February 2011
Forth and Clyde Canal near Kirkintilloch
This month we feature the Forth & Clyde Canal. It's clearly not a building, but it is a structure of sorts. Someone built it, long long ago. It was at one time a major artery for the transportation of goods before we had railways and decent roads. Horses used to pull barges laden with coal and what have you. It was a thriving waterway. These days it's not thriving just so much, but still there are a few barges and craft moving slowly along its length. It also has a good footpath, all the way from the River Clyde at Bowling to the Union Canal at the Falkirk Wheel or on to the River Forth. A truly wondrous structure.

1. If you wish to use the train toilet and someone's already in it, knock loudly on the door, shout 'TICKETS PLEEEASE!', then retire to a safe distance.

2. If you're sat at a table-seat on the train and a small child sitting opposite keeps kicking your knee-caps, reach casually under the table, grab them by the ankles, and pull forcibly in one swift action so that they suddenly disappear as if by magic into that horrid dirty space under the table. This manoeuvre is best followed by a verbal, 'Oops.'

3. If the ticket-examiner on the train sneaks up on you and is suddenly standing at your side with drumming fingers of impatience, say, 'Coffee, black, two sugars.'

4. This tip should be used when you want to keep a window seat and table all to yourself when the train you are already on pulls slowly alongside a crowded station platform. Grin maniacally at all those standing waiting to get on, and allow a small dribble of saliva to run down your chin.

5. To make a long train-trip more exciting, go round all the seats in all the carriages and gather up the fluff that lurks in the seat-folds. Form this into a huge ball, and when the ticket examiner comes around bounce it off the ground in a playful fashion while asking him how often they hoover the trains.

6. If the train is full you may lie down in the overhead luggage rack, which can be accessed by standing on someone's head.

7. Always travel with a mop, bucket and Domestos in case you need to use the toilet on the train.

8. When approaching a ticket barrier manned by a gaggle of eager staff, always smile, say 'Hi', wave extravagantly, and take five minutes out to shake all their hands and ask after their wellbeing.

9. Hoots of laughter may be had when at the front of a large queue of travellers waiting to put their ticket through an automatic ticket barrier by putting your ticket in upside down and the wrong way around. Twice.

10. If you can't find a seat on the train because selfish lone travellers are trying to occupy two seats by placing their bag on the seat beside them, simply sit on their bag, adjust your buttocks, and fall into a snorty snooze.
A Nation of Queuers - You Can Bank On That
In today's world we spend a lot of time queuing. Everywhere we go there are signs with arrows and squiggly rope corridors that lead us on a merry jaunt whose route has clearly been thought up by a madman.
     Banks are particularly fond of queues, although they try their best to persuade us that they are doing their utmost to reduce them in size by adopting various new measures. In one you are not allowed to queue for a withdrawal of less than £30.01, its staff pointing any such miserable impoverished person towards an autobank. In another they don't give out change to any queuer who is not a customer. And most thwart big queues by discouraging people from bringing in the contents of their piggy-bank for counting and deposit.
     But what few of us seem to realise is that the real reason we are faced with such lengthy queues in banks is because the tellers are constantly in super-sales-mode. They are not serving, they are selling. They pretend to engage the customer in idle friendly chat, and thus armed with a few snippets of information, then try to persuade them to buy some new service like home insurance, credit card, loan, or any number of things. These days they are not so much bank tellers as target and bonus-led salesmen.
     That is why there are queues in banks, not because Missus Smith wants to withdraw £28.57 and help ma boab but we better call the manager to deal with this! It's quite incredible. I've been in an enormous queue in a bank with other very patient people while we all listen to the teller home in for the kill with that well-used phrase, 'Have you considered our special buy-one-get-one-free-ISA offer Mister McGillicuddy?'
     I think the sooner us paying punters started shouting the odds with cries of, 'Would you get a flamin' move on there!' the better for us all.
Back in January five pedestrians were killed on Scottish roads in a 24 hour period. At least one was walking along, as opposed to crossing, a road at the time.
All too often we hear of pedestrians being killed walking on our roads. We can consider any number of factors that might come into play here, like alcohol, a lack of light, or the inattentiveness of car drivers.
But what we should really be considering is this: these days we are building roads with no pavement. We are building roads where pedestrians have no place, where there is not even a meagre car-free strip to allow pedestrians to walk in some safety. And that is so very very wrong.
A few years ago, for example, they built a new wide road in Stirling, between Springkerse and a roundabout near Manor Powis. They didn't build a pavement. I've tried walking on it, and it's dangerous. No sane person should even consider following in my footsteps.
But why is there no pavement?
There's no doubt that in the past we sometimes built roads where there was no pavement, but that was in the days when cars were a lot slower and there were still horses and carts. Nowadays the speed and degree of acceleration in cars means that trying to walk on a road is an exceedingly dangerous thing to do. Yet at times you can understand why folk may try to do such a thing, when they've missed the last bus or whatever.
The Scottish Government simply has to find funds and initiate a pavement-building scheme for every road in the country. With the exception of maybe motorways, there should be no road that does not have a parallel pedestrian and cycle avenue.
Copyright The Good Soup Guide. All rights reserved. CONTACT:

