Mitchelstown Cave

Mitchelstown Cave is just off the main road between Cahir and Mitchelstown. Discovered in 1833, the Cave has been a tourist attraction for a tiny part of the millions of years it has been in existence. Created by the action of water on limestone, it is entered through a steep and narrow stairway. In many ways, this is the best introduction possible. The closeness of the entry passage accentuates the grandeur of the main cavern, when it opens out in front of you.

The river that created the Cave is long gone and the exit for the water is yet to be found. However, its absence allows us to marvel at the stalagmites and stalactites and ponder on the unmitigated insignificance of humankind. Our guide, Aoife, pointed us to tiny little stalactites of barely a metre in length. Water continued dripping down them as they journeyed towards the stalagmite which they would eventually join. This uncomprehending work will eventually lead to huge calcite columns like the nine metre high ‘Tower of Babel’ which has been millions of years in the making. It is impossible not to be humbled by the thought that these delicate growths will be finished when human beings are long gone from the planet.

At one point Aoife turned off all the lights and plunged the group into a darkness so total, that my senses railed against the complete lack of stimulation. We were informed that many events take place in the main cavern. Quite how its owner got their harp down for a performance, is an itch that I would like to scratch.

Nature started the Mitchelstown Cave without us and will continue without any need for our observation or commentary. Visit them while you can.


Govan Heritage

On 7th August 1912, the Burgh of Govan was taken over by the City of Glasgow. Although it had been in existence in legend, since the sixth century, it had only been a burgh since 1864. Along with Partick and Pollokshaws, Govan disappeared into the gaping maw of the Dear Green Place.

Last Wednesday, I took a wander through a neighbourhood which surfaces in the consciousness of many non-Glaswegians, primarily as Sir Alex Ferguson’s birthplace. Yet, as one person pointed out to Sir John Ure Primrose, in the Burgh’s losing battle for independence, maybe Govan should have taken over Glasgow. Such was the concern then that the upstart Glasgow was getting ahead of itself.

In the intervening century, Govan has been submerged by the tsunami of the industrial history of the West of Scotland. It has been unfairly lumped with Glasgow, when it has stories of its own, in spades. The Ordnance Survey maps of the 1890s show Glasgow and Govan meeting in a thin ribbon of development along the Paisley Road. The area south of Cessnock Dock on the Govan Road is still fairly blank. Govan was clearly its own urban centre that did not need the embrace of its younger, but faster growing sibling.

Look northwest on the old maps and you see that Govan is thriving. The shipbuilding yards are spreading, Govan Old Church sits enjoying its second millennium and Water Row looks down on the Govan Ferry bringing thousands of workers to their business. The freight railway line runs through the streets until it is welcomed into the Fairfield Works. The silk factory is still there, waiting to be swallowed up by a later expansion of Fairfields. That much of this story is unknown to most people, is a problem that is being enthusiastically addressed.

Govanites are proud of their Burgh and have been making strenuous efforts to spread the word. I strongly recommend that you take a wee afternoon trip to improve your mind. Why don’t you start at the Underground Station, which is in the throes of an impressive redevelopment? Head west until you reach the church of St Constantine: the Old Parish Church, wherein lies some of the most impressive grave monuments in Britain. Volunteers, of a decidedly cheery and welcoming nature are there to help you with any questions, although there is more than enough information to be read by the independent visitor. Once you have had your fill of Celtic and Viking history, gird your loins for the 300 meter trot down the road to the Fairfield Heritage Centre, housed in the offices of the Fairfield Shipbuilding Yard.

There is clearly a secret production line somewhere in Harmony Row, churning out cheerful and welcoming Govanites in the still of the night. Yet again, you are looked after like a pet pig, by the volunteers who have dedicated their afternoons to explaining the history of shipbuilding in Govan. I finished my sojourn with a trip to admire the statues in Elder Park: in particular of John Elder himself, cuddling his compound engine. His engineering excellence gave Govan a maritime advantage, that the world took many decades to best.

My journey ended in the Elder Park Library: a fine building from the drawing board of John James Burnet. It was opened in 1903 by Andrew Carnegie even though it wasn’t a Carnegie Library. Yum Yums were the prize, as I returned to the Underground although, in my experience the No. 13 Cafe across from Greggs is definitely a place for the less time constrained flâneur.

Rangers Crisis Part 1

On October 24th, 2009, I started a new thread on Kerrydale Street (a Celtic fans’ forum for those who don’t know). It was entitled ‘Media Scandal Bias’ and my opening post was as follows:

“On Radio Scotland live Walter No Surname admits that the Bank have taken over the club, he is buying no-one and they’re waiting to see who can buy the Club. Yet this is ignored and the phone in goes on about the general ‘Old Firm’ issues of the poor standard of the game. Maybe I’ll wake up and this nightmare of bias will end…”

Now, little could anyone know where we would all be this Friday 13th April 2012. Rangers on the brink of liquidation and the media in Scotland accused of a blanket disregard for their prime directive which surely is to uncover truths others would prefer hidden. Not only that, but the SFA are presided over by someone who is deeply implicated in the issue of EBTs and the SPL seem hell bent on returning a new version of Rangers to their long held place in Scottish football, without the benefit of justice having been served.

