Friday, September 25, 2015

Day 28 - The Hunterian Museum, Glasgow University, Botanic Gardens, Ashton Lane and the Ubiquitous Chip

Well I’m indulgent this morning. I wake early as usual and spend some time catching up on the journaling and blogging. As it often does, this is a case of just a few more minutes and then a few more and a few more until the morning is slipping away. Just as well we have a deadline! Today is slated for the West End. We’ve kept our car. The original plan was to lose the car when we got to Glasgow and stay above the train station then just get the train to London. We’ve chosen a more intimate form of accommodation recommended by a close friend and in the process get a bit more interaction with local people. In any case, some of the things we want to do we figure will be easiest with the car when one wants to limit the walking a bit. So, we’re driving over to Glasgow University and Linda agrees it shouldn’t be a problem on a Sunday and gives us some useful tips on where to look for parking. Excellent. We’re away. I’m tardy on the sad camera out the car window grabbing passing sites front. Perhaps just as well. It’s not that clever to go sticking your arms out of a moving car in the city anyway. Glasgow is wall to wall stone. There’s a range of colours, there’s the pretty and unusual red sandstone and there’s paler colours as well. Then there’s some that’s still dirty from the coal fires of times past. The dirty stuff is few and far between but it’s around. I try to imagine the city before the cleaning. It must have been a dark grimy city back in the day but what a wonderful legacy the stonework is. Even the simplest dwellings have facades that show a good deal of style and skill on the part of the stone masons.
Linda’s advice was that we would know University Avenue when we saw it because it’s wide and tree lined and lovely. We have no difficulty getting a pretty good parking spot and it is tree lined and lovely but it turns out this lovely road is called Kelvin Way. We climb out of the car all decked out in our rain gear and enquire of Dr Google how best to find the Hunterian Museum. As we round the corner there’s loud Paul Simon playing… I could be your bodyguard, I could be your long lost friend… and there’s a huge sign on the building from which the music is coming. It’s Fresher week and there’s clearly some orientation activities on today.
We have a little time to kill before our guided tour but first things first we had better make sure we know where we need to be. We do this. We ask dumb questions that are answered on obvious signage. Then we puzzle some more how to get into the Hunterian. The signage we can see is all about accessing the Hunterian via a lift that isn’t working. Eventually we figure it out and enter through the cloisters and up several flights of stylish staircase.
Our education begins with William Hunter himself, his wide ranging interests and expertise and his place in The Enlightenment. To understand this of course we must have a brief explanation of the Enlightenment complete with medallion portraits of some leading lights of that period all of whom taught at the University of Glasgow and were correspondents of William Hunter. Below a quote from Voltaire “We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.” Are displayed presumably rare medallion portraits of
Adam Smith (whose statue I admired in Edinburgh). He was Professor of Moral Philosophy 1752 -1763, an economist and the author of the landmark text the Wealth of Nations. He was followed by Thomas Reid, Professor of Moral Philosophy 1763 -1796, a founder of the “common sense” school of philosophy.  Below we see the profile of William Cullen, Professor of Medicine 1751-1756, the ‘father’ of Scottish Medicine, and that’s saying something because the Scots were the leaders in the medical field globally. Next to him Joseph Black, Professor of Practice of Medicine 1757-1766 listed simply as “One of the most prominent figures of the Scottish Enlightenment”. Not illustrated but acknowledged in Hunter’s own education at Glasgow University is one of his professors, Francis Hutcheson, “…an important leader of the Enlightenment, who taught students to think for themselves.
Hunter lived much of his life in London. He applied the Enlightenment principles of observation and analysis to the teaching of anatomy and was able to contribute significantly to the development of medicine.” This continued through his support and encouragement of others, his brother John who became the most eminent surgeon in England and his nephew Matthew Baillie who is now considered the father of modern pathology.
It is its connection to the Scottish Enlightenment that has brought me to the University today. This institution, its leaders and its graduates made a massive contribution to the advancements in western civilisation that underpin much of what we hold most precious today. Hunter did not restrict himself to writing on limited subjects, he was one of the greatest medics of his time but his thoughts and his writings ranged broadly and he owned one of the best private museums in London. He bequeathed his collection to Glasgow University on his death and it remains at the core of the Hunterian collection to this day.
