Category Archives: Glasgow

Posts concerning my transition to Glasgow, Scotland, beginning in September 2009.

Glasgow and Me (8), Plus Edinburgh

When I was small, our family had a copy of Maurice Sasek’s This Is Edinburgh in circulation:

I don’t remember if there was a specific reason, apart from our vivid consciousness of Scots ancestry, but I read through that book countless times. I bring it up now because I had so internalized the images on those pages that actually going to Edinburgh, all the way to Edinburgh (as Ian Hunter might sing) not stopping at Haymarket, was like entering a a physical representation of my imagination. It was that strange and intoxicating.
Relative to the “Glasgow and Me” theme, nothing I have done since I moved here underscored as much as this that I actually live in Scotland, and that I live in Glasgow-as-distinct-from-Edinburgh. I loved visiting Edinburgh, and I can’t wait to take Margaret and Pippa there. I’ve said before that I feel at home in old places, and Edinburgh is significantly older (in architecture and even in most streets). Add to that the experience of discovering what you had seen and known before (in my imagined, childhood, Sasek-inspired version of Edinburgh) and it was a truly spectacular afternoon.
I love ScotRail.
Now, as to the visit to Edinburgh itself: I arrived at Waverly shortly before midday. I fist explored Princes Street; there’s a branch of the Pen Shop in Jenner’s there, and I went up to encourage the staff by purchasing a bottle of ink remover (didn’t really need any more ink, and I tend to steer away from contemporary pens — speaking of which, I should do some pen posts again soon, maybe after I write out what I was thinking about hermeneutics and moral theology and so on). I had finished reading a book I’m reviewing on the train ride, so I felt a rush of satisfaction and accomplishment; a pen accessory seemed like a modest reward. On the way to Jenner’s, I took a photo of the Scott Memorial.

Scott Memorial

There was a kilted piper busking on the pavement; I declined to photograph him, but I’m sure there was such a figure in the Sasek book, so I felt as though I’d gone through the Wardrobe into fantasy-Edinburgh already (much stronger than seeing locations I recognize in “Taggart” episodes). The message of the Scott Memorial: “We’re serious about honouring people who boost the stature of Scotland!”
I crossed Princes Street Gardens and headed to the Royal Mile in search of the hotel where I’d meet Holly later that afternoon. That accomplished in short order, I began meandering. Sisters and brothers, Edinburgh is a city made for meandering. All the closes — hidden byways and plazas without obvious immediate street access — and bridges and alleys make for prime meanderage. Meandritude. Meanderosity. In one of the staircases, I discovered that some Edinburghians evidently had a low opinion of George II.

Edinburgh Pedestrian Staircase

I had coffee at a pleasant juice bar, wandered some more, clambered up to the castle (didn’t go in),

Edinburgh Castle

looked in at the Writers Museum,

Writers Museum, Edinburgh

and ended up at one of the cafes in which J. K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, The Elephant House. There’s a lovely windowed back room there (would be exactly what MArgaret’s looking for, but the commute would be rough), with a great view of the Castle Rock, but I sat out front with a smoothie.

The Elephant House, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh

Then it was time to go meet Holly, with whom I shared a wonderful drinks-and-dinner, reminiscing and updating and talking about the cashmere business and academic life. Holly impressed the staff by speaking to them all in fluent Italian; I nodded vaguely, and at one point the “foreign language” center of my brain emitted a pointless “Danke.” We called it a relatively early evening; she had to wake up at six, and I had the train ride ahead of me. The hotel was stylishly crepuscular, so there wasn’t much chance of a well-lit photo, but a kind desk clerk agreed to give it a try. Of course, no single frame caught both of us smiling. . . .

Sister and Brother, Missoni Edinburgh

Great to see you, Holly, and thanks again for the terrific dinner! Great to see you Edinburgh, and soon I’ll bring Margaret or Pippa!

