, which for my money is probably the best actual Christmas song of all, and from one of my favourite movies.

 

The lyrics were written by Hugh Martin and the music by Ralph Blane. It was unveiled in 1944 for Judy Garland’s classic film Meet Me In St Louis. There, Garland sings it to comfort her young sister, who’s upset at the news that the family is in the process of moving to New York.

 

And the lyrics have changed through the years. The film’s director, Vincente Minnelli, thought it was too sad and persuaded Martin to change “it may be your last” to “let your heart be light”. When Frank Sinatra came to record a version on an album called A Jolly Christmas he asked him to change it again. This time “until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” became “hang a shining star upon the highest bough”.

 

In later life Martin, who was a Seventh Day Adventist, re-wrote his song as “Have Yourself A Blessed Little Christmas” and performed it as “we will all be together, if the Lord allows”, a form of words he claimed were in the original but were swapped for “if the fates allow” to make the song less religious.

 

The reason I bring all this up is that this week – with nothing much else on TV – I caught Larry Lamb and the cast of Gavin and Stacey doing it at the end of a repeated Christmas special. I think “if the fates allow” is actually the best line in the whole song. And as we re-group for Christmas 2016 to reflect on what’s been a veritable annus horribillis, who’s here, who’s not and what’s changed, that’s the line that really tugs at the heart strings.

 

If the fates allow, have yourself a merry little Christmas.

 

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At this time of year, there’s a lot of talk about Christmas movies and which ones are the best and which are the worst. And the debate I overheard between these hard-core Shawlands pub punters outside on a smoking break, reverberated between White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol (including Scrooge and Scrooged), It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Snowman and Love Actually. 

 

But one movie that wouldn’t necessarily come up for discussion here in the UK is a sweet little holiday gem I discovered during my extended stay in the US: A Christmas Story. In a word, irresistible. Probably the best movie about Christmas ever — and not only that but possibly the best movie about childhood ever. Captures everything wonderful and stupid about being a kid at Christmas time; and is funny as hell with it.

 

But for those this side of the Pond who perhaps have never seen this little holiday gem (I can’t ever remember it being shown in the UK), someone has generously uploaded it to Dailymotion for everyone to watch.  So sit back with a glass or two of mulled wine, relax, click here and just forget about the annus horribillis that was 2016 by getting into the spirit of A Christmas Story…. 

 

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It is to our collective shame that in recent years the number of men and women who are street homeless in the city – every city – has increased. Sleeping rough can be a dangerous and traumatising experience. Many people who sleep rough suffer from multiple health conditions, such as mental health problems and physical illnesses.

 

Each December 1st, from the warmth and comfort of our own homes, we open the first door to our advent calendars.  But here in Glasgow, December 1 saw the opening of a very important door for those less fortunate than ourselves, with it being the doors to the Christmas sanctuary of the Winter Night Shelter run by the Glasgow City Mission.

 

The charity say that they are preparing for what they expect to be their busiest ever year this Christmas, as they’ve seen an “unquestionable marked increase in the visibility of street homelessness” in the last year and they expect to exceed the record 605 people that used the service last winter. And last year, the Glasgow Rangers Charity Foundation raised enough funds with a sleep out at Ibrox Stadium that helped the shelter stay open for an extra month. And recently, the Rangers Charity Foundation repeated their sleep out fundraiser to continue supporting the shelter.

 

It’s not easy being homeless at Christmas, as the poor unfortunate in today’s photo could probably testify to.  On the opening day of the House of Fraser’s Nutcracker brand-sponsored Christmas window display, he stoically sat head bowed as hundreds crammed into Glasgow’s premier department store.  But he was only there for about an hour before security moved him on, as they didn’t want any riffraff spoiling the image of their Christmas window display.

 

So much for the spirit of Christmas then!

 

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It outraged many on its release in 1971 with scenes filled with extreme violence, shocking murders and the first known occurrence on film of telephone sex. But, more than four decades on, Get Carter still remains, for me anyway, the greatest British movie of all time – and for those reading this across the Pond, please don’t mistake it for the film of the same name that was re-made in the U.S., a pathetic shambles that starred Sylvester Stallone.

 

The original was based on Ted Lewis’s classic canonical crime novel Jack Returns Home, and this cult British gangster movie charts the story of Jack Carter, played by Michael Caine (in arguably his finest acting role), a London enforcer in a well-cut suit who travels to the north-east for his brother’s funeral following his suspicious death.

