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Poems and Stories from Jack Jackson
A nostalgic trip to the Dear Green Place

A few years ago I took advantage of a ‘window of opportunity’ during the first 2 weeks of March to visit my Native City--St.Kentigern’s ‘Glaschu’  aka St.Mungo’s Glasgow.

I arrived armed with raincoat, sweaters and a camera on what I hoped would be a revisitation to the scenes of my childhood. Alas the Politicians had beaten me to it, and many of the old haunts are now but a memory. I was particularly interested in visiting the Gorbals area and as I made my way from Queens Park to Eglinton Toll, much seemed the ‘same’. However from there on the ‘dream was shattered’. Dixon’s Blazes iron works, “the Bad Fire” of my childhood was gone, along with most everything else round about. I pressed on and  “lo and behold “!  Abbotsford Chalmers Parish Church, refurbished, stood at the corner of the new Cavendish St. I walked along the street to, unbelievably, #10, albeit a small residential block, and there across the road was Abbotsford Primary School. The ravages of a fire resulted in it being boarded up and it was “under offer”. My camera shutter was clicking away as I made my way to the front gate, and I was delighted to see the heads of John Knox and David Livingstone still gazing out above the main door.

Further down and into Gorbals St. the devastation of ‘Progress’ was evident. A section of  a  beautiful old red sandstone tenement was all that remained of the original street on one side. It  had been a Bank at one time and the ornate facia still showed. At the back,  the rear of the tenement back-close looked as it had been, except it was ‘boarded up’. Across the road where once the Citizens Theater stood was the New Version.  No improvement there at all. The row of statues depicting the Muses had been removed to preserve them somewhere, and I wondered  what Duncan MacRae would have said about the theatre where once he had delighted my generation in Pantomime. Gorbals Cross itself, had been paved-over, complete with its 3 poles and their huge clock faces. I turned left on to Carlton Pl., fortunately spared from the ‘improvements’, and crossed the Suspension Bridge. Gazing down into the dark waters of the Clyde, I wondered what the next millennia held in store for my dear auld Glesca Toon.

Boarding the Bus home at St.Enoch’s Square  I thought of the plans for the following days and what I would find. Is ‘Brigton‘ Cross still there or has it gone to be with its Gorbals cousin? Saturday morning brought the pleasant answer---yes there it was!  There was even an assembly of worthies at the street corners still debating whatever it was they were trying to put right in the world. I cut through Glasgow Green past the Peoples Palace (closed for renovations) to reach the ‘Barrows’ and a revitalization of ‘the dream’.

At last! There were the streets and buildings I once knew. Perhaps less of them, but still intact. Only the shop fronts had been changed as the old businesses moved away, but a few names from the past lingered on. I picked up some old fashioned boilings from the huge array of glass jars in Glickmans (“at  this location for 50 years”) and edged my way through the throngs at the outside stalls of the ‘Barras’.

The touts were still drawing the punters with promises of a ‘treat if you buy’, their voices carrying easily to the back of the crowd, thanks to the modern innovation of chest-mounted microphones. The ‘waxcloth’ of my youth had been replaced with “vinyl flooring” but the methods were still the same--”you can go up the Town and you’ll  see the same thing at twice the price / I’ve got to clear the lot today so I’m giving it away /  Cigarettes and Taabaacaa, a bargain “.

After a refreshing pint in the Saracen Head Pub, where a picture of St.Mungo’s well hangs on the wall along with display cases of memorabilia from the earliest days of this possibly oldest pub in Glasgow, I returned to the covered over portions of the Market, so thoughtfully provided by the McIver family. The next 10 mins. yielded a couple of treasures from this Aladdin’s cave of books, oddments and assorted junk.; 2 copies of the collected works of Robert Burns, one a rare edition, for a few pounds! I could have spent a week looking through the stalls but time was pressing and I contented myself with a last purchase of a Scottish Brass plate and a silver Sherry goblet, both at bargain prices. The vendors were happy, I was happy, and everything was right with the world and the Gallowgate!

Walking up the High Street to the Cathedral and Provans Lordship I crossed over Duke Street and passed buildings which have remained, thankfully, untouched  by the grim Reapers of the redevelopment Committee. Glasgow’s Coat of Arms looks down from one of these tenements which also carries other embellishments on the stone work. I had never realized before how many of Glasgow’s buildings were decorated with our unique Coat of Arms.

The following day I decided to visit the Museum of Transport,  now housed in the old Kelvin Halls. Rows of vintage cars, Horse drawn carts and coaches, Bicycles and Tram Cars were all displayed in a fascinating collection complete with suitable props. I stood beside a tram stop and could almost hear the clippies voice on the Mosspark bound tram yelling “ comeoan ge’ aff”! Close to the front doors I found my Time Capsule! A complete street had been built with cobblestones, lampposts, old Fords and Austins parked on each side with the lights from the shop windows reflecting off their paintwork. Here were the retailers of yesteryear! Blackadders window had box cameras at 12/6 and the butchers fishmongers and bakers all displayed an enticing array of produce. I asked the lady in the box office of the Cinema for a ticket but she remained stoically silent, frozen in time like her surroundings. A last look at the ‘down to the last detail’ Subway station, with its empty train waiting to rattle off, like some mechanical worm, into the depths of the Clyde Circle, then I left the early years of the 20th Century and stepped outside to look across the road at the University and Glasgow  Art Gallery. Crossing the bridge over the River Kelvin, I thought of it making the journey down to the Clyde and on into the Atlantic Ocean whose waters lap the shores of our great Country of Canada. There is where I call home, but Glasgow holds my heart.

Jack  Jackson   March 1998.

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