Friday, 13 February 2009

Pleasure or Pain on Scottish Hill

After two days of blue skies, Working Man and I hustled up to Glencoe for day of Scottish snow. The forecast didn’t look too bad, but we knew were bound to get loads of ‘you should have been here yesterday’; cloudy in the morning, possibly with a touch of snow, and sunny spells in the afternoon. That would do us fine.

Up early doors, I jammed my stuff into the Working Man’s motor and we were off. The usual weather stress was in full effect - how good could it be? The clouds around Loch Lomond, looked, within the space of minutes like they could be dumping snow, that the visibility could be zero, that it could be a just low lying band, that it could be…

We arrived to gentle fluttering snow on the carpark. After being relieved of 30 quid and wading through manky bog juice to use the one loo with paper, we made our up the hill.

Into the cloud.

The visibility wasn’t bad and the fresh snow made everything soft and fun. My stiff legs got a bit more rubbery after a couple of runs. The sides and just off piste were filled with fluffy mounds of delight. Half an hour later, the snow turned to rain. And the wind, I’d forgotten to mention the wind. Three runs later and we retreated back to the car. Big Man took tested the route down to the carpark, I took the lift.

While he waited for me, Woking Man inspected the gouge he’d picked up just above the carpark. We tucked into sandwiches and flasks of tea and coffee and talked about how wet we were. Soaked to the skin.

Too soaked not to go back for some more.

On the lift back up, the wind whipped the rain into places we didn’t know were dry. Once we’d dismounted we found the light varied from poor to worse, but quieter areas of the slopes seemed almost unaffected by the rain and stayed soft and fast.

At the start and end of lifts and tows, people queued, grim faced and mading tight-lipped jokes amongst their small groups. One unhappy chappy was forcing himself up the lift, “Bloody murder man,” he called to me as we stood in the line, then pulled his soaking rain-and-breath-juice sodden scarf back over his nose and mouth. A sudden, icy gust blew the wet scarf into a mask that looked like it had been vacuumed-packed to his face. He looked like a fleecy, frozen Han Solo.

It was truly tortuous, the mountain was depriving us of our senses, we were being subjected to extreme temperatures, I had seen Han Solo being waterboarded. There was a skier in an orange all-in-one. We were in Glen-Guatamo.

We stuck it out until the back of three o’clock, then retreated back to the warmth of the car via a final soaking on the chair-lift, which could be mistaken at times for a log flume. The quickest of quick changes, and a final wade to the loo, and we were off. Working Man had neglected to bring dry trousers and was driving in a pair of wet canvas shorts. We were making good time when Working Man mentioned that he hadn’t noticed my boots in the boot. Instantly I knew the sequence of events: on the edge of the car seat; pulling off my boots; leave them outside; swing legs into car; pull door closed to keep out the draft; out of snowboarding trousers and long johns; into dry travelling strides; put on dry shirt, Working Man drives us to the midden. Boots sitting alone, outside.

Working Man launches into mission mode and we head back to the Misty Mountain. We were further away than we thought. Quite a lot further. Just over an hour after we left we returned to the rainy carpark. We drove slowly along the diminished population of cars. No boots. Reception, we agreed, then Working Man came up trumps again.

Half-tucked under the side of a Merc were my boots. Had somebody thoughtfully put themout of the rain? I hopped out to rescue my abandoned footwear, and a chubby fella get changed two cars along called, ‘They’re yours are they? Five more minutes I was having them.’

Cheers, I replied.

Working Man dropped me at my door, and I hauled myself and my wet gear up to the flat and lying in a hot, hot bath, reflecting that for all its pain Scottish snowboarding is still a pleasure.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Monday, 12 January 2009

‘Wayward’ Royal Racist at It Again

Reports have filled the British press about how the third in line to the British crown (god help us) has been exposed (again) as a casual racist. A chip off the old bock you might think. After all, Prince Philip has been insulting Johnny Foreigner for years.

