It's ten years since Glasgow began its journey from "mean city" to "city of culture." But literary and media accounts of the city remain fixed on its rumbustious proletarian past, and its drugs-ridden present. Jeremy Clarke reports on what has become of the world's greatest Victorian cityby Jeremy Clarke / February 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Published in February 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
It is peculiar how businessmen can contrive to appear businesslike even when naked. I was shown into a room full of nude executives when I went along to the Arlington Baths Club (est. 1871) one afternoon. They were lying around the arabesque warm room like a seal colony. As I entered, some of them looked up from their broadsheets to see if I was anyone of note, disguised the unfavourable verdict behind a mask of indifference, and returned to their newspapers.
The pool at the Arlington is referred to as the “pond.” It is said to be the oldest in Britain. For the energetic, it has a curious arrangement of trapezes and rings suspended above it. After I had swum in the pond I went and sat in the steam room, where the discussion in progress was about Edinburgh. In my maiden speech to the ghostly shapes scattered around the benches, I said I had never been there. This seemed to go down rather well.
“The people there have a different mentality altogether,” said one. “They prefer different colours for a start. I’ve got outdoor clothing shops in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. In Edinburgh they go for forest green, autumn gold and burgundy and poncy colours like that. In Glasgow we sell out of the fluorescent stuff first, then the orange, then the yellow. We reckon there’s the same amount of money in both places, but in Glasgow they don’t mind spending it.” Said another: “If you visit anybody in Edinburgh, they say, ‘You’ll have had your tea then?'”
The educated Glasgow accent one hears at places like the Arlington Baths in the west end is vastly different to what one hears elsewhere in this city. Before I came here I’d read James Kelman’s Booker prize winner How Late It Was, How Late, written in the Glaswegian vernacular. As I had read it with relative ease, I assumed I was ready for the real thing. But I wasn’t. Kelman must have toned it down. Although Glaswegians signal the subject of a sentence with the word “see” (“see you, ye bampot”) their quick-fire delivery, glottal stops, unfamiliar cadences, and their use of Gaelic, rhyming slang, even the odd French word, can make them very hard to understand.