Glasgow and Me, Part Six Seven (Really, This Time)

Quick notes: I didn’t hear any fireworks before last night, and I didn’t hear the fireworks that went off last night either (having fallen precipitously asleep at 11:30); Margaret assures me that there were fireworks aplenty, from more than one location. I imagine that the subzero temperatures have diminished the inclination of amateur pyrotechnicians to venture out at night and practise their art, but still, the contrast with the weeks around Guy Fawkes Day is remarkable,
We went to see Sherlock Holmes at the local cinema (only one walkable movie theater in the West End, so far as I know). We enjoyed it immensely — very spacious, comfortable seats, with handsome wooden trays between every pair of seats. We saw another couple bring in a bottle of wine and glasses. Now, we can hardly wait to go back. That’s movie-watching with class.
I would wish for Margaret a chance to see Glasgow in warmer, sunnier weather (no, we didn’t go to George Square for Hogmanay), but it’s still making a good impression on her. I hope that her fondness for Glasgow increases from her current feelings in proportion to the length of days and the increase of degrees Celsius.
It occurred to me recently that a large part of my difficulty in making out a Glasgow accent derives from the very wide variety of accents I hear here. Glasgow being a center for academic, industrial, and general migration, one can easily encounter a great many variations of English accents, many south Asian accents, many accents from other parts of Scotland, and many hybrids of these with Scottish and Glaswegian speech. So I hardly ever know whether I’m hearing a (relatively) pure Glasgwegian accent, or some other regional or hybrid pattern. Still, I’m having less trouble than I was warned that I would.
Waitrose may be “upmarket,” but Wednesday, when Margaret and I went shopping there, we found a very good number of vegetarian-friendly options (too many, in fact!). Moreover, when Margaret asked an employee about gluten-free foods, he promptly led her to an end cap replete with g-f staples, and offered her a print-out of everything that Waitrose ordinarily stocks that meets her dietary needs. He then went and printed a copy of it and looked around for her to give it to her. That, my friends, is customer service. Even if Waitrose is justly labelled “upscale,” we will shop for groceries there as long as they have a good supply of foods we can eat, and they demonstrate such readiness to connect us to it.
Plus, everything that I like about Glasgow is vastly more wonderful while Margaret’s here.

Back To Scotland

Margaret and I arrived home at my flat on Partickhill Rd, vegged out for a while, I cooked her a rice pasta dinner, and she turned in. I’m about to follow suit, but not till after I repeat how wonderful it was to catch up with the midwestern offices of our family. Tomorrow we look around, maybe check out a museum or two, obtain some groceries, and I should be working on Sunday’s sermon and a little piece for the Scottish Episcopal Church’s magazine. (We’ll see when I and Margaret wake up tomorrow morning!)

Glasgow and Me, Part… Um, Six? Five No, Six

I handed in my marks yesterday, then came home and dissolved into a jelly-like goo. I was worn out from marking, and also having my predictable end-of-term let-down, intensified by my being alone in Glasgow. So I watched the last episode of The Wire and just zoned out.
I’ve never worked under this system of grading: I never (in theory) know whose exams or essays I’m marking, since all the paperwork comes through Christine, our Departmental Secretary. Everything is identified by numbers. I assign the marks (and make comments) on our 22-point scale, and direct the numbered evaluations back through Christine. She handles the spreadsheet with marks and percentages and so on, an assigns the summative grade to each student. This way, I don’t agonize over whether Annabelle tries hard, or how Rodney has disappointed me by working below his potential, or whatever. You’re Number 08073333, and I think your essay was a 17. Bingo. It’s liberating, in a way, although it doesn’t transform marking into a paradisal activity. (I can, if I’m determined, figure out identities for some work — but I prefer not to know, so even though I could, I won’t.) More marking next year, as I will be convenor for the NT Introduction.
Then today, I made a quick trip to the office to leave gifts for Christine and Meg and Helen, and to shut down my computer for the duration of my trip to Chicago. From there I went to the Cathedral, where we had an pleasant clergy-team meeting, and thence went to lunch with the other clergy. I already knew John Riches (I caught a misspelling of his name in the Wabash Center “Should We Teach The Historical-Critical Method?” round-table article in Teaching Theology and Religion) from New Testament academic circles, and it’s always a delight to converse with him. Kelvin is the Provost, who has been so generously interested in bringing me aboard; and Caroline is the third member of the team, whom I’d only just met in passing at church. We had a jolly old time talking about the up-coming episcopal election in Glasgow and Galloway, about some of the oddities of liturgy at St Mary’s (we deploy a double corporal to extend the area of the altar blessed at the Eucharist, but for a newcomer priest it’s very perplexing that the corporal you see first is off-center, and it seems to be overlapping another, and what about the lump in the middle, and so on), and weddings. A lovely time, and most intoxicatingly promising for time ahead spent working with these estimable colleagues.
Then I went gift shopping, about which I can’t say too much except you wouldn’t think I’d have to go all the way to the City Centre to find coal for my children. But coal I found, in interesting colors for each, plus some intriguing items that we’ll have to figure out how to distribute. I was going to have fajitas tonight, but I forgot that the fajita special applies only Sunday through Thursday, so I rolled home and settled in for the evening. I’ve been managing my grocery purchases so carefully that I’m running out of foods a little ahead of schedule.
I continue to be mystified by my toy washer-dryer (“I’m sorry, AKMA, but I can’t wash both legs of those trousers in the same load”). The same cycle will somedays end up with clothes wet to the point of dripping one day, but on the next day will produce hot, dry clothing with intense wrinkling. I think it’s a “wheel of fortune” model, and there’s a random factor built in to heighten the excitement.
And I’m realizing that I’ll actually be sad to leave Glasgow, even to see my family, even only for a week. Partly it’s that I’m just getting the hang of it; partly it’s my innate homebody nature; but also partly I’ll be missing all the far-reaching ways that I’ve been made to feel welcomed and valued here. I do like it here.

