L’Archiduc bar and music venue, Rue Antoine Dansaert 6, Brussels 1000, Belgium

To sum it up in a nutshell, a beautiful Art Deco streamlined interior with quirky touches.
It is described by Trip advisor as “The coolest bar in Belgium”.
The interior design scheme swirls round the room including everything within itself. The control of the design elements is superb, and the confidence of it all is breathtaking, for there is also contradiction in the handling of the doorway ironwork and the streamlined interior. It’s made to look so easy and is so well done that you simply accept the contradiction and say “Of course, why not?”
But first you have to get past the plain and rather nondescript street facade.

facade

L’Archeduc is surrounded by larger, more impressive buildings. Although painted turquoise blue, this otherwise gives little hint of the splendours inside. It seems banal and provincial, of little consequence, giving little away to the casual passer-by. The best hints are the neat neon sign above the door and the soft ripple of the square leaded glass windows at street level.

doorway
The architectural adventure begins at the entrance. Here an extraordinary curving metal and glass affair of wonderful craftsmanship, contriving to be both modern and old, welcomes you. Subtle repeating curves in the flat wrought iron arched outer doorway are repeated in the plan of the curved inner bay. Its inner door of glass and iron is itself curved. Vertical strips of glass line the inner bay, allowing daylight to penetrate and giving glimpses of the street. While the doorway hints at rustic origins which agree with the delicately coloured leaded windows, they offer gentle contradiction to the rest of the modernist Deco interior.

window

The softly varied light given by the facade windows casts a mellow glow over the room and eliminates distractions from the street. This is always a room which looks in on itself, a private world.

pillars

The room has a rich bold colour scheme, where warm reds, dark purples and black feature lower down with cream and deep olive green appearing above.

bar2 At the left rear, and punctuating this sits the bar, with surfaces of richly varnished dark wood, gleaming mirrors and glass. You sit at chrome and leather bar stools; the bar counter is lit by creamy yellow porthole shaped light recesses. The lower ceiling height here give a feeling of cosiness and intimacy within the larger room space. Very rich and sophisticated!

Furnishings consist of tub seating and stools made of dark patterned cloth, are heavily worn, and compliment booths with deco style patterned cloth in red, a creamy yellow gold and blue-black and framed in glossy dark wood.

deco-booth-fabricgallery-end

Over all this and supported by part chromed pillars which frame the grand piano, The sweeping gallery edge has rails worthy of a ship, and fit over a solid modernist balcony edge which curves back into the wall behind. Beneath this edge are square recessed ceiling lights giving illumination to the bench seating below. The overall effect of this is similar to theatre, with an audience seated in the balcony taking part in the proceedings below. The vertical space offered within the tight plan is notable and well exploited. The curving lines of the balcony emphasise this and always draws your eye upwards to explore.
Its all simply fabulous design.

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DM

The city at night

 

the-city-at-night

What do you see here?

A street scene somewhere.
Cars, a pedestrian, apartment buildings with shops at ground level. The road in front seems broad, the prospect might be inviting or intriguing, for this scene seems a little untidy. Parked cars seem scattered across the roadspace.
The buildings seem quite new, they have a modern, fresh feel. Above the shops are the windows of apartments. People are living in them, and the lights are on in some of windows. We can see into some rooms.

The shops are small. These businesses are small town or from the edge of the city centre. Although their lights are also on, perhaps the workers have all gone home.

 

The sky is an evening sky, not quite dark yet, perhaps a summer evening. There is a watcher on one of the balconies.
Across the street, and reflected in the windows is an illuminated hotel sign.
So a mixed neighbourhood, homes, shops, hotels. Parked cars and a broad road. The city at night, inhabited and full of life and promise. If we use our imagination a little, we can picture ourselves as the watcher on the balcony, perhaps enjoying the view, living in the city and enjoying its benefits.

In fact this is Brussels in early August. Its between nine and ten in the evening. The air is still warm after a dry, sunny day. I was eating in a restaurant across the street and saw this. How different to my home town of Dumfries. There, houses and shops are more separate. In the evening the town centre is mostly silent and empty.

 

DM

Flagey, in Brussels

The Flagey building, Place Flagey and the nearby lake are worth a visit.

flagey-square

Place Flagey itself is a big irregular, informal, open public space. Many roads meet here. On two sides are apartment blocks with shops at ground level.

appt-flagey

The apartments are carefully composed facades of yellow brick, as is the Flagey building itself. The south west corner of the square touches the northern tip of the lake. The square has an intermittent spouting fountain area which locals braved with nonchalance. Trees are scattered round the edge, and there are two more modern public sculptures which which challenge the ’30s atmosphere.
On our visit a truck and PSVs were scattered across the square. This casualness hides a vigorous and contested re-development made between 2002 and 2008.

Place Flagey is situated south of central Brussels and at the top end of a little lake, about 15 minutes bus ride from the city centre. You arrive at a big glass-covered bus and tram stop situated to one side at the north end of the square.