Now, I’m neither a geneticist nor a cryptographer, but it would appear to most sane outsiders that Harry shares no genetic material with his father, (the link to the silly-seat) or the rest of the Germans-in-residence at Buck House. He’s ginger (not a notable royal trait like insanity and appeasement) and rather resembles a certain ex-cavalry major known to have dallied with Diana. There’s also a clue in the offspring’s names; William (W for Windsor) Harry (H for Hewitt). I promise I’m not some sort of paranoid nut who sees patterns everywhere, but…

But back to the undeniable facts: in one report (the Sundays all become a bit of a blur after the sixty-seventh page) the palace possibly said that the cadet Harry had referred to as “Our little Paki friend,” had possibly instigated this ‘nickname’. Really?

I grew up during the 70’s - a decade renowned for its touchy-feely approach to race relations; if you weren’t white, the National Front tried to touch you with a housebrick, and the police tried to feel your collar. But during those halcyon days of race relations I don’t recall anyone introducing themselves as, “Hi, I’m Delroy. But please, call me sambo,” or “I was christened Seamus, but I’d much rather you called me murderous feinian bog-trotter,” or “Hello I’m Serinder, but you can call me curry-face.” (Start your own list, it’s not as much fun as you think, and you’ll feel dirty afterwards.) But maybe I hung out with the wrong people, the Oswalds, the Harrys and the Aldolfs.

The Palace’s (es’ses’s how many have these people got?) have attempted to gloss over Harry’s boor-ish behaviour with the understanding message that, “There is no question that Prince Harry was in any way seeking to insult his friend." This utter codswallop was undermined by Ahmed Raza Khan’s family saying, “At no time did he tell us he was called Paki, or that he was a good friend of Prince Harry.” Although having been forced into close proximity with the flame-haired-freeloading-failure and listening to his witless banter, Khan probably found chatting to his family about cleaning his boots and sticking burning bog-roll up his bum far more edifying.

The Palace(es’ses’s) kept on digging into the shit-swamp with the stunningly stupid, “When people see the film, they will realise immediately that his remarks were light-hearted and not malicious in any way at all.”

“Institutionnellement raciste nous?”

Or as Grampa Phil and bastard Harry would probably say, “Piss off back to Frog-land you garlicky twat.”

Ooops, how did that get there?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Scotland's Homecoming 2009, A Headstart

Where should one go to experience real Glaswegian society: the theatres, the opera, the art galleries?

Be honest: fighting, drinking, swearing are what are truly associated with the one-time City of Culture, and the city’s Sheriff Court is the best place to commune with the Petri dish of life.

Sitting at 1 Carlton Place on the south bank of the Clyde, within easy reach of Argyle St station, the court was designed by architects Keppie Henderson, the Assistant Estates Manager informed me, and was opened in 1986 (despite what it says on the plaque at the entrance) and is a Brutalist monolith in the Northern European style. The interior reflects the exterior – stark straight lines and harsh angles made of polished Derbyshire sandstone – this is a building that screams authority.

That authority introduces itself at the front door: airport style security manned and ladied by uniformed guards who are either smiling and friendly or frowning and foul. Don’t let them put you off; the happy women on reception will see you right. I was chatted through what was happening in the busiest courts in Western Europe. The most exciting sounded like the custody court (arraignment court to you fans of Boston Legal).

Once I settled myself into the public gallery, I really began to take notice of those passing through the dock. The accused had all been held in police custody the previous night, and their clothes told a story in themselves. One lad, dressed in shirt and smart trousers, with a black eye and swollen lip, had been arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct in the city’s Sauchiehaull St. He was bailed. The next chap had been arrested for carrying heroin in Rutherglen, and was wearing a torn, dirty shell suit and looked like he hadn’t slept a wink. He was remanded in custody and looked relieved to hear it. The cases are dealt with quickly and promptly: the Sheriff scans the paperwork while listening to the prosecution, the accused’s solicitor then has his say, mitigating his client’s alleged actions. The Sheriff then makes his decision – bail to return to court, or off to the gaol to await trial. All life passes by: drug dealers and users, thieves, burglars, drunk drivers and a graffiti artist. It can all become a blur.

