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Divided City by Theresa Breslin

Corgi, 2006, 236 p. One of the Scotsman’s 20 Scottish Books Everyone Should Read.

Divided City cover

One night Graham (surname never specified) is taking a short cut – against which his parents have repeatedly warned him – on his way home from football training when he witnesses a gang chasing and stabbing a young lad whom they call “asylum scum”. Graham comforts the wounded boy, Kyoul, uses the mobile phone Kyoul has dropped to call an ambulance and accompanies him to the hospital then slips away but not before Kyoul asks him to take a message, and the phone, to his girlfriend Leanne. This leads to Graham almost by accident involving another boy from training, Joe Flaherty (who is of course from across the sectarian divide to which the book’s title mainly refers) in finding Leanne’s house. She is grateful but has kept her relationship with Kyoul from her own parents and so asks them to visit Kyoul for her. This strand of the book where they find common purpose off the training pitch is intertwined with the background of both footballers.

Graham’s Granda Reid is a proud Orangeman who wants Graham to march in the big Orange Walk which is coming up. Graham’s parents have always resisted pressure to make him take part when he was younger saying he should make his own mind up when he is old enough. However, this is the year he must do so. Joe’s family members are equally committed to upholding their Catholic traditions.

But this is where Divided City is too diagrammatic. Nearly every domestic conversation in the book centres on sectarianism and how the “others” mistreat “our” side.

There were other infelicities. The football training is for a youth team to be known as Glasgow City which is about to take part in an inter-cities youth competition. Here credulity becomes strained. If both boys were as good at football as the novel tells us they’d most likely already be attached to a club and probably not allowed to play for anyone else. Another unconvincing aspect is that Leanne is said to be “not yet sixteen” but she met Kyoul who had wandered in off the street at one of Glasgow University’s school open days and both ended up looking at a stand where they were each wondering what courses they would choose and struck up a conversation. Fifteen is rather young for such a trip. Also, the first time home ground of Rangers is mentioned it’s by a supporter, who calls it “Ibrox Park.” A fan would just say “Ibrox”. Similarly we get “the Celtic Parkhead stadium”. Then there is the description of an Old Firm game where the phrase “unleashed a stinging right kick” is used. It’s called a shot, not a kick. Later one fan is enjoined to ‘Watch the play’. It would be ‘Watch the game’.

Granted the dilemma of an asylum seeker from a ‘White List’ country, deemed to be safe but which isn’t, may need elucidating to a wider audience, yet while the novel is even-handed enough as between Protestant and Catholic viewpoints I struggled to see for what audience this could have been written, whom it was intended to educate. The book’s cover is emblazoned with the phrase “Carnegie Medal winning author” implying it’s for young adults. But young adults in Glasgow will know about sectarianism, those elsewhere likely not care (Northern Ireland excepted.) The incidental illustration of the usual parental restrictions on adolescent comings and goings do not expand the scope. Divided City’s earlier chapters reminded me of a certain kind of not very good Science Fiction which doesn’t trust its reader to make the connections, so too much is spelled out. And there is an overuse of exclamation marks. I would submit that YA readers deserve better.

There is a good novel about sectarianism – and/or football – in Glasgow out there. This isn’t it.

Pedant’s corner:- “the dark openings of the tenement building mawed at him” (the openings stomached at him?) the local senior boy’s club” (boys’ club, I think,) refers to winning the League Championship (it’s just “winning the League” not League Championship,) Rangers’ (Rangers’s,) ‘How are we going to do that without getting caught.’ (Needs a question mark, not a full stop.)

Willow Tea Rooms, Buchanan Street, Glasgow

I thought I’d posted this photo (taken in December 2014) of the exterior of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed Willow Tea Rooms in Buchanan Street, Glasgow, but searching the blog gave no results so perhaps I didn’t.

Willow tea rooms

The tea rooms were I believe defunct for a while but have been refurbished. In April this year the good lady and I partook of the facilities within. Lovely lunch, reasonably priced.

