Social Distancing - The Empty Terraces

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March 14th 2020
Published: March 23rd 2020
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It had been a fairly uneventful drive up north. Snow was covering the peaks in North Pennines, but fortunately the road was nice and clear. We stopped for a short wander in Gretna. The wedding business looked like it was needing a few extra customers, as indeed did the Outlet Village. The grey pound was still in evidence though and the Coronavirus had not yet dampened the enthusiasm to spend on unrequired purchases. Virus or no virus, the panic buying of toilet roll, beans and pasta earlier in the week had not been enough retail excitement. It was Friday 13th. Unlucky for some. The someone turned out to be me. The bad news arrived ironically, as the floodlights of Motherwell's Fir Park came into view from the M74. The Scottish Parliament were expressing a view the previous day, that all gatherings of more than 500 people sould be banned as a precaution against Coronavirus. However, it seemed that with the Old Firm clash scheduled for Sunday, all were content that the restrictions should be introduced after the weekend. A sure fire vote winner. The chasing pack - the best of the rest - were due to kick off the weekend fixtures on Friday night in North Lanarkshire. Motherwell had already confirmed "Game On". The Aberdeen travelling support had long since set off south when the announcement was made. The shock announcement on the radio from the First Minister was the sporting calender in the Scottish football leagues would cease until further notice - immediately! The Other Half and the Outlaw looked disinterested in my plight. I ruefully drove on, consoling myself that there would "Junior" football to watch on Saturday. The final kick in the teeth came as a cruel blow - "grassroots" football under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Football Association would not be exempt from the edict. The Lowland Leage was off. The East of Scotland League was off. The South of Scotland League was off too. The crucial one for me in the Glasgow area was that all the "Junior" football in the West of Scotland was off. Games due to be played in front of a handful of people on parks across the country from Orkney to Stranraer were all postponed en masse! Large groups were still free to congregate in the pub to drown their sorrows, in allocated seating in cinemas, at music gigs or in shopping centres, but not it seemed in the fresh air. News filtered through at 2 pm that the Six Nations rugby between Wales and Scotland was now also postponed. I felt for the Scots who had already completed a 500+ mile journey. However, Lewis Capaldi was given the green light to play on in Aberdeen on Sunday in front of 11,000 in an indoor arena. The social distancing measures that were going to save us all from doom were deemed acceptable in the P & J Live Arena in Aberdeen, but could not apparently be considered practical the day before in the wide open spaces of Summervell Park, Beechwood Park or Brisbane Road - not even for one more weekend! The inconsistency and double standards being applied was a strange development.

I approached the 2nd city of the Empire from the East End. The high rise tenement blocks looked as forbidding as ever either side of the motorway. They bely the wealth and prosperity to be found on the Southside or the West End. I pulled off the M8 motorway at Charing Cross with its confusing exit from the outside lane. In another life, I knew the city centre like the back of my hand. My office base was in theory in the financial district on St Vincent Street. We had team meetings here and base camp was always the Hilton or the Marriott. I was often seconded to assist on high profile "Scottish" jobs and came to spend many a happy hour in the institutions like the Horse Shoe, opened in 1846 and reputed to have the longest bar in Britain at 104 feet. My personal favourite mind was always the real emporium on the far side of the motorway, the Bon Accord. However, it was a long time ago and I no longer spend my time driving around the country "on business" (although you could be forgiven for thinking that I now spend my time widening my geographical horizons in pursuit of low level football).

We located a suitable disabled parking space within suitable range of Sauchiehall Street, so that the Outlaw could walk down the hill to the object of the exercise for the afternoon. I could loosely be described as a Groundhopper. I am not sure of the equivalent name for those who take afternoon tea in a variety of settings, but the Other Half would fall into this category. My 2009 blog, Gasgow By Design, follows our trip round some of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh design creations around the city. This afternoon, tea was booked in the newly refurbished Mackintosh at the Willow Tea Rooms. Tea rooms were enormously popular around the turn of the 20th Century and local business woman, Miss Cranston, commissioned Mackintosh to design her premises at 217 Sauchiehall Street. They opened in 1903 to widespread acclaim, but as the trend fell out of favour the building changed use and swallowed into part of a department store. The fixtures were in danger of being completely lost. A Trust was formed to purchase the building in 2014, in order to oversee a full renovation. The Tea Rooms are now back up and running to spread the appreciation of Mackintosh (and feed the collective sweet tooth of the nation).

