Glasgow: The Good and the Gritty

20 Nov

November 2016
I’ve been a fan of Billy Connolly since the 80s. He had me from the moment he described fly fishing for salmon Glaswegian style, ‘nutting’ (heading) them while wearing a crash helmet as the fish swam upstream. Yes, he is irredeemably irreligious, scatalogical and incorrect on every level, but he’s a brilliant, funny bastard. And a proud son of Glasgow.

From the crushing poverty of the tenements, where Billy grew up, to bustling port city, to shipbuilding mecca, to European City of Culture 1999 – the transformation of Glasgow has been stunning.


Our first family trip to Glasgow many Xmases ago was a pilgrimage to the launching pad of the band Travis (Cameron was a huge fan). Tristan loves to tell the story that because he was underage we sent him back to the hotel alone and proceeded to have a grand time in the club without him. Bad parenting but in our defence Tris was 12!


On New Year’s Eve snow and sleet drove us into a downtown cinema. I can’t recall the ‘family’ movie’s title, but I remember with clarity the yobbos in the back row drinking lager, talking over the dialogue and tossing their empty cans down the aisle. Shushing might work in other cities but not in Glasgow.


We kept our expectations in check this time and booked into a Merchant City airbnb apartment in Albion Street opposite the BBC Symphony Hall. It’s a short walk from Central Station.

Early winter in Glasgow is equal parts sunshine dancing on autumn leaves and sudden drenching, chilly rain.


Merchant City was a good base for walking the city. The grand shopping precinct around Buchanan Street, the vast expanse of Glasgow Green and the grandeur of The People’s Palace are all easily accessible.

When we discovered, standing on the National Trust’s doorstep, that its Tenement House Museum was closed until April, we contented ourselves with the one room home recreated in The People’s Palace. It looked cosy and not unlike a studio apartment, but when you consider that up to ten people would have lived there, and the stair toilet was shared by many such families, the attraction waned.

Amongst the sociocultural exhibitions themed around alcohol abuse, cartoons, and universal suffrage a TV played clips of Glaswegian comedians on a loop. And there was ‘The Big Yin’, playing banjo and telling gutbustingly funny stories.


As much as seeing the built environment and the imaginative street art, I enjoyed Glasgow’s food scene, typified by the restaurant, bars and cafes in the old covered market. With a different regional Indian restaurant on every block and Italian trattorias and osterias clustered around our apartment we ate exceptionally well.

Now I come to a big black mark against Glasgow. Tobacco has been synonymous with Glasgow since the Tobacco Lords shipped it in from the American colonies in the 18th century, but I’d expected that in keeping with the general trend towards reduced public consumption of tobacco products Glaswegians might have cut down on smoking. Far from it. People of all ages walk the streets puffing on regular cigarettes or e-cigarettes. Cigarette butts litter public spaces.

 Not a good look Glasgow.


Still it can always make us laugh. Here’s Billy at Comic Relief in 1986 taking the piss out of Australians, more especially Queenslanders. Long live The Big Yin! 

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