Friday, July 25, 2008

Glasgow East - just have to mention it!

'Catastrophe for Labour as SNP triumphs in Glasgow East · Nationalists overturn 13,500 majority in heartland.'
That was how the Guardian reported the results of the Glasgow East by-election today. And in a blog called The Scottish Home, even though I'm usually writing about textiles and gardens and things like that, I just have to say something about it before I go back to the latest novel - called the Physic Garden - which is progressing nicely at about 30,000 words.
I've said it before on this blog, and I'll say it again. I love Glasgow. It's my favourite city in the world. Its people are surely among the most friendly, bright, irreverent, inventive and creative in existence. But the city's east end has extreme problems of poverty and deprivation that all these many years of a Labour government have done little to address. The fact that this poverty sits cheek by jowl with the newly gentrified Merchant City, where £1000 handbags and designer chic are commonplace, doesn't really help.
I'm no political economist, but I remember attending a conference a few years ago and hearing somebody speak about how he had taken photographs of some of those sixties tower blocks in Glasgow with heat detecting cameras in an effort to assess why the buildings were so disastrous for the residents - full of damp and bronchitis-inducing black mould. Asthma was endemic among the children. Clothes were ruined. The residents themselves were always being blamed for this. They were boiling kettles, breathing, that kind of thing. (I kid you not!) He said 'we looked at the pictures and wondered what all those little blocks of insulation were. Then we suddenly realised that they were curtains in the windows. We had taken the pictures at night. The drawn curtains were providing infinitely better insulation for each of the flats than the walls!'
Over the past few weeks, the English press have sent representatives north to trash Glasgow's east end. And they've made a pretty good job of it. A.A. Gill (gonnae stick to cookery pal?) in the Sunday Times produced a predictably glib piece of non analysis. None of it has gone unnoticed. The East End has serious problems but it is by no means as wholly bleak a dystopia as was painted. And this from guys who live in London for God's sake. A wee biblical quote comes to mind: 'And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?' Away and consider a few beams, eh?
All of which amounts, I suppose, to a lot of votes for the SNP. As a lifelong and instinctive Labour party supporter myself, I voted for them (the SNP that is) in the Scottish parliament and will probably vote for them in a general election too unless Labour stops marching us relentlessly backwards towards 1984 and lecturing us about how we don't really understand them.
I started watching the election results programme last night but when Labour demanded a recount at about 1.30 I decided that enough was enough and went to bed. Still I put on the radio only to realise that Radio Scotland stops broadcasting around midnight and switches to Five Live which is the general UK news programme. I drifted off to sleep only to wake up in the early hours when the results were being announced. We got a wee chat with a professor from Strathclyde University, and then suddenly we were off on the Obama trail. No more analysis or comment from Scotland. And it's that sort of thing, folks, that really gets your goat when you live north of the border. That and the relentlessly London centred news. Wall to wall Boris when it was the London mayoral elections. SATS disasters which we don't have in Scotland. (We don't have the dreaded SATS up here but we do have assessments in reading, writing and maths, pupils are tested "when ready" and there's no big deal made of it. It's marked internally. The results are private. Teachers do their job. It works. )
And don't get me started on the new weather maps which condense the whole of this huge country into a distorted squidge at the top end of the screen. And as somebody pointed out recently on a comment programme, Glasgow has had a knife problem for years, but it's only when it starts happening in London that the politicians suddenly start focussing their hand wringing on it.
So food and fuel prices may have a lot to do with the election result as Labour would like to believe. But a general dissatisfaction with Westminster, coupled with the perception that the SNP have done pretty well so far is surely an even bigger factor.
Enough politics for one day. I'm away back to my textiles and my book.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Glasgow River Festival