 

It caused a sensation when it was released not only because of its violence but its images of Britt Ekland, wearing black lingerie and indulging in telephone sex with Carter and of Caine appearing naked in a shoot-out that put a whole new twist into being “held up” by a double-barrelled shotgun.

 

As Carter, Caine delivered some of the most memorable lines in film history – but alas, not “Carter is Terug!”, as the wonderful find recently of the Dutch movie poster would have it  – including the often quoted “You’re a big man, but you’re out of shape. With me, it’s a full-time job. So behave yourself” in the superb scene where he slapped around Coronation Street’s mild-mannered shopkeeper, Alf Roberts. 

 

But for Mike Hodges’ movie adaptation of it, the director decided to move the setting of Lewis’ story from Scunthorpe to Newcastle, and the film makes much of the city’s decaying industrial landscape, and also all the swirling corruption scandal unfolding at the time around former city Labour leader T. Dan Smith and architect John Poulson.

 

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It’s time to dust off the tinsel and open the box of baubles – or should I say bottles?  Yes, I do miss the Seattle Christmas scene, especially Belltown’s beloved Rob Roy Cocktail Bar, who came up with the wonderful wheeze of a special Advent calendar where, when you opened a box for each day of December leading up to the big day, you would find a different bottle of craft beer.

 

Not to be outdone in the Yuletide drinking makeover stakes, Glasgow has come up with its own version with a Buckfast drinking duo taking a Blue Peter approach to their decorations this year by making a Christmas tree out of all their empties of the fortified wine normally associated with squalor and violence.

 

Yes, 98 empty bottles of Bucky turned into a Christmas tree – only in Glasgow!

 

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As I was photographing this shop window, a man passing by asked what I was doing. I replied that it was a beautiful window of ladies lingerie. He looked me up and down and said “No, son, there’s something wrong with you!” and marched off. It was pointless for me to explain that I’d read the book, A Vision of Paris, with photographs by Eugène Atget and words by Marcel Proust that contained a wonderful image of a similar little corset/lingerie shop.

 

But no matter what explanation, cultural, artistic or otherwise that might have been offered, his only thought was – and this is somewhat typical of Glasgow and Glaswegians here – “No, son, there is something wrong with you!” Good job then I didn’t tell him about my online habits, eh?  

 

So, in the spirit of Atget, this is how it turned out. 

 

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Crivens! Help ma boab!  The Broons, Scotland’s most famous fictional family – Maw, Paw, Maggie, Hen, Joe, Daphne, Horace, the twins and the Bairn (not forgetting Grandpa), who live in a tenement flat at 10 Glebe Street in the fictional town of Auchenshoogle – are set to tread the boards for the first time in a play by Rob Drummond at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal this month. 

 

For our American cousins perhaps not altogether au fait with the Broons, this is a long-running comic strip published weekly by the fabled D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. in the Scottish Sunday Post newspaper with a book collecting the strips being published every two years or so (And it really is long-running, first appearing in 1936, it’s characters are older than Batman and Superman). 

 

The original writer/artist was the great Dudley D. Watkins – who also created the neighbouring comic strip of ‘Oor Wullie’, and also several characters in ‘The Dandy’ – but he died in the late 60s and since then a series of writers and artists have continued the strip in exactly the same style (there have been no Frank Miller-type Dark Knight re-imaginings of the Broons, though it’s an intriguing thought).

 

Each Christmas growing up as a kid, it was alternate annuals of The Broons or Oor Wullie (which I preferred). And I can guarantee you that one (or all) of the four standard Broons storylines will be played out on the stage:

 

1. “The Bairn overhears something”. Simple but versatile, the youngest of the brood overhears someone talking about one of the clan (usually Grandpa Broon), gets the wrong end of the stick, mobilises panic-stricken family members until it all sorts itself out. Key phrase: “Ha ha! My wee lamb!”

 

2. “Paw is mean”: Paw Broon tries to save money in a ridiculous way while lecturing the rest of the family on their spendthrift ways. He always comes a cropper and ends up spending more to get less. Key phrase: “Auld Skinflint.”

 

3. “The But and Ben”: All 11 Broons decamp for a holiday in a two-room house in the Scottish countryside. Key phrase: “Look at that teuchter!

 

4. “The Broons vs Modern Life”: A member of the family will enthuse about a new trend or technology, such as electric shavers or computer games, only for the Broons to put their own stamp on it. In this year’s book, Grandpa Broon comes up with a mince & tatties smoothie, the idea of which is making me feel a bit queasy as I type. Key phrase: “Now that’s what I call a –insert technology name-!”

 

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