Saturday, August 25, 2007


Glasgow is the final stop on my journey - I got in fairly late after my day travelling around Inverness and was reminded almost immediately of the city's troubled history when a security guard was assigned to walk me from the University reception to my rooms. Glasgow is supposed to be an example of successful urban renewal, but it seems that some people haven't been as renewed as others. There is an area beside Kelvingrove Park that has been yuppified and prettified into seven-figure addresses - and then there are other areas where I wouldn't walk alone. The University obviously is in one of these - the reception has hard-core security, after 9pm the front door is locked and two guards are on duty.

My first stop in Glasgow was the Kelvingrove Park, which is very pretty where it isn't vandalised. There is evidence of an outburst of civic pride during the later stages of the Industrial Revolution (inspiring statues on bridges, a public arena for concerts) but also evidence of recent, more difficult times (the bandstand has been pretty comprehensively graffitied). Declining educational standards are also in evidence - one piece of graffiti reads 'For hard cook, ring 087XX XXX XXX). I assume the young gentleman who was thus promoting his services has since been hired by a local restaurant...

From the park, I went on to the Kelvingrove Museum and Gallery, which wasn't vandalised but wasn't open either.

A stroll along Sauciehall St showed me pretty much the full gamut of the Glasgow experience - Pound Stretchers (the UK $2 shop) and greasy-spoon cafes at one end, the Italian Centre (Versace, Gucci etc etc) up the other.

At the end of Sauciehall Street, the Buchanan Galleries towers over the town. In Edinburgh, a castle. In Glasgow, a shopping centre. That's urban renewal for you.

I flee the shopping district for the Cathedral. The Cathedral is a lovely old building built to honour St Mungo (who originally had the far more dignified name of Ketigern - am I the only person who thinks 'Mungo' sounds like some sort of insult? As in, 'that pack of mungos couldn't find their arses with both hands'?). Anyway, the Cathedral is good value - lots of lovely old stone work - the chapel under the main Cathedral has a sort of sampler of bosses holding up the roof. Every boss has a different pattern, including of course the inevitable skull design. Outside, the church wall is lined with inset tombs, adding a new meaning to the term 'hole in the wall'. Some of the tombs are surrounded by iron cages... oohhhh, creepy!! On close examination, the locks on two of the cages are open and the doors are ajar - there's a good ghost/vampire/zombie story in that!!

From the Cathedral, I wander over to St Mungos Museum of Religious Art and Life. It certainly induces religious feelings in me when I realise that I'm about to pay four pounds for a teaspoon of salad and a falafel (as in one, crumbled falafel ball) on a bit of pita bread and a cup of coffee. Perhaps I am supposed to be practising asceticism before I enter or maybe the people who run the cafe know that there's nowhere else to eat for miles around, so they have a free hand. I sit in the Zen Garden (not from choice - the cafe is full) and try to contemplate enlightenment. If I keep eating like this, I will definitely be en-lightened...

The museum itself makes up for the disappointing fare - on the top floor, there is an exhibition on the history of religion in Scotland which includes religions that have come to Scotland more recently (Hinduism, etc). It includes such gems as the sign to a 19th century public toilet for Indian sailors only - which might simply have been institutionalised racism, but which might also have been an attempt by the locals and the sailors to accommodate certain religious needs (which perhaps fortunately weren't explained in the display!) - toys that were suitable for children to play with on the Sabbath and a Seder plate (Jewish passover meal).

Downstairs there are exhibitions of religious art, including a Central Desert dot painting, and an exhibition called Cradle to Grave, which looked at the role of religion in life. It was a pretty comprehensive look - the exhibition included everything from a Chinese statue of the God of Death to African tribal amulets and a video of six religious ceremonies.

After my religious experience, I cross the road to the Necropolis. Dead people in Glasgow seem to fare better than live ones - the Necropolis is row upon row of the most spectacular monuments you could imagine. One point their owners seem to have missed though is that, spectacular monuments aside, they are still very dead. Cheerful lines such as 'He is not dead while he lives in memory' surround me as I slog up the hill. Some of the stones have been eroded by acid rain until the text has vanished into something that looks eerily like rib bones... To my amusement, many of the mausoleums are wired shut with signs on the door saying 'Danger - keep out'. I'd have thought anyone going in would have been well past worrying about such things as an uneven floor or a dodgy roof, but there you go.

Having gotten in touch with my inner Goth, I wander back down to the oldest house in Glasgow. The oldest house in Glasgow is very small - I walk around with a permanent stoop so that I don't brain myself on the ceiling or a lintel. Lots of historical bits and bobs and a lovely garden out the back, a memorial for something-or-another (I couldn't find the plaque telling me what).

Unfortunately, it is too late to go back and see the Kelvingrove Museum - it's after three and the museum shuts at five. I try a bit of shopping, but UK shops really don't do it for me. In the end, I grab some M&S salads and head back to the University. The walk back fills in about an hour and a half - no wonder I am tired!! On arrival, I pack up all my junk ready to depart - which I will do as soon as I sign out.

Look forward to catching up with y'all on my return!!

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