Saturday 23 August 2014

Glasgow Police Boxes. The Scottish TARDIS

Glasgow Police Boxes. The Scottish TARDIS

With Doctor Who returning to our screens and Glasgow's own Peter Capaldi taking on the role this weekend I decided to take in some TARDIS boxes lying about the streets of our fair city on my weekend run. 

Doctor Who was something I was really into as a child, when Tom Baker had the role. I was an avid reader of all the Doctor Who books that came out in those days, my favourites being anything written by Terrence Dicks. When I was 8 years old we went in to get Tom Baker to sign one of them, in a book shop in town. My brother has never really got over his name being omitted by the great man, and added as an afterthought when prompted by my mum. The inscription reads something like "For Paul aged 7 from Doctor Who (777). Tom Baker, (and Peter too)".

Tom Baker signed my book - happy days!

Now watching with my own children we got into the revived Doctor Who series on BBC, but after David Tennant left the role I rather lost interest. The acting was getting too silly and the storylines just daft. My children have stuck with it though, and I fancy that tonight we will all give it another go to see if Peter Capaldi can get it back on track. 

We recently went on a family holiday to Wales and a highlight for us all was the Doctor Who museum in Cardiff. It was far more slick than the one I visited in Blackpool in about 1984 and I was just as excited by the old TARDIS consoles as I was by the numerous costumes that they had there (I mean "my children were just as excited...").

Exhibit at the Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff

Exhibits at the Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff

I came up with the idea of trying to jog around all the existing Glasgow Police Boxes after a visit recently to the Bo'ness Motor Museum. Like the old Blackpool Doctor Who museum, this is a home made museum created by a fan (on this occasion largely of James Bond, whose cars and props make up most of the exhibits). It's a great wee museum and I'd encourage you to visit it. Amongst its rather random displays there is an old TARDIS, salvaged from a BBC storeroom many years ago. 

In the first episode of Doctor Who in 1963 he had landed in a London junkyard and his time machine and spaceship (Time and Relative Dimensions In Space) had blended into its surroundings by taking on the appearance of a Police Box. The clever trick of the "chameleon circuit" becoming stuck in this guise helped the early programme makers keep the show within budget. 

A TARDIS in Bo'ness Motor Museum

Glasgow Police Boxes

Glasgow now has six old Police boxes on the streets, which I think is more than any other UK city. In the days before many people had a phone in their house this was the way for people to call for help. Unlike Doctor Who's flimsy looking thing these were made of concrete, apart from the wooden front door which opened. As well as a phone they contained some items a policeman may require such as an incident book and first aid kit. At one time there were 323 of these boxes on the streets of Glasgow, only 10 remained by 1994 and a decade later there were only 4. In the past year or so 2 more have been returned to the streets of Glasgow. Until 1982 the GPO maintained all telephone lines in the UK. Unlike the rest of the UK where Police boxes were painted blue, the post office maintained the Glasgow Police boxes, and therefore painted them red like their post boxes. 

Starting with the Glasgow police box which lies furthest to the east takes us to Barrowland Park at the city centre end of London Road. 

Police box on London Road, Barrowland Park behind it
 If it has been a while since you've walked from the city centre to the Barras Market or to The Barrowlands Ballroom for a gig then you won't recognise this place. I'm pretty sure that the police box wasn't here before, but apparently it is the only one in the city which is still used for its phone, by the Glasgow City Council Community Safety Team and Police Scotland. In time for the Commonwealth Games the derelict gap site behind this box was renovated and a walkway installed by artist Jim Lambie. Inspired by the famous nearby venue, it resembles a shelf of LPs, listing bands who have played at the Barrowlands.

Barrowlands Park walkway by Jim Lambie
Famous for his works using colour, lines and popular culture there is an exhibition of more of Jim Lambie's work at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh at present. He is apparently not related to John Lambie, famous for his use of colourful language to get the red 'n' yellow lines of Partick Thistle setting the football world alight in the 1990s. (Follow this link to some of his work, which may contain strong language).

High Street at Cathedral Street, Glasgow
The next one that I came to lies across from the Provand's Lordship at the junction of Cathedral Street and High Street. You can see that the old, red signs look odd against the current blue colour scheme. Is it just because of the popularity of Doctor Who's blue police box that Glasgow has adopted this colour over the years?

The High Street police box  starts to dematerialise if you
photograph it with the sun behind it
Beside this police box in Cathedral Square is one of the oddest statues in the city of Glasgow. King William III (King Billy to you and me) has sat astride his horse in Glasgow since 1734, previously down at the Trongate. In the style of a Roman general the city's oldest sculptural landmark is rather hidden away here, probably a sensible decision. What is noteworthy about the statue though is that the tail is articulated on a ball and socket joint and can (or certainly could) flap about in the wind.

