Glasgow School of Art

Devastating news from my birth city of Glasgow today, her gorgeous gem, her world famous, Mackintosh-designed School of Art has suffered a terrible blaze, even worse happening while it was still undergoing restoration from a previous, smaller fire that damaged this artistic and cultural and historic prize. This fire is far worse, some architects are already thinking it may be beyond repair.

This is a dreadful event; this isn’t just the destruction of a cultural and historic site, Mackintosh’s famous design is live history, it is woven into the pulsing, live heartbeat of the vibrant artistic, creative soul Glasgow nurtures across decades, across social and class and ethnic divides. It’s heartbreaking to see the devout restoration work go up in flames after the last disaster, it seems unbelievable it could happen a second time, let alone while many struggled to repair and restore the damage of the last fire.

My beloved Caledonia has, for centuries, punched above her weight: a small kingdom of mountains surrounded by the cold northern seas we have generated philosophers, artists, writers, scientists, doctors and engineers far beyond the sum of our small population, our Scottish Enlightenment has been a beacon of civilisation, and the Glasgow School of Art has been a part of that, fostering, nurturing talent from all walks of life in that egalitarian way Glasgow does (growing up in Glasgow one lesson I learned was that it considered that art and culture was for all its citizens, not just the prosperous chattering classes, our museums and galleries served all, encouraged all).

Glasgow School of Art, designed by one of the world-famous Scottish artists and architects, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, has produced a seemingly endless stream of cultural and artistic greats across the century and half, from Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi to poet and dramatist Liz Lochhead, the great John Byrne, Scottish comics god Frank Quietely, and Norman McLaren. Glasgow’s famously egalitarian approach to both science and the arts has helped foster and produce world-class creative talent, nurtured in an environment designed by a fellow artist and architect.

This is heartbreaking, it feels like someone has pierced the heart of my vibrant, beating heart city that suffered so much from the decline of its great industries and rebirthed itself partly through these same arts and cultures. This is beyond damage to our shared culture and historic and artistic heritage, it’s a blow to the heart of a vibrant, living artistic culture that, from a small land on the far northern edge of the world has nurtured and encouraged creative genius in so many walks of life: world-wide reputation artists, Nobel winning writers, engineers, scientists and more.

It’s a horrible wound to our nation’s remarkable cultural heritage. Glasgow has suffered worse. Scotland has suffered worse. New creators will arise from the burnt ashes like a magnificent Phoenix and spread their fiery wings across our skies to light a way to the future while illuminating the shadows of the past. This is heartbreaking, devastating news, this blaze, this destruction. But Glasgow School of art is about creation, not destruction. Like its home city which survived the loss of its mighty industries which made it, which remade itself afterwards, it will too remake itself and it will be a beacon once more to artists we don’t even know yet but will one day nod proudly at when they are named in great international awards and say, aye, they trained at Glasgow School of Art. I’m horrified at the lost of so much of of our gorgeous, built, designed, crafted heritage.

But that’s not the real heart of Glasgow, nor her School of Art, it’s heart is the urge, the need to create, express ourselves. That cannot be restrained by fire and demolition. Wood burns, even stone fails eventually, fire claims and burns, but the desire, the urge, the need to create is never quenched. Writers will write, painters will paint, sculptors will sculpt, film-makers will craft their imagery. Fire does not, will not stop us. It is not just stone and wood and carvings and buildings. As long as we dream, and think and feel and create, the School of Art exists. Creativity exists. Glasgow breathes and her heart beats and continues.

Mrs May should have just stayed away…

Theresa May made her regal way,

To the ravaged Tower Grenfell,

But the PM spoke to not a single survivor,

Because ordinary people make her feel quite ill

After the horrendous inferno that engulfed Grenfell Tower, burning upwards, trapping god knows how many in upper floors who phoned or texted desperate messages knowing they were going to die, horribly, the lame duck prime minister arrives on the disaster scene. And by all reports spoke to not a single survivor. Survivors who are enraged because it looks very much like a report sat upon for years by the government into fire safety, and a later parliamentary bill to improve the standards and safety of rented housing that was defeated by the conservatives (many of those who voted against are landlords themselves, a clear and shameless conflict of interest), have paid a part in this awful calamity. And she doesn’t speak to a single survivor, for “security reasons”.

So security, not fear, not cowardice, not outright callous disregard for the simple human compassion any decent person should show another in such circumstances? Meantime those same ordinary people she ignored have donated so many items – clothes, kid’s toys, toiletries and more – to entire families in their community who have lost everything bar the pyjamas they had on their back as they fled (and those were the fortunate ones) that the local community centres and churches organising help have said they have enough. Local families offered food, drink and a place to rest for their suffering neighbours, people of every age and ethnic stripe. People of Kenginston rising to show strength, compassion and dignity while our feeble excuse for a government (and by all accounts the local council there are no better), flail hopelessly, and a prime minister who can’t even speak to the people involved when she visits. Utterly craven, shameful behaviour on her behalf and a clear signal that the same authorities who allowed a situation to evolve that could create this disaster still do not care one jot.

fire juggling

Now that the clocks have gone back to GMT its fully dark by the time I leave work. Coming home one evening when it was unusually mild (and dry!) I decided on a whim to take a different route and walk up the Royal Mile, digging my camera out of my bag thinking I may get a couple of street night shots; in a slice of pure lucky chance I happened on a fire juggler on the cobbled pedestrianised section of street outside the Fringe office. Obviously I’ve seen and taken plenty of pics of jugglers chucking around all sorts of things from knives to firesticks around this spot during the Festival, but not usually this late in the year and at night; certainly made the use of fire look far more dramatic being dark!
fire on the streets




Of course as I was walking home from work I didn’t have the tripod with me, so I had to make do; to be honest I think half the many night shots I have on my Flickr are improvised, spur of the moment affairs rather than done when I’ve gone out deliberately with the tripod to do some night work. One of the advantages of digital is you are willing to take chances improving a shot since you’re not wasting money and film if it doesn’t work. And in this case since he was moving around and the fiery ropes he was holding were also swirling around I doubt a tripod would have made much difference here, he and they would still be streaked and blurred, but even so its worth taking the shot for the subject even if the pic isn’t as sharp as I’d normally try for; as Lee Harvey Oswald once said, sometimes you just have to take the shot. And its fun when the city offers up a little surprise like this; if I had gone home my normal route I’d never have seen this, it was just a sudden whim to go this way.
fire on the streets 2