Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Today is Museum Day

18 May is Museum Day.

Sad to say, it seems that there are millions of people with direct access to museums who have never even visited one. There are many possible reasons for this – they may think just looking at old things is boring, or perhaps they are unaware just how different the world was in the past and see no reason to take interest.

Regardless of any reasons not to take advantage of the incredible amount of tangible knowledge museums offer, and regardless of age, Museum Day is the time to invest in education in its most fascinating form.

And never forger that in Scotland, entry to National Museums is FREE!

I don’t often offer advice, but in this case I have to say that FREE ENTRY to Scotland’s National Museum is something that should not be taken lightly, or not used to the full.

As someone who has done this for all of their life, from early childhood, and still does as often as possible, I can’t describe the sheer HORROR of visiting museums in England and Wales, where every visit is met by an outstretched hand demanding cash before you get in – every single time!

From the relaxed ramble around museums north of the border, a visit down south becomes a major exercise in navigation and planning, to make sure nothing is missed, or another admission fee has to be found.

Compare that to visits to – in my case – Glasgow’s museums, where I can drop in every day, or just go there for a seat if I have to wait for an appointment. The Winter Garden at the People’s Palace on Glasgow Green is handy for that.

History of Museum Day

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) created International Museum Day in 1977. The organisation chooses a different theme for the day and coordinates every year. Some of the themes include globalisation, indigenous peoples, bridging culture gaps, and caring for the environment. Every year since 1977, all of the museums in the world are invited to participate in this day to promote the role of museums around in the world by organising enjoyable and free activities around the year’s theme. International Museum Day has become steadily more popular since its creation, with International Museum Day 2009 being participated in by 20,000 museums in over 90 countries. In 2012, the number of participating museums had jumped to 30,000 in 129 countries.

For more info see:

International Museum Day

We’ve got a pretty good museum for this day, here in Glasgow.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery And Museum

Kelvingrove Art Gallery And Museum


May 18, 2018 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , , | Leave a comment

Bumped into Billy Connolly last week

I don’t pay that much attention, but suspect the artwork noted below was created in the days before Billy Connolly gained a ‘Sir’ added to his name.

While the giant murals were created around the time of that award, I think this pic is somewhat earlier than his 75th ‘presents’.

I was surprised to see his face looking back at me, across Queen Street, as I wandered along the side of GoMA (Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art).

I’d like to finish the job, but couldn’t find any more info about it on the seller’s web site, nor was the artist listed in their stable.

As appears to be the custom, there was no obvious price (if you have to ask, you can’t…), but typical prices there are in the 4-figure bracket, and 5 are by no means rare.

Billy Connolly Pic

Billy Connolly Pic

December 26, 2017 Posted by | photography | , , | Leave a comment

Kelvingrove is on fire. You can save ONE item. What do you grab?

I’ve seen this hypothetical ‘Fire’ question posed by others, and while wandering through Kelvingrove on one of my now rare visits (I used to be able to drop in at almost any time) found the same dilemma arose as I considered the time that now grows between my subsequent visits.

Given that most of my long-standing favourites are impractical candidates as they are simply too large or too heavy to lift and run with, I was beginning to think I’d posed a question with no single answer, then I realised I was looking at it.

It’s a long time since I first saw Regina Cordium. In fact, I was at (secondary) school, and the reason I noticed it was because of a remarkable similarity to a girl I sometimes saw there (I should add not in my year). But I would emphasise that it was purely a ‘similarity’, yet so striking it made this one of my favourite exhibits, and I reckon I’ve been lucky as it’s also one that is a permanent exhibit, and does not disappear as part of the museum rotation of the more than 1 million artefacts it holds.

Even luckier, this image was used on a large poster to publicise an exhibition some years (got that), and on the cover of an accompanying book (yup, got that too).

Another feature that struck me back in the day was how timeless the painting was, and I really did have to look twice when I looked at the plaque which was once fixed to the frame, and discovered it was painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1866. Granted I was ‘young and stupid’ at the time, but if I’d been asked to make a guess, I’d have been utterly and completely wrong as I’d probably have had a stab at a 20th century date. I’m probably a bit of a perfectionist too, and the execution of the brushwork and detail is also worthy of note. While I enjoy impressionism, I’m much more likely to be drawn to what is now referred to as photo-realism.

So, that’s my choice, and if you ever see someone running through flames at Kelvingrove (sounds like a good name for an exhibition!) with Alexa Wilding – that will be me.

Regina Cordium

Regina Cordium

I’m guessing it’s been reframed since I first saw it, and the gilded plaque would seem to be long gone, replaced by this stylish, two-tone, printed card:

Regina Cordium Label

Regina Cordium Label

August 29, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mural triplet celebrates Billy Connolly at 75

I have to admit to being a relative latecomer to Billy Connolly’s humour, but found it to be little short of hysterical with its frank honesty and simplicity – not to mention his delivery, which makes otherwise mundane and ordinary tales into side-splitting gems.

