Irony in the Life of a Writer

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The irony of it all is that sometimes, it seems, you have to let go of an aspiration or hope in order for it to come true or to bear fruit.  Several times now in my writing life, I’ve spent long weeks and months hoping and dreaming of particular outcomes, without seeing much progress.

During the latter half of 2011, upon finishing university, all through 2012 and a good portion of 2013, I worked stubbornly and determinedly on a fantasy novel, believing I had the skillset to produce something worthy of publication.  That dream and long-term goal sustained me through the relative emptiness of those couple of years, filling the void that the loss of the routine and social life of university (specifically Queen’s Belfast) brought to my life.  It almost became a sort of private obsession, a justification to myself that if only I could hold out, be patient, wait long enough, I’d achieve success, and the sense of being cut adrift from real life, of being in a social wilderness, would be worth it in the end.

But the months marched on, and my patience faltered, and a foolish decision to send out a synopsis and sample chapters before the book was anywhere near properly finished, resulting in several rejection letters and emails, almost dissuaded me from continuing to write at all.  As a coping mechanism, from somewhere in the depths of my mind, my brain formed an alternative, relatively simpler story to tell, worthy in its own right, I felt, of trying to turn into a novel.  Newly inspired by the idea, I began working on this fresh story, barely completing a first chapter before, practically on a whim, deciding to submit that chapter to be considered for entry to a prestigious novel-writing course run by one of the agencies, Curtis Brown, that I’d received a rejection from, and which I’d seen advertising said course in their monthly electronic newsletter.  The irony of it is that if I hadn’t submitted that earlier work to that particular agency, even if it was destined to be rejected, I wouldn’t have received that newsletter, and may not have become aware of the course that particular year.

So, sending the sample chapter to them by way of application, I went on a family holiday to Croatia and thought little more about it, only to find several missed international calls on my mobile, which I had no credit to return, but which I began to suspect might be Curtis Brown trying to get a hold of me.  If I hadn’t used my brother’s phone to check my emails on one particular day of the holiday, I would have lost the place they offered me to someone else that same day.  The irony of it is that, only when I’d stopped worrying or expecting anything from the novel writing, only when I’d set the story I’d been working on for so long aside and started a new one, did fortune finally decide to let me get somewhere with it, opening up an opportunity for me when I was at my most relaxed about it, almost to the point of missing out on a place.  And of course, the irony of it is that after years of working on one project, the piece I’d barely started was the one that now caught the interest of the right people, and so that whole process of long-term creative work had to begin again- but this time, with a guaranteed interest from professionals to buoy me along.

Fast forward two years, to summer 2015, and, albeit with some welcome successes and opening up of opportunities in stage writing in 2014 via Tinderbox theatre company and their Fireworks Young Writers programme, I found myself once again feeling somewhat lost and in a bit of a wilderness, still polishing the novel Curtis Brown were interested enough in to give me a place on their course, and starting to wonder again if I was on the right path.  So I eagerly applied to the MA in TV Fiction Writing at Glasgow Caledonian University, seeing this as an excellent chance of achieving the hat trick of getting a foot in the door in the world of screenwriting, along with prose and stage writing.  But after a series of conflicting and contradictory emails, I was eventually left with the distinct impression that my application hadn’t been received in time, and that that opportunity was now closed to me.  And after an initial period of gutting disappointment, I came to accept that it just wasn’t to be, and to pour renewed effort and determination into finishing the novel, and capitalising on the links with Tinderbox by working on some stage pieces.

Again, almost on a whim, I applied for a bursary place for the John Hewitt International Summer School, being in no position financially to attend any of the events otherwise.  And the irony of it is that, some weeks after accepting things weren’t going to work out in the way I wanted them to just yet, I received an email informing me of success with the bursary application, and welcoming me to the summer school and all the fascinating workshops and events I would now get access to- a welcome, if modest, boost to my self-confidence.