We opted to take afternoon tea in the Salon de Luxe on the first floor. Mackintosh had worked on the other venues at Ingram Street and Buchanan Street for Miss Cranston, but the Sauchiehall venue was the first where he had complete control of both exterior and interior. The Salin de Luxe was the first floor room, where Mackintosh added the extra touches of luxury and Miss Cranston added a penny on to the bill for the exclusivity. Today, the supplement equates to £5 added to the afternoon tea price. The room is decorated in soft shades of silver, pink and purple. The mirrors with signature motifs run round the room to add to the feeling of spaciousness. The high back chairs help sub-divide the space for privacy. The centrepieces piece of the room are the wall panel, designed by his wife Margaret and inspired by work of Rossetti and the 2 chandeliers. They are modern recreations of the originals, using old photographs held by the Glasgow University archives as their basis. The afternoon tea was possibly not in the same league as others at such as Claridges in London, but let us face it you are really there for the architecture and ambience and not the cakes. The scones were unrivalled, mind.

We headed out of the city centre and crossed the River Clyde on the M8 motorway bridge. The notoriously busy M8 / M77 intersection was slow - think the A52 Clifton Bridge before the recent dramas - but manageable. It seemed working from home had been adopted before TFB made his subsequent announcements. I pulled off the M77 into the prosperous suburb of Newton Mearns in no more than 20 minutes. The gremlins of Friday 13th had struck the hotel key programming machine, so we had to be let into our rooms with a pass key. The pub next door but one to the hotel had posters still advertising the Motherwell v Aberdeen game "live" and showing here, as a constant reminder to the different evening I had planned. The big screens were still active. Rugby League had taken a decision to play on. The Salford Red Devils and Wigan Warriors did play on. They were largely ignored by the Glasgow public.

We were parked up near Glasgow University by 10 am the following morning, after a brief diversion via the Charles Rennie Mackintosh statue. The statue is the work of the same guy who sculpted the Kelpies on the edge of Falkirk. It was unveiled by First Minister, Nicola, on the junction of Argyll Street, St Vincent Street and Elliott St on the 90th anniversary of his death. It depicts Mackintosh sitting on one of his signature high back chairs. The Hunterian Museum at the University has a recreation of Mackintosh's house, which originally stood nearby on Southgate Avenue. The property was the last address of the Mackintosh household in Scotland and vacated in 1914, when he left to pursue commissions across the border. The original house as demolished in the 1960s, but the contents had been gifted to the University by his nephew in 1947 and now form the interiors of this recreation. We were the first customers of the day. After a flood that closed the main lounge to the public, the admission fee was waived. Alas no photographs were allowed, so I will leave you to your imagination or a search on the internet to get a full appreciation of the splendour of the project. We moved down to the Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery, just south of the main Gothic University building. The River Kelvin runs through the Kelnvingrove Park, which separates the two. The Kelvingrove is a red sandstone, baroque building and much more cheery in appearance than the University. The parkland is a mix of gardens and sports facilities. The bowling lawns were used for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The Kelvingrove opened in 1903 and was largely financed by the proceeds from the 1888 International Exhibition held in the adjacent park. The interior is split into 22 halls, featuring a wide variety of exhibits. A spitfires from the Glasgow squadron competes for your attention with works by the "Glasgow Boys" group of artists and an exhibition of Rennie Mackintosh. A 1951 work by Salvador Dali - the Christ of St John of theCross --seemed a focal point for many visitors. The Main Hall is capable of seating 3000 people and has a huge pipe organ at the far end. We had coffee to pace proceedings for Outlaw in the conservatory overlooking the park. I then dropped the Other Half and the Outlaw near the main shopping area off Buchanan Street. As with the previous evening, it was very quiet for Glasgow city centre.

Whilst the majority of Europe was busy avoiding football grounds, I was actively seeking one out. It was no ordinary ground too. It opened in 1884 as one of the premier stadiums in the whole country. There would be no game, but in some ways that didn't matter. Welcome to Cathkin Park - now listed in the Municipal Park venues of Glasgow City Council - but once the 50,000 capacity home of Queens Park and then subsequently the gone but not forgotten, Third Lanark. The original title was Hampden Park - at the time, the second to bear the name. Queens Park left for the new and third Hampden just up the road on Mount Floida in 1903, leaving the Hi Hi (as Third Lanark were nicknamed) as new tenant. Third Lanark - once arguably the 3rd team in Glasgow - went bust in 1967 and Cathin Park was allowed to deteriorate. The ground that held numerous Scottish FA Cup Finals - including the first between Celtic and Rangers in 1894 and even Scotland v England matches in the late 1800s - was left to the vandals. My favourite moment from the back catalogue of matches played over the years would surely be the clash between Renton and West Bromwich Albion, from south of the border. The match between the holders of the Scottish and English FA Cups played on 19th May 1888 was billed as the "Championship of the United Kingdom and the World". At a time when the British perceived football as their own preserve before we exported it around the globe, the winners would logically be able to add "the World" to the title of the trophy. It is the same logic still applied by Americans to the baseball "World Series", when for years only US teams were in the competition. The inclusion of World in the title also allowed the organisers to hype the admission price to 5 old pence (when a penny was the going rate) and along with the atrocious weather, possibly accounted for the disappointing crowd of 6,000. The trophy was not played again the following year, leaving Renton as the undefeated holders. It is probably still the stuff of folklore in deepest Dumbartonshire, but brushed under the carpet in the Birmingham B71 postcode area. I wandered for a good 20 minutes or so, taking in the atmosphere. The Main Stand might be long gone, but the steeped banks of terracing were still very much evident on the other 3 sides. A number of sections have been cleared of trees and vegetation and crash barriers randomly line across the steps. I stood high on the terrace behind the goal to get a feel for the place. I have read that a Phoenix club, Third Lanark AFC, who play in a Glasgow local league have plans to move back to Cathkin. It would certainly take some filling. There would be no goals today and no crowd. As I was the only person there, I has successfully self isolated myself in Scotland's biggest city!