Glasgow And Me, Part Five (A Quick One)

In the course of my holiday shopping (and — let’s be honest — self-indulgence shopping), I’ve had occasion to stop in at numerous Glasgow antiques shops. None had any fountain pens, and I gather that this is the normative condition of such vendors in Scotland (alas). My point this afternoon, though, is that it seems a typical business practice for Glaswegian antique and used-goods merchants to make huge archaeological tells of random goods, of which only the surface layer is functionally accessible. Couple this anti-sales strategy with exceptionally narrow aisles and fragile goods sitting precariously atop these mounds, and you have a strong disincentive to pick up anything that isn’t already on the surface. Thus, all the sub-surface goods that the dealer has invested in are a dead loss; they might as well not be there, except that if they weren’t there a buyer might be able to move more freely through the store, or pick up and examine closely the items he or she can now easily reach and lift.
My proposed business plan: offer a vintage-goods dealer a flat fee to remove all the hidden junk, then re-sell it in a store with decent visibility. No need to pay me an upfront fee for putting this into practice; just send me a portion of the massive profits you’ll reap. Plus, if you do find any fountain pens under there, let me have first dibs on buying them.

Glasgow And Me, Part Four

  • The days are down to just about seven hours of daylight (even fewer on cloudy days — not that we have any cloudy days in Glasgow). Sunrise is after 8:30 in the morning, and sunset between 3:30 and 4:00 in the afternoon. The weather isn’t bad at all; often rainy, of course, but not too chilly, and once you get used to “rain” as the default weather, the non-rainy days seem more frequent and more pleasant.
  • The other day I bought some sprouts for a sandwich; sprouts-eaters in the US will know what I’m talking about, the plastic container jammed with growing sprouts in it. I was impressed to see a label prominently declaring that these were grown in Sussex, so I need not fear that these were inferior, high-carbon-footprint postmodern continental sprouts. When I got home to make the sandwich and pulled out some sprouts, I was stunned to discover that the Scottish packaging actually includes the dirt in which the sprouts are growing. So, presumably, Sussex is exporting itself 18 square centimeters at a time. This could be either a short-sighted self-defeating export plan (“Our home… it’s gone!”) or a very subtle plot to extend the borders of Sussex (and hence, of England). Perhaps it’s pushback against Scots autonomy? But whatever was going on, I had to renegotiate my sandwich plans to avoid ingesting unforeseen minerals.
  • The other night I had fajitas at one of the bars near my flat.

    Fajitas at Cottier's

    “Fajitas?” you may ask, “in Scotland?” Well, they certainly were fajitas in a sense — but they were in noteworthy ways unlike any fajitas I had ever had (or made) before. In the first place, they were served with neither refried beans nor rice. No refried beans anywhere near the platter, so far as I could tell (the lighting was dim). Yes, peppers and onions, courgettes and aubergines; no mushrooms (again, so far as I could make out). The spices resembled what I would expect, but at the same time tasted different. And — and this is the weirdly Scottish angle — I think the role of refried beans was played last night by mashed rutabagas. No kidding — neeps in my fajitas! It was all pretty satisfying for someone who hasn’t been to a Mexican restaurant in a long time and who was eager to have fajitas without making them himself, but aspects of the experience were gravely disorienting.


    I have to go back again and check this out.

