Alasdair Gray

In Edinburgh

In Copenhagen, the Nørrebro neighbourhood is my favourite. It is bohemian, multicultural and vibrant. The streets are filled with small 'ethnic' eateries catering for small immigrant groups and niche culinary interests. My taste buds really came off age when I lived there. Today we went to Edinburgh and visited Jo Jo's Danish Bakery & Cafe. As I sat there munching my tebirkes (think a croissant filled with a marzipan/butter concoction and topped with poppy seeds), it struck me: now I'm the ethnic minority with niche culinary interests.

If you are in Edinburgh or thereabouts, I thoroughly recommend Jo Jo's place. Jo's got the recipes just right and she's a lovely person too.

And then that big exhibition on Alasdair Gray and his images for his books: Gray Stuff was good stuff.

I was particular taken with the process shown in-between the works: the process of taking complete control over every little aspect of his Book.

Gray's need to take control over the visual impact shows up early (with Lanark, of course) but he gets more and more confident about his level of control as each book is published. I was sadly sad that the exhibition was not arranged strictly chronological (and I would have loved to have known how much say Gray had), but I was fascinated.

I particularly liked the collages making up the frontispieces in Lanark with marginalia written in Gray's distinct handwriting pointing out how the images should fit on the page. And, oh, the notes written about the colour scheme of The Book of Prefaces (or The Anthology of Prefaces - the mystery of its real title has not been solved nor has the 'is it/isn't it' mystery about the comma in 1982 Janine.. forgive me, I have been geeking out all day)!!

How I wish I had had access to some of this material back when I was an aspiring academic. Oh, the joy! the rapture!

Just along the street from the Alasdair Gray exhibition, the National Museum of Scotland. Neither of us had ever been, cough, and we arrived too late to see more than the first two floors (we only had three hours and we like to take our time).

The basement was particularly interesting: the pre-history and early settlements in Scotland. I'm a sucker for anything relating to the Picts.

Whilst in the basement I thought fondly of Erika and Lori who both recently referenced Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy is a contemporary British artist who makes .. some call it 'land art' because his pieces tend to be site-specific and employs exclusive natural materials .. I think of his art as being peculiarly ritualistic: fire, circles, traces and marks. The National Museum has commissioned him to create installations playing with and off archaeological finds and instead of detracting from the objects, I think his works added to them. It was a pleasant surprise.

Next time we are through, we'll work our way through the second and the third floors. It's a labyrinthine museum and that is awfully appealing in its own right.

Tomorrow: another trip to Edinburgh (it's work-related) and Friday: another trip to Edinburgh (it's flight-related). Today was all about indulgence.


This will require a bit of back-story, but not much. Alasdair Gray is a Glaswegian writer and artist. I once spent a lot of time looking at how he imagines and uses the Book as a material object. Somewhere in this flat I have a opus magnum which details Gray's use of paratextual elements in constructing and assembling his books (In case you care, his The Book of Prefaces really pushes these ideas to the very edge. I wouldn't call it an interesting read; it's a maddening exercise in finding a text. It's fun.)

In short: I like Alasdair Gray a great deal. In a strange and roundabout way, Gray's work in art and fiction was one of the reasons I moved to Glasgow and probably also one of the reasons why I connected with Glasgow so quickly. When you spend a significant amount of time living with your head inside books that write Glasgow, Glasgow herself becomes familiar.

I was watching BBC's The Culture show tonight. Alex Kapranos was reading a passage from Gray's Lanark whilst sitting in Óran Mór. The inside of my head was splattered across the television screen. To clarify: the frontman whose band's first album was the soundtrack to my life circa 2003-2005; the passage the very one you can find in the sidebar on this website; the novel which spawned a thousand and one things; and my local pub which just so happens to be decorated by Gray himself.

I learned that Alasdair Gray is working on a giant mural for my local underground station, Hillhead. And there is an exhibition in Edinburgh (there are two exhibitions, actually, but I'm mostly interested in the first one).

Life is very odd and very good and very bitter-sweet and very perfect sometimes. I am amazed at where my life has taken me.

