Veganuary

 

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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Well, there goes 2017.  It really flew by, didn’t it? But it’s almost over now and tomorrow morning 2018 looms large for everyone. 

 

Hard to imagine how the new-found dawn of 2018 could be any worse than the last few grains of sands currently dropping through the hourglass that is 2017.  Although with that said, and with the banality of Brexit, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least in 2018 if the UK went full Royston Vasey with Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown staging a coup and declaring himself PM.  Admittedly, it couldn’t be much worse than Theresa May now, could it?

 

I suppose we can all wish that the next 365 days are better and more prosperous than the previous 365 days. And as the photograph from Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street suggests: We can all wish, can’t we?  So, despite my somewhat morbid outlook that more resembles the Hogmanay institution that is the Rev I.M. Jolly with it being “a helluva year”, I’ll take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy New Year!

 

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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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It’s a scene at this time of year that plays out in just about every big city: thousands of Christmas tree sellers plying their trade on the streets.  And this seasonal tradition is now the subject of a heart-felt new feature documentary that shines throughout with community spirit and more than just a twinkle of Christmas cheer.

 

Tree Man” explores the lives of those tree sellers, many of whom leave their homes and families behind and must endure living out of cars and vans for the holiday season. This film centres on those plying their trade in New York’s Upper West Side, and primarily revolves around Broadway seller François, a migrant worker from Québec who leaves behind his young family at his Canadian home to return to the same Manhattan street corner every year for five weeks to deliver the magic of the season.

 

All of this is hard and demanding work, with long hours in freezing weather with rain, wind and the snow. François lives and sleeps out of his beloved ‘Elvis’, a 1994 Chevy van, as a one bedroom apartments at this prime location runs at over $4000 a month…that is, if you could even find one. But he’s become a firm favourite of the local dwellers and has developed lasting relationships with some of his customers, and a mentor and father-figure to two formerly troubled young youths who now work for him.

 

This is a little gem of a documentary that got several good critical reviews when it hit the film festival circuit. But no review could be better than that of a longtime customer in the film who now lives in the Queens and makes the long trek to the French Canadian tree man of Broadway, explaining that, “This has nothing to do with trees anymore.”

 

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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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Situated in the heart of Glasgow’s shopping metropolis on Buchanan Street, the Argyll Arcade was built in 1828 by the architect John Baird Snr. for John Reid Robertson. By the 1840s there were sixty-three shops ranged along the glass-roofed L-shaped thoroughfare, selling a wide variety of luxury goods.

 

Today the arcade is predominantly occupied by high-end jewellers’ shops, offering the largest and finest selection of diamond rings, diamond jewellery, wedding rings and luxury watches in the one single location in Scotland; and the largest diamond repository outside of London’s recently ill-fated Hatton Gardens.

 

But for those of a certain age, before the jewellery takeover, this was the location where generations of small boys would immediately run towards – and especially at Christmas time! – to press their well-snotted noses’ up to one certain window, in the shop at the corner of the “L”, underneath the glass roof supported with ornate hammer-beam roof trusses.

 

It could only be the fabled ‘Boys’ Own’ Glasgow toy and model shop, Clyde Model Dockyard! Initially established in 1789 as a producer of models for the Admiralty, then shipping models, parts and accessories, it went on to be located at 22-23 Argyll Arcade from the mid-1950s through to the late 1970s, and dealt with a veritable Aladdin’s cave full of model railway products, steam engines, model aeroplanes, racing yachts, steamboats, motors and Meccano.

 

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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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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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