I was in Glasgow City Centre at the weekend for the annual Doors Open Day when many of the cities public buildings, some normally out of bounds to ordinary citizens, are free to enter and explore.
The last time I went into the city centre properly for a walk around, other than to catch a train or bus straight out again to a destination elsewhere, was probably the last doors open day I attended, two years ago in September 2011.
There is a good reason why I mention this.
It was a day of mixed emotions, some surprising highs and some unexpected lows with everything thrown in for good measure in-between which is why this post will be a schizophrenic hybrid, just like the day itself.
The photographs are large and all are worth clicking full screen.
The first discovery was a low. I phoned up to book a tour through the tunnels under the main Central Station only to find all the places for both Saturday and Sunday were already gone. Bugger! I noticed from this years free guide booklet many of the new building additions to the list were advance booking only, an annoying trend that seems to be creeping in more as the event gains popularity.
The first high came ironically at near enough the same place. This is the Central Station as well but taken in the underpass tunnel called the Broomielaw where the stations trains run over the road creating a dark wide cavern beside the River Clyde between the King George the V bridge and Glasgow Bridge. It is busy with rush hour traffic during the day and empty at night.
A good spooky place to have a collection of eye-catching individuals.
An unexpected array of street art and something that cheered me up after the disappointment of the tunnel knockback.
I used to travel back this way to the bus stop and kebab shop when the club I was in frequented the city centre pubs and I can imagine this row of heads being fairly creepy late at night in what is usually a dark, isolated area in the evenings. Art imitating life. I've met more than my fair share of similar looking folk travelling back on the late night bus from the city. I probably looked like that myself with spicy doner kebab sauce dripping from a half munched meal as I weaved happily up to the stop. I normally had time to finish it before the bus arrived. If not I saved it for the house and watched the New Avengers on TV, which was usually on around midnight for some reason.
I soon discovered this was not a lone project as just around the corner I noticed this mural in nearby Mitchell Street (lane). I began to suspect something was afoot and this was confirmed in Ingram street further up near George Square where parts of Brad Pitt's World war Z was filmed. At the same time Halle Berry was filming Cloud Atlas a few streets away and Scarlett Johansson was freezing her calories off up in Glencoe, Greenock and Wishaw. Early reviews I've read of all three suggest that Scarlett may have produced the most critically acclaimed film of the bunch although I've not seen any of these films myself yet. (Under the Skin.)
I posted about that visit on Open Doors, Churches and Mad Actresses. 22 March 2012 on this blog. Well worth a read if only for a laugh. Sorry S. I never doubted you for a moment :)
Ingram Street was even better. A large Four Seasons mural in a car park taking up one large back wall. I wasn't even in town for the art work and knew nothing about it so this was a real surprise and a delight. I was actually in Ingram street to visit the Ramshorn Church nearby as part of the Doors Open Day. This looks like Summer above.
Spring.(bluebells and opening flowers)
Winter. Yes, I know, but they are not in sequential order on the wall either.
There were more new murals down on the Clydeside near Stockwell Street. A diver under the Clyde.
This is maybe a souvenir Dalek that fell out of Karen Gillian's suitcase into the river as she packed her bags and waved goodbye to TV here before jetting off to Hollywood stardom and bigger budgets. (What do you mean you didn't know they were only three inches tall.)
Swimming elephants catching fish in the clear waters of the Clyde. And why not?
Now the schizophrenic bit. Although I really enjoyed my walk around the city centre due to all these fantastic new murals and some old favourites like the one above I couldn't help notice the difference from when I did a similar walk two September's ago. Then the Europe wide recession didn't seem to mean much as it was a sunny day, several Hollywood A listers were making major movies in Glasgow and it was all rather exciting and fresh.
Two years on it may have been just the fact that it was a dull day but the vibe seemed entirely different somehow.
Away from the colourful murals, which are great and a real improvement, outside the famous network of streets that make up the so called Style Mile of shops: Buchanan Street; Argyle Street and Sauchiehall Street etc., Glasgow city centre seemed tired, sordid and neglected. Wandering around the lesser shopping streets I lost count of the number of small business units lying empty with 'to let' signs up. It was mainly shops whose goods could be just as easily purchased over the internet. Many of the buildings themselves in the city centre looked shabby and unmaintained. Some were getting knocked down. New ones were springing up but the place still looked dejected. The government's Austerity Programme is definitely working as Glasgow that day to me felt undeniably austere and I initially arrived off the bus in a positive mood and frame of mind. A corpse with bright make up on came unbidden into my thoughts. Not exactly the image you want for the Commonwealth Games 2014 but that was my honest impression of the place. I normally see the best in cities as I like living in one but I would be interested to hear anyone else's impression of Britain's city centres recently, and in particular, Glasgow. Just from a visual point of view the on-going recession and changing shopping methods seems to be biting hard. If there are any green shoots visible here they are in the murals. I could now understand the reason for so many scattered around. There are others I haven't had room for here. Same idea as with empty shops in malls. Paint a picture on the hoarding then maybe it will not look so bad. Nothing against the artists or the murals. They look fantastic and I'm all for more. Like changing wallpaper in a house they help to lift the spirits and freshen things up. Maybe it's just me and the result of a strange surreal day but after I'd wandered around for a few hours I was quite glad to get back to my clean suburban bubble again. Compared to the city centre a council scheme on the outskirts suddenly seemed upmarket.