But the best was yet to come: days later, I received an email from the MATV convenors inviting me to have a Skype interview for a place on their course, revealing that I was still very much in the running for a place on that programme, despite having believed for weeks  that that was a lost cause.  Fast forward three days, and I arrived home to find an email waiting for me, timed less than an hour after finishing the interview, offering me a place at GCU and on the MATV course.  The irony of it is that I had once again waited so long with little sign of any progress, and had started to accept that things just weren’t going to happen for me any time soon when, like buses, two fantastic opportunities came along at once.  Combined with the continuing links and potential opportunities with Curtis Brown and Tinderbox, it was a moment that the late 2011-early 2013 version of me would have killed to be in- and that was most certainly exciting.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris

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Broughshane to Inverness

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I’ve made the same trip to Inverness so often I could probably do it in my sleep.  The same routes, the same bus and train connections, the same airline, the same sections on foot.  And yet, given my love of the destination, it’s a journey I’ve been all too happy to keep repeating.

Up at 7.20 am, courtesy of the alarm on my phone.  I dearly wish for another half-hour of sleep, and unwisely allow myself a few minutes of it.  Springing out of bed in a panic at the tight window of time I’ve left myself, I wolf down a bowl of cereal while waiting for the water to heat up, then shower with barely enough time to get dried, hurriedly pack everything I need for the trip into my rucksack, and rush for the school bus two minutes around the corner from my house in Broughshane.  Mercifully, I make it, and allow myself to relax a little as the bus heads for the Pentagon in Ballymena, where I get off and walk the remaining few minutes to the station, partly to kill time, partly for at least a little bit of exercise- something I get nowhere near enough of.  A purchase of a newspaper in the Kiosk shop proves initially pointless, as I spend the majority of the train ride to Belfast asleep, having made that particular journey more than enough time since starting university in 2007 not to feel cheated of the scenery.

At Great Victoria Street, I unwisely spend a few minutes magazine-browsing in WHSmith, and just about make the bus over to George Best airport.  One particular woman who’s often driving that shuttle must be one of the cheeriest employees Translink has, with a persona some of the drivers back home, often with faces like Lurgan spades, could learn a thing or two from.

The trip through the airport is the usual fare- over to the Flybe Kiosk to print a boarding pass, then straight through security, where it’s always 50/50 whether I’ll be frisked or not.  Getting my belt back on is always the most irritating bit- somehow you feel like everyone else is watching as you do, even though they’re patently not.  Up the stairs in the lounge, I’ve time for a bit of food and a browse-through of the paper, usually containing at least one story daft enough to make me glad to be leaving Northern Ireland for a few days- one example being a protracted dispute at a church in the greater Portadown area over the sermon style of a ‘too-modern’ vicar.  Snore.

The flight is usually about half-full- Belfast-Inverness on a weekday perhaps never destined to be jam-packed.  But that just makes it feel more like my own hidden gem, my secret refuge- the same peaceful retreat it was when I first started making the journey in 2013.  That familiar feeling of affection only increases as the captain announces the final descent about 40 minutes in, and I glance out the window to see Inverness in miniature, temporarily disappearing from view as the plane heads onwards and down towards the airport eight miles out.

The flight arrival coincides well with the connecting bus into the city centre, and in no time at all I’m heading away from the tiny airport towards the retail park just outside the city centre, where my friend will be waiting for me to walk the rest of the way into town from his workplace.  The bus gets closer and closer to the centre, and the familiar landmarks begin to slip into view- Raigmore Hospital, the Beauly Firth, breathtaking as ever, the bridge, and there, in the distance, Craig Phadrig, the hill walk I’ve done several times before.  All of it brimming with happy memory, and hopefully, the promise of more to come.  Nothing perhaps as iconic and grand as London or Edinburgh, or any of the more obvious UK tourist spots, but, for me, much more resonant and significant- it’s mine, an escape I found and made for myself, off the beaten track, home to a best friend and honorary family who’ve made me feel like it’s as much my home as theirs.  Over the weekend, I’ll walk along the River Ness, hopefully catch a movie at Eden Court, enjoy the best hot chocolate I know at So Coco, maybe take the canal walk up to the Firth, savour the quiet beauty of the Crown area, just up and around from Stephens Brae, and probably rush in a panic for the airport bus at Falcon Square on Monday afternoon when it’s time to head home.  And even though I will look forward to getting home, with Northern Ireland, Belfast, and indeed Broughshane still holding a lot of emotional significance for me, I’ll equally enjoy this home from home while I’m here- my idyllic escape from a busy world.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris

Journey From Hell

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How not to spend a Wednesday, specifically a Wednesday in late October 2013: make a journey from Glasgow to London over land, and find just about everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

To be fair, it’s a journey I’d made a few times before that week, and would go on to make fairly harmoniously for a further month and a half, in order to participate in the three-month Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course in the heart of Piccadilly.  But if that Wednesday had been the first, and had formed my initial impression of the trip, I would probably have ended up seriously rethinking my travel plans, and possibly my commitment to the course.

