OUT–OF–TOWNERS Argyle Street

Glasgow Words: Kapka Kassabova Photos: Stephen Robinson

Born and raised in Bulgaria, poet and author of travel memoir Street Without a Name, Kapka Kassabova moved to Edinburgh five years ago. Although she is currently a part-time fellow at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, she rarely ventures beyond two or three cafés and the staff room. Until now. Here she samples the best of Glasgow’s shops, galleries and ‘chubby erotica’.

1PM. A PLAY, A PIE AND A PINT, ORAN MOR My afternoon in Glasgow begins with a pie, a coke, and a not-for-the-faint-hearted play in the West End’s Oran Mor. Oran Mor is a gorgeous converted church that’s simultaneously cavernous (in the basement where the lunchtime plays run), quirky with a ram’s head and the painted heads of brilliant Glaswegians (in the bar), and ecstatic with Alasdair Gray’s rich blue frescos (upstairs in the domed function room). Here I find a twisted zodiac against a starry sky, and Gray’s wacky humanist vision: ‘To the glory of our universe and all who work well here.’ The lunchtime play, Wee Andy by Paddy Cunneen, is humanist too: against the gruesome thuggery of face- slashers, an A&E surgeon’s only weapon is an appeal for compassion. It’s ugly stuff, beautifully done.

2.15PM. CRESWELL LANE, WEST END The Nancy Smillie shop puts a smile on my face, unpredictable and packed as it is with bizarre and silly things, like candles in the shape of bottles, doorstops in the shape of dogs, and string lights in the shape of white feather boas. I buy this last item and it puts me simultaneously into a Christmas and (pre- emptive) Valentine’s Day mood. Then it’s onto De Courcy’s Arcade, where the boutiques are only a few weeks old but take you back by decades. Every shop in this vintage arcade fits with the rest, and I feel as if I’m stepping into a tiny community of

Oran Mor Nancy Smillie

Hillhead Underground

alternative folk. I can’t afford the designery things in the Made in the Shade Maisonette but browsing is free. I almost buy the Chinese ink set in its own bamboo box in the art-supply shop Mind the Gap, which also serves as a hub for young art graduates. Anne, a girl with a black Modigliani fringe, lets me browse while she strokes a black-and-white dog called Pablo. My favourite is retro clothes shop Not Now Cato, whose stylish owner and all-round- lovely-dude Alan lets me have my Doctor Zhivago moment with a hat made from Siberian wolf with paws. I also find tartan jeans that aren’t made anymore, a 1980s biker jacket, zebra-skin boots (are they real?), a Sex Pistols ‘God Save the Queen’ beer mug, and stretchy crop-tops made from men’s recycled jumpers. 3PM. A CAKE STOP I round up the arcade with a meringue and tea in Auntie M’s Cake Lounge, which is complete with ancient radio transistors and brown-green retro objects that pleasantly remind me how lucky I am to be enjoying the 1950s from here, rather than actually living there as a suburban housewife.

3.30PM. SUBWAY TO ST ENOCH’S, CITY CENTRE There is something quaint and European about the Glasgow underground. It’s more Budapest than London, and people actually look at each other, which is always refreshing. OK, almost always refreshing.

4PM. TRONGATE 103 Suddenly I’m in another city. After the doll- house charm of the West End, Argyle Street feels big and brash. I gawk at the domes of buildings and bump into people with shopping bags. In Edinburgh, we have unrelenting monumental beauty. Here, they have the zig- zag of reconstructive surgery, and it tells a 18 Nov–2 Dec 2010 THE LIST 11