To Glasgow. By plane. Clouds? What clouds?
We descend into the rain and my companion, a first time visitor to the city, nods sagely and says she'd been warned, "it rains all the time in Glasgow". She pulls up the collar of her coat as we make our way across the tarmac - this is Easyjet after all, no carpeted airport walkways here. And sure enough, it rains all day.
Our visit coincides with a by-election in an eastern constituency, where the good citizens are being tempted by the SNP to withdraw their lifelong support from Labour. There's a great deal of tubthumping going on, headlines being made out of photo ops, and since this is being heralded as yet another litmus test for Gordon Brown, the Scottish Prime Minister, it's attracting an unusual amount of national attention. As a consquence, Glasgow's EastEnders have a new cloud hanging over their parlous lives, the London scribes who fly in to attack; slashing and stabbing at all they can cram into their day trips, ooh-ing and aah-ing as the taxis take them around gap sites, tenements, run down pubs and council schemes (estates). They leave the population wounded, (well that part who noticed they were there), writing diatribes which turn the stomach in their level of ignorance, rudeness, ill will and venom.
To those who actually know the patchwork of the East End, and have watched "market forces" withdraw manufacturing, engineering and traditional employers of the skilled and unskilled, these "colour pieces" are offensive in the extreme. Let's leave aside for a moment the prosperous areas of the East End, or the new build houses all over the area, or the community schemes they'll never see, the tenant self help groups, the new green spaces, the new employers, and concentrate on that part we're being told about, the visible poverty.
To witness working populations faced with only permanent, mass unemployment, wondering why their housing schemes, built to house them near their jobs but are now such desolate, desperate places with little sense of purpose, never mind community, is bad enough, a series of complex questions not to be solved by the smash and grab politics of fly-by-night former cooncillors standing for election. But to watch "journalists" drive around in cabs vilifying all they see for a few hours is beyond the pale. The current media darling debate about "critics vs bloggers" should look at this villanous trash to get a snapshot. Start here. Or here (and he didn't even turn up)
Years of regeneration, countless millions of local, regional, national and EC monies can only have long term effect - if at all - on areas blighted by the wholesale removal of jobs. But the metropolitan hoodies don't care about that, nor do they care about the big employers - steel, cars, manufacturing, the old cotton mills even - who depended on smaller outfits spread around the east end, trickling down the economic benefits. It's of no relevance in 1500 words of cynical abuse that they don't make cigarettes there any more. Or locomotives. Or even biscuits.
Enough. The citizenry of the East End will vote. And the scribes can go back to their poison pen reviews of matters metropolitan: restaurants, television, and Westminster Village Gossip.
But this is not the Glasgow that's normally in the news. In case you've had your head under a blanket for the past 20 years, the Glasgow that's in the news is the new shiny one that covers part of the East End, the whole of the City Centre and regenerated riverside and stretches out into the more properous areas west and north. This is a city which started with a wash and brush up, revealing the honey and rose of domestic dwellings from beneath ingrained, black soot, and continued into City of Culture, fashion, Art, and beyond. Where the buskers in Buchanan Street are opera singers, the banks have become bars, restaurants and hotels, and open topped tour buses have the tourists agog at the Victorian splendour of the place.
Glasgow has produced the biggest collection of cynical bastards you'll ever meet - none moreso than the author - who go through life well balanced (ie a chip on each shoulder) but you'd have to be blind, deaf, and stupid not to notice what's gone on here. This is a city transformed from a post indusrtial wasteland of spare ground, closed factories, and run down urban chaos to a work in progress by a prosperous, bright population who want to make a bob or two and along the way tart up the old place.
The UK's first boutique hotel, One Devonshire, continues under the brandname Hotel du Vin to offer up world class hospitality to the well heeled visitor. I don't know why anyone would want to stay anywhere else, but by God there's a choice from hundreds of new hotels and lodgings.
The venerable eating institution, The Ubiquitous Chip, started locally sourcing it's excellent supplies nearly four decades ago - when people barely knew what that was - and continues to serve world class food in a beatiful surroundings which could only be Glasgow, and still not a single chip has been served - never mind the urban myth of the deep fried Mars Bar. But the choice there, too, knoiws no bounds. There's very little property in Glasgow that can't be converted into a wee curry shop.
My companion, over a few days, hits the spot with a cliche normally reserved for the West Coast of Ireland. If she said "the people are really nice" once, she said it five hundred times. And you know what? She's right. Even if she couldnae unnerstaun whit half the pals were sayin.
But we have to leave - after a few days of cloudless blue skies (the rain stopped on day one) having viewed the place inside and out, from the top of the Necropolis (excellent view of the Tennent Caledonian Lager Factory in my opinion) to a heady night in a bar in Kelvinhaugh - and head out to the airport.
It's tight security after the unsuccessful terror attack last year and we have to put up with a little congestion. Taxis can no longer drop you off in front of the terminal, but have to snake their way through the car park turnstiles - a stupid aggravation which loses you a good few minutes when you least need it, ho hum - so we quicken our step into the terminal, which I must have passed through possibly a hundred or more times. We look for Easyjet. It's no longer where it was. It's moved, that's all. We look. We search. We ask. The minutes are ticking away and for those of you who've watched "Airport" on TV you'll know that Easyjet close their check-in forty minutes before scheduled departure and that means CLOSED. Even if the plane takes off an hour late (see below).
A stewardess from BMI tells us Easyjet is now in Terminal Two. "What's Terminal Two?" I ask, being slightly stupid, but also genuinely puzzled since I knew nothing of any Terminal Two. It turns out to be a shed in a building site nearby. And of course we arrive ONE MINUTE after checkin closes.
Life goes into slow motion. The check-in assistant blithely informs us to join the queue at Ticket Sales which - after ten minutes - we will be told to bugger off (Nationwide has travelled many, many timjes with Easyjet and -while God forbid they have not yet descended to the living hell that is Ryanair - there retain a dehumanising aspect that is very unpleasant). So instead we grab another check-in assistant and ask for the supervisor who - at three minutes after check in closed - agrees to allow us through in an act of superhuman magnanimity.
But only with hand luggage.
I explain that the little wheelie case can be carried on board but is packed specifically for the hold - liquids, sharp objects aplenty - but the two of them stare back blankly, possibly wondering what they're going to eat for supper that night but then wondering what that distracting noise is. Oh yes, it's a customer talking, trying to describe what's about to happen......
And at security it happens. The case is emptied of all the carefully packed, specially purchased, lovingly gifted bottles and containers, the scissors and objects we are banned from carrying on board. It's a security rule that's there for a reason (liquid explosives) but that hardly dents the steely glare of my companion, who after a glorious first visit to Glasgow is watching her knickers be spread out over a counter, her personal possessions rifled through and be dumped in a bin, and the gifts for her family chucked into a black plastic bag, never to be seen again.
And as we wait, and wait, and wait, for the plane to turn up, we experience some extraordinarily low cloud cover.