The city of Glasgow, once the Second City of the great British Empire, is blessed with fine old buildings. Everywhere you go in the city the streets are lined with white or red sandstone structures, mostly Victorian or Edwardian, many of which have stone carvings and statues fashioned by stonemasons long ago.
     Many of Glasgow's libraries are also fine old buildings, a number dating to 1905. While constructed as functional buildings whose purpose was merely to allow the city's citizens to read newspapers or borrow books, most are imposing structures whose exterior is festooned with columns and statues and stone swirly bits. Their appearance was intended to brighten up people's lives, to make the daily grind just a little bit more bearable.
     The interior of these buildings is no less grand. Inside you will find ornate plasterwork and glass domes that would rival anything found in the most majestic stately home.
     But these old buildings are struggling. In many the interior plasterwork is coming away from the wooden lath and falling down. Workmen have set about it with a big hammer to knock away any dangerous bits and expose the wooden bones of the buildings. Men and hammers - always a worrying alliance.
     A number also suffer from water penetration, resulting in horrid brown stains and further damage to the delicate plasterwork. In another, there is even a problem with sewerage, which is why Partick Library occasionally smells rather alarmingly like a large bottom.
     Libraries in Partick, Govan and Maryhill are in a sorry state. One has to wonder how much these buildings can withstand. I am genuinely worried for them.
     Glasgow's libraries are owned by Glasgow City Council, and they are looked after and maintained by an organisation called Glasgow Life, who use another organisation called City Building to wield the hammers. Glasgow Life will tell you that in addition to a repairs and maintenance budget they have a Planned Investment Programme in place with work being scheduled on the library structures over a period of seven years, and certainly work has been done on Govan Library's exterior, is in the process of being done at Woodside Library, and will be done in other libraries in due course.
     But you have to wonder what sort of maintenance programme allows these buildings to get in such a sorry state in the first place. On far too many instances we are witnessing a sticking-plaster maintenance that deals with issues that would never have arisen if a regular ongoing programme of maintenance had been in place. One such measure is the simple cleaning of roof gutters to prevent the growth of vegetation that ultimately causes water penetration.
     I have some serious concerns. Because Glasgow Life, like all large organisations, is far from perfect. This is an organisation that is unable to maintain small red lift lights, keep clocks on the wall ticking, or ensure a safe pedestrian access free of damaged and wobbly paving, in Europe's largest reference library and Glasgow's architectural pride and joy: The Mitchell Library.
     Worried? You bet.
A Threat to our
National Heritage
Excursion of the Month -  A Day in the Countryside

Today's excursion will take us into that green stuff that grows outside our door. Once there, we will breathe fresh air, hug trees, and admire clouds of fluffy wonder. Are you ready? Take my hand, and let's be off...

