It was pouring rain and burdened with suitcases, we approached the door to the Holiday Inn Express in West Nile Street, Glasgow. A worrying wail assailed our ears. It was a fire alarm. And an increasingly large crowd of confused guests started to file out onto the pavement. What a welcome. Thankfully it was a false alarm and soon we were checking in and heading upwards in the lift to room 456 – an easy number to remember.
On Monday our niece Rowan was getting married to her long term boyfriend Andy. We were delighted to get an invitation to the celebrations. They both come from Glasgow, they both work in Glasgow and so the wedding was ….. in Glasgow.
The journey north from London was by my favourite form of transport for this journey, the train. And that’s not just because of the price, but it does help. A single ticket from London to Glasgow via Edinburgh came to the princely sum of £31.50 each and that was in 1st class. Can’t be bad, though travelling on a Saturday has a couple of downsides. Firstly, the weekend is the time for maintenance work on the railways so you don’t know what might happen along the way. Today wasn’t too bad. A fifteen minute stop just outside Newark Northgate in Lincolnshire and another stop near Morpeth in Northumbria meant we were nearly half an hour late arriving into Edinburgh. The second downside is that on a Saturday the complementary food service is a little limited and the alcoholic drink service is non-existent due to the potential presence of football crowds. Anyway we made it to Edinburgh and a short walk through Waverley Station got us onto a local train to Glasgow.
Once in the hotel – remember the fire alarm – we got up to our room and settled in. The Holiday Inn Express formula is basic but very effective. The room has a comfortable double bed, there is adequate hanging space, a working and functional bathroom which cleverly allows for the discrete separation of the toilet from the rest of the facilities even though they are in the same basic room. The only thing missing is any drawers.
Whilst a certain party settled in, there was time for another party to make a short trip round the corner to the Atholl Arms. In the 70’s when I worked in the nearby St Andrew’s House, the Atholl Arms was a quiet place to discuss business tactics away from the office. Now, as with so many bars around the country, it has been transformed from a business drinking saloon into a smelly, food-based establishment. And St Andrews House, a fifteen story, sixties, concrete office block, has had a facelift and is now a Premier Inn. One beer was enough.
For our evening meal we had decided to go to Dino’s in Sauchiehall Street, a favourite haunt during our courting years in the 1960’s. The frontage has changed a bit over the years and the name has changed to Dino Ferrari but, once inside, the staff were the next generation of the same old Glasgow Italian family that own the place. And the menu has not really changed over the years so our old favourite of Spaghetti Carbonara was the easy choice, preceded by a tasty bowl of minestrone. It was exactly the “blast from the past” we were seeking.
Sunday was a free day and we had decided that our destination, for the most part, should be the Art Gallery of the Hunterian Museum in the University of Glasgow, to look at the world-renowned collection of works by Whistler. Regular readers of this blog may remember our visit to the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London last November where we were privileged be invited to see a retrospective of Whistler and his works depicting the River Thames, painted in the latter part of the 19th century.
The ideal way to get from the City Centre to the University area is by the famous Glasgow underground rail system known as the Subway. The Subway runs relatively close to the surface and consists of two parallel tunnels serving a circle of fifteen stations. The trains have only two carriages and are much smaller than the equivalent in other cities such as London. It’s a very efficient and friendly service. We boarded at St Enoch’s and took the anti-clockwise train for five stations to Hillhead a short walk from the University.
First we went to the original Hunterian Museum in the main Glasgow University building. To quote from the official Hunterian Museum website :-
Founded in 1807, The Hunterian is Scotland’s oldest public museum and home to one of the largest collections outside the National Museums. The Hunterian is one of the leading university museums in the UK and its collections have been Recognised as a Collection of National Significance. It is one of Scotland’s most important cultural assets.
Built on Dr William Hunter’s founding bequest, The Hunterian collections include scientific instruments used by James Watt, Joseph Lister and Lord Kelvin; outstanding Roman artefacts from the Antonine Wall; major natural and life sciences holdings; Hunter’s own extensive anatomical teaching collection; one of the world’s greatest numismatic collections; impressive ethnographic objects from Captain Cook’s Pacific voyages and a major art collection.
The Hunterian is also home to the world’s largest permanent display of the work of James McNeill Whistler, the largest single holding of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and The Mackintosh House, the reassembled interiors from his Glasgow home.
We spent a lot of time marvelling at the ingenuity of the scientific instruments of Lord Kelvin. It was Kelvin who really set the foundations for the modern study of Physics. He played a pivotal role in the development of such diverse subjects as electricity distribution, a compass adopted by most of the navies of the world, a machine for measuring tides and pioneering international telegraphy.
Then it was time to head across the road to the modern, purpose-built Art Gallery. As well as the permanent Whistler collection, there is a current exhibition of his watercolours – a bonus. After a while we were approached by a young lady wearing a “Guide” badge. She offered to give us a personal tour which turned out to be great. Her enthusiasm was brimming over. It turned out that she was a Fine Arts student who just loved talking about painting. The most fascinating piece of information she imparted was to do with the brushes used by Whistler. Most artists use short-handled brushes so that they can get close to the detail. This means, particularly when painting on large canvases, that they have to stop and stand back at regular intervals to see the whole painting. Whistler took a different approach. He was less concerned with detail and more about colour and impression. His specially made brushes had long handles, which enabled him to see the whole painting as he painted.
Suddenly it was closing time and we were amongst the last to leave. This had been our first visit to the Art Gallery, though we have been to the main museum many times over the years. We will be back.
A quick walk in the rain took us to Byres Road, home to many bars and restaurants, right in the heart of Glasgow’s West End. Nardini’s have a long-established Italian ice-cream café in Largs on the Firth of Clyde. I know that because, whilst a student, I had a regular job with Matthew Algie the Glasgow based coffee and tea importer. My job was to deliver orders to cafés throughout Glasgow and the West of Scotland and Nardini’s in Largs was on the list. The café on Byres Road is a new edition in the family tradition. Two coffees and two hot focaccia sandwiches went down a treat.
The rain had stopped so we decided to walk the two or so miles back to the hotel. This allowed us to walk down Gibson Street where we had our first curries as students. Then through Kelvingrove Park to Park Circus, the magnificent, circular, yellow sandstone terraces of fine 19th century townhouses and passing MacBrayne Hall, the student hall of residence where I spent three years. Finally it was along the world famous Sauchiehall Street, once Glasgow’s fine shopping street with competing grand department stores. Now it has gone the way of so many city centres with discount retailers and pound shops interspersed by some more conventional high street names. Not very appealing.
The following day was to be the day of the family wedding. Not in the now defunct City of Glasgow Registry Office in Martha Street where Margaret and myself were married nearly fifty years ago, but rather in the posh surroundings of the Charles Rennie MacIntosh “House for an Art Lover” in Bellahouston Park.
To quote from the website,
The idea of House for an Art Lover was to create an elegant country retreat for a person of taste and culture. Mackintosh’s imaginary client was someone who enjoyed lavishly entertaining his guests in sophisticated surroundings and in great style.
Although the house was designed by MacIntosh and his wife Margaret MacDonald in 1900 for a competition, it was not built in his lifetime. It was not until the late 1980’s that plans were resurrected and the magnificent building was constructed.
An early bedtime was called for to prepare us for the festivities ahead.