Midnight Rambler (in_thy_bounty) wrote,
Midnight Rambler


"Platform... 14... for the.. 9.. 15.. service to... Glasgow Queen Street... calling at...."

Under the giant boards of Waverley, which proclaim the same information in yellow lights, onto platform 14 and onto the train. I'm in comfortable time, the information boards on the train haven't even sprung into life yet. I'm in my seat, I'm on time, I'm being sent to Glasgow for a seminar in place of the Chief Executive, and I've totally, totally got this.

After a while the displays spring into life. My headphones provide an opportune break just in time to hear

"This train is for.... Dunblane... calling at..."

I shoot up from my seat like a meerkat in danger. I look around me in confusion, some people are looking back. Then in a straight line and without hesitation, I run off the train. But this is platform 14, the announcement was for platform 14, the boards said platform 14... what's going on? It seems that Waverley is so over-capacity these days that they often stop two trains at the same platform. If I'd reached platform 14 and kept walking all the way to the end of the train, I would have found a second train. The Glasgow train. My train. It left a few minutes ago.

But it's fine. Trains to Glasgow from Edinburgh run constantly, I just move a few platforms over and get on another one. I settle into my seat again, then think about checking what my new arrival time will be. I look it up on my phone with dawning horror. This is the train to Glasgow Central; on foot just a few minutes from Queen Street, but a completely different railway line, and a considerably longer one. New arrival time is 11am, and the seminar begins at 10.30. I'm up like a meerkat again and off the train. Men in security vests are beginning to take a distant interest in why a strange man is running on and off of trains. Finally I find another for Queen Street, and it will arrive at 9.15; 15 minutes to get myself from the station to the venue.

This train is a busy one and there are no seats left that don't involve sitting next to someone. I nip into the toilet, a new fancy modern one. The first thing I note about it is that there is no manual handle, it operates only through three electronic push buttons marked open, close and lock. Perhaps it's just that I've been working through my Jacque Tati box-set, but I'm no great believer in putting everything into the hands of technology. While I'm inside I also note the strange layout. It's built onto a corner, two flat walls and one rounded, like a quarter of a circle. The control buttons are on one of the flat walls, the actual toilet on the other. It's out of reach of the buttons, which is a little strange. What if the door was to come open for any reason? You'd have to get up and cross the floor to get it closed again. Then I realise the position of the toilet is such that if the door ever did open for any reason while you were sitting down, the door would open wide and leave you sitting facing the entire carriage. People have nightmares about this sort of thing, why would you have a toilet seemingly designed to facilitate just such a nightmare?

There's a single seat on its own, no second seat attached to it, and it's by a window. That's the seat for me. It's also just next to the toilet, behind it on the back wall. I'm facing the entire carriage, but at a good distance. Sitting here is actually very similar to the position you would be sitting on the toilet if the door opened, but with your trousers pulled up. With the train in motion, a pair of Chinese tourists come up to use the facilities, a husband and wife of maybe around 50. The woman is immediately struggling with how to get the toilet to open and close. After much fiddling in full view of the carriage behind her, people begin to point and gesture, mimicking the pressing of buttons on a wall. The husband is trying to interpret these. I'm sitting right by the buttons so I silently assist by pressing the open button. The door comes open and they both look very pleased, although appear to have no peripheral vision whatsoever and are completely unaware someone has done this for them. The woman goes in while her husband stands outside. The door closes, but I see that the 'lock' light doesn't go out. She figured out how to close the door, but she hasn't realised you have to lock it. But at least her husband is standing right outside, so it's not like anyone is going to come up and press the button. He keeps a fierce guard, turned toward the sea of faces in the carriage. He's having no nonsense here. But he's forgotten something, and that something is that all the carriages are connected, and also that not all carriages have a toilet. In the blink of an eye the interconnecting door just behind me has opened, and a woman comes through. She's here for the toilet, and she immediately spies that the lock light isn't on and presses the button. The husband has his back to this whole thing for the 1.5 seconds it takes to unfold, but is soon alerted by his wife shouting.

