Cartoon Arcade

 

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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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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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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With a true sense of the timing and the moment of the man, Leonard Cohen released his final studio album, You Want It Darker, just as his American neighbours were in the process of electing Donald Trump to be their next president – and as they did so, sadly the legendary Canadian poet and singer-songwriter asked the same question of himself, as he shuffled off his own mortal coil last night. 

 

He was the poet of sex and death, who made music to nourish the soul; not only to nourish but also noirish the soul, as often his mordant words and mournful voice hauntingly resonated like the image of a soulful black and white photograph from some  bygone era – and I was a late converter to Cohen and his wonderful body of work; and arguably his body of work was more worthy of a Nobel prize for literature than Bob Dylan’s.

 

Cohen was luminous and often wryly funny. In recent years, I was lucky to see him a couple of times in Seattle during his long 2008-2013 tour.  What set him apart from so many others of his generation was that he actually got better over 60 with such brilliant songs as ‘The Future’ and ‘Almost Like the Blues’; he didn’t just churn out his back catalogue. 

 

And no sooner had I broken the seal of You Want It Darker – I hesitate to say his ‘last album’, as I’m sure he has other, as-yet-unreleased recordings to come now –  news began to filter through of his death at the age of 82 in the early hours of this morning. So to paraphrase one of his famous songs from his back catalogue, So long, Leonard. 

 

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“The truth is out there” was, of course, the tagline for The X-Files, as Mulder and Scully went about searching for aliens and UFOs.  Finding aliens and UFOs look’s a breeze though compared to trying to fathom out the truth the Tory UK government has for Brexit, after David Cameron stupidly gambled the house on holding the referendum vote on June 23rd, his cunning wheeze to outfox his own barmy band of backbench Brexiters and Nigel Farage’s Ukippers.

 

Here in Scotland, we voted 62-38 to Remain; and there were similarly large margins for this in Northern Ireland and London. But in the rest of England and Wales, they foolishly fell for all the fibs and declared that they wanted to Leave – and that carried the vote that split the country, with the final tally being 52.5-47.5. And on Sunday, it will be 100 days since the vote to leave the EU – and there’s mounting concerns that the government still doesn’t have the foggiest notion of what they are doing, especially after new PM Theresa May’s ridiculously vacuous statement that “Brexit means Brexit”.  

 

But now many of those that said they wanted to leave are beginning to regret their decision, as the wonderfully whimsical ‘Passport to Pimlico’ outlook painted for them by the “Three Brexiteers” – Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Brexit Secretary David Davis and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox – is now looking more like heading for the reality of the slow-motion car crash that’s the so-called ‘hard Brexit’.  And that car crash analogy is fitting when you hear the worrying news today from car giants Renault-Nissan.

 

The Franco-Japanese company – which builds around one in three of all of Britain’s total automotive output at its Sunderland plant – are now demanding the UK Government to pledge compensation for any extra costs as a result of Brexit before it invests in the future of its Sunderland plant (one of the biggest employers in the region) or else they’ll up sticks and move elsewhere in Europe.

 

There are many hardships coming, and many jobs are set to be lost, particularly in those regions that voted to Leave, such as Sunderland.  Many in the Leave side are now beginning to regret the folly of their vote, and they become somewhat sheepish when you ask them how they voted. From where I’m sitting it’s all beginning to look like France after 1945 – “Me? Vote Leave? Nah, mate – I was with the Resistance.”

 

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“Look!  It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive…It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, IT’S ALIVE!”  And with that famous Henry Frankenstein line, from the late 1931 Universal horror classic, Frankenstein, there entered Boris Karloff in the tragic role that made him a star overnight, in what many consider one of the greatest horror movies ever made.

 

Ironically, the part of the Monster in James Whale’s iconic horror movie was originally offered to Bela Lugosi, after his success earlier that same year in Universal’s Dracula. But Lugosi famously turned it down, saying that there was no dialogue in it for him. A few days after Lugosi rejected the defining horror role, Whale discovered Karloff at the Universal canteen and was immediately taken by his gaunt, jaundiced-like facial features and somber eyes. The rest, as they say, is history.

 

The English director paired the unknown English actor with the legendary Jack Pierce from the Universal make-up department, and his artistry combined with a rare pathos in Karloff’s stand-out performance meant more to horror than anything else that had gone before, including Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula – and indeed, it also defined the starting point of the intense rivalry that developed between those two legendary masters of the macabre.

 

I described in an earlier blog how STV’s early 1970s Friday Night Horror feature, ‘Don’t Watch Alone’, influenced me as a kid – and the first movie they showed in that series was also Frankenstein,  and I was so taken by the movie and Karloff’s performance that I was immediately hooked (and still even today) on all those old wonderful Universal and RKO horror classics.