When I originally came up with my visit plan, I was focussing on a trip to nearby Newlands and specifically to Newlandsfields Park - home of Pollok FC. It was possibly an early sign that not all would go according to plan with this trip. A few weeks of bad weather and the need to progress various Cup competitions, had seen fixtures being rearranged. A weekend with a home game against nearby Rutherglen Glencairn, turned into an away fixture at Irvine Meadow. It was Old Firm weekend, so I re-evaluated my thoughts in the direction of Rangers - Cambuslang Rangers to be precise. The chances of a ticket were considerably higher! However as we have seen, Coronavirus put paid to any football at all. After my sojourn in Cathkin Park, I thought I might as well check out Pollok FC for future reference. Newlandsfields did indeed turn out to be a gem - the home of Pollok since 1928. The turnstiles remained closed, but I could still see the substantial covered terrace on the far side. The capacity is 4000, which sounds a lot at this level. However, the demise of Third Lanark saw fans transfer to the Lok and crowds in excess of 500 are not unusual.The ground might have been closed, but the rather swanky Lok Bar & Kitchen was doing a busy trade. I returned to the city centre in pursuit of the best bit if local street art. Charles Rennie Mackintosh might have a statue on the other side of the M8, but down near the River Clyde his face surveys all who pass. The 60 by 40 foot work by local artist known as Rogue One gazes out from the side of the Clutha Bar. The Clutha is a well known bar, that suffered tragedy in 2013 when a Police helicopter crashed into it. There were 10 fatalities. The Mackintosh mural features the signature rose and stained glass window. The heavens opened, as we made our way back to our Southside base. The advice from central Government not to visit pubs and restaurants hadn't yet arrived, but the weather didn't make it very attractive to go too far. We settled on an executive fish and chip restaurant in nearby Giffnock. As I have Whitby blood running through the veins, I am very fussy about my fish and chips. I will go on record as saying that you should not be disappointed by a visit to Catch. Check out the funky little vinegar sprayers too. Takeaways still available hopefully in these troubled times. The Southside bar on the same block looked like it was worth a visit too, but having had to take the car out the opportunity was lost. We nipped into the nearby Lidl for a bottle of wine instead and witnessed the results of the shopping panic that continued to spread across all communities. Empty shelves were the order of the day. Signs restricted the purchase of more than 2 of certain items.

The grey skies were still much in evidence on the Sunday morning. We drive south on the M77 towards Kilmarnock and then on towards Cumnock. The village of Auchinleck is not on the visit list of everyone, but a minor detour was very much on my agenda. The small former mining village is home to Auchinleck Talbot - one of the more successful "Junior" football clubs over the yewrs. The Bot - named after the 2nd Baron Talbot De Malahide - have won the Scottish Junior Cup no less than 13 times. They ironically play at Beechwood Avenue, which looked way better facilities than the venue of the same name that was our "home" turf up until the age of 11. The Main Stand was lifted from the old ground at Hamilton Accies - no jumpers for goalposts here. The ground had a well maintained presence and the stand and gates looked smart in their black and yellow livery. A mural was painted on the car park edge, depicting the mining history of the football club. The doors of the Social Club were open, so I was able to get a glimpse inside. An extensive array of trophy cabinets lined two walls. Panic buying was alive and well at the Tesco store on the southern edge of Auchinleck. I shook my head quietly, as a trolley pushed past the front of the car fully loaded with multiple tins of Heinz Big Soups. Other brands are available, but not in that particular house it seemed. When the going gets tough and more draconian measures are introduced by the politicians, someone in the locality will be sure of their next meal. What would you like to eat today? Soup will be fine.

