Leaving Glasgow

Just about four years ago, I began a series of posts about the experience of relocating from North carolina to Glasgow; this evening, I’m beginning a series of posts about the experience of relocating from Glasgow to Oxford.

So, thing one: Since moving to Glasgow, my admiration for the work of Alasdair Gray has amplified a zillionfold. I’ve posted video about him, photos of his mural in the Hillhead Subway Station; here’s “Eden and After,” a painting in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland (it exists in several other versions as well). I would have used it as a point of reference when I next lectured on Genesis 2-3:

Eden and After, by Alasdair Gray

I hate to say goodbye to the city of Gray — a great man in a great city.

Would Be Proud To Accept Visa

‘Orwellian’ branding at the 2012 Olympics
(Photograph: John L. Walters @ Eye magazine)


I’m letting my nerves settle after an anxiety-wracked meeting with our HR staff. It’s that time of history again: visa renewal time! Woohoo!

We love living in Scotland, and I would never say anything negative about the Home Office. All hail our civil servants, and the pains they take to protect us from false brethren who would creep in privily to spy out our freedom! I just get extremely nervous about ambiguous forms when my livelihood (and £2,250 non-refundable) is at stake. One dumb mistake, and deportation and a significant financial loss (right at a time when the cash would be most needed) hang over my head.
At any rate, for the £2250 fee, this pair of mostly harmless lecturers get to apply to be permitted to continue teaching the youth of Scotland about Jesus and Paul and Early Church History and the saints and theology and ethics, then wait months to find out whether our application has been approved (I’m counting on the post-Olympic slump in applications — surely there must be one — to help speed our applications through). There will be feasting and dancing in Glasgow when the news comes out, but for now, fretting and scrimping and saving and after our application is complete and submitted, eager worrying about when we find out.

Posted using Mobypicture.com
(Photo Richard Denton at Mobypicture)
Margaret reminds me that no one we know has ever been turned down for renewal. This is good and reassuring. I will try to control my tendency to hyperventilate.
Might there not be a way of ascertaining that an applicant has been living productively and peaceably in the UK for three years, has a steady job, and hasn’t given the faintest sign of terroristic inclinations, all for a somewhat lower fee and at a somewhat more rapid turn-around time? Well, presumably, if it were possible to do things faster, at a lower fee, with equal thoroughness, the Home Office would do it. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to relax.

Ecology & Sensibility

All is well in Glasgow, apart from the marking Margaret has to do and an annoying cold (or allergy) that jumped on me last weekend and, not taking the hint, has lingered through the week. We’ve had a truly remarkable run of weather recently. Remarkable, that is, for its unvarying typicality. Starting I-don’t-remember-how-many-days-ago, the high temperature has been 10 or 11°, low 4 or 5°, with variable clear skies and clouds, and intermittent rain. Last I checked, this trend is set to continue indefinitely.
Now, this weather is not at all out of bounds for Glasgow this time of year; indeed, I would reckon it’s pretty much the default setting. But the consistency with which it has settled in is eerie. Ordinarily I’d expect more day-on-day variability; a drier, sunnier day here, a bleaker, blusterier day there. But hey, there’s no ice on the pavements, and rain is just par for the course here in Glasgow.
Speaking of what’s typical of Glasgow, I’ve introduced Margaret to Rab C. Nesbitt — a sort of Glaswegian amalgam of The Beverly Hillbillies, Steptoe & Son/Sanford & Son, All in the Family, except with a radically amped-up degree of over-the-top rudeness, all in uncompromising Glasgow patter. (I see a number of episodes on YouTube: you can watch the first episode here.) The lead character is a determinedly unemployed waster, resident in the Giro Valley of Govan, who can’t tell you the last time he got blootered because he doesn’t remember being sober. (He gives up drink later in the series. Don’t tell Margaret, she hasn’t gotten there yet.) Margaret more pure of heart than Rab’s gutter humour, but she can’t help herself from taking sidelong glances at the screen and snickering in pained dismay. Nesbitt is not crassly exploitative comedy, though — there’s a very sharp political edge to Nesbitt’s street-philosopher monologues, pointed take-downs of social-climbers and politicians (and especially social-climbing politicians), and an affectionately self-deprecating perspective on scroungers, drunks, and numpties. Still offensive, but not solely offensive.
But the precipitating point for this morning’s post arises from the laudable prevalence of compact fluorescent bulbs here. Three cheers for long-life, energy-efficient illumination! In the course of yesterday’s spring spruce-up for the two-room castle here, though, I came upon a burned-out CFL bulb that I’d saved to dispose of safely. I don’t want to contaminate a landfill with mercury, no indeed. So I started looking for Glasgow Council’s facilities for proper disposal of CFL bulbs. After a few minutes of intensive searching, it became clear that the reason it was so hard to find the Council’s policy is that the best alternative Council offers (again, so far as I can make out after diligent searching) is traveling to one of the four recycling centres at the margins of the city. Now, I appreciate the difficulty of disposing of these bulbs — one doesn’t want just to put a bin somewhere and say, ‘Toss your CFLs in here’. At the same time, does someone actually expect me to hop on a bus, ride for twenty minutes or so, alight, walk for ten minutes or more, hand over a single CFL, then return home, at a cost greater than the price of the bulb, having taken about an hour of my time? My ingenious neighbours must be able to devise some more practical alternative. Or, if there’s already such an alternative, spomeone will put it on the Council website.