 

Today’s iconic Frankenstein image from that first 1931 Universal movie comes from the Strathclyde University ‘Wonderwall’ series, located on George Street, that covers more than 1000 square meters and several stories, making it the UK’s largest outdoor mural.  It’s part of the City Center Mural Trail and was commissioned in 2014 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Royal Charter that conferred the university’s status, and created by street artists Rogue One and Ejek.

 

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As well as helping to brighten up unloved buildings, the Glasgow Mural Trail – part of the Style Mile city centre strategy – is also helping to support young artists.  But it has a very serious side to it, helping to rejuvenating streets and revitalise buildings and vacant sites that are looking a bit tired and reincarnating them as beautiful pieces of public street art.

 

And taking influence from the Beastie Boys and Run DMC, Rogue-One’s Hip Hop Marionettes graces the side of this Strathclyde University building on John Street, adding more than just a splash of colour, life and humour to what was an otherwise drab, plain brickwork to brighten up our streets.

 

And as one reader eloquently put it in his comment in our previous entry, it certainly beats a time and era in Glasgow when the only thing we would see daubed with paint on the side of buildings would be the once ubiquitous gangland catchphrase of “Tongs ya bass”!

 

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One from the “Words that will come back to haunt you” department.  Back in early August of last year, former Leicester striker Gary Lineker, now BBC sports presenter, famously said he would present the first Match of the Day for the next season in only his pants if Leicester won the league, with them being outrageous outsiders at 5,000/1 to do so. 

 

Guess what?  Yes, Gary is now busy rummaging through his underwear drawer….so  bookies Paddy Power are now offering odds on what colour his briefs will be, with Leicester’s colour of blue odds on at 4/9. Gary himself pointed out the flaw in this betting when he contacted Paddy Power on social media to ask: “Can I have a thousand pounds on polka dots at 33/1?” 

 

Somehow I can’t ever imagine the late great Arthur Montford of Scotsport fame – he of the many varied chequered sports jackets and memorable catchphrases including “What a stramash”, “It’s a sensation!” and his omnipresent “Disaster for Scotland” to name but a few – ever getting involved in such an unseemly event, could you?

 

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You’ll find many interesting charity shops as you saunter down Byres Road in the trendy west end of Glasgow – and the window display in this one piqued my interest, not because of the very retro-looking scarfs on the mannequin bust, but more to do with their quirky decor of using the ripped up pages of academic books and high-brow novels pasted on the walls.

 

Well, this is University-land after all, so they have to find some way to make use of all the useless study books left behind by students – and this probably beats the Nazi method instead of burning books. The Death of Tragedy is by George Steiner, who regarded himself as being the God of critics, and this book was seen as his antidote to Frederick Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, for all those looking to expand on their existential growth.

 

But Steiner is a critic whose reputation is the subject of considerable controversy, chiefly over the question of whether he knows as much as he leads his readers to believe he does. And as a kid, I am afraid I was duped by my local librarian to an early – way, way too early – introduction to this pompous prat. In the aftermath of the 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Chess Championship match, he wrote a book  called The Sporting Scene: White Knights of Reykjavik. So imaging my unbridled joy when, as an innocent 11-year-old, my local librarian told me she’d kept this new book for me, rather than putting it on the shelves.

 

I ran all the way home clutching it in my hands…only to discover there was a somewhat sparsity of chess moves in it, but instead lots of pious philosophical babble about the match. And brazenly, Steiner managed to give the impression that he knew more about chess than any person who’s ever lived, and that Fischer and Spassky would have been hard pressed to beat him.

 

This started a lifelong avoidance of anything written by George Steiner – and I even managed to give The Death of Tragedy a deft body-swerve when it was on the reading list for a past Open University course I was on. But  finding one of his titles being used as wallpaper just served to show me that you can find a use for his books after all!

 

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There’s one of those wonderful Friday night BBC4 documentaries that tells the tale of how, over half a century ago, in the spring of 1964, simmering rivalries between Mods and Rockers reached a flashpoint as they clashed repeatedly over holiday weekends on seaside piers and promenades across the country.  And it it all kicked-off (so to speak) over the Easter weekend in Clacton-On-Sea, south-east England.

 

But that was merely only a warm-up for what dramatically escalated into a series of troubled holiday weekends to follow, with the Brighton Whitsun clash being the most notorious, thanks to sensational headlines and its immortalisation in the Mod flick Quadrophenia – based on Pete Townshend’s  second rock opera, released  in October 1973, that was The Who’s homage to the Mod youth culture that so religiously followed and supported the group.

 

Quadrophenia has stood the test of time as being the essential document of Mod culture – the incendiary movement of the early-’60s that revolved around music, fashion, drugs and Italian Vespa and Lambretta scooters.  Forty some years after the release of the album (which subsequently was made into the above cult movie in 1979), many still live the dream by donning a khaki parka and bedecking a scooter with mirrors and lights, such as this Mod pensioner I discovered recently in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street. 

 

I just hope that in his travels around the country on his scooter, as he relives his youth, he manages to stay clear of the cliff at Beachy Head

 

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