I’m still proud of my second past on that thread two and a half years ago, so here it is again:

“There are two Rangers teams: the blameless 1872-88 lot who helped Celtic get going and the Frankenstein’s monster created by Sir John Ure Primrose to defeat the forces of Popery, Home Rule and Republicanism. It is the latter who have remained unmolested by the media for the last 100 years because they, those who governed us and the media had the same ideals.

The situation is now much less homogenous. The Labour Party is full of Unionists. The SNP want to break up the Union. What’s a decent Brit walking down the Paisley Road to do? Who can they believe? What can they understand or hope for when the very ground on which they walk is crumbling beneath them?

Adam Smith’s capitalist creed is ultimately heartless and always devours its own. Tonight the invisible hand of the market has emerald Fenian fingers and I for one am sniggering quietly to myself.”

I will return to this theme, as it is a defining moment in Scottish football. How this crisis is solved will point the way to the sort of society Scotland is going to be in the coming half century. And it’s just about football. Funny that.

More Thoughts on the New Museum of Transport

First thought is that I need to visit again when it isn’t packed with visitors there for the same reason as myself: to gawp at the new architecture. What would I have designed with limited money? I guess I would have worked on the idea that all objects deserve to be seen from the middle distance and close up, thus satisfying the casual visitor enjoying the experience and the expert who has travelled specifically to see their favourite object. When I worked in the Museum of Transport back in the 90s, I used to wander around the cars looking for inspiration for building the Football Museum. The temperature and humidity control was difficult because the Kelvin Hall was just not built to cope with the environmental demands of a museum, but at least you could scrutinise the objects very easily. If a car is to be lifted up, then I suggest no more than a metre. The four year I took around did not have much to enjoy but that’s a separate debate. At that age they’re focussed on the next shop stop.

The basic need is for the visitor to look at an object that is on the ground. I would have spent less on the aesthetics of the building and more on ensuring the public could see what was in their collection. I believe it is possible to produce reasonable design to a tight margin: for example the new Aldi stores in Scotland are functional but likeable. Maybe that’s from the sublime to the ridiculous for some, but the rigours of commerce do make the Aldi owners concentrate on the only thing that matters: showing off their produce to the customer.

Maybe as the Museum matures someone will stick some light rail rail down along the quay, to run a tram the 500 metres from the Museum to the Heliport. It should not be beyond the wit of the city fathers to take it as close to Exhibition Centre Station as possible or to even run it out along the old Caledonian Line towards Yoker. Now that would make it a museum worth visiting.

Ace McTastic: What Genre Is It?

I have an unhealthy love of rhetorical questions, but the rule should be that both the inquisitor and the audience have a reasonable mutual idea as to the answer. In this I have to say I am struggling. When I had my flash of light on the Albert Drive railway bridge, all I knew was that I had a brilliant idea around the character of amusingly surreal chum Annie Mac. The skeleton of the narrative was easily fleshed out and though I kept changing elements until the final page was concluded, I always knew what I was writing.

Less easy was the question of genre. At first I had it pegged as a children’s tale and indeed the vocabulary suits the average twelve year old. However, it is not just a children’s tale, because there is a nod towards the alternative history genre. Not exactly a ‘Man in the High Castle’ but I purposely sought to change Glasgow to a place in my mind where its nineteenth century brilliance had continued and burgeoned further. This confusion has led to me trying to understand my own tale as a children’s book based on an alternative history for Glasgow and a satire on some of the mistakes that society has made in the last century. Maybe I’ve fallen between a forest of stools, but it was immense fun to write.

The New Museum of Transport/Riverside Museum

The MOT is certainly an impressive sight, anchored at the confluence of the Kelvin and the Clyde on the site of the old Pointhouse Inn and Bowling Green. In a doff of the hat to the past, you can even catch the phoenix of the Govan Ferry to get to the Museum, though the single fare of £1.50 for an adult is certainly not redolent of yesteryear.

With the destruction of most of the buildings on the north bank of the Clyde, the Zaha Hadid design rules its section of the riverscape. If the mark of a good building is its visual distinctiveness, then the Riverside Museum is unlikely to be mistaken for any of Scotland’s other landmarks. However, the critical criterion for a museum is to show off its collection to maximum effect and utility and it is here where my optimism falters. Having been responsible for the Scottish Football Museum, I am all too aware of the core need to stick objects in cases so that visitors can peer at them. Therefore, though the placing of vintage cars ten metres up a wall may be a coup de theatre, it prevents me or anyone else from examining them.

The long term will prove the designers right or wrong, but I am always nervous when a museum’s display shouts so loudly that it deafens the story the institution is trying to tell. If the medium obscures the message, you need a new message.