Rennie Mackintosh style chairs:-

Willow Tea Rooms Interior 1

A banquette:-

Willow Tea Rooms 2

Interior panelling. Typical Mackintosh motifs:-

Willow Tea Rooms 3

More panelling:-

Willow Tea Rooms 4

Window blind. Signature Mackintosh lettering:-

Willow Tea Rooms 5

Table accoutrements (sadly not quite in focus):-

Willow Tea Rooms 6

Lampshade:-

Willow Tea Rooms 7

Blue and purple lampshades (again sadly not focused):-

Willow Tea Rooms 8

There are two tearooms inside. This is on the stair up to the Chinese Room:-

Willow Tea Rooms 9

The Chinese Room itself. Note the chairbacks:-

Willow Tea Rooms 10

Lower stairwell. Again thoroughly Mackintosh lampshades and banisters:-

Willow Tea Rooms 11

Glasgow’s Art Deco Heritage 17: Templeton’s Carpet Factory

This should really have been much earlier in this series as it is one of the most striking buildings in Glasgow – and Scotland as a whole.

The former Templeton’s Carpet Factory is by Glasgow Green near the People’s Palace and occupies a sort of square formed by Binnie Place, Templeton Street, Tobago Street and London Road.

This view from the People’s Palace shows the unique combination of eastern and Scottish influences. The West Brewery at extreme left side here:-

Templeton Carpet Factory, Glasgow, from West

This is from a bit further along Templeton Street:-

Templeton Carpet Factory, Glasgow, from Southwest

Strong horizontals and verticals in the moderne style in this Templeton Street view:-

Templeton Carpet Factory, Glasgow East Section

There is fantastic detailing in the upper brickwork:-

Templeton Carpet Factory, Glasgow, Detail

Junction of the “eastern” and “moderne” parts with Scots baronial thrown in to the mix:-

Templeton Carpet Factory, Glasgow

The eastern side of the building, off Tobago Street, has now been converted into flats:-

Templeton Carpet Factory, Glasgow, from East

Further up Tobago Street:-

Templeton Carpet Factory, Glasgow, Northeast section

I had to stitch two photos to get the Tobago Street entrance doorway in. (It appears bent in this; it’s not really.)

Templeton Carpet Factory, Glasgow, East Doorway

The clocktower segment on the corner of Tobago Street and London Road has classic Art Deco lines:-

Templeton Carpet Factory, Glasgow, Clocktower Angle

North side of building – converted into flats. Off London Road:-

Templeton Carpet Factory,Glasgow, North Aspect

Stitch of two photos of west end of London Road aspect. (Again the building isn’t Curved.) The West Brewery occupies this portion:-

Templeton Carpet Factory,Glasgow, North Aspect

Satellite 5 and New Books

 Secret Language cover
 Pelquin's Comet cover

At the weekend I was away again, this time in Glasgow for the Satellite 5 Science Fiction Convention.

I met up with a few old friends from the Scottish SF scene, was a member of a panel on the subject of Writing Space – How do SF writers an­d artist­s make their fu­tur­istic tech­nology be­liev­able? And does it really mat­ter i­f they don’t? (I don’t think I made an idiot of myself.)

I was also introduced briefly to the editor of Shoreline of Infinity, a new SF magazine/ezine and a potential home for stories.

Not to mention buying a copy of Neil Williamson’s latest story collection Secret Language published by NewCon Press, so hot off the presses it hasn’t been officially released yet.

And that nice man Ian Whates, publisher at NewCon, gave me a copy of his Pelquin’s Comet as his thank you for doing the proof-reading on it.

Reelin’ In the Years 121: Sailing

The song was written by Gavin Sutherland and Rod Stewart later had a big hit with his version but this is the original.

I actually saw The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver playing live in Glasgow just after they’d had a couple of hits.

The Sutherland Brothers Band: Sailing

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

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