It was a 10 minute drive through Cumnock and on to Dumfries House. Dumfries House is of course nowhere near Dumfries. I wonder how many people make that mistake? The house was commissioned in 1748, when the 5th Earl of Dumfries decided to hang up his military boots in favour of a quiet life in the country. He commissioned the Adam brothers to build him a suitable residence, which was finished on time and on budget in 1760. The plan was that the Earl's wife would choose the furnishings. Alas, she never lived to make the choices and thus the story began on how the property became so much more than a fine country residence. The Earl set about attracting a new wife - preferably young and with a substantial dowry to cover his expenses. The coffers were rather low, after his house building years. He decided some classic furnishings would not harm his quest and so he amassed one of the world's greatest collections of Chippendale furniture. The pieces are known to be genuine, because the receipts are still retained. The values are eyewatering. A £20 million bookcase. £1.5 million chairs. There are fourteen of them. The house is indeed a fine example of the architecture of the time, but the furnishings make it exceptional. However, Dumfries House and the future came under the spotlight when the owning family decided rural Ayrshire wasn't really a necessary property in their extensive portfolio. At the asking price of £45 million, it seemed the attraction was also lost on any with deep enough pockets. The furnishings were due to be auctioned until HRH Prince Charles brokered a deal to keep the house and collection in situ. It has since become one of his flagship projects to restore the estate to former glories and provide a much needed boost for the local economy and employment prospects. We had pre-booked the £10 tour of the house, which are weekends only in winter. The grounds featuring diverse attractions such as the 1760 Adam's Bridge and the 2016 Chinese Bridge are free. We pressed on south broadly following the River Nith, pausing in the small market town of Thornhill. It had one of those main streets that reminded me of somewhere in outback Australia - except for it being much colder. The likeness was the width - wide enough to turn your camel train. I doubt that they have ever had camels in Thornhill. A local gift shop and eatery was doing a brisk trade on a Sunday afternoon and the handmade chocolate shop on the corner opposite the Pegasus Monument proved too much of a temptation for some in our party to pass. The interesting designs with a sort of tartan piping added to the chocolate bars caught the eye...... the World's First Tartan Chocolate. A selection of "Tiny Tartans" made the border crossing with us. A large testimonial on the wall was from Vivienne Westwood, who had very much enjoyed her samples. In these troubled times, I hope the lady who runs Moniaive Chocolates does well. If you can't visit in person, her products are available online.

The Coronavirus pandemic continued to worsen in the days after our trip to Scotland. The panic in supermarkets continued unabated.We were not in lockdown, but there was strong encouragement to avoid all social contact and to avoid pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants. The rule would later be annouced that all should close. The sporting calendar was cancelled, transport scaled back, non-essential travel frowned upon and people encouraged to work from home. The reality was many wouldn't be required going forward - either temporarily or permanently. The permanent lockdown might not be far away. It looked like this would be my last Traveblog for some considerable time. See you next time. So long for now.

Appendix 1

Scottish Premiership

Motherwell FC P Aberdeen FC P

Date: Friday 13th March 2020 @ 1945 Hours

Venue: Fir Park, Fir Park Street, Motherwell. ML1 2QN.

Match Postponed - Coronavirus COVID 19 Precaution

Appendix 2

Ardagh Group West of Scotland Cup 2nd Round

Cambuslang Rangers FC P Maybole Juniors P

Date: Saturday 14th March 2020 @ 1400 Hours

Venue: Summervell Park, Summervell Street, Cambuslang. Glasgow. G72 7EB. Scotland

Match Postponed - Coronavirus COVID 19 Precaution

Appendix 3

Third Lanark FC (Liquidated 1967)

Date: Saturday 14th March 2020 @ 1400 Hours

Venue: Cathkin Park, Florida Avenue, Cathcart, Glasgow. G42 8XG. Scotland

Attendance: 1

Appendix 4

Pollok FC

Date: Saturday 14th March 2020 @ 1430 Hours

Venue: Newlandsfield Park, Newlandsfield Road, Kilmarnock Road. Glasgow. G43 2XR. Scotland

Attendance: 1

Appendix 5

Auchinleck Talbot FC

Date: Sunday 15th March 2020 @ 1100 Hours

Venue: Beechwood Park, Beechwood Avenue, Auchinleck. Ayrshire. KA18 2AR. Scotland

Attendance: 1

Additional photos below
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23rd March 2020

On Hold
Things changed rapidly. Panic, hoarding and isolation. The lock down is on and we wait for travel blogs.
7th April 2020
Mackintosh At The Willow Tea Rooms, Glasgow

Wow, love the glass works in the tea room !!!

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