King Billy on a horse
Nearby in the Merchant city lies the next Police box. On Wilson Street near its junction with Glassford Street I remember this one being red in colour not so long ago, and before the street was re-laid in handsome paving stones I am sure that it stood in an island in the middle of the road. Again the red signs jar on the blue paint job.
Wilson Street Police box, Glasgow

On Wilson Street the Doctor is declaring his referendum voting intentions
The next Police box is on Buchanan Street, so to get there you have to pass another fine equestrian statue. The Duke of Wellington stands in front of the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art on Queen Street and on the day which I passed both he and his horse were sporting traffic cone head wear. Known as the victor at the Battle of Waterloo, he was unpopular as Prime Minister for promoting the emancipation of Catholics apparently, which won't have endeared him to followers of the previous horseman I passed. The sculptor, Carlo Marochetti, is also responsible for the statues of Albert and Victoria on horses in George Square and for James Oswald's statue there, holding a hat which Joseph Conrad and Neil Munro allegedly tried to toss stones into. It appears that there is a history of people in this city thumbing their noses at his works.

Duke of Wellington and traffic cone(s)
Walking through Royal Exchange Square you can see Buchanan Street ahead and the next Police box.

Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow
This box in the busy shopping street has been painted a variety of daft colours for various promotions over the years and has also been a coffee stall for a while, but is currently blue again and unused.

Buchanan Street Police box
This Police box is the one in most need of a bit of TLC, with some fittings missing and the wooden door rotting. It's a popular feature on the street, often photographed by tourists and Whovians, so it needs a bit more care from someone I think.
Buchanan Street, Glasgow
When the Transport Museum was housed in Kelvin Hall there used to be a red Police box standing near the door, in front of the trams. I was at the new Transport Museum in the Riverside Museum recently with my children and it is no longer on show. The more I go to the Riverside Museum the sadder it makes me. For all the time and effort spent creating this new space and ramming it full of stuff, there just seems to be so much less opportunity to actually see things than there was in the old space. In the past you could wander amongst the cars, see them up close and peer inside them. Now they are placed on shelves high on a back wall, a clear case of "Do not touch". Unfortunately you also cannot see the bloody things.

Cars (barely) on display at Glasgow's Riverside Museum
Searching the internet shows that people had spotted the red Police box in Glasgow in 2011 and 2012 after the old Transport Museum shut down. Rather poignantly, like the 1963 version in Doctor Who, this one was seen in a junkyard (in Maryhill as it turns out). When I went jogging along the canal to try to spot it, it appears that it has moved on. Then in recent months a red Police box has materialised on Sauchiehall Street. The only Police box sporting its original red colouring, which only appears to have been the case because it is now used to sell the red topped Evening Times. This seems to be the old one from the Transport Museum.

Red Police box on Sauchiehall Street

Police sign now replaced by Evening Times

I finally jogged along Great Western Road to find the box I am most familiar with at the top of Byres Road, as I pass it regularly on my way to watch Partick Thistle play at Firhill up the road from here. Again until recently it was used as a coffee shop and is in good nick at present.

Police box on Great Western Road, Glasgow

So those are the Police boxes currently on show in Glasgow. The other 317 that we used to have appear to be long gone. The Glasgow Police boxes currently out on the street are now mostly B-listed and will hopefully not be swept aside in the name of modernisation.

A lesson to show that you never know when some old piece of junk will find a new set of fans.


Monday 18 August 2014

The James Plays, Edinburgh International Festival

Review of  "The James Plays" - National Theatre of Scotland, National Theatre of Great Britain. Edinburgh Festival Theatre, August 2014

  • James I : The Key Will Keep The Lock

  • James II : Day of the Innocents

  • James III : The True Mirror

As I never had much time this year to drag myself along the M8 from Glasgow to visit the Edinburgh Festival or Fringe, I decided to splurge and in one day try to take in all three of "The James Plays". A co-production between the National Theatres of Scotland and of Great Britain the plays have been written by Rona Munro, as stand-alone plays telling the story of three generations of Scotland's Stewart dynasty. At this time, a month ahead of our independence referendum in Scotland, I think it is important we take the time to look back to see how we got to where we are today, before deciding where we go next. This isn't just a principle of Karl Marx's historical materialism, but a fairly universal aphorism. 

"Life is divided into three terms - that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future"  - William Wordsmith
 Like most people, I imagine, I know next to nothing about these three kings. Monarchy-wise I know that there was a Duncan and a Macbeth in the 11th century thanks to William Shakspeare, then I'm a bit vague on details for a couple of hundred years. Later you've Robert the Bruce and Bannockburn in 1314. Shortly afterwards you had the Stewart kings. Often I pass a sign proclaiming Renfrew as the ancient home of the Stewarts, the one-time "stewards of Scotland".

Plaque on a wall in Renfrew
Again I'm a bit vague here on the details, but presume that we had five kings called James before we got to Mary, Queen of Scots. Next of course was "James the VI of Scotland and First of England" and the joining of the monarchy on these isles in 1603. Amidst all of that we have Catholic and Protestant conflict, and various ebbing and flowing of allegiances between Denmark, France, England and others, all jockeying for control.