We visited on a warm sunny morning, and had the immediate feeling of being in a good place. Why is that? It’s harder to define, we were enjoying the sun after a rainy day (it rains on average 200 days a year in Brussels).
That was one thing but we were also feeling relaxed. We had planned our route, and how it might fit in to the rest of our day. We had done some checking out on- line. We thought it looked interesting, that there might be quite a lot to see, but we weren’t sure as it seemed quite low-key. We had seen the lake on the map and thought we might enjoy walking round it to see the Cascade apartments on the other side. It seems to float above the lake like some medieval castle, yet at the same time, indisputably modern Art Deco.

cascades-from-lake

But when we got there, we realised that we weren’t just looking at the Flagey building, were were experiencing a living built environment- square, buildings and lake. Each part revealed something of the rest, and that invited movement through the space. In general it also offered a small glimpse into ordinary suburban life in Brussels. It hadn’t been primped for the tourists. Flaws and untidiness were allowed exist alongside things which were beautiful and interesting.

To begin with, we walked round the lake. We could see glimpses of buildings with mixed styles on the other side. Towards the far end, there was a man-made rocky grotto in the shade of trees, complete with broken classical columns.
The Cascade apartment building is a strong draw. We noticed couples from other countries drifting by, taking photos and smiling, happy to be there.

cascades-left

 

It is a large and beautiful example of Art Deco. Curving volumes, nice surfaces and simple detailing make a good mix.

cascades-entrancecascades-garage

But there were other interesting buildings, an apartment block and a modernist house to discover as well.
The lake appeared well cared for, with several duck houses spaced out along its length.
At the top end, swans, geese and ducks queued for breadcrumbs from local children. This activity served as a link with the public space and re-entry to the square.

In this complex space, life continued. People moved back and forth across it. Trams and buses came and went. Delivery vans blocked shop fronts. A man unloaded a trolley load of goods into a shop. A cafe couldn’t serve coffee because their machine had broken! A shop was being re-fitted.

furniture

There was even an external elevator moving furniture into an apartment building, and passers-by watching the little drama. All this in the morning sunshine while we looked and lingered.

flagey-from-lakeside

The Flagey building, formerly the I.N.R. (Institut National de Radiodiffusion), the name previously given to Belgian radio and television, is now subdivided and re-purposed. It is not particularly beautiful, but it is striking. It’s probably the reason visitors would initially go there. Unlike a monument or museum, it has limited public access at specific times. Perhaps it’s in transition, and sometime in the future will become just another restored museum, but for now it’s still a collection of working spaces. At the time of our visit, the only part we could find our way into was the cafe on the north-west corner.

Its has a genuine ’30s interior, much used and worn but very real. It’s also a popular, busy space. We liked the cafe tables,

cafe viewcafe-table

the ceiling fans and lights, the little tubular wall lights. There was a nice bar area as well.

cafe-barThe bar staff were all young men, apart from a girl at the counter which served food. The whole atmosphere was easy, relaxed and in no way challenging. As outsiders we felt completely unnoticed, we just blended in.

That’s what was nice about it all, the way it was. It has the charm of the old, and the everyday. Explained by the small comfortable changes which we see as we pass through it.

DM

Scotland and the EU

Brexit has rekindled the voice of the foreign adventurer, the buccaneer, among some in the UK and also (incredibly), Imperial dreams. But most Scots feel differently. We don’t, I suspect, feel the need to stride the world stage anymore. Cautiously and in small stages, we have been allowed to become aware of the consequences of past UK actions. The harm we have done to others. We understand that the military adventures in the Middle East which have followed the collapse of the British Empire have been disastrous and unsuccessful. We are aware of the pain we have caused, the societies we have ruined, the neglect we showed to our own kind, and the lies that were told to ourselves and others while this happened. We no longer trust the ruling establishment, the ambitions of the rich and powerful or those of the old left. These people and their actions disgust us.
The EU, on the other hand, has proved to be a force for good and has acted as a check to some of the wilder UK ambitions.
Given a chaotic post-Brexit landscape, we choose to move forward with the EU. It seems a stable and responsible organisation, where decisions are made by and for 27 separate states. No single state has too much power over the others, and there is a strong emphasis on working for the common good.
We need to give this feeling political expression. We realise that it is better to live in harmony with our neighbours and we want to co-operate with them.
We benefit from them already, and here’s how.

Scotland gets 5.6 Billion Euros in grants via CAP, EU Structural Funds and the Maritime and Fisheries Fund.

The European Investment Bank is also lending to Scotland. To borrow from it you have to be a member state.
“The European Investment Bank is the European Union’s nonprofit long-term lending institution. The EIB uses its financing operations to bring about European integration and social cohesion.

It is the world’s largest international public lending institution.”
(source-Wikipedia)
Here are some current EIB lending projects:-
Hospitals – Edinburgh Sick Children’s €112,072,090
Dumfries and Galloway Hospital €154,811,270
sub total €266,883,360

 

Roads-Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route €340,982,279
M8 Motorway €212,830,016
sub total €553,812,295

 

Further Education – Edinburgh University “Capex” €256,953,812
City of Glasgow College € 95,285,774
Horizon Funds”-mainly to education €296,000,000
sub total €648,239,586

The Beatrice windfarm off the Caithness Coast has also attracted EIB lending.
It will give energy to more than 400,000 homes. That’s equivalent to one in every six Scottish homes.   An EIB document states that:-
“The €605,335,484 EIB loan will support more than GBP 2.7 billion of overall investment.” (source-EIB)

That makes a total in these examples of over seven billion Euros. These sums really matter. They represent Infrastructure spending on a scale which, in the past, the UK government has rarely bothered with.
After Brexit, would the UK maintain this?

