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.

Bloody trams

The mess Edinburgh is in because of the buggering tram works continues to get worse – streets ripped up, constant roadworks, diversions, lengthy delays for weeks and months, bus timetables all over the place because of the delays, totally messed up pavements and pedestrian crossings (in fact in some places the crossing is now unavailable altogether because of the works and no safe alternative has been put in place, which has doubtless contributed to the three pedestrians injured in accidents inside a couple of weeks in and around Princes Street) and a fortune spent ripping up pavements we paid to have widen just a few years ago, now all being narrowed again, cycle lanes lost, listed buildings demolished and now an official letter replying to a disabled lady with MS tells her the disabled probably should go to an out of town shopping centre rather than Princes Street for the next few years while the works go on:

I would not recommend visiting the city centre while the tram works are being carried out and would suggest instead that you continue to visit the Gyle Shopping Centre as it has dedicated parking for Blue Badge holders and an in situ Lothian Shopmobility service” (via the Evening news)

All this despite the fact the incompetents at the tram company (a council arms-length company) and the council insist that everything in the city is open for business as usual during the years of the expensive white elephant that is the tram, yet here they are telling folks not to come in (many already aren’t, even before the credit crunch bit numbers taking the bus into the city centre were way down as folks avoid it because of the endless delays). These idiots are all being paid out of the public purse…

If we were going to have a decent new transport system out of it at the end of it all perhaps it might be worth it, but its just one near useless line – it goes nowhere near where the vast majority of Edinburgh residents live so it will be no use to them. I live fairly centrally and it will still be useless to me when finished, I (and 4/5 of the rest of the city) will still rely on the bus. And the bus will continue to be held up even after the tram works are finished because they will get right of way at junctions… They will also get in the way of cycles (especially in parts where cycle lanes are being lost), passengers embarking and disembarking will get in the way of other traffic and pedestrians and what happens when one breaks down? Years back we had a referendum on congestion charging, but for this trams we had it shoved down our throat and were never given the option of voting yay or nay, presumably because the council were worried that once again we would refuse to endorse their stupid, ill thought out plans. Meantime the same authorities won’t even take the most basic steps to help keep traffic going through the works (despite saying they were doing everything, of course) – the green lanes aren’t even being patrolled by wardens so lazy shopkeepers and customers are daily parking in them to go in and out of the shops and not bothering that they are making the long lines even worse (this is happening even right round the corner from police stations… sigh).