Glasgow is wet and grey – I’ll say that again – Glasgow is wet and grey. This photo of a new office block at Atlantic Quay is actually in colour………..
I’m up and down to Glasgow a lot, and in fact I’ve been on the train or A9 almost weekly since the New Year. Glasgow in January reminds me of why I have no desire to live there – although it’s a great city, with outstanding people, and I loved being a student at the Art School there 30 years ago.
In fact I lived in the city for nearly eight years, from September 1977 until early 1985, but my overriding memory of Glasgow is grey, warm dampness enveloping everything like a soggy blanket. The opening scene of Alasdair Greys “Lanark”, where the hero peers from the café balcony looking for a hint of light in the overwhelming gloom of the city of Unthank, sums up Glasgow “outside the season of summer” for me perfectly.
Interestingly, in my first winter I experienced probably one of Glasgow’s last proper smogs (for my younger readers Smoke and Fog – smog), as I lived in Garnethill, which was the final district to have a “clean air” order placed on it (early in 1978 I seem to recall) forbidding the burning of normal coal. It is also a smart little hill that rises abruptly above the city centre, perfectly placed to be just at the “event horizon” of any temperature inversion when its cold and frosty. As the result the winter of 77 exposed me to a glimpse of the sort of choking smogs that’s killed thousands of people in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.
It was not always grey of course (though sometimes it seems like that). Spells in the summer, where the other coast is blighted by haar and cutting easterly winds, can be fantastic, and I always remember May and June as being bright, hot and sunny – but that could be that it was always May and June were always exam time, so the outdoors could not be enjoyed to any real degree at all (revising for exams outside – in the sun and on the grass – was always deeply unsatisfactory. Aside from the guilt – you should be in the library, not enjoying the sun - reading outside in bright light is a chore, and writing neatly on a notepad in the absence of a table quite impossible, at least for me.)
So when we moved back to the Highlands – and the Black Isle - in February 1985, my overriding memory is switching from a dull grey, vaguely warm (well not cold) world, to a bright sunny, blue and white frosty world. Having been brought up in Inverness in the 70’s, and spending most weekends in the Eastern Highlands climbing or skiing, it was a bit of a relief.
Weather in Scotland is not a north and south thing, or a Highlands and Lowlands thing, it’s an east and west thing. On balance, I think I prefer the East, despite the haar.
I’m back and fro to Copenhagen a fair bit these days – the EU’s Northern Periphery Programme (NPP) is based there – although Denmark is not part of the Northern Periphery area bizarrely enough.
This photo is looking down from a meeting room in the building which houses the NPP office. It’s a fantastic conversion of a 18th Century warehouse, all old beams, wooden floors and best of modern Scandinavian design.
Copenhagen is very central for the Northern bits of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Scotland (the Highlands and Islands), the Faroes, Iceland, the North and west of Ireland, and Greenland, and the NPP office are co-located with the Faroese, Icelandic and Greenland embassies.
The NPP countries are quite a combination, a real mix of economies, governmental structures and scale. Scotland, Finland, Sweden etc are all similar sizes, at 5 to 8 million folk or so, and when you look at the bits that are eligible for the programme, they tend to be around half a million people. Then the scale gets interesting. The Faeroes are the same size as Shetland, with around 20,000 people. Iceland – that dramatic micro country that I’m increasingly smitten with – is a fully fledged nation with a population smaller than Highland Council.
And then we get to Greenland. An enormous land mass (well ice mass I suppose) with less than 60,000 people. I’m not sure if it’s a nation, a country, a dependant territory, or some other strange constitutional theorem that defines how a place and its people are viewed, yet with the same population as Easter Ross.
I discovered yesterday that its second largest town has a population of under 6,000, an airport, a large harbour, but is not connected by road to anywhere else.
Makes you think hard on how to define remoteness and connectivity, as well as making you realise there is always someone who is a more remote than you.