He turns around, crying "No no no!" and waving his arms. The door is 3/4 open and the poor woman is now in just that nightmare situation I envisioned earlier. I can't see her from where I am, but I can see the expression of every single person in the carriage who are faced right at her, like sitting beside a cinema screen and watching the audience reaction without being able to see the film. Some grow wide-eyed and look away. Some put their hands to their mouths and try to suppress the laughter. I think there is a good deal of empathy. The husband has come up with a less than ideal plan. Rather than hitting the close button, he has decided to attempt to wrestle the door. He's grabbing onto it, trying to prevent it opening any further. Just a second ago this was an uneventful journey through the flat coal country of West Lothian, but now I've been transported into a Buster Keaton short. The woman who is the unintended cause of all this sees what has happened and naturally wants to help atone for the situation. She also tries to grab the door, but this puts her in such a position that she is now staring straight in at the wife on the toilet. The man kind of growls and gently pushes her away. She decides to get out of there and exits the carriage where she came in. After what seemed like forever but was probably only about 20 seconds, I presume the woman must have got up and pressed the close button, leaving the flustered husband looking at a solid barrier once more. He turns around to face the carriage. Everyone looks away.

When it comes to directions in an unfamiliar place, it's best to keep it simple. Don't worry about the shortest route, take something easy to remember that doesn't involve many changes. From Queen Street Station you're straight onto George Street; I take that until I reach Campbell Street. Take Campbell Street until Bothwell Street, then I only have to turn right for a few hundred yards and I'm there. So those are my directions; Campbell, Bothwell. The shorter walking route is to go down Nile Street as far as Drury Street, take Drury Street onto Renfield Street, then turn onto Renfield Lane until you reach Hope Street. Then you can go down a little further to Bothwell Street. You'd save a couple of minutes this way, but Nile-Drury-Renfield Street-Lane-Hope-Bothwell lacks the simplicity of Campbell-Bothwell.

I begin walking, and straight away someone has spoken to me. I take out the headphones and ask "What's that?". She repeats herself, she's making some remark about how she's silly for having stumbled in the street. In Glasgow people talk to each other. This would never happen in Edinburgh. In Edinburgh if you stumble in the street you quickly scuttle off hoping no-one has noticed, and that your standing and reputation won't be adversely affected. In Glasgow you remark upon it to the nearest stranger, and encourage them to laugh with you at how silly you've just been.

I arrive at the venue, and go up in a glass lift that looks out over the vacant building site opposite. This is a very particular sort of a seminar, in fact you are only able to attend if you're very senior management. I am but middle management, but the chief exec has lied to the organisers and told them I'm head of IT for the charity. Which is sort of true in its way.
"It's going to be all pinstripes", I lamented. She says it's the charity sector, it's more likely to be Jesus sandals with socks. But as the lift opens and I'm shown into the room, it's wall to wall pinstripes. And me. Who is wearing a faux snakeskin jacket with fluffy fur in between the leathery patches. In retrospect I suppose this outed me right away. Certainly they were deeply suspicious from the off. I had the usual chat from one of the organisers, who was I, where was I from, what did I do. I even had some good chat about the challenges facing the organisation, and how we were looking at meeting them. Strategic shit. Pinstripes love that stuff.
"So you've come straight from Edinburgh?"
"Yes, but actually I've come from the Borders before that"
We then go into the standard I've-been-to-the-Borders-once-and-I-know-everything-about-it routine.
"So you'll have got the train in from Galashiels?"
This is everyone's picture of the Borders, it's Gala, Hawick, maybe Peebles at a push. Mill towns and rolling farmland. Not the Lammermuirs, not the tiny single-track roads over lonely peaks rising as high as the Pentlands. They don't know my world exists, and they don't believe that it can. Having established that the train line is a 45 minute journey from me by car and not a travel option, he asks something very odd indeed.
"So do you cycle?"
"What, to work?"
"Well... no." Almost apologetically I add "it's 35 miles from Edinburgh".
"I had a group of execs down there for a cycle event. They loved it, it was great."
I nod and half-smile. Is this a test? How do I politely say while I'm sure your day on the Border Abbeys Way cycle path around the flat central Borders was simply spiffing, it's not a viable example to suggest I should undertake a 70 mile round trip five days a week over a route described by a cycling website as "very hard", adding "rising to some 1200ft (365m) this is a ride which is best undertaken in fine summer weather as it is very exposed on the hill tops."
If this was a test, I've evidently failed it as he simply goes off and talks to someone else.

