GLASGOW IS ALWAYS beautiful, but especially so after the rain. Outside our bedroom window the sunrise in shades of pink and peach spread otherworldly glowings and glitterings on the wet stones of the town below.
We often joke that those in charge of the skies around here are really crap painters lacking in any capacity for thematic focus. They just throw any old thing on the palette up at once, greys and pinks and indigos, finely articulated clouds, hazy mists and brilliantly illuminated banks of white-gold, all in the same sky.
There’s a junk shop near Ashton Lane I’ve been haunting for Christmas gifts that reminds me so pleasantly of the nutcase hoarder shops in L.A., long gone now, on Fairfax and on Western near my old place. I’d get lost for hours and emerge, disoriented, with maybe a dozen flower-power linen napkins. From chaos, beauty.
But from the junk shop here I’ll emerge with a pile of vintage beer mats and into cobbled pathways and cool fresh winds, instead of the endless pale concrete sidewalks under still, hot bright blue. A lunch of fesh and cheps, instead of a chile relleno burrito.
The guy who runs this place in Glasgow is a trusty-looking fellow in his 60s, of bookish aspect, serenely presiding over the most incredible disorder. A warren of rooms, stuffed with teetering boxes full of dusty old arcana, buttons and Meccano sets and old radios and china shepherdesses. There are glass cases with really good china and pottery, too, mid-century stuff, a nice Denby teapot (£48), some Victoriana, souvenir glasses from the Queen Mary, late 30s I think (£36, or £28 for the smaller one), an old Pentax camera (£120), a ’30s retail display case for needles, glass-fronted, with tiny wooden drawers in the back (very pretty, £270). There’s a ’90s Sony ‘compact stereo’ as I think they used to be called, for sale but it’s on so we know that the radio works at least, playing BBC News. It’s also got a CD player and two cassette decks built in, for making copies (£90, seems cheap). Memories of cassette mixtapes crowd in, one Richard made me, presented with hand-lettered tracklist in a Vaudeville Duo case from Sanrio. It has Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Fireworks.” At my age nearly everything creates a mnemonic cascade, so that the inside of my brain looks and feels not entirely unlike the interior of this shop. If you don’t watch it a whole stack of boxes can fall over and its contents spill out, leaving you motionlessly staring into the winding, whirling M.C. Escher display of your life.
My stepdaughter and her beau are fond of cards and I found them a really lovely hand-painted wooden box that holds two decks—but it’s empty. Does our proprietor have some vintage cards to put inside?
Yes, he does. One of them is a promotional deck from Sara Lee (!! I can’t imagine Sara Lee getting much traction in the land of McVitie’s, but ??); the other is a fantastic Bell’s Whisky one, pale blue in a sturdy box, feat. this guy in a kilt and sporran, and all. (“Afore ye go” their slogan since 1925.)
When we left, and had put away our masks and whatnot, and were into the foyer and almost outside, the proprietor came running out behind us.
O god I must have left my gloves.
“It’s Crestmas,” he said, so kindly, and pressed into my hand a little red box in the shape of a book. It had a card game inside called “Waddington’s Lexicon.” Fifty-two cards with letters, and a rulebook describing a game a little like Scrabble, but in this one you can “attack” other people’s words and replace their letters with your own, in order to use up your cards and win. I can’t wait to play.
Outside it was already almost dark, with a cold clean wind to chill our faces. Byres Road was teeming with life and gaiety, the restaurants full of revelers and every barber and hairdresser in town seemingly engaged in the business of beautification. Something fascinating in every window. O. suggested that the lady lying back on a facial bed looked as if she were being embalmed. Good lord, I replied, scandalized. The crowds were wonderful but also a bit worrying; I stifled the urge to fret about another surge in the pandemic. The big illuminated tree in the square near the Great Western Road changed from red to green to multicolored twinkling lights. I put up my hood, and we joined hands and headed toward the park.
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