Monday 30 May 2016

Going Doon The Watter

Doon The Watter

Sailing "doon the watter" has a long history in Glasgow. Particularly during the Glasgow Fair in July when there would be a rush of people going down the Clyde, whether for day trips or to holiday by the coast. Since the launch of Henry Bell's, Port Glasgow built, Comet steamboat in 1812 trips down the Clyde started to become affordable to more people. This led to the growth of towns such as Helensburgh, Gourock, Largs, Rothesay, Dunoon and Millport which developed as seaside resorts for day trippers and those taking a holiday from Glasgow. The number of steamboats grew and as the development of the railway network made it easier to get away from the city the holiday trade on the Clyde coast boomed. In the early 20th century there were soon thousands of people queuing for buses, trains and boats out of Glasgow on holiday weekends.

Queuing for the bus to Gourock at the Glasgow Fair.
Picture: Newquest Herald and Times
In the past couple of weeks I have had the chance to visit some of these places again. The towns are now often bypassed as holiday destinations by Glaswegians for places further afield, but they are still popular places for day trippers (and, it has to be said, for retirement). With the towns down the Clyde coast still entertaining visitors with crazy golf, ice cream, buckets and spades and even an outdoor swimming pool it is easy to get a nostalgic sense of the former glories of these places.

Some of my grandfather's old holiday postcards home from
Millport, Stevenston, Arran and Ayr.
My grandfather on my dad's side had a habit of holding on to old postcards, which he passed on to me years ago. These were either received by him, or his parents from numerous holidays over the years from the early 1900s up until about 1939. Those pictured above were sent back to my great-grandad in Glasgow, where he worked in a foundry in Parkhead and then the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Govan. A trip doon the watter to Millport, Stevenston, Arran or Ayr was a pleasant break in the fresh air away from the smoke and grime of Glasgow in the early twentieth century.

The Millport postcard above shows a match on the Millport Golf Course between professional golfers; JH Taylor and Ted Ray vs James Braid and George Duncan from July 23, 1913. The postcard showing The Cross in Stevenston tells us that Isa was "having a great time down here" with the postmark showing that she was holidaying during the Glasgow Fair. The 1921 postcard from Caticol, Arran bemoans the poor weather that they are having and the 1932 postcard showing the "River Ayr Walk" tells us that they are have "...had a great holiday in Ayr. One of the best."

My mum at the front, her brother and sister and my grandad
on holiday in Dunoon
A couple of decades later, in the 1950s mum was also enjoying seaside holidays down the Clyde. This holiday photograph above from 1959 has my mum stood in front of her brother and sister and my grandad, having a break on the shore at Dunoon.

As a child of the 1970s, like many other Glaswegians, my earliest holidays were to these same places. I can remember going to Arran with my parents, my granny and grandad (above) when I was about 5 years old. My other memorable early holidays were to the Butlin's Holiday Camp in Ayr and a holiday stay in the youth Hostel at Fintry, making me the fourth generation to take my holidays in these places.

A trip further afield to Leven in Fife
In the days before telephones were widely available many of the postcards are passing on such mundane messages as "weather fine, we will be back on Saturday". Others have the address they are staying at and expect postcards back, as one grumpy card from the 1920s says "Your mother is disappointed that you haven't written". 

Occasionally one of  the postcards gives a wee glimpse into what people were up to, such as this one from Leven in Fife is from July 1931 and tells us that "Willie has been golfing, of course. Weather not good....Mr C and the boys are A-1. Alex cycled here on Saturday and was tired".

PS Waverley

PS Waverley, now based in Glasgow at the Science Centre
A few steamboats still take tourists around Scottish beauty spots, such as the Steamship Sir Walter Scott on Loch Katrine. The last paddle steamer to be built in Britain is currently docked at Balloch, on Loch Lomond. The Maid of the Loch. was built in Glasgow in 1953 at the Pointhouse Shipyard where the Glasgow Riverside Museum now stands. She is slowly being restored to bring her back into steam operation. 

Ready to leave on our trip
If you want to get a feel for the old days of paddle steamer trips down the Clyde there is only one option of course. The world's last sea-going paddle steamer, the beautiful PS Waverley. The first PS Waverley was built in 1899, named after Sir Walter Scott's novel. During the Second World War she was used by the navy as a minesweeper and was sunk in 1940 whilst evacuating British troops from Dunkirk. She was replaced in 1946 by the current Waverley, built at the Pointhouse Shipyards just across the River Clyde from where she is usually berthed now at the Glasgow Science Centre. All through the summer months various routes run to Largs, Helensburgh, Bute, Cumbrae and the lochs. You can either get a ticket to let you on and off at various points along the route or stay on board all day and enjoy refreshments in one of her two bars. This is often the most popular outing, and this longstanding tradition is the origin of the phrase "steaming" or "steamboats" to describe a state of drunkeness which may result.

Heading under the Erskine Bridge on PS Waverley
With the Waverley's 2016 season just started on the May holiday weekend, we decided to take a trip from Glasgow to Helensburgh, via Greenock. It can take a surprisingly large number of people spread throughout the various lounges, decks and bars. As everyone jockeys for position to get the best view, you soon realise that there is hardly a bad seat on the place. As people start to wander about, space opens up. You can soon see how little Glasgow now uses the river that runs through its heart. You puff down the Clyde today are rarely meet another boat, in stark contrast to old photographs when the banks were deep with ships and boats of various sizes. Passing the old shipyard slipways and the couple of remaining yards it is hard not to think we really need to try harder to utilise the Clyde and support those still working on it. At many points the biggest industry on the banks of the Clyde in Glasgow seems to be scrapyards, with huge piles of metal on either bank awaiting transportation overseas to be recycled.