To revive myself, I decide it was time for a bite to eat. The basement canteen is spartan, although on this cold, crisp day, the tables at the window offer a great view of the riverside development on the North bank of the Clyde and the Catholic Cathedral. Despite the Healthy Living Awards posters, the menu is strictly traditional Glaswegian: chips, beans, pasties battered fish and sausages; and for dessert - crisps and chocolate. In the canteen everyone seems to be a bit more relaxed. This is the place to see the accused (those not held in one of the more than two hundred cells) and their families. Tender moments between mothers and sons (the few fathers appear to abide by a strict rule of showing that they care by giving their sons cigarettes) everyone becomes real. They become our neighbours, commuters who we share a carriage with, people we share looks of exasperation with in long, pointless queues. Normal people in difficult circumstances.

Other than food, another vital function is toileting, as my mother-in-law says; ‘never pass a loo, you never know when the next one will come along.’ The Sheriff Court is well supplied. I can only vouch for the gents but they are clean, although the odour of ammonia can bring tears to the eyes of the unprepared. The stalls offer an insight into the past proceedings of the courts: ‘Jamesy is a grass’, ‘Campbell is a nonce’ and: ‘****** Hill gives the best head in the Bar-L’ are some of the literary works that mean any visitor to the Glasgow Sheriff Court can save space in their bag where a book would have dwelt.

All in all, the Sheriff Court offers the visitor to Glasgow a view of the city that few non-residents get to see. The people who pass through the court system are there for a number of reasons: they’re mad, bad, stupid or unfortunate. But you, the visitor, should never forget you are privileged. Your destiny is in your hands, like the tricoteuses knitting at the guillotine, you can choose to go home at the end of the day.

If this is all too real, try visiting this amazing building during its annual open day, usually the first Saturday in September, details available via the Glasgow Building Preservation Society. But beware, this is the time that you risk the chance, however slim, of bumping into Sir Sean or any number of the other tartan-to-the-core exiles back visiting the country where their hearts lay, while their bodies and bank balances reside in sunnier climes.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Not so much Artistic but Autistic

Near the Tamazepam and super-cider infused heart of our shabby-chic area is a council owned designer art space with an attached café. That should read – for its number of attendees – a café with art space attached (I know that you know I was going to write that) where the local yummy-mummies and their Howies-clad Finlays and Foccacias frolic and gambol gaily.

In this designer middle-class oasis where Edwina and Mhari sip skinny mocha-pocca-chinos and nibble on organic carrot-cake, they sit secure in the knowledge that appreciation of art and design can enhance their lives and lives of their little treasures.

This enclave of harmony and beauty is surrounded by an area significantly populated by the chemically coshed and unassimilated, unenfranchised immigrants.

These preening parents are a symptom of - and creating an entrenched - class who believe they are artistic but who are truly autistic.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Cold can Kill

There used to be two old boys who wandered the streets around here. They were part of the street scene, shuffling around a small orbit of a quarter mile.

Southside’s Vladimir and Estragon - threadbare macs, battered trilby hats, dirty, stained trousers held up by string and second hand shoes worn without socks.

They were a pair - a couple matched in their style of dress and mannerisms. They collected cigarette ends; their shaking, brown-stained fingers grasped up likely looking butts to be deposited in filth-edged pockets for later. The couple carried themselves with dignity, maybe not dignity, but an aloofness that defied their decrepitude. The local kids, the wannabe gangsters and members of the young team steered well clear of what would ordinarily be an easy target. Since moving here I have always thought that it was their very scaberousness that acted as a shield.

The pair leaning against the wall of the local lowlife boozer, sharing a packet of Mayfair, a blue plastic bag stretched around a bottle of sherry or Buckfast denoted pay day.

Like Beckett’s Boys they seemed to be waiting, but it’s clear what they were waiting for: a one way trip to the Infirmary. Clean linen, hospital food that will go cold and congeal without being touched, the disdain of pressed and fragrant nurses, a clean sheet for a shroud, followed by a cheap pine box.

But now there’s only one.

Is it Vladimir, or is it Estragon?

I don't know, I never asked their names.

After a brief absence, the remainder still wanders the same route. For a few days each fortnight he still clutches his blue offie bag. He still gathers the butts. He still waits.

After this particularly cold snap I wonder whether our little area will lose another part of the scenery.