Scotland was a feudal society, which Marx described as the stage after a slave society. An aristocracy ruled the people, inheriting their position and marrying or conquering to gain or retain power. There was religious rule, inherited classes and inherited social standing. Nation states were forming from the remains of fallen empires.

The Great Hall at Linlithgow Palace,
built during the reign of James I

So I think that for most of us we come to hear about James I, II and III without many pre-conceptions about these men. The point of these "James plays" is not to re-tell the history of ancient kings though. I've recently been reading some poems by Greek poet C.P. Cavafy and of the Egyptian, Caesarion, he writes 

"History reserves/ but a few lines for you,and so I fashioned you more freely in my mind."

 The next line says "I made you fair and sensitive". So playwright Rona Munro gets to chose the characters for her kings. As Shakespeare did with his monarchs, you have a few bare facts to hang a story and a character upon, what you do with it is in the hands of the playwright.

James I : The Key Will Keep The Lock 

James I

James I lived from 1394 to 1437 and was King of Scotland from 1406. With both of his older brothers dead by the time he was eight years old, he was being taken to France for his safety. En route he was captured and spent 18 years a prisoner of the English kings, Henry IV and V, becoming King of Scotland on his father's death when aged 13 years old. When he was returned to Scotland, under ransom, with his English Queen, it is apparent that he was not universally welcomed. James McArdle plays James I and Blythe Duff is Isabella Stewart. She and Gordon Kennedy are two amongst several of the actors who have roles across all three plays.

The Scottish prisoners who are on stage at the opening of the play chant like football supporters. I liked the fact that football gets a mention in every play. The mocking cheers of the Scottish nobles in the throne room as the crown comes down on the head of this king, newly arrived from England, echo the "whooooooooOOOOOAAAH" we give an opposition goalkeeper gets when he kicks out a goal kick. The king is greeted with suspicion by the conniving lords of Scotland, but wins them over with his ideals of the country he envisages. But he and his ideals become crushed by bloody realpolitik.

James tells them he "had an education in England. I learned history." In a speech that recalls the words of  Robert Burns in "Such a Parcel of Rogues In a Nation" he warns us to beware English gold. "Then they'll flick us a coin of our own stolen gold and call it charity".

It's a fast paced story, with the hesitant young king evolving into the man he became.

James II : Day of the Innocents

James II

When his father James I was killed, his son James was 6 years old. James II lived from 1430-1460 and the only fact which I knew about him for some reason was the method of his rather ignominious death. Glasgow University was founded during his reign in 1451 and his interest in the latest artillery brought Mons Meg to Scotland. Andrew Rothney plays James II and Mark Rowley is William Douglas. The young king is literally a puppet on stage as the Earls of Scotland vie for control through him. This time a football game is used to extract the king away from his competing nobles by his friend William Douglas , but the two sides on the pitch will end up opposing each other later.

The play gets weighed down a bit on unpicking the threads of conspiracy and retribution here and when the king's childhood friend becomes the latest Earl of Douglas, his character hasn't been given enough space to breathe and mature, to explain his later opposition to James. I liked the wee nod to the ensemble cast when Blythe Duff's imprisoned Isabella Stewart sees King James. She says to him "You remind me of my son Walter" who the same actor had played in the earlier play.

James III : The True Mirror

James III

James III lived from 1451 to 1488 and reigned as king from age nine. James Sives plays the King and Danish actress Sofie Gråbøl, known for her role in The Killing, plays Queen Margaret of Denmark. This marriage led to the Orkney and Shetland islands becoming part of Scotland. The play opens with the actors arriving on stage and dancing to a "heedrum hodrum" version of Lady Gaga amongst other songs as the audience drift in. The stage set has gradually changed across the three plays. The huge sword stuck into the stage has now been buffed and polished, like the royal court, but the worn saltire that criss-crosses the stage floor is still visible. Part of the audience has sat on tiered seats behind the stage throughout, as jury or parliament observing the actions. As the rule of King James III becomes more unpopular and chaotic the focus of the story is upon his wife. She shows what contribution outsiders, newly arrived from abroad and having first to learn the language, can bring to a country. In her rousing speech to parliament to rally the country she also has parts of the audience cheering and clapping along. In the most clear reference to the referendum she pleads with the country to stop moaning and act.
 "You know the problem with you lot? You've got fuck-all except attitude. You scream and shout about how you want things done and how things ought to be done and when the chance comes look at you! What are you frightened of? Making things worse? According to you things couldn't get worse for Scotland!"
Queen Margaret is one of several strong female characters running through the plays and seeing the three plays together you see these threads, the recurring metaphors and plot lines. Gordon Kennedy is born to play medieval lords, Blythe Duff was excellent throughout and Sofie Gråbøl was the stand out performer in the last play, which had the Taggart and The Killings leading ladies playing off against each other.

Some reviews have bemoaned the fact that the actors speak in a modern way, with much cursing and swearing. I love the idea that, like sex, swearing is something that people only started doing recently. The playwright anticipates this criticism and answers it by the words of French-born Queen Joan in the first play.
"Well, how am I supposed to understand something if you put it in a poem! Why can't anyone here ever say anything in plain words!?"