Now let’s look at the rest of the built environment. Wherever you live, in Scotland’s towns, villages and cities, how many old or worn out buildings can you see? Many date from Victorian times or earlier. Why is that? Why haven’t they been replaced or renovated? What else was the money spent on? Over the past hundred years, shouldn’t UK governments have been concentrating on those things as well, or were we just too far away or to insignificant? Did we just not really matter?

Europe can also have a positive influence on our personal lives. Today we have a set of living expectations which UK politicians have struggled to satisfy, and make no mistake, we want these expectations met.

We want good quality jobs, to be safe at work, to work for an ethical employer.
We want a balance of work/life time which enhances our lives.

We want to be satisfied that our lives and time are well spent. We want to have a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.

We want all our people to live free of deprivation. To have an income which gives a good living standard, to live in good quality housing.

We want to have good physical and mental health.
We want to live in conditions which promote a happy, full and long life for all. And while we live that life, we all want access to good quality health care.

We want to protect our environment. We want a sustainable future that we can build on and pass on to our children.

If you want Scotland to grow and prosper, you need a Scottish Nation engaged with Europe.

Again it is worth emphasising that the UK government has struggled to satisfy these demands and often seems uninterested. Yet these same demands represent no more than citizens of other European countries enjoy today.
Much recent EU legislation and regulation has been put in place to help to give us these things. We recognise and value that fact. EU law and treaty obligations have made improvements to our quality of life when the UK did not, did not wish it, or did not care about it. Now that this link with EU help is being cut by a UK decision, we are seeking a secure future within EU structures. Scotland can prosper in Europe.

D

Boomers

here we are, the over 65s, clogging up the buses and the NHS, popping our free pills and spending our winter fuel supplements on Spanish breaks …. ……reprobates.

Meanwhile, the millennial generation are facing a future of uncertainty, of limited opportunity and cannot afford to buy their own homes. After 50 plus years of slow improvement in living standards and working conditions, it now appears that much of it is being taken away by a succession of governments which are neglecting their first duty to their citizens. The things my parents and grandparents endured and then fought to improve, are being eroded and withheld.
My generation came from impoverished antecedents, scarred by two world wars.

rearing Clydesdales in New South Wales

My grandfather was brought back from his new life as an emigrant farmer in Australia to serve on the Somme during WW1. He survived and, more remarkably, a bout of the murderous influenza didn’t kill him either.

In the twenties and thirties, a lot of people were in poor, overcrowded housing, damp and unsanitary. Many were undernourished and often unable to buy medicines. My mother’s father, in the west of Scotland, always kept a dog, not as a pet, but to catch rabbits in the nearby fields. Rabbits were a staple part of their diet, well into the fifties.
Their generations had little protection. Often, women and babies died in childbirth. Almost every family had lost children to preventable diseases. It’s all recorded in census and death certificates.

My mother contracted rheumatic fever as a young girl, before the NHS came into being. She was sent to an isolation hospital, but then sent back home, with weeks to live. Somehow, her own mother cared for her, slowly encouraged her and she survived – with permanent damage to her heart.
My father survived POW camp in Italy and internment in Switzerland in WW2. When he came back, he weighed six stones. He was six foot four.

army service
courtship in the 1940s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My parents married at the end of the war. They were told they could never have children, as it would be too dangerous for my mother. Nature had other ideas, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. I was born in an NHS hospital, by Caesarian section.

brave new world after the war

My grandparents didn’t have access to this kind of care until the very end of their lives.

But I’m a baby boomer, born after WW2 at the end of the forties, when the National Health Service was introduced and ordinary people, for the first time, benefited from the care given them by the Welfare State, in return for their taxes.

wee boomer

After the war, people set about rebuilding their lives. They put all their energies into raising a new generation of healthy active children, with access to a good, if very limited, diet and the protection of health care, dentistry and vaccination, through taxation and National Insurance contributions. That was their contract with the state.

The sixties brought apprenticeships, college and university or the workplace.
Most young people moved out of their parental homes to access further education or work. The expectation was that after school you looked out for yourself. Many of us were the first in our family to go to university.

student days

There were, however, student grants in those days, provided by the state.
A very small amount of means tested, subsistence money to live on in term time. It was supplemented by working through all the holidays, to pay your share at home. But no credit cards, no holidays, cars or nice stuff, but no debt either. And we didn’t have to catch and eat rabbits. And there was no conscription to the armed forces by then, thank god.

By the end of the sixties, we were getting married and in the seventies, having families. Most of us were still renting accommodation that was better than our student digs, but still too draughty to heat. The money barely went round the necessities, we had no savings and the only holidays were back with our parents.

new generation

By the eighties, our kids were moving on and needing financial support as the student grants shrank. In my case, we were 40 before we could afford a mortgage.
Interest rates inflated almost immediately, making budgeting a science..
Over the next decades, we boomers paid our taxes and our bills and did the diy on our homes. Then we retired. And we helped our own ageing parents in their last years.
Already care for them was costing them their homes and lifetime savings.

So now, boomers have become pensioners. The majority of us are ordinary folk. Some of us have final salary pensions, paid into over our lifetimes, others have much less. Those superannuation schemes weren’t free. A large chunk of monthly wages built the funds over a lifetime and our families still need help from time to time, financial and otherwise.
We continue to pay our taxes, to carry out diy, plug the childcare gaps in the system and in many cases, volunteer our time to local groups. There’s a long standing sentiment of “giving something back to society”.
But the current UK government has other uses for taxpayers money, and it is attempting to remove the most basic of those hard won rights. The National Health Service is under intense pressure in England and Wales. The reason given daily in the newspapers and on television, is that there is a problem with an ageing population, living longer.