(Glas-) Go Figure

This past winter wasn’t especially harsh, or unpleasant, or anything noteworthy — but I’m very much more eager for spring and summer to come this year than I have been either of the past years in Glasgow. I have no explanation for this.

Post-Partisan Dilemma

When I moved to Scotland, I was already keenly aware of the vast divide that separates one Glasgow demographic from another: ‘Do you support Celtic or Rangers?’ I resolved to avoid taking sides publicly — I didn’t need to put myself at odds with anyone (I have had more than enough of unwillingly being at odds with people, believe you me). Gary advised me to support the Partick Thistle, which sounded good to me, but I knew without even deliberating that I would not align with one or the other of the Old firm.
Once I got here, and began paying attention to football, I realised that my resolution was more complicated than it might have seemed. Partick Thistle does not, in fact, play their home games in Partick, which is an affront to the good name of my neighbourhood (as though anyone would prefer to play in Maryhill rather than Partick!). If they honestly called themselves the Maryhill Thistle, I might be able to appreciate their candour and adopt them, but if they want my allegiance, they will have to depart Firhill and put together a stadium in some of the open land in our end of town. So no Jags for me.
That leaves Celtic and Rangers, and for my first two years here, Rangers were the decided overdogs — and brash about it, at that. They reminded me a little too much of the New York Yankees (by the way, what’s with so many people in the UK who wear Yankees gear? Are there not many other deserving baseball teams to support? Wearing a NY baseball cap in Glasgow is like saying, ‘I can’t be bothered to find out about a team I might actually like, so I’ll support the best-publicised team’), and the Orioles fan in me felt an obligation to prefer some team other than the overdogs — which meant, Celtic. (Their association with the Catholic community likewise played to my favour; in fact a couple of people have, after asking where my loyalties lay, have told me that I seemed to them like a Celtic supporter, with that circumstance in view.) That worked well enough for the past two years, where the Hoops played well, bettered most of the rest of the SPL, and finished second to the loud and proud Rangers. And in none of this time did I really feel tempted to voice a public allegiance among the Glasgow teams.
But at the beginning of this season, I felt as though Celtic had had enough hard times (well, finishing second to Rangers) that my determination was slipping. Two years was long enough for Rangers to dominate the SPL, and when Celtic stumbled to a haphazard start, I began leaning into public Celtic support.
And Celtic rewarded my support by turning on a streak of determined football, pulling from nine points behind Rangers to one, then three, then four points ahead. Huzzah! The on-going buzz of news reports that Rangers had been overspending like a sodden hooligan, had been dodging bills and neglecting their taxes, only affirmed my sense that Celtic represented a team of prudence, probity, and grit.
But then all fell to bits: Rangers’ financial troubles caught up with them, they’re shedding players and losing points, and suddenly Celtic is alone atop the SPL standings with a twenty-one point lead over second-place Rangers (equal to the distance between second-place Rangers and eighth-place Kilmarnock). It’s no fun to root for a steamroller in a league of Matchbox cars, and my appreciation for Celtic is now shadowed by compassion for everyone else in the league (besides Rangers, for whom my only positive feelings come from Christine (our building’s cleaner) supporting them). So there’s the dilemma. Support the superpower Celtic FC, the new overdogs par excellence, for whom I’ve been building sympathy during their years of (relative) hard going, or just stand off from any allegiance? Or support the Jags?
Well, baseball season is nearly on us, and there’s March Madness*, and maybe Celtic will win some games in the Europa League, and there’s the Scottish Cup, and eventually World Cup will start up again…


