GLASGOW – THE SURPRISING CITY
Forget about its reputation – today Glasgow is the Festival capital of Britain – with an event almost every week – and cutting edge fashion is found around the city, at reasonable prices.
Visitors are greeted with a surprise around every corner, and they are nice ones. The city offers something for everyone, from kids to Grannies.
- Looking for really good food at a reasonable price – it’s here.
- Fantastic clothes shopping, with beautifully-made clothes and stunning shoes – they’re here
- And a Festival atmosphere where visitors get to meet the locals – it’s here.
We were enticed north by the promise of the Magners Comedy Festival, and felt very smug as we’d booked tickets on Virgin Trains. Whilst Heathrow was a seething mass of pickets and passengers trying to get on BA’s limited-by-strikes planes, we were sitting down to a full English breakfast as we sped north.
As the Lake district glided by, we watched lambs frisking in the neat fields. Sometimes it’s good to sit and just watch, although the train is fitted with WiFi so we could have worked if we wanted, and we had a free newspaper. Every half hour or so someone comes along with a trolley, dispensing free coffee and biscuits – old-fashioned service!
A few minutes after arriving in Glasgow, we were in the thick of things. We started at Sloans, which is Glasgow’s oldest pub – but it’s more than that, it’s an institution. Opened in 1797, in an arcade in the main shopping district, the ground floor has a genuine pub, even down to the Victorian etched glass put there so women couldn’t see if their husbands were inside (no respectable woman would ever be seen inside a pub!). Climb up to the second floor, and there is a grand ballroom that this day was hosting a Lunch time Comedy show with soup and a sandwich (many of the events here include food in the price). The comics came from America, and were extremely funny.
One of the best was Rachel Feinstein, over from New York. Looking like a cleaned up version of Amy Winehouse, she does a hilarious sketch on her. Another of the comics was Brian Scott McFadden – another American – who was equally funny. The show, which included soup and a sandwich, cost £8 all in. Come here during ‘normal’ times, and Sloane’s often has classic film performances with appropriate food, and every Friday hosts a lively Ceilidh.
After lunch we strolled round looking at shops, and on the famous Sauchiehall Street, whilst I was looking round for traces of its er- interesting past- we searched for the Willow Tea Rooms, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Mackintosh’s influence as a world-famous architect is seen all over the city, but the tea-rooms must have been his pride and joy. The ground floor is a jewellers, but walk through to the back, climb upstairs and on the first floor is the famous Gallery – with its iconic Mackintosh chairs. We reckon the famous high backs were there to give Glasgow’s citizens some privacy, as they chatted over the tea cups.
It is sometimes difficult to find this tea-room, until we started looking in the street for his sign (above) which shows his love of form, and his sometimes quirky nature – look at the bells suspended beneath. There is another one at the bottom of the street, but look for the sign as this was his favourite site.
THE room in the Tea Rooms is the De luxe room on the second floor, which was so pretty that patrons gladly paid 1p extra per cup to sit here. Mackintosh always left something in his rooms unfinished, or different, as he reckoned only God could create perfection. Here, go to the mirror on the right hand side, and you see there is a row of purple ‘flowers’ on the bottom row of decoration – look carefully and you see one is white.
Next day was a wander round, then lunch at Fifi and Ally, at 80 Wellington Street. This is a brasserie with a Glasgow flavour, but much better food than you get normally. My fish must have jumped straight out the sea into the pan, it was so fresh, and we had lingered so long that our puddings were enlivened by a Glasgow institution, Ladies who take tea’. The waitresses had apologised that they had to move tables, but were setting up for a large group of women who were drinking champagne, whilst their table was set with three-tiered cake stands and all the trimmings. It looked so good – but we had shopping in mind. Sarah had told us about a very special studio run by Camille.
Che Camille is in the same Arcade as Sloans, (Argyll Chambers, 34 Buchanan Street) but entering from the ‘other’ end, we had to ask the smart Beadle to show us where to find the little lift that took us up to the sixth floor. As we stepped out we entered an Aladdin’s cave presided over by Camille, an entrepreneur from New York, who settled here and goes out and finds talented dress, shoe and other designers.
Her studio has vintage dresses (from £35), up to the most fantastic materials she has obtained from Alexander McQueen’s estate. These were magical, and if ever you need a fabulous dress for a very, very special occasion, ask Camille if she has any of these materials left. Just looking at the incredible work in these beaded and exquisite materials was breathtaking.
