Glasgow is grimy; it is sooth-stains marred against attention-grabbing plastic; it is post-industrial abandonment displayed as old red stone crumbling. I hear it is flames dancing in art schools and I saw traffic cone crowns for historical characters astride brass horses. The city has a hole in the ground where you can see the trains pass by, as if a surgeon had left halfway through a colectomy, left the door open, and you had quite confusingly found your way into this show of perilstaltic truth of the bloods and sinew that make everything work hiding underneath. One can’t help but feel a little dirty at the sight and sound of the underground trains seen from above; as if something too private had been ruined.
This Scottish city of expansive histories is all of these things as a whole and in isolation.
Glasgow is a high street that closes in the middle of the week, and wide-open spaces where buildings once stood. It has a river bisecting it in two, where sewage and drainage pour hardest on a wet night. Like a drunkard vomiting in a back alley, grilled mouths like booze-broken teeth spew mistakes of many a Carling-flavoured binge into the River Clyde. Mistakes of the drunk and all of us who are addicted to legal and illegal drugs. Even in the banking district, its city centre, what appears as a crowning jewel of redevelopment and Big Money, has scars of soot, of back alleys littered with soggy cardboard branded in global and local; the yellow Chiquita logo standing next to one of a local brewery whose name I’ve already forgotten. The streets are wide, gridded, sloping up a hill or precariously creating the sort of descents that makes every cyclist happy with the exhilarating joy of wind rushing past your ears – that is, if your bicycle has decent breaks.
This Scottish city of expansive histories is all of these things as a whole and in isolation. Infinites is what Glasgow is made of. The whole of this town is infinitesimal infinites, whatever that whole is. Our senses forbid us from living the whole picture; and how could they do otherwise? This hominid bodily phenomenon enshrined in the Western ideal of individuality is all but temporary. We people are transients in space; travelling, passing by. From flowering meadows to echoing caves inside mountain tops; from piss-smelling underground trains, to pigeon shit-covered skyscraper roofs; to know the entirety of our ecosystems, macro or micro, is an impossibility. Who can say what reason must an empty bottle of Bulmer’s cider (carefully) left by a gutter pipe (behind a Chinese restaurant in the centre of Glasgow) have to be there? To know its story one must be omnipresent and have seen the drunk (for who else our social conditioning would let us paint as the culprit of this deed?) both as an intoxicated being and no more than a carrier; the bottle to the person as a flea to the rat. These things we do not hear, smell, see… we don’t even want to touch them. We cannot know these things, for their complexity is the secrets only the imagined demons hiding in the shadows cast by extractor fans, wheelie bins and rusting fire escapes have had access to. To hear such enigmas is to go mad like Slayton Ford in Methuselah’s Children. Every person’s thread is too knotted to make sense of it, even less so when all we see is the knots and not the whole tapestry of their life. We are become fish, oblivious to the shadow of the trawler above, breathing our last free breath before the incomprehensible tension of nylon takes us away from our world. We ignore how lampposts were placed, and what mathematical and regulatory rules number the distance between one and the other. Why is city-grown wild fruit left ignored by all but birds and rats? Why do the duvets and blankets remain untouched by an abandoned shop front? And how come we see it but don’t see it; look at it, but don’t let understanding come to us? A choice, learned or otherwise, to not want to understand. We pass by our environments, understanding little, and very rarely being in there long enough to consider the cheer enormity, the cheer infinity, the Gogleplex of possibilities, stories, narratives, madness that every minute little detail has to tell.
to make the air vibrate at such frequency that naught but char and dust would remain of this slowly dying Blue Marble of ours
I do not know the exact number of stories, big, small, insignificant and world-shaking, Glasgow has, but I do know that it has an infinity of them. And I do not wish to know them all. The collective shout would be so loud, so powerful, as to make the air vibrate at such frequency that naught but char and dust would remain of this slowly dying Blue Marble of ours. It would be a nice thing to have, though, this knowledge, as well as the ability to tell all of these stories, mundane, disgusting and beautiful as they might all be. But, alas, we can’t and must make do by what our senses provide us. Phenomenological existence with its limits and possibilities – stories in experience, be our own or that distilled by others and given to us by a variety of mediums and, now, digital platforms.
Continued in Part #2: Tough Grass