I’d never even heard of him until someone let me hear one of his records (that a round black plastic thing) somewhere, then I found him on the radio.

No Internet and search tools to find a quick MP3, stream, or YouTube item back then – but I suppose that could be another story, and one he could probably turn into another side-splitting sketch.

I read about the mural in the news:

Glasgow murals leave Billy Connolly ‘flabbergasted’

And decided it was time for a walk – and six hours and 17 miles later came home with the required pics.

There’s also a 1-hour documentary on them:

Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime

While two were netted with no problems, I managed to forget where the third was – mainly because its position in the Gallowgate means I’m almost obliged to pass it when I head for home, so I didn’t bother making a mental note of where it was. That was a mistake, and added around 3 miles as wandered around the city centre looking for something to jog my memory. Utterly useless until I turned for home – and THAT finally reminded me.

The murals are not hard to find or see, provided you know where to look.

The day turned windy and dull, with tiny showers, so I had to process the images to brighten them up and recover the colours.

I also corrected them for perspective, removing the slightly annoying narrowing as you look towards their tops.

(Click on any mural for a larger version.)

The last one, in the Gallowgate, is/was particularly annoying to photograph. I’m not sure what the best conditions or time of day would be, but an overcast evening was definitely NOT good. The finish is very glossy and the reflections from the sky behind the camera cannot be avoided, and obscure much of the detail. The other two do not share this problem.

Working from west to east, first up is Dixon Street, just south of St Enoch Square:

This one is slightly spoilt by a metal fence enclosing a seating area at its foot, but you can negate this intrusion by going up to fence and shooting between the railings


Billy Connolly Mural Dixon Street

Billy Connolly Mural Dixon Street

Next up is Osborne Street, in the section across from the car park, to the east of the St Enoch Centre, between Stockwell Street and King Street.

No problems shooting here, and you can even get squarely in front of the mural if you wander a little way up ‘Old Wynd’.

Billy Connolly Mural Osborne Street Old Wynd

Billy Connolly Mural Osborne Street Old Wynd

Last up is the Gallowgate mural, pretty (very) easy to spot as you head east along the Gallowgate from Glasgow Cross.

There’s no problem getting below the mural for a pic, but as you can see from this pic, reflections from the glossy finish are hard to mitigate – at least in the evening. Maybe there’s a better viewpoint to be had, but it’s hard to avoid sky reflections if you are stay on the ground/

Unfortunately, not even post-processing for highlight and shadow detail helps, since there is none to recover (recall the problem is the shiny gloss finish and reflections in it).

Billy Connolly Mural Gallowgate

Billy Connolly Mural Gallowgate



Shortly after this feature, Jack Vettriano announced he was moving out of Edinburgh to escape fame.

While I have absolutely no time for the wasters who are deemed as ‘celebrity’ for no reason other than being famous (you know fine well what I mean, for example appearing on TV for a whole 5 minutes and being crude to get a headline, and then paid millions for nothing), I think it’s a shame that people such as Mr Vettriano are ultimately hounded by more wasters who simply want a damned ‘selfie’ with them, or to say they met him.

Via: Jack Vettriano moving out of Edinburgh to escape fame


June 13, 2017 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , , | Leave a comment

Hip Hop Marionettes and intrusive advertising

I hate adverts. Not all adverts of course, but I do hope there is a special Hell with eternal pain inflicted on anyone involved in creating ways to FORCE ads of any type to be viewed.

30 years of increasingly intrusive and distracting advertising on the Internet have turned me completely and irrevocably against adverts that are shoved in my face. I’m fine with ads placed where I can find them if I need them, or which don’t INSIST I acknowledge them.

Online, I use two complementary ad-blockers (oddly, neither of them is the famous Adblock Plus), and any site that I visit which demands I remove it gets permanently blocked – no exceptions – no mercy – and I will then go find a way to get free access to that site, WITH ads blocked. If I can, I’ll also alert others to boycott it as well, and make sure it gets bad reviews.

I don’t expect to find the same sort of problems with conventional advertising, but when I tried to take some pics of the ‘Hip Hop Marionettes’ mural from George Street (on a building in John Street) found that it was being spoiled by at least one massive billboard smack in front of it. From George Street, only off-centre views of the mural are possible.

You can only take a clear view by standing behind the billboard, in a car park, so need a wide-angle lens, and to be able to correct distortion from being so close.

(Sorry about the apparently ‘careless’ smudgy area at bottom centre – seems I was carrying some condensation around for a while, and it took some time to evaporate and disappear.)

First pic is such a shot, tidied up to remove distortion, then the next is just a straight view as taken when standing in George Street.