But she had others delights; first up was the wonderfully stylish Cat Maconie, whose shoe collection genuinely embodies that phrase ‘practical and stylish’. Reclaiming the flat shoe as a thing of beauty Maconie uses high-quality materials in a dreamy array of pinks, noirs and Camille’s favourite, a delicious dusky mink shade. All teamed with a touch of hardware in the shape of her signature gold screw trims or jewellery inspired gold knots. These cost between £80 – £120, and I just had to buy two pairs. Every shoe carries her signature ‘mould to measure’ insole, which have been specially created to support your feet in a way most flat shoes fail miserably to do. Ensuring you never have to limp home from the club with your shoes in hand.
Hanging enticingly on a rail was a hug/wrap/shrug – call this practical short coat what you will, Nelfin the designer had been asked to design something as official presents for the wives when Scotland hosted the G8 summit. She used Harris tweed to make these, and a shrug would look stunning on top of a little black dress – and the cost? £230.
From Tee shirts to lovely dresses (I am going back for a wool one under £100), there are delights everywhere. But each dress is a ‘one-off’, so if you fall in love with one, Camille has a team of seamstresses who can make it up in your size.
Meanwhile the men had escaped to the Glasgow School of Art, where students show visitors around. Apparently ‘their’ student had given them a fascinating tour, and they had thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Today it has produced Turner Prize winners such as Richard Wright and Douglas Gordon, surprisingly several rock bands including Travis, and actor Robbie Coltrane. Truly a place of surprises!
That evening I wore my shoes to visit Òran Mór for dinner, in the heart of Glasgow’s West End district. As the taxi stopped outside a floodlit church, the driver saw our puzzled faces, and explained that the church was deconsecrated – and had a fantastic Whisky bar with 250 different Malt Whiskies. Wondering what the elders would have thought of that, we were ushered into the restaurant, and handed a short but enticing menu – the sort that makes you keep on changing your mind.
Eventually I settled on the soup – fresh vegetables bursting with flavour; rack of lamb which was so delicious I had to pick up the bones and happily knawed away, and a hazelnut parfait pud. Heaven. The rest of the table had each chosen a different dish from chef Jeff Crawford’s imaginative menu, which ranged from fresh fish to Scottish beef, and there were murmurs of appreciation around the table. Even more murmurs when the bill arrived and we discovered all this, and drinks, had come to £30 a head.
The church has surprises everywhere, as we discovered when we found out way to the nightclub, Club O, where we were promised the Saturday treat, “infamous Bobby Bluebell” playing chart, indie and r’n'b. The name Òran Mór means big song – which we thought is very appropriate for this building bursting with life, as we happily rocked away.
And where did we stay? Ah! At one of those faceless new buildings run by a foreign company (this was Belgian). The name told us everything: Park Inn Glasgow City Centre. Far too long and pretentious, with a stupid system where their website never gives the telephone number of the hotel – you are expected to deal with a call centre who have no idea what the hotel is about.
But it was right in the centre, opposite the Concert Hall, and Glasgow was full. All went true to type, until I had a problem with hot water, and suddenly a very efficient Manager appeared, apologised profusely (always a good defuser of anger) and worked charmingly to sort out my problems – then chatted about our stay, and sorted out some other minor problems. Alan Marshall, the Manager, is one of those ‘old-fashioned’ people who believe the customer is always right, and goes out of his way to see that you get what you want. If his company has any sense they will promote him quickly, and listen to what he says the customer wants.
And the seaplane at the top of the page? This is another of Glasgow surprises, but we didn’t have time to fly in her. Next time ………
FESTIVALS This is only a small selection of all the events that take place throughout the year
April Glasgow Art Fair
May Ignis Assett Management Women’s 10K
June West End Festival; International Jazz Festival; Cirque du Soleil
July River Clyde Festival
August – Piping Live (in outdoor spaces around the City); World Pipe Band Championships
Oct. Inspiration; Arts for kids and Teens
Nov. Fireworks (with music) – probably largest firework display in UK – free.
Tourist Board: www.seeglasgow.com
Che Camille: www.checamille.com
Oran Mor: http://www.oran-mor.co.uk/whatson.php