Frisson

Those small moments of everyday ecstasy.

Frisson. A ladybird walks over the back of your hand. A chickadee feeds straight from your palm. A deer brushes by close enough for you to feel its breath on your skin. You’re filled with a rush of joy (if you are a ladybird, finch, deer loving kind of person, that is) and something akin to love, and the whole thing tickles slightly, and you want to laugh from the unexpected wonder of it but you know that if you do, the moment be spoiled, so you hold your breath and watch in fearful anticipation and hope that it lasts. Someone is running a feather over your heart and you don’t know whether to smile because it feels good or squirm because it is distinctly unsettling.

A chickadee feeds from my palm
Don’t breathe, don’t laugh

Frisson. That’s how I think of it anyway. That feeling you get from a piece of music that thrills you, from a poem that resonates perfectly, from a work of art that leaves you speechless.

Recently, I read a couple of articles on exactly this subject and it got me thinking about the physical and emotional responses that we have to art in its various forms. Andrew Scull’s article in the Times Literary Supplement gently mocked the idea of the enlightened connoisseur being overwhelmed by the sublime, their extreme sensitivity a measure of their delicacy of taste, of their elevated cultural discernment. A sensitivity not dissimilar to religious exaltation and taken to an extreme in Stendhal’s Syndrome.

Panoramic view of Florence
Florence: Frescoes and Fainting for the Oversensitive? Photo by Ghost of Kuji

But my measure of frisson is on a less dramatic scale. I’m not talking about fainting attacks in front of Florentine frescos or falling to your knees before a breathtaking view of an unfamiliar dramatic landscape as experienced by 18th century enlightened tourists on their grand tours (landscapes, incidentally, unappreciated by the vulgar and loutish peasants who are too busy actually having to work the land to contemplate the scenery). I’m talking about those small moments of everyday ecstasy. The intro to Space Oddity. The tension of unsaid words Continue reading “Frisson”

The University Café: Glasgow, Italy and Ice Cream

Pasquale in his suit and Guiseppa in her white apron, the windows full of adverts for Cadbury’s chocolate and Capstan cigarettes and, above the door, a sign masquerading as a lamp. Or a lamp masquerading as a sign. Ices.

The Soul of a City

There are certain landmarks in any city that always make the postcards or the souvenir bookmarks and mugs and tea towels, landmarks that even a stranger would recognise silhouetted against the skyline. In Glasgow, they might be the Finnieston Crane, The Mackintosh Building at the Art School, the Squinty Bridge (or the Clyde Arc to use its official name) or even the statue of the Duke of Wellington on Queen Street with his obligatory traffic cone.

But then there are those places that are less recognisable to folk who don’t know the city but which are easily identifiable to those who live there. Places which don’t shout their touristy credentials quite so loudly but which engender words like institution and hidden gem. Places barely changed for years which—because of the lives that have passed through them and the events they have marked—have come to embody the soul of the city and with which we can all illustrate our personal histories. In Glasgow, that might mean The Pavilion Theatre, for example, or the Glasgow Film Theatre, or the blue Dr Who-style Police Box at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens, or any of the numerous legendary (and I don’t use the word lightly) pubs and bars that adorn the city.

The University Café is one such place. Situated on Byres Road just around the corner from the University of Glasgow (the clue is in the name), it has been selling teas and coffees and its own ice cream to West Enders and students since 1918. It was a favourite of mine when I was a student and more recently a regular treat-stop when my nieces came to visit. My mother-in-law was brought up round the corner in Partick and remembers going there as a child. Even Jamie Oliver is a fan. There are two pages devoted to the University Café in Jamie’s Great Britain and apparently his 20 minute visit there extended to nearly an hour by the time he’d eaten breakfast and been shown how the famous ice cream is made.

Pasquale and Guiseppa

Recently, I had the enormous pleasure of chatting to Carlo Verrecchia, the current owner. In his early 60s now, he’s been working in the café since he left school, aged 16. He explained that his Italian grandparents Pasquale and Guiseppa Continue reading “The University Café: Glasgow, Italy and Ice Cream”

The Right Words in the Wrong Order

It is when things go slightly awry that the best stuff happens. At least, that’s the excuse I’m using. Welcome to my blog. It is, and no doubt will remain, a work in progress essentially describing the journey to publication of my novel The Backstreets of Purgatory and all things related to its content. For the moment that means Glasgow (where it is set) and art (Caravaggio is one of the stars of the show). But that’s just for starters. All digressions, anomalies and inconsistencies are part of a greater plan. Unfortunately I’m not sure what that is yet.

PS If you’ve signed up to my email list and haven’t received your FREE SHORT STORY, check your spam folder incase it is hiding out there. If it isn’t, contact me and I’ll make sure you get it somehow.

Man With Glasses Answer My Proust Questionnaire

Perfect happiness? A girl from Paisley named Michelle.

As you may have gathered if you’ve read my post about unknown unknowns, I’m pretty new to twitter and all that malarky and not exactly gifted at it. However, it isn’t all bad. I’ve made some pretty good discoveries since I started twitting. One of the bands I came across early on (i.e. about a month ago) are the fabulous Man With Glasses. They are based in Glasgow and hence qualify for my questionnaire. Their music is instrumental electronica, melodious and up lifting and I’m really chuffed that they agreed to answer my daft questions. Ian plays along with a fab mix of humour and sincerity.

1. What was the first music you ever paid for?

Rockin’ Over the Beat by Technotronic.

Still love this!

2. What was the most recent music that you paid for?

Trick by Jamie T.

3. What was the most recent book you read?

Seventy-Seven: My Road to Wimbledon Glory by the wonderful Andy Murray.

4. What is your favourite novel?

Of Mice and Men.

5. Who is your favourite poet?

I have not ventured into the world of poetry………

Maybe I will at some point but I prefer action more than words (maybe that is why my band Man With Glasses play only instrumental music).

6. What is your favourite work of art?

The Metamorphosis of Narcissus by Salvador Dalí.

7. What is your favourite museum?

My girlfriend’s Continue reading “Man With Glasses Answer My Proust Questionnaire”

Unknown unknowns and my Unbound adventure

The moon stuff came out of nowhere, knocked me sideways, sent me swirling into a vertiginous panic

The first time it happened, I was in the infant class at primary school. At the end of the spring term, the adorable—adored—Miss Hughes announced to her pupils that she would be getting married during the Easter holidays.

‘So what will my new name be when we come back to school?’

Left to my own devices, Rumpelstiltskin would have seemed as sensible a guess as any. No joke though, the entire class replied in unison.

‘Mrs Thompson.’

When I say entire, what I mean is entire minus one.

me-age-4-or-5
Baffled

To this day, I have not the faintest idea how my class mates came by that (correct) answer or where I was (physically or mentally) at the moment they were primed with that particular piece of information. I’d even go as far as to say that I’m fairly certain I wasn’t even aware of the possibility of a Miss to Mrs transition, never mind the idea of a whole change of surname.

So there I sat on my miniature chair at my slice of a shin-high, half-hexagonal, light-grey plastic table, while Miss Hughes basked in the radiance of her future marital happiness and the adoration of her tiny students, and was (as I remain) utterly baffled.

Another time. It’s First Year at High School. A science class and Continue reading “Unknown unknowns and my Unbound adventure”