Saturday, 28 June 2014

   The walk took us mostly along the banks of the Clyde. I spoke with quite a few different people as we went along, but comfortably the longest conversation I had was with a Glaswegian called Nigel (not his real name), who had spent a considerable amount of time in Malawi, being responsible for a programme to improve the provision of science teaching there. We also spoke about football (he went to Hampden in 1970 to see Celtic defeat Leeds Utd), but his chief interest was rugby, a sport which he refereed. I confess to having a very limited knowledge of this game, yet his observations were illuminating. I learned that Scottish rugby is very Edinburgh-centric – while of course football in Scotland is at least equally Glasgow-centric. It seems so obvious, but this goes to the heart of the rivalry between the two cities – class. Funnily enough though, as I mentioned to Nigel, in the south west of England (again) there is an instance of the same sort of class distinction being turned on its head. Gloucester is predominantly a working class town – but it has a great rugby team. Next door Cheltenham on the other hand is one of the poshest towns in England, yet there it is the football team which, while it doesn’t quite sweep all before it, has at least in recent years adjusted commendably to the demands of the Football League. I also put forward my view about the solemn nonsense of women playing games like rugby, at which Nigel mentioned comments reputedly once made by tennis player Jimmy Connors. As he told it, when Connors was asked how he would fare against Martina Navratilova, the top female player of the day, he snorted with laughter and stated concretely that she wouldn’t win a point, and furthermore he could take her on with a frying pan and she still wouldn’t beat him.

   We were getting quite close to Blantyre when there was a stop for hot drinks, free cereal bars and fruit, courtesy of Sr Mary in the support car. The final stretch took us past the impressive 13th century ruins of Bothwell castle, much fought over during the Scottish Wars of Independence, then in mid-afternoon we reached Blantyre and the David Livingstone Centre again. Conscious of my budgetary constraints, I was a bit reluctant to pay the 6 or 7 pounds to visit the museum, so it was great to be presented by Fr Slavin with a ticket that he had paid for. Before going in I said my farewells to him and others of the walkers, and promised to write.

   Of particular note in the museum is the little room, furnished much as it was in the 19th century, in which Livingstone was born, and there are numerous revealing quotes, for instance on a stained glass window in a chapel with a large cross on the ground floor: 

“I will place no value on anything I have or possess, except in relation to the Kingdom of Christ -Livingstone’s resolution in early manhood.” 

One of the most influential books from his childhood was by someone called Thomas Dick, who set out to show that science and religion are essentially two different ways of arriving at truth. The museum was also where I discovered that Livingstone breathed his last on 1st May 1873, so my departure from Craig Lodge, because it had been delayed by a day, took place on the 140th anniversary of his death[1]. I asked myself; did it really matter whether or not the international media were aware of my journey, when I could be secure in the knowledge that the fine details of my movements must surely have been brought to the attention of someone as distinguished as Dr David Livingstone himself?

   From the museum I made my way to the same St Joseph’s Church which I’d visited on day one, for 5 o’clock Saturday evening Mass, which was packed, almost reminiscent of Poland. Afterwards, in accordance with the requests of Our Lady of Fatima, I spent 15 minutes in meditation on one of the mysteries of the Rosary. I then went up to a statue depicting the Immaculate Heart of Mary, intending to say a prayer and light a candle – but the candle rack was full. To one side however, the candelabra of the corresponding statue of the Sacred Heart had one empty space, at the top centre. Thus I took the opportunity to dedicate to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ, a pilgrimage whose special protection would be entrusted to St Joseph, St Martin of Tours, and Dr David Livingstone.

   After this I was on the lookout for a pub or café, where I could sit down and update the diary. Entering what looked like a good candidate, at first there seemed nothing much untoward in a bit of Union Jack bunting about the place, but I soon became conscious of having walked into one of the most sectarian pubs in Great Britain – in fact, I didn’t even see anything more extreme when I later visited Northern Ireland (though I’m sure you could find examples there if you looked hard enough). Besides a profusion of Glasgow Rangers shirts and associated trappings, there was a stylised red, white and blue framed picture of Paul Gascoigne, doing his infamous ‘air-flute’ routine,[2] and behind the bar a certificate of some kind, with the word ‘ULSTER’ in large letters at the top, but I didn’t look too closely. Thankfully, a couple of things counted in my favour, so that in spite of being a Catholic, if I didn’t panic I stood a fair chance of being able to walk out of there without serious long-term injury. The first was that, as an Englishman, I didn’t automatically arouse any suspicion. The second, was that although there was some quite serious drunkenness in evidence, the mood was cheerful, by and large. With a 1:0 win over – would you believe it – Berwick Rangers at Ibrox that afternoon (watched by a crowd of over 50,000), Glasgow Rangers had just clinched the Scottish Division 3 title[3]. I decided not to turn tail and walk immediately back onto the street, for fear of affronting anyone, but instead ordered a blackcurrant cordial drink and sat down with it for perhaps 10 minutes. An inebriated youth at the next table saw the red terracotta cross around my neck (from the Northern Cross pilgrimage), and made a jokey replica out of a couple of beer mats; I responded by making a thumbs-up gesture, in a non-sarcastic, non-provocative way.

   After a picnic supper in High Blantyre, a section of the path to East Kilbride that evening was reminiscent of the West Highland Way. Sleeping options however looked scanty, until around 10pm, when I found myself in the apparently public grounds of a school, St Andrew and St Bride’s, whose motto is Deus solem sufficet – ‘God alone suffices’.  The next day being Sunday and not therefore a school-day, I made use of a great little alcove in the entrance to the school chapel, from where a statue of Our Lady and a crucifix could be seen inside.

   On both my two previous big pilgrimages, I adhered strictly to a policy of avoiding the precincts of certain American fast-food outlets, above all because they tend to foster such a profligate and short-term attitude to consumption. In East Kilbride on that morning of Sunday 5th May however, I realised that the only place I’d be able to update my diary and get a much-desired coffee, would be at a branch of one of these chains, in a central shopping mall. Legitimately or not, I justified this by reflecting that I often patronised coffee shop chains that were hardly better. A sports shop window nearby had a picture of Kenny Dalglish in his Scottish international days – one of the greatest British players of any era.

[1] May 1st, like Livingstone’s birthday, is also a major feast of St Joseph – St Joseph the Worker in this case.
[2] “In January 1998 Gascoigne courted serious controversy after he played a mock flute (symbolic of the flute-playing of Orange Order marchers) during an Old Firm match at Celtic Park.” [Wikipedia]
[3] Glasgow Rangers had been demoted to play in the 3rd Division that season, for reasons of financial mismanagement. Meanwhile, a Scottish Cup game in which Berwick defeated Glasgow Rangers 1:0 in January 1967 is interwoven into Berwick Rangers folklore. Interestingly, since the Glasgow club’s two strikers were made scape-goats for that result, in the following summer a then domestic record fee of £65,000 was paid to bring Alex Ferguson to Ibrox from Dunfermline Athletic.

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