Scotland, and there we are, perched up on stools at a long bar top in a Spanish themed bar come cafe come restaurant named Iberica in central Glasgow. Savouring a 12 year old MaCallan, Me, and a cheeky blush coloured Rose, She. Its buzzing, happily raucous as the Friday early evening just knocked off Scots, warm their minds and bodies for the weekend. We’re nibbling small rounds of breaded cod, its called Tapas which means you get tiny bits of food for large sums of money. Hey its fashionable. Theres a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turn hoping Billy Connolly is there but no, its a youngish, shortish plumpish girl with a determined look, long hair and a mouth full of gravel.
She points over behind me and says dered wee gillaly stike dat ferkin allin din don for go dat or something similar and as incomprehensible or equally less understandable as the Southern Oscillation Index due to the gravel in her mouth. She, Ms Sandra Dee, has back up in the form of Mr Bobby Darin, a backwards capped smiling 20 or so old with a black spacer in his right ear lobe. He also has gravel pebbles in his mouth as he adds to my confusion by saying wee sik udder dere allin din, init yo. They have either just arrived with Jabba the Hutt who has gone to the toilet or are extras in a Gidget movie. I manage to look bewildered, confused and as Im usually stupid, I was that as well. She, Sandra, got I bit snaky when I asked her to, in a clearly articulated moderated voice, slow down her effin volume and turn up the effin pronunciation. Thankfully, just as Sandra’s escort Bobby was getting his ear lobe tuned in, Susan came to the rescue and soothed over the prebiotic troubled waters and found that Sandra was raised on the Isle of Lewis off Scotlands far west coast. Susan’s face lit up, her face registering joy such that I had not seen since I re-found her credit card which I, and She, thought was lost. Susan’s ancestral line originated on the Isle of Lewis. Its incredulous looks all round as Sandra and Sue go into ‘Woman Mode’. Its useless talking to them so Bobby and I discuss the finer points of ear lobe insertions. It turns out that these two young’uns, Sandra and Bobby, wanted to tell me that I had left my walking stick, this is dinkum, over on the floor behind me. A walking stick. For ***** sake. I now appreciate their thoughtfulness, kindness blah blah, but just what triggered that off in their heads. Well, they were having a tete a tete, drinks, go to leave, see what they think is a walking stick, see an old grumpy incapacitated man, Me, sipping whisky and think, this is the comprehensible version, dat old git dere is gunna leaf is walkin tick behind by Jaysus. We finished up lifelong friends and I invited them to come and stay with us at our cottage in Christchurch NZ. After Sandra and Bobby depart back to their movie set, and they were nice kids and meant well, Sue has a look at what they thought was a walking stick. Its actually one of those sticks with a brass hook on the end that is used to pull down high up blinds or windows.
That above was later in the day, but here we are on our Irish National Airline Aer Lingus plane, Grassy Green, Shamrock on the tail livery, setting down bumpily on a cloudy Glaswegian day. Clearance through an austere airport building and onto a bus and offloaded in Glasgow City at stop one. Bothwell Street looks grim, the closest stop to our Hilton Hotel. Grimy, 8 to 10 story buildings crowd in about us, beige, grey, brown, sepia, chestnut most of them stone, some rendered a sprinkling of more modern aluminium, steel and glass.
The stone and rendered one’s badly in need of a clean to remove fuel cancer, decay, grime and tradespeople to repair owner neglect. Ian Rankin’s stubborn intimidating detective John Rebus, who has a fondness for alcohol, strolls these streets, winkling out its alleys, basements dens of iniquity and I am wary. The bride cheerful as we drag our suitcases down Pitt Streets rough unkempt narrow pavements, round the corner into Waterloo Street and downhill on a narrow sidewalk bordered by a brown slate building wall. Its getting grubbier, dirtier and darker. Another right behind the Hilton hotel ‘backside’ where deliveries are made, and rubbish left out. Theres been a huge confetti or paper shower it now ground and set into the damp grey pavement and roadway. People, some 5 to 6, smoke against a roller door, joking, eyeing us off as we hurry on rattling wheels on our suitcases, hands clasped tightly around our rosary beads, under a dark grubby, its all grubby, sorry about that, subway with a traffic bridge way above then around a corner and a new bright world awaits.
