It was getting dark one sulphurous evening in Glasgow in the winter of 1990, when a pop-eyed cultural apparatchik - almost breathlessly ripe from a Chinese paper-lantern parade she'd just led through the naked streets of Carntyne - sat down beside me in a bar to the side of the City Chambers, to gab about the glories and horrors of Glasgow's reign as European City of Culture for that year. The city's better writers, it seemed, would have nothing to do with it. The £50 million jamboree, led by the municipal council, set its sights on ridding the city once and for ever of its razor-slashing, wife-battering, whisky-guzzling image; all to be blown away during a year-long bonanza; of painting and singing and exotic tumbling; with street-sweeping Bolivian choristers at the crack of dawn; with face-painting schools and afternoons of community theatre on Glasgow Green; and an evening of carry-on in the company of Pavarotti at 75 quid a throw. My bar companion flushed as she coasted through the vodkas, saying how pointless and infuriating it was that the better writers - whom we may as well call James Kelman, Alasdair Gray and Tom Leonard among others - wouldn't join in on the song. 'It's their loss,' she said. 'I mean, what do they want?'
LRB 26 May 1994 | PDF Download