I Feel I Belong to Glasgow Again; Hunter Davies Revisits His Birthplace, for the First Time in 40 Years

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), October 18, 1998 | Go to article overview
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I Feel I Belong to Glasgow Again; Hunter Davies Revisits His Birthplace, for the First Time in 40 Years


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.

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I Feel I Belong to Glasgow Again; Hunter Davies Revisits His Birthplace, for the First Time in 40 Years


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