Each major area of Hunter’s endeavour is illustrated with a representative object, for example a pair of wooden forceps used in obstetric practice. Hunter delivered all but one of Queen Charlotte’s children including George IV. To have the Queen come through so many confinements successfully was something of a landmark in royal history. It is the items associated with his medical practice which intrigue me most. Perhaps because I think Daughter2, herself a doctor, would be fascinated to see these items. Human specimens are always a bit confronting but I struggle to even label the feelings associated with looking at the gravid uterus at 5 months, in its specimen jar, an item so significant to the achievements of William Hunter that it is included in the posthumous portrait of him hanging here. The foetus is clearly visible through an incision in the wall of the uterus, tiny, perfect fingers curled delicately. It seems so small, even for 5 months, but then of course people were so much smaller then as we know. How Hunter came to be in possession of this item is explained and it’s all above board thankfully. Across the way is a rare copy of Hunter’s greatest achievement The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus which was published in 1774 and is still an essential reference on the subject.
Suitably awed by the context of the collection and the presence of the Blackstone Chair, we move into the sacred hall of knowledge. I wander through artefacts of the Roman Empire in Britain. Perhaps my greatest appreciation arises from the fact that they make such photogenic displays. We well know my struggles with Ancient civilisations. I’m trying to overcome my antipathy to the subject but so far with limited success.
I spark up at the displays about William Hunter’s library which contained 10,000 printed books and over 600 manuscripts. About a third are on medical subjects and the rest range broadly providing research sources that support his museum collections.
As we head into the natural history galleries, it seems so appropriate to have a plesiosaur skeleton hanging in pride of place as we enter. A juxtaposition perhaps between ongoing mystery and superstition and the practice of scientific enquiry exemplified by the Loch Ness Monster which is today most usually illustrated as this real, ancient creature that some people are persuaded still lives in the depths of the loch.
I laugh as I finally get a good, up-close look at a pair of Hen Harriers, stuffed in a glass case. I also very much enjoyed the displays of insects and especially the butterflies arranged as a beautiful monument to their usually short lived flash of colour and beauty.
I head upstairs to the sections on physics and some more technical displays. I studied physics at school somewhat but really this stuff is way more in Hubby’s line than mine and I’m more inclined to head down to the gift shop to sus that out properly while he takes his time. Time is limited, our tour starts fairly soon.
There’s a lot of people on the tour today and our guide makes several attempts to close up the payment paperwork and get going as more and more people indicate they’d like to pay. There’s a number of new students, accents betraying how far they’ve come to study here. Quite a few are from North America. Some parents are with some of them and there’s a strong sense of excitement and anticipation. Our guide kicks of our tour by encouraging us to ask him to repeat things we don’t understand because of his accent. He’s got a good strong Scottish brogue and he says with a laugh, not even his friends understand him, so don’t be embarrassed about it. Really, his accent is fine, he’s exaggerating, but as we have given ample demonstration on this trip to date, tourists are stupid and fairly deaf when it comes to making sense of even slight accents.
We crowd around the model of the university and a bit of a run down on the history which is impressive having been founded in 1451. Then we head out into the open air in front of the main building. How old do we reckon this building is? Why? The group makes the obvious suggestions based on various architectural features. Well, we’re wrong. The campus we’re touring is not of such venerable age. The major building is something of a fraud and was built in the 19th century in a style calculated to trick the uninitiated into feeling that the physical fabric of the university is as old as its academic history, even to the point of having vacant positions for statuary as a silent reference to the reformation and removal of perceived idolatry from buildings throughout the nation.  The area known as the “cloisters” has no actual religious connection, they are all about atmosphere and carrying off the architectural deception. At first this aspect is a bit of a bubble prick for me, but as we tour the grounds and I contemplate the intangibles of the institution, I appreciate the appropriateness of this nod to architectural history in the design of the updated and expanded campus in Victorian times, for truly this architecture gives a physical gravitas to one of the world’s greatest and most venerable institutions of learning.
