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The Dear, Green Place by Archie Hind

Polygon, 2008, 248 p, plus viii p introduction by Alasdair Gray. In The Dear Green Place and Fur Sadie.

Borrowed from a threatened library. (One of the 100 Best Scottish Books.)

 The Dear, Green Place cover

Many Scottish novels betray a love of the country’s landscape, some even start with descriptions of it. So too it is with The Dear, Green Place, except – the place in question being Glasgow – it’s a cityscape we are reading about. Glasgow’s name is supposedly from the Gaelic Gles Chu, (“the dear green place”) the location where St Mungo (St Kentigern in the Celtic) built his little church and founded the settlement which became the second city of the empire. As described here, “A Calvinist, Protestant city. The influx of Roman Catholic Irish and Continental Jews had done nothing to change it. Even they in the end became Calvinist.” (This is true not just of Glasgow but reflective of Scotland as a whole.)

Our protagonist, Mat Craig, thinks of the city that, “the foundries, steelworks, warehouses, railways, factories, ships, the great industrial and inventive exploits seemed to give it all a kind of charm, a feeling of energy and promise,” and finds pride in the thought that during the (1945-51) Labour Government’s first term of office domestic life changed from sordidness and squalor to become decent. Like many a working man of the times he is well read – the text is peppered with references to art and literature, in particular to Thomas Mann – and capable of finding the dynamic sublime in the dripping of raindrops from one rail of a fence to another. “The dynamic sublime. A wee Glesca one. All on a reduced scale.” On New Year celebrations he feels that it is, “good in the depth of winter to have a formal and ceremonious occasion for the release of inhibitions, but in Glasgow drink still leaves the sober certainty of the bitterness of life and the inexorable passage of time.”

His great ambition is to be a writer but his mother is against him getting above himself. She complains when he gives up his office job, “It’s a guid respectable job with a collar and tie.” He replies, “Aye. It’s respectable. And I’m fed up to the teeth with respectability. As soon as anyone shows any sign of gumption you want him to become respectable. Put a collar and tie on. It’s in case they’ll bite. They’re frightened they’ll bite. And so they will. The ones that don’t get collared.” But, he thought, he would always have to make concessions to others just because he loved them. “It was exactly thus that conscience makes cowards of us all.”

He marries and to make ends meet goes to work alongside his brother in a slaughterhouse. There are vivid descriptions of the processes involved in rendering an animal fit for human consumption. He meets with minor success with a few short stories written in a style he knows will sell but completing his novel is a more elusive task. Even stopping work and living on his and his wife’s savings isn’t enough. He feels a deep attachment to his art, “obliging him to accept the arrogant task of creating art out of deprivation rather than choose the easy way of leaving deprivation behind him…. To attempt the difficult, almost impossible task of making art out of his Scottishness rather than turn towards a sophisticated, successful but alien tradition.”

On the death of his father in a lorry accident he thinks, “everything in human life – the everyday common tasks, sex, love, contentment, aspiration, ordinary human intercourse, hope, laughter, were like dirty snivelling little secrets being uncovered by this sneering, wicked, expedient, mechanistic force that was the world,” and conceives “a story of this bonny wean, of a gifted child who’d scatter his useless gifts about the world; a story of prodigality, of waste, of squandering, which would contain all his sourness, pessimism and accusation; and his love too.”

An intensely literary book, The Dear, Green Place is about the struggle to stay yourself and be true to a vision, and the difficulties that lie along that path. And a reminder that knowledge and deep thinking do not belong exclusively to the well-heeled.

According to Alasdair Gray’s introduction (again I left this till after reading the book) Hind’s shorter works – plays, radio scripts and some short stories – are now lost. All that remains of his œuvre is contained within this book’s covers. The Dear, Green Place is the major part and acts in contrast to the stereotypical view of Glasgow and its inhabitants as portrayed in the likes of No Mean City. Gray tells us that Gles Chu has been previously translated as green hollow, green churchyard, greyhounds ferry, dear stream, and later, in Glasgow’s industrial, imperial pomp, grey forge or grey smithy but that the dear green place, Hinds’s own translation, is now generally accepted. Though sometimes, still – even now the smoke and the industry have largely gone – that description can seem inapt, the city does have an abundance of parks and leafy spaces.