Everyone is ageing – all the time. The “problem” is not the ageing or the numbers of old people. The real problem is a government and a state that walks away from the contract made with its citizens.
All of us have paid our contributions and kept the terms of the contract throughout our lives – and we still are. Government has not.

UK Governments over the last 30 plus years have chosen to spend taxpayers money on foreign wars, a nuclear deterrent, and exorbitantly high value spending on infrastructure in the south east of England. They have also used taxpayers money to bail out the banks which almost ruined the country through greed, risky gambling and self serving practices. And they have borrowed billions to top up these adventures, while making sure the rich stay rich.
What they have not done, is invest their citizens money in apprenticeships, student grants, workplace opportunities and affordable housing.

They have cheated the young of a better future for themselves and their children.
But they blame an ageing population, most of whom do not have personal debt.
Most of whom had what little they had saved, halved or lost in the banking crash.
Most of whom still pay tax, and most of whom are living longer because they got a good start in life and were cared for by the NHS they and their parents paid for.

Do we really want to turn the clock back to the thirties? We will still be paying tax to the state, but we will also be paying huge sums on medical insurance – if we can afford them. For many, many people, that is a non starter. The inevitable result is poorer health and yes, shorter lives.

Look around you.
We are the midwives who brought you into the world; the nurses, doctors and dentists who cared for you, the teachers and lecturers who taught you; the farmers and fishermen who fed you; the civil servants who looked after the smooth running of all the state functions; the scientists and engineers who designed and created the technology you use every day; the ones who drove the buses, trains and lorries; the cooks, the cleaners, the artists, musicians and writers, people just like you.

The men and women with their free bus passes haven’t stolen your future. The neo-liberal crony governments are the problem. If you are old, or disabled, or the wrong colour, or the wrong religion, or not from here, or unable to find work, then you are not wanted.
And now, my own family is back to square one. My grandchildren live 6000 miles away, economic migrants; just like their great great great grandfather, they had to leave Scotland and start again in Australia.

Bad government damages people’s lives. It’s a warning that should be on every ballot paper.
Choose those who value society, in all its dimensions. Age comes to everyone.

Language in our DNA

Long before the EU came about, when I was a wee girl, my father taught me to count in German and Italian – ein, zwei, drei; uno, due, tre………

I loved it, the sound of the words and the feel of them in my mouth.

Despite spending time in a POW camp in northern Italy and then in an internment camp in Switzerland, working on small farms in both countries, he still thought it worthwhile to teach me the basics of German and Italian.
He brought home a tiny German bible, printed in a dense black Gothic typeface; a battery powered bakelite torch with a noisy spring ratchet action that you had to squeeze repeatedly to get a glimmer of light; a pair of wire rimmed glasses with German lenses. Fascinating foreign things.
He also brought back a smattering of both languages and a love of Italian lyric opera. Alongside these “foreign” languages, I was learning Burns’ songs and poems and reciting them on demand for visitors. Burns was challenging too, with lots of words I liked getting my tongue round, but had no reference for. Chapman billies and bowsing at the nappy, or a “skellum, A bletherin, blusterin, drunken blellum”. Even if the words were unfamiliar, you could hear the disgust.

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And nonsense songs like….. There was a Wee Cooper wha lived in Fife, nickety nackety noo noo noo…

As I grew older, the pull of languages grew stronger.
I was schooled in Latin and French, under the old Scottish academy system. Latin was great for unlocking the English language and the Romance ones, while learning German revealed much in common with Scots. Later on, I learned to speak Italian, its rolling r’s and rounded vowels entirely at home in my Scottish mouth.
I was able to get close to the meaning in the writings of Virgil, Dante, Moliere and Thomas Mann and even though I never became really fluent, I could feel the power of the words in a way that is mostly diluted, when translated into English.

Teenage school exchanges brought Flemish kids from Aalst, with their impressive self confidence and alien sounding conversation. I had pen pals too, Jamil, from Morocco and Dieter, from north west Germany.

Jamil looked like a young Camus and sent me photos of a warm gaggle of little brothers and sisters with his mum. It looked hot and dusty but friendly.
Dieter was pale, blond and distant and sent photos of the massive statue of his national hero, Hermann, set in green forest.
His letters were written on graph paper, and the landscape in his photos wasn’t unlike Scotland, but the scale of the monument had no counterpart here. I didn’t really understand why a boy my age would send me that; I was into pop music and boys, not William Wallace – not then!
But in retrospect, good for him and good for the education system that taught him about his country’s history and its heroes. It’s more than I was getting in Scotland.
And the same thing happened with all the Europeans I met. They were proud of their countries, proud of their towns, unashamed about their language and culture. It was normal to be an independent country and represent it. I had very little sense of my country’s identity, its history and its past, despite my knowledge of Burns.

School brought foreign language assistants in from Berlin and Rabat, in French Morocco.
Fraulein Inge loved walking in the mountains at home, so four of us took her up Ben Lomond. She sucked on slices of lemon as she climbed, while we gasped and slugged bottles of ginger. She was stereotypically Germanic too, tall, slim, blond and scarily polite in all her dealings with us, but extremely kind. She left us each a little Berlin Bear charm when she went home.

