Scotland’s Hot-Spots and Pot-Holes: A Wee Tour

What self-respecting whistle-stop tour of Scotland could begin with anything other than a picture of the Bronx?

It pretty much goes without saying – except for the fact that I’m currently saying it – that we’re all different. People are different; places are different. People are different because of places, and places are different because of people. Some places are good, some places are bad; some are happy, some are sad; some are absolutely beautiful, some are Kilmarnock. Vive la difference! Taking a stroll through the posher portions of Corstorphine doesn’t feel quite the same as a wee jog through the Bronx, for the simple reason that there are far, far fewer cunts in the Bronx.

You needn’t travel half-way around the world to see such stark contrasts between places. Look in the next city over, or the next town, or the next street. Small steps can reveal seismic shifts in mood, architecture, diversity and affluence.

Case in point. Grangemouth and Bridge of Allan. Two towns nary twenty miles apart, but strikingly different, I’m sure we’ll all agree. I live in the former, and couldn’t afford a house in the latter even if Bridge of Allan were to be razed to cinders by a 700-megaton nuclear strike.

Yes, Mr Andrew, I can see that this property’s caught your eye. At offers over £500,000, this cosy impact crater filled with thousands of irradiated skulls is something of a steal. A lot of people would give their eye-teeth to live here and, believe me, thanks to the fallout, a lot of people now literally have them.”

Grangemouth at night: Bladerunner meets Dante’s Inferno, via The Wire

Grangemouth is famous for sky-cancer, violence, drugs, drinking, destitution, pollution, prostitution, deprivation, and Kay Adams. Bridge of Allan is famous for being twinned with ‘Raised Walkway of Colin’, New Hampshire, USA.

Grangemouth’s town centre comprises mainly fast-food outlets and betting shops. Bridge of Allan’s high street boasts a rich blend of bespoke brands, shops and outlets, that only a cousin of the queen could afford to shop in. Both of the towns have charity shops. There’s a slight difference in number. Bridge of Allan has one; Grangemouth has 19,658. Each and every one of Grangemouth’s charity shops smells like the soup-splattered bloomers of an incontinent octogenarian grandmother (‘Today’s special is broccoli soup with a soupcon of piss”); they sell things like nicotine-stained doillies; microwave instruction manuals from 1983 (that have all been vandalised with crayon-drawn pictures of penises); and MC Hammer albums on cassette (that somebody’s taped over with the game ‘Horace Goes Skiing’ for the ZX Spectrum).

Bridge of Allan’s charity shop, on the other hand, is actually a boutique, darling. It’s called ‘Mrs Periwinkle’s Benevolence-themed Haberdashery for Those of High Breeding’, and it sells pre-loved harps and tiaras made from unicorn teeth.

There’s the bridge. Allan’s just behind that tree. No, not that tree, the one next to it.

Just in case you’re not getting the picture here, I’d like to draw your attention to Bridge of Allan’s chip shop, which has a sign in the window declaring it ‘Gluten Free’. Not even kicks to the head are gluten-free in Grangemouth. Last time I was in Bridge of Allan, I found  only one example of street-littering. The litter? A handful of mussel shells. Bridge of Allan couldn’t be any more genteel and middle-class if somebody knitted it a giant Pringle sweater, and drove it away in a fucking Volvo. Even the graffiti on the bus shelter is in Latin (I believe the bus shelter’s just been purchased for £500k by a Saudi sheik).

Still, one man’s palace is another man’s hovel. People from Dollar and Dunblane think of Bridge of Allan’s residents as ‘schemies’.

“Well, McKenzie, I heard that in Bridge of Allan they drive their children to cello recital… (whispers) in BMWs.”

“Oh, Florence, those fucking savages.”

Linlithgow: a traffic jam with some bunting.

Just along the road from Grangemouth is the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow. It’s a town that’s steeped in history, prestige and affluence, sure, but it’s also a town that is, paradoxically, something of a shite-hole. Linlithgow’s worst feature is the architectural atrocity known as The Vennel, a retail and housing development that I guess developers and council officials fifty-plus years ago thought would give a modern, even futuristic, sheen to the town, but which now, in the cold light of day, makes it look like the 1960s have thrown up over the 1750s. The single road that cuts through the middle of Linlithgow’s high-end high-street is permanently clogged with traffic, which makes a trip through the town feel like being stuck behind the funeral procession of the person you hated most in the world whilst running late for the first day in your new job as a ‘Punctuality Co-ordinator’ for Linlithgow Council.

