Archives for posts with tag: Glasgow

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STORM, a 10 meter high sea goddess arose from the River Clyde last Saturday morning 18 January 2020 in the calmer wake of her big brother Brendan who had battered these shore a few days previously.  Made entirely of recycled and natural materials, STORM is said to be the largest puppet in the UK. With her movements guided  by a hard-working, rope-hauling crew of fisherfolk in sou’westers and kilts, STORM stood up, raised her head and looked around at the hundreds of mortal folk below her.

This woman giant, the culmination of two years’ work by creators Vision Mechanics, immediately captured the hearts of all gathered by the Clyde to welcome her.

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Slowly moving her giant feet and legs, her strolling rhythm soon settled; stately, her head turning this way and that, eyes blinking, she gazed around her, up and down, then, chin raised she proudly processed through the city. In busy Argyll Street, shoppers stopped aghast and children froze mid-bite at their Big Macs.  Even some folk with ears blocked by headphones, sensed something and looked up.

While countless mobile phones recorded her every step, in time they were put away as people just gazed in wonder as STORM paraded trailing her own boom-box soundtrack specially composed by Mairi Campbell and Dave Grey.

There were some moving moments when Storm dropped on one knee to honour the singing of the young women of the Dileab Choir from the Western Isles and for the Campbeltown Pipe Group.

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The expertise of the puppeteers made us forget the humans in control as we were held in thrall by that same timeless magic of rhymers, guisers and Galoshan who have been entrancing and frightening folk by turns since technologically simpler times.   Their skill, and the symbolism of an other-worldly giant in our midst proved that we can all still believe in a bit of magic. STORM’s character began to shine through even as we saw her being worked from the back.  STORM led her entourage uptown to the steps of Glasgow Royal Concert Hall just in time to herald the opening of the first weekend of Celtic Connections.  Saturday 18 January saw a whole day devoted to our shores:  Coast and Waters 2020 – a mini festival within a festival celebrated Scotland’s links with the sea and the unique musical and cultural heritage it has gifted us.

STORM reminded us of how much we owe the sea, that it gives and takes away, how much our lives depend on it and our responsibility to protect it.  How timely then that last Saturday, we witnessed STORM finally come home tae the Clyde – Glasgow’s once mighty waterway to the world.

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Storm’s debut appearance kicked off the first week of Celtic Connections which runs throughout venues in Glasgow until February 2.  The city’s halls and clubs are playing host to events featuring around 2,000 musicians who have travelled from around the world to perform.

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I took my Mum on a drive the other day to the old streets where our extended family used to live. Mary is 87. The shock of seeing that Hamiltonhill had vanished, its once busy streets now vast expanses of green grass and emptiness took a wee while to sink in. ‘It’s really sad’ Mary said. That wasn’t the half of it yet it conveyed all of what we were both feeling as we sat in disbelief. I took photos to prove to myself and other family members that it really was true, that there was nothing left.

 

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Mary had moved into her Granda and Granny’s house in 112 Ellesmere Street in Hamiltonhill in the north of Glasgow when she was 14. She could no longer stand living in Bridgeton with her mother Annie and her stepfather – that’s another story. Grandpa Johnny had moved there in the 1920s from the Anderson area with his wife and their unofficially adopted daughter Agnes. Agnes wasn’t her real name, but why it was changed will forever remain a family mystery. The two room, kitchen and bathroom flat was also, at times, a regular temporary home for Annie, Mary’s wee sister and baby brother when they needed refuge from the house in Bridgeton – at times seven people in two rooms.

By the 1950s Agnes was the only one left and she married the boy next door – well, down the stairs actually. James lived in a similar two room, kitchen and bathroom flat with his parents and five siblings. As Mary recalled, ‘ the two rooms were just a’ beds.’ Agnes outlived her husband and remained in the same flat at 112 Ellesmere Street until her death in 2008 aged 89 years.

Hamiltonhill is linked to Possilpark by Auckland Street. The smarter four-in-a-block houses with gardens on the long street remain but the ‘slum clearance’ houses at the Possilpark end are now also gone.