George Street Mural View

Hip Hop Marionettes

Stepping back a bit, we see what the ‘Power of Advertising’ achieves:

George Street Mural Spoiled View

George Street Mural Spoiled View

June 4, 2017 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , , , , | Leave a comment

New sculpture evolves in Cunningar Loop Park

Cunningar Loop is a place of surprises these days.

I just detoured through it after finding the new bridge was not only installed, but open – expect a post about that when I get a moment, but I just did not realise how long it had been since I’d followed that path, and previous visits had made it look as if work had stalled, so I forgot all about it.

But this was another chance find as I had just crossed the bridge for the sake of doing it, but then decided to head for the original entrance, and found the sculpture below had been added (delivered back in November 2016):

Evolve, a six metre high sculpture created by Glasgow based artist Rob Mulholland took over six months to create, and is fabricated from high grade stainless steel. It has over six hundred individual pieces welded together to create its structure.

This is by the same artist who created Oatlands Girl, another recent find.

Cunningar Evolve Sculpture

Cunningar Evolve Sculpture

May 5, 2017 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , , | Leave a comment

Cat murals abroad are different (from ours)

I caught some local ‘official’ murals in Glasgow some time ago (3 years ago!), as seen in Glasgow’s graffiti cats, and they’re still there – and I rather like the term that has been coined by some to describe them online, ‘murder mittens’.

Here’s s reminder:

Glasgow Dunlop St cats

Glasgow Dunlop St cats

One thing I’ve noticed is that our murals tend to the realistic, and that’s not a complaint. As a failed artist (despite being told by an art teacher I could and should paint and draw as I had the ability, I still think anything I attempt is fit only for the bin) I love the realism and accuracy of the work, and believe another thing my teacher told me, that cats are a real test of ability – and if you can portray them realistically, you are lucky and talented.

That said, I was browsing through a photo site that just collates random pics it thinks are great, and I spotted a couple of cat murals in a recent dump.

Unfortunately, it just collects the pics, not any of the details, so I have no idea where these are located, but from the ‘feel’ of their environment and surroundings, I’d say they lie on foreign soil.

But it’s really the stylised nature of their depiction of cat faces that caught my eye.

While I love the realistic murals that have appeared in Glasgow over the past few years, and are ‘Tourist trails’, even hidden in odd places so they are hard to find, and a surprise when they are spotted, I also think our artists need to develop some imagination too, and dare to move outside the borders of pure reality, and move into some more stylised and abstract work:

Foreign Cat Mural 1

Foreign Cat Mural 1


Foreign Cat Mural 2

Foreign Cat Mural 2


Foreign Cat Mural 3

Foreign Cat Mural 3

It’s not that we don’t have them at all, but this example (the only one I have of such a thing) is located on a wall facing AWAY from the road AND behind a wall. It’s only visible to people walking the path along the side of the River Clyde, or who may happen to look across from the opposite bank, from a place that is largely deserted.

Big Fire Cat Clyde

Big Fire Cat Clyde

April 22, 2017 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , , | Leave a comment

Best use ever for Donald Trump

Through the eyes of an artist, the truth is revealed:

Artist Fernando Sosa has found a novel way to protest at Donald Trump’s recent comments about Mexican immigrants: he’s turned the Republican presidential candidate into a butt plug.

Sosa used 3D printing technology to create the decidedly-unofficial merchandise, which he is selling from his store on the Shapeways website for £21.34. The plug is made from full-colour sandstone, promising “a coarse finish and a delicate feel”.

Via Artist 3D prints Donald Trump butt plug in protest at immigration rhetoric | Technology | The Guardian

Trump Butt

This 3D-printed Donald Trump butt plug is, suffice to say, not official campaign merchandise. Guardian pic.

July 15, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Kelvingrove art returned after 15 years

Empty picture frameI was intrigued to see a news story about the return of three paintings which had been stolen from Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

It used to be one of my great retreats in the past, somewhere to go and enjoy some peace and quiet (unless I made the mistake of dropping in when there was a class of primary school kids, or a toddler, there for a treat – bless their little banging and stamping feet), although I’ve only been there twice since the refurbishment, and don’t really feel like making the effort to go for another visit. Not for some peace and quiet anyway.

The recovery was triggered by the appearance of one of the stolen paintings appearing in an auction, and being recognised by the curator. This, in turn, led to another of the stolen works, and then a third from yet another location.

While the story has a happy ending – although it seems that some of those in the chain of supply which included these pictures may not be too happy from the resulting legal actions – I was disappointed to read that the case seems to have begun back in 1996, and not because of the discovery of an obvious and outright theft, such as from a burglary or similar action, but through the action of auditors, who alleged in a report they prepared regarding Glasgow Museums collection that a number of works of art had been removed and offered for sale on the black market. This, it seems, arose because the arrangements then in place for the recording and storage of artefacts was unsatisfactory.