Work As If You Live in the Early Days of a Better Nation

Alasdair Gray, SignedI do not know how many of you have read Alasdair Gray's excellent dystopian novel, Lanark: a Life in Four Books? It takes place partly in Glasgow and partly in an imaginary Glasgow, known as Unthank. In Unthank the characters are forever chasing sunlight whilst seemingly dying of a symbolic disease known as 'dragonhide' (Yes, well, Lanark isn't your average book). Right now I am feeling like I'm living in Unthank-Glasgow and not Glasgow-Glasgow because sunlight seems just out of reach and like something I vaguely remember from a dream. I have a lot of time for Alasdair Gray. He is one of those novelists I am never sure whether people will like or not. I tend to recommend Poor Things as the gateway to Gray's oeuvre: it reads like a postmodern feminist Frankenstein; it is exuberant and giddy; and it is wildly entertaining.  Unlikely Stories, Mostly is a rare beast: a short story collection which feels like a cohesive book and which is also a compulsive read. The stories ranges from short childhood snippets to the fantastic typographic fantasy of "Sir Thomas' Logopandocy" about Sir Thomas Urquhart (it remains my favourite piece by Gray).  Lanark tends to divide people - my boyfriend still cannot believe that I like a book that nasty and unpleasant, but then again he has not read Gray's 1982, Janine which is Gray's tour-de-force in sheer unpleasantness and utter despair (and I really like that one too).

I once spent a lot of time looking at how Alasdair Gray imagines the Book as an object. 1982, Janine is not only a typographical wonder (at one point the protagonist attempts suicide which is portrayed in visual poetry) but its hardcover is beautifully decorated by Gray himself. I always try to get hold of Gray's books in hardcover whenever I can because underneath the dust jackets, you get elaborate beautiful books. Gray also writes his own blurbs, controls the typesetting and draws his own illustrations. The Book of Prefaces is as close as Gray has come to a postmodern Gesamtkunstwerk. The book is beautiful, of course, but Gray adds an extra layer by writing prefaces to the selected prefaces and writing prefaces to those prefaces. It is all rather dazzling.

And as fate would have it, I have ended up in Glasgow. Alasdair Gray lives just a few streets down from me (I may have said "Good afternoon, sir" once or twice), my local pub features his artwork and my boyfriend has drawn him at art class. Strange how these things work out.

Read more about dear Ally Gray and his artwork or his writing and remember that Poor Things is the best place to start. Meanwhile I shall continue to chase sunlight.

A Beautiful Day

It's going to be a beautiful day so the bluebirds sing. I have booked myself a short, but much-needed flight home to Denmark in May. I need to spend time with the Danish part of myself, I have decided. Going back is always odd because it invariably ends up being a long series of meet-ups with everybody I have ever known in Denmark. I cannot remember the last time I spent a few hours in Copenhagen just, you know, hanging out with myself. I am not complaining. It just feels strange after having spent fifteen years in Copenhagen and suddenly the way I engage with my city is transformed. I think this is something most expats experience.

Linkage, then:

+ When I read "Glasgow Artist Restores Lost Mural" on the BBC website, I knew exactly who and what they were talking about. Wooh! + Cover Versions: "Classic records lost in time and format, remerged as Pelican books." + Speaking of which .. Pelican paperbacks. I used to own a lot of them. + Art-House Book Trailers. Just as vile as the name suggests. + CraftGawker. Look, be inspired, create. + This Is Not A Riot: An effective, non-violent response to riot police. (I miss going to demonstrations) + The Fall of the Spanish Hapsburgs, or why marrying your first cousin is a bad, bad idea. See also this pictorial guide to the Spanish Hapsburgs. Ouch. + As seen everywhere on the web: Uncomfortable plot summaries. To wit: "Groundhog Day: Misanthropic creep exploits space/time anomaly to stalk coworker." + And as seen on John's blog: "Over the weekend, sharp-eyed Cassini-watchers on noticed a series of way-cool photos on the mission's raw images website." Mindblowingly cool photos.

I finished reading The Time-Traveller's Wife. It was rather "girly". I have also begun yet another knitting project: Geno in duck's-egg-blue milk-cotton. It's rather lovely and very summery.

Hogmanay Etc

denmark-july-2008-297This is my favourite photo of 2008. I shot it in early August when we went to Sweden for a day. The weather was incredibly hot (although not particularly sunny) and all these tanned, long-limbed Swedish teenagers were hurling themselves into the Øresund from various cliffs and balconies. I don't know who this boy was, but I am very happy that I decided to take an impromptu photo of him.

I have frequently said that 2008 was an annus horribilis. Looking back, there were some good bits.

The Obama win.

Our trip to Denmark and Sweden was a great success.

I rediscovered my creative side and did so many strange, wonderful things that my head is slightly reeling.

I met some fantastic people: Ellie, Kathleen, Kippen, Anna (who has the best blog title evah), Paula, Angela, SoCherry, Lilith and Kirsty (and the rest do not have easily accessible online profiles) to name but a few.