Rehoused in 228 Auckland Street from an overcrowded room and kitchen in the Calton in the 1930s Ned, my Dad, moved to the three room, kitchen and bathroom flat with his parents Cash and Alec, his sister Annie and brother Willie. Cash had emigrated to the east end of Glasgow with her widowed mother Annie MacAteer and brothers from Belfast in the 1920s. Alec came from Edinburgh at about the same time. Cash and Alec refused to let their children be evacuated during the war, ‘if we’re gonni die, we can a’ die thegither…’ they remember her saying. Annie married Jim from across the road in Burmola Street, Willie courted Bessie from downstairs but her family put a stop to it because she was a Protestant and he was not….. Ned was one of the first generation of Catholic boys to get an apprenticeship and became a bricklayer. Willie being older had not had that chance. Willie never did marry.

So Mary, aged 14 from Ellesmere Street, met Annie aged 16 from Auckland Street whilst electro-plating metal components during the war in a miserable factory in Port Dundas at the end of a long dark daily walk from Saracen Street along Craighall Road. Mary met Annie’s wee brother Ned and they later married and rented a room in one of the four-in-a-block houses in Auckland Street. The landlady was mean and the room unheated so they moved in with Ned’s parents until they found a better place to live.

Alec’s nephew from Edinburgh, just out of his national service, turned up alone looking for a bed until he could find somewhere to live with his new wife who was living with her parents. Cash said to bring her to 228, she wouldn’t hear of them being separated and them just married. They lodged there until they found somewhere to live.

228 was full of the comings and goings of streams of friends and relations mostly from Glasgow’s east end. At weekends and new year when drink was taken, sentimental renderings of boys Danny andWild Colonial, of mountains and homes in Mourne and Donegal, of barnyards in Dalgety, sightings of the Forty-second coming doon the Patteraw reminded them all where they came from…

These are brief snapshots from the lives of one family of migrants in those now vanished schemes. There is nothing there now but ghostly grid-lines bordering where once rich lives were lived in small, poor houses. The emptiness cried out from the quiet of memory, seeking shape and sound for those stories, their gift to the present.

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The block housing asylum seekers at Red Road.

Glasgow 2014’s proposed detonation of Red Road flats as entertainment had no appeal for sore eyes.   The city always gets into a fankle when it tries to show off. Like the Workers’ City Group who argued with the organisers of Glasgow City of Culture in 1990 about whose culture was being celebrated, this latest fiasco showed how the city still rates the ideas of outsiders higher than those screaming at it from under its very nose. Glasgow, ever in thrall to American pazzazz, was willing to lie down before the gods of shock and awe and turn the Red Road flats into a Hollywood special effect – a  ‘Wow’ factor – dear oh dear.

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 Sighthill flats being demolished 2010

Glasgow’s citizens by way of a hugely successful petition by Carolyn Leckie were having none of it and have forced a climb down. Objectors to this ridiculous stunt had history on their side. The City of Glasgow has form when it comes to failed housing schemes.  Not known as ‘schemes’ for nothing, the word hides a stark truth about the background ‘scheming’ of municipal social reformers.

Red Road flats are a very tall, infamous and ultimately failed social experiment. It is one among many not so tall or famous but equally failed social housing experiments which have been appearing and quietly disappearing in ever-recurring cycles all over Glasgow for generations. Poverty, housing and unemployment have been a splitting headache for the City fathers for over a century and, as this latest wheeze shows, they are nowhere nearer to finding a cure for this particular migrane.

 

Since the 1990s, acres of ‘Slum Clearance’ or ‘Rehousing Schemes’ built in the 1930s in Possilpark, Hamiltonhill, Blackhill, Ruchill and elsewhere have quietly vanished and taken their people’s histories with them. These compact ‘two-up’ grey stone tenements, six flats to a close were built during one of the City’s recurring cycles of ‘slum clearance’.

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Hamiltonhill under construction 1930s

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Possilpark  derelict  in the 1990s

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Ellesmere St. Hamiltonhill  cleared  2014

Described by Sean Damer as ‘cheerless barracks’ built on poor, marginal industrial land, with no amenities, ‘the schemes ‘were one step up from the overcrowded 19th century tenements they were replacing but a world away from the teeming life of Anderson, the Calton and Garngad. Mostly unskilled workers, among them many Irish emigrants, traded the slums for space, bathrooms, electricity and regular surveillance by housing and public health officials.