The other large story in these covers is the unfinished Fur Sadie, the story of Sadie Anderson, a woman with perfect pitch – her ‘doh’ (in her head she can translate intervals and chords into sol-fa) – who, remembering her childhood friend Anna Berman playing the piano, in middle age buys one of her own and starts to get lessons – despite the incomprehension and teasing she receives from her husband, Alec, and sons, Hugh and Colin. In a pun on musical terminology and the position of a working class woman of her time Hind tells us Sadie had always known how to diminish. Despite many years of marriage and three children together Sadie and Alec had never seen one another naked, “A terrible modesty that excluded sexuality from the commonplace acts of the day and, denying ordinary acts of touching and looking, denied a way of expressing tenderness.” This “modesty” surrounding the human body (pudency would be an even more apt term) was an all too prevalent tendency in a Scotland steeped in Calvinism. The story’s title is not only a reference to Beethoven’s piano composition Für Elise but also to the way the word “for” is pronounced in Glasgow dialect. Fur Sadie acts as a companion piece to The Dear, Green Place in that it features another working class protagonist with aspirations to artistic endeavour but it has a more optimistic feel. It’s a pity it is incomplete (apparently Hind said, “It developed a slow puncture,”) as Sadie is an engaging character and this reader of the fragment was definitely left wanting more.

The final prose piece in the book, The Men of the Clyde, appeared in Scottish International, August 1973, and is an encomium to the workers of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in. Lastly there is a song lyric, The Dear Green Place, (composed with Peter Kelly) from a review Through with a Flourish presented at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1971.

Pedant’s corner:- compatability, (compatibility,) grills (grilles,) rough shod (roughshod,) in a list “paraffin. turpentine,” (paraffin, turpentine,) octopi (octopuses or, the Greek plural, octopodes,) the cuticle of the nails (cuticles would be more correct,) tick (tic,) Anna’s surname flicks from Bermant to Berman and back,) worried at lot (worried a lot,) piano stood (stool,) just that same (just the same,) waked in (walked in,) rubbing a corned (corner,) “Beethoven’s sly double use of the piece, which was for Elsie in the concession to unlearned fingers and that it was for Elsie in that it seemed to express, sensuously, her young bloom” (should not both these Elsies be Elises?)

Two More Glasgow War Memorials

These are in the grounds of the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow; near the Cameronians Memorial.

First the West of Scotland Branch of the Normandy Veterans Association Memorial:-

West of Scotland Normandy Landings Memorial

Nearby is the City of Glasgow Squadron Auxiliary Air Force Memorial. (One of the squadron’s Spitfires is on display in the Museum):-

City of Glasgow Squadron War Mem

Pollok House, Pollok Park, Glasgow

Pollok House, not owned by but run by the National Trust for Scotland, is in the south side of Glasgow, set in great parkland; so much so you would never believe you were in the middle of a big city.

Pollok House, showing gates on to parkland of Pollok Park, Glasgow:-

Pollok House Frontage

This is a stitch of three photos to get in the full frontage. In reality the grass and road don’t have that bend in them:-

Pollok House, Glasgow

The house contains an array of paintings – mostly of that branch of the Hapsburg family who ruled Spain for centuries. Being notoriously in-bred they are a fairly unprepossessing bunch. The very informative guide was much more taken with this painting by El Greco of rather different content; Lady in a Fur Wrap (picture from BBC Your Paintings):-

Lady in a Fur Wrap, El Greco, Pollok House, Glasgow

A certificate on an internal wall on the corridor leading to the tea-room (which has a marvellous setting, being housed in what was the Edwardian kitchen) commemorates the house’s use as a hospital during the Great War:-

Pollok House Great War Certificate

On a wall of Pollok House’s garden facing the parkland area there is a War Memorial dedicated to the men from the tenantry and staff of Nether Pollok who served in the Great War. There are 58 names on the cartouche. Beside 13 of them is inscribed “killed” – beside another it states “died”.

