Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Return to the dear green place.

Friday morning I was up at 4am. I was heading off to Glasgow on the Megabus and it was to be a 9 hour journey from Victoria to Buchanan Street (not including getting to Victoria in the first place). I wasn't complaining though as the whole trip was only costing me £6.50 (£3 each way and a 50p administration charge) and I quite like sitting on public transport for hours. If I have drinks, snacks, something to read, and room to spread out. Which I did. I had the back seat all to myself. Luxury. Or the nearest a nine hour Megabus journey comes to it anyway.

I'd been invited up by my friends Dan and Misa who've been living there since the start of last year. I'd had a lovely time when I went up to see Dan last year (Misa was away) but Glasgow's a large city and, though I'd visited several times before, there's still plenty I'd not seen. I was also looking forward to having a few beers. I'd been on a self-enforced abstinence last time.

Dan kindly met me straight off the bus and we wandered through central Glasgow before meeting Misa in a Friday rush hour Central Station and taking the train a couple of stops south to Queen's Park. I was taken to Ranjit's Kitchen, an entirely vegetarian Indian café. As with all veggie places I licked my lips over the menu and cursed my luck that I couldn't have everything. What I did have was daal, sabji, and a couple of parathas. They were delicious and I believe Ranjit herself, a Sikh lady from the Jalandar district of the Panjab, cooked them herself.

From there we wandered down to the GLAD Café, catching up on news and gossip as we went, where I had my first alcoholic drink in Scotland since 2008. First a pint of Williams and then a Caesar Augustus or two. It was a lovely laid back place where you could hear yourself talk. Our main reason for being there though was for the live improv.

Saxophonist (and what a beast that sax was) Tony Bevan runs these sessions and he was joined by double bassist Adam Linson, guitarist Neil Davidson, and, most impressively of all, former AMM percussionist Eddie Prevost. I'd seen good improv before but this was possibly the best so far. Davidson coaxing soundscapes from his guitar with a scourer as Prevost was given ample time to indulge in drum solos that, oddly, weren't indulgent. The band played with no hierarchy and made great use of space but that's not to say they didn't occasionally increase the tempo and, in some places, really start rocking. I caught Dan looking rapt on more than one occasion.

After the gig we headed back to Anniesland (where Dan & Misa live, though not in the block of flats above). We had another early morning the next day so we needed to get our heads down.

Misa had wisely opted out of Dan's idea to walk up a mountain. A Munro no less. Bheinn Buidhe. We caught a 7am bus from Anniesland to the banks of Loch Fyne and walked for about two hours alongside the gently rolling Glen Flyne. I was debuting my new walking boots and I was very pleased I wasn't blistering as I went. My new waterproofs came in handy too as it was drizzling constantly.

After about two hours it was time to get off the flat and start heading up. At first the ascent was steep but manageable (we saw frogs, sheep, and deer) but soon it started to get trickier and trickier. Eventually I found myself in a position of absolute terror. I didn't mind the wet, the wind, or even slipping over in the mud and peat. I didn't however like the route we'd taken.

At times I was having to cling on to rocks and potentially loose tufts of grass to heave myself up on to the next ledge. I don't know how much danger I was in but I certainly felt in danger. If I'd slipped backwards it would not have been good. I was worried that one false move could have resulted in me plummeting to my death. This wasn't really what I'd signed up for and I told Dan in no uncertain terms. He apologised and we tried a different, safer route.

Still going up, but this time on our feet rather than hands and knees, we reached snow. Snow mixed in with sheep shit it turned out. Visibility was now very poor. You could see, maybe, 20 feet in front of your eyes. We had no idea if we'd reached the peak or not. We had no idea, in fact, where we were. I was starting to get worried. Dan was rather more phlegmatic and pragmatic. He stopped for a snack. He had a bag of soft prunes. I'd lost my appetite and, anyway, felt enough of a soft prune allowing myself to get into this fix.

I was concerned about how we were going to get down. Descent is usually trickier than ascent and the weather wasn't getting any better. There was supposed to be a ridge we could use but we couldn't find it. I was starting to consider ringing the emergency services. I'd rather the shame of being rescued by an air ambulance than whatever terrors may be ahead of us. This kind of thing doesn't happen on TADS walks!