The front-line of the inspection regimes were the infamous ‘Green Ladies’ whose unannounced arrivals ensured folk, especially women, kept their housekeeping and parenting up to scratch and did not revert to the so-called ‘disreputable habits’ of slum living. This was social engineering pure and simple aimed at the poor. It failed because you cannot wash poverty away with any amount of Sunlight soap.   Working people, have always had to follow work, live where they can afford to live and have to trade settled attachment to one place for a rent book which always carries a risk of clearance usually within a generation (or nowadays by way of that gift to 21st century poor law reformers the ‘bedroom tax’).

After World War 2, Glasgow’s migraine continued despite its feisty population, fiery red credentials and a bit of economic renewal. New borderland schemes like Pollok, Easterhouse, Castlemilk, Drumchapel in the 1950s gave work and houses to many. Others were successfully exported to whole new towns built around the old villages of East Kilbride and Cumbernauld. The vertical, city-in-the-sky, multi-storey dreams of the ‘60s in Sighthill, Red Road, Cedar Road, Westercommon and elsewhere quickly turned sour as did the equally soulless horizontal mile-long alternatives such as Balgrayhill and Cowlairs. Glasgow never could accommodate all the people it needed and it certainly doesn’t know what to do with them now the work and any hope of it, for many,  is gone.

The ‘slum clearance’ housing of Hamiltonhill and  Possilpark is  now gone and the best the people made of living there, my own family included,  has been conveniently and quietly deleted from the landscape. All that remains are the few trees standing alone in what were formerly lively backcourts full of children, washing lines, middens and voices.  Who can tell what new schemes are being cooked up as I write.

The Red Road flats are another failure of reforming containment. A brief attempt at using them to house asylum seekers there and in nearby Sighthill has also proved a failure. We should not forget that winning and implementing that first contract from the UK Government was carried out – in true Council fashion – without consulting local residents. The result? Resentment, violence and murder until community organisations stepped in to listen to people’s concerns. The history of the asylum-seekers since relocated to Glasgow has been, at times, a tragic tale. Swept up in Glasgow’s existing housing headache, in time-honoured fashion in this city the old hands and the new wave of migrants have fashioned a new solidarity.

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Rally against deportations following the suicide of the Serge Serykh, his wife, Tatiana and stepson at Red Road 2010

And so, on it goes with this latest debacle over history, people place and memory. No amount of Mr. Smileys or bouncing thistles can wipe away the memory of lives lived in now vanished buildings. Glasgow has never known what to do with its failed housing ‘schemes’ but this idea was surely the daftest and most unkind scheme of all.

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GlasgowAnni passes up chance to appear on Channel 4’s Strippers

Walking with friends on Sauchiehall Street on a Saturday night recently, we were stopped by two enthusiastic young people, one shouldering a heavy video camera, asking if they could interview us for a new Channel Four documentary about lap dancing clubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Edinburgh.

My friends pointed and said ‘Interview Anni!’. They were filming a number of vox pop interviews to get a feel for Glasgow city centre at night. I agreed to be interviewed, the young man took my name and telephone number and the young woman started the interview.

Channel 4 interview We’ve been filming in lap- dancing clubs and interviewing the lap-dancers.  

What do you think about those clubs?’

I told her she might regret asking me, that I work in services for women and children affected by all forms of violence against women and also as a researcher; that there were many like me who considered lap-dancing clubs to be a form of commercial sexual exploitation; that women and their bodies are not commodities to be sold for profit and that such exploitation is a function of women’s inequality… She caught my drift.

 ‘What about women’s choice?’

‘Do you think women are free to chose that if they want?

‘What about women’s choice?’, she asked. ‘Do you think women are free to chose that if they want?’. ‘Sure,’ I replied, ‘but how many other choices did they have before choosing to work as a lap dancer?’ I went on to say that, as with prostitution, women mostly get involved through economic necessity.

‘The young women enjoy their work”

‘The young women enjoy their work’ she replied. I said , ‘It is not for me to say what women can or cannot do, it is their decision and I just wish there were other ways they could make a living. Did you talk to the men who use the clubs too?’ I asked, and she said they had. We finished the interview and went our separate ways, they were off chasing their next interviewee, quickly swallowed up by Sauchiehall Street’s joyous Saturday night pavement crowds.

I immediately begin to have doubts about participating as I had no idea what their approach to the subject would be. I am no fan of Channel 4’s relentless output of reality shows and know that skillful editing can skew content to fit a particular narrative. Caught up in the moment, I had rushed into participation based on skant information with my friends thinking it was a great wheeze. So what was I consenting to? In truth, I had no idea.