It was a really fantastic day of theatre. The cast, the music (some Boards of Canada in there?), the stage set, direction and the plays. Historical plays resonating with the present day. Theatre seems to be a place where ideas and issues can be aired at present, particularly important as politicians seem to have abandoned this role (Glasgow Girls by Cora Bisset and Benjamin Zephaniah's Refugee Boy both dealt with the issue of asylum seekers on stage more lucidly than any politician has). For looking at our history at this important time the National Theatre of Scotland is to be praised.

With medieval football running through the three plays, I quite liked the complaint midweek from National Theatre of Scotland that Real Madrid fans had hijacked their #JamesPlays hashtag when James Rodriguez made his debut.

A final thought. Apart from James I, II and III being medieval Kings of Scotland they also, whilst heir to the throne, held the titles of Duke of Rothesay and Baron of Renfrew. If you think that hereditary entitlement seems weird, anachronistic and incongruous in the 21st century, I would remind you that the person currently holding the titles of Duke of Rothesay and Baron of Renfrew is the possible future King of Scotland; Prince Charles.

600 years later we STILL have a Duke of Rothesay
and Baron of Renfrew. Weird, huh?

Saturday 16 August 2014

Magners Summer Nights at Kelvingrove Bandstand, Glasgow

Review Steve Earle and Teenage Fanclub. Magners Summer Nights. Kelvingrove Bandstand. Glasgow

After lying derelict for many years, the 90 year old bandstand in Kelvingrove Park has been restored to its former glory by the Glasgow Building Preservation Society. It was opened in time to host musical events running alongside the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, including concerts by Belle and Sebastian, Horse and Remember Remember. Then, quickly afterwards, the "Magners Summer Nights" brought a mixed selection of bands to the veritable old amphitheatre. This short film by the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust has some footage of the two things I remember going to see at the bandstand in the 1980s: Glasgow Youth CND rallies, and Radio Clyde's free concerts.

It was an interesting/unusual (delete as applicable) selection of bands roped into this series of concerts. The Waterboys, Alison Moyet, Squeeze, Capercaillie to name but a few. I got tickets to see Steve Earle on the opening night and then Bellshill's own Teenage Fanclub eight days later.

As you can see from the old footage above, many of the free concerts that used to be held here were mobbed, so I am sure there were plenty of nostalgic people like me coming down to see how the bandstand looked now. I have to say, they've made a great job of the restoration and on a mild, summer night like we had to see Steve Earle it was a great place to sit out and take in some music.

On arrival the Magners advertising and bars were a bit in your face, but I guess you have to expect this as they are the sponsors. The bars were well staffed, even if having to separately go to buy vouchers to use at them seemed a bit unnecessary. Thankfully they didn't just sell their manky cider full of ice cubes. For those of us that had dashed here straight from work their were food stalls selling noodles and rolls and pulled pork too.

Steve Earle on stage at the Kelvingrove bandstand, Glasgow

Steve Earle was doing a solo acoustic set, which was different to when I've seen him at the Barrowlands with his band, the Dukes. (If you don't know his music you might just know him from his role as the drug counsellor to Bubbles in The Wire.) He acknowledged this himself when he admitted that the crowd singing along to "I Ain't Ever Satisfied" was less scary than when he first heard that happening in the Barrowlands. It covered the whole range of his repertoire from "Tom Ames' Prayer", "Devil's Right Hand", "Galway Girl", a Townes Van Zdant and of course "Copperhead Road". He is an old pro at putting a setlist together that takes the crowd along with him and by the end people were dancing at the front of the stage. There was plenty of chat from him too about his drug problems, gun control, and particularly the situation in Gaza, before he played an encore of "Jerusalem". It was written 12 years ago and seemed quite timely.

Great concert, great venue for it.

Teenage Fanclub are one of those Scottish bands that are always quoted by the great and the good as one of the most influential of their time, without ever achieving knockout success. They have an indie rock sound with big West coast American influences which I used to like at the time, but it must be years since I have dug out one of their albums to listen to. Anyway they have a loyal enough following that tickets for this gig sold out in double quick time. I have rarely been to a gig with a more narrow demographic, middle aged, middle class white men (largely), but it was definitely band playing in front of a home crowd that were lapping it up, singing along and dancing away in front of the stage by the end of the night. I just found it all a bit too "nice". I get tired of too much smiley, cheery stuff and tonight we got 90 minutes of it. Lovely stuff, but all just a bit too jolly for my taste.

Fannies at the Kelvingrove bandstand

It was a grand old night, but the main star of both the gigs I went to was the venue itself. Well designed, beautifully renovated. I look forward to spending more afternoons and evenings here.

Long live the Kelvingrove bandstand!