The presentation is by a former police officer on data security, which is another area I will be looking after for the charity. He talks almost non-stop for a couple of hours, but it's actually fascinating. He explains how viruses, phishing scams and malware operate. He gives examples of people setting up portable wi-fi hotspots in popular coffee houses and calling it "Costa Free Wi-Fi", then harvesting the information from everyone who connects to it. There are tales of drones flying over busy streets with high definition cameras to capture credit card numbers, pin codes and all sorts. At the beginning we are asked if anyone has experience of being hacked, and one woman says yes, it's just happened to them and caused a lot of trouble. As he goes into advice on how to avoid this, she is constantly vocalising "oh I never do that", or "oh I don't bother with that, it's too much hassle". The presenter does well to keep a patient, smiling expression that nevertheless still manages to convey "that's why your charity is the only one here being hacked, you bloody fool."

The stories keep getting better. Now we're onto data being sold on "the dark web" and used for blackmail. An American site called Ashley Madison was quite successful over there. It was an extra-marital dating site to put it politely, using the tagline "life is short, have an affair". They had a lot of sign-ups. Then they got hacked, all the personal details of their clients was stolen and sold, and those men and women started receiving phone calls demanding money or their partners would be informed. But data isn't just sold once, it's sold many times to many people, leading to many sets of demands. Size is also no factor, such viruses or malware are absolutely indiscriminate, they are programmed only to find a weakness, any weakness, anywhere, and exploit it. A Glasgow hairdresser fell victim and found all the data deleted from his servers. Unfortunately it was a hairdresser in which all appointments and payments were made online, and it was brought to a grinding halt. He received a demand for a few thousand untraceable pounds to return his data. He paid it, and he got his data back.... corrupted and useless.

It was a great presentation, so at the end I go to tell him that. He says thanks... and then goes straight into talking to someone else. I've been rumbled here, then. The class system in full effect. You are not one of us, kindly leave. I'm glad to oblige. I end up in the glass lift with "oh I don't do that" woman. She tells me she was late in arriving because she got lost on her way from the station.
"Well all you have to do is turn up Campbell Street and..."
"Oh I'll never remember all that", she says after I declare that one single piece of information, and announces that she's going to get a taxi.

In the Glasgow Fopp I'm looking around to see if they have 'Two Years At Sea' on DVD. Online it's rarely under £10, but I've decided that any similar amount here and I'll pick it up. It's a beautiful lie, the film, from one of the makers of 'A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness'. It follows (in grainy black and white) the life of a man living alone in a remote area of Scotland, doing strange things like hoisting a caravan into a tree to use as a treehouse, or making his own raft to go afloat on an unsuitably small pond, while also spending a good deal of time walking around or sitting by the fire. The lie is that the choice is very selective, that this man actually has not only a phone, but a computer with internet. It is not quite reality, but neither is any film. As soon as you point a camera at a subject you begin a narrative of your own choosing, you impose upon it your own tyranny of selection. There is an element of truth in most lies. The DVD is there on the shelf in the documentary section. When I slide it out, it has a £3 sticker on it.

"Oh Glasgow gave me more than it ever took away..."


When we were all sat up in that glass office at the top of the glass lift, one of the hosts said that when he tells everyone where he works, he just says it's next to such and such. He doesn't actually say "such and such" of course, he says a specific thing, I just can't remember it. Everyone laughs except me. I have no idea what he's talking about. This is because I know nothing about Glasgow. The thought occurs that I have probably spent more time in my life in Los Angeles than I have in Glasgow. You may wonder how that can be the case. Let me tell you.

I was introduced to Glasgow in the worst possible way; through football. Rangers and Celtic would come to Tynecastle, and initially I thought Rangers fans carried union jack flags because Rangers colours were blue and white and red. And I thought Celtic fans carried Irish flags because their colours were green and white, and although I conceded I had never seen them wear the third orangey colour at any point, I was satisfied enough in my young mind that it was as simple as that.

In time I would start to go to away games, and these were my first trips to Glasgow. There was Partick Thistle in Maryhill, Rangers in Govan, Celtic in Parkhead. There was also Hampden of course, in Mount Florida, but that was a rare occasion. Mount Florida is not a bad area, although admittedly a group of us did get lost after the 1996 Scottish Cup Final and ended up in the middle of some tenements being chased by a group of neds. I first went to Hampden when it was the old Hampden, that huge terracing, the impossible size of the place. The feeling of awe and reverence that comes from a place that still and probably always will hold the record for largest ever football crowd - 149,415 people for Scotland V England in 1937. In its new incarnation it's not that much of a stadium to be honest. But as I say, visits there were rare.

