Glasgow: In the city of ostriches

Mackintosh, absolute zero, flightless birds? It has them all.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
IN 1990, Glasgow was European City of Culture. It pulled up its socks, polished its boots, dusted itself off and never looked back. Even the drunks in Sauciehall Street stopped asking for 5p for a cup of tea and started asking for pounds 5 towards a bottle of Chateau Lafite '47. This year, thanks to the title "UK City of Architecture and Design", you can expect the drunks to stop you in the street and tell you that your tie doesn't work with that shirt, or to knock on your door and point out that while irony is postmodern, tacking a Sixties extension onto your Georgian town house isn't.

At first glance, the panoply of buildings that the city has unveiled for the occasion all appear to have been designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. His former home in University Avenue is certainly reconstructed as a shrine to his delicately flamboyant minimalism.

The house is easy to find: just turn left at the imposing statue of Lord Kelvin, the Belfast man who discovered absolute zero - not a particularly remarkable feat, since anyone who lives in Belfast discovers the same temperature every day.

Rennie Mackintosh himself, of course, invented both the indigestion tablet and the waterproof overcoat, but his career as a designer and architect was less successful: there was just too much nouveau in his art for the turn-of-the-century Scottish establishment (which spurned him in much the same way that Barcelona ignored Gaudi until he fell under a tram, whereupon they suddenly decided he was a genius). Mackintosh was, not surprisingly, filled with gloom at his lack of recognition and fled to London, then to France, where he spent the rest of his life painting languid watercolours in a fog of indifference.

Today, the house he left behind in Glasgow is a mute, sad and beautiful tribute to the truth that sometimes we only recognise genius by how well it stands the test of time.

Which is more than can be said for dinner at a romantic candlelit mews restaurant called the Puppet Theatre. It was, sadly, fully booked, but the tourist board pulled a few strings. I had ostrich, which I expected to taste like chicken, as everything strange seems to. Except for chickens, of course, which, since farmers feed them on fish meal, taste like sardines.

In any case, the ostrich tasted like venison lite, which was such a disappointment that I had to go and compensate by drinking several pints of heavy, and all I remember after that is finding myself in a former fruit market listening to a group called the Tartan Amoebas, who were doing things to that most traditional of Scottish wind instruments never dreamed of by the Govan Girls' Pipe Band, even in their most Irn-Bru-frenzied moments.

It was in a state of some confusion that the next morning I found myself in the grounds of Holmwood House, one of the finest creations of Alexander "Greek" Thomson. A family home until 1958, Holmwood was reborn as a primary school run by the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, until 1994.

Tragically, the sisters' main mission seems to have been to protect the little darlings of P3 from the sight of the naked bums on Thomson's exquisite friezes, a tricky moral dilemma to which they applied the Three Coats of Emulsion Theory of Philistinism. As I said, genius is never recognised in its own time. Why, by tomorrow this very article will most likely be form the wrapping for a fish supper. Which will, naturally, taste of chicken.

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