I was home from Mexico less than 40 hours. Just before noon on Monday the 18th I hopped the Metro to National Airport, flew north to Philadelphia, then across the water to Glasgow, Scotland. My first time in that city in 38 years (a similar lapse as in the 2015 visits to Amsterdam and Copenhagen), and I hadn’t been in Scotland for nearly 20 (Edinburgh with the family in 1996). The usual forecast for Scotland is damp, and they said rain for Tuesday, but it was a mostly sunny, if a bit cool. Landed before seven and hopped a bus into town. Happily, the Holiday Inn Express, a mere block from the Buchanan bus station, had a room ready. Showered, changed, and headed out.
Travel articles about the place invariably talk about “far different,” “cleaned up,” and other comparisons to its former rather dismal and industrial face, and it was true: it did look much, much better. Part of the difference was visiting under sunshine in spring versus my last and only time on a bleak and rainy Sunday in October 1977. The solid stone buildings, many from red sandstone, had been cleaned up, and new buildings interspersed. A lot of money had clearly been spent on the retail streets, many closed to vehicles. Streets and sidewalks were repaved with smooth stone. It had the look and feel of a well-planned city. What was also different from four decades earlier was the absence of heavy industry: back then, shipbuilding and other major works were still a big part of the local economy. That work left for Korea, China, and elsewhere.
I ambled south on Buchanan Street, and into city hall, called city chambers, then around George Square and south to the River Clyde. Followed it downstream to a long stretch of redevelopment where some shipbuilding had been (although the core of that work, for instance the birthplace of many Cunard liners) was a few miles further downstream in a place called Clydebank). Paused for a cup of coffee in a hotel, crossed the river, ambled to a subway stop, and headed back to the center. Walked to the University of Strathclyde, ate a light lunch, and introduced myself to a marketing prof, offering to return as a guest lecturer.
Headed back to the hotel, did a bit of consulting work, took a short nap, and ambled back out, west to The Tenement House, a beautifully preserved apartment in a stone building that belonged to the National Trust for Scotland. This was not “tenement” in the grim U.S. sense, with squalor and shared bathrooms. It was an interesting story. Mrs. Toward moved into a four-room flat on the second floor when the building was completed in 1892. She was a widowed dressmaker, and her daughter, Agnes, a steno typist, was born there, and lived in the building for more than 60 years. When Agnes died in 1975, she bequeathed chairs to her church elder. He brought his niece Anna Davidson along to collect them, and she was fascinated with the place. Agnes changed it very little (she didn’t install electric lights until 1960) and kept the place pretty much the same for decades. Ms. Davidson bought the flat, moved in, and cleaned the place up a bit, but did not modernize. She sold it to the National Trust in 1982, and they have operated it, giving visitors a rare glimpse into a simple life from a century ago.
The flat had conveniences not all that common in Glasgow back then: indoor toilet, hot and cold running water (the former heated by pipes circulating around a huge iron range in the kitchen), and quite a bit of space. It was fascinating. And it was also fun to yak with the very chatty docents, women my age, who knew a lot. I walked back via Sauchiehall Street, a retail artery filled with lots of wonderful old buildings, including one by the renowned late-19th Century architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Washed my face, and headed out for an ale and dinner.
I detoured to see another Mackintosh building, colloquially called The Lighthouse, then across downtown to a building called Merchant Square and a superb dinner at Arisaig, a place specializing in Scottish cookery. First course, haggis (look it up!) atop mashed turnips and potatoes, known in Scotland as “neaps and tatties.” Second course was smoked haddock and new potatoes. And a couple of bottles of Scottish pale ale. Yum! But the best part of the meal was another sort-of-T-t-S, this time with waitress Joy. The restaurant was not busy, so between courses and after the meal we yakked a lot. She was a geography major at the University of Glasgow, but unlike your scribe focused on the physical side of the field. We also chatted about the U.S., life in Scotland, her filmmaker father, and more. A nice time.
When I downloaded the latest operating system update for my iPhone, some cool new apps were attached, including one called “Health,” which, among other things, tracks how much you walk each day. And just before my head hit the pillow it read “11.5 miles.” No wonder I was plumb wore out.