One of the bars on board the Waverley
The dining saloon offers rolls and bacon in the morning and meals later on, and you can take a break from watching Glasgow float past by going below deck to watch the mighty engine pumping away, a blur of beautiful brass and steel.

My favourite urinal to watch Glasgow
sail past whilst I pee on the Waverley
Powering across the Clyde from Greenock to Helensburgh 
After two hours we disembarked at Helensburgh pier and waved goodbye to the Waverley from the shore. It is a marvellous way to spend a few hours.

There may no longer be an outdoor swimming pool in Helensburgh, but I have vague childhood memories of swimming in it with my grandad in the late 1970s before it closed. I think I can remember the sides of the pool being very rough. More unbelievably, as I look into the murky water from the pier, I used to get the train here with school friends in the 1980s and we would all launch ourselves into the Clyde to swim. Helensburgh was home to Henry Bell, who started the steamboat fad with his Comet (he also owned the Helensburgh public baths). It was once also home to such luminaries as the inventor of the television, John Logie Baird, and Holywood actress Deborah Kerr.

The Waverley leaving the pier at Helensburgh
My grandad's old postcards show evidence of their trips on steamboats down the Clyde. These postcards below are of a boat arriving at Blairmore Pier near Dunoon, and of the PS Lord of the Isles in the Kyles of Bute, near Tighnabuaich. The Lord of the Isles ran the Glasgow to Inverary route from 1891 to 1928.

More old family postcards, with steamboats.
 Blairmore pier, Holy Loch near Dunoon and the
 "Lord of the Isles" in the Kyles of Bute,
Often the most well known family in these Clyde seaside resort towns were the local Italians who made the ice cream. Like Zavaroni's in Rothesay and Nardini's in Largs, if you come to Helensburgh you need to finish your trip with a visit to Dino's.

Dino's Ice Cream parlour, Helensburgh

Gourock Outdoor Pool

A popular attraction in many Scottish seaside resorts was the outdoor pool. Only two outdoor public pools still operate in Scotland, at Stonehaven and at Gourock. The pool at Stonehaven opened in the 1930s and could get 6000 visitors on popular days, one year recording over 100,000 visitors. These pools usually were filled with filtered seawater. My mum's dad loved swimming outdoors and was always taking any opportunity to swim in rivers and the sea, but one of his favourite places was Stonehaven pool. This picture below is of my grandad in his younger days on the diving boards at Stonehaven pool. It took me a while to locate it until I saw the old postcard below on this website where you can see the diving boards from another angle. Diving into pools was a thing my mum says her dad always enjoyed and if there wasn't any diving boards at a pool, he would often climb up on the doors of the poolside changing cubicles to dive into the water. 

My grandad on the diving boards at Stonehaven outdoor pool 1930s
Early postcard of Stonehaven outdoor pool and the diving boards
On the west coast we still have Gourock outdoor pool. Originally opened in 1909, they have been heating the water since 1969. Refurbished 15 years ago the pool is open from May to September. For £4 I enjoyed a lovely swim on a day of unexpected sunshine last week, with views of Kilcreggan and the Cowal peninsula across the Firth of Clyde. A mouthful of water and the unexpected buoyancy soon remind you that as in the past, the pool is still filled with filtered seawater.

Gourock outdoor pool 2016

Millport on the Isle of Great Cumbrae

A trip to Millport offers one of the easiest ways to spend a day by the sea that doesn't seem to have changed much from my great-grandfather's time. Driving, cycling or getting the train to Largs you then take the ferry over to the Isle of Cumbrae. The ferry runs every 15 minutes and takes barely 10 minutes to cross. If you don't take your car you will find a bus waiting for you when you get off the ferry for the short run down to Millport, the only town on the island. Millport itself is a decent size with just about enough bars, cafes and shops to distract you. Kayaks and boats can also be hired and there is a golf course just behind the town.

Crocodile Rock, Millport
Described by the local website as one of Scotland's most popular tourist attractions, everybody knows the Crocodile Rock on the beach in Millport. It was apparently first painted around 1913 but was so popular with visitors that it has been regularly re-painted to freshen it up ever since. It recently was given a centenary celebration. If you are unconvinced that it looks like a crocodile, wait until you cycle a couple of miles up the coast to see the "Lion Rock".
Crazy golf, Millport
Tidal paddling pool, Millport
My daughter and myself passed our recent day out on Millport in the traditional manner, hiring a bike from one of the numerous local shops providing them and taking a wee tour. The road around the island is about ten miles long, with very little traffic once you are away from the ferry terminal. There are various beaches and rockpools to explore as well as the traditional seaside entertainments of trampolines, crazy golf, amusement arcades, ice cream parlours and an old tidal paddling pool.

Calmac ferry leaving Cumbrae for Largs
Getting back to Largs we had to visit Nardini's for a pokey hat before heading up the road to Glasgow.

Nardini's Cafe, Largs
I always enjoy trips to these towns, partly for the nostalgia but also because they are beautiful places, filled with unexpected art deco architecture and views across the water. There are few places more magnificent in Scotland than the elegant curving glass roofed Wemyss Bay train station which connects to the ferry terminal for Rothesay and the Isle of Bute. 