A twelve-week, Wednesday-and-Thursday-evening novel-writing course right in the centre of London.  Not enough to justify moving to the capital for the duration, but also far too good an opportunity not to take up.  So, staying at my Dad’s place in Glasgow Southside seemed like a decent compromise.  A nine-hour land journey there and back once a week for three month vs. regular flights back and forth from Northern Ireland or trying to survive full-time in the virtual city state that is London: it seemed like a no-brainer.  But that particular Wednesday, with its seemingly-endless run of bad luck, made me sincerely glad the travel routine was only for a very set period.

Up at 5am, courtesy of my phone alarm.  Straight to the shower, then a small bit of breakfast, before making sure everything was packed for a one-night stay and overnight bus back on the Thursday night.  Then out of Dad’s flat on Underwood Street and up the short distance to the Kilmarnock Road, where the 5.45 bus, the first of the morning, took me to Glasgow city centre, the fifteen-minute walk from Argyle Street up the gradually sloping Buchanan Street to Buchanan Bus Station providing a chance for some slight exercise, exercise which, on that day, I would end up being very grateful for.  A flash of my ticket to the conductor, and I was on the Megabus, ready to pull out of the station at 6.35am, settling straight into sleep as the long stretch of motorway began, and waking sporadically over the next three hours- enough to catch flashes of signs for Carlisle, and glimpses of the Dales as the sun started to come up.  But, as usual, I didn’t start coming fully awake until Preston, at which point the stop-and-start nature of the next hour’s journey over to Manchester always made it more difficult to slip back off again- a smooth, unbroken journey is always much better for that.

So the coach made it into Manchester city centre, and it was then that the trouble began.  The conductor came up to the top deck to inform us we’d got a flat tyre, and it would consequently be another hour before a replacement coach arrived- cue an angry tirade from one passenger furious about the fact he would now be late for a business meeting, which met with an equally irate response from the conductor, who rightly pointed out it was not her fault, as well as advocating the wisdom of travelling ahead enough of time to allow for situations like this.  For my part, I was still philosophical at this point- it was inconvenient, sure, and I didn’t much fancy another hour’s travel on top of the existing nine, but I would still be in London for about 4.30pm- still enough time to eat and head over to Piccadilly for the class.

But sometimes, one thing just spirals into another, then another, like some malevolent Butterfly effect, and lo and behold, after the usual dull, fully-awake, four-hour stretch from Manchester to London, characterised by endless motorway with no real distinctive scenery anywhere (a sharp contrast to the beautiful Scottish Highlands backdrop of the Glasgow to Inverness trip I was making at the weekends to visit a best friend), we ran into a nightmare scenario on the outskirts of the capital- traffic gridlock, the result of an accident that had occurred somewhere ahead on the motorway.  Hence four further hours of sluggish, barely-moving progress, the coach shifting about ten metres every few minutes, and leading to some inevitable strife among the passengers, one shrill woman in particular, persisting with questions about how soon we’d be in the city when the driver patently had no way of knowing, managing to cause tension and irritation for everyone.  Still: at least that provided a warped form of entertainment if nothing else.  It got to the stage where anything diverting, even bad atmosphere, began to feel welcome.

