Sunday, 4 March 2007

Inverness 1st March 2007.

Inverness added a few names to my tally of charity shops nobody's heard of before. Like the one for the Crossroads Care Attendant Scheme, or the Chest Heart and Stroke shop, or the one supporting the Highland Hospice. The hospice shop had a nice stern line in anti-shoplifting warnings; stealing from us is stealing from people who are terminally ill. I immediately felt cringingly guilty, even though I’d done nothing, much as I do going through the nothing to declare channel at customs. I suspect those sort of warnings don’t really wash with their target audience. They probably think, fuck the terminally ill, they’ll be dead soon, they don’t need the money.
Although shoplifting happens a lot in charity shops, I find the mentality involved a bit hard to fathom. At the Oxfam where I volunteer we’ve recently been warned of people trying to claim refunds on bottles of Ecover they’ve stolen from other branches. I suppose if you’re at a loose end one afternoon and there isn’t a pensioner around with osteoporosis to knock over and mug, there’s nobody in a wheelchair whose tyres you can let down, and you can’t find a tiny kitten to repeatedly punch full in the face, what else are you going to do?
I recommend the Shelter shop on Drummond Street which was having a clearance sale with jackets at an oddly specific £1.29. Maybe the local epidemic of thieving was forcing down prices. Also worth checking out is the tiny café attached to the Chest, Heart and Stroke shop. No massive fry-ups on offer for some reason, but cheap and old-fashioned and friendly.
The Inverness Museum and Gallery had recently had a refit so was a bit characterless but was worth a visit for the chance to hear the delights of the rondello. The rondello was an instrument vaguely like a violin in appearance. It was invented by Alexander Grant of Inverness, and due to lack of popular demand, only six were ever made. A display allowed the visitor to hear samples of its sound by pressing an array of buttons. The sound was gorgeous, like a slightly nasal Mellotron, played backwards through some obscure wheezy-sounding effects pedal, if that means anything to you. I was hooked immediately. It amazes me the idea never caught on. Grant must have died crushed by disappointment. I only hope he didn’t live to see the runaway success of the Stylophone; it would have broken his heart.
Also worth a trip is Leakey’s bookshop. It’s the sort of second-hand bookshop that middle-aged men in car coats and sensible shoes get misty-eyed about. Housed in an old Gaelic church it also had a small café on the mezzanine floor. At the former business end of the church the sole assistant was enclosed on three sides by walls of books. Central to the ground floor was a huge wood-burning stove surrounded by piles of logs. Inside, the twenty first century seemed a long way away.
Much as I try to convert people to the pleasures of land travel over long distances, the journey back to London tested even my endurance. What with a replacement bus service from Carlisle because of an earlier traincrash, roadworks outside Luton, and a collision on the 453 bus to Deptford I took 18 hours to get home. Eighteen hours where the only moment of cheer came when I spotted a fireplace showroom in Preston called Burning Desires. Little things mean a lot, but sometimes they just aren’t enough.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Glasgow 28th February 2007.

In Glasgow my mood improved. It doesn’t take much. Evidence that people are out there enjoying fannying about with language is sometimes enough. On Buchanan Street, somebody had converted an old Tardis style police phone box into a coffee stall and called it Coppucino, which managed to convince me the world hadn’t gone entirely to pot. Round the corner there was a sandwich shop called Snacks in the City.
It must be something in the water. There was an exhibition of photos by Kathleen Little at the always excellent Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. The pictures were just close-ups of ordinary people, but they were a reminder of how interesting people’s faces are when you’re made to really look at them. The local newspaper headed their review of the show, ‘Little’s Things Mean a Lot.’
In the art supplies shop near the museum I was struck by the two women who worked there. One was very pale with pink hair. She’d gone the extra mile and done her eyebrows too, which had the odd effect of making her looking like an albino mouse that had gone through some strange reversal. People used to try to look ordinary for job interviews but now perhaps you’re more expected to look the part. The other assistant had brown hair, with a three inch blue streak in it. It suggested a lack of commitment. Perhaps she was new. Or part-time.