For me though the best thing about trips down this way is remembering my happy childhood trips with my granny and grandad and my great uncle Andy. With me sitting on my mum's knee in the front seat of my grandad's car and my granny, dad, great uncle and my brother squashed in the back, a run down the coast was always an exciting day out. Just as my grandad did with us, I now find myself breaking off the bottom of my cone to scoop a wee bit of ice cream onto it to give my daughter a mini-cone. Maybe in 40 years time my children will be doing the same thing with other children. 

My brother and me on a 1970s family holiday, Pirnmill, Arran

Sunday 29 May 2016

Spectator Sports in Glasgow, Part Six - Boxing.

"History in the Making" - Ricky Burns vs Michele Di Rocco

The SSE Hydro has always looked like the perfect stage for professional boxing contests, and last night it was the venue for local favourite Ricky Burns's attempt to claim his third world title. He was the headline act on a night of boxing laid on by Eddie Hearn's Matchroom Boxing organisation and shown live on Sky Sports. The 10,000 seater arena has good views from every seat in the house and can create a great atmosphere when the entertainment is right, with the seating banked up steeply on three sides.

The SSE Hydro arena, Glasgow
The Hydro has been used for boxing once before, when it was home to the boxing events at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. I saw some of the finals here and was very impressed with the organisation and the performances. I enjoy watching boxing on TV but have rarely went to see professional bouts. When I have bought tickets recently the events have been cancelled at short notice for various nefarious reasons. Prior to that I have taken in the odd evening of amateur boxing in Glasgow, which can be anywhere from the Fairfield Working Mens Club in Govan to the function suites at Hampden Stadium. With the demise of the Kelvin Hall as a sporting venue, where Benny Lynch and Jim Watt have previously fought, the Hydro has been a welcome, and well used, addition to the city's venue options. As a child I remember our annual trips through to Edinburgh for the Miners' Gala, where one of the most memorable events was the big tent in Holyrood Park hosting amateur boxing bouts, so I was looking forward to this night.

SSE Hydro in 2014 for the Commonwealth Games boxing finals
The big problem faced by professional boxing is that those running it are all in it to make money for themselves. Why else would there be so many championship divisions with WBA, IBF, WBC and WBO champions on the go at present? Then you can get "regular" and "super" champions of some bodies to add to the chaos. Promoters cherry pick fights their man is likely to win in order to guarantee the next payday.  It is a big turn off for many, and you watch so many fights unsure if you are watching a true contest, or some fall guy stepping in to make someone else look good. 

At end of all this, a successful boxing career, such as Ricky Burns has had, can in end in bankruptcy and contract disputes with promoters. After slowly rebuilding his career after splitting from promoter Frank Warren, Ricky Burns, now promoted by Eddie Hearn, has stepped up a weight division to try to grab the vacant WBA World Super-Lightweight title. The "History in the Making" tag is to mark this achievement, as it would make Burns a three-weight world champion, having previously held Super Featherweight and Lightweight titles.

With the main fights of the evening going out live on Sky Sports, the boxing was listed as starting at 5.30pm with a preposterous 12 or 13 fights listed to go ahead. For the majority of the early bouts, they played to a sparsely filled hall. Joe Ham taking on Paul Holt drew more punters away from the bars, fighting 6 x 3 minute rounds at bantamweight. In his eighth fight since turning professional after the 2014 Commonwealth Games he took a comfortable points victory. The personable Glaswegian has been a regular supporter of the campaign to build a statue in the city to honour Benny Lynch and is building up an impressive record of victories now.

Joe Ham vs Paul Holt

"...and still undefeated...Joe Ham"
More of a brawl came from former British Champion Jon Lewis Dickinson and Belfast's Tommy McCarthy with McCarthy emerging on top after 10 x 3 minute rounds in a British Cruiserweight Championship eliminator. Evenly matched at the beginning, McCarthy began to pull ahead and won by a unanimous decision as he makes steady progress in the division.

Jon Lewis Dickinson and Tommy McCarthy
Conor Benn, son of Nigel Benn, fought his second professional bout high up on the billing, a workaday four round fight against Halifax's Luke Keleher. Clearly the promoters trying to build him up, but it was a shame Charlie Flynn wasn't given the chance at this point on the night to fight in front of a big home crowd.

Scotland's Willie Limond has been boxing professionally since 1999 and the 37 year old was intent on having one more big title push. His hope as stated in the programme, was to take the British Super-Lightweight belt from Tyrone Nurse tonight, aiming to set up a world title fight in Glasgow later this year against Ricky Burns if the pair of them ended up victors on the night. The crowd were getting right behind every punch he threw in some lively early rounds, despite a large section on the floor of the hall being distracted by trying to get selfies with American Heavyweight Shannon Briggs who ambled into his ringside seat during the first round.

Limond seemed to run out of steam as the fight went on and it was stopped in the ninth round when the referee decided that he had had enough punishment from the reachy Tyrone Nurse. After a long and impressive career, it may be time for Willie Limond to hang up his gloves.

Willie Limond vs Tyrone Nurse
There were still three fights on the undercard to be fought when TV schedules required us to skip to the main event, Ricky Burns vs Michele Di Rocco. The 34 year old Italian, recent European Super-Lightweight champion has an impressive record with forty victories and only one defeat, and is more comfortable at this weight than Burns, making him slight favourite in some people's eyes. The hope of many in the home crowd was that they could help push Burns onwards to victory.