The name Linlithgow means ‘place in the lake by the damp hollow.’ Historians believe that the ‘damp hollow’ being referred to here is Bo’ness, a town that was built to serve as Mary Queen of Scots’ toilet. Bo’ness is in the process of being regenerated, but, regrettably, it’s being regenerated into Colin Baker. To be fair to Bo’ness, despite the fact that its town centre has all the vibrancy and razzmatazz of 1930s Albania, and its annual children’s festival is an alcoholic apocalypse, Bo’ness is actually a perfectly fine place to find oneself (as long as you don’t use words like ‘oneself’ in the open, or they’ll kill you). It will probably never find its name included in Scotland’s unofficial roster of shame, alongside less-than-salubrious towns such as Methil, New Cumnock, Cumbernauld, parts of Paisley and, of course,…  

Cowdenbeath’s hottest tourist attraction

Cowdenbeath? Cowdenbeath? What sort of a name is Cowdenbeath? It sounds like the act of explaining a slaughterhouse to a stupid person.

“Cow… den wheelbarrow?”

“Nope.”

“Cow den horse?”

“Try again.”

“Cow den beef?”

“You got it, smarty-pants!”

On the evidence of my one short trip there, filtered through the focal point of its local Co-op supermarket, Cowdenbeath IS a slaughterhouse; a slaughterhouse of the soul. It’s Slaughterhouse 1, 2, 3, 4 AND 5. Take the ‘laughter’ out of the ‘slaughterhouse’, and what are you left with? S-house. And that’s short for shit-house. Cow-incidence? I think not. Walking through the Cowdenbeath Co-op was like walking through the final level of a zombie FPS. Driving down its high street led me to believe that someone, somewhere is making an awful lot of money from the sale of plywood window-boards.

Still. There are worse places…

Imagine if Irvine Welsh made a film set amongst the Orcs of Tolkein’s Middle Earth, starring Jeremy Kyle as himself. You’ve just imagined Alloa. The tagline of Clackmannanshire, the town’s parent district, is ‘More Than You Imagine’; Alloa’s tagline is ‘It Really Is Just As Shit As It Looks, I’m Afraid.’ In fact, it’s even shitter than it looks. The bleakness and hopelessness of the place is somehow bigger on the inside, and the deeper you plod towards its centre, the more pronounced the effects become, like some haunted TARDIS controlled by the ghosts of Nazis. God seems to have taken great care when creating most of the places on earth; when he made Alloa he just poured a bucket of tattoos and limps over Central Scotland. I’ve never been so depressed and afraid walking through a town, and I’m from Grangemouth, remember? The last – and only time – I visited I took my son to a Manhattan-themed cafe for lunch. The Manhattan theme was an ill-fit, like lingerie on a corpse. If it resembled Manhattan at all, it was a Manhattan that King Kong had thumped and shat over. 

That’s not Alloa’s only incongruous (or Kingkonggruous, if you like) association. I find it cruel indeed that Alloa’s name is only one altered emphasis away from being a Hawaiian greeting, when Alloa is to Hawaii what Donald Trump’s ballsack is to … well, Hawaii. The impression conjured by that assocation with the South Pacific makes Alloa seem even worse by comparison. If you do receive a garland around your neck to mark your arrival in Alloa it’s more likely to be made of a burning tyre than lei. Please feel free to make your own joke about the wisdom of looking for a lei in Alloa.  

Throughout the course of this piece of writing I’ve catalogued a smattering of towns and highlighted some of the differences between them; all filtered, of course, through my own biases and prejudices, and written very much with tongue planted firmly in cheek (except for the bits about each of the towns I’ve mentioned – I meant every word). But do you know who else holds ideas about the differences that exist between places? Who not only knows about these differences, but can quantify them to the billionth decimal place, and will almost certainly use this data to take over the entire universe?

Asda.

That’s right. Asda. If you’re ever on the road and find yourself pin-balling between motorway service stations and retail parks, visit a broad sample of Asdas and have a good look at the things they sell. There are standards and staples, sure, products you’ll find in every Asda up and down the country, but sometimes the goods on the shelves – or the absence of particular goods – can speak volumes about the town in which you find yourself. Sometimes the look and feel of an Asda – the features it has – lets you know just what the retail giant’s evil overlords think of your town, or the town you’re in.    

The picture above is of Asda in Robroyston, and shows the police clearing up after the daily 11:30 murder. This Asda is bigger and boasts more mod-cons than its Grangemouth cousin, but inside it’s a green-and-grey carnival of lumpy people, whose faces have been morphed into masks of despair by the onslaught of life. This Asda makes the one in Grangemouth seem like a Monte Carlo Mardi Gras. Asda Robroyston does special deals on packs of razor blades, spades, body bags, and allows you to buy as much fucking paracetemol as you like.