Mam’selle proudly showed us slides of her home town with its wide, scorched streets. She had dyed red hair and a foul temper but she loved the Rolling Stones and threw a farewell party for us kids in her digs and played them very loud. She was raucous and intolerant in class but otherwise treated us like adults. I first heard Edith Piaf in my French class at school.

A further two young French language assistants lodged with a friend of mine, in her parents “chalet”, on the shores of Loch Lomond. The chalet was a large wooden shed at the back of the garden, with plenty of room and even a verandah. It must have sounded idyllic when you were stifling in Paris in August, but it suffered from Scottish damp, rain, muddy paths and midges. Both girls had high octane Gallic personalities, smoked and used lots of make up, creams and lotions.
They pushed their hair up into the Bardot look.
They were always falling out with each other, rivalries were high, and frequent bouts of French screeching came from the chalet. When the Luss Games came round, it got worse, as they vied for the attentions of the strong men, the caber throwing giants. Watching them flirt with the kilties when you were 14 was an education in itself.
Organised visits to the French and German Institutes in Park Circus were rare opportunities to mix with foreign students in an easy way, watching their films and eating their biscuits.
All these encounters with Europeans taught me something valuable: that despite fascinating superficial differences, we were essentially very similar and we found a lot to like in each other.

But I have now finally got round to learning Gaelic and it seems strange to have spent a lot of my life learning other peoples’ mother tongues, having never listened properly to my own.
Gaelic has had a bad press, of course, it’s been suppressed and reduced to a fringe activity, but is now enjoying a renaissance across Scotland.
Having been out of favour for so long, it does not have its own vocabulary for the currency of the 20th C, politics, banking, technology, lifestyle etc.

What it does have in spades, is a deep and elemental bond with the ancient landscapes and weather of Scotland and with the peoples who live here.
Its placenames are both poetic and unashamedly descriptive.
It is able to carry stories, ideas and feelings that allow us to connect with our own culture again. And its music travelled the world with the emigrant Gaels.

Language is our birthright, it tells us who we are. While few Scots can speak Gaelic, most of us have a good grasp of Scots and English. We are, in varying degrees, bilingual and many of our Scots words are only a heartbeat away from their Gaelic roots. They are also quite likely to be the words we turn to in moments of strong emotion. English has a civility that disnae dae it, when yer greetin or beelin – or feelin’ smashin.

Britain is an insular place in language matters. The domination of the English language in international trade and financial systems has made us lazy. We don’t make much effort to learn the languages of other countries. But a lot of them do spend time and effort on learning to speak English, to a degree that is significantly higher than classroom level.
When Brits travel abroad, they mostly make little effort to acquire some language for the country of choice. There is an expectation that they will get by without trying.
And, mostly they will. Others are required to make the effort to communicate. In the hospitality industry, it would be rare to find accommodation abroad where there are no English speaking staff on hand.
In the UK, only the largest chain hotels trouble to hire staff with language skills.
In schools, language teaching is on the decline too. But without these skills, so much is lost. The chance to communicate and relate to other cultures is absent. The average Brit moves around the non English speaking parts of the world in a bubble of Britishness, deaf to other ways of speaking, living or thinking. That creates feelings of otherness.
Speaking another language is challenging, whenever you start. I don’t deny that, but its what we humans are good at. Our brains are hard wired for language.

And nursery rhymes, songs and ditties are a great way for little kids to get into language. Many of our fairy tales come from Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm, with their dark tales of forests, witches, magic, and stories of good versus evil.

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We shouldn’t worry about not teaching them English well. Kids are like sponges for new things and they love to parrot sounds. The more wordplay and fun with language that children experience, the more their language skills develop. There are lots of online resources for them to learn from. It doesn’t demean English, it enhances it. By exploring other ideas, we begin to recognise ourselves.

Most folk are familiar with songs like Frere Jacques when they hear them. Football and rugby crowds regularly hear the French Marseillaise and other national anthems. Or a psalm like Silent Night (Stille Nacht). To hear those different words sung to a familiar tune can reveal something of the soul of the people, and their unique sensitivities.
If we understand even a little bit of our own and our European neighbours languages, then we understand a little bit about them too and suddenly we have things in common – shared experiences or beliefs, and isolation has no place any more.

Teach your children to enjoy their own and other languages and they will learn to value other cultures too. Words are currency in a global world. It worked for me!

M

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Regeneration in Dumfries

 

How we can create confidence in our future”

The lessons we can learn from Glasgow and Edinburgh

How parts of the town centre look today

town-centre
Mid-Steeple and the High Street
vennel
Friars Vennel
high-st-infill
The North end of the High Street with Burns statue

Dumfries town centre has a mix of building styles, ages and types. Some re-developed buildings have a modern appearance, while others are more traditional.   A varied streetscape is created from buildings with a mixed appearance. Some individual buildings and vistas are pleasing, distinctive and make a strong contribution to the identity of the town. Property maintenance standards vary. Efforts have been made to improve the quality of public spaces, to improve the ground surfaces and to provide appropriate street furniture.
The businesses are a fairly typical retail mix. Towards either end of the High Street are two department stores. They are located in re-developed, modern buildings. These bigger shops and the Loreburne Centre act as  anchors and contain the main retail shopping area. The Loreburne Centre has a covered, indoor shopping arcade and shops which face directly onto the High Street.

southergate-centre
Southergate Centre

Re-development is proposed at the Southergate Centre.