Television reality shows offer ordinary folks a brief moment of celebrity but the unintended consequences can be risky in the longer term. The world is full of post-reality show casualties unable to dismount the carousel and further multiplying the media capital being made of them. A life lived however briefly on television or exposed on social media can end in regrets about that naïve personal disclosure, unfortunate facebook post or embarrassing selfie. These things can come back to haunt older, wiser moments.

Appearances on reality shows are fixed in time and offer a one dimensional snapshot of a life fitting only the programme makers’ agenda. However, it wasn’t my own random vox pop I was worried about but the atmosphere of the whole programme itself. I wasn’t sure I liked the smell of it. A few weeks after the interview, I withdrew my consent to take part. Part one of ‘Strippers’ aired on Channel 4 last week.

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Channel 4’s Strippers –  The reality of Glasgow’s Lap-dancing club scene

Episode 1 of ‘Strippers’ focused on the dancers and customers in Glasgow’s Diamond Dolls lap-dancing club, one of the biggest in Europe. The film itself, showing young women dancing for the male customers was commercial sexual exploitation masquerading as… I don’t know if it was masquerading as anything, a programme called ‘Strippers’ is hardly posing as serious critique… and is not even about ‘strippers’. 

The film clearly showed where the power lay in the whole business. Working through its formidable ‘house mother’ and manager, herself a former dancer, the skill and beauty of the women dancers were schooled and repackaged in the club’s house style as writhing untouchable sexual avatars. The male customers, including many young men, at whom the whole sorry business is aimed, was also exploited as the ‘house mother’ openly admitted. Like automatons they are primed to spend substantial amounts of money being sexually and very publicly aroused on cue and having to pay extra if they wanted a more ‘private’ experience. One lonely divorced regular took sweeties for the ‘girls’ and referred to them as being like his ‘family’.

The commercial exploitation of sex and sexuality dehumanises everyone involved. The women are not paid for dancing but for any ‘private’ booth dances requested by the customer. The men choose who they want and pay extra. Although they could make good money, the young women competing for those lucrative opportunities spoke about disassociating and having to think of other things while they are dancing, of putting their own sexuality on hold, of having to hide their job from their family and how it changed the way they thought about themselves. If it is a legitimate career choice, as the manager implied, it is certainly having a profoundly negative effect on the young women working there.

To its credit, ‘Strippers’ let the women and men tell their own stories, offered a rare glimpse into the ambiguities going on behind those blacked-out, windowless city shop-fronts and left viewers to make up their own minds. However, by avoiding any critique it effectively normalised an aspect of our increasingly sexualised popular culture, further entrenched negative attitudes towards women and treated the men like jerks. The impact on young people, like the young dancers and customers in the programme is particularly worrying.

Recent research carried out by Zero Tolerance in Scotland found that young people are regularly faced with some toxic choices about sex and sexuality. Expectations placed on young women to conform to unrealistic beauty standards and to act sexually are high, yet they are denigrated if they go too far and get that delicate balance wrong. Similarly, young men are pressurised to conform to a heterosexual masculinity focussed on the relentless pursuit of sex, on watching and approving of pornography and sexualising women and girls. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Happily, the young women dancers featured in the first programme have since chosen to give up lap-dancing and are moving in new and altogether different directions. One finally told her parents where she was working and disappeared from the second half of the programme…. thereby may hang a difficult sequel to her tale. Another packed up and went back to her nursing career in Estonia having failed to earn the money she had hoped for – glad to get away from negative effect the work was having on her personality. Another, a former champion gymnast, is making a new career and future for herself a world away from lap-dancing. With luck, the media’s memories of them all will fade.

Will those men caught getting aroused on camera by the women above their laps (not on…never on…no touching allowed) ever live it down? Will they take a tumble to themselves, stop going there and start living real lives, in real intimate relationships where there is love, affection, genuine sexual freedom and equality? That appearance on Strippers might just check that particular reality.

“He’s the stud, she’s the slut”: Young people’s attitudes to pornography, sex and relationships report.

http://www.vawpreventionscotland.org.uk/news/he-s-stud-she-s-slut-new-report-looks-young-people-s-attitudes-pornography-sex-relationships

Part Two of Strippers – 10.00 p.m. On Channel 4, Tuesday 4 March 2014.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/strippers

 

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