Glasgow has been an unusual home for me for the last eight months. Many days have been routine and largely predictable, consisting of university, assignments, and travel between Shawlands and the city centre and GCU. Having been the victim of a particularly wet, miserable winter this year, the city has often seemed, at times, like a gray, sodden, uninspiring urban labyrinth, devoid of green spaces or any sense of character or positivity.
This, however, is obviously a fault of perception rather than fact, and from time to time, certain opportunities, such as my friends’ visit from Northern Ireland back in February, recorded in my last post, afford me the chance to see the city afresh, and appreciate its more colourful corners and features, especially coming into the spring. Three different weekends over the last couple of months, including Easter and the May Bank Holiday, have ended up giving me as interesting a flavour of Glasgow as the adventure in the last entry.
To begin with, I’ve recently moved from Shawlands to Battlefield, which, while only the next neighbourhood over, has given me a different sense of the Southside, as well as a newer bus route in and out of the city centre. While it’s been a shame to leave behind the useful features of living in Shawlands, from close proximity to my favourite haunts Norval Coffee Co and the Glad Café, to the beautiful Queen’s Park being practically on the doorstep, Battlefield has a character of its own, not least the charming Langside Café, a blend of sit-in eatery and traditional sweetshop, and the grand Langside Library, recently having celebrated its centenary. And Queen’s Park remains a mere few minutes’ walk away- no excuse, then, especially as the better weather starts to come in, not to get out and about in it.
At Easter, another of my friends travelled down from Inverness to spend the weekend in the city, initially staying with his brother close to Glasgow Green in the East End. Unfortunately in the grip of a bad cold in a classic case of poor timing, he wasn’t in the best of health to fully enjoy his trip, but we still endeavoured to make the most of his visit, and on Good Friday we stopped first at Glasgow Cathedral, my second visit to that building in recent months, and explored the church and Lower Church within, with my friend suitably impressed by the crypts. Close by sat the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, a truly fascinating exhibition centre showcasing different major world religions and their various influences on Glasgow. Packed full of fascinating artwork and artefacts, the museum is certainly well worth a visit, whatever one’s spiritual persuasion.
Across the road, meanwhile, rests Provand’s Lordship, the oldest house in Glasgow, and a brief trip inside gave a unique taste of what a home in the city several hundred years ago would have felt like, complete with a lovely herb garden outside, and possibly the friendliest, most personable member of Glasgow Museums staff I’ve ever come across- so whoever the guy was greeting visitors on the ground floor of Provand’s Lordship close to closing time on Good Friday 2016, very many thanks for the cheery hospitality.
Easter Saturday saw a morning walk along Glasgow Green, culminating in a visit to the People’s Palace, and its two floors of social history and the toils and travails of the working class people of Glasgow going back decades. As tempting as it was to stop for food in the greenhouse at the back of the palace, the humidity, combined with my friend’s continuing cold, proved an unattractive proposition, and so we moved on.
Our experience of Bridgeton and the East End that weekend was somewhat mixed. With no disrespect to the area, there seemed to be an almost claustrophobic feel to this section of the city, perhaps coloured by illness and unfamiliarity, but certainly potent at the time. The Cathedral, St Mungo’s, Provand’s Lordship and the Green provided interesting cultural attractions, but beyond them, there was a heightened sense of the sore need for regeneration in the East of the city, and so it was, in the end, something of a relief to be able to return to the Southside for the second night of my friend’s stay, the grand tenements of Battlefield a welcome atmospheric change from the flats and tower blocks of the East.
Easter Sunday arrived, and my friend’s cold was gradually starting to improve, though sadly not fast enough to really be able to savour the trip to Queen’s Park that afternoon, apart from a pleasant, peaceful moment down by the pond on the Pollokshaws Road side of the park, a space constantly occupied by a varied array of birds, sometimes even a pair of regal swans, and including, this time, a cute but seemingly dim-witted specimen intent on bathing itself in the dirtiest-looking part of the water.
A fine meal in the Alishan Tandoori restaurant that evening finally seemed to bring my friend fully back to himself, so that, by the time he was ready to catch the bus back to Inverness later that night, the sniffles and misery were all but gone. A final, leisurely walk up the grand expanse of Buchanan Street to the bus station saw him safely on his way.
When he returned three weekends later, my friend was in much better spirits and health, and we made sure this time to stick to nicer, greener parts of the city, rather than the mixed bag that had been out experience of the East, aided now by much-improved weather. Saturday saw us enjoy another brief walk through sections of Queen’s Park, including the obligatory return to the pond, before making out way over to Pollok Park further south, surely a contender for the most pleasant public space in Glasgow. Peaceful and seeped in nature, the park is home Highland cattle curiously casting their gaze over the arrival of human visitors, an array of great walking trails, and the must-visit Burrell Collection, a huge collection of treasures donated to the city by shipping magnate Sir William Burrell, and consisting of everything from ancient Egyptian and Greek statues, to medieval dresses, Chinese vases from ancient dynasties, and Islamic pottery. Two particularly interesting moments for me while touring the collection were the realisation that depiction of living beings is frowned upon in Islamic art, explaining its marked difference from the art of most other cultures, and the discovery that an old handwritten Chinese accounts ledger, something that would presumably have been a mundane, everyday item to the people of the time, was, to our eyes, now a beautiful piece of culture, full of exquisite, neat writing and imagery, a world away from our digital, more uniform age.