Problem or opportunity?
UK shopping has changed. While this is reflected in a changed business mix, empty retail shops are more commonplace in many towns.
Despite several recent expensive efforts to improve things, parts of Dumfries town centre in and around the High Street continue to look neglected. There is a perception that some nearby towns have been able to manage things better. Amid expressions of concern, there is a wish for clarity on the best way to improve things.

If people no longer wish to use the town centre so much for retail shopping, what else could the area be used for? Who should control and regulate the use of this space – government, property owners, the public or a balanced mix? Should the town centre be re-purposed? What other town changes might also be necessary, and how should any new projects be balanced and managed? How would it be a better place for local people to use? What part should tourism and visitor attraction play? Crucially, how do we build agreement and make progress? Lastly and most important, who should pay for all this?
As an artist, and interested in visual things, I also hope for a solution which looks good and works well.

Other considerations
There is little housing in the town centre but a lot to the south and west. The Georgian town houses are now mostly offices. Near the town centre there are many Victorian buildings and a good deal of later, in-fill development. There has also been plenty of new housing in the suburbs. Lots of people clearly want to live in Dumfries.

There are two Scottish Tourist Board 3-star hotels close to the High Street and others a little further out. Dumfries has a profusion of other hotels and Guest Houses.
Close to the town centre are two cinemas, a refurbished theatre and a leisure centre. There are also a primary and secondary school at the northern edge.
While the town Centre is fairly busy during the day, at night, apart from the town centre pubs and night clubs, it is mostly unused.
Now lets compare Dumfries’s situation with that of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

How Glasgow has Changed
Glasgow was once a great manufacturing city. Now the shipyards are few, and the docks, steelworks, railway works and similar manufacturing industries have gone.
Thousands of workers jobs were lost.
When Glasgow lost these jobs, it also lost some of its self confidence and the city faced an uncertain future. Today a different and prosperous Glasgow is being made, perhaps symbolised by buildings such as the Armadillo, the Hydro and the tall new offices and hotels rising over the city centre. People may argue about how to continue to change Glasgow for the better, but I suspect there are not many who would argue that a corner has been turned in Glasgow’s history. Its a city which has acknowledged that some old industries and some of the old ways have gone. The past has, to some extent, been let go. Treasured bits are cherished and remembered, that’s an important thing to do. We shouldn’t deny the past, we acknowledge it.
Glasgow signalled its intention to move forward in a key event, the Garden Festival of 1988, and then won the City of Culture award in 1990. The garden festival was a strange experience. It was more a garden of curiosities, some of which had links to Glasgow’s past.

festival gateway
strange-gateway
gateway, exhibit and housing

 

 

 

 

 

autogyro-for-web
1930’s autogyro

Many exotic structures- a tower, a roller coaster, giant teapots and others, posed alongside Shona Kinloch’s witty sculptures of Glasgow Dogs.

wee-fat-dug
wee fat dug
dog-for-web
sniffing dug

The festival was a great success.

Now Glasgow is facing the future not the past, and is a shopping, event and tourist destination.

 

renfield-street
Buchanan Street shoppers

Its also still a busy place, and a place to do business. Glasgow is still a manufacturing centre. The riverside, so long derelict, is transforming, and some of the business and work focus of Glaswegians has moved to new places in the city or around it.
Now many people from Dumfries use Glasgow in preference to their own town for weekend shopping, such is the attraction. Crucially, Glasgow is now an all year round tourist destination.
Change in Edinburgh
Similarly in Edinburgh we see a year-round tourist industry which has become so successful that it almost swamps the city.

shoppers on Princes Street

Efforts are already in place to spin-off some of this tourism into other parts of Scotland. So how do we move forward in Dumfries?

Bringing change to Dumfries using History, Heritage and Archaeology
Our possible way forward may be to capitalise on the history of the town, on figures such as Bruce, Burns and Barrie. Their lives are interwoven with Dumfries’s past. They already have a presence here and we can build on that.

composit-1-bruce

 

composite-3-burns

barrie
The Moat House where JM Barrie played as a child, the inspiration for Peter Pan

History and walking tours might be added to fixed museum or visitor type presentations. The Whitesands leading to the Burns centre at the Millhouse and Camera Obscura lend themselves to this kind of experience.  We could develop High Street visitor centres to interpret each of their stories, and use these centres to refer to whatever existing structures can be found in the town. Perhaps we could offer re-enactments and re-interpretation in place of hard historical or archaeological structures. Such events as the passing presence of Bonnie Prince Charlie and an interpretation of the Georgian architectural area, or the John Paul Jones Story could add variety and depth to the perception of the town and also offers the chance to link to existing visitor centres locally and elsewhere in Scotland.

We know from visitor surveys that Scotland’s history attracts and motivates almost a third of Scotland’s tourists. Fifty million people across the world now claim Scots ancestry. In an uncertain world Scotland is a safe visitor destination. Let’s not forget our European neighbours either. Scotland’s profile is high at the moment. We are in favour. If we refurbish our town centre and present carefully to all our visitors, we should do well.