Partick Thistle was not a bad jaunt, a nice little stadium and after they built that overly-ambitious new stand, quite a pleasant one to watch a game of football. Maryhill is not a great area, those giant tower blocks rising behind the goals. My chief memory is of the supporters buses driving along a street lined with kids, most of whom looked about 12, who gathered to show the finger as you passed, and occasionally to pelt the bus with stones.

Next up the awfulness ranking was Ibrox. I remember those terrible little pubs that you always get in Glasgow, that stand out on their own, where you can't see the inside from the outside, and you only realise after you've walked in that you've made a mistake. At the game the away fans were given a portion of the lower deck, meaning you had Rangers fans to both sides of you, and more significantly, above you as well. Sitting below them you'd have chunks of food and cups of juice, tea and bovril rained down upon you. You'd be spat on from above. The police stewards would stand and watch and take no action, people would be almost pushing them aside to hang further over the railings to get a better gob at you. And then the songs. Rangers fans are absolutely single-minded in the things they like to sing about.
"We're up to our knees in Fenian blood, surrender or you'll die"
Every song, literally every song. Often it was just tacked on, like they literally can't help themselves;
"We are Rangers, super Rangers
No-one likes us, we don't care
We hate Celtic - Fenian bastards"
"Simply the best
The 1st Battalion of the UVF"
It was like a sickness, a sad show of some alternate reality. Rangers fans are far worse than Celtic fans, Celtic fans are at least singing about their heritage, Rangers fans are just singing about how they're racist, bigoted idiots and proud of it.

But what about Celtic? The fans were a little better, but not all that much. And in terms og Glasgow it was the heaviest nail in the coffin for me. The buses pulled up at a desolate patch of waste ground that was used as a matchday car park. If you brought a car, you were likely to be approached by some kids who would ask for money to "mind your motor". If you paid them nothing happened, if you didn't, they trashed your car. One probably apocryphal tale went about the Musselburgh Hearts Supporters Club:
A Hearts fan who had fallen victim to smashed car windows in the past drove his car through to Glasgow for the Celtic game. He was approached by the same group of kids who asked for money to mind his car.
'Right ye wee bastards, ye mightae goat ehs wi this the last time, bit this time ah've goat ma dug in the car, and if youse touch that windae he'll be oot an at yez. So stick that in yer pipe an smoke it, ya wee pricks'.
As he's walking triumphantly away, a voice behind him pipes up "haw mister... kin yer dug mend slashed tyres?"

The first time, the very first time I went to Parkhead I got off the bus and we were greeted by a group of local lads who had gathered for the occasion.
"Follow follow, we will follow Jam Tarts", they sang, which seemed quite welcoming for guys in Celtic tops. "Shall we fuck", they then continued, "blow them up, join the IRA".
To get to the stadium from the waste ground, you had to go through the most incredible set of tenements you have ever seen. There was sheet metal on the windows, some of the buildings were half burnt-out. On the roofs, the tiles of the fucking roofs, was scrawled IRA, Up The Ra, Fuck The Queen (with you on that one), and so on.
When you made it through there you were at the stadium, where you were hemmed tightly into one narrow strip on one of the corners. You had no-one above you at least, but you had opposing fans to both sides, and many tickets were sold with "Restricted View" stamped on them, meaning you had to struggle to see around a pole. Things were thrown at you, the worst I saw being a lit firework. Like at Ibrox, police stewards just stood by and let it happen, but unlike at Ibrox they would wade in at the slightest hint of any retaliation from the away fans. Arrests were common to the tune of maybe 20 per match, for sins including the waving of flags. The atmosphere was absolutely toxic, on both sides. Some people used to come on the supporters bus just for the Celtic game, you never saw them at any other game, and inevitably for them it was a one-way journey, they missed the return while on their journey to a cell.

This for some time was my experience of Glasgow. With these experiences, I was in no hurry to go there again. I found myself there now and again, to see Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, back to Hampden for the odd cup final, a work training day. But visit Glasgow, for fun, voluntarily? Why would you? Why would anyone?

But my experiences are unique to those who grow up following football. They do not seem to match with those around me who talk of galleries and museums, parks, shops. They don't seem to match those experiences of a more alternative city than Edinburgh, looser, freer. A place that it sounds like I should like. Visit Glasgow, for fun, voluntarily?

Well I do have that day off coming up...
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