Ironically, the only outlets off the main shopping grid that seemed to be still doing well (i.e. Open, at least) is what I would term 'The Hedonistic Sector.' Pubs, bars, restaurants, nail bars, beauty parlours, hair stylists, Games and graphic models shops, tattoo parlours and legal high shops. Hard to tell with these how well they are doing with so many fighting for custom. Some people obviously have money to spend but I also noticed a sizable chunk of the central district floating population seemed to be, for want of a better word, the underclass. A lot of folk begging in the streets, several with razor slashes on their faces from recent attacks, a teenage girl throwing up copiously, out of her face on something or other and obviously burdened with mental problems as well. In fact a lot of folk seemed to have troubles of one sort or another. Even on the bus in and out of the city centre on a Saturday late morning and again late afternoon I was aware it was mainly old folk that couldn't drive, still clinging to the old routines of yesteryear by going into town on a Saturday; folk that didn't have a car for one reason or another; and ethnic minorities who would probably get a car as soon as they could.
I know this is a sweeping statement but it's formed from a dozen similar journeys over the last year on buses bound for the city centre to go somewhere else.
Unless you work in the centre of Glasgow, or go in Fri Sat night for the nightlife and venues, there is no real reason nowadays to ever go near the place. Most families have cars, rarely use buses, and have little cause to go near the central district during the day. They do their weekend shopping mostly in out of town retail parks on the outskirts where they live and where they can get everything under one roof. It's easier and quicker so why not.? Why does this even matter I hear you ask?
Which brings us to Detroit. I watched Julien Temple's fascinating documentary recently 'Requiem For Detroit?' and it held some interesting clues about the future growth of all western cities. Could the same thing happen here?
Obviously Detroit was a special case, being so dependant on the prosperity of the American car industry for its own continued success. When it failed Detroit failed with it but what struck me was that large areas of that city, once the 4th largest in America and the jewel of the Midwest, were unaware for a long time of how bad things really were. They never went into the city centre district unless they had to. They did all their shopping in outlying retail parks and stayed in their suburban bubble on the outskirts most of the time. Sound familiar? America has always been roughly 20 years ahead of us in living trends.
This isn't Detroit by the way. This is a neglected part of Glasgow in 2013. One not easily seen by a large section of the public but it's there. If you let British city centres die because we no longer value them who knows what might happen to the outskirts after they are gone. Can a large city survive without a beating heart at its core? Probably. Detroit looks as if it's slowly, painfully, evolving into several smaller, more manageable communities not reliant on one industry. As the countryside reclaims areas of the city some have taken up farming and crop production again. Just a cautionary thought then.
Incidentally, I was far happier and uplifted in this environment, my urban explorer kicking in. Tellingly, maybe that was because there were no people around. Only ruins and nature slowly reclaiming the city. Surprising amount of birdlife here, none of them throwing up near me.
( I ain't afraid of no Ghosts, only the living.)
Here's hoping the Commonwealth Games brings a bit of magic and sparkle back into Glasgow's inner districts. We need a boost of feel good factor here as judging from my experience of Saturday's visit a lot of people are finding it tough out there.
By the way I've got rid of some of the older, no longer updated, blogs on my blogs list and added two
new ones I've followed for a while. Andamento and Street Art Utopia. Both are full of colourful photography and creative artistic ideas. Worth a visit.
Update. After two years hard graft in a locked room I have completed my new novel. Autohighography by Bob Law. It is part autohighography, part novel, part travel guide, and part unusual love story. A humorous tale set in Glasgow and stunning areas of Scotland including Arran, Arrochar, Loch Lomond, Skye, and many others well off the beaten track. A tale of a Glasgow hill walking club and their exploits, love affairs ( or lack of them) holidays and adventures on the high seas, in caves and tunnels, crossing mountains and exploring remote islands. you can read the first couple of chapters for free by clicking on this link. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Autohighography-A-Tale-Summits-Sinners-ebook/dp/B00JNAIGAO/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1397745985&sr=1-1&keywords=autohighography.+bob+law
All chapters are fully illustrated with colour photographs of Scottish landscapes and mountains described in the book which is available in full for £1.85 to download. Cheaper than a scratch card but better odds of a surprise or a laugh once opened.