Mavis's Shoe

Author of two novels and a creative memoir.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Stories a-go-go

This is Bowling Harbour with old boats rotting away, an outmoded form of transport which in its day was vital. I'm including it because today I made a long-overdue trip to the Transport Museum, otherwise known as the Riverside Museum on the side of Glasgow’s river. Foregoing any form of transport, I made my way there on foot along the walkway come cyclepath and then a rather inglorious and puddly track. It was a beautiful sunny, windy autumn day so this was in itself a joy. The car park was crammed to overflowing anyway and so was the museum.

Here is Aberdeen Harbour in May this year as seen from the top of the Orkney boat. A little different from Bowling, but fundamentally serving the same purpose. I loved the grandeur of these ships and their many colours, arriving from and going to who-knows-where and carrying-who-knows-what.

I’m old enough to remember the transport museum when it was in the ‘Tramway’ in Pollokshields, now an arts centre. I remember getting the 59 bus there with my dad and little brother. I’m sorry to say I found it dull back then, just a lot of dusty old buses and what was so interesting about cars anyway? As a result I don’t think I ever visited it when it was in the Kelvin Hall.

And let me wander a bit here: I do remember the Kelvin Hall when it housed the Circus and the shows at Christmas, though my English dad would have called it the Fun Fair. I’ll never forget the smell of elephants or being turned upside down in certain brightly painted machines with rows of coloured light bulbs whizzing past me.

Anyway, I’m here to recommend the Riverside Museum to everyone. I have a long list of favourite people I’d like to invite along on my next trip there. For those of you concerned about the loss of ‘the street’, never fear: it’s still there. And for enthusiasts of bike, boat, train, car and hearse, everything is included and all magnificently displayed in one of the most extraordinary buildings I’ve ever been in. It was only this morning, when I saw a photograph of it from above, that I realised just how extraordinary it is. And the inside doesn’t disappoint. It is a peculiar and rather refreshing shade of pale green and is made up of a series of strange angles and curves, a surprise round every bend.

The content of this building is complex and interesting too, although I did wonder why there were displays of dresses. Clothing is not transport and few of these dresses looked very practical for a ride on a bike or an open-topped car. Maybe in the midst of all that mechanics, there has to be something for the ladies. I’d like to claim ladyhood here and refute the need for dresses to keep my attention. I’d also like to add in my favourite quote. I’ll give it a separate line of its own because I deem it very important indeed:

‘The universe is made of stories, not atoms.’ Thank you, Muriel Rukeyser, for this.

I may have mentioned this quote before. This afternoon I was engulfed in stories and it was very exciting indeed. I think Rukeyser really meant that there were stories behind everything and everyone, everywhere we go, if only we choose to look. That’s a little of how I interpret it anyway. Museums are full of stories that could surprise you, I think, and this museum had me wondering about a myriad of objects all signifying different circumstances from my own and reminding me of distant times and places. A black shiny car with runner-boards for gangsters with guns, a padded leather seat in the back for the lovers and a large loose steering wheel for the getaway driver. Trams with wooden seats with little patterns of holes cut in them. How uncomfortable they must have been, but still pretty. Singer sewing machines: I saw two. Now, I know they involve wheels, but they’re not really transport either, are they? Not strictly speaking. But I confess I get lost when I see one, lost in love and one day soon I’m going to have one of my own. (I do actually own one but I found it on the dump and it is missing several of its parts, but then, according to its serial number it was made in 1897 so it deserves to rest on its laurels, or at least on my piano.)

And boats, lots of them, or models of them, all sailing past on a conveyor belt type arrangement. Fabulous. The romance of the sea with its secrets and dangers.

There was only one serious problem. Too many humans, as witnessed by the over-flowing car park. So it has been decided that this is a Tuesday morning event by which I mean I need to return there when no-one else is standing in front of the glass cases or jostling me off the subway, so that I can linger and linger and linger and listen to all the stories whispering in my ear.

But the most exciting part is that several storylines for Lenny Gillespie, of Mavis’s Shoe fame, came hurtling through the ether at me which I will now have to explore and research. Of course, this takes me back to the museum, and others like it, as soon as I possibly can. Yippee!

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