I was at the Glasgow River Festival with my son yesterday (husband is away sailing, or rather wind bound in Balamory, sorry Tobermory at the last count) and can't post any pictures because I forgot my camera but you can visit the official website here! Ever since the traditional shipbuilding industries failed it seems to me that Glasgow has turned its back on its fabulous river, successive councils not recognising that a great river can be the finest asset a city will ever own. Go to any of the great European cities from Paris to Vienna and the river is part of many of its best visitor attractions - as well as a thoroughfare in itself. For many years Glasgow was the exception. Well, no more it seems. Over the past few years Glasgow has rediscovered its river: new developments, new bridges, new attractions. Yesterday there were free shuttle buses from the city centre down to the big exhibition centre on the banks of the Clyde. There was jet ski racing, historic and interesting vessels of all kinds, including tall ships, exhibitions, and displays which included old fire engines (peculiarly attractive these!) - and beach volley ball which son insisted on watching for a bit, only to retire disappointed - by the relative tameness of the sport, if not the skimpiness of the girl's attire. But it was a windy day, so maybe that was the problem!
Later in the afternoon we got a bus back to the city centre and ate a very late lunch/early dinner in Dino's in Sauchiehall Street (something of a Glasgow/Italian institution this, excellent food, even more excellent service.)
One of the nicest things about the day from my point of view was that it was a brief return to the time when my son was a wee boy and suddenly stopped being a baby and started being a really pleasant companion. Obviously he has grown up and away and independent, and I wouldn't want it any other way but just sometimes it's lovely to have a real mother/son day - wander about with absolutely no agenda other than enjoyment and conversation. Standing on one of the footbridges over the river, and watching the seaplane landing - an enchanting and emotional moment - was one of the high points of the afternoon. For a brief moment I don't think it mattered whether we were this middle aged woman standing with a viking at her side - or a much younger mum with the wee blonde lad in glasses he used to be!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Yet another interesting old Paisley Shawl

There is a 'mystery' about this very large paisley shawl which I'm currently listing in my eBay store. I'm sure somebody out there may be able to solve it for me. There is a small black centre panel - but it is really only a 'half' panel as you can see from the photograph. And when you look closely, you can see that the shawl consists of two large and definitely matching pieces, which have been joined together. Even the pattern on the epaulette ends matches - but they have been woven together, and not stitched! I've never come across one like this before. The story with these paisleys is that the early shawls had very large centres. In fact the earlier shawls were much more delicate affairs altogether, longish but much narrower, with highly decorated ends, designed for wearing over those lovely 'Jane Austen' fashions.
There were square shawls too, and you can see one here, but with the advent of the crinoline, a certain size became necessary if they were to be worn over those huge skirts as warm winter wraps. Even so the early shawls followed the theme of having a large centre panel with a beautiful woven border, the 'boteh' or wonderful fern patterns often intruding into that centre. I sold one like that earlier this year, and very beautiful it was too.
But as the century progressed the centres got smaller and smaller until with the later nineteenth century shawls there was no centre panel at all. When I hung this up to examine it more closely, I wondered at first if it had been stitched together, but the two pieces have definitely been woven together. I love these textile mysteries and - being a writer - I got to imagining that perhaps this had been a shawl with a full centre panel which sustained some damage early in its life. And perhaps - this being discovered very close to the area where the shawl might have been made in the first place, ie the West of Scotland - it was taken back to a Paisley weaver who simply cut out the small bit of damage and did a brilliant weaving restoration job on the two halves. This was not a throw away society, and a shawl would have been a precious item, so make do and mend was the only option!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Hotpoint Fridge Freezer, Curry's, and call centre hell.

