Posts Tagged ‘glasgow’
In between my two stints in Inverness (second one still going, of course, with no end in sight – which is no bad thing), I spent eighteen months in Glasgow. Apart from the rain, pollution, accent, insular attitude, sectarianism, Buckfast, traffic and lack of access to the hills, I really enjoyed it.
Glasgow boasts (and boy, does it boast) a compelling character, some lovely green space, a great nightlife, fabulous museums and so much diversity between the city’s different areas. Plus it has a subway and a suburban rail network, which for a train geek like me is great.
That’s all slightly by the by, though. While living in Glasgow, it was around the time I was trying to write up my early mullet-hunting adventures into a book, and I made huge progress while living in Glasgow (it was probably the rain). One factor was some routine I managed to instill in myself, meeting weekly with a friend to write in a west end coffee shop. It was a lovely wee place, with a friendly owner, Lou, and lovely drinks – not least the quite magnificent and never-since-matched white hot chocolate (cream, no marshmallows, thanks).
It was called Biblocafe, so-called because it was also a place to buy second-hand books (not to mention the occasional photo or painting that people exhibited).
When my first book came out back in 2010 and I was looking for somewhere to do a Glasgow reading, Biblocafe was suggested to me. Having owed a lot to the place for getting the book written, I thought that a highly appropriate idea and approached Lou who very happily hosted my event.
It was a lovely evening, with something in the region of twenty or so people stowing out the ground floor (see picture) and being awfully sporting in buying a good pile of books between them.
Not living in Glasgow, of course, I’m not convinced I’ve been back to Biblocafe since the reading. I was sad to discover on Facebook the other day, though, that it’s now closed.
Here’s the full story from Lou herself – it’s sad that it’s down to circumstances that were totally outwith the business’s control, and in a part of Glasgow that thrived on friendly independent bookshops, it’s a really sad loss, not just for the area but of course for Lou who as the owner who worked so hard to make it a really enjoyable place to hang out.
When, in thirty or forty years’ time, they do the inevitable documentary about the making of Up The Creek Without a Mullet, they won’t be able to visit Biblocafe and say that this is where most of it was written.
Neither will they be able to get a white hot chocolate with cream and no marshmallows. Come to think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen white hot chocolate served anywhere else since then.
I’ve been zipping about a fair amount this past week. I’ve been ambling around in Inverness…
…loitering between trains at Perth station…
…and exploring Glasgow at night.
The Glasgow visit was for an Explosions in the Sky gig on Monday night. It was my third time of seeing them and they were excellent. Beautiful, uplifting, energetic and powerful. The Texan post-rock outfit remain my favourite band right now. It was a great set, though to my mild surprise they didn’t play much of their most recent album, but with such a strong catalogue that was no loss.
The support was in the form of Lanterns on the Lake, a Sigur Ros-like outfit from Newcastle. I’d not heard of them but they were very good, and I’ll definitely be checking them out further.
Then on Wednesday night I was in Edinburgh overnight for work, and took the opportunity of a quiet evening to take some night shots from the top of Calton Hill. Being at a major spot overlooking the capital felt somehow apt on the day that the referendum consultation was launched.
It’s interesting times in Scotland these days.
See the whole upload of this week’s shots here on Flickr.
I spend a lot of time on trains. Too much, at times. I’m at the stage where I recognise train conductors, can recite stations along routes my most regular routes, and have often found myself at the whim of the vagaries and foibles of ScotRail. Mostly, to be fair, ScotRail does a good job, though its staff do let it (and passengers) down terribly at times, for instance by not having a clue how to get places or not checking whether passengers have all fully boarded.
One regular consequence of being on trains is the delays. Sometimes the weather, technical problems, staffing shortages or whatever else mean that trains can’t run, and I’ve had more than my fair share of replacement buses, freezing cold station platforms, late night replacement taxis and soul-sapping experiences at the life-void that is Perth railway station, which incidentally is home to The Worst Cafe In The World.
I’ve come to be philosophical about delays. There’s nothing you can do about them, except sit back, try enjoy your journey, and politely complain in writing later. And if you’re delayed by a certain length of time – as I all too often am – you can get part or all of your ticket reimbursed. I’ve obviously been unlucky in the past few months because I’ve found myself amassing about a hundred pounds of compensatory rail vouchers.
Much as compensation in the form of rail vouchers is like giving the victim of a botched tooth extraction the chance to have the rest of their healthy teeth extracted for free, I’m too much of a lover of travel to turn down the chance for free trips. And the vouchers will certainly come in useful.
In a couple of weeks, I’m going to Glasgow overnight to see Explosions in the Sky play – the third time I’ll have seen them live – and I’m very much looking forward to it. In April, I’ll be attending the joint Scottish and British Esperanto Congress in Edinburgh. Both will be all the more enjoyable for them costing me nothing in terms of train tickets.
