The train is rolling to a stop. I take a deep breath.
I’m about to be horribly murdered.
Dagless: It looked bad. It looked like I was gonna have to spend the night in Glasgow.
Dr. Sanchez: Jesus Christ!
Dagless: The cabin crew suggested we all go out and club it. I had no option. It was that or one of their B&Bs. I figured it’d be safer on the streets. For the first time ever I saw the Scotch in their natural habitat, and it weren’t pretty. I’d seen them huddling in stations before, being loud but… this time I was surrounded. Everywhere I went it felt like they were watching me; fish-white flesh puckered by the Highland breeze; tight eyes peering out for fresh meat; screechy, booze-soaked voices hollering out for a taxi to take ’em halfway up the road to the next all-night watering hole. A shatter of glass; a round of applause; a sixteen-year-old mother of three vomiting in an open sewer, bairns looking on, chewing on potato cakes. I ain’t never going back… not never.
Sanchez: My aunt lives in Scotland; she says it’s quite nice.
Dagless: Well, she’s wrong.
Garth Marenghi: Look, dinnae get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the Scotch people. I love Lulu, and if Taggart is on, I’ll tape it. I was very tired that night, and I was pissed off I was in Glasgow. Colleagues of mine have since visited it during the day, and they say they’ve had a cracking time. I’m sorry. I was wrong; I see that now.
– “Scotch Mist”: Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace
As I step off the train at Glasgow Central Station, one thing strikes me and one thing doesn’t.
I’m struck by how interesting the station’s architecture is, an airy lattice of modern roofing capping stonework that speaks of complicated renovation, and a fascinating concourse of semicircular wood-panelled shops and offices. The effect, to my surprise, is rather lovely.
The thing that doesn’t strike me is immediate, fatal violence. No baseball bats whacking at my head. No knives puncturing my frail English body. No knuckleduster sandwiches or head-butts. No caps popped in my ass. Nothing. I wait for a while, but it seems that Glasgow hasn’t heard that I was in town. Perhaps I’m going to get through this alive after all.
As anyone will tell you, including Glaswegians, Glasgow has something of a reputation. It’s 75 years since Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long popularly typified the city with their book Mean Streets, a savage portrayal of pre-war life in The Gorbals, south of the Clyde. However accurate the novel was, and however fair to the city’s inhabitants, the novel sunk deep into British culture. Glasgow was violence. Glasgow was misery. And Glasgow was dangerous.
The Strathclyde police force would agree – and that’s why they’ve recently changed tactics.
It would be testimony when the book’s 100th anniversary comes if somebody is able to say: ‘What a difference has been made in the last 25 years”.
The way they’ve done it is through technology – most notably a marketing programme that has been altered by an Oxford geographer so it ranks, scores and tracks offenders. As the Guardian reports here, the results are so impressive that they’ve caught the eye of a UK Prime Minister no doubt desperate for ways to avoid a recurrence of this year’s riots in the run up to the 2012 London Olympics.
I feel like I’m about to test the validity of this apparent crackdown. (“Dear Guardian newspaper, I write this from my hospital bed. I will be declining to read your scandalous rag of shameful untruths in future. Sincerely, A Victim”).
I walk out the station (reluctantly, after a few laps of the place that leave me none the wiser as to how it all works) and wander aimlessly, like any aspiring travel writer should – turning off Google Maps, popping my phone in my pocket and turning down every street that evokes the strongest feeling in me, good or bad.
How much can feelings be trusted when you’re appraising a city for the first time? Somewhere near zero? I’m not so sure. It seems ludicrous that you can measure a city’s size by examining the average walking speed of its inhabitants, but…there you have it. We are complicated, often dimly self-aware animals, and we thin-slice a lot of information about our surroundings. Is it fanciful to suggest a gut feeling about a place can reliably inform you about your chances of surviving it? Isn’t that what trained journalists are good at?
Unfortunately I’m not a trained journalist – I’m just a bloke who has just realised his rucksack has a little English flag on it. On the outside of it. I would spend the rest of the day with my jacket tucked under my arm, draped over this piece of suicidal national propaganda.
But for now, I busy myself with getting deliberately, deliciously lost. When I finally pull my phone out to find out where I am (which feels like cheating), I find I’ve crossed the river – which was interesting because I couldn’t remember crossing a bridge, and still can’t – and I’m in the backstreets south of the Clyde.
I’m quite enjoying myself.
Admittedly, I’ve never seen so many teenagers smoking. The streets seem a little shabby (which may be because I mainly chose the shabbiest-looking streets to go down). But Glasgow, for want of a better, less patronising word, feels interesting. Everywhere I wander, for that hour and for the rest of the afternoon as I head north into the city’s West End, I see buildings I want to know more about. I see streets and crescents and arcades that speak of grandiose planning brought to fruition or gone awry. I see history. And I see smiles. (Smiles! In Glasgow).
Glasgow? I do believe I like you. A lot.
Just…go easy on me. OK?