From this, it seems safe to assume that the three pictures referred to in this case are only a sample of the works that have been lost in this way. Other assumptions, or implications can be drawn from the comments too.

It’s a very unfortunate an uncomfortable finding, and I wonder just how many artefacts have gone walkabout in the same way. And if the inventory system has been upgraded in light of the audit?

January 26, 2011 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Polphail Ghost Village Graffiti

Relatively unknown until recently, when it featured in the media with news of its forthcoming demolition and residential redevelopment, the village of Polphail was created during the 1970s to serve as accommodation for workers employed at a concrete oil platform construction being constructed at Portavadie.

Despite millions of pounds of government money being poured into the development, both its concept and product were deeply flawed, having been rushed in order to cash in on the oil boom of the the time. The construction yard was never completed and never came close to production. The accommodation was never occupied and never saw a single resident. It did leave behind a hole, which we have seen referred to as the “biggest man-made hole in Europe” (but we haven’t been able to verify this one).

The site was abandoned and has lain derelict ever since, and became the subject of a public enquiry.

Portavadie currently serves as the terminal for a CalMac ferry connecting with Tarbert, across Loch Fyne, and has seen a fish farm be developed in the multi-million pound hole that was created there, where the concrete platform legs were supposed to be constructed. A marina opened in the mid-2000s, and a brand new facilities building opened there in May 2009, containing toilets, showers, bar and restaurant. Although there have been a number of proposals to develop time-shares on the Polphail site, none of these ever materialised, but a few holiday cottages have been built nearby.

However, progress was made in 2009, when a plan to create up to 270 home on the site was announced by the owner, and demolition of the original Polphail accommodation was scheduled to begin in following December.

Agents of Change

Thanks to media coverage of the development, the site came to the attention of a group of artist known as The Agents of Change. Although they are graffiti artists, this in not a group kids running around with cans of spray paint vandalising the streets and tagging any clean surface, but are well-established artist, and in their forties. Having seen the derelict village in the news, they got in touch with the owner requesting permission to carry out a project in the village, and were pleased to receive a positive response to their enquiry, provided they were prepared to pay homage at hallowed altars such as Elfin Safety.

The arrival of the six artists involved was generally well met an appreciated by most of those who live near the village, who said the artwork made a welcome change from their usual view of the drab grey concrete of the decaying ruins which they have had to look at for some forty years.

An introductory video was made of the project:

And a couple of examples of the work carried out in the village:

Polphail Agents of Change graffiti art

Polphail Agents of Change graffiti art © paul birrell

Polphail Agents of Change graffiti art

Polphail Agents of Change graffiti art © paul birrell

November 1, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | 5 Comments

Conference: Scotland’s Glass, October 2010

Old glassblowing pic from Scotland's Glass

Old glassblowing pic from Scotland's Glass

An International Conference to celebrate 400 years of glassmaking in Scotland is being held at Edinburgh College of Art between October 1 and 4, 2010.

The conference is part of a year-long celebration of glass making in Scotland, the following speakers have already been confirmed for this event.

The following details are reproduced from the event’s own web site details, which should be consulted for any subsequent changes which may take place:

Speaker Subject
Brian Blench
Formerly Head of Decorative Arts, Glasgow Museums
Helen Munro Turner and her Students
Stephen Pollock-Hill
Chairman of The British Glass Education Trust, and curator of the Museum of 20th Century British Domestic Glass
The Scottish Glass Industry in the latter part of the 20th century – a revival?
Graham Cooley Loch, Heather & Peat: Domnhall O’Broin & Caithness Glass
Andy Nowson (Author) Caithness Glass Paperweights – 1969-2009 – A 40 year Adventure Pushing the Boundaries…
Geoffrey Seddon Jacobite Rebellion and Scottish Glass
Siobhan Healy (Glass Artist) Natural form in Design
Patty Niemann (Glass Artist) Her work and forms of glass body adornment

Also speaking will be Jill Turnbull, an expert on the early history of Scottish glass, and eminent experts Nigel Benson and Simon Cottle (Bonhams).

This is intended to be a multi-stream conference for around 200 delegates covering all aspects of Glass: History, Collecting, Making, Art, Technology, Archaeology, Architecture, Industry. Combined with demonstrations and workshops.

You can visit for further information on glass and glassmaking.

A brochure is being printed to show every place in Scotland where one can see glass: not just museums, but buildings, makers and, it is hoped, archaeological sites. Every building included will be encouraged to open its doors to the public during 2010. All of the glass businesses based in Scotland are including in the brochure, but the organisers are appealing for information about any glass business not included, and also about any other glassmakers with a Scottish connection that are working elsewhere in the world.

September 29, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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