My Alasdair Gray fangirl-ness reached a new height.

And I managed to remain alive with all my bits and pieces intact which is a bit of a triumph all things considered.

I don't really do New Year's resolutions because I know I will fail horribly if I set myself goals like "I need to lose ten kilos" or "I will watch Kieslowski's Dekalog without falling asleep." However, knitterly resolutions feel different.

I have signed up for a "Twelve Projects in Twelve Months" challenge and I would like to get back to doing stranded knitting (which I did when I was a teenager). I want to use more local wool instead of tricking myself into thinking that US brands are way superior. I want to knit down some of my laceweight stash. And I want to knit a Faroese-ish shawl with my Faroese laceweight to celebrate that I’m partly Faroese on an obscure side of my family.

And I'd quite like to read a bit more too and watch some of the DVDs that we have amassed recently (in particular Brief Encounter, In Bruges and Juno).

Happy new year to you all. As we say in Scotland - Happy Hogmanay! - and in Denmark - Godt nytår!

Six Weeks of Solitude: Comforts and Frights

A sneak preview of my current project. I am test-knitting a pattern for Old Maiden Aunt and I'm quite excited about a new technique I've just picked up. The Six Weeks of Silence idea seemed particularly attractive this morning after waking up abruptly at 5am because of a neighbour getting ready for work and then being kept awake by builders dragging debris down the communal stairs. I was lying in bed dreaming of that little cottage on Skye: no neds fighting in the street, no taxis honking their horns at 3am, no alarm clocks, no thumping bass-lines.. the idea was so overwhelmingly beautiful that I was almost ready to give up internet access, live-in partner and chai lattes. Almost.

Six more books for the Isle of Skye:

  1. James Robertson: The Testament of Gideon Mack: I have already read this book, but that is why I know it'd make a perfect companion for weeks of solitude (although it might just freak me out too).  A (Scottish) book about faith, imagination and how to define reality and truth.
  2. James Hogg: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: If Gideon Mack with its strange opaque view of reality is on my list, I should also have the book to which it owes a great deal. A good university friend was a dedicated Hogg fan. I hope to catch up. I also like books that play off one another.
  3. Rodge Glass: Alasdair Gray - A Secretary's Biography: And to round off this small selection of Scottish literature, a book I suspect Father Christmas might give me this year. A biography of one of my favourite authors written in a positively Boswellian manner. And it's all taking place just down the road from my current dwellings. I suspect hermit life on Skye will make me long for the colourful Glasgow West End.
  4. Virginia Woolf: Flush: Some light reading is required, of course. Like most pale, sensitive and female literature graduates, I like Virginia Woolf far too much. I also happen to like dogs (which reminds me: this puppy cam is teh crack) and Woolf has penned a little "biography" of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's cocker-spaniel. When the winds really start getting to me on Skye, I will want to curl up with this book about dogs, poetry and Victorian passions.
  5. Michael Chabon: The Yiddish Policemen's Union: Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was such a pleasant surprise to me. I had anticipated inflated self-importance in the vein of Dave Eggers or Jonathan Safran Foer or maybe even painful so-called 'literary' writing like Jonathan Frazen or Jeffrey Eugenides (you can tell I have issues with male contemporary American writers) - but Chabon proved an utter delight and I am looking forward to being delighted once more. The Yiddish Policemen's Union even has a character based upon an internet friend of mine which is slightly intriguing too.
  6. Rose Tremain: Music and Silence: A book not chosen for its title but because of its historical setting in my native Denmark. Another book which has been languishing on my shelves for too long and a book where the historical context is so familiar that I look forward to seeing a foreigner's take. Okay, and maybe a tiny bit to do with "silence".

And then the knitting. I wrote yesterday that I had two projects in mind which was not strictly true. I always have a gazillion possible projects running through my head and I spend much time thinking about yarns and pattern combinations. For six weeks of solitude I could easily have chosen half a dozen projects, but the idea is to limit myself.  Six weeks without noise or distractions could easily mean 'difficult patterns which require concentration and dilligence' but my head does not work like that.

The first project would be Kate Gilbert's Union Square Market Pullover in my beloved DROPS Alpaca. I'd use a warm chocolate brown as the main colour and a deep turquoise (or maybe a deliciously brash magenta) as the contrast colour. The choice of pattern is simple: it calls for miles and miles of mindless stocking stitch on 3.25mm needles. I don't think anything short of being marooned on a remote Scottish island for six weeks could ever make me knit that pullover (and yet I love its elegance and simplicity).

Final part tomorrow. Hopefully I will also have a finished knitted object to show you.