I Feel I Belong to Glasgow Again; Hunter Davies Revisits His Birthplace, for the First Time in 40 Years
Byline: HUNTER DAVIES
WAS born just outside Glasgow a long time ago, in another country.
At least that's how it has always seemed to me in the 40 years since I last spent a night in the city.
We left for the deep south, to live in a town in a foreign and exotic country, Carlisle to be precise. But during my teenage years I returned to Glasgow for holidays, staying with my mother's parents in Motherwell or my father's in Cambuslang.
I loved it at the time, even though the smoke and dust brought on my asthma.
I loved the smelly, noisy, bumpy Glasgow trams, sitting at the front upstairs with my cousin Sheena, punching each other. You were allowed to do this, depending on who first saw a little street sign saying FP or HD.
Something to do with water supplies, I think. We said it meant Free Punch or Hard Dig.
Then I grew up, sort of, and never went back. Like most Brits, I picked up the image of Glasgow as being nasty, brutal and poor, as opposed to Edinburgh, which was nice, lovely and arty.
I did notice Glasgow's Miles Better campaign, that self-advertising slogan, whose pun I never quite got, thinking it was only Glasgow Smiles Better. It had a reasonable effect, bringing in tourists, but not me.
Whenever I thought of a long weekend away with my dear wife in some attractive, exciting sounding city, we plumped for Paris or Venice. Glasgow?
You must be joking. Or choking. OK, so it was European City of Culture in 1990, but Glasgow still isn't known for health.
Then I heard that next year Glasgow will get another accolade - the UK's City of Architecture and Design, with about 200 events being organised. Time to get up to date, perhaps. Time to throw away for ever those childhood notions.
I Where to stay? That was the first problem. I know all the best places in Edinburgh, used them all, but not Glasgow. Someone recommended the Malmaison, where smart publishers put up their more literary stars on promotional tours.
Silly name, I thought. Sounds like a house of ill repute - well, I have got O-level French.
I sent for the brochure, which didn't help much. Poncey and uninformative, with close-up photos of designer pillows and pouffes. I feared it would be like that minimalist all-white place in London where you can't breathe, let alone touch things.
It turned out to be stunning - an amazing combination of individual style, every little item so artistic and beautiful, yet warm and relaxed with brilliant staff. The food was also good. We ate nowhere else.
Most amazing of all, considering the quality, it didn't cost an arm and a leg (my bill for self, wife and sister for three days, two nights, all meals etc, came to [pounds sterling]638.28).
The Malmaison is in a converted old church on the corner of Blytheswood Square, which used to be a hangout for prostitutes, so its name sounded apt - except I didn't know it comes from Malmaison, a famous house in France, where Napoleon once stayed. It's the
creation of Ken McCulloch, who started as a kitchen porter in Glasgow. He and his wife went on to design furniture and fittings for various restaurants and hotels before opening their own in 1994.
There are now three other Mal-maisons - in Edinburgh, Newcastle upon Tyne and Manchester.
Leeds opens next year. The year after it's London and Paris. After that, the world. Lucky world, to have a chain of such individually styled small hotels, unlike those boring, bland Hiltons.
No, I'm not being paid to plug them, though I would certainly put money into them. Except I'm too late. They have some American group backing them already.
MR McCulloch, whom I never saw, as he was in Monte Carlo that week, has done better than one of Glasgow's other artistic sons - Mr Mackintosh, about whom you must have heard.
One hundred years ago, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was doing well enough, designing stuff all over Glasgow and Scotland, from furniture to whole buildings, a master of the Art Nouveau style, but he felt unappreciated in his own country.
Abroad, they loved him. In 1900 he had an exhibition of his work in Vienna, followed by Turin, Moscow, Berlin and Paris. But not in Glasgow. In 1914 he moved to London, then in 1923 to France where he painted watercolours. He died in 1928, in virtual obscurity.
Today, he is probably the world's best-known Glaswegian, judging by the number of foreign worshippers I met standing in awe all over Glasgow. There is a Rennie Mackintosh trail you can follow, which ranges from tea shops to the House for an Art Lover - based on Mackintosh designs - and the old Glasgow Herald building in Mitchell Street, soon to be reopened as The Lighthouse, Scotland's Centre for Architecture.
I did one tea shop, the Willow Tea Room in Sauchiehall Street, upstairs above a jewellers, sweet enough, but not much to see, compared with the Glasgow School of Art, his best-known architectural work.
My cousin Sheena became a student there, yet I never thought of visiting her. Such ignorance. I made up for it this time, and went on a tour of the building.