Monday 4 August 2014

Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014 - Sport and Culture Festival

Normally I write things here to try to flag up events people maybe don't know about which are going on in Glasgow. Music, plays or venues I would recommend people try out. However adding my tuppence worth on the Commonwealth Games, this is maybe a bit superfluous. There cannot be a person in Britain unaware of the Commonwealth Games with the blanket coverage on the BBC and there cannot be a person in Glasgow who hasn't spent two weeks trying to work out how to avoid the road closures and fenced off areas to get from A to B. So I shall limit myself to a quick review of how the Commonwealth Games was for me.

My own Glaswegian nature is usually be be slightly cynical about a lot of things, particularly enforced jollity. However I was determined to make the most of the Commonwealth Games visit to Glasgow. Alongside the sports we were also promised a series of cultural events, under the Festival 2014 umbrella. The mounting anticipation to the event was heightened in the days leading up to it by the sight of long neglected road markings on many of Glasgow's streets being given a fresh lick of paint, a flurry of pothole repairs, grass cutting and fence painting. If there is one good "legacy" of the Games, it is surely to make it clear to Glasgow City Council that a wee bit more effort from them in the future in maintaining such basic city infrastructure wouldn't go amiss.

Then the barriers around the venues and athletes' village went up and the level of disruption that would occur became obvious, particularly for those living in the east end of the city. However, despite the best efforts of the media to uncover dissenting voices, most people were getting caught up in the excitement of it all and looking forward to Glasgow being the centre of attention for 11 days. I diverted my usual jogging routes to have a wee nosey at the Games venues as they were  made ready (here) and finally the Games arrived in town. Anyway here is a quick review of how I found the Commonwealth Games.

Commonwealth Games - Cultural Festival

In an effort to highlight Glasgow's obesity problem Tunnock's tea
cakes and Irn Bru featured prominently in the opening ceremony
The opening ceremony at Celtic Park kicked it all off. Despite fully intending to leave my cynical side elsewhere, the excruciating first quarter of an hour of this tested my resolve. It wasn't clear from the TV coverage what was going on, or that the cheesy cliché-ridden start was meant to be tongue in cheek. To be honest, with the unintelligible Scottish version of John Barrowman singing his heart out, it was hard to be clear if he knew what was going on either. It settled down after that and once the wee Scottie dogs had led everyone out, we have forgiven them the opening farago. I was a bit disappointed that whilst we got talking heads in the studio on our TV screens, the people in the stadium were being warmed up by the likes of Glasgow ska-band Esperanza.

Before even the opening ceremony started I had already seen Aidan Moffat's Commonwealth Games funded musical tour of Scotland earlier in the year ("Where You're Meant To Be"). Also, running for about 6 months under the auspices of the "East End Social" banner, Glasgow record label Chemikal Underground launched an ambitious series of events. "Part music programme, part community engagement project" it brought music and musicians to areas and venues normally overlooked in the eastern side of Glasgow. They brought Edinburgh's poetry led Neu Reekie evening to the Platform in Easterhouse, where I heard readings from Jackie Kay, a presentation from top video artist Rachel Maclean and music from Broken Records and The Pastels.

Throughout the Commonwealth Games the cultural programme provided a varied list of events, based largely on Glasgow Green where music from as diverse a list as Sydney Devine, Lloyd Cole and the Amphetameanies was on show.  The Glasgow Green site was usually free entry although once you visited the bars you realised where the profits were being made.

Ford car showroom on Glasgow Green
The security checks at the gates were slow and off-puttingly po-faced. There were enough distractions for children and the usual variety of food outlets but the huge PR stands for Virgin Media, Emirates, SSE and Ford were a bit unsubtle. Less corporate were the entertainments laid on at The Quay by the BBC. We went down there a few times as there were free tickets available for numerous BBC TV and radio recordings, a bar and fun fair and the chance for kids to try out various sports. A Govan boxing club taster session has my daughter wanting to join them now. The Royal Navy minesweeper HMS Bangor was also moored here, but it struck me as being a bit out of kilter that we got to take smiling photos of my seven year old getting to fire a big heavy, real .338 rifle on board. What larks!

HMS Bangor moored on the Clyde
Whilst at the BBC we stumbled from Mel Geidroyc interviewing Helen Skelton for the radio, into the audience for a Simple Minds sound check which was a bit weird. It was busy at times down here, but never mobbed which seems odd. Like a lot of the events I think that the dire warnings about road closures and no parking anywhere was ultimately a bit off-putting for some people. One event which was well attended down here was the flotilla organised to bring a couple of hundred boats up the Clyde, which was an impressive sight and seemed to highlight the glaring lack of boating activity normally taking place on a once crowded river. At the flotilla thing the boat which I enjoyed clambering about on most was a new CalMac car ferry, where they were letting you wander about the bridge playing with all their shiny new gadgets.