An enjoyable walk up to Pollok House and around the gardens followed, the two of us eager to explore the park to its fullest before heading home, and the day was rounded off with a well-earned smoothie and Food for a Fiver deal in Norval’s, as well as another quick detour through Queen’s Park on the way back to Battlefield.
Sunday saw us purchase an all-day bus ticket and make our way directly from Battlefield up to Kelvinbridge in the West End, to enjoy a more thorough exploration of Kelvingrove Museum than I managed to during my other friends’ February visit. From the impressive skill of the organist in the main hall, to the good food served to us in the restaurant, to the couple of hours spent making the most of the Egyptian exhibits teeming with stories of family conflict and strife among the ancient gods, and the great selection of species displayed and described in the natural history section, the museum proved a great day out. Although my planned summer project for the MATV course is now somewhat more up in the air in terms of story and location, Kelvingrove and the West End are still a part of the city I aim to return to a lot over the summer, and the West in an area of Glasgow I’ll devote a fuller piece of writing to in a future entry of this blog. For now, my weekend saw me make use of my day ticket to Kelvinbridge after seeing my friend off back to Inverness at the bus station, and join some of my MATV classmates in one of their workplaces, the Doublet bar, for a welcome catchup following the conclusion of weekly classes.
The May Bank Holiday weekend saw a return to Pollok Park on the Saturday for the long-planned Glad Writers retreat, the first-ever such excursion for the monthly writers group I’ve been attending at the Glad Café since October. Held at the Old Barn just off the fairy path, tucked away enough from the rest of the world to prove an enchanting escape from the bustle of the city outside, the day was a great success, consisting of a morning workshop on structure by author Martin Cathcart Froden, a group critique of one another’s work, a lunchtime walk around other parts of the park, an evening meal courtesy of Ranjit’s Kitchen and subsequent bonfire, and, most inspiring of all, a talk by Laura Waddell of Freight Books about building up one’s digital profile as a writer and establishing helpful contacts- a subject naturally of great interest to me, as a blogger. Advertised on Creative Scotland and open to newcomers beyond the core writers’ group, the retreat saw many promising new faces, and will hopefully translate into even more increased membership for the group going forward.
This idyllic day was followed by yet another trip to Queen’s Park on the Sunday with my Dad and his fiancé, the highlight of which had to be stopping at the flagpole summit at the highest point of the park to enjoy the great view out over the whole of Glasgow, from the nearby church spires of the Victoria Road area, to the distant reaches of Glasgow University in the West, and the tower blocks of the East and city centre, all in the shadow of the Campsies in the far distance. Queen’s Park being right on my doorstep, even now living just over the hill in Battlefield, it’s slightly embarrassing not to have made better use of it for exercise and leisure since moving to Glasgow for my course, but as the summer, better weather and longer evenings all start to come in, I aim to make up for that over the coming months.
Finally, the Bank Holiday Monday saw the three of us head up to Clarkston and Greenbank Garden, another whole area of Glasgow I had yet to explore. Clarkston is a truly beautiful suburb, the drive through it offering an at times unparalleled view of the city below, and our eventual destination of the Garden came close to Pollok Park as a candidate for most pleasant green space in Glasgow. The National Trust property, teeming with birds, pondlife, exquisitely maintained gardens and host of plant and flower species, could easily be used as a filming location for a Jane Austen or other Regency-era TV adaptation, one half-expecting at times to see Elizabeth Bennet or Fitzwilliam Darcy come walking around the corner. The walk outside the grounds, along a trail populated by a series of striking wood sculptures, ranging from squirrels and birds to, bizarrely, a giant pencil, proved just as pleasant, and the afternoon was rounded off with coffee and cake in the local giftshop.
Glasgow, as suggested at the start of this piece, is an odd jumble of a city, pleasant and not so pleasant areas and spaces cobbled together more strikingly than in most cities. On the one hand, the splendour of the West End and natural beauty of the Southside parks. On the other, the run-down need for regeneration of Bridgeton and Tradeston. And right in the middle, the mishmash that is the city centre, the magnificence of George Square a mere heartbeat away from the uglier grandeur of Strathclyde University. It’s a city that’s been particularly hard for me to develop a settled opinion on, in contrast to my beloved Belfast and Inverness, and, when pressed by my Dad’s fiancé on whether I liked it here or not, I had to think about it, before answering honestly; ‘Overall…yes.’
It was a good enough answer for them not to render me homeless.