‘A husband is different to a boyfriend. A boyfriend can just go ‘bye bye’ and leave.’
‘Husbands do that too sometimes. It has been known.’
The run up was like this. I was talking about the weather and saying there was snow on the hills near the airport this morning. He replied that there was snow in his country as well. I asked where he was from. He said Armenia.
I asked how long he’d lived in Los Angeles. He said 25 years. I asked whether he liked it. He said ‘not so much’. I asked if he thought he would ever go back to Armenia. He said it was impossible, he has three children and six grandchildren now. It’s different when you have a family, he said. And anyway, he is used to America now.
‘Are you married?’…
The breeze comes through the window and blows dust into my eyes. I watch the street numbers increasing towards my destination. Bits of palm trees blow across the road.
He offers me some gum. I take it. Equilibrium is restored.
‘It’s not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation.’
Walter Benjamin [Arcades Project, N2a, 3]
Everything points to the crane. The crane, the regeneration workers tell us, is the focus of the development. The challenge is to link up the waterfront with the town. But private developers own a patch of land between the crane and the town. The deal was done during the boom and the developers were meant to build houses for sale. But this hasn’t happened and now the developers want to build a supermarket instead – which the regeneration people worry will suck people and money away from the town. For now, the crane stands on one corner of a big triangle of unused land containing only a pile of dirt that we are told just keeps getting moved around. At the far side of the triangle sits a further education college and a little further up the road, a small well-designed block of Housing Association flats. But because of the empty patch in the middle, none of these things fit together in the way that was anticipated. Standing on the top of the crane my stomach rises into my neck- it’s only when you are back on solid ground that you are aware of its slight motion. I shuffle around the edges of the jib, following the reassuring blue line that lies under the metal grid. Looking east, the Clyde twists around back to Glasgow. It is getting harder for these projects to the west of the city to access money as the Commonwealth Games have turned heads eastwards. Down below, the physical traces of ship-building are still written on the river, the slip where the QE2 was launched has been left in place. The developers gave the regeneration project the crane, but 4 million had to be spent on its renovation. Everything points to the crane.
In another town up the road is another remant of the industrial past, although this one is not restored. The whisky distillery stands with a patch of wasteland on one side and the river on the other. Across the river is ‘the rock’, popular with climbers and home of an under-promoted castle – the oldest fortified castle in Scotland, apparently. The ground that is wasteland and occupied by the distillery was meant to be covered in houses by now but the developers went into administration. The council want the distillery to be pulled down in order to create sightlines to the rock from the town. This ruin has not taken on the role of symbolising an inheritance, rather it is cast as a blotter-outter of views, the obstruction between the town and ‘real’ history. Looking across from the football ground towards the distillery, glowing orange, in front of the town and with a snow-covered Ben Lomond in the background, while listening to the aspirations of the regeneration workers for this place, pulling down the distillery seems not only like an act of vandalism but also at odds with their aspirations. They want to get the climbers to come and spend money and for tourists en route to Loch Lomond to stop by. The distillery looks like it could be converted into any number of things that could serve that purpose but maybe the issue is money rather than sightlines? We drive down a road that we are told is the success story, a private development of houses and flats, only the flats have declined 30% in value and have not proved popular.
The high street has a lot of vacant shops. One empty shop-front is mocked up as a deli. ‘It could be yours!’ promises the poster over the backdrop of pretend rows of olive oil.
Stomping over the bridge home and in a mood, I bump into my neighbour. He is off to post a birthday present and is pleased at finding just the right present for the right person. The wind is blowing and the weather can’t decide between sleet, rain and snow. I tell the neighbour that I am feeling grumpy. That a draft of a piece of work is going back and forth between me and a co-author and I am getting tired of looking at it. The neighbour recalls his friend, a designer from San Francisco, and how she was talking about how it used to cost twenty bucks to get a plan couriered across town. Since email, plans continually get sent back and forth and the process takes twice as long. Email, he reckons, has just made us lazy and less careful about what we send. I walk away thinking about this and how co-authoring would work if I was using the post. At the front door of my block I see another neighbour who asks me if I know what is going on with the recycling bins that have been full for over a week. He says he might do a run to the tip and if so he will take our rubbish too. We walk up the stairs. His partner and baby are standing by their door. The baby looks back at me with a face as equally grumpy as my own. His bib reads ‘I’m a baby, what’s your excuse?’ A fair point.
X AND ON THE 8TH DAY
GOD CREATED SCOTLAND
‘I like your jacket, is it new. You’re looking very tweedy.’ [Pause] ‘People will think you’re taking the piss!’ So said my friend* this afternoon
She has a point. As soon as I got the Glasgow job I started steering myself towards knitwear and trousers that looked like they should be striding across Glens. I’m a great believer in appropriate outfits but I did wonder, as I bought the skirt that to my mind was Mad Men meets Super Gran (Mad Gran?), if I might be overdoing it. For the record, no one dresses like Super Gran here. BUT charity shops do have the gear, that should you want to, would furnish you with something close to the look. Second hand shops are less Super Gran oriented but have a lot of chunky knits, duffel coats and anoraks. Suddenly these indie fashions make sense. They are practical adaptations to the climate.
There is nothing more predictable than moving to Glasgow and moaning about the weather but I will just say that I did not know how to dress for Scottish summer. I ended up wearing summer dresses and 30 denier tights the whole time, apart from that hot week back in May. At one point I even Googled ‘Glasgow summer clothes’ for some tips and found advice for travellers that said to bring warm clothes, waterproofs, a mosquito net, sensible shoes and ‘something glitzy for the weekend’. The last part is good advice. Adey pointed out that dressing for Scottish summer is like dressing for a festival, summer dress, cagoule, wellies.
Autumn, on the other hand, is much better. In London when autumn arrived I used to pile on the coat, the beret, the scarf and then get too hot. No such worries here.
*note, I have friends now!
The man is tall and thin and is wearing grey. He has big eyes that make babies stare at him and sideburns now often commented on, thanks to the success of Olympic cyclist Bradley Wiggins. He is staying in a flat for a few days but every time he leaves the flat or attempts to find his way back, he gets lost. He is staring at a map. He walks in a circle and returns to the map. This happens four times. A child scoots towards the man. The child is approximately 4 years old and is wearing a helmet, modelled on that of the police. ‘Are you lost?’ asks the child.
‘A bit’, says the man. ‘Are you?’
‘No, I know where I am.’
The child scoots away.