And so, finally, sixteen hours after leaving Glasgow at half six in the morning, I was finally in the heart of London at 10pm, exhausted from nothing more than sitting on buses all day, and with no energy to do anything other than leave Victoria Coach Station without complaint, re-learn how to walk for a few minutes, then head up Belgrave Road, finally arriving at Astor Victoria hostel, checking in, and going straight to bed.  This last part of the journey, at least, was a small mercy.  If it had been one of the couple of weeks during the course when we only had class on a Wednesday evening, resulting in me having to get on the coach straight back to Glasgow at 11.45pm that same night, I would probably have screamed London down.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris

 

p.s. I should just emphasise the CB Creative course itself was one of the best things I’ve ever been on, and Megabus journeys ran smoothly for me 9 times out of 10: just in case the provocative title implies any criticism of either of those two bodies! CM

Lime and Sapphire

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Blue and green are the colours of life.  The colours of our planet, observed from the cold, inky darkness of space, a pulsating orb of energy and miracles spinning slowly in a void.  Blue sweeps the entire globe, the colour of oceans teeming with life, reflecting back the hue of the protective shield that allows us all to exist.  The colour that, on a fine, clear day along the Antrim coast, you can see stretching out before you to the horizon from the shore of the sea, a sapphire purity that feels somehow spiritual.  I’ve been entranced, as I’m sure most people have, by that sight since I was a boy, the breaking waves and the rolling tide almost seeming to call out, to lure me in.  The thrill of swimming in the surf as a child.  To lie back and float in it as a teenager, gazing up at the sky above.  To walk along its edge with rolled-up jeans as an adult, the water splashing over your feet.  There’s a school of thought that says we all long to return to the sea because all life originated there.  During those moments standing on the edge of it, perhaps venturing out to swim, perhaps sailing out on a boat and peering down at its surface as though bewitched, it’s easy to believe that.  The blue speaks to some yearning that’s always there, sometimes dormant, sometimes bursting to life like a wave crashing over a rock.

Then there’s green.  The green of Irish summers, the green that blankets the world in a lime canopy, the green of the leafy suburbs of South Belfast, the sun glinting and dancing through the leaves that hang over Stranmillis and Malone, Botanic and Ormeau.  A green that, like the waters of the North Coast, feels spiritual, as though the very leaves have absorbed the memories of university years, of the sense of excitement and freedom, storing them like chlorophyll, imprisoning part of the soul in one tiny pocket of the world, that some benevolent Horcrux that causes pain when away from it for too long, but nourishes and enriches upon return.  The wind and cold of Autumn semester giving way to the vibrant colours of spring, and by May, feeling almost like an enchanted glade, some otherworldly clearing in the heart of the city.  If those lime-coloured leaves could whisper back the memories they store, they’d whisper of sensations of laughter, intoxication, falling in love, desire, embarrassment, fear, wonder, friendship- the breadth of young adult, and indeed human, experience.  It’s certainly what they still seem to whisper to me.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris

Inverness

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Inverness ties with Belfast as my favourite city in the UK.  In the case of the latter, the fondness is due to great memories of university, and the excitement and sheer fun that I had there.  In the case of the former, it’s born out a sense of peacefulness and sanctuary, a personal little escape, right at the top of the country, from the business and disorientation of the rest of the world.  Three years ago, I was lucky enough to form a close and lasting friendship with someone from this beautiful city, and have consequently had the good fortune to visit it on a regular basis ever since, whether by air, courtesy of Flybe from Belfast City Airport, or road via Megabus or Citylink from Glasgow.

Truthfully, despite its classification as a ‘city’, the centre of Inverness isn’t much bigger in size than a large village, yet the continuous tourist buzz in the streets gives it the illusion of something bigger.  As the obvious base for travellers roaming the Highlands, eager to see the surrounding attractions of Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle or Glen Coe, Inverness is never short of visitors, and it’s a curious, but fascinating juxtaposition to feel that kind of energy in a place so geographically compact.  It leaves you with the sense of almost being on holiday outside of the UK, and undoubtedly contributes in no small part to the city’s relative economic prosperity compared to other parts of Scotland.

That atmosphere is most keenly felt on High Street, probably my favourite part of the city centre, leading from the bottom of Stephens Brae down to the River Ness, with its welcoming vibe, pedestrianised status, and the role as the natural destination for Saturday street attractions and stalls (it was one of the liveliest spots to be during the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum).  Being a bookworm, regular stops along the street for me always include its branches of WHSmith and The Works, while the definite must-visit venue for me and my friend whenever we’re passing is the vibrant So Coco café, its selection of luxury hot chocolates utterly second to none.  From the insides of the glasses being laced with even more chocolate beyond what’s in the drinks, to the delicious array of sweets and desserts on offer, to their always-delicious Cullen Skink soup, it’s a café that always proves relaxing to sit in and watch the world going by outside.

