So here we are. Glasgow. A city en fete. Party central. Grey and a dollop or two of rain. It’s warm and perfect conditions for the marathon. I’m starting this post in bed in our hotel, set in the rolling acres of Strathclyde’s Country Park where the triathlon took place yesterday and on Thursday. The TV is on, breakfast calls and we have a day to absorb Glasgow’s atmosphere, which already feels tinglingly, tangibly tasty.
As we crossed the border near Gretna it started to rain. Welcome to Scotland. Thing is, nothing’s going to dampen anyone’s spirits and already I can see blue sky out of the window. So time for a pot of tea and the full Scottish. We’ll catch the train from Motherwell to the centre and start at the Hunterian museum (to allow the Textiliste a fix of one of her gods, Charles Rennie Mackintosh) and then the rugby. I will let you know how we get on later….
Later. A day of two halves. First up we drove into Motherwell – an unprepossessing dormitory for Glasgow. We didn’t linger but the impression is one of fighting a tide. People live here to be in Glasgow not to be in Motherwell. We joined the diaspora.
The train felt tired too, a vintage piece of rolling tock. But the people – ‘People make Glasgow’ is a slogan we see a lot – are as they were in London for 2012; smiley, open and helpful. Even if being called ‘Pal’ in a thick Glaswegian accent makes me shudder a little. Too much watching Trainspotting.
We headed across the centre to Partick – in passing, can I ask: is there a better place for quaint sports club names that football clubs in Scotland – ‘Partick Thistle’, ‘Queen of the South’. I can still remember how exotic they sounded when I listened to James Alexander Gordon read out the football scores on a Saturday while my Gran did the Pools.
From the station – more street art, this time sports based – we wandered into the University to visit the Hunterian museum. This is my sort of museum. A hotch potch of exhibits and ideas. I can get frustrated if I’m stuck with one thing. I dip in and out of displays. Here we had weird medical exhibits and a lot on the Antonine Wall about which I knew little but was an alternate to Hadrian’s attempts to keep back the tidal hordes of Picts and Scots. That was fascinating. Then it was bird’s nests, and native American clothes and gemstones and Robert Bruce’ tomb. It reminds me of the Horniman Museum, near where I live in South London. Both are worth a visit.
People like William Hunter, formidable medical mind and collector can be criticised for the way they sucked up antiquities and I do have a strongly ambivalent feeling towards things like the Elgin Marbles being kept in the British Museum. However I do recognise that, without the assiduous approach of Hunter and his like these treasures may well not exist today, and certainly not exist in a public space to be studied and enjoyed. I have talked before of Scotland’s contribution to the intellectual capital that grew out of the Enlightenment and this quote from Voltaire (no lover of the English!) tickled me.
After the museum it was across the road to the CR Mackintosh house that has been lovingly recreated in the University grounds. Sadly I couldn’t take photos. So I’ve tried photographing some postcards. Hmm. Anyway, the place didn’t disappoint. His simple lines and cunning use of colour with the occasional concession to the ornate through his use of gesso creates a sympathetic whole. These are homes on a human scale with humour and function and I could live there, easily. There were other delights in the Art gallery to which this is attached: the comprehensive Whistler collection, the Scottish Colourists and Glasgow boys. We could have stayed longer but for the half time whistle.
The second half was about to begin. A refuelling lunch and a trip on the subway (no tube or metro for Scotland) took us on the ‘inner’ to Ibrox. The underground feels sort of cramped. I didn’t bang my head but it did feel closed in and I was pleased to be outside. Not that ‘outside’ when wandering around the periphery of a British football club is much to write home about. Maybe it was the predominant blue, maybe the way the concourse rose up a slope towards the bland stadium, but Ibrox, home of the recuperating Rangers Football Club feels like going to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea. But whatever the colour, getting into a football ground is a pain. Lots of queuing and blank-eyed marshalling, police horses that look lovely at a distance, but when gobbing frothy spit at and crapping near you are anything but.
Inside you are struck by the masculinity of the place. It almost sweats testosterone. Sure, it ‘welcomes’ women – it has ladies after all but it’s easier to get lager than tea, they sell pies that fill rather than aim at nutrition and there is an absence of adornment – even a picture of past great players would be nice – which makes it feel rather soulless. We were early – too early probably – so we saw it without its make up on, as it were. It needed to be filled, to have the buzz of 45,000 people making one heck of a din.
They play these silly games to amuse the crowd. One is a decibel reader – we all roar and try and push it above 100. The compere gets us roaring three times. On the third we reach 109dB. Funnily enough, later in the evening we reach the same score. Hmm.
The other entertainment, between and even during games (at half time) is cheesy and rather fun. Kiss cam (thank heavens the Textiliste was left alone); air guitar cam, and Scottish highland fling cam. Rugby sevens seem to attract a lot of bananas, as well as Flintstones and nuns. The bananas are the best dancers. There’s a race inside a blow-up hamster wheel too (won by and Aussi – no surprise) and lots of communal singing – Delilah, Sweet Caroline, something from Grease and, rather repetitively, 500 miles from the Proclaimers – that chorus is such a bloody ear worm.
Oddly all this showbiz sits quite well with sevens. To me, an aficionado of the 15 a side game, sevens are a touch frothy, ephemeral (no, sport is not ephemeral – its war without the killing) but enjoyable occasionally. Like a Big Mac, without the inevitable indigestion.
We obviously hadn’t (no, I obviously hadn’t) read the programme because there were a fair few games, leading up to the semi finals when the medals were to be decided. Outside of the medal games my impressions were:
- Sri Lanka are a fun team with good skills but need a lot more bulk before they’ll make a noise seriously;
- England play too much by a script and so fail a lot more than they should;
- Wales and Scotland still seem content to beat the English than to succeed beyond them (they didn’t as it happens which was a shame – Stuart Hogg was my player of the tournament outside of the top four teams); and
- Kenya have a future with some money and coaching.
And then it became serious. The fripperies stopped, the Mexican waves disappeared and we gripped out seats. Australia could have beaten New Zealand but lost focus; Samoa lost all discipline so were easily picked off by South Africa. In the final it was pretty even until two of the be-dreadlocked South Africans ran riot. Power, pace and skill are a deadly combination and these guys had it. NZ do not give up easily but the best team won in the end.
The crowds were immense; on the way into the ground you are channelled like sausage meat; coming out you are given the width of several highways. We walked the couple of miles back to the station, caught our train and headed for bed just after midnight. Phew…
A sonnet for the Games
Ibrox is a gladiatorial bowl,
all edges and bricks and hard flat lines;
No feminine touch to gladden the soul.
Sport is no joke; to laugh is a crime.
We’re here for the finals – Who’ll rise? Who’ll fall?
We sit, squeezed on plastic, arms tucked in,
Eyes front as each team sets out its stall.
Breathe held, throat hoarse – oh, what a din!
And all in the hope that the man with the ball
will run and jink and dive for a try,
his mates high five. Opponents seem small,
knocked back by failure. They look to the sky
For some clue. And the gods merely retort:
‘Get over it. It’s the nature of sport.’