I also visited the Mackintosh House at the Hunterian Art Gallery. Bit of a cheat, as the house is a recreation, but inside all the rooms are filled with genuine Mackintosh stuff, from fireplaces to furniture, bedspreads to bookcases.
So genuine that when I was there an attendant was warning a visitor not to photograph, touch or even measure the furniture. You mean it's a hanging offence to come in with a ruler? 'Almost,' he said. 'I would call security if I caught anyone measuring.' This is to stop anyone making their own repros.
Worth doing, when a real piece of Mackintosh furniture can now cost up to [pounds sterling]1 million. That day he had warned someone who was standing beside a Mackintosh long-backed chair, marking its height on his trouser leg with a piece of chalk. He wasn't actually using a tape measure, not till he got outside, but this was still considered cheating.
The Hunterian is in Kelvingrove Park, near two other excellent museums - the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery and the Museum of Transport. I spent ages in the latter, gaping at the old trams, the sort I used to ride on as a boy. I could smell them, hear the rattling, feel the bumps. They were also more attractive than I remembered, painted orange and green, with pretty light fittings, but then you don't take in design when young.
The Museum of Transport has a brilliantly recreated 1938 Glasgow street, complete with period cars and shop windows. It is also at present the home of the Scottish FA's soccer collection, for no other apparent reason than that it had some space. Rather small and bijou at the moment, but the boast is it will be the best football museum in the world when the collection moves next year to its purpose-built home at the new Hampden Park.
What really took me back to my childhood was the Tenement House in Buccleuch Street. I was always visiting aged aunts and relatives who lived in such places, particularly one who lived up a 'wally close' whatever that meant. I was fascinated by the pulley in her kitchen, hanging with clothes, and a bit terrified by her hole-in-the-wall bed, in case I had to sleep in it.
The Tenement House, run by The National Trust for Scotland, was the home of a Miss Agnes Toward, a shorthand typist, who lived there from 1911 to 1965 and threw nothing out. The rooms are fascinating, with all her belongings in place. I also found out what wally close meant. It was because the entrance hall was tiled, indicating a better class of tenement.
I also spent a lot of time wandering round Merchant City, that area of Glasgow where all the tobacco traders, ship building barons, business moguls and bankers had their main buildings, now all cleaned up and looking as handsome as anything in Edinburgh. Never thought I'd say that.
KNEW the Glasgow slums had gone, but I hadn't realised so many of the main streets, such as Sauchiehall Street, which I remember as being dirty and frightening, have been mainly pedestrianised and cleaned up. You can now stand back and admire them, or some of the present tenants, such as Versace and Armani.
Yes, both of them have shops, proof that Glasgow is now great for shopping. So my wife and sister told me.
All I did was look into the I
Princes Square shopping precinct, to note its elegance and architecture, and try to imagine Rab C.
Nesbit wandering around it in his string vest.
Glasgow is pretty elegant these days, and affluent. You don't see it much on the street, as the populace don't dress flash or look colourful, in either sense, not compared with London, but the money is certainly there.
I was wandering down West Nile Street, looking for a pub, when I saw a wine bar, Vroni's, advertising their Champagne Hour. I couldn't believe it.
Half-price champagne in
the Happy Hour? Almost. From 4-7 each day, a bottle of Moet et Chan-don is reduced from [pounds sterling]29 to [pounds sterling]23. The place was full. And not one person was wearing a string vest . . .
HUNTER DAVIES stayed at the Malmaison Hotel, 278 George Street, Glasgow G2 4LL (0141 572 1000). Room rates start at [pounds sterling]150 for a two-night stay. Useful contact numbers for Glasgow include: Glasgow Tourist Board, 11 George Square, Glasgow G2 1DY (0141 204 4400); Glasgow School of Art, 167 Renfrew St (0141 353 4526); Mackintosh House, Hunterian Art Gallery, Hillhead St (0141 330 5431); Art Gallery and Museum, Kelvingrove, (0141 287 2699); Museum of Transport, 1 Burnhouse Rd (0141 287 2720); the Tenement House, 145 Buccleuch St (0141 333 0183); Willow Tea Rooms, 217 Sauchiehall St (0141 332 0521).…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: I Feel I Belong to Glasgow Again; Hunter Davies Revisits His Birthplace, for the First Time in 40 Years. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: The Mail on Sunday (London, England). Publication date: October 18, 1998. Page number: 63. © 2009 Solo Syndication Limited. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.
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