10th September 2011. Published in GUU’s magazine.
To understand a city, its people and its culture, viewing its behaviour in times of trouble and tormoil is a good start. When Glasgow experienced a man intent on blowing up our airport in 2008, Glasgow responded as only people in this city can. Witnesses described how the heightening flames ‘scooshed’ out of the vehicle. The attacker ran screaming towards a police officer, fully engulfed in flames. Then John Smeaton did what any brave lad out for a smoke would do: he smashed the burning terrorist in the face. ‘Ah saw him trying tae hit the police. And I thought ‘yer no doing that. They’re the police.’ John’s message to Al Quieda was clear and cutting: ‘Don’t come to Glasgow or we’ll set about you’.
That’s Glasgow. It’s harsh, gallent, pushy and loud. It’s a bubbling metropolis with character. Yet above and below the pub chatter lies a city bursting with diversity and beauty. It’s rough image is the fecade which masks a city rich in culture, architecture and life. This is a city renowned for its live music; for its museums, theatres and literature; and for its nightlife. There is no better place to begin a linguistic tour – a walk through in words – of the fair city than here in the West-end.
It is the setting with the university spire at its heart. Surrounding our commanding campus are a myriad of side lanes and cafes; Byres Road and sprawling parks; the river Kelvin and Alasdair Gray’s artwork. The West-end exists in a bubble. Students and suited professionals mingle in and out of the independent grocers and second hand book shops. In Ashton lane regulars sip cocktails under strung fairy lights and then wander off to fine restaurants or to snuggle into the sofas of the Grosvnor Cinema. If the sun ever peeks through, crowds gather to picnic on the grass of the Botanic Gardens and Kelvingrove. It’s all a bit bohemian basically.
Even Viper – the other westend club besides the Hive – creates a special sensation, at least for the fifthteen folk who can fit along the bar. Also along the Murano – Union route is Otago Lane which contains a trio of a record store, a book shop and a tea paradise. When added to the comfort and style of Gibson Street, the West-end can keep all fully entertained. Hidden close to the lesser populated Cairncross Halls are the 78 – home of quality food and live jazz – and the Isla Inn, which prefers a traditional Scottish rhythem. All in all, campus is encaved in exquisite escapes from studying. When venturing skyward up through the twelve library floors there are gaps amongst the blinds which set this scenes out before you studious gaze. The West-end awaits.
If this sounds blissful then thank your Shakespearian stars that you’re not at Strathclyde. Stuck in the city centre, this is a very different place. Suchiehall Street and Buchanan Street house the clone shops of all British high streets: here lies the habitat of McDonalds, Topshop and Poundland. The wide streets are filled with frantic shoppers, their plastic bags overflowing with all the iteams of your imagination. It could have been a rioters paradise; but it was probably raining. By 3 am the bags fill with chips and take-aways. The tracksuits and traffic jams transform to clubbing shirts and high heels. The standard of nighlife mirrors the diversity of Glasgow as a whole: there are a few mingers. ABC, subclub and arches have the most to dance about. At the centre of the centre stands a proud statue of Donald Dewar – the man who led the Scottish Parliament’s re-birth and a former President of the GUU. His statue faces southwards, towards Geroge Square and Jimmy Reid’s Clyde.
Few students follow the river further eastwards. They miss out. Glasgow’s East End suffers from an image problem in many minds, usually the minds of those who could not contemplate leaving the safe security of their middle-class mothers. (harsh joke for alliteration) There are problems of poverty and violence – like in certain parts of all major Western cities – yet interest exists. The Barras Market and Ballroom provide two quality service: as a monolithic mile of a car boot sale and as one of the greatest music venues in the country. Over the shoulder of the stall sales sits the giant Glasgow Green and the Peoples’ Palace museum – an open momunment to the social history of the city. This is Glasgow in an altered mode and a changing mode, as buildings arise here for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. It is a community of family traders and tobacco salesmen; of piping hot donuts and discount DVDs. If you admire difference and contrast, visit and explore. Students stuck within the safe shell of campus and its perimeter miss Glasgow at its most gallant and generous. This is the city of James Kelman, Tom Leonard and Edwin Morgan – who grapple with Glasgow’s spirit in words – as much as it is of Franz Ferdinand, Frightened Rabbit and Belle & Sebastien – who sybolise its sound.
In parts of Glasgow the claim of being a friendly, open, outgoing city are very much real. The atmosphere is one foreign to Edinburgh or London. The cold stare of hundreds of hurrying office staff is rarer in the essence of Glasgow. On the ‘Clockwork Orange’ – the Glasgow Underground – or a late night buss you are likely to hear a hilarious and pretty harmless ned or see a chattering and greying granny.
This dizzying array of places may be too much too soon. The first few weeks of University may take place mainly in the warmth of your hallway or lecture theatre. However as the years of your degree stretch to four or more, so do your opportunities to engross yourself in the city of Glasgow. Glasgow – the name being derived from the Gaelic for ‘dear green place’ – is trully a wonderful city of culture in which to live.