I’m in Glasgow G12, the epicentre of Glasgow’s west end, the buckle of the bohemian belt. The relocation of the BBC’s HQ to sunny Govan seems to have made little difference to the general atmosphere. The architects of obscurantist sandwiches still flourish (though vans do make daily trips across the Squinty Bridge to Pacific Quaty, bearing focaccia) and oceans of latte and cappuccino are still consumed. How do the students, still seething up and down Byres Road, afford it?
Down for a week, I’m renting a studio flat rather than crashing in the spare bedroom of my son’s. Students are great, but it’s good to associate with them on your own terms. To have a place to retreat to where World of Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed are not omnipresent, and the seats comprise mountains of Domino’s Pizza boxes, with extra cheese. The property crash has opened up a daily and weekly lettings market in the city, and it’s now cheaper than a hotel if you shop around.
I had expected to be staying in one of the developments that have erupted, apparently self-built using the nanotechnology described in William Gibson’s book Idoru, in the city centre and along the Clyde. I am, however, in a space I remember from a past life in the city: a drawing room conversion.
It’s OK. A studio flat with a mezzanine sleeping area, IKEA kitchenette, shower room, central heating, flat screen telly and wifi. All converted from the front reception room of a grand four-story terraced mansion. It’s just that as soon as I arrived, I realised I’d been here before.
I’m not talking about a vague sense of déjà vu. I’ve actually been in this flat, more than a quarter of a century ago. Then, the massive old room had been even more sub-divided, into a cramped couple of bedsits. It was heated by Calor Gas SuperSer heaters, draped in post-punk gloom, running with condensation. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of such places. You woke up with ice on the inside of the cathedral-sized windows.
And just down the road is another address, now a set of heavily mortgaged, luxury apartments, but back in the early 80s a terrible warren of cheap bedsits where the two-bar electric fires barely made an impression on the lung-crushing cold, and the meters swallowed 50ps like Smarties.
These days,in my current abode, the heating’s effective and included, a decent latte is a short stroll away, and I’ll be home in a week anyway. Being in the wild west end is ideal for the people I need to meet, for the food I need to provide student son Magnus with copious quantities of.
But it’s winter and it’s....dark. This part of G12 is gloomy with mouldy, dripping trees and everything seems mildly decayed, sinister at night, Gormenghastian. Maybe I’ve become allergic to trees , but Susan, who stayed in the immediate vicinity for years, says it was always that way. “That part of the west end was always creepy after dark,” she says. And she’s right. Some things don’t change.But nowadays, the fittings come from IKEA.