Pollok House War Memorial

That makes 14 out of the 58 who went away that lost their lives as a consequence. A fraction under a quarter of the total. And some of the others would have been wounded.

Glasgow’s Art Deco Heritage 16: London Road

This one’s not really worth a number in this sequence all to itself but I’ve nowhere else to put it.

It’s Lynch’s, London Road which has Art Deco influenced upper portions, especially the windows:-

Lynch's, London Road, Glasgow

Glasgow War Memorial, George Square, in Daylight

My pictures of this memorial from last December were taken in the dark.

This was in daylight. Shows the flanking lions off well:-

Glasgow War Memorial, George Square in Daylight

Obelisk and horizontal sculpture:-

Glasgow War Memorial, George Square

The sculpture resembles the fossil of a creature’s skeleton. The latin word “Pax” (peace) can be seen to its right here:-

Detail of Glasgow War Memorial

Glasgow’s Art Deco Heritage 9: Argyle Street. Addendum

This one’s in the east end of the city centre part of Argyle Street. I missed it last December but got a photo early last month. Superstructure and windows. Nice scrolling on the stonework and lovely stained glass but needing cleaned up methinks:-

Art Deco in Argyle Street, Glasgow

Pity it’s so dilapidated. Close-up on the windows:-

Art Deco, Argyle Street, Glasgow, Detail

At the bottom of Buchanan Street and on the corner of Argyle Street and St Enoch Square is what used to be Arnotts department store and is now a branch of Bank of Scotland.

Art Deco Bank, Argyle Street, Glasgow

Below is the Argyle Street elevation of HSBC. For Buchanan Street elevations see here.

HSBC, Argyle Street, Glasgow

Under the Hielanman’s Umbrella is this entrance to Glasgow Central Station:-

Glasgow Central Station, Argyle Street Entrance

There is a similar entrance on the south side of the street. (Stitch of two photos.)

Other Entrance, Glasgow Central Station

Below is the Argyle Street frontage of the Mackintoshed up building whose Union Street aspect I featured here. Again a stitch of two.

Mackintosh Style in Argyle Street, Glasgow

Glasgow Exhibitions Display at the People’s Palace

There is a small display at the People’s Palace on Glasgow Green which shows images of Glasgow’s various International Exhibitions.

The colour picture at the top is of the 1901 Exhibition, a panorama of that same exhibition is below it, a sepia depiction of the 1888 Exhibition lies below the writing, a view of the Scottish Pavilion at the 1938 Empire Exhibition is to the left and a poster stamp of the Empire Exhibition’s logo in red is below that.

The colour picture is of the Main Pavilion at the 1901 Exhibition:-

The mostly blue picture is of the interior of one of the two Scottish Pavilions at the 1938 Empire Exhibition:-

Here’s the poster stamp in a closer up version:-

The People’s Palace also has one of the jigsaws of the Empire Exhibition:-

Note the (oddly shaped) missing piece of the jigsaw. I actually have a complete example of this jigsaw at home (a companion piece to this) but it’s still in a box somewhere due to the house move last year.

Royal Doulton Fountain, Glasgow Green

First built for the Glasgow International Exhibition 1888 held in Kelvingrove Park and moved to Glasgow Green in 1890 this is now located outside the People’s Palace on Glasgow Green. It’s the largest terracotta fountain in the world.

This may give more idea of the fountain’s scale:-

Glasgow’s Art Deco Heritage 15: Car Park, Candleriggs

Modern car park with deco styling, Candleriggs, Glasgow.

Pedestrian entrance doorway:-

There are lovely rounded “balconies” here on the element above the entrance not to mention “streamlining” on the stonework and the tip:-

Finial on central element. The finial is triangular but shows as a line here:-

There is good decorative brickwork near the roofline. The metalwork’s not bad, too:-

Glasgow War Memorial, George Square

It was deepest darkest December when I took these. The Christmas lights were up and on.

This is from the south east:-

From the north:-

From the east:-

The George Square side is flanked by two statues of lions. This is the southern one:-

George Square aspect, with Remembrance Day wreaths. (City Chambers in background):-

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