The hall was full by the time the ringwalk started for the Burns vs Di Rocco fight and it was clear this would be a partisan crowd. It was also clear that signs of some "over-exuberance" were breaking out all around the arena before a raucous and shambolic rendition of "Flower of Scotland" was bawled out by the crowd in the Hydro. 

Ricky Burns and Michele Di Rocco take to the ring
Ricky Burns rolled back the years to put on a performance that he has previously shown he is capable of, as he went at Di Rocco from the first bell. With an impressive performance, his jabs repeatedly hit home and the lively crowd were lifted to their feet from early on. The Italian looked as if he was taking it though until he was knocked to the floor in the eighth round. Although he got back to his feet he was clearly in no state to continue and the referee brought it to an end. 

It was an imposing performance and makes Ricky Burns the first Scottish boxer ever to have won titles at three weights. As we approached midnight I headed home with most of the audience, with chants of "Ricky Burns...Ricky, Ricky Burns" to the tune of KC and the Sunshine Band's Give It Up echoing out. Three fights, including Scottish Commonwealth Lightweight Champion Charlie 'mailman' Flynn taking on Pole Norbert Kalucza were still to come in an emptying hall, which seemed incredibly unfair on the boxers promised their arena exposure. Charlie Flynn later won his eighth professional fight, on points.

Ricky Burns is declared the new WBA Super-Lightweight World Champion
On a night like this with a partisan crowd there can be a great atmosphere at the boxing. However early in the night the hall was almost empty and later on a decent proportion of the crowd were marockyoolusly drunk. Obviously fights can have varying lengths but the programme was always fairly fluid as we danced to the tune of TV audiences, and seemed cobbled together at times. As a result crowds of people ebbed in and out between the arena and the bar as we waited for the headline act. A leaner, meaner line up may have helped engage the crowd in the hall but I guess we are just window dressing for the TV audience. The people sitting around us were absolutely pished by the end of the night. As one guy with a mop cleared up vomit a couple of rows in front of us another group beside us seemed oblivious to the fact Ricky Burns was fighting down below us. They fell back on the only tunes they could think of to shout as a crowd "Waghorn's on fire, your defence is terrified" and "Fuck the IRA" and thankfully headed off before the fight finished.

Many people were here for a night out, rather than for the boxing, which is fair enough but the stewards were clearly being kept busy by scuffles threatening to break out here and there. At times it was just as entertaining to watch the audience as to watch what was going on in the ring. However there are few venues that you can get away with that level of drunkeness and not get ejected.

It was an excellent night of boxing, but I'm not sure that having a vague feeling you might get lamped if you looked at someone the wrong way added much to an excitable atmosphere. With that and the dolly-birds tottering around between rounds with the the cards above their heads, it feels like boxing needs to raise its game a wee bit and come into the 21st century. It is an expensive night out, and the amateur boxing at the Commonwealth Games was laid on in a much more professional manner. It was better organised, had a sharper schedule, big screens above the ring to help watch the action and MCs talked to the audience, rather than spending all night with their back to you as they faced the TV cameras with you as a backdrop.

Wednesday 11 May 2016

The 12th World Festival of Youth and Students. Moscow 1985

The 12th World Festival of Youth and Students. Moscow 1985

In 1985 I was lucky enough to attend the 12th World Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow, and I recently came across the diary that my 14 year old self kept during the festival. These festivals started in 1947 and during the Cold War were held in the capital cities of various Eastern bloc countries. With 27,000 participants from 157 countries the 1985 festival was one of the largest ever held. Mikhail Gorbachev had just come to power in Moscow, so it was also being seen as an indication on the direction of travel for Soviet international relations.

There is an interesting contemporary briefing paper online from the US State department, which warns about the festival being a tool for Communist propaganda. They promised that the festival would "seek to submerge one-sided political statements, resolutions and appeals in a carnival-like atmosphere featuring sporting and cultural events." Oh, those dastardly Commies!

In 1985, at the age of fourteen, I was an active member of my local Youth CND branch and went to Moscow as a delegate from Glasgow West Youth CND. In those times a day out to Helensburgh or Dunoon usually entailed a march up to the Faslane Peace Camp or to the gates of the American base at Holy Loch. My parents were involved in trade union politics and in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. For many years our flat in Maryhill had hosted political activists and trade unionists from all around the word if they were, for example, on speaking tours around Scotland. We had Hassan from Iran, Palestinians, Iraqis fighting against Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party in the days when he was still an American ally, Portuguese campaigners against their fascist dictatorship and Chileans fleeing Pinochet among those passing through. Activists from South Africa were our most frequent lodgers taking their turn on the sofa. I cannot see a bottle of Johnnie Walker whisky without thinking back to a former cellmate of Nelson Mandela who often stayed with us. He would look across Maryhill Road at a big billboard advertising the whisky and laugh at his memories it brought from back home, of "Walking Johnnie"  as he knew the character on the bottle.
Badges I was wearing before, during and after my trip to Moscow
The opportunity then for me in 1985 to go to an international festival whose slogan was "For Anti-Imperialist Solidarity, Peace and Friendship" was something to really look forward to.