Never mind the Office of National Statistics. There’s no better way to take the socio-economic pulse of the local area than a stroll through your local Asda. What’s that you’ve picked up there? Ah, a cumin and broccoli risotto sprinkled with shredded hundred-pound notes. I don’t know exactly where you are, but it’s probably not Fauldhouse, right? Have a look around the George department, why don’t you, try on some of the clothes. Are you wearing a £1.99 T-shirt with a picture of Tweety Pie on it, and cow-print leggings? Goooooooooood morning, Cambuslang!    

A trip round Asda in Bearsden will make you feel like a pauper, even if you’re a chartered accountant from Queensferry called Gerald. The place is big, and fresh, and clean. The cafe has mood lighting, for Christ’s sake. It looks like a trendy Scandinavian vodka bar. The check-out staff are all part-time astrophysicists. The people who shop there are unfailingly beautiful, and those who aren’t are at least immaculately turned out. No small wonder, since the clothes on sale in the George department wouldn’t look out of place in downtown Milan.

See below for a picture of Asda Bearsden.

Asda Bearsden

These big supermarkets hold data that could swing elections, and help governments address such over-arching global and societal problems as inequality, poverty and hunger. That they use their power to sell me £3 jeans and Pepperamis is almost unconscionable. Anyway, I can’t hang around here all day.

I’m off to Asda in Ayr to get myself a chocolate-flavoured brick of lard sandwich and a sub-machine gun.

How Tesco Takes Over the World

t1Tesco won’t assume total control overnight. Other corporations and multi-nationals will pave the way. These companies will take over the nations of the earth in bloodless, though economically aggressive, coups, and then re-brand them in their own hellish images. The United Kingdom will become the United Kingdom of Benetton. And later Great British Home Stores.

Ireland will become Iceland. Iceland will become Farmfoods. I know they had first dibs on the name Iceland, but there’s only 40, 000 of them, and even the town of Irvine could take them in a fight. Besides, we owe them nothing. They tried to bugger our economy a few years ago… I forget the details, because it was all incredibly boring, but I’m pretty sure they did something to us, whatever it was. Gordon Brown got mad, like really furious, and I’m pretty sure he said, ‘Some cunt’s getting fisted for this!’ I’m paraphrasing slightly. But he is from Giffnock, so it’s a believable outburst.

And let’s not forget that Iceland’s pesky volcanoes could stop us from flying out to Benidorm AT ANY SECOND. For that alone they should be cast into a deep ocean trench for all eternity. TO NEVER AGAIN SEE THE LEANING TOWER OF BENIDORM? THE GREAT WALL OF BENIDORM? THE HANGING GARDENS OF BENIDORM? I don’t want to live in that fucking world.

Scotland will become Poundland, because it’s full of fat people with no money. England will become B&Q, because it’s full of planks and tools; and Wales will become the Original Wool Company, because I’ve just been possessed by the ghost of Jim Davidson – a nifty trick, considering he’s (unfortunately) still alive.

The pig will have its revenge.

The pig will have its revenge.

Eventually, Tesco will take over the United Kingdom of Benetton, and change its name to Tesco Island. This won’t happen until after the great Supermarket wars, of course. Morrisons and Sainsbury’s will fall first. In fact, Tesco TV will broadcast the messy public executions of Allan Hansen and Jamie Oliver. They’ll be suffocated to death by Tesco carrier bags. And it won’t be quick, either. Cause it’ll take the executioner about 20 minutes to separate the bags from each other, even after he’s rubbed his hands on his jacket and licked his fingers. Jamie Oliver’s dying face will then be used to advertise Turkey Twizzlers, with the catchy slogans: ‘Ding Dong the Snitch is Dead,’ ‘What Are You Waiting For? Get Scoffing, You Fat Little Cunts,’ and ‘Now With Added Jamie Oliver.’

Lidl's mighty soup range: full of spew-trition.

Lidl’s mighty soup range: full of spew-trition.

Asda falls next. And thenceforth, anyone caught playfully patting the change in their back pocket will be shot dead. In time it will become the underground symbol of resistance, and only the most heroic will dare to pat their ass pockets. Lidl will put up the best fight, drawing Tesco into a dirty guerilla war in eastern Europe. The mighty Tesco army will advance across the plains: six million mechanised shopping trolleys armed with ballistic coin dispensers. Brave Lidl workers will fire deadly cannons filled with tins of 12p soup from the former Yugoslavia. Any human prisoners caught by the Lidl rebels will be forced to eat the soup, which is even deadlier in its liquid form than ballistic. I say liquid… we all know that stuff comes out of the can looking like a gelatinous 3D representation of a can