Slept hard, up at six, out the door for a last bit of sightseeing, across the River Clyde to the Gorbals, once a slum but now, like the rest of Glasgow, mostly cleaned up. Hopped on the bus back to the airport and flew Ryanair to London Stansted Airport; they’re incredibly cheap, and totally safe, but the constant effort to sell you stuff onboard is totally annoying. Still, for $30 I was 330 miles south. Jumped on the train (for comparison, $20 for 25 miles, which points up airlines’ astonishing efficiency) and was in Cambridge by 1:00. It was my 20th visit to the university’s Judge Business School.
Walked to customary digs at Sidney Sussex College, and for the second consecutive Sidney visit was given a very large, very comfortable room. Did a bit of work, took a nap, walked around town a bit, and at 6:45 was in chapel for Latin Vespers. As I have written before, the Sidney choir, under director David Skinner, is celestial, and it was a soothing 35 minutes. We then repaired to the Old Library for a glass of sherry, and into the dining hall, seated at high table.
It is always a joy to be there, and the dinner conversation was splendid. To my left, Subhash, a trade economist from Southern Illinois University, native of India, visiting for the Easter Term. To my right, Rodolphe, an electrical engineer from Belgium, now a fellow at the college. Across the table, Richard, a Cambridge-trained fluvial geomorphologist at Aberystwyth University in Wales, and his New Zealand geographer wife Helen. And a superb meal. After dinner and two-word Latin blessing, as is the custom we repaired to the Know Shaw Room, where I had a long chat with Priscilla Barrett, a highly-regarded wildlife artist and widow of a former college master; and a brief yak with Lindsay Greer, a professor of materials science who I had not seen in several years. A colossal evening filed, as I have written before, under “old school.”
Next morning at breakfast I chatted with another long Sidney friend, Christopher Page, professor of English and practitioner of ancient music, and briefly with David Skinner. Walked across town to the Judge Business School and set up “my office” in the second floor common room. Worked the morning, save for a nice catch-up with Paul Tracey, another great fellow (mutual friend of Simon Bell, the Aussie who first invited me to the school a decade back, and my Wisconsin host Jan Heide). Met my host, Omar Merlo, for lunch at one, from three to four delivered a lecture on airline advertising to an engaged group, and from four to five listened to class presentations. Omar treated me to a quick beer next door, and sped back to London. I sauntered north on Trumpington Street in warm sunshine, happy for another visit to a great university.
Changed clothes, worked a bit, and by tradition ambled back across town to The Eagle, the storied tippling place of Cambridge scholars through the years, as well as men and women from the RAF, U.S. Army Air Force, and other air corps during World War II. Then north to Cocum, a tiny restaurant with food from the Indian state of Kerala, for a spicy vegetable curry. Then to sleep; a long, fine day.
Up at six on Friday, 90 minutes of work, then off to the dining hall for the full English (“heart attack”) breakfast: egg, sausage, bacon, potatoes, grilled tomato and mushrooms, canned beans. Back to the room for a last bit of work, then south two miles to the train station, and on to London. Arrived Liverpool St. Station at 11:45, and walked a few blocks to a law firm where my Airbnb host, Carolina, worked. She handed me the key, and I hopped on the Tube west to Hammersmith then two blocks south to her great flat, nearly on the River Thames.
I needed a bike ride, so donned shorts (and helmet, wisely packed) and headed out. The handy Spotcycle app on my iPhone steered me to a nearby Santander cycle-hire station, and off I went, along the river, through Fulham, then toward South Kensington. As six weeks earlier, I traded the bikes periodically, to stay under the 30-minute limit for free rides (one-day access is just £2). At the first drop station, I was sure I locked it, but when I tried to rent another, I got an error message. Walked to nearby station, but got the same message. Found a pay phone – there are still quite a few, mercifully – to avoid $2 a minute on my iPhone, and rang the service line. After a lot of to and fro, the advice was to walk back to the original drop point and check that the bike was, first, still there, and second properly locked in the dock. My bad: it was not, so I pushed hard, got the bleep and green light, and was then able to zip out, in lots of Friday-afternoon traffic (people left work early on the first of a three-day weekend). Rode toward Harrod’s, then back through Kensington Park, Notting Hill, a very posh area called Holland Park, and back toward Fulham.