How many times do the locals on TripAdvisor have to tell us! The weather in Scotland can spin on the tip of a unicorn's horn. The clear weather has given way to rain. Having barely had them off our backs since we arrived in the country, we have left our raincoats in the car. Luckily we’re a committed bunch on this tour today. Few people are wearing rain gear or carrying brollies but we withstand the passing rain showers to hear about Lord Kelvin, who first came from his birth city of Belfast to study at the university at the age of 10.  He then went down to study in England and was back as a teacher here by the age of 22, though he wasn’t a Lord in his early years, his Lordship was given on his obvious merit. Who knows what Lord Kelvin is famous for? We are quizzed here and as we go around the university, the fame of the achievements by Kelvin and others are global, great landmarks of human kind, usually someone in the group can answer. We prowl around noting everything from coal shute hatches and carriage steps, the locations of ground breaking discoveries, patronage over the years and on to the qualifications required to get married in the University Chapel. We see the traditional place for graduation photographs which are the steps through which all manner of intelligentsia have entered the hallowed halls.  Everyone from Einstein to Charles de Gaulle and of course Lord Kelvin. The photograph spot is flanked by a stone Unicorn (symbol of Scotland) and a stone Lion (symbol of England). The steps are of venerable age, one of a few structures relocated from the previous campus. We learn why the students never ever walk on the grass and no, don’t bother daring or enticing our guide to do so. There is nothing that would make him do it.
Yep, heritage listed.
As universities often are, this one has grown and built new facilities as needed over the years. Some are attractive some are well, just old and outdated looking and apparently in need of a spruce up. The vast majority, I think he said over 80 percent, of these buildings are heritage listed. I can’t help but think what a burden that must be to a research university. Any educational institution which seeks to provide equitable access and undertake ground breaking research has a task greater than its budget. How do they fund the maintenance and care of such an enormous burden of heritage structures as well?
The academic and heritage side of university life and achievement is not the only source of pride here. Our start to our day brought our attention to the student union. Our guide who, by the way, is a fourth year student, told us with pride that the Glasgow University Student Union is independent. Most student unions are affiliated with a national body. Not this one. He seems to feel that this enables them to be more effective and progress a more local agenda. As we’ve wandered around the aesthetics of the campus haven’t really been helped by lots of construction fencing and torn up pavements. The reason for this is because the Student Union successfully lobbied for the university to update its energy source to a more sustainable technology and this work is in underway.
At the conclusion of the tour we assemble in front of a memorial to St Mungo and I steal the punch line as we hear about one of St Mungo’s miracles. Sorry.

There’s only one thing about our tour that I’m really disappointed in – we didn’t get to see Bute Hall. I don’t remember now if that was because it’s Sunday or it’s being used for something today or whatever but it would have been good to see. .. and yep, it's called Bute hall, not because it's a beaut hall (groan) but because it was paid for by the Marquis of Bute, the same stonkingly wealthy bloke who owned Dumfries House among his huge and impressive real estate portfolio. 
We head back to the car the way we came in, through a gateway that was another of the relocated structures from the old campus, passing under the stone plaque that was added on the insistence of Charles II when he (allegedly) was unimpressed at the level of deference and enthusiasm for the monarch displayed during his visit. The gesture didn’t help because there developed a tradition at the University (no longer active!) that students passing under the sign threw stuff at it. That’s why it is so damaged! Just another little indicator of the traditional tensions that between England and Scotland and the whole Act of Union issue.  
This time as we round the corner of University Avenue, the music has changed to Carol King…. Winter, spring summer or fall, all you gotta do is call, and I’ll be there.. yes I will.… you’ve got a friend….I’m sensing a theme in their playlist.
We um and ah. We’ve got loads of time left on our pay and display here and we’re by no means certain of getting a spot closer to Ashton Lane but we figure we’ll give it a shot and we can always come back here and walk over if necessary. I've been trying to get some photos to do justice to the beautiful stone everywhere. The West End is full of beautiful opportunities... I keep trying but it's not easy.

We prowl about looking for parking. Ah yes. There’s an issue I’ve been noticing as we’ve travelled about. They’re not new, we noticed them in England in 2012 too. The “Polite Notice”. There’s this, we think, a completely bizarre practice of labelling notices erected here and there in this way. This is an example I photographed later at Luss. These are not actually polite. They are just a notice like any other with some superfluous text. In this day and age of internet ettiquette, it just seams like someone shouting at you that they are polite and you aren't if you park in this area.
That's not polite.
Today in Glasgow we get a chance to photograph one of the notices that IS actually a polite notice. There’s another version that thanks people for not doing something or other.
This is polite.