Across the way sits the Inverness Museum, not, to be entirely honest, one of the more externally attractive pieces of architecture in the city, but containing a surprisingly engaging and comprehensive range of exhibits inside, most enjoyably its natural history selection, always a favourite area of ours given our love of David Attenborough documentaries.  There’s also the opportunity to try on the tunic of a suit of armour, leaving you shocked by the sheer weight of it on your body if not prepared.  And then, behind the museum, rests Inverness Castle, casting an impressive figure over the river and the west of the city, regrettably not open to the general public, but still worth a visit for a walk around the grounds, whether to admire the statue of Flora MacDonald pointing off to the distance, or to get a great view over the Ness.

Heading down from the castle and along the river via Castle Walk (almost always, for any animal lovers, offering a great lookout for spotting rabbits along the slopes leading back up to the castle) soon leads you past the Faith, Hope and Charity statues, rescued from the demolition of their former drapery store site on High Street, and now resting outside Ness Bank Church, and onto the war memorial at Cavell Gardens and the start of the Islands walk, so-named for being a strip of land separated from the main riverbank via a bridge, a pleasant mini forest trail leading on to Whin Park, and containing features such as a serpentine wood carving modelled after the Loch Ness monster, and a stone circle for performances or dance (notably during the annual Halloween walk, which sees the trail used a space for a myriad spooky attractions, actors in an array of monster-themed costumes springing out to surprise people, and holiday-themed music filtering through the trees).

Back around on the other side of the river, with both sides of the bank, like much of the greater Inverness area, boasting beautiful old hotels and B & Bs (notably the Glen Mhor, Palace and Columba), the west side is home to Eden Court theatre, one example of more modern architecture that can actually be appealing to the eye without clashing with the surrounding buildings, and a venue for both theatre and cinema performances (with Disney’s ‘Frozen’, two ‘Hobbit’ films and ‘Under the Skin’ among the movies we’ve watched there).  On up from the theatre sits Inverness Cathedral, resembling a minituare Notre Dame, its interior every bit as grand and inspiring as its façade- well worth a stop for a sense of quiet and peace, irrespective of personal faith.

Back in the centre, and other worthwhile attractions include the charming Victorian Market, accessed by its main entrance on Academy Street and by a series of side entrances, a gorgeous miniature labyrinth of niche and traditional shops and random little treasures and curiosities, Leakey’s second-hand bookshop, a library-sized treasure trove of hard-to-find tomes complete with its own sit-in café, and of course Falcon’s Square and Eastgate shopping centre, home to a particularly cosy Waterstones and, for me, the obligatory stop in HMV.  Another nice coffee spot in the centre, meanwhile, is Coffee Affair on Church Street, whenever I fancy somewhere other than So Coco.  And of the city’s nightspots, Hootananny, also on Church Street, is probably the most distinctive, its two floors and live music usually a good guarantee of an atmospheric night out.

Other pleasant features of the city centre include its series of ‘bouncy’ bridges connecting one side of the river from the other, nicknamed as such for the springy sensation while walking across them, along with the rich wildlife to be seen along the Ness and its banks, from rabbits to herons, and the succession of classy restaurants on offer around town, including my personal two favourites, Rajah, a basement-level Indian eatery on Post Office Avenue, serving probably the nicest lamb I’ve ever had outside of my late gran’s frequent lamb chop dinners for me and my brother when we were growing up, and Little Italy on Stephens Brae, a thoroughly charming, friendly little venue offering up truly delicious Italian dishes- sadly, they’ve recently closed their adjacent Tapas restaurant, but the main venue remains a delight to visit.  On the same Brae, meanwhile, small comics and memorabilia shop Dynamic Duo goes some way to making up for the sad loss of Heroes For Sale on Church Street, one of the first shops I ever visited during my initial visit to the city.  It’s nice to see another second-hand comics venue replace it, albeit on a reduced scale.

