Walking out of Glasgow Airport into the icy Scottish landscape the dust of the African savannah felt like a distant dream. It was hard to believe I was back in Scotland, the first time I had been back in sixteen years. I can’t really say why it has taken me so long to return, I guess life just got in the way. The last time I visited was the first time after my mother’s funeral and I remember feeling disconnected and empty. I realised too when leaving the airport that there was nowhere on Earth that I would rather be at that moment than in the city I had grown up in. I had always longed to leave Glasgow, it wasn’t really the city or the country that I disliked, it was the feeling of remoteness – being stuck on the edge of an island at the edge of a continent in a place where a sea met an ocean. I felt cut off from, well, everything.
The first thing I noticed about Scotland (after the accents of the people in the terminal) were the state of the roads. Potholes everywhere. Living in sleek and modern Holland you don’t seem to notice how immaculate everything is until you travel somewhere else. Driving along the motorway I felt like I was coming home – crossing the Kingston Bridge you have stunning views, I was awestruck that view of the City Centre before me an old friend who had stayed the same.
After checking into the posh but characterless Hilton Hotel on William Street we made our way towards Central Station. After checking out the vegetarian restaurant Stereo on Renfield Lane (which was empty) we ended up in a sort of generic chipshop / cafe on Hope Street. It was here that I remembered how friendly Glaswegians are, I had forgot that it is perfectly normal to start up conversations with strangers on the street, everyone who walked in was welcomed with a “How ur yae doin’? What can ah get fur yea?“. While eavesdropping on a group of excited girls talking in slang about their plans for the Friday night I realised I was home.
In the photo above there is a church steeple in the middle. Just behind the steeple are hills covered in snow which Glaswegians call the Sleeping Soldier because it looks like a man with a rifle, sleeping. I have fond memories of the Sleeping Soldier. Walking to school at the end of the summer in t-shirts sometimes he would be covered in snow in the distance signalling the approaching winter.
While walking in the Westend I was filming the University and River Kelvin when an elderly lady approached me, her first words were “The Snow Bridge.” Firstly I was shocked that a complete stranger had come up to me to start a conversation but I was also intrigued about the name of the bridge as it sounded so poetic. The woman told me the history of the bridge where collected snow would be swept off into the River Kelvin hence the name. I always knew that Glasgow is a beautiful city with rough edges but the history of this bridge added a touch of elegance which the city deserves. I wanted to talk to that elderly woman forever, she had been born in Sweden but had moved to Glasgow as a child and knew the history of every nook and cranny.
I live in Amsterdam, it is a fine city with perfect roads and neat parks but in Amsterdam that is all you will get, everything else will cost you. Glasgow may not be so sleek and rich but it is a city that gives. It’s best museums and galleries are free, so are it’s libraries with free parking all around. Glasgow is a kind city to it’s residents. I was exposed to art and culture everyday as a child as I’d end up wandering the Kelvingrove Museum as it was near our home on Radnor Street. The highlight but most disturbing part of the Kelvingrove visit was seeing the Egyptian mummy only to us it wasn’t a pharoah but just “the deed guy“. Summer we would swim in the River Kelvin and dare each other to walk through pitch black train tunnels to a labyrinth of abandoned train stations, we were The Famous Five.
It has been amazing being in Glasgow. When my mother was a toddler my great aunt used to take her to Jaconelli’s on Maryhill Road for sweets. Ofcourse I had to go there and while tucking into the best macaroni and chips I can ever remember eating I could almost sense them smiling down on me. What was even more strange the radio was playing songs from the 80’s and every song that played had some sort of significance to my teenage years when I’d wander through bohemian Hillhead. I’d wear old mens coats (it was the fashion, I swear!!) and shemagh scarves and eat croissants in Ashton Lane while rummaging through record shops looking for the latest singles from Indochine and Les Rita Mitsouko. I was always European first and then Scottish which I blame on the time I split my head open in the yard, after that incident I lost my accent, maybe it was PTSD with a dose of Glaswegian angst. Go to Jaconelli’s if you are in town, they still have the same sweet jars selling the same flavours of sweets and the same chairs and tables as when I was a child.
Now I could see my hometown as a foreigner. When it got overcast staring out of the hotel into the snow I could almost feel I was in somewhere like Murmansk, below grey silhouettes scurrying in the snow between Soviet style tower blocks and the industrial looking port in the distance. Then at other times I could have been in any dynamic European capital with the artistic Westend or the stylish shopping malls kitted out in expensive wood and items in shop windows costing alot more than a small family car.
I can see my city now. I grew up there as a child who knew nothing but it’s streets and now decades later I can stare through layers and buildings with a connection that I will never be able to find anywhere else.
When I was a child I dreamt of faraway places and exotic islands that I knew one day I would wander. Now in middle age I dream of the city of my youth and stare into windows for people who no longer live there in a city that, by following my own life path, I lost long ago.