  • The Theology and Religious Studies Department’s R&DC (proudly) pointed me to a BBC page that features the singers with whom she performs singing the Hallelujah Chorus with as many Glaswegians as wanted to, at the City Halls. That’s Meg almost in the upper right corner of the performers, one person to the left (with her head at an angle). If you actually want to hear Glasgow sing — rather than just talking about singing — you have to click on the “run-through” link (it took me a while to figure that out).
  • I am usually an early riser in the States, but over here — although I’ve made the gross adaptation to local time — I haven’t made the fine adjustment that would sustain my crack-of-dawn habits. I have new-found sympathy for Matt Pappathan, my eldest son and my daughter, and all the late sleepers I’ve known. Still, I’m pretty determined to work myself back into getting going between 6 and 7, if only because fifty-plus years of self-consciousness tell me that I ought to be awake and productive then, and the same number assure me at around 5 in the afternoon that there’s no real point to knocking myself out working any longer.
  • I haven’t had Coke in ages; don’t like it that much, and for caloric reasons I might as well get Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi. At lunch today, though, I was in a situation that made a Coke the most simple choice of a beverage. I noticed the difference right away: over here, they don’t swap out sugar for corn syrup. The sugary stuff tastes much better (not that I’m going to fall into the habit of drinking liquid sugar).

Glasgow and Me, Addendum

I remembered one item I’ve meant to include in my relocation posts: Since I’ve arrived in Glasgow, I’ve walked past a couple of cars that had flat tires, and yesterday morning I heard at least one car coughing and sputtering as its owner tried to induce the motor to turn over.
That won’t happen to me for the foreseeable future. I won’t fill a tank with petrol; I won’t have to remember to have my car inspected, or to buy and display my parking permit, or find a parking space. I won’t have any fender benders, and I won’t have to worry that a moment’s lapse of attention might cause costly damage. Yes, it would be convenient to be able simply to drive wherever I want; but I’m happy for now to forgo those conveniences for the pleasant knowledge of all the expenses I avoid (and of my greatly diminished carbon footprint).

Glasgow and Me, Interlude

I finished a batch of papers today — a very small batch, compared to many of my colleagues around the world (I’m especially attuned to this, since Margaret probably grades more weekly quizzes and exams than I mark in a semester) — but learning the standards in each new institution involves a complicated exercise in imagination, listening, estimating, truth-telling, and (often) allowing mercy to triumph over judgement.
My task this time was facilitated and complicated by the impressive array of grading tools that the Department provides for its students. “Facilitated,” of course, because the more data concerning what makes an “A” an “A” (or “First Class Honors,” or “20 on a 0 – 22 scale”), the more effectively one can communicate with students, colleagues, and other interested parties. “Complicated,” because the Department provides at least three distinct sets of explanations of our (three different, but coordinated) scales of evaluation.
So a great part of the process involved trying to compare the different sets of evaluative explanations with one another, so that I could compare the actual essays to the characterizations my students get. I wound up making a big matrix of rows of categories of evaluation (given in one of the sets of description) crossed with columns for Excellent (A, First Class Honors), Very Good (B, Upper Second Class), Good (C, Lower Second Class), Adequate (D, Third Class), and Weak/Poor/None. I put descriptive phrases, greyed slightly, in each of the first four columns and left the last column blank for my own explanation of what was so lacking.
I still had to assign marks on a 1 – 22 scale to each paper, but between my on-paper comments and the tick marks in the matrix, students ought to have at least a foggy sense of how they could do better. The whole thing reconciles, generally, with the three fuller descriptions that the Department provides, and I have the comfort that my marks bear a more-or-less direct relation to what I (and we) indicate in our guidance material. And I won’t have to do that again next time, thank heaven.

Glasgow And Me, Part Three

This is the weather they warned me about. It has been rainy, grey, and chilly almost continuously since last Saturday afternoon. Throw in the shortness of the day, and the resulting atmosphere is relatively gloomy.


