(james benedict brown) on the road

Snapshot: Glasgow from Queen’s Park

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 26 October, 2008

Govanhill Common-Unity Day: 16.10.2008

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 14 October, 2008

The allotment in an apartment

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 29 September, 2008

Earlier today I mentioned my frustrated attempts at being original in this grand old apartment. I’ve accepted that there is no way of managing it, so I’ve filled the blatantly obvious herb shelf behind the kitchen sink with herbs.

Most supermarkets sell fresh herbs planted in little plastic pots and wrapped in a protective sheath of plastic like small potted plants. They are the most idealistic products in the fresh aisles of the supermarket: not only are they fresh, alive and healthy, they entice you to attempt greening your fingers by taking them home and attempting to keep them alive, reproducing for weeks and months to come.

I’ve never managed this successfully. I’ve bought them and taken them home, but then it all goes to pot (arf arf).

So we’re taking a risk here by skipping the arduous labour and knowledge intensive process of planting and nurturing seedlings by buying a stack of Lidl potted herbs (reduced to £0.69 at your local Lidl) and carefully breaking them up into more generously sized ceramic plant pots (£0.99 at your local Ikea… aren’t blue-and-yellow themed discount stores appealing?). A healthy dose of fresh compost has been added into the mix, but with the sudden release from their tightly packed plastic pots and bags, every single plant has collapsed under its own weight. Weeks of chilled storage and transportation in their packaging has made each plant pretty weak, although basically in sound condition. So all I have to worry about now is ensuring they get enough light on a combination of east, south-east and west facing windows. That’s not an ideal combination, I know, but neither is the fact that we’re in Glasgow and the number of daylight hours these little plants is getting is being reduced every day.

Praise be to optimistic but largely doomed homely ideas…

The Glaswegian Billy

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 29 September, 2008

A friend came round to see the new apartment shortly after I moved in and, after seeing a few rooms, suddenly recalled having been here before. She hadn’t known the last tenants, but the ones before them, and recalled the dancing at a particularly raucous fancy dress party which apparently gave the floor of the living room it’s distinctive stilleto-attacked texture.

My attempts at being original with décor, such as suggesting the alcove off the kitchen as a kind of pantry or the deep kitchen window sill as an indoor herb garden, were all matched with the confirmation that that was, in fact, how the previous tenants had done it.

“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” – Winston Churchill.

Most of the furniture in the apartment (which, it must be said, is obscenely large) is second-hand, sourced through friends, family and Glasgow Freecycle. This weekend saw another visit to the blue and yellow big box of credit card crunching for some smaller items and two larger purchases from the Expedit range of bookcases. Having first experienced this Swedish furniture store while growing up as a child in Cambridge I think I can now hazard a guess that Expedit is to Glasgow what Billy is to Cambridge. While I acknowledge that my upbringing and context is decidedly middle class, I can’t recall visiting a house in Cambridge that didn’t have at least one Billy bookcase. Since arriving in Glasgow, I can’t recall being welcomed in a single home (or even architects’ office) that hasn’t had at least one Expedit bookcase, usually in white. They’re everywhere, and the arrival of two such units in my apartment symbolises to me that – as far as Glaswegian interior design goes – I have no hope of being original. But they are very attractive units, with deliberate shadow depths between the thick and thin components to ensure that even the most ham-fisted of home assemblers can produce a consistent and smart finish. They can be stood vertically or horizontally without any problem and come with the attachments to secure them to the wall if necessary. Attaching feet (£7 for four) to the “thin” unit above has turned it into a simple sideboard that both holds my pretty tatty collection of coffee table books (from comic books on the left via architecture to fine art on the right) and works as focus to the room.

I know I keep saying this, but I think the apartment is finally beginning to feel like home.

Govanhill Baths

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 22 September, 2008

Bird poop continues to catch my eye (although perhaps it’s better to catch my eye than to fall on me). We took the opportunity to tour the semi-derelict Govanhill Baths on Sunday 21 September (as part of the Doors Open Glasgow Festival).

The baths are the subject of a long-running community campaign following their controversial closure by Glasgow City Council in 2001. The closure of the neighbourhood’s only city-run sports facility (in a city with some of the worst health statistics in Europe, and in a district struggling with some of Glasgow’s worst slum conditions) caused one of the longest community occupations of a public building in British history – continuously from 17 March to 7 August 2001 – until more than 250 police officers forcibly ejected the protesters and the building was boarded up for good. The building has been closed since then, with a mounting local campaign gradually forcing the city council to accept that the building has a viable future as a community facility.

The baths opened for just one of the festival’s two days, with hundreds of local residents queuing for up to an hour to be shown the inside of the building. I, like many others, brought along a camera and, like many others, uploaded as many photogenic views as possible to my account on the photo management site Flickr.

A cautious but sensible approach to the problems of balancing health and safety requirements with the desire to show people three large, empty (and quite deep) swimming pools meant we had to follow a carefully marked path through the building. So don’t be surprised if my Flickr set of photographs from the day looks largely like those of everyone else who has uploaded their images of that day.

The tours had to move quickly so that the half dozen or so volunteers could go back to the beginning and lead another group through. Poetic (if saddening) glimpses of the once grand Victorian building after less than a decade of disuse and neglect were caught through doorways to our left and right. The building is vast – there are three pools, a large Turkish bath suite and a huge communal bathing facility upstairs. Right up until the building’s closure the Baths weren’t just used for swimming – many Govanhill residents came to the Baths to actually bathe in little bath cubicles. Many of them didn’t have the facilities at home for a proper bath or shower.

The best was, of course, saved until near the end, when the large pool was reached. With the exception of a small area of the balcony in this hall, the building is structurally sound and intact. A series of tests in the coming months will establish whether the pools are still watertight and work is progressing to develop a brief for the building. There is, as our guide admitted, almost too much space for the Trust to know what to do with. If I could find one criticism, it’s that the expensive design consultation commissioned by “experts” in this field of architectural practice appears to have been a wasted exercise. The documents handed to us as we began the tour were simply architectural plans with an invitation to write suggested uses in different parts of the building. If I have learned one thing in my modern post-feminist leftie architectural education it is that architectural consultation never produces useful results when you ask non-architects to read and amend architects’ drawings.

You can follow progress and pledge your support to the campaign with the Govanhill Baths Community Trust. It is looking increasingly conceivable that the baths will re-open with refurbished pool, spa, fitness, retail and even cinema facilities in the next decade.