Commonwealth Flotilla on the Clyde

It was great to see the newly refurbished Kelvingrove bandstand in use again. As a child we were often here or at the bandstand in Queens Park for political rallies. I had also spent many an afternoon down here at the Radio Clyde sponsored heavy metal days for some reason and as a student I think The River Detectives or Horse would've been the last acts I'd have seen here before it was closed down. Horse was back again one evening and I managed to catch some of the excellent Remember Remember one night (go buy their great new album "Forgetting the Present" if you haven't already). In the earlier evening one day I came down to catch a film "A View From Here" about refugees and Glaswegians living in Glasgow multistorey flats. I've been trying to see this for a while as I spent my teenage years in the Lincoln flats in Knightswood that feature in it. My block is in the process of being demolished and the arts projects involving tenants, which featured in the film, to commemorate their lives in the flats seemed a more appropriate way to mark their demolition than the abandoned (and crass) plan to blow up the Red Road flats for our entertainment in the opening ceremony. My only gripe down here would be that as we were all being encouraged to walk, cycle and use public transport it might have been an idea to lay on some bicycle racks for the dozens of us that took this advice.

Remember Remember at the Kelvingrove bandstand
My favourite events in the cultural programme however were down in the Briggait. Here author Louise Welsh and architect Jude Barber ran the Empire Cafe. With tobacco, sugar, spices, coffee and tea coming from the colonies of the Empire to Britain, the cafe was therefore the appropriate setting for poetry, performances, debates, workshops and walks exploring Glasgow's links with the North Atlantic slave trade. I have taken myself on a wee tour of Glasgow's Merchant City before to try to learn about this part of the history of the city which we are not taught about. We still don't talk about it. The current exhibition in Kelvingrove "How Glasgow Flourished" whilst at least acknowledging slavery, again seems to underplay the role that the work of slaves played in making Glasgow merchants rich. One evening the debate (in which the representative from Glasgow Museums didn't exactly shine) was over whether Glasgow should have a permanent museum commemorating our role in the slave trade. Another debate I went to (pertinent to the current referendum) was on whether Scots should see ourselves as colonised or colonisers. The consensus on both days was that a plaque, an apology or an inert museum feature was pointless unless it was also engaging, encouraged debate and dialogue and that people were educated and learnt lessons from the past. As the Sunday Herald reported yesterday these calls appear to be being heard. The mix of poetry, music and debate was fantastic and congratulations to all involved for their efforts. I particularly enjoyed being at these things in the Briggait building as my great, great granny had a fish stall in here for many years when it was the fishmarket.

Ben Nevis bar
Apart from these formal happenings some of the more informal things I stumbled upon were memorable too, whether the merrily drunken Scottish woman in The Brass Monkey pub singing about the bronze medal she'd won or the African musicians and kora player who had joined the usual folk musicians in the Ben Nevis pub we stopped in on the way to the Hydro one night.

The other non-sporting thing I'd like to commend to you was "Clyde the Thistle". The official mascot of the games appears to have shifted tens of thousands of soft toys and the trail around Glasgow of 25 photogenic Clyde statues seems to have been strangely popular. These statues looked cheery and slightly scared at the same time, I'm not sure if that was intentional. As a lifelong Partick Thistle fan I am pleased that so many people have taken this lowly weed to their hearts despite (from a football fan's perspective) the anachronistic naming of a Thistle with the title of our one time footballing rivals. As a close relative of mine spent a good amount of time over recent months as one of the Clyde mascots, even receiving training at the Conservatoire of Scotland to "express without sound how Clyde would show that he was excited?", etc. I'm pleased that he was a success. Children took to him more that they did to the unsettling Mandeville and Wenlock mascots from the Olympics, so well done 12 year old Beth Gilmour from Cumbernauld (current home to Clyde FC) for designing him. My personal favourite was seeing Clyde in the red and yellow of Partick Thistle at Buchanan Street bus station.

Clyde the Commonwealth Games mascot
Partick Thistle mascot "Harry Wragg" back in the day
(photo stolen from @greigforbes)

Commonwealth Games - Sport Festival

When they initially went on sale, getting tickets for the Commonwealth Games was a bit of a hassle. Like many people I applied for a variety of things on their fussy website but got nothing initially. Then in the second phase of ticket sales I applied for a wider variety of things and ended up getting almost everything this time. As we have three children one disappointment for me was that for most things you could only apply for four tickets, meaning that we couldn't all go as a family to anything we were interested in. Also price reductions for children were not available in all sports, and if they were then only on the cheaper seats. This stank of squeezing as much money as possible out of ticket sales. Then as the games drew nearer we find that suddenly hundreds more tickets were available, presumably returns from the sponsors and other nations. Much as my children, as keen swimmers, had wanted to go to Tollcross Pool, by now I'd spent so much already on tickets that I wasn't going to try again for the third time for swimming tickets. The rush for these new tickets led to the website crashing and was poorly managed. From the outset the ticketing created bad feeling, however Glasgow was swept up in the excitement of the Games arriving in town and the impression on TV was that venues for all the sports were crowded and noisy. 

The sport wasn't all top notch stuff. Lawn bowls may be popular in Glasgow (Glasgow lawn bowls blogpost) but it doesn't create many superstars. At some events such as the marathon and cycling the loudest cheers were often for the athletes in danger of being lapped. So what did my scatter-gun approach to ticket buying mean we ended up seeing? 