I dug out my old diary that I kept during the trip when tidy up recently. Although it is only very cursory, for me it has brought back many memories of what was a fascinating experience. There is not much documentary evidence from the festival online, so I have also put here a few photos of some of the bits and pieces that I brought back from the trip. Sadly I think I only had a 24 exposure film in the wee basic camera that I took with me and as a 14 year old, I seem to have been more interested in enjoying myself whilst there, rather than documenting what I was up to.

In this 20 minute Russian film from the festival I can briefly see myself walking into the Olympic Stadium at the opening ceremony 11.50minutes in. The Scottish delegation stood apart from the British delegation (in the film they are walking in front of us, the red track suits of - I think - a Sheffield athletics club, rather than British communists as they were described on the BBC evening news at the time). Wearing a kilt I had borrowed from a scout leader my mum knew, I am carrying a banner with a quote from Robert Burns on it. Marching through the streets to get to the arena we learned the phrase we would chant into the night on many of the days afterwards.
Мир. Дружба. фестиваль. - Peace. Friendship. Festival.

For any students of the Cold War, those interested in the Soviet entertainment of Western teenagers or possibly any of the other 27,000 people attending the festival, I present to you my recollections of Moscow.

Moscow diary of Paul, aged 14 and 3/4

Friday 26th July 1985
"Arrived at Glasgow Airport at 11.45am and checked in. Went to the departure lounge at 1.00pm. The Aeroflot plane left at 2.00pm and we arrived in Moscow at 5.30pm our time, 8.30pm Moscow time. We got through customs by 11pm and met some guides, who were very chatty with me, because I was the only one wearing a kilt I think. It wasn't actually very comfortable wearing it on the plane but they liked it. We got a bus to Hotel Cosmos at midnight and after checking in, etc at the hotel got to my room at 2.00am and got something to eat before going to sleep."
My festival pass (big hair that day) which gave you entry to events
and free entry on public transport and a brochure from our hotel

The Hotel Cosmos had been built in for the 1980 Olympic Games held in Moscow. 
It is a huge hotel and was home to delegates from many nationalities. 
It also had conference rooms, a bowling alley in the basement and each night the foyer filled with musicians and delegates from different countries partying.
It's other claim to fame is as the setting for the finale of Timur Bekmambetov's Russian vampire film 'Day Watch'.
Clip of Hotel Cosmos from the film "Day Watch"

Saturday 27th July 1985
"Stayed in hotel until 2.00pm when we got on the coach to the Moscow Olympic Stadium for the festival opening ceremony. It was exactly like the Olympics with people walking out onto the track behind their flag. I was picked as one of the people to walk around it. At about 4.00pm we moved off. The Scottish group went around together, behind the UK group. We had a piper who is sharing a room with me and is from Motherwell.  We were all arranged on a training track near the stadium and walked through a couple of streets before we marched into the stadium. The stadium was huge. After walking round it we went to our seats in the stand to watch the rest of the ceremony. South Africa marched around behind the ANC flag and got one of the biggest cheers and also the Palestinians came in behind their flag. After the countries had all walked in there was gymnasts, dancers, bands, trumpeters, etc, etc. Gorbachev (who was there) made a speech and the Olympic flame was lit for the festival. At about 9.00pm hundreds of doves were released and the ceremony was over. We then came back to the hotel at 11.00pm and had dinner before going to bed."

Waiting with our Scotland banner to
go into the stadium, beside Lenin
Performers on the field and an ever changing series of images produced by
the well rehearsed crowd at the Olympic Stadium Moscow. 1985

Above are a couple of my photos from the opening ceremony. 
The Scottish delegation were often accompanied by our lovely banner of a dove in front of a saltire (here in front of Lenin). 
So I can say I was at one of Gorbachev's early speeches. Although it was obviously in Russian, we  were provided with a text in English. He had become General Secretary of the Communist Party four months earlier, in March 1985. He soon engaged in a series of reforms of the Soviet state (Perestroika) and attempts at bringing about nuclear disarmament.

The Olympic Stadium, previously known as the Lenin Stadium, had been renovated for the 1980 Olympics and had a capacity of 100,000. 
It is now known as the Luzhniki Stadium and has been re-fitted since with a roof, etc. It will host the 2018 World Cup Final. 

Sunday 28th July 1985
"Got up at 9.00am and got on a coach to the Soviet Club. Each delegation has its own club I think. There we were greeted by singers and dancers, and with bread and salt before going into a concert for us. There were dancers, comedians, gymnastics, singers, a man whistling, etc. After this we came home for lunch. Then we got the buses to an Anti-Fascist conference. There were lots of Soviet people at it. Then we got the buses to the Moscow Dynamo's stadium where another Anti-Fascist rally was on. There were speeches followed by dancers, etc and eventually at 11.00pm fireworks. We then got the buses home, had dinner and went to bed." 

Rally to mark the 40th anniversary of the defeat of Fascism

The Anti-Fascism conference and rally marked the 40th anniversary of the defeat of Fascism in Europe. At the rally a troupe of performers in red, waving the red flag of the Soviet Union, were pursued by the Fascists in black. Finally other performers joined the battle behind the British and American flags and Fascism was chased out of the arena. The conference theme was about the continuing fight against Fascism and it is clear from the later rally that the credit for victory in the second world war was being shared with the Soviet allies too. 
It is hard to comprehend the devastation wrought upon the Soviet Union by the Second World War, within living memory of many in 1985, and the effect it had on the psyche of the country. Almost 2000 towns were wiped off the map during the conflict, along with 70,000 villages. Over 26 million Soviet citizens died during the war, more than half of them civilians.