Note to notice posters. Your notice isn’t polite because you say it is a polite notice. If you want credit for being polite, you would do well to adopt the practice of just asking politely. J
It’s happened again. We’ve got the wrong idea about Ashton Lane. I’ve read a bit about it online and Linda has been really enthusiastic about it. Totally a must see. I’ve been thinking that it’s somewhere you go and wander down and poke about in little stores etc and take a bit of time over. It’s actually quite small, short and pretty much entirely eating places. Quite cute and atmospheric probably even more so in the evening when there’s more people about… and the Ubiquitous Chip is quite the biggest actual presence in Ashton Lane, so I’m glad we’ve got a reservation there tonight. But Oh. Right. Tick.
That’s taken all of 5 or 10 minutes including the time taken just standing about wondering how we got such a different idea about what is here and wandering back and forth to make sure we’ve not just missed where we’re supposed to go or something.
“So, what now? We could hobble up to the Botanic Garden.” “Yeah” says Hubby. “Let’s do that or go to the place Linda was talking about.” “Oran Mor? That’s up near the Botanic Gardens too. Are you sure you want to walk all that way?” With a great demonstration of the potential of utility Hubby reassures me on that score by saying, “well we can go up there and if it’s too much we can come back”. Hmm. I give up. We set off slowly but purposefully. Mostly the rain holds off. The street is full of people it’s quite a bustling festive sort of vibe and it’s not really too far.
We cross the street to try to get a better angle on appreciating Oran Mor. “Do you want to go in and have a look, maybe get a drink and sit down for a while?” “No.” I shrug. It’s the interiors that Linda was raving about. Nah. He’s happy. Let’s cross over to the gardens.
They are beautiful. The glass houses are lovely against the grass. I’ll never stop being amazed by the velvety texture of the cold climate grass. I’m distracted by some Magpies stalking around. I so want a good photo of the blue on them. I know Mapgies aren’t popular because they’re a predator bird and a bit pesky, but they are definitely beautiful looking birds.  I’m defeated. They just won’t cooperate but meanwhile it’s started raining and the pigeons are providing the entertainment. They’re laying on the ground and raising their wings as though they’d be glad of a wash in the rain or something. I’ve never seen pigeons do that before.
The rain is getting heavier. I head into the first of the glass houses while Hubby makes a detour to check out the facilities. It’s white, and it’s beautiful. What a wonderful place for people to come in inclement weather. There’s seats and a long promenade within and around the plantings. I wander in to the path into the plantings and am stopped in my tracks by a fabulous display of tree ferns. I check their labels, yep, Australian tree ferns. What a glorious garden. You just don’t see displays like this in Australia. We take our tree ferns for granted. Here they are pride of place in a beautiful structure. Green and lush and celebrated. I just spend some time hanging out trying to capture a photo that will remind me of the impact it has in real life. It’s just magnificent.
Hubby catches up and I show him the ferns and we walk through together. There’s a wattle tree in here as well. It’s one of the really fine leaved varieties. Pretty, but it’s not as happy as the ferns. It is happier than the sad little Kauri that does nothing to communicate the stately grandeur of its kind in its native land and sadly never can in this restricted space.
Fuchsias of all kinds - another plant that the UK excels in cultivating
Quick, let’s have a look at the next green house. I can’t wait to see what they’ve got in there now. This building is more utilitarian and less decorative overall but it has a series of spaces with different conditions provided where they have stuffed an enormous quantity of plants.  We’ve seen some very impressive glass houses in the UK. We’ve had a quick look at the enormous examples there and they are amazing, but they are SO big you hardly notice the structure while you’re in them and I suppose that is the point of making them so large. They feel more like wandering in a tropical botanic garden somewhere. Here in Glasgow I’m just overwhelmed by the abundance of the collection. It’s a brilliant ambience in here. I duck carefully as I pass through the orchid house. Marvel at the huge bank of dendrobiums. Wonder at the space allocated to Impatiens. Context is everything. 