Hampden Park as an athletics arena
We all know that Hampden Park is a poor stadium for watching football in. When it was redeveloped a few years ago by the SFA they managed to create one of the world's most bland and atmosphere-free football arenas. The Commonwealth Games planned to save money on creating a new athletics arena by converting Hampden for the Games. It works so well for athletics that there are now calls to just leave it as it is now and find a new home for Queens Park FC and the SFA. This won't happen, but the athletics we saw here were great. As several rows of seats were removed to accommodate a running track I didn't realise that our "Row L" seats meant we would be in the third row and right in amongst it all. The integration of para-sports into the athletics programme is surely the model that other events should follow as we seamlessly went from watching the para-sport discus to the women's 1500m heats and so on. The atmosphere was great, helped by blazing sunshine. Lessons seemed to have been learned from the delays on the opening day of the athletics, when the security checks led to ludicrous queues outside Hampden. We got to and from the stadium without delay with free public transport and shuttle buses laid on. My children got right into it, could follow what was going on and cheered and clapped away with the best of them.

Discus bronze medalist from Nigeria
Free to watch and taken in by many on the streets of Glasgow were the excellent marathon races. 

Marathon goes past Geoarge Sq. (Photo @ItsDelbert)
As my dad used to run marathons I have spent many a cold Sunday morning on street corners applauding at races, so it was funny to watch an elite race where a clutch of runners go past you and are not followed by a few thousand plodders needing some encouragement. I watched it at George Square and then promptly came home and filled out my application for the Great Scottish Run on October 5th, which runs a similar route. That's got to be a good thing.


The cumbersome Scottish badminton uniforms probably stopped them winning more medals
 My son goes regularly to a badminton club, and somehow knows who Scotland's best badminton players are so he was keen to see some badminton at the Games. These were held in the Emirates  Arena opposite from Celtic Park. We've watched badminton and cycling competitions here before so knew our way around. We watched the final of the badminton team event, which was between England and Malaysia and the silly English newspaper articles about English athletes being advised on what to do if they were boo-ed was again shown to be scare-mongering nonsense as both teams were given vocal support. The usual sport that I spend my Saturdays watching is football, and its players are often criticised for their gamesmanship, but the moaning to the referee and gamesmanship both teams displayed here when feigning service was far more irritating and petty than anything you'll see at Firhill. The squash players we saw later in the week were just as bad which I found interesting as I don't usually watch these sports.

Badminton medal ceremony
 In the end Malaysia won and some minor royal I'd forgotten existed came out to disperse the medals. The wee bagpipe tune that they start these ceremonies with gets right into your head and I've been humming it tunelessly for days now. Again transport was no problem, as we were directed straight down onto a train at Dalmarnock station that took us straight home to Patrick. Again the free public transport with your games ticket has got to be copied again as a great way of cutting down cars on the road and making people aware of what public transport they could get when it is made cheap and easy.


Weightlifting final at the Armadillo
 I went with my dad and my kids to a weightlifting final in the Armadillo (or Clyde Auditorium as it was once called) and we had a ball. It is a sport that has always been mired in controversy and accusations of steroid abuse and during the games one Nigerian medalist failed a drug test. However as a spectacle it is very entertaining and exciting, basically building up to the last man who manages a lift, wins. What you miss watching it on TV is all the daft music and commentary in the arena, with the Birdie Song and Batman theme tune featuring amongst others. The gold medal went to a proud man from Kiribati who celebrated with a wee dance before we learned what the national anthem and flag of this nation in the Pacific Ocean were. The weightlifting is definitely a good night out.


Squash doubles show court, Scotstoun
 If I'm being honest I'd have to say that we found the squash less entertaining than the weightlifting. We'd bought tickets for this as my wife and I have an annual game of squash against each other (I think I'm winning 15-0 in the series) and as it was being held in Scotstoun we could just walk along to it. This has been a controversial venue as squash tries to build its profile. No permanent show court will be left in the city to host future competitions after this court is taken apart and the astroturf football pitch it sits on restored. We had tickets for the squash doubles and the games themselves were chaotic and hard to follow. The glass court is quite groovy but it is a fast game and with so much jockeying for position, long points which you had sat through end up as a "let" for reasons that are never clear without the benefit of TV replays. After numerous jokes about the TV programme The Cube, my children decided it would be more exciting if the court was gradually filled with water and animal hazards as the game progressed. I can't say that I was won around to the notion of including squash in the Olympics.