Central Dynamo Stadium was home to the Moscow Dynamo football team until 2008, when it was demolished and they moved to the Khimki Arena. It was able to accommodate 35,000 spectators.
 I remember being very impressed by the whistling man at the Soviet concert. A rare talent.

Monday 29th July 1985
"After breakfast I went with a few other people to the British Club by Metro. We got lost but eventually found it and there were various meetings on which we went to. We came back after lunch and I went out alone for a walk before coming back and going to sleep. We then got dinner and went to the joint Scottish/Irish ceilidh which was great fun. It went on until 1.00am and carried on later back in the hotel until 4.00am. I met one of the Dunnes strikers at it who had stayed at our house last year and chatted to her."

My father and others at the front of this 1980 torch-lit procession in Glasgow
As I mentioned above, my parents were involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and this was why I met a familiar face in Moscow in 1985.
The Dunnes Store in Henry Street, Dublin, was where 21 year old Mary Manning worked in 1984. Her trade union, Idatu, passed a policy that its members should not handle South African goods, supporting a ban called for by those opposing the apartheid regime in South Africa.
The difference in July 1984 was that Mary took her union's policy and implemented it, refusing to check-out a customer's South African fruit. 
When suspended she and ten of her colleagues went on strike and picketed outside the Dunnes Store, including her 18 year old friend Alma Russell. 

Mary and her colleague had taken their turn on our sofas in Glasgow when she was speaking to trade unionists in Scotland about the issue. 
The strike continued long after I met up with one of our former lodgers in Moscow, ending two years later in 1987. The end came when the Irish government introduced a ban on South African produce. In 1990, after his release from prison, Nelson Mandela visited Dublin and met up with the Dunnes strikers, who had played their part in hastening his release from prison.

Some gifts I have held on to from East German and
Cuban delegates that I met at the festival
Tuesday 30th July 1985
"Slept in till 12.00 when I got lunch. After which I went to the East Germans' club. We were greeted by singers and I was shown around by one of them. She showed me potters, glass makers, wood carvers, etc and gave me many presents. We then came back for dinner. After dinner we got the coach to the British party. It is funny that the Scottish group doesn't seem to be part of the British group really. At night in the hotel the interpreters all come to join the Scottish group. On the way to the British club the interpreter showed us some typical Moscow streets, buildings and some well known ones. The British party was poorly organised but the Reggae band Misty in Roots were really good. Dick Gaughan was singing too and Everything But The Girl are here too. They are staying on the same floor as me at the hotel. A Soviet architect I met drew me a picture and talked about Charles Rennie Mackintosh. After this at 1.00am we carried on the party in the hotel foyer and I met the East Germans again who were good fun."

Sketch for "my friend Pol" by a Russian fan of 
Charles Rennie Mackintosh that I met
Each country had, along with their standard delegates like me, a cultural delegation with them to entertain the rest of the world.
Misty In Roots I remember well, as Two-Tone, ska and reggae was what I was into at the time. Dick Gaughan was there with the Scottish delegation but being a wee bit more mature than the rest of us seemed to make his own agenda, and maybe spotting that I was a good bit younger than most of the others there, often took me under his wing a bit.

 Everything But The Girl weren't really my thing back then, but I recognised them at the hotel as a couple of the really cool and trendy girls back at school were into them. I made a point of remembering to name drop the fact I had seen them over the summer, running hand in hand along the hotel corridor, giggling. EBGT were one of several bands penciled in as "lefties" back in the day, when bands were allowed to show an ability to think as well as perform. 
Tracey Thorn's recollections of their Moscow trip in her excellent memoir "Bedsit Disco Queen" make farcical reading. She does pick out their impromptu turn in the foyer of the Cosmos Hotel as their one performance that did feel like a real gig. 
Another gig she describes, going on stage after a magician pulling doves out of a hat, rings very true of the entertainment laid on during the festival. 
I had forgotten about the daily boiled cabbage on the hotel menu until I read about it in her book. She also mentions the "near-mute translator-guides" but I think they were probably just intimidated by her and Ben. 
My memories of the guides are of them all gravitating towards the Scottish group and my festival events programme is signed with cheery bon mots from about twenty of them we were drinking with on the last night. 
I was 14 years old and having a ball. 
Others, a bit more worldly wise, may have been able to cast a more cynical eye over what they saw.

Wednesday 31st July 1985
"After getting up I went across the road to the Park of Economic Achievements. which was quite interesting. There is a great statute to Yuri Gagarin of a rocket shooting into the sky there. There was a cinema thing which surrounded you on all sides of the room, but the guide I was with didn't like the film much because it was from the point of view of a tank driver. I don't think he liked the USSR being all militaristic in the film. Then after lunch I chose to go to the Anti-Imperialist tribunal which was on in the hotel. There were people from many different countries talking. I had to leave before the end and I went to meet some Soviet lawyers until 9.00pm when I came back and had an early night at 11.30pm."

