Happy day! Today I’m so delighted to introduce 2016’s first City Slicker, Melissa, who keeps an enviable blog and takes photographs just as evocative as her sparkling words. She takes us again to Glasgow, her Glasgow, for rainy days sequestered in coffee shops, hunting for literary treasure in secondhand bookshops and to the banks of the River Clyde. Melissa is the founding editor and designer of Quotidian Literary Magazine (so worth a read for elegant writing by Scottish students) and, if that weren’t enough of an achievement in itself, is also midway through writing a contemporary coming-of-age novel. She pens beautiful letters over at her observational blog, Something I Noticed. Take a look! You can also find her on Instagram and Facebook.
Q: What brought you to your city?
I was actually born in Glasgow, in the Southern General Hospital. But even though I was born here, and I’ve been studying in Glasgow since 2009, it wasn’t until last September that I came to live in the city. I’m doing a PhD here (in Creative Writing) so it just made sense last autumn to move closer to the university. It felt like time. ‘Home’ for me is actually a tiny village called Skelmorlie about an hour outside Glasgow. It looks out over the River Clyde, and soaks up golden light quite beautifully in the Spring, and it’s so quiet all year round that you can hear birdsong and wind in the trees when you step outside, and the occasional person practicing piano when you walk past houses with open windows.
Q: What’s the best season to visit Glasgow, and why?
That’s a bit of a difficult question to answer because: it’s pretty much always raining (Oh, Scotland). Or that’s what it can feel like anyway. The rain can lend its own charm to the city – the Christmas lights strung up above Royal Exchange Square look particularly beautiful reflected on a rain-soaked pavement, for example. October last year was gorgeous (the burnt colours, the fallen leaves, the warm wind). But I’d say the spring and summer months if you can catch the city on a sunny day. Visit then. When the sun is out everyone seems more relaxed. People come out their offices to eat sandwiches outside (on the grass of George Square, on the steps of the Royal Concert Hall) and the buskers are out on Buchanan Street – their songs echoing after you as you walk – and the light lingers long, long, long.
Q: Where do you like to go to relax/be inspired?
I like the West End. The benefit of doing a creative writing PhD is that I can chose to work wherever, so long as I have relative quietness and a table for my laptop (though I did try to work under a tree once). Last spring and summer I made a habit of checking the weather app at the start of each week and then taking the subway to Hillhead on the sunniest days (so much so that one of my friends, who seemed to keep following the sun with me there too, said he’d started to mentally associate the West End with sunshine.)
I like going to S’mug Coffee Bar just off Byres Road because they play good music and don’t seem to mind if you sit for a long time. I like going to the mezzanine area of the Hillhead Library (the orange carpet is ugly, but it’s got a nice atmosphere and it’s a good spot for people-watching when I run out of ideas). When I need to take a break, I like walking over to the Botanic Gardens: not necessarily to look inside the greenhouses (though watching the goldfish inside the Victorian greenhouse, Kibble Palace, can be strangely relaxing) …just sitting on a slope on the grass and breathing the fresh air is quite calming. You can’t hear the traffic in the park so, for a non-city girl, it’s a bit of a haven.
Q: What’s your top culinary recommendation – favourite coffee shop/restaurant/cafe?
I already mentioned S’mug: you should go there and get a ‘London Fog’ – steamed milk, Earl Grey tea, the tiniest hint of vanilla: it’s like drinking a warm cloud. I order the same thing every time.
Tinderbox on the top level of Paperchase on Buchanan Street: because, first of all, it’s in Paperchase (stationary heaven). Second of all, it’s got a great view of the street (nosy-person heaven). And third of all: they let you sit for a long time (meeting-people, or writing, or reading, or time-killing heav—hm, that’s getting a bit old). Avoid the sandwiches unless you’re willing to take out a mortgage. But their coffee is good. Artisan Roast on Gibson Street is also nice if you’re looking for somewhere a bit more hipster or with ‘atmosphere’. (A friend’s recent advice to his friend was: “if you’re going to meet a guy, you should go to the Bank Street Bar. If you’re trying to impress a girl: take her to Artisan Roast.”) They serve their coffee in glass cups and it’s got vibes. Apparently.