Even as I write this there is an engineer in the kitchen attempting (for the third time) to fix our 18 month old Hotpoint Fridge Freezer. Bought because we thought the name some kind of guarantee of quality. Hmmm. Yesterday, when I opened the freezer door to take out the ice cream to eat with the strawberries for lunch (we had a visitor!) I had that sinking feeling you get when you realise that everything has gone slightly soggy. On the previous two occasions it was the opposite problem - everything in the fridge was freezing - frostbitten lettuce and tomatoes included. Overnight things just got worse until by this morning it was clear that although the motor seemed to be running, and the light was on, there was nobody home in terms of chilling power.
Overnight too, it quickly became obvious that after the last engineer's visit, I had mislaid the service policy documents. Aaaaargh. They probably, said my husband, went the same way as the car tax disc. That was eventually found, still in its envelope, at the bottom of the dustbin. Not the nice clean blue recycling bin, you understand but the slightly smelly green household waste bin.
A frenzied search of all folders, drawers, cupboards, and even the insides of cookery books, lasting several hours eventually resulted in the discovery of the original receipt, service numbers and handbook, filed away under a completely non intuitive heading. But still no policy documents. Nevertheless, knowing that I had paid to renew the service agreement earlier this year (about three weeks before the damn thing started to go wrong - phew!) I got up, made coffee, phoned the recommended number clipped onto the fridge receipt and immediately entered the Kafka-esque universe of the call centre.
It was one of those voice recognition processes which never can quite recognise my voice. It understood Hotpoint, and Fridge Freezer but baulked at the date of purchase. Eventually, on option one, I got through to a polite human being who told me that I was definitely insured, but since I was calling a service centre, I would need an authorisation number, and that could only come from Curry's. He gave me a number to call which would allow me to confirm said number, as well as agreement number and possibly replacement documentation. I dialled the number he had given me and realised, half way through the same voice recognition process that I was back where I had started, calling the service centre. I spoke to a different polite human being (one with either a summer cold, or such ferocious hay fever that she was practically incoherent). She confirmed that I would have to get an authorisation number from Curry's and gave me a number which I realised was the same number. Option six, she said, helpfully.
I dialled again. More voice recognition. It was beginning to understand me, familiarity I suppose.
But - dear God - I was back where I started, with the service centre. Moreover, there was no option six. There were only four options. I listened again and decided to try a different option. Can't remember now whether I pressed three or four, but I got through to another nice polite human being who said 'the whole system has changed.' He quickly summoned all my policy details, gave me my agreement number (I am insured until 2012!) and an authorisation number to boot.
He has promised to send me new policy documents within the next few days.
I called back to give the service centre my precious authorisation number and book an engineer's visit and pointed out (politely - the whole transaction was extremely polite!) that the information they might be giving customers in similar circumstances was somewhat out of date. The number worked but there was no option six. I honestly don't think she believed me.
The moral, I suppose, is - whatever you do, don't lose the documentation! When the new agreement arrives, I'll be filing it under home insurance. And not in the bin.
The fridge freezer is working again.
For how long? That's the question.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Son and Scenery

Thought you might like to see a few nice pictures of my large viking like son, who is currently looking for work, preferably in the computer games industry - although I reckon he could be a model, but then I'm his mum so I would, wouldn't I? He's blonde, blue eyed and a nice lad too. He trains regularly at karate. Martial arts are - as well as the whole world of creative computer games - his main passion in life, both doing and writing about them but he's mad about other sports as well: squash, rowing, ice skating and weight training, to name but a few.
You'll find his own video games blog online at There's a bit of Scottish scenery in here as well, of course. The gunnera plants are at Culzean Castle on the Ayrshire coast, and still bigger than he is, although he's all of 6ft 4 inches tall. Like all mothers, I find myself wondering where on earth the time goes. It seems like only last week that I was taking pictures of him toddling about at Culzean in his wee red boots!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Marks and Spencer and Saving the Planet.