Some of my maps, tickets and event programmes
 that I have kept since my trip to Moscow

Thursday 1st August 1985
"After breakfast at 8.00am I got the bus to Red Square. We passed the tomb of the unknown soldier before going in to Lenin's mausoleum. After passing through it we walked along past the other graves in the Kremlin wall. Then we got the bus to the British Club for a meeting with the ANC about South Africa. Then after a late lunch I stayed in the hotel and wrote a couple of postcards. At 6.00pm we got on the bus to go to the Bolshoi Ballet to see Romeo and Juliet. We were really high up on one of the balconies and had binoculars on the seat in front which you could use. The interpreter complained that she didn't like modern versions of the ballet where they didn't have the full costumes but I loved being there. Afterwards I was dancing about in the hotel foyer till 3.00am."

Programme from the Bolshoi ballet production of Romeo and Juliet 1985

I know! I got to see the Bolshoi Ballet. They performed Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, and I can't remember much about it, other than like the guide I was a bit disappointed that they hadn't appeared on stage in elaborate costumes with grand stage sets. I remember crowds of people outside too, as we came in asking if we had a spare ticket, a very rock and roll atmosphere in the street outside if I remember rightly.

You can see that dancing about in the hotel foyer until the wee small hours was a recurrent theme. Wearing a kilt and hanging about with my roommate and his bagpipes meant that we were always drawing a crowd, even if the East German girls had a bit of a tendency to find endless comedy in trying to shove a hand up your kilt. Stella Artois was (curiously) the beer on sale in the hotel I recall. My diary is a bit hazy on detail here, as I knew full well that I would be coming back and reading it to my parents when I got home. 

Friday 2nd August 1985
"I got up fairly early and after breakfast went with Dick (Gaughan) and four of the interpreters to Gorky Park because there was lots of things on here that they all wanted to see. Here there is various exhibitions and concerts from each of the different Soviet republics. Then we came home for lunch and I went to the Progress Books shop and bought some books. After that I just rested and after dinner went to the Soviet State Circus. It was very good and there were lots of Soviets watching it. The floor of the circus could sink away and then a swimming pool was lifted up and some seals did tricks, then that lifted away and an ice rink came up. There were lots of dancing skaters and then an ice skating bear, which was a bit strange. It went on till 12.00pm. After this we came back to the hotel and partied till 2.00am."

Soviet stamps marking the festival which we were all given,
with the mascot, Katya, featuring prominently

The Russians do like their circuses and this was a memorable circus experience.
 Although, I can still recall the strange sight of that big bear standing on its hind legs, with its feet in a pair of leather ice skates that made its feet look too wee, skating about on the ice.
The ornate mosaic-ed Moscow metro system has made no impression on my diary, despite me using it many times during the week. 

Saturday 3rd August 1985
"After breakfast a dozen Scots and a dozen of the interpreters took a coach out to the Olympic Village for the big match, singing "Flower of Scotland" all the way. The 1985 World Cup final - USSR v Scotland (+1 Englishman). I was in defence. The game was drawn at 3-3 with the Sassenach having to get taken to hospital in the process (I think he broke his ankle). Then we drove to the Lenin Hills to see views of Moscow. There was a wedding group up there too. Following this we got a guided tour of Moscow on the way to the hotel for lunch. In the afternoon I stayed in the hotel until 5.30pm when we went for the bus to the closing ceremony. It had ballet, acrobats, dancers and more fireworks. We all had torches to hold and waved them about once it got dark. The atmosphere was really electric and at the end they put out the Olympic flame. Eventually we got back to the hotel at 1.00am and I went straight to bed."

Closing ceremony, 12th World Festival of Youth and Students, Moscow. 1985

Sunday 4th August 1985
"In the morning I went around the Park of Economic Achievements again with a couple of the guides as it is just across the road from the hotel. We seen various farm animals, rockets, etc and the huge statue of the man and woman holding a hammer and sickle in the air. After that we returned to the hotel at 2.00pm for lunch. After lunch we got the bus to the Kremlin and got a tour of it before posing for photos in Red Square. We then came back to the hotel and made some presentations to the guides from the Scottish group. Then we packed and had a subdued party through the night until 5.30am when we left to get the plane home and said goodbye."

The Scottish delegation at the 12th World Festival of Youth and Students,
in Red Square, wearing our "Scotland at the WFYS" T-shirts

Reading my diary again has brought back some great memories for me of my time in Moscow at the festival. There must be other documentary evidence of this Scottish group being there, as there were photographers with us from the Cranhill Arts Project, part of our delegation who were premiering a film at the festival about Glasgow, which they had made.
("Clyde Film" is available to watch on the National Library of Scotland website here.)

The guides would talk openly about their country I thought, and about their hopes for the new president. I was sure that Oliver Tambo was there from the ANC and that Yasser Arafat was at one of the meetings I was at, but I have made no mention of him in my brief diary entries, so who knows?

Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed the "carnival-like atmosphere" that the Americans promised us we were going to be exposed to.
Мир. Дружба. фестиваль. - Peace. Friendship. Festival.

Monday 9 May 2016

Glasgow Spectator Sports - Summary

Glasgow Sports - What are the options?

I spend many Saturday afternoons watching Partick Thistle play football at Firhill Stadium in Glasgow. There are other options in Glasgow though if you fancy taking in a bit of sporting action and when my team had a few weekends out of action I went around several of the other Glasgow sporting entertainments, to see what they offered. I have written blogs about these over the past month and below is a summary of what I found. As I usually dragged my children along with me I was also aware of how different sports try to appeal to future fans. 

All opinions and prejudices expressed here regarding different sports are entirely my own. I am of course fully aware that other sports struggle for attention with the Scottish media's Rangers and Celtic obsession in the sporting pages, and I am happy to flag up anything else you feel merits a light being shone upon it dear reader. 