For restaurants I love The Butterfly and the Pig. They make a hearty afternoon tea in the Tearooms upstairs (no fiddly little sandwiches here), and their chips are always tasty in the restaurant downstairs. Little Italy on Byres Road, a place I’ve been eating pizzas from since I was nine, is also nice. My brother and I always go for a large chicken, mushroom and sweetcorn pizza. Try it. It’s delicious. My parents used to take me and my siblings there on special occasions, and we’d have a pizza picnic in the car. And one of my favourite birthdays involves eating pizza and playing Scattergories in the park with three of my best friends.
Q: What’s one place a visitor shouldn’t miss?
The West End in general: but specifically you should walk on the cobbled streets of Ashton Lane, look at the Anna Pavlova painting and ‘Windows in the West’ in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, get a ticket for ‘A Play, a Pie, and a Pint’ at the Oran Mor, buy too many books to comfortably carry in the Byres Road Oxfam Bookshop, and wave at the accordion player who always seems to sit near the bank playing the theme from The Godfather (he grins and calls out ‘Hallo!’ whenever you walk past him. One time I ended up passing him about five times in the same day and he stopped what he was playing at one point to smile at me and say ‘Bella!’ Ha.)
Q: What does your city sound like?
Rain tapping on the tops of umbrellas. Busses hissing. Car tyres splashing. ‘Big Issue folks’ ‘Big Issue Please’. The dulcet tones of the Glaswegian accent. Irn Bru cans clicking. Coffee machines grinding. ‘The next train to depart from the rear of platform 12 is…’ Weather mutterings. Someone laughing. Applause from the theatre. Street music – so much street music (soulful boys with guitars if you’re lucky, bagpipes and ‘Flower of Scotland’ if you’re not so).
Q: Describe an ideal day in your city.
It would start with hazy morning light – the kind that smells like strawberries-in-season and roasting coffee. It would involve writing somewhere for a while – in S’mug maybe, or in the park – and ideas coming easily, words flowing out (no mental tug-of-war to get them down on paper). It would involve finding something unexpected in the Oxfam bookshop (old postcards with writing on the back, or a favourite book with a cover I’ve never seen). It would be warm enough to be wear a dress without a cardigan, so the sun could touch my shoulders – walking down the street and seeing sun silhouettes of the people ahead. If money was no issue, it would probably include doing something “cultural” in the evening (going to see a French film at the Glasgow Film Theatre maybe. Or going to the actual theatre. One almost-ideal day last July involved a promenading Shakespeare play in the park by the ‘Bard in the Botanics’ company: you should look them up.)
The best days, even if not filled with much activity, usually involve a long conversation with someone loved, because (as well as sun) good conversations – as in the kind where you feel so comfortable and engaged and challenged-in-the-best-way by what you’re both talking about you can feel yourself glowing a little from inside – have a way of making the noises of the city sing.
Q: What makes your city unique?
One of its most famous landmarks is a statue of the Duke of Wellington on his horse…with a traffic cone on his head. (I’m not sure who started putting the cone up there, but it’s become a bit of a ‘thing’. So whenever the council/police/people of authority take it down, a few hours later someone will always take it upon themselves to put another one back up there). It’s bizarre and brilliant and livens up what would otherwise be a bit of a boring statue. Glaswegians like to laugh.
Q: Describe your city in three words
Mismatched. Down-to-earth*. Friendly. (*Hyphenating makes it one word, right?)
Thank you so much for showing us your Glasgow, Melissa – what a treat to read your expressive words. Doesn’t sitting with a London Fog on a rainy day sound divine? If you’d like to take part in this series, I am still taking applications from other city dwellers around the world. If you’d like to take part, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to feature you and your city! All images in this Q+A c/o Melissa Reid.