STEP 1 - First of all, make sure you've got a little knapsack. Inside, there should be water, a small snack and, if you're not already wearing it, a light waterproof jacket. Place the knapsack on your back. Dress appropriately for the weather.
STEP 2 - You should also have a map. Oh no, I hear you cry, we dinna want a map... we just wanna walk. Shoosht! Days before you follow this excursion, go and buy a map. You should buy an Ordnance Survey Landranger Series Map 64, Glasgow, Scale 1:50000, or one-and-a-quarter inches to a mile. It'll cost you £7 or therabouts.
STEP 3 - Right now, get yourself through to Milngavie. You can get a train to Milngavie from Glasgow Queen Street Railway Station (Low Level) or Glasgow Central Railway Station (Low Level).
STEP 4 - Are you in Milngavie yet? If you look at your map you'll see the town near the middle-top, above Glasgow. See it? You'll also see a red dot that is the railway station. If you look closely, you will also see a dotted line of little red diamonds. They lead from the railway station heading upwards. (In hiking circles we refer to this as heading 'north'. Repeat it after me.. 'N-O-R-T-H'. And again. There you go, you've learned something.) That line of little red diamonds is in fact The West Highland Way, and if you were to follow it all the way, across a few more maps, it would deposit you, after almost one hundred miles, in Fort William, which is even further upwards... N-O-R-T-H. But we're not going there, so relax.
STEP 5 - Follow the West Highland Way for about 3 miles. At a normal walking speed, this equates to about an hour of time. At the northern end of Craigallian Loch, you'll pass under some lofty electricity power lines, and not long after that there will be a branch in the path, just before some wooden huts (The Carbeth Huts). Wave goodbye to the West Highland Way, and take the left-hand branch. The final mile is difficult to describe. Basically, you're making for what is marked as 'PH' on your map, about three-quarters of an inch to the left (W-E-S-T) on your map. You may have to take to a main road for a little while, so be very very careful of fast cars. When eventually you reach 'PH', you should find yourself at a public house called the Carbeth Inn.
STEP 6 - Once inside the Carbeth Inn, warms your toes at the fire, drink fine ale, then get a taxi back to Milngavie. You can walk back if you wish. Nice cream teas can be had at the Visitor Centre near Craigend Castle, but can you make your own way there? Hmm... If you had a big elephant called Charlie, he'd know the way. Enjoy your day.
The Question

Why do people queuing at a street cash-point suddenly find they have no brains and form a queue that blocks the pavement?
Supermarkets often get their pricing wrong. More often than not the price label is not replaced or removed when the shelf item to which it refers has been changed. This causes confusion for consumers, thinking an item is one price when it isn't.
     I brought just such a thing to the attention of staff in ASDA recently. Oranges at £1.74 with a spurious price label for 69p. Result? The assistant gave me 'Smiley' vouchers to the value of the price difference. These were used as 'money' at the checkout.
     So, keep your eyes peeled folks. If we're sufficiently eagle-eyed we might just bankrupt the beast.
Main entrance to Maryhill Library in Glasgow
Old Boys and Girls entrance to Maryhill Library in Glasgow
Woodside Library in Glasgow
Some day, I'm going to dress up with a red and black horizontal-striped jumper, a Zorro-type face-mask, and wander into a supermarket carrying a large black bag marked 'SWAG'.
     I suspect the reaction I will get from the store security guards will be little different to that which I currently experience when going about my normal daily shopping.
     Is it just me, or are supermarket security guards with peaked caps a tad overbearing? (And I'm thinking Morrison's here.)
     I tried to buy some alcohol recently, and had to make my selection under the careful scrutiny of a guard in a peaked cap who watched my every move. It was such an overbearing scrutiny - like being under a Cell-Block H spotlight - that I erupted into a few words that should not have been said, and in the end made a bit of a prat of myself.
     Now they really watch me. Sigh. It's just no' fair.