Private sector investment is the key ingredient to all this. Private funding would be needed to help create a tourist friendly infrastructure such as good new central hotels and amenities, restaurants and suitable entertainment and a cafe culture and/or night life. A new core could exist alongside existing businesses. Shopping would need to be re-purposed to reflect both tourist and local needs. To what extent can we re-use the existing building stock and involve local businesses?

As Edinburgh and Glasgow have shown, tourism is now an all-year event. If just a few more of those visiting Edinburgh or Glasgow could be coaxed into visiting Dumfries for a few nights then that would make quite a change. Let’s also not forget that Edinburgh is booming. It is a great business centre. If we were successful down here with more tourism, what sort of people and businesses would we attract?
We could also add to other growth initiatives already in place.

We might signal this change to others and to ourselves just as Glasgow did. A one-off iconic festival on a Dumfries theme might precede and pave the way for change. We could manage this fairly soon and it might help with drawing business interest in redevelopment.

Lets face the future with confidence.

D

Transports of delights D

Leipzig Hauptbanhof and “Bach im Leipziger Banhof” (the annual Bach Festival)
Leipzig
Leipzig itself, is an attractive place. It has been ranked as the most liveable and the most attractive city in Germany. It has a very high quality of living. It is also noted as a centre for shopping and food. The city is a thousand years old. It has a 15th Century university that is the students favourite, and since the 1490s, the city has been famous for its trade fairs. The older city centre dating from the 16th century attracts many visitors and is charming to walk through.
City reconstruction began after wartime damage as part of East Germany. After reunification it continued. The collapse of many of the city’s traditional businesses and activities led to economic decline. The population shrank, but has now stabilised at about half a million. Since then, the city’s fortunes have revived and now Leipzig is seen as something of a magnet city, attracting jobs and investment.
Today Leipzig is a growing, thriving and ambitious city of just over half a million people, noted for its lively arts scene. It is also a major transport hub, integrating air, train, tram and bus. This is interesting for a Scot, who is frequently exhorted to use public transport more and the car less. Leipzig station has 120,000 users per day, about the same as both of Glasgow’s stations combined, but twice that of Edinburgh, although the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh are roughly the same size as Leipzig. The huge city tram network is 92 miles long. This is where Leipzig stands out.
It also has a very well developed cycle network which adds to its popularity. If we are serious about growing a greener economy and increasing prosperity in Scotland, we need the attitude and commitment shown in places like Leipzig.
Among its former famous inhabitants are the philosophers Karl Wittgenstein and Gottfried Leibnitz, together with the painter Max Beckmann, the poet and philosopher Goethe and Mendelssohn, the composer. Then of course there’s Bach. JS Bach worked in Leipzig between 1723 and 1750.
Leipzig has an annual “Bachfest Leipzig” music festival. This celebrates the work of one of the world’s greatest composers and perhaps the city’s best known inhabitant. I’m sure its also very good for tourism.
The station

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof is one of the world’s largest railway stations. It has 19 platforms and a spectacular facade which is 298 metres long.
It is also a much changed place with a complicated history. It was begun in 1909 and finished in1915, but during WW2 bombing, the concourse roof collapsed and the western entrance hall was destroyed. Full restoration took until in 1965. Following German reunification, the station was modernised and a shopping mall and two basement levels were added.

multi-level-concourse

So the big stone arches which support the roof now cover a multi-level concourse.

concourse-platform-elevator

The modified station building was inaugurated in 1997, then two underground railway platforms were added in 2013 and a billion Euros has recently been spent on the Leipzig city tunnel.
This will integrate into the larger new rapid transit network, Berlin–Leipzig–Nuremberg–Munich, a very ambitious infrastructure project.  Link here
Today however, on the outside, the facade is once again grand, stately and rather beautiful.
A diversion-The cake
The interior is just an amazing space to explore.

platform

As you can see, we did and we eventually found the cake shop- all it takes is a little persistence!

cake

 

Our verdict?  Well yeah- OK, it’s not Mendls “Courtesan au chocolat” but it was very, very seriously good none the less.

To me this whole redevelopment is a successful hi-tec intervention which matched the scale of this grand old building.

concourse-access

Throughout our visit we had the feeling that this was a renovation which has “been properly done”. The ambition of the design and quality of the work speaks for itself. It was also sensitive to the feel and history of the building and the wishes of Leipzigers.
The Music- Bach im Banhof

west-hall-and-multi-level-access

On the left of the picture below, you can see the performance area, with the concourse above. Anyone passing by can see the players and hear the music.

a-glimpse-of-the-preformance-space-beneath-the-main-concourse
Right in the heart of all these new works, down in the multi level concourse, in June 2016, was the “Bach im Leipziger Bahnhof” music programme. The station’s own programme of free events as its contribution to the city’s annual Bach festival.
Perhaps you might think it strange that a railway station would be home to a concert programme, but “Bach im Bahnhof” perfectly complemented the railway station. A well organised and free daily music programme of took place quite matter-of-factly in the very heart of one of the busiest railway stations in Germany. 120,000 users pass through each day, roughly the same as Glasgow’s two railway stations combined, (yes! imagine if you had this railway station in Glasgow). It offered travellers a brush with culture during the hustle of a journey, and so culture had a chance to engage with daily life. The programme was also good enough to attract visitors to the station.
On the day I visited, beginners classes in violin and cello were showing everyone what they could do. For the kids it was a great showcase in a huge venue.