For more detail please see my original posts 

Ice Hockey

  • Cost (2 adults, 2 children) - £60
  • Season runs - September to April
  • Catering - Licensed bar and popular offerings of American themed stovies. 
  • Performance this season - finishing 3rd in the 2015-16 league they qualified for the play-offs, where Fife Flyers eliminated them at the quarter-finals stage
  • Atmosphere - from the fans downloading pre-match entertainment apps, to Angus the Highland cow mascot there is plenty of effort made to warm up the crowd. The commentary and musical stings keep the atmosphere going and interval entertainments come fast and thick. The crowd also get right behind their team and a full house is a frequent occurrence
  • Marks out of ten - 8/10. Definitely will continue to dip my toes into the frozen waters of Braehead Clan ice hockey

Greyhound Racing

  • Cost (2 adults, 2 children) - £12 (plus betting)
  • Season runs - all year, Friday and Saturday nights
  • Catering - several bars around the stadium. Decent restaurant for a small group wanting a night out (I came here for my 40th birthday), plus my children agree the snack bar here makes some of Glasgow's best chips
  • Performance this season - it's just a venue, not a league
  • Atmosphere - the rickety old feel of the place is the atmosphere.
  • Marks out of ten - 7.5/10, purely for the nostalgic vibe you get at the greyhound track I will continue to keep coming, but I am not sure how long they can keep it going, as the crowds seem to shrink year on year.


  • Cost (2 adults, 2 children) - £42
  • Season runs - April to October
  • Catering - Licensed bar before and during the speedway, diner at the stadium now open 7 days per week and snacks and sweets available during the racing
  • Performance this season - second in the 2015 season to local rivals Edinburgh Monarchs, they have started this season well having already defeated their neighbours once already this year. Various cup and knock-out tournaments also across the year.
  • Atmosphere - with kids running races and Roary the Tiger mascot families are well catered for. Like greyhound racing the quick turnaround from one race to the next mean that there is always something to watch. And I haven't mention the whiff of burning fuel yet...
  • Marks out of ten - 8.5/10, this trip was my first visit to Saracen Park to watch the speedway and I will definitely return again with my petrolhead son


  • Cost (2 adults, 2 children) - £30
  • Season runs - September to April
  • Catering - City council run snack bar, if you want a drink they can pour a bottle of Bud into a plastic tumbler for you
  • Performance this season - finishing 5th at the end of the league season for 2015-16 they made it into the end of season play-offs where they were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Worcester Wolves.
  • Atmosphere - With smaller crowds than some of these other sports the atmosphere can be a bit flat, despite the score ticking over constantly. In some ways the constant scoring drains a lot of the drama from basketball. There were plenty of kids activities on the court, from youth teams playing in the breaks to birthday outings trying to score hoops, but the cajoling over the tannoy felt a bit forced. Cheerleaders? It feels a bit dated, no?
  • Marks out of ten - 5/10. I'd be more likely to give it a go if Dalmarnock train station stayed open later on Sunday evenings to get me home more easily


  • Cost (2 adults, 2 children) - £80
  • Season runs - September to May
  • Catering - good choice of burger / chicken/ grill vans around the ground, plenty of licensed bars and little queuing
  • Performance this season - Champions of the Pro12 league in 2014-15, at the time of writing this, they are in the end of season play-offs after finishing the league in 3rd position in 2015-16
  • Atmosphere - Again they've gone for the old Highland cow mascot, but no great efforts made to cajole the crowd, who seemed happy to chat among themselves for most of the match. Kids teams were playing all over the place on the day I was there. The "respect the kicker" and the lack of cursing at the referee seem to take some of the fun out of being a spectator.
  • Marks out of ten - 4/10. All feels a bit safe and nice. Not my cup of tea really.

Football - Partick Thistle 

  • Cost (2 adults, 2 children) - £44
  • Season runs - July to May
  • Catering - football catering would be familiar to someone arriving at the stadium from the 1920s I imagine. Pies and Bovril the go to snack, and uniquely amongst all the sporting options here "no bevvying" allowed
  • Performance this season - a battling performance after a slow start in 2015-16 season to ensure another year of top flight action next season. They continue to perform above expectations (and their budget), not that you would know by reading any sports pages.
  • Atmosphere - Kids get in for free and can meet players after the matches, various imaginative give-aways and offers this year, but the atmosphere at football, more than any of the other sports here is really dependent on the team's performance and opponent. A poor show can mean that the referee, the manager or last week's hero can be in for dog's abuse next week.
  • Marks out of ten - 10/10. It is history, tradition and the eternl possibility of a surprise upset or successful cup run that keeps me coming back. Definitely hope over experience, but there's always hope.

Football  - Glasgow City

  • Cost (2 adults, 2 children) - £10
  • Season runs - March to October
  • Catering - the bar in the stadium is the usual gathering place before home matches, with light snacks available
  • Performance this season - runaway champions in Scottish league and cup competitions for many years, really needing to be challenged more if Scottish women's football is to progress
  • Atmosphere - most league games can be sparsely attended, but usually a very relaxed and jolly affairs, with lots of families and children about
  • Marks out of ten - 9/10. The longer that Glasgow City can stop the old firm grasping control of the women's game the better and I'll keep cheering them on.

1901 Queens Park vs Third Lanark exhibition match