There was another snafu, but this time it was not my fault. The station printer at Parsons Green was out of paper and thus I could not get the little slip that has the five-digit code to release a bike. Happily, another station was only about four blocks away, and I was back on two wheels. Back at the flat at 3:50, time to wash my face, drink some water, put on trousers, and walk a few blocks up the Thames to The Dove, a wonderful riverside pub. On the way, a nice T-t-S moment with a woman from Cardiff, in London for the weekend to dog-sit her daughter’s four-year-old cocker spaniel, Madison. I walked past Madison, who was sitting on a park bench, then turned around and asked the lady if she was friendly, which started a nice conversation and some intense face-licking from dear Madison. Doo, doo, doo, as we say to our dogs.
Just before 4:30, I met a friend from my eighteen month stint with Intelligent Avionics, the start-up company that wanted to make inflight entertainment systems (R.I.P., 2012). Peter Tennant is a co-owner of Factorydesign, an industrial design firm that designed and engineered the seatback units. I’ve stayed in touch with him and he bought me a pint at The Dove. We planned for a couple of hours, but family matters intervened, and he peeled off at five, just long enough to get caught up on Factorydesign work. They do a lot in airline-cabin design, including new Business Class seats for SAS. He’s a great fellow.
My pint was still half full and the river view was superb, so I hung out for awhile, then ambled downstream, pausing for another glass at the Blue Anchor, licensed 9 June 1722. Back to the flat for a tonic 30-minute nap. It was past time for a meal (the huge breakfast kept me going for hours, but I was really hungry). Best idea was back to The Dove. I grabbed a pint and headed back to the river terrace, but all seats were taken. Then Steve volunteered his seat, launching a superb T-t-S with him, his brother Graham, and Graham’s father-in-law Andrew.
They had spent a pleasant afternoon nearby at Fuller, Smith & Turner, brewers of London Pride (and landlords of The Dove). We yakked across a bunch of topics. Andrew was retired, Graham worked for Honeywell, and Steve for insurers Marsh & McClennan – some common ground there, in Honeywell’s roots in the same city as mine (Minneapolis), and Marsh’s active role in insuring airlines. I introduced them to the U.S. term “helicopter parenting,” in response to news that Graham’s 18-month-old son Jack had fallen that day and chipped his tooth, causing his mom great stress. We guys simply concluded that that’s what boys do. On the way out, Andrew mentioned that Steve had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, adding that “one of your Chinooks (helicopter) saved him.” I simply said that our two countries have been together, in thick and thin, for a long time.
I headed to the bar to order dinner, and on return was happy to see that my chair was still vacant, but barely – a young guy said he was tempted to grab it, which launched another nice T-t-S with a group from the U.S. engineering firm CH2M Hill; I especially enjoyed a chat with a young Irish woman, civil engineer working on a MBA at Imperial College London, where I would be teaching the next day – indeed, I invited her to the daylong workshop on crisis management. They departed, my roast cod, lentils, and spinach arrived, and all was well. Lights out an hour later.
Up at six Saturday morning, out the door, onto a share bike for Imperial. I got there way early, in time for breakfast at Pret a Manger (and a big tub of yogurt from a nearby supermarket), then to review my slides. The forecast was for 30 students, but only 8 attended, an engaged group from Nigeria, Pakistan, Canada, and five other places – like Cambridge, Imperial is way diverse. High point of the day was a lot of nice conversation at lunchtime. At 5:05 I said goodbye, walked south to the Tube and home.
Changed clothes, and walked back to the Thames, to another riverside pub, the Rutland Arms. Enjoyed the sun (a long streak of great weather – five days with virtually no rain). The plan was for an Indian meal two blocks north in the center of Hammersmith, but Sagar had closed, so I hopped on the Tube for a short ride east to Earl’s Court. I was a bit hungry, but the Blackbird beckoned. It’s a favorite, and I hadn’t visited in nearly a year. It was hopping on a Saturday night, so I grabbed a glass of London Pride and a stool in the corner, and watched a wide variety of patrons: American tourists; a father and his seven-year-old daughter who colored while he tippled; a smiling old guy at the bar who patted everyone who walked past. Last stop, the reliable chain Indian place Masala Zone for a spicy meal and a mango lassi.
Up at 6:30 Sunday morning, out to the airport and onto a big Silver Bird to New York Kennedy, then on to Washington, landing in time to head to the swimming pool with Robin, Dylan, and Carson.