Over the last few weeks I’ve had occasion to visit Glasgow on two occasions, one for an overnight stay and the second time primarily to visit Kelvingrove Museum and Gallery. The happy circumstance of my daughter having been seconded to work there for four months only enhanced the experience. We got to stay in her (almost) city centre apartment and enjoy her company over a couple of meals and several drinks. Glasgow itself has a fascinating history, but it became a boom town of sorts during the 18th and 19th centuries due to rapid industrialisation, centred around shipbuilding, marine engineering, chemicals & textiles. It was, at one time, the largest seaport in Britain. All this growth meant that in 1938 the population of the city peaked at around 1.13 million, before (following urban renewal projects in the 1960’s, which saw people move out of the city) dropping back to currently just under 1 million. A social history lesson isn’t what I’m here for though, if you want to lean more about Glasgow and how it became an industrial powerhouse, which fostered something of an architectural and cultural revolution, the I’d suggest Wikepedia and a visit or two.
The train journey was uneventful, and the “We are now entering Scotland where face coverings are mandatory on public transport, please wear a mask unless exempt” was properly ignored, although some had been wearing masks since boarding, which may have been as far south as London. There isn’t a great deal you can do in the face of that kind of blind compliance, but it must be very uncomfortable. We walked through the city centre to the apartment, unloaded our bags, had a cuppa and set off for our various adventures. I’d done my research and decided, as the girls wanted to do a little shopping, I’d have a wander around, maybe get a pint or two of “heavy” and take in The Gallery Of Modern Art. I like art, I’ve mentioned it before and, although some “modern” works leave me cold in a “a monkey could have done that” kind of way, other works can be both skillfully carried out and thought provoking. I found the both the “Taste” and “Domestic Bliss” exhibitions, running until 31st December, visually entertaining and the “Stones Steeped In History”, (also until 31st December) very informative. The “Sea Of Paperwork” display (December 31st) mostly of words & pictures provided by young people, many of them immigrants, is both interesting and thought provoking if taken at face value. I found no reason not to do so and left that particular section of the building in reflective and thoughtful mood. The Gallery itself is housed in a building constructed in 1778 by “tobacco baron” William Cunninghame as a dwelling. It was later used as the Glasgow headquarters of RBS. As one may imagine, the links with the tobacco industry and slavery are not glossed over, though I doubt either Glasgow City Council, or a coterie of SJW’s will be demolishing the building any time soon. I had my couple of pints in The Horseshoe Bar before wandering back to the apartment for a wash and brush up prior to the evenings festivities. A more than passable dinner 0f Burratta, Orcchiette Allo Scoglia & Affogato at Ristorante Amarone, followed by several (pricey) cocktails at one of the many city centre bars rounded off a decent enough day. I’m just thankful my daughter has an expense account!
The following morning saw us strolling east, through some of the less salubrious areas of the city and past the remnants of some of the fabled Glasgow tenements, many (if not all) of which are now refurbished and their red sandstone exteriors are cleaned. Almost anywhere in this small city is accessible on foot, so long as you have sturdy shoes and aren’t averse to walking, amongst all the development and refurbishment you’ll find, if you look, reminders of the past just about everywhere, so much more rewarding than driving. The main purpose of the walk was to pay a visit to Glasgow Cathedral and I’m glad I made the effort. It’s truly an imposing building, built of granite it appears outwardly austere but it is architecturally superb, the first stone of the original building was laid in 1136 and since 1197 it has never been unroofed. The interior, dark and Gothic as all decent cathedrals should be, is a wonder, some of the bronzes are truly magnificent and the eulogies to the fallen, from the 18th century to the present day left me humbled at the bravery of men and the stupidity of the collective. Framed, all around the building by towering columns, is some of the finest stained glass you’ll ever see (IMO), much of it from Bavaria and, if I understand correctly, quite rare, the factory having been destroyed in the second World War. The Necropolis stands in close proximity to the Cathedral and there’s also a recent memorial to William Wallace close by, I made no attempt to pull it down, although I would (possibly) have been well within my rights. All in all, well worth a visit if you like this kind of thing.
A quick feed in The Anchor Line, a bar restaurant housed in what used to be the main offices of, funnily enough, The Anchor Line Merchant Shipping Company, before packing and catching a ride back to Cumbria with our daughter, who had meetings to attend in Liverpool. I was already looking forward to returning, with Kelvingrove being the focus of our next visit. The triptych at the head of the article provides the backdrop for a fascinating story, during the 2nd World War a group of Italian POW’s built a chapel of mud in their Somali camp, Giuseppe Baldan painted a triptych, on rice sacks, to adorn the walls. Following the cessation of hostilities the Somali guards (presumably because they were affronted by Christianity) set about destroying the artworks. The camp commandant (an English officer) rescued them and tried to track down the artist & his comrades to return the paintings to them. They refused to accept it, asking him to keep it in recognition of how well he had treated them throughout their incarceration. Sadly, believing I’d get the information I needed to “round out” this tale from the Interweb, I didn’t make a note of the officers name and now I can’t find it anywhere. I blame my age and my “rough” ways.
Impossible to list all the things worth looking at in Kelvingrove, from the imposing organ, played every day at 1pm in the vestibule, to the Dali artwork “Christ Of St John On The Cross”, painted by the eccentric and extremely talented Spanish artist in 1954, which sits in its own room on the first floor, there really is something for everyone. Stuffed animals, photography chronicling the recent history of the city by an amateur called Eric Watt’s, two galleries dedicated to “The Glasgow Boys” and “The Colourists”, another containing furniture and the like by Charles Rennie Macintosh and some of his peers and an Ancient Egypt Gallery, with artefacts on loan from The British Museum.
I was taken with the domino table, it would have come in handy in my playing days, when the ability to secrete the contents of ones hand from other players was paramount, although I’ve no idea where we’d have all put our pints.
Remiss of me again, I know, not to have taken note of either the artist or his subject, but this, art being a subjective thing, is one of my favourite (if that’s the right word) paintings in the whole museum. It’s a study in the use of one colour which provides this viewer with a sense of both a moment in time and an image of beauty. I was drawn back to it a couple of times and I’ll certainly go and see it again, if only to make note of the artist and subject, who I believe to be the artists wife.
Suspended from the roof in The West Court is Spitfire number LA198, 602. Built in 1944 and flown by The City Of Glasgow Squadron 1947-1949, it’s said to be one of the finest examples of its type still in existence. It’s cleverly positioned to allow all around viewing and increase, for me at least, the eclectic experience of having so many diverse exhibits under the one roof. I’ve made up my mind to return, for another more measured visit where I can hopefully further appreciate what has to be one of Britains finest museums and art galleries. Glasgow is a small city, not without its problems, the most visible of which is the homelessness, which presents itself on just about every corner of the inner city. Further out you’ll find the drugs and violence normally associated with today’s larger urban conurbations, but for all that, if you’re looking for a weekend away where there’s a multitude of things to do and see, not restricted to the purely “cultural, that isn’t London, you could do worse than choose “Glesgae”.
Just to add my twopenny worth, where His Lordship The Archbishop Of Canterbury is concerned; If you live in and vote as a citizen in a Western “democracy”, you pay your dues and broadly follow the rule of law, then no one, from Archbishop, on down through the landed gentry, elected officialdom, media talking head, shyster lawyer or hack “journalist” has the right to tell you that you must accept people entering your country uninvited, or without proper documentation. The ongoing illegal economic migration into this country is one of many reasons to dislike and distrust this government. Cake isn’t on the list.
Next Time; back to the greenhouse, mass germination on an unseen scale, a visit to Bath, Hooptedoodle.
© Colin Cross 2022