Another thing we love about living here: Margaret got a personal letter from her GP today, apologising for not having written her sooner about a routine test she recently had. Her GP had lost track of the results, they hadn’t been sent to him, and then one day he remembered that he hadn’t heard back from the lab, followed up, and passed along the nothing-to-worry-about news to Margaret.
After thirty years of adult life spent dreading communication with medics and onsurance companies, it’s now a pleasure for us to hear from our doctor. This we love about living in Scotland, and (by the way) this is what the benighted Con-Dem coalition is willing to endanger in favour of having a system more like the US (more costly, less even-handed, with profits for the few). Well, it’s lovely while it lasts.


I’ve been grinding my own coffee and making filtered coffee cup by cup, because I just don’t much like Americano. I suspect that it’s a trick of my imagination — is there really that much difference between filter-brewed coffee and diluted espresso? — but there we are. I prefer my coffee brewed, not diluted, and that’s that.
Now on Byres Road a coffee-aficionado’s haven has opened up, Avenue G, and every now and then we go to give AKMA a treat: my choice of three single-location varieties, fresh ground and filter-brewed. IF you care about coffee and live in Glasgow, Avenue G is the only place I’ve discovered where the coffee warrants a special trip. (We still love S’Mug for its atmosphere, and the tea is fine, but the coffee can’t hold a candle to Avenue G).


* Scotrail uses the term ‘March Madness’ to characterise their reduced-price ticket scheme — ‘Wow, only £2.90 to Motherwell! Let’s have a holiday!’ I think they don’t quite grasp what March Madness is all about.

Will The Wild Ox Be Content To Serve You?

Yesterday morning dawned grey and wet, but nothing would obstruct Margaret’s and my making our way to Pollok Country Park. Why, you ask? (The very question betrays your ignorance of autumn in Glasgow, for everyone who’s anyone will have had this Saturday marked weeks ago.) It turns out that, when Margaret was stranded in Baltimore and felt uncertain that she would ever be accorded the privilege of residence in this realm of Scotland, she and Jeneane fixed their attention on 2 October, the date of the annual Highland Cattle Show in Glasgow.

Highland Cattle Show

Yes, the weather was damp at best (and sodden the rest of the time); yes, the turf was marshy; yes Katie the Border Collie was a novice at herding Indian Runner Ducks, to the frustration of Mark Wylie; yes, Margaret and I made a transportation misstep that entailed an extra four miles of walking. Yes to all of that, but nothing could obscure the glory of a two-year-old Highland heifer waving his her horns a few inches in front of your face. These lovely, massive beasts command respectful attention, and attend we most certainly did.
We walked a lot, soaked up a lot of rain, tracked through plenty of mud, but we saw Big Calder (the inflatable highlander), the Drakes of Hazzard, Her Royal Majesty’s prize two-year-old, the World’s Biggest Rabbit, and sundry other attractions. We had a good long walk. We came through the drizzle and rain with our spirits up and our health intact. And Margaret got to see her Highland Cattle. +1 Glasgow.