Outside the centre, Inverness, given its Highland location, is home to some truly stunning outdoor trails and walks, not least the imposing Craig Phadrig to the west, looming over the city and accessible via a gradual uphill walk through a series of suburbs across the river.  Secluded, relaxing, and offering some great views back down over Inverness, it’s the perfect retreat into nature away from the already-peaceful city below.  Meanwhile, Carnac Point offers a great view out to the Kessock Bridge and the sea beyond, and a nature reserve trail leads back from that vantage point towards the city centre.

But for my two favourite parts of Inverness, hands down, I have to elect the Crown area and the spectacular Beauly Firth.  The former, the site of my friend’s family home, is neatly tucked away up Stephens Brae and around the corner, so as to almost feel like a remote, picturesque little village of its own, despite only being a minute’s walk from the centre.  From the architecture of the old Midmills college, to the clocktower of Crown primary school, to the charm of the local Heathmount Hotel, the area, colloquially known as the Hill, is, in my opinion, the most beautiful residential part of Inverness (though I also have a personal fondness for the Haugh, and the gorgeous home of my friend’s aunt, the location of many lovely dinners and warm fires, and probably the cosiest front room I’ve ever been in, particularly in the run-up to Christmas).

The Firth, on the other hand, is natural beauty at its most extraordinary.  The culmination of a canal walk up from the city centre, it’s an expansive, awe-inspiring body of water stretching as far as the eye can see, a spot that took my breath away the first time my friend brought me there, having expected nothing like it at the end of our walk.  The best time to see it has to be at sunset in the early summer, the red and orange glow in the sky reflecting magically on the water beneath, and creating the illusion, briefly, of a lake of fire, reaching out to the horizon and beyond.  It’s beyond beautiful.

The Firth and the Crown, then, sum up my overall impression of this enchanting city, the capital of the Highlands.  Unexpected beauty, both natural and residential, hidden away out of obvious sight, awash with a buzz and glow both exciting and relaxing, and providing the perfect little refuge and escape whenever life elsewhere gets a little bit too much.  Long may I continue spending time there.  Long, long indeed.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris

Glasgow Weekend Pt 2, 3 & 4

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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.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris

Glasgow Weekend

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From my childhood home to my current home now, with a recent weekend visit by a group of friends from back in Northern Ireland having enabled me to see the city of Glasgow through fresh eyes, despite having lived here for the last several months.  Being in the middle of an MA at a city centre university campus, and living in the Shawlands area, much of my experience of Glasgow up until now has been limited to the centre and certain areas of Southside.  But my friends’ visit allowed me to see the city almost through the lens of a new tourist, and has subsequently inspired me to write about it from such a perspective.

Saturday morning saw my friends arrive at their hotel and arrange to meet up for breakfast at the Camperdown Place Wetherspoons on George Street.  The meal setting us up nicely for the day ahead, our first port of call was Visit Scotland on Sauchiehall Street, where a two-day ticket for the City Tour bus was decided on as the best means of exploring Glasgow to its fullest.  A quick prelude saw me showing my friends around the Glasgow Caledonian University campus, the newest of the three city universities, via the towering Cineworld building at the head of West Nile Street.  With building work ongoing to update the campus, they admittedly didn’t get to see GCU at its very best, but they were still able to get a sense of the sleek, modern quality of the university, much as I did for the first time back in September.  Emerging out the other side onto North Hanover Street, we decided to catch the Tour Bus outside Glasgow Cathedral, and headed that way via the City of Glasgow College and Strathclyde University campuses.

Few people would argue that Strathclyde is the city’s most aesthetically appealing university, but I would suggest it has a rugged grandeur of its own, its series of sloping hills and archways, extensive accommodation village, and towering Students’ Union (a far cry from the three floors of the GCU Students’ Association) casting an impressive, if perhaps imposing figure over the East of the city centre.  Emerging onto Castle Street, and opposite Glasgow’s oldest house, Provand’s Lordship, we were met with the iconic sight of the Cathedral, resting in the shadow of the Necropolis behind it- a walk, we remarked to each other, strangely not unlike Edinburgh’s Carlton Hill- just with more graves.

The interior of the Cathedral itself was suitably grand, the dedications and engravings within cast into rich illumination by the stain-glass filtered light, while the Lower Church below invited a feeling of history and vague foreboding that made the skin tingle.  Our group paused for a moment to reflect on the sense of culture and achievement represented by the building, whatever one’s religious persuasion, or lack.

