Harvard, £20 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop
On Glasgow and Edinburgh, By Robert Crawford
A study of the love and hate between 'enlightenment' Edinburgh and 'industrial' Glasgow
Friday 26 April 2013
Sparta glowers at Athens. Athens turns away in prim disdain. Nothing holds back modern Scotland more than the artificially sustained rivalry between Edinburgh and Glasgow, two cities with enough internal contradictions to be going on with.
Ask anyone: Glasgow is friendly, industrial and wild, a city that grasps you warmly by the throat, generous but with a blade tucked into its sock. Edinburgh is douce, cultured and reserved, where they say firmly "You'll have had your tea?", rather than offer you any. The reality, as natives and long-term sojourners know, is very different.
There's nothing unique in regional rivalry. Stockholm mocks Gothenburg and vice versa. LA and San Francisco are the Glasgow and Edinburgh of California. Moscow and St Petersburg have the excuse of both having been capital cities. Robert Crawford dedicates his book "for both / with love", a poet's epigraph and one that colours everything that follows, which is affectionate, sharply observed and sharply written.
A key observation, hinted rather than dogmatically argued, is that both Edinburgh and Glasgow are literary cities, in the sense that their cultural construction depends as much on writing and publishing as it does on architecture or art; there are surprisingly few good paintings of Edinburgh as civic space. In addition, neither city surrenders easily to generalisation.
"Enlightenment" Edinburgh is a thoroughly Romantic, even atavistic, place; Stevenson and James Hogg knew this, but so did David Hume, which is why he became David Hume. In the same way, "industrial" Glasgow remains the "dear green place", Gles Chu, its urban tropes forever reversing into bucolic or pastoral ones. On Glasgow and Edinburgh – the order reverses after an introduction – is a highbrow guidebook, as useful to carry on a visit as it is pleasurable to read far away.
It observes a strict democracy of emphasis – the great chimney formerly at St Rollox in Glasgow gets as much notice as the Scott Monument, the central tower of Glasgow University as much as the Outlook Tower that dominates the "medieval" skyline of the Old Town – and doesn't disdain to treat new architecture on the same level as the old. Crawford's description of the Scottish Parliament building is the best I have read.
It's impossible to catch him out. Pedants will leap on his reference to Queen's Park FC playing at Cathkin, which every fool knows was home to the now-defunct Third Lanark. But he's right. Queen's Park was based in Cathkin Park prior to 1903.
He does miss a few details. Having established the modern "tradition" of placing a penny under Newton's finger on the great Paolozzi sculpture outside the Dean Gallery, he fails to mention two other Edinburgh rituals: in recent years, university students have liked to rub the bronze toe of Sandy Stoddart's draped Hume on the "Mile" the night before exams. And while he mentions the car-park grave of John Knox just over the road, he doesn't explain why Edinburghers spit, often with phlegmy relish, on the cobbled Heart of Midlothian. It marks the old tollbooth prison.
I spent ten years living in a village exactly mid-way between the two cities, in sight of Edinburgh's Castle Rock but populated largely by displaced Glaswegians. You know you're on a cultural cusp when they offer you vinegar or sauce with your chips.
The cities' differences come down to more than condiments but the answer is to do as Crawford does and love them both. During the next visit to the Edinburgh Festival, make time for a trip West and spend a day in the consistently surprising streets of the Dear Green Place. Or have I tipped my hand?
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Allonautilus scrobiculatus: World's 'rarest' creature spotted for only the third time ever
- 2 Miley Cyrus calls out hypocrisy of women’s nipples being taboo
- 3 Jozef Wesołowski: Former Catholic archbishop found dead ahead of child sexual abuse trial
- 4 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
- 5 The 20 toughest job interview questions in the world
Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe Ned Stark's son may have a twin sister
These Harry Potter lipsticks are sparking all sorts of controversy with Hogwarts fans
Artist takes LSD, draws herself over different stages of the 9-hour trip to show its effects
Game of Thrones season 6: Director promises most exciting premiere yet 'starts off with a bang'
First look at Michael Fassbender as ‘Callum’ in the Assassin’s Creed movie
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
Iain Duncan Smith calls for urgent ESA overhaul as part of drive to cut down welfare costs