There’s a cactus room which includes a REALLY tall Australian Xanthorrhoea (grass tree) which must be hundreds of years old, a pond with waterlilies, a beautiful room full of carnivorous plants and a room of economic plants. It’s a wonderful collection and so interesting. We learn heaps we didn’t know, especially about the Australian plants and it’s not because we take no interest at home either. Did you know that the speaker's chair in the House of Commons in Westminster was a gift from the Australian Government as part of repairing the damage of WWII? It's made of Morton Bay Chestnut wood a beautiful and durable Australian Native timber. You’re not inundated with information everywhere, just here and there are little tags or signs jam packed with fascinating information about the particular plant. This is just a wonderful garden and they have really made a big effort. This has been a real highlight we are so glad we came in here. .. just one point of correction.. spell Aboriginal with a capital A please. Yes, we know it’s not conventional grammar but it means a lot to Aboriginal people that we do that. It’s the same when using “Indigenous”.  
Time now to start heading back to the Ubiquitous Chip for our early dinner reservation. Rather than back track we take the path down behind some plantings where it's quieter. Stop as we spot a grey squirrel scurrying about under the trees. Instinctively framing up a photo I grab it while I can when I notice he's got an acorn in his mouth. Stockpiling for the winter I suppose. 
We walk in and are shown to our quiet corner table for two in an amazing space. The ambience is brilliant and just so perfect having come from the greenhouses. Indoor creepers dangle luxuriantly from their planter boxes, the room is filled with light.  To start Hubby goes for a San Miguel and I’m pushing the boat out and request a drink that is both non-alcoholic and not fizzy. A Cosmopolitan is recommended. This is made from pureed strawberries, cranberry and lime and depending on the sweetness of the strawberries some corn syrup may be added to get the right sweet note. Let me tell you that is a delicious drink! Very special.
Our next offering of note is a shot glass with beetroot, apple and horseradish. This is a beautiful blend of sweet piquancy and the texture too is a balance of silky and fluffy with an occasional bite of tiny perfect cubes. Very very special. Ah no, we forgot to photograph it before we've started. I spin it round to disguise the damage as much as I can. It's a visual feast.
We nibble on some very tasty slices of bread with soft butter while we wait for battle to be joined.
Round 1. Hubby claims the right to decide the winner by ordering The Chip’s own, since 1971, venison haggis, champit tatties, carrot crisp, neep cream £8.95. I’m sorry I just don’t do offal. So I choose the Mull of Kintyre crab and roast corn beignet and corn chowder, hold the chilli oil £6.45. We tie. Hubby does like haggis, he’s been having it everywhere with breakfast too.
Round 2: Hubby never can pass by an opportunity to have Guinea Fowl, this time served with Dorset snails, cep gnocchi, broadbeans, cevenne onion veloute. £23.95. In response I go simple but classic with the Chip’s fillet steak au poivre with dauphinoise potatoes with Bearnaise sauce, hold the mushroom duxelle. £28. As a side we simply must try the Nine hole beef stovies. £3.45. Still level pegging.

Round 3: Hubby, with some encouragement from me orders the Knockraich Farm crowdie mousse, with strawberry jelly, pistachio crisp, sherry vinegar ice cream £7.45. I’m sticking with the specialties of the house, The Chip’s famous Caledonian oatmeal ice cream, whisky macerated summer fruits with honeycomb £5.95.  And the winner is the Ubiquitous Chip. That’s as it should be. Every dish a winner, beautiful balance of flavours and textures, no dish too rich without something to balance and refresh the palate. Superb meal in every respect. Very memorable. .. and I must say both the oatmeal ice cream and the sherry vinegar ice cream were absolutely sensational.
We’re happy campers heading home nice and early. We figure it might be wise to find our way to where we need to be tomorrow. In particular we want to sus out the parking arrangements. This gives us an opportunity to see the multi-story parking station with its attractive silver cut out panel façade and I enjoy seeing an alien head hovering above the port.  
We haven't suffered too much slippage on the early night. Well, until we’re crossing the Clyde and I realise that the weather is clear. Let’s take the opportunity to go over and take some photos of the Convention centre and the Hydro. We cheekily park up and Hubby waits while I wander down past the Premier Inn and get some photos, stopped dead in my tracks by the beautiful symmetry of Bell’s Bridge. 
It’s a lovely spot here. Quiet this evening. I linger enjoying the changing light as the sun sets and the breeze ebbs revealing a mirror effect in the water then freshens, wiping the face of the buildings from the surface of the water. Time for me to go.
Even the Clydeport hammer crane looks like a work of modern art in the uber modern convention precinct.
Satisfied, I tell Hubby what he’s been missing and we head home, chat with Linda then call it a night.

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