May I say that every day I see men in Glasgow who are stouter than I am, and (although I’m taller than most Scotsmen) often enough see men of about my height? I’m not so unusual in my dimensions, honestly — just a tallish fellow who’s gone a bit round in the chest and middle. But judging from the charity shops, it is only short, skinny men (or occasionally men of about my jacket size, but with short arms) who give over their castoff clothing. Somewhere there must be a vast warehouse overflowing with suits and jackets my size, but for now, second-hand clothing is only for the slender shorter men.

Here, Here

I’ve been scrambling around to put together reading lists for my courses (and my portion of other people’s courses) this fall, which involves interacting with the online repositories of journal articles — an obligation that rivals for sheer ecstatic titillation such enviable pursuits as root canal surgery without anaesthesia, writer’s block, and listening to Vogon poetry. Not only are the interfaces for the various vendor packages all different; not only does each permit or discourage different ways of browsing; not only are they discontinuous with one another, so that if your library’s subscription to Transmodernist Hip-Hop Quarterly via JORTS expired in 2007, you have to navigate over to the Humanities Periodicals Database to pick up the 2008 issue for which you were browsing; not only do years sometimes disappear mysteriously from the range of “subscribed” volumes; not only do the URIs represent case studies in absurdly overcomplicated information design (here’s a no-kidding actual URI I was working with today: http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T002&prodId=EAIM&docId=A224406300&source=gale&srcprod=EAIM&userGroupName=glasuni&version=1.0); but (as Tom diligently reminds us) these soi-imaginant founts of knowledge operate principally so as to prevent access — first of all to the total outsider, but also to the academic subscriber who seeks knowledge in the wrong way (that is, a way that the database manager didn’t foresee, or foresaw and nixed), and then to the academic subscriber who’s in the wrong place (at home, rather than at a campus terminal), students likewise. In short, the role of the periodical-database companies is to prevent pretty much everything that a print librarian facilitates. Welcome to the awkward zone between the beginning of the digital transition and the time rationality sets in.
Anyway, my point wasn’t that I was disheartened by my travails with digital periodicals’ interfaces, but that despite the frustrations attendant upon such endeavours, I have greatly enjoyed my day in the office. I can’t overstate my deep satisfaction with my staff neighbours, with my students here, with Glasgow, with my work of teaching and administering and planning and researching and writing.
Now, if only I had time to do it all.


I love Glasgow. The bathroom scale in my flat reports my weight in kilograms and stone, but not pounds, so I can pretend that my weight bears no relation to the quantity of pounds that I know I really ought to weigh.

… I Can’t Breathe

… I Can’t Breathe

Well, Monday and Tuesday were whirlwindish. I had a rehearsal for our West End Festival read-through of the AV/KJV St John’s Gospel — all the way through, seven voices, a lot of standing up and not fidgeting (those of you who have heard me lecture can imagine how hard it is for me to not use my hands and not move around. I think Kevin assigned me to the pulpit specifically to limit my freedom of movement). Then the “Re-Writing the Bible” conference took up the rest of Monday and most of Tuesday (except another rehearsal of St John). Wonderful friend Dr Kate Blanchard was visiting from Alma College and giving a presentation at the conference, so I spent a certain amount of time explaining and showing her how marvellous Glasgow is. When I heard that Kate has a book coming out called The Protestant Ethic or the Spirit of Capitalism, so she was pleased to see our great former student and long-time professor Adam Smith (who evidently thought much more highly of Scottish universities than of what he found at Oxford).

Adam Smith Blesses Kate

I had a paper Tuesday morning, an abbreviated version of my article on The Mountain Goats and biblical interpretation, and I think it went well. I’d have liked to play more music for the session, but there was only so much time. (The title of this post comes from one of the songs on which I was commenting. I’m not suffocating, honest.)
Yesterday I saw Kate to the connection point with her sister, then headed back to campus. I had a huge backlog of email — I still do, just not quite as huge — and I polished up the final version of my Mountain Goats article. Then it was time to attend the Bloomsday concert from which yesterday’s photo came.
Today was “intrigue the potential undergraduate Theology/Religious Studies students” day, so a few colleagues and I sat at a booth enticing passers-by to ask whether they can study joint Honours with Theology and Haggis-Making or did we make them sign a copy of the Westminster Confession before they matriculate.
The awkward news is that Margaret’s and Pippa’s visas are in a complicated limbo state; if worst comes to worst, Margaret won’t be able to apply for her visa till September (hence, no late-July reunion of the distant spouses). We’re thinking worst may not come to worst, though, and in the good news category, Margaret has been granted the status of Honorary Lecturer in — well, I guess it’ll be in the School of Critical Studies, and although she’s not covered by National Health yet, we’ve been able to make connections with people who will be her doctors.
And here’s a bit of pedagogical news: a number of my online colleagues have been passing around a story from the Washington Post; apparently a survey studied which teachers students liked (based on student evaluations) as compared to which ones actually taught them a lot (based on subsequent performance). I tend to mistrust this kind of data on principle, but I will say that it at least vindicates one of my arguments about student evaluations: namely, that “near end of term” is far too early to get meaningful data from students about a teacher. Maybe the students who thought Dr. Adam was a dreamboat, but then sagged in subsequent classes, would change their assessment after a few lower marks, and likewise the ones who slagged mean old Dr Adam as a taskmaster might think he wasn’t quite so bad after they saw how much he had helped them with subsequent courses. (On the other hand, a couple of former students have said very kind things about me this week, so “five to twenty years later” sounds to me like exactly the right time for evaluations.) People like me, who fancy themselves demanding teachers, are apt to latch onto a single survey that supports their position and brandish it; and we likewise tend to look askance at surveys that show that high student ratings tend to correlate with student achievement. But I’ll tell you what: if a survey is going to come out with one set of conclusions or the other, I’m very much more pleased they came out this way. And if you disagree, you’ll change your mind next semester.
The weather in Glasgow has been splendid the past few days. Ha!
I’m nearing the end of the Taggart DVDs I’ve been able to track down. I’ve learned a lot about Glasgow from them. For instance, no murderer in Glasgow ever kills just one person; sometimes they kill two, but three or four is much more likely. The population of Glasgow has been declining during the years Taggart has been on the air, and now I understand why. Plus, I’ve learned that the University has a serious serial killer problem. I think a third of the episodes I’ve seen have involved killers associated with the University in one way or another; I’m feeling lucky to have survived the year! It’s a salubrious reminder, though, that I should steer clear of adultery, extortion, borrowing money from hard men, and claiming my students’ achievements for my own. Which will really put a crimp in my summer plans — but at least I won’t be looking up at DS Jackie Reid (on whom I have a wicked crush) from a pool of blood. By the way, isn’t she due a promotion? And I hear that DC Fraser won’t be back in next year’s series, which will be a shame — I much prefer his character to laddish DI Robbie Ross.

Latest From Glasgow

• I’m really enjoying living here. It’s another grey, damp day, but the plain fact is that Glasgow is sunnier than we admit, and it’s green, and friendly, and home.
• Margaret and I have been fascinated and impressed by seeing urban foxes, but the news over here for the past few days has been dominated by the story of twin girls who were attacked in their nursery by a fox. The fox evidently came in by the patio door, climbed the stairs, and attacked one of the twins. (Don’t worry, Margaret and Pippa, it was in London.)
• Aware that Margaret is fascinated by crime in general and Glasgow’s gangster culture in particular, I saw the following placard the other day as I was running errands:

Headline Offline

Of course, I didn’t buy the paper; I figured I’d watch the BBC or look it up on Google news. But despite my persistent attention, I’ve seen not a byte of information about this story online. So — is this the result of the UK’s outlandish slander laws? Or was the placard perhaps just plain wrong? Remember, we’re talking about Scotland’s Number One Gangster; if he’d been a dancer or a model or a celebrity stranded in a desert oasis, we’d never hear the end of it.