Finally hopping on the Tour bus following some photos outside one of the many police boxes scattered around the city, we made our way down High Street and into the Merchant City area, travelling towards Glasgow Green and the striking Templeton on the Green (and a quick mention, at this point, of the humorous audio description of Glasgow’s legal system as we passed the High Court, including the remarkable ‘Not Proven’ verdict unique to Scotland, pithily described as; ‘we know you did it, but we can’t prove it, so don’t do it again’), before getting off at the Marriott Hotel (a rival contender with Strathclyde for least-inspiring architecture in Glasgow, though with all the finery and polish of a respected hotel inside, to give it its due), where one of my friends had organised afternoon tea for us.  An enjoyable selection of sandwiches, pastries and cocktails saw us well satisfied for the afternoon, before we resumed our way along the Tour bus route, a journey which took us towards Pacific Quay and then into the West End , of which more shortly.

That evening, once off the bus, we enjoyed a wine and cheese event at my friends’ accommodation, the Z Hotel, including, among the selection, the absolutely delicious Clava Brie made in Inverness, a connection that proved a pleasant discovery for me, given my particular love for that city.  After getting ready, we headed out for a hearty dinner at Browns at the corner of George Square, before going onwards to some city centre bars for more drinks.

On Sunday, two of our group had to fly back to Northern Ireland early, so the remaining four of us made a day of exploring the later stops on the Tour bus.  Pacific Quay, being home to the STV and BBC Scotland buildings, gives a particular shiver of excitement to a screenwriting student like myself, with STV having been the venue for a great evening back in November celebrating the last few years of my course and the achievements of last year’s alumni.  Stopping at the Science Museum first, the four of us spent a solid two hours enjoying the exhibits and attractions inside, including an especially addictive interval trying to go better than three or four seconds in a balance and equilibrium test (none of us managed very well).  Passing Glasgow Tower, which boasts the unique feat of being the only building in the world capable of rotating 360 degrees into the prevailing wind, and the impressive SSE Hydro building, we made our way to the Riverside Museum, with its selection of buses and transport from earlier decades, mock subway system and, best of all, replica Victorian Street complete with authentic-feeling cobbles, shops, cafes and bars.  For a moment or two, it’s hard not to feel that you’ve truly gone back in time by more than a century.

As exciting as Pacific Quay is, though, it’s cast (along with the rest of Glasgow, many would argue) into the shade by the West End, the next area on our trip, its plentiful green spaces and beautiful architecture lending it a greater similarity to Edinburgh than the rest of the city around it.  I’ll post a dedicated piece of writing on this section of the city in due course but, for now, suffice to say we only got a brief flavour of the area, having left it a little late to get any longer than about twenty minutes in the magnificent Kelvingrove Museum, managing only the Egyptian and some natural history exhibits on the ground floor before it was time to leave.  But with Kelvingrove the setting of my planned summer script project for the MATV course, I’ll have plenty of excuse to spend a lot more time in the West of the city in the coming weeks and months.

Despite having continuing access to the Tour bus, my friends wanted to try the Subway system at least once while in town, so we all decided to head underground to get back into the city centre.  It’s of course nothing like the intricacy of the London Tube network, but it was still nice to get a brief, reminiscent flavour of that transport system, albeit on a much smaller scale, given that my usual, more straightforward method of travel between uni and the Southside is by bus.  Emerging onto Buchanan Street, surely one of the grander shopping streets in the whole of the UK, with its pedestrianised, gradually sloping appearance and array of boutique shops, we all headed for one last evening meal before it was time to part ways with my friends at St Vincent Street for their bus back to the airport.

Their weekend visit was the chance to see Glasgow anew through fresh eyes, and it certainly achieved that for me.  I’ll be living in this charismatic city for some time yet as I complete my MA and work on my summer script project, and so I hope to be able to explore its secrets to a much greater extent than I have so far.  In particular, I’ll be seeking to visit the West End much more often, not least to get as rich and detailed a feel for the area as possible as I begin writing my TV pilot set there, and, based on initial impressions, I keenly look forward to every moment of that.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris