An American in Glasgow, caught in yet another downpour, which so far has occurred each day of the past two weeks, stops a little boy in the street.
"Pardon me, son, but does it ever stop raining here?"
"How should I know?", comes the reply. "I’m only four."
That joke, told to my wife and me by a Glaswegian, David Muir, pretty much sums up our experience. It rained every day of our one week stay, even on the odd day that started with glorious sunshine, or ended with it.
Not that rain would necessarily dampen the visitor’s spirits. Glasgow is an interesting and largely enjoyable place, full of pleasant surprises.
The first surprise for me was discovering that there was so much culture (museums, art galleries, architecture) and the people so pleasant. That sounds vaguely insulting, I know, and I also know that Glasgow won an international cultural award a few years ago, indicating a degree of cognitive dissonance on my part. So, allow me to explain myself.
Until this week, the closest I had knowingly come to Glasgow was on the London Underground, in my youth, when the last train home always seemed to have a resident Scotsman looking for a fight, the worst for drink, addressing every man as Jimmy. (When I said to Theo Kuechel, himself a Scotsman, that I’d assumed Glasgow would be full of drunken Scotsman he raised an eyebrow and simply replied, "Well it all depends what time of day you come here, Terry".)
So, what did I like about it? Well, although a certain type of rain can be unpleasant (low level, incessant, boring and, well, wet), and that is exactly the sort of rain that Glasgow has, the light after the rain has a particular quality to it. Look at these photographs here.
They were taken soon after rain, and they are the kind of photos that would look better as paintings. They make me want to take up painting again, as a hobby. I may discipline myself to paint these photos, and then photograph the paintings and publish them on Flickr, thus completing a circle.
I don’t know very much about architecture but, like many a plebeian art lover, I know what I like, and I liked the sweeping crescents and the grand houses that were now apartments, bedsits or offices.
I enjoyed the Kelvingrove Museum, where I took these pictures of heads, and where there are several rooms of art from different countries.
I also liked the café society-type feel of the place, which stems from the fact that there is an inordinate number of cafes, mostly populated by students (from Glasgow and Strathclyde universities). There was one café which proclaimed that it had free wi-fi, and you might think that that would be the one I would gravitate to. Not so. In the days before I decided to boycott Starbucks, my favourite branch was one where there was no wi-fi and no mobile phone signal, because it was the only place I could not be "got at".
We discovered the Biblocafe which, as its name suggests, is a café where books play a prominent part. Many bookshops have a café; Biblocafe is more a café with a bookshop. Or, to be more precise, a café where you can read books, and "buy" books with other books, and use cash if you insist. And guess what? No wi-fi.
If I lived in Glasgow, or were staying there for any length of time, I could see myself spending a fair amount of time in the Biblocafe. In the event, we went only twice. The first time we spent a pleasant hour or thereabouts talking to the owner, Lou, about the setting up of the café. The second time, we spent a pleasant hour or thereabouts reading and drinking coffee.
We also visited the Charles Rene Macintosh museum, a must for anyone interested in design, and the Imax cinema, where a 3D film of ocean life thrilled us.
A visit to the Hunter collection in the University of Glasgow left me cold, and the Hunter Art Gallery not much warmer. Still, the experience was lightened by being handed invitations to a roller disco by some students, meaning that either we look a lot younger than we think we look, or that Glasgow University students are born optimists.
Places we didn’t visit included the Transport Museum and the Science Centre. We had planned to "do" those after the educational event that formed the main purpose and focus of our trip, but by that time we wanted to relax, which we did by browsing in bookshops and ambling along, and visiting the Botanical Gardens (twice).
We walked a lot. More, as Elaine observed, than we would where we live. I’m not sure why that was, especially since, like an Escher print, everywhere we went seemed to involve climbing hills or climbing stairs -- in both directions. Maybe it was because the guide book we had, which mentioned Ian Rankin and the Rebus novels a lot, seemed to be a work of fiction in itself. It was easier to work out where we were if we walked, than if we went by bus.
We also visited the new BBC building, and had a guided tour, by accident. Unbeknown to us, the building was just a few days from being officially opened (by the Prime Minister), and we passed it on our way to the Science Centre. It was pretty interesting, and we enjoyed the Doctor Who theme of the foyer.
Would we go again? Probably. But we’d fly, I think. Travelling by train is interminable, although there was some compensation: passing through the Lake District. There is nothing quite like the Lakeland landscape to make one feel that, somewhere at least, all is well with the world.