In central Glasgow stand two shopping malls which between them summarise the social variety of Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city — exciting, vibrant, and full of friendly, extrovert people.
The St Enoch Centre––‘The Glasgow Greenhouse’, on account of its huge glass roof––is the largest of its kind in Europe. For something so huge it enjoys very low electricity bills.
At its foundation in 1989 it incorporated an ice rink. That was dismantled in 1999 because of Commercial pressures (rival centres springing up nearby) to make way for an extended food hall. Nowadays recreation is provided by a bouncy castle.oi
The shops represent mid-range retailers with generally well-known names and no false modesty where attracting attention is concerned. My wife Ros was much attracted by the somewhat salaciously eyed elephant outside Hamleys.
From one angle, the centre illustrates one of Glasgow’s readily acknowledged social and medical problems. This has always been a city where people smoke, drink and eat to excess, habits literally made flesh by many people visible in St Enoch and in the streets around.
Plump people, fat people and gross people abound. We noticed one of the numerous fellowship push aside the salad component of her lunch, the better to concentrate on the carbohydrates, the fried bits and her sugary soft drink.
Princes Square shopping
The problem is acknowledged, but I saw little sign of any attempt to discourage it.
However, obesity is much less in evidence a short walk away, in Princes Square, perhaps the most outrageously stylish of the newer centres that helped wipe out St Enoch’s ice rink. It lurks behind two unspectacular arched entrances. A literally over the top peacock several storeys up is surprisingly easy to miss.
It tells you something about the helpful spirit of young Glaswegians that when I asked a waitress about the building’s history at the first of the very attractive cafés that we tried, she asked a colleague if he knew. He didn’t, so went into the administrative bowels of the building to find out.
Two hundred years ago the square provided stabling for coaching firms. The present building sits within the hollowed shell of one dating from 1841, which served as, among other things, a repatriation centre after the First World War, offices, and a collection of boutique shops.
One enthusiast describes the Square as ‘probably the classiest shopping centre in all of Glasgow. It’s very upmarket and shiny, but far from gauche and faceless like many of our other shopping establishments.’
Everything looks inward to a well of light under a glass roof. At the bottom of the well is a circular area where children (and adults) can relax together without spending any money at all (pic right).
The basement and the four floors above provide a mix of shops, cafés and restaurants, allowing you everything from a classy dinner or lunch to a cup of tea or coffee while you take the weight off your feet.
(Special mention, perhaps, for Barça, a tapas bar which, given its quality, can be described as inexpensive.) The retail shops are quite simply amongst the leaders in their various fields.
I cannot claim that no large people were to be seen in Princes Square. But there were certainly many fewer and the women amongst them were often coping confidently with spectacularly high heels.
Turning away from shopping to Scottish politics, we had wondered, before arriving, whether our southerly accents might provoke hostility. Since the Scottish National Party became a force to be reckoned with during the 1990s, independence for Scotland has become increasingly prominent in its agenda.
In May this year, under the energetic leadership of Alex Salmond, it won the highest percentage of votes in of any of the competing parties. Since then it has pushed for a referendum on Scottish independence from ‘English’ rule, if not necessarily with the intention of leaving the United Kingdom.
(The Queen is known––or believed––to be extremely fond of Scotland.)
Attitudes to independence
There has, however, been massive hedging of bets on all sides. Some English people argue along these lines: ‘Let them go. They’ll soon realise that they live to an extent on our money.’
Some Scots are also ambivalent about independence. A Scottish lady told me a couple of years ago, not entirely in jest: ‘We’ll vote for it. Then we’ll go and live in England.’
The motion before the next public debate staged by The Spectator will be that ‘It’s time to let Scotland go’. Among questions certain to come up are: Can Scotland survive on its own? Are the cultural bonds too strong to break? Will English tourists be met by border guards?
Galleries, music and theatre
There are, indeed, strong cultural ties to be reckoned with. Apart from its internationally famous art galleries (Kelvingrove, Burrell and several devoted to Charles Rennie Mackintosh), Glasgow is also strong on music and theatre.
We spent a thrilling evening in the Citizens theatre watching the Scottish star David Hayman give a blistering performance as King Lear, in a production by Dominic Hill which emphasized pace and directness in its portrayal of two dysfunctional families tearing themselves and each other apart.
We thought beforehand we’d probably go to Glasgow just the once. Now we are much less sure, even allowing for frequent downpours of curiously cold rain.