But if this is how Glasgow gets its exquisitely rich greenery, and if the short winter days mean short summer nights, and it took two months of my residence to get a week-long string of cold, rainy days — that’s not bad. The rain’s supposed to dry up over the weekend, and a few days with no precipitation will be a good thing. The fallen leaves are dissolving slowly into a slippery cellulose goo that I’ll be pleased to be rid of. But I like Glasgow, and this weather is part of the deal. (Also, I should remember to goose up the heat in the flat, but not till I get back from my Saturday morning cup of coffee.)
I’m getting used to traffic on the left. When I arrived, my reflexes made me look for traffic on the US sides of the street, even when I knew that the traffic would be coming the other direction. My operating premise was, “There’s a car headed toward me, but I don’t know where it’s coming from.” I must have been a spectacle — even more than usual — flicking my head one direction, then the other. After a while, I’d get to the street, stop and think, look in the UK directions, take a quick look around to make sure there wasn’t a vehicle coming from an unexpected direction, and then cross. Now I’m pretty good at just looking in the needful directions.
I’d be pleased to find a restaurant that served a varied menu of vegetarian-friendly fare (in other words, maybe a gluten-free entree or two). The prominence of meat (and carbs) in Scotland’s diet impresses me.
No glitches in my bank account for the past few weeks. I realize that that shouldn’t be a big deal, but after the headaches getting it started, I’m not taking this for granted.
Oh, and speaking of things getting sorted, my landlord came by last week and saw to the joiner’s putting a new lock on the door. To my utter delight, the lock and key work very smoothly together, so I can walk up, unlock the door, and proceed directly into my flat, instead of arriving at my door and spending an awkward minute or so trying to negotiate with the older lock over whether I deserved to be admitted. Opening a door is not usually counted a particular delight, but I’ve felt a small surge of satisfaction each time I walked up to the door and simply opened it.
 Hmm, maybe I’ll add to this list if I think of more updates, but it’s getting late for me to head to Byres Road for coffee.

Glasgow and Me, Part Two

1) I was wrong about the pgipigeons. I think they just had a long weekend off when last I commented about bird life here.
2) Yes, it is usually cloudy part of every day. No, it does not usually stay cloudy all day. Yes, it rains a lot. No, it’s mostly drizzle and showers, not steady rainfall.
3) Tonight I will have my first encounter with vegetarian haggis. My father would be proud (although he would probably give me a hard time about the “vegetarian” part).
4) My back has been behaving very, very badly for the last couple of days. I’m not sure to what I should attribute this. Margaret notes that she had been keeping an eye on my back this summer (when my back is tight, I tilt a little to the right and limp, pronouncedly so when the back is actively spasming as it has been the last few days). Gary noted the clammy, chilly weekend weather, and that certainly might be part of the picture. I’ve had extra stress, as I picked up five lectures in Church History for an absent colleague. And of course, I have steady stress from being apart from Margaret and my family, and when I’m beset by such troubles they go straight to the base of my spine and form a rat’s nest of spasms. People who knew my Seabury office may remember a small colony of pots of ibuprofen and naproxen on my desk, for just such circumstances.
Then, presumably because I’m walking oddly due to the back spasms (and due to my extensive walking here, up and down hills), my leg muscles and nerves have been flaring in various odd ways.
The good news is that this morning’s walk in to work was very smooth. Whereas Monday and yesterday I had to pause now and then to stretch my back and let my legs have a break, this morning I strolled right in to work. I was supporting my back most of the way (arms crossed behind me), but no spasms, no need to pause and stretch or gasp in pain.
5) But the really good news is that my boxes from the States are scheduled to arrive this morning, and once Estates & Buildings carries them up the three long flights of stairs to my crow’s nest, I’ll have free access to my library again. Plus, I found a local “removal” firm that will swing by the office after the shippers leave, and they’ll carry my boxes to the flat for £200 less than it would have cost to ask the shippers to deliver to two points.
This means I’ll have my fall and winter clothes and outerwear at hand (a nice change from the minimalist wardrobe I packed in late July), my full complement of dress shirts and neckties, various odds and ends that I didn’t miss till they were packed, and my fountain pens and inks (the comfort food of my spare time).
6) Speaking of comfort food, I’ve been branching out from my supplemented-ramen diet (take one packet of ramen, add chopped peppers, onions, mushrooms, or frozen peas, broccoli, or corn, and faux chicken bits or faux ground beef). I’ve made supplemented soups (take one can of soup, add ingredients as above), chili (no, I really made the chili), stir-fried vegetables and rice, and I’m set to make [drum roll] my favorite pesto-and-spinach, onion, and garlic pizza. I found blank pizza shells and pesto at a local market, and now I have to make sure I can lay my hands on spinach and garlic — but oh boy, will that be great!
7) I’m feeling more at home here, bit by bit. I am very fond of Glasgow, and I look forward to feeling less tired all the time, so that I can begin exploring.