The swish Hilton all newish, lawn, gardens, a tree or two, oozing glamour, money, concierge, revolving door, huge soaring foyer, and reception who gently quiz us about ‘extras’. We got an early bird bargain here. Two nights on the 16th floor in a very comfy room with a desk. Bewt. This is where our pollies come, with a flotilla they refer to as family, to study the Scottish parliamentary system which seems as hopelessly inept as ours. Perhaps its something to do with men either wearing or chasing skirts. Go Barnaby!!! You stupid git. Lunch and we’re in the Hilton Bistro ‘The Whisky Mist’ to use up some of our ‘extras’. Get 50 pounds of extras for a 40 pound spend, why not. I check the list of whisky’s available. Hundreds. And so, Ah waiter, his names Konrad, A Glenfiddich Solera Reserve for Moi anna French Pinot Grigio for She. Pelease. What attracted me to the Glenfiddich was the tasting notes written by a smooth wordsmith who has sophisticated tastebuds, a nuanced mind and is full of Shite as Billy Connolly would say, A raisin and chocolate flavoured after dinner malt. I could have had the Campbelltown Spring Bank with, A gorgeous richness on the palate which is balanced between citrus marmalade on toast and caramelised toasted marshmallows not forgetting flavors of vanilla and pepper. Small triangular chicken and salad sandwiches followed with double cooked chips, don’t go there, as we started using up our 50 pound for 40 pound ‘extras’.
There wasn’t much time left in our first day to have a good look about Glasgow, apart from a visit to the Spanish themed Iberica come all things to all bar/cafe, but what we saw, the buildings, looked rather austere, severe as though they were at a Dickensian Boarding School for Buildings . A few much older buildings, squished in amongst the Georgian Styled austere grimness, have marvellous adornments, embellishments, turrets, gargoyles and tiny follies but they, now with their shine, sparkle and colour long gone, were few and far between. There was no softening by trees, spaces for sculptures, fountains, its all built up to the boundary line with streets set out on a grid. Still, no point in whingeing, which is why we went into the Iberica Bar and left my walking stick in the corner.
Next day we explored further down past the huge Queen Victoria era edifice, the Central Train Station. And it gets more interesting with cobblestoned streets, some narrow, even one with a curve, Inns, Taverns and then opens up to Princes Square, Royal Exchange Square and George Square and this is where all the name shops, Prada, Gucci, Bvlgari are sprinkled about wide malls, where thousands of people stroll with kids and shopping bags on this, a rare no rain day.
We find the Horseshoe Bar which has the longest bar, reputedly, in Europe. And at 104 feet 3 inches set in a big loop, you need binoculars to see the end. The bit where we sat was shaped like a horseshoe. Its a marvellous if noisy venue. The decibel factor not helped by there being a game of ruggers on TV at which a group, just there, led by Morogh, a big man wearing a red bandana, possibly to hold his remaining brains in, shrieks, shouts and yell’s at every flicker on the rectangular box. Dating from 1846, the place looks just as it must have all those years ago. Today, designers try to replicate this look of timber, warmth, mouldings, adzed beams, carved posts, wide polished timber bar tops, quirky artefacts, fireplaces and its all much to our liking apart from Morogh who thinks he has a crowd of a hundred thousand wanting to share his every word. This establishment prides itself on ‘Cracking deals on food and grog’, so there. And they do as we try the grog which is a third of the price of the Hilton as is the food. A full Irish brekky here costs 4.99 pounds which equates to about 8.50 AUD and consists of, 2 rashers of grilled back bacon, 2 pork sausages, 2 free range fried eggs, 2 hash browns, Heinz Baked Beans, flat mushrooms, grilled half tomato and a choice of white or wholemeal toast with butter. The Mega Brekky which Morogh has obviously consumed, is a step up in the carnivore chain, includes three of all the above ingredients plus a free Colonic Irrigation procedure.
We go back to our luxury Hilton and rest up before once again down 16 floors to the hotels ‘Whisky Mist’ bar before dusk descends and Glasgow’s Troglodytes and misfits come out keeping a weather eye out for John Rebus.
On the morrow, we pick up our hire car and head up into ‘The Highlands’ through Pitlochry to Ullapool thence to a ‘linear village’, ‘Achiltibuie’ where we have three nights in an AirBnB . About six hours by road the last section on a single lane very windy, narrow, wet track, apparently. But we are told its bitumised. Most of the days travel to be, so BBC Weather advises, in a storm front with high winds and buckets of rain. Great, steel yourself Des.
Ooroo from Des.
PS We are back in Glasgow in 5 days for a three night stay at another hotel – the Hilton Hotel is far too posh for the likes of me. Whereas Susan, well, for her its just the Ducks Nuts.