I'll give Dan credit for this though. He kept plugging until he found a way down. We slowly, steadily, made our way down. Jumping over burns and rivulets, stepping in shit, and slipping over time after time. My walking boots had been well and truly broken in now.

The sun even lifted for a while. Back on flat earth I felt much happier. We only had another couple of hours to walk back to Loch Fyne where there'd been a hint, almost a promise, of a pint. It wouldn't have touched the sides. We saw fields full of deer and highland cattle stood in our path. I wouldn't fancy getting gorged by one of them.

After nine and a half hours walking we reached Loch Fyne too late for a drink. Dan popped into the brewery and got three bottles of Fyne ale for me, him, and Misa to have with dinner later. When the bus came I was very happy to be back in the world of the warm and dry - and to have some Internet coverage.

Back in Anniesland Misa had made us the most delicious of dinners. A wonderful salad of pea shoots, avocado, and tomato and some light, but super tasty, dumplings. I wasn't as bad with the chopsticks as Dan had suggested I might be either.

We all went to bed early and next morning I had a lovely lie in. Dan put on a film of Derek Jarman's visit to Avebury and we ate yoghurt and berries. It was what Sunday mornings are all about.

We headed out in to the city. At Stereo I had a mega tasty vegan quesadilla and a ginger beer. It was another entirely veggie place and another whose menu offered untold delights I'll probably never sample.

In all my previous visits to Glasgow I'd never really 'done' any of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh buildings before so I was pleased that my hosts took me to The Lighthouse (formerly the Glasgow Herald Building). After the previous day's exertions I was moving gingerly up the long spiral staircase but the views of the city afforded from its summit were worth the effort. I was surprised how low rise central Glasgow actually is. It seemed like a good place to be while there was an Old Firm derby taking place at Parkhead. It finished in a 1-1 draw thanks a late Rangers equaliser.

I was more interested in the architecture of Mackintosh and Alexander 'Greek' Thomson (whose work Dan described using the adjective 'heterodox'). I looked at some of Mackintosh's lovely chairs and admired some of the architectural models. It was illuminating that even in an establishment of such class the toilets had been graffitied with 'Fuck Tartan Tories'!

From The Lighthouse we headed over to the Gallery of Modern Art. Housed in a beautiful and spacious neoclassical building they were hosting a show dedicated to John Samson. Samson was a documentary maker and there were several films you could sit and watch. The beanbags provided were almost too comfortable but I particularly enjoyed the one about the young Eric Bristow and the one about rubber fetishists. The film about tattoos seemed odd coming from a time when illustrated skin was a sign of being an outsider rather than a sign of conformity. One guy had an erect penis inked in under his armpit. Dan told me the film about disabled sex was particularly interesting but I was unable to see that due to lack of headphones. One thing that linked them together was the amount of smoking going on. Man, people smoked a lot, and everywhere, in the seventies. I'm glad that's changed.

Leaving the gallery we took in Syd Shelton's Rock Against Racism photographs at the Street Level Photoworks. I'd seen his pictures of Misty in Roots, The Undertones, and Sham 69 before so, wonderful as they are, we didn't linger long. The sun had come out and Glasgow's more outre architecture was showing off. I'd never even seen the Trongate (second picture below) before but it looked like something more at home in Central Europe than Scotland.

I liked it. But probably not as much as I liked the ice cream at Crolla's. I had mint choc chip and Curly Wurly because I'm a child at heart. The first decent ice cream of the year seemed to mark the beginning of spring so we headed a few blocks further to Lios Mor whisky bar. I'm not a fan of whisky so I took a Tennant's as Dan & Misa both sipped a Scotch. There was a band playing jazz (mixed in with Estelle's American Boy!) and it was as busy as cliché might suggest a Glaswegian bar would be on a Sunday afternoon. The décor was gorgeous and I could've spent the entire afternoon in there getting slowly wasted.

Thankfully the curators of my weekend had different ideas. After a quick piss over the memory of those responsible for the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th century we headed back to Anniesland (via Morrison's for 'ingredients'). Dan made us a tasty pasta dish and we listened to Iancu Dumitrescu and World Domination Enterprises.

On the coach home yesterday, after another early start, I was able to reflect on a weekend that had been educational, fun, energising, and, at one point, downright bloody silly. Thanks to Misa and Dan for being such kind and generous hosts.

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