Those trips will still leave plenty vouchers left, which will come in handy for another rail adventure I am planning. I am not sure when precisely it will be, but it will be this year, certainly. I want to get under the skin of my very regular Inverness-Edinburgh journey, by finding out more about the places I pass through with often the barest of glances, towns and villages I have mostly never been to. The plan, therefore, is to travel from home in Inverness to Edinburgh by rail, stopping for a minimum of two hours at every station. It will take me the best part of a week: though of course that doesn’t account for any delays…
I’ve always been interested in languages. It’s probably the single thing that most powerfully demonstrates human diversity and represents the gateway to understanding the world better. If there is one free skill I’d love to have for no effort in return, it would be fluency in one or more other languages. I am not fluent in anything other than English, sadly, though at school I studied Gaelic until second year (which was compulsory), German to Standard Grade and French to Higher, and narrowly chose not to do languages at university alongside Politics.
That said, I’ve always practised my French and German wherever possible, be it when travelling, hosting couchsurfers, or meeting or visiting French- or German-speaking friends. I’ve been complemented a number of times on my enthusiastic but faltering grasp of both, and I have been told that I’d be just a few months’ immersion away from fluency in either.
Yet something always niggled at the back of my mind regarding French and, especially, German: a dissatisfaction with unnecessary complexities. Such as rules that were broken so often as to be meaningless, complex rules of grammar that seemed to erect more barriers to effective communication than bridges, and the realisation that French and German suffered from geographical “weak spots” meaning their value as international languages was questionable.
And don’t get me started on gender and cases. I never understood quite why a noun needed to be masculine or feminine, or why adjectives or the word for “the” should change according to their place in the sentence. That’s one great thing about English, where we’ve more or less done away with these grammatical quirks that have their root – so to speak – in Latin.
Of course, English is not free of criticism on this front. It’s a widely-spoken and beautifully expressive language, yet one full of inconsistencies and absurd rules. Everything from the multiple ways of pronouncing “ough” to our odd plural rules (mice and men, but not hice and cen, for instance) presents a language that must seem immensely complicated to new learners.
And it’s not even as if English is the truly international language many claim it to be. Languages are a key tool for international travel and exploring other cultures, yet if you spoke only English I reckon you’d struggle somewhat across vast swathes of Russia, China, Latin America and the Arab-speaking world, four parts of the globe that will only become more important to us as they develop economically.
Of course, if you are a polyglot then you’re sorted. For instance, fluency in the six official languages of the United Nations – English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Arabic – will probably see you cover most of the planet with ease. But I daresay such an achievement would require a true gift for languages that few of us possess. And that’s the point that bugged me with French and German – why should you have to be “good at languages” to be good at languages?
This is where Esperanto comes in.
Created by a Polish doctor as an international auxiliary language in the late nineteenth century, Esperanto was designed to be a simple, easy and effective means of communication between different peoples, and I have been aware of its exstence for years. I possess a “Teach Yourself Esperanto” book I bought many years ago, but cannot remember where or when, and to be honest it has been virtually untouched as long as I have had it, largely due to a lack of motivation.
But the basic principle of the language – simplicity – has always appealed. I have been thinking a lot recently about languages, contemplating improving my French or German or else starting to learn a new one. Last month we went to France on holiday and on a whim I dusted down “Teach Yourself Esperanto” and took it with me.
Thanks to the freedom of a relatively lazy holiday, I made swift and satisfying progress. I then reinforced my knowledge upon my return with the multilingual Esperanto learning website lernu.net. I also made contact with other speakers, and this past Saturday I went to Glasgow for a study day organised by the Scottish Esperanto Association.
Meeting other speakers was always going to be a key litmus test for me. It would move the language from the page or computer screen into real live face to face interaction, and transform it from an abstract and solitary interest into a potentially living, dynamic means of communication. Would using Esperanto with other speakers for the very first time turn me from a fleeting enquirer to committed enthusiast?
The answer was an emphatic yes. Why? Why was I interested to start with, why did I enjoy getting stuck into it, and why am I going to stick at it?
The main answer to all those questions is that basic principle, simplicity. On a two week holiday I’d probably spent an average of an hour a day on the language, yet I’d managed in that time to learn the basic rules and concepts plus a modest, functional amount of vocabulary. In fact, doing some rough sums in my head I reckon I gained as much Esperanto in those dozen or so hours as the amount of French I knew after a year of secondary school. This echoes with some figures I’d read previously, that it takes a native English speaker ten times longer to learn another European language than Esperanto, and many more times longer to learn an unrelated language like Chinese.