Learning violin isn’t easy, and these kids were great! I would guess that they were only about seven or eight years old, yet they held it together really well.
Why does that matter? Because acquiring that level of skill at such an early age is empowering. Having the opportunity to successfully perform in public, in a place like that will, I’m sure, will be remembered long after the event.
Also, learning good things about what we can do as we grow up, helps us to become confident adults. Its just such a social good.
Something you notice when you’re abroad is that Europeans have a seriousness about music, about its importance and value. Casual event performances (for example the bands at a summertime Bavarian open air fête day with fireworks in the evening) often have a much higher technical skill than you can casually find here, and the range of instruments is usually broader as well.

Infrastructure
We toured in and around Leipzig. It was a revelation to see how much infrastructure investment is flowing into German transportation links. With its airport, three motorways surrounding the city-borders and several high-speed railway links to all major cities in Germany, Leipzig is an easy-access city. The billion Euro rail tunnel is only a fragment of a much wider scheme to upgrade the Central German Regional Railway Network, and improve connectivity in Central Europe. (ERDF) is underpinning the EU Central Europe programme. Scottish infrastructure spending, so long choked off by the UK government, is just beginning to transform Scotland and some of this is contingent on ERDF funding. The Scottish Government currently has 6 billion Pounds worth of infrastructure being constructed in Scotland today. That includes our new local hospital in Dumfries (£200million), the Queensferry Crossing (£1.4billion) the Shieldhall tunnel in Glasgow (£250million), the M9 upgrade(£450million).
The Scottish Government also has future infrastructure plans which would depend in part on getting ERDF funding.
This is the sort of investment which Brexit will put at risk.
In Leipzig as in Scotland, If your government really cares about your country’s future, it shows. Actions speak louder than words.

M emigrant/immigrant

One of the pieces on my gallery page is my Emigrant book.
I had never made anything like this before, but in 2012, something happened as a result of the economic downturn.
Our daughter, her husband and our two grandchildren, “emigrated” to Australia, or in other words, had to leave to find work.
I’ve been fortunate. I’m the recipient of a good free education, I’ve had a professional career, I never had to face leaving Scotland from necessity. But I never thought my own children would need to either, as professionals. A scientist and an engineer, lost to Scotland.
That was shocking and I would ask anyone to think about it for a bit.

I reckon there are many households in Scotland who are living with the same kind of absence.
It got me thinking about Scotland’s history of emigration and separation. It’s an old story, but one that is constantly repeating itself.

mary-teresaOn both sides of my family, people left for America and Australia, starting in the late 1880s. A few came back, but many never did. There were no good prospects to come home to. In the early years of the 20thC, more left home and in the mid fifties, still more. And here we are in the 21stC.
I am lucky, I can text, phone, Skype my family, everything but touch them.

sail-away

How could those left behind in the 1800s and well into the 1900s, bear the separation? Six weeks at least on the boat out to Australia and then as many again for the first letters to come home with news. Nor was there any likelihood of the young sons and daughters being able to make a visit home. All the rites of passage, marriages, children, deaths, happening thousands of miles apart. It must have been a sore, cheerless existence for the old folk left behind.

nobodys-childI started my book with the words ‘nobody’s child’. I think it applies to all newly arrived immigrants. Arriving in an alien environment, cut off from your culture and family support, is a bit like being an orphan. No history, no back story in the new place, just your own small nucleus, trying to find its way. Everything around you is different.
None of my immediate family had language barriers, nor were they refugees fleeing war zones and persecution. They just didn’t have a good future here for their children.
Maybe Scotland understands very well what it is to be an outsider. All the signals of uncertainty, confusion and isolation resonate somehow across cultural boundaries.
Scotland can’t feel like home yet to newly arrived refugees but kinship is wider than race, religion or language and it costs us nothing to offer it.
In the current climate of restrictions, bans and deportations, remember the folk that sailed from the Broomielaw, or who now fly from Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Don’t allow inward looking isolationism any houseroom.
Scotland is bigger than this in heart and mind and it’s a precious thing – in the real sense of that word.

But in the meantime, if we want our children and grandchildren to grow and flourish in Scotland and if we want to see our country able to support them and future generations, then change is necessary.

The first step is to recognise that no change means no change and that in 50 or 100 years time, someone else will still be lamenting the lack of opportunity that has gifted other countries the benefit of our young people.
It’s in all our interests to have confidence in our ability to govern ourselves and to make decisions for ourselves. So what should we do about it?

We need to be able to grow our economy and improve all our people’s life chances here, to give everyone the right to a normal life, so that starting a new life in another country is a choice, not a necessity.
Better opportunities and better employment prospects will only come when we have control of our own resources and manage them for the benefit of Scotland and her people.

For the last 160 years the United Kingdom has served my family ill. The stark choice was to stay disadvantaged and disempowered or to make the decision to leave.

Brexit is the single greatest threat to Scotland’s prosperity since the Great depression years.
The case for an independent Scotland is to allow Scots to make all the decisions that affect our lives and to make them well. We have been diminished by neglect, by rule from afar, and by the absolute contempt of the ‘ruling class’ for ordinary people and their hopes.

Adventures and experiences abroad should be a matter of choice, a rich aspect of our own personalities as confident, worldly Scots. They shouldn’t be the last best hope, where there is none to be had at home.

Emigrant is a book about loss. Let’s make sure it becomes history, and let’s plan instead for a better future, that builds on our aspirations and supports us to realise them.