On Saturday afternoon I trudged wearily down the High Street of our nearby town and went into Marks and Spencer's food department. I needed something quick and delicious for the evening meal, it was late, the town was impossibly busy, and I was tired. There is no real car park in this particular Marks and Sparks. It is a town centre store with a single horrendous lane where you can pull in to pick up your shopping, if you are brave. Otherwise, it's a case of hauling everything with you to the nearest car park.
Now before I go any further, let me say that I'm all for recycling. My whole eBay business is based on recycling and nobody is happier than me to see a piece of lovely old linen being given a new lease of life, used and treasured by a new owner. I'm no fan of plastic bags either, having done a fair bit of sailing in my life, and seen the mess they make of certain West of Scotland beaches. I usually have a reusable shopping bag, and in fact the back of my car is always full of bags, wine carriers etc.
But on this occasion, I had nothing with me except my handbag. I filled a wire basket with more than I had intended of course. The delicious meal (Marks and Sparks food is undeniably good, though pricey) plus some strawberries, plus yoghurt and their strong leaf tea, of a kind which is getting harder and harder to find here in Scotland. I queued at the check-out and when I got there, the assistant said in what can only be described as accusing tones 'Don't you have your carrier bag with you?' This is what happens, you see. Our politicians used that horrible, hectoring, nannying tone, and it's infectious.
'Oh, no' I said, waking up from what had been a queue induced trance. 'I'm sorry. I don't.'
'Well' she said, 'Do you want a 5 pence carrier or a 15 pence carrier?'
I looked at my far too expensive shopping. I looked at her. I looked at the long queue behind me.
'Do you mean' I said, 'That you are proposing to charge me for a bag?'
'Yes' she said, a little smugly.
I did a very quick assessment of the situation. The long haul back up the town flashed before my eyes. The fact that I could buy just about everything on there in Morrisons, much more cheaply. The fact that I don't believe for one instant that Marks and Sparks really care all that much about saving the planet. The fact that they didn't have - for instance - brown bags for people who might have genuinely forgotten their reusable, environmentally friendly carriers. The fact that there was a long queue behind me. The fact that the assistant was unfriendly. It took seconds.
I said - quite politely, I think - 'In that case, I don't think I'll bother thank-you' turned on my heel and walked off. I could hear the assistant ringing for help, even as I left the store.
It was the single most satisfying thing I had done all weekend.
As I said at the start - I don't really hold with plastic carriers and often shop in Lidls, where the food is cheap and excellent, and where I am completely happy to trolley all my stuff to the car and pack it for myself in an assortment of bags and boxes.
But - here in the UK at least - environmentalism has infected some of our big commercial organisations with a kind of smug 'take it or leave it' attitude which sits very ill with the fact that they are expecting us to spend more and more of our hard earned cash.
It is exactly like a bunch of slightly overweight politicians who have just voted themselves a vast sum in additional 'expenses' presuming to lecture us on wasting our food....

Friday, July 04, 2008

Affordable Art

Have just started to build a wee gallery entry for my husband Alan Lees on the lovely 'Affordable British Art' website. This is a brilliant venture, easy to use, and the paintings look smashing on there. What's also good about it is that you can change things around frequently, and can also list prints and even sculptures as well.
It's also a site that seems to be getting a good deal of publicity. I've been browsing some of the work on there, and it's very impressive - a site that welcomes you in, and is very easy to use both for artists and those thinking of buying an artwork. You buy direct from the artist as well, which allows the public to commission a piece of work if that's what they want to do. I'm convinced that online is very much the way forward for art sales, so we'll see what happens!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Graduation at Glasgow University

Our son graduated from Glasgow University with an Honours BSc in Mathematics this week - we attended the deeply impressive ceremony on tuesday, fairly bursting with pride! He's the big blonde Viking in the middle of the picture, wearing his kilt and his robe. The ceremony - which was preceded by a reception in the maths department - was held in the university's stunningly beautiful Bute Hall. Glasgow, which is among the top 1% of universities in the world, has more listed buildings than any other university. The ceremonial was fabulous - everything running like clockwork (well, they have had 600 years to get it right!) even down to a wee rehearsal of the singing of the academic hymn, Gaudeamus Igitur, for the audience of proud parents, grandparents etc. Then the students went up one by one to be 'capped' and have their silk lined hoods placed over their heads. Frankly, it was magical.
Afterwards we gathered in the quad (bit showery, as you can see, but very warm) to drink buck's fizz and indulge in congratulations all round. It was lovely to see so many fine young people gathered in one place. It was lovely too to hear the Vice Chancellor impressing upon them all the sheer magnitude of their achievement. I think for the youngsters it was the first time they had really paused to think about exactly what this was - the culmination of so many years of trying, of working, of overcoming all kinds of problems. Esssentially, he was telling them that they ought to be proud of themselves, ought to take their learning out into a wider world, and continue to surprise themselves and those around them in all kinds of positive ways. Our son's wonderful advisor - long past retirement age, but staying on to help his students - was waiting to take lots of photos of his advisees. He was an academic advisor in the old style, keeping in touch with his students, caring about them, writing to them and even taking all his final year students out for a meal - and it was obvious that the respect was mutual, for they all loved him too, not just for his fine mind, but for all the time and trouble he took with them. Afterwards we went off to a restaurant called The Ubiquitous Chip for a long, leisurely and very pleasant meal, before heading home. Our son, meanwhile, went off to party into the early hours....
Now, of course, the hunt is on for a job. We woke up wishing we could have the whole day over again.