This simplicity is based on the logical way in which the language was designed. There are no irregular verbs or exceptions to any grammatical rule, phonetics and spelling are simple, word order doesn’t matter that much, and patterns and consistency abound in every feature of the language. That makes for an incredibly satisfying learning experience, because when you learn a rule you know you’ll never be tripped up later by exceptions or quirks, and can apply the rules without limits, rapidly expanding your vocabulary and capability.
It helps, furthermore, that Esperanto’s vocabulary draws very heavily on that of Romance and Germanic languages, not least Latin, meaning that on first glance the language already feels somewhat familiar. You don’t need much language talent to be able to guess what “la hundo estas en la aŭto” means.
One obvious flaw of Esperanto is that there are not many speakers – the estimated two or three million speakers are scattered thinly and evenly throughout the world. But that’s not a barrier in an age of global travel and internet communication, and in any case it makes existing speakers all the more welcoming and supportive to new speakers, as I found to my delight at the study day on Saturday. Thanks to them, I already feel a part of a community.
In a relatively short space of time, Esperanto is, unlike any other language I’ve encountered, already proving a fun adventure. I might just blog about it – and perhaps even in it – as I go.
Last year I blogged a review of the excellent Max Brooks book World War Z. A documentary description of a fictitious future war against zombies, it was one of my favourite reads from last year and which, as I mentioned at the time, was to be turned into a film.
With part of the film set in Philadelphia, the search for somewhere that could play the part of that soft cheese-inspired American city began and, oddly, Glasgow was the winner. This is rather akin to the famous story of Charlie Chaplain once coming second in a Charlie Chaplain lookalike competition, though of course it also speaks of the financial incentives offered by Glasgow City Council.
I was in Glasgow for work from Wednesday until Sunday last week, and the event we were running was located just a short zombie shuffle from George Square, where the main centre of filming action was.
For many, the key draw was a chance to see the film’s star, Brad Pitt – though the closest any of our event’s participants got was a brief glimpse of one of his stunt doubles. For me, though, the appeal was the surreal and quite convincing way that Glasgow city centre was dressed up as an American city.
The attention to detail was impressive – everything from roadsigns and pedestrian crossings through to newspaper stands, cars and even tourist information signs. Such was Glasgow’s appeal with its grid system city centre and grand early twentieth century architecture that it was a good fit as an American city.
Our event was regularly interrupted with the sounds of gunfire and screaming from outside (and yes, the jokes about how Glasgow normally is were done to death), and at one point we were barred from leaving our building while the street outside was used for filming.
I managed to get a few photos of the streets, although not sadly when any filming was taking place. Take a peek at them on Flickr.
My scepticism about the film, explained in my post last year, remains, but it will be fun to watch it in order to spot bits of Glasgow that I recognise, and to remember that I was just metres away when those parts were being filmed.
It is, apparently, out in late 2012. If the zombies don’t rise up and kill us all first.
The new album by Explosions in the Sky came out earlier this week. It’s called “Take Care, Take Care, Take Care” and it is excellent.
There’s always a special thrill to a first listen of a new album by a favourite band. It has a reassuringly familiar sound but also exhiliratingly different and fresh – what are they going to come up with next? I had a couple of listens on my way down to Glasgow for work on Tuesday (hence the otherwise unrelated photo at the top of this post). In EITS’ case, they came up with a thoughtful, energetic almost mournful offering that is up to, if not beyond, their usual standard. It has only six tracks, but with all bar one coming in at over seven minutes, you’re certainly not short-changed.
The first track, Last Known Surroundings, is a beautiful intro, with a slow, tense almost stadium-rock build up that gives way to some almost ethereal, Sigur Ros-esque guitar noises and a rhythm that gives a pulsating spine to the song. The follow-up, Human Qualities, starts out as a brighter, sweeter waltzy tune (EITS’ best tracks, for some reason, are in my mind those that are in 3/3 time: I don’t know why, but that metre seems to give their music a rhythm that captures and draws you in especially strongly), at least to start with, switching over halfway through with a near-sinister break to a more edgy, atmospheric melody that builds to a frantic cruscendo. Then comes Trembling Hands, a short, catchy burst of energy; giving way to a more gentle tone in the fourth and track (Be Comfortable, Creature, and the particularly beautiful Postcards from 1952). The finale, Let Me Back In, starts unusually – it’s one of the rare EITS tracks to have a voice sample – but gives for a rousing finish to an excellent album.
The album creates a soundscape evocative of discovery, mystery, innocence, wanderlust and is a little more alive and upbeat than their previous albums – which of course are mostly brilliant in their own way and their 2003 album “The Earth Is Not A Cold, Dead Place is probably in my top three or four albums ever).
It’s good to know that EITS have the capacity to keep delivering after all these years, and I can’t wait to see them live in Edinburgh next month.