The Hydro where the boxing finals were held, with the Armadillo behind it
My personal sporting highlight was a Saturday night that my wife and I spent at the boxing finals in the Hydro. With one woman's final and five men's finals on it was a packed night of boxing. The Hydro makes a great venue, with there not being a bad view in the house for something like this. No matter how far away you were from the ring the action was easy to follow without recourse to the large overhead screens. I've watched amateur boxing before either in a tent at the Miners' Gala Day in Edinburgh or at the Fairfield Working Mens Club in Govan. Under the new scoring rules and without the fighters wearing headguards the difference between amateur and professional boxing is now more blurred. The crowd were never partisan (although as it was the heavier divisions there weren't any Scottish boxers fighting) and the only boo-ing of the night was directed at the judges when the crowd disagreed with their decision to award the light-heavyweight bout to the New Zealander David Nyika over Kennedy St Pierre of Mauritius. England's Scott Fitzgerald put on the best boxing display of the night and will surely either be a contender for medals in Rio in two years, or on the professional circuit by then. Scott Fitzgerald - remember the name. After six medal ceremonies the bagpiped tune for these was going round and around my head for days.

Have a listen to it hear if you missed it during the 261 medal ceremonies over the past 11 days.

Boxing at the Hydro, Glasgow


I didn't get any tickets to the velodrome, but like many people headed out onto the streets to cheer on the road races on the last Sunday of the games, hoping that David Millar could end his career with a medal in Scotland. It was soon apparent that he couldn't and like many people once the rain started teaming down I retreated to a bar to watch the finale on television. Lizzie Armitstead and Geraint Thomas were worthy winners and whilst the helicopters were able to dodge the downpours, Glasgow did look very handsome and green. 

Now all we need is some real cycle lanes in Glasgow, not the pretend ones we have on several streets at present.

So, in summary...

Good points

  • Glasgow was buzzing throughout the Games. People threw themselves enthusiastically into it, determined as ever to show the world that we see ourselves as friendly, welcoming and hospitable. We love our city and want you to come and love it too
  • The crowds at the events were big and were enthusiastic and it proved that we can organise these things successfully on our own - this may be the only point seized upon by anyone in the ongoing independence debate which seemed to have been put on hold for the past 2 weeks
  • Efforts were made to have a worthwhile cultural programme running alongside the sport, particularly successful in the Empire Cafe and East End Social strands
  • Public transport could replace cars. Spectators were repeatedly warned not to bring cars and followed the advice to the extent that someone I know who lives in Kings Park near Hampden loved the games as her streets were so quiet. There were glitches and plenty of shuttle buses seemed to run about empty as their routes were not well publicised. However this needs regular, reliable public transport to work, such as late night trains on the subway, cheap or simple fares. Once the games finish we won't have these again.
  • You can cycle in Glasgow. More people now cycle than ever before but with barely any protected cycle lanes in Glasgow you do feel it is an accident waiting to happen. Although many cycle paths were shut by games security fences I got about easily on my bike, enjoying going along the roads the cars weren't allowed on. Simple things like more bicycle racks would help build this up and normalise it. (Note to media people - nobody but Gordon Matheson himself calls the city bikes "Gordon's Gears" - okay?)
  • Glasgow looked great on telly. Well, it did, didn't it? The council need to notice surely that a bit more spent on basic maintenance is necessary to keep it looking the way it should, but I fear we'll drift back to pot holes, long grass in the parks and unpainted fences in Victoria Park
  • On a purely personal note I caught up with some old friends who moved to Jersey years ago, that came back to Glasgow to see this. That was good fun

Bad points

  • I don't like to moan but...was that catering the best we could come up with? I soon became very familiar with the same uninspiring array of food wagons. In the Armadillo I took my seat then wasn't allowed out to them for some reason I can't quite work out, to get some dinner as I'd rushed from work. That left me with a choice of hot dogs or hot dogs inside the venue. Still I suppose I didn't really need another portion of battered haggis balls and chips. (Poor wee haggis).
  • More effort could have been made to include local people in the games. Whether on Glasgow Green, Easterhouse at the Platform, the BBC activities at the Quay or the sports themselves it was always the same middle class crowds. If the locals aren't actively brought in to these things they are excluded by the prices as much as anything else. There may have been plenty of free entertainment on Glasgow Green and at the BBC, but if bodysearches stop you bringing food and drink in with you, you exclude anyone who cannot afford £4.90 for a pint of lager and £7 for a burger. Surely free games tickets could have been set aside for more local sports clubs in Glasgow rather than corporate sponsors?
  • The Clydesiders were hailed/ patronised as a great Games success, but I really feel this was people doing essential work of the games without being paid. A friend worked as a volunteer driver, doing 10 hour shifts, sometimes through the night. That is just exploitation.
  • The BBC coverage was thorough but struck a strange tone referring repeatedly to athletes from other parts of the UK winning medals in their "home games". I really felt this was Glasgow's Games and Scotland's Games and that they were muscling in. The same with the largely English commentators and presenters on TV. Were there no sports journalists at BBC Scotland that could have been given the gig?
  • And finally, Gordon Matheson. What an embarrassing buffoon that man is!
I feared before had we'd get a bit of a showing up, but in the end Glasgow looked great, the crowds were great and we all had a great time. The Commonwealth itself is an outdated anachronism but the odd mix of sports and athletes taking part meant the Games had the pleasant feel of an event somewhere halfway between an Olympics and a school sports day. I mean that as a good thing.