I’ve been spending a couple days here talking about Bill Buford’s amazing book Among the Thugs and my own first hand encounters with what I’ve come to think of as the ‘Invisible Malevolence’ that occupies the cities which host the Football Firms and some of their favored matches. Last time I talked about my first encounter with this sociological phenomenon in Scotland’s Edinburgh. Now I’d like to relate my subsequent experience, again no where near as hands on or volatile as anything Buford lived through or wrote about, in Glasgow two years later.
Glasgow is, although largely a cultural rival of Edinburgh, very much a Scottish city. Seemingly perpetually gray skies (not a bad thing or criticism mind you), in touch with it’s working class (Glasgow moreso I thought from what I saw) and steeped in Football tradition, Edinburgh’s neighbor however presents itself very different in some ways to the traveling Westerner. The first is that Edinburgh, for the traveler at least, initially presents itself through it’s more Midieval architecture and former feudal manner. Glasgow, from my albeit brief but engaging experience came off in a less feudal sense. More of what us Westies think of when we think of a city*. In Edinburgh the overall feel is progress around history, whereas Glasgow is more akin to say, progress through history.
This leads into more of that working class vibe being present in Glasgow because there just is not the tourism draw there that there is in Edinburgh. No castle, not as many (none that I remember seeing) Wynds and tunnels to take you back in time, Glasgow just feels like a city in the present day.
We arrived via rail and hiked quite a distance to check into our hotel. We were both feeling it but soon we were up and out walking. It’s fairly easy when tripping on the adrenaline buzz of traveling to strike up conversations with folks anywhere you go, regardless of whether or not you are normally socially inept. This being said the first thing we did was head to a pub and strike up a conversation.
As we ordered our pints and befriended the bartender with the kind eyes and walrus-like moustache and the only other guy at the bar, an American and former member of the Crips from LA, I realized I had not stopped to acquire any pounds from an ATM. Excusing myself I hurried out leaving Sara in the barkeep’s watchful eye and around the corner to a cash machine. Upon inserting my card and code however, I found that I could not withdraw money.
I ran around the streets for a bit trying other machines but all to no avail.
Double shit, which of course when you’re this far from anything you know, is spelled P.a.n.i.c.
Now freaked out I returned to the pub where I had no choice but to clue the barkeep and unfortunately via proximity Mr. Cripes in to the fact that we had no money. Cripe, I think Chris was his name, offered to buy our drinks but Sara was giving me the look like we should probably be avoiding him, not taking presents from him. The barkeep was cool, I had hardly touched my pint and Sara’s was only a half, so he relieved us of our debt and we headed out to try and figure the whole thing out.
Upon hitting the street again it had now gotten dark and suddenly, there it was: the malevolence. It started as a discomfort I chalked up to our current situation. But then we turned down an alley and things seemed to take on that slippery and surreal quality that danger can often have in situations where it raises it’s head to the traveler, those out of their normal reality and experiencing new people, places and things. I remember seeing a horror-movie like image of advancing shadows along the dark brick wall just up ahead and then the spider-sense kicked in. The sight combined with the sound of many voices united in drunken, obnoxious song stopped me in my tracks. We turned around, Sara now also feeling the something-besides-our-checkbook problems in the air. I remember it really kind of frightened her, and this frightened me more.
We headed back to our hotel and tried the ATM there, but again, nothing.
So here we were, thousands of miles from any sort of safety net with no money. With NONE of our ATM cards working we were extremely limited in what we could do. And it was a bit frightening in that they had all worked up until Glasgow, in fact I’d used one just a few hours before to pay the Hotel bill in Edinburgh. After many frantic hours of calling 800 numbers that night we resigned to walk a short distance to an Indian restaurant near the hotel* and put it on a credit card there.
We spent a good amount of time at the restaurant and I remember it seemed a respite from the vibe haunting the streets (what little of them we’d seen), but this was no doubt due to the lack of clientele – I believe we were two of like four patrons the two or so hours we stayed. This fit the vibe outside and would later gel with the atmosphere Buford conveys at times in his book – when these matches happen cities like Glasgow buckle down for them. I’m not sure who Glasgow’s Celtic F.C. played that night but as we emerged from the restaurant stuffed and more than a little tipsy I remember the desolation of the restaurant being even more pronounced out on the street. Except out here there was that feeling again. Now more pronounced we both immediately heard the singing again, but this time it was further off yet also louder, with many more voices having joined in. As we walked I vaguely remember passing a group of about three guys who carried themselves in a manner that emphasized and utilized this feeling in the air – was it my imagination or were they sizing us up, possibly weighing in on carrying us into their world?
All things said, again, this is a very pedestrian account, especially compared to the source material I’ve been lauding over for a couple weeks here now. And yet this feeling, it’s stuck with me and cemented my memories in vivid, frightening clarity, giving me more than a little understanding of, if not the actual experience, the climate that comes with it. ‘Powder keg’ is a metaphor that appears somewhere in Buford’s book and it is, I believe a very accurate one. The following day everything was, Magickally, back to normal. Bank cards worked at the first ATM we approached and the malevolence was gone. We heard a few quips about trouble the night before due to the match and it suited both of us just fine to consider the brief and unexplained failure of our funds the Universe’s way of keeping us out of whatever we might otherwise have gotten into.
How many blogs are long enough to have a postscript? Well, You’ve just found one.
We would find out later that the failure of one of our bank cards was due to the fact that nearer to the beginning of the trip the hotel we had stayed at in Dublin had attempted an unauthorized charge when the girls at the front desk apparently pocketed the cash we used to pay (and didn’t ask for a receipt for – D’OH!). This explains the one card. It does not however, explain the other two. I don’t want to get too into it here, because I tend to deal with my interests in the Occult on my blogspot, but as a traveler I had previously made the acquaintance of what is known as a Servitor to guide and protect me on my travels, and if there was ever any experience I would use to argue it’s existence and my own sanity, this would be the one.
* Of course I am speaking here of Old Edinburgh, the city that grew up and out of the once feudal area surrounding the castle. But I would be remiss not to mention all of the progress and sprawl that has blossomed out into the surrounding areas. Glasgow may be more modern yet most of what I saw was not as ‘Now’ as, for the perfect example of Edinburgh’s gentrification say the area known as ‘New Town’ (or god knows what’s popped up since I’ve last been
there four (whine) years ago)
** The Spice Garden – Amazing Coconut banana curry at this place. The combination might sound strange to some but it’s really good when done right and Spice Garden is one of the only places I’ve found to this day that has a system to make a cream-based, and thus naturally heat-dampering curry just the way I like it – extremely fucking HOT!!!