Iain and I left York late afternoon, for Glasgow, with ample time to catch our train, which arrived already heaving with passengers, all eager to make their weekend getaways. Even the floor space that linked the carriages was occupied. Five or so 18 year olds crowded the space aside our carriage, bellowing vulgar rhymes. They transported packs of tall Stella cans through the carriage, intermittently, as if on a one way conveyor belt. The hours went by, inspiration brewed, they produced a guitar and rich harmonies echoed through the carriage. Brash as they were, their clear voices sung with fervour, reflecting my own excitement for my first Glaswegian weekend.
We settled in quickly at our hostel with a Tennant’s lager, brewed locally, and found our way to the part of the West End favoured by students. Lured in by the Friday night music, we entered a clubby kind of bar, where a dreadlocked DJ enticed his crowd. Wandering through an archway led us to an altogether different scene, a vibrant and well-kept pub adjoining its sister club. Feeling more at home on this side, we watched the commonplace pub bustle. Its young crowd created a different feel to the London counterparts I had frequented. The guy sitting alongside us at the bar counter started chatting, almost instantly, asking where we were from, making small talk. ‘Fuck England’ was emblazoned across his chest in red. The unspoken borders we had crossed became ever more clear.
Charles Tennent, the brewer of Scotland’s all-pervading lager, is buried in Glasgow’s necropolis, which we visited the next day. His statue, slumped over as if drunk, draws attention to his tombstone, which towers above the many Victorian headstones. Beneath the hill, the city’s gothic cathedral gleamed in the faltering sunlight, amidst the grey, grimy cityscape.
Back at the Bluesky Hostel (surely named in irony, as blue skies are rare in Glasgow), we collided with a Yorkshire couple in the communal kitchen, also awaiting their turn to cook in the matchbox sized kitchen. We agreed to share a stovetop, and soon got talking. They were stopping in Glasgow en route to an island in the Outer Hebrides, some five hours’ ferry ride from Oban, and like us, were keen on a fun, Scottish night.
We all made our way to a pub where a traditional folk band was reputed to play. Unfortunately, it was screening the football. We left and stumbled across The Park, a pub further along the same road where festive tunes were piped into earshot. Two men were at the heart of these melodies, one sang and strummed the guitar, the other ambidextrously manoeuvred an accordion, as we stared in disbelief. He managed to occupy both of his hands, one by playing a kind of keyboard, the other by pressing a series of small black buttons, squeezing the harpsichord gradually in and out all the while. The harmonies seemed alive, as if they had jumped out of their instruments, and were weaving their way through the crowd, enticing every foot to tap along.
The pub was heaving with a mishmash of people. Young girls dolled up to the nines, middle aged male drinkers, elderly parents joining their offspring for a Saturday night jaunt. A group of six or so women in their thirties caught my eye, flashing red lights and pink sashes stating “bridesmaid” draped over their matronly bodies. They all wore varying shades of pink, mostly with jeans, and had made it their duty to ensure that their best friend, the future bride, would remember this night forever. She, too, wore a pink sash, adorned with ‘Bride-to-be’, and various badges flashing her fated title pinned all over her buxom upper half. As the evening progressed and the bar suffered a serious depletion of alcopops, their dancing became more enthused and the squeaking of the floorboards became louder. Many of the women partook in some of the more popular Scottish jigs, knowing each step from years of drilling at school. The sense of shared tradition was enviable.
The next day, we walked along Buchanan Street, a wide pedestrianised street of shoppers, browsers and trendsetters. We had passed the Gallery of Modern Art the day before and decided to have a quick look this time. I’ve visited several modern art galleries and know how obscure they can seem, so I didn’t expect too much. The sculpture section, which housed a variety of unique works was impressive. One such creation was a pristinely constructed trampoline frame of shiny silver steel, only, instead of the usual canvas strip strung across the centre, there was a thick sheet of glass. One only had to walk past it to be forced into response.
Later that afternoon, we headed for what became the highlight of my time in Glasgow, a jazz and pale ale festival at The Three Judges. We walked to the station closest to the hostel and tentatively asked the ticket officer which stop he would recommend, showing him our destination on a map. He asked where exactly we were headed, so we mentioned The Three Judges pub. “Oh aye, ‘tis a good pub”, he assured us, and promptly began drawing a path for us to follow directly onto our own battered map. An unfamiliar act of bureaucratic kindness.
The venue was pumping, packed mostly with locals. We queued at the bar to begin making our way through the many brands of ale on offer. Our favourite was, no contest, the deliciously fruity and smooth Phoenix West Country Pale Ale. A few pints later, the brass band picked up its pace, playing New Orleans style jazz that makes you want to jump up and fling yourself around, as certain patrons had begun to do. We watched, awed by the vibrancy we had stumbled across in Glasgow’s grimy corners. And, sipping my pint, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
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