Saturday 20 December 2014

A Day Out in Glasgow

I have never adopted the Edinburgh disdain for Glasgow. Glasgow is so different from Edinburgh, I see no point to the rivalry. Edinburgh is a beautiful, timeless town of 500 thousand souls, and Glasgow is a battle-scarred modern metropolis of a million. Still, there are beauty spots in Glasgow--the Cathedral in the east and the University in the west come to mind--and with numbers and modernity comes much more of a night life. And, as I never tire of telling B.A., Glasgow reminds me of Toronto, albeit an old semi-mythical Toronto populated mostly by Scots.

So I took my brother to Glasgow, and the morning's stress and grumpiness fell from my shoulders as soon as we sat in our train. After grousing about this and that all the way to Waverley Station, I finally had a positive thought.

"I love trains," I enthused

"I love trains,"my brother caroled in response. "I love every kind of train..."

I don't love every kind of train, but I do love most intercity trains. I love travelling around the UK and Europe by train. My favourite train is the fast train galloping from Kraków to Warsaw. My next favourite train is the Edinburgh to London train, if I travel first class. My least favourite train is the slow train from Mazovian country towns to Kraków, which ambles through endless fields, bumping up and down for hundreds of miles, muttering po-CHONK, po-CHONK, po-CHONK.

The train to Glasgow is reasonably quick, quicker than the bus, and a lady comes by with a trolly laden with coffee, tea and snacks for sale. Looking at the green hills hoping to see sheep while drinking a hot coffee is one of the small joys in life.

But I meant to write about Glasgow. We got to Glasgow and we went at once to the Buchanan metro station to buy an all-inclusive travel pass. We were advised to go to St. Enoch instead, so we trundled down the busy shopping street to St. Enoch. My brother, henceforth Quadrophonic, had remarked upon men in track pants staggering into a pub.

From St. Enoch we took the metro (subway)--the Glasgow subway is just two rings, delightfully simple--back to Buchanan and took a bus towards Glasgow Cathedral, getting instantly lost. But we did find a post office, so I posted Christmas cards, and we took another bus, which did drop us in front of the Cathedral.

At first I thought the Cathedral was very impressive for a Victorian reproduction and I marvelled that Glasgow's immigrant Catholic community had managed to build such a glorious place until we got inside and I couldn't see Archbishop Conti's white-washing improvements anywhere. Only then--alas--did it dawn on me that this was not the Catholic cathedral and I should take out my guide book. And, lo, Glasgow Cathedral is the only mediaeval cathedral to have been allowed to remain standing during the destruction of the Scottish Reformation. Three Presbyterian congregations shared it, and in the 19th century the state took it over. By then the Church of Scotland had begun flirting with Catholic art, and as a result Glasgow Cathedral is decorated in quite a pretty fashion.

Of course it is also terribly cold, and after an hour we were happy to march off to Buchanan Station and go to the West End for lunch. Quadrophonic spied "Hanoi Bike Shop", apparently beloved of pop stars, so we had a delicious, if pricey, Vietnamese meal.  Then we went to the Botanical Gardens, for my brother likes plants, and toured the increasingly warm and delightful Victorian greenhouses. These were lit entirely by daylight, so I had a nasty turn when I discovered myself alone in the gloaming with a thousand plants and an Eccentric. My brother had gone on to the chamber of palm trees, so I quickly scuttle there to find him.

From the Botanical Gardens we went to the Hunterian Gallery, where we took advantage of its last half hour of opening to look at the architectural drawings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the collection of the Glasgow Boys and the Scottish Colourists. Then we were shooed out of the gift shop, so we went to the University Library to look at the map. I asked a bald and beefy security guard with what looked like the Scottish Covenant tattooed all down his arm for directions, and then we went to a hipster café for coffee and to ponder evening plans.

First we went to "Brew Dog" for a drink. Then we had a very good dinner at "Mother India's Café" on Argyle Street. Finally we walked the freezing length of Sauchiehall Street to find its famous bars and hear some live bands. We settled on the Box Bar and drank "Punk IPA" and Red Stripe while listening to baby-faced youngster play their instruments. Baby-faced Band 1 ended on a high by playing "Monster".  Baby-faced Band 2 was much better than Baby-faced Band 1.

The place was packed with young men, some of whom had mutilated their ears, and as the stage was beside the door, I got a good view of everyone coming in. Glasgow girls are wearing their hair long and straight, and some of them are very stout. My brother noticed that a lot of the young men were stout, too, and he wondered if this was a result of their drinking careers and if they never played football. I kept a wary eye on the ones who had grommets in their mutilated ears and the ones who wore sweatpants instead of jeans. (Honestly!) After all, it was Glasgow.

"We came here to drink beer and to fight, and we're all outta beer," said Quadrophonic, by way of observation, and decided we should go before Band Three began. So off we went to finish our walk down the length of Sauchiehall, passing a hundred drunken revellers and street musicians.

Naturally I had forgotten all stories about weekend night trains home from Glasgow until some huge guys with shaved heads and beer bottles in their pockets got on. Fortunately the seats across from us had been taken by two Edinburgh women who work in Glasgow and had been at their office Christmas party. One of the women began to talk to her friend about Toronto, and so it transpired that she was from Toronto and that Quadrophonic knew one of her classmates.

Our comfort in conversing was somewhat impeded by a gang of young drunks who insisted on presenting us ladies with cards advertising a strip joint and then noticed the one man with us. This made me rather anxious for my brother, especially when one drunk asked him what his favourite team was, and another asked him if he liked Rangers.

My brother, who knew enough to know that they were testing him, but not enough to know that this is how drunken Glaswegians identify members of the enemy tribe for beatings, told them his team was the Toronto Maple Leafs and that he was not from here. Naturally they asked where from, and happily they felt well-disposed towards Canadians, so all was well. They alighted at Croy.

Behind us a large group sang "Alouette" so long and so badly that I feared they were English-Canadians. However, they then sang "Flower of Scotland", which Canadians do not know, so I ceased to feel embarrassed. Then they sang various Christmas songs at the top of their lungs, one female reveller having an almost inexhaustible memory for the lyrics. She got out, still loudly cheerful and most definitely Scottish, at Haymarket.

We caught the first Night Rough Bus at about 12:15 AM. I did not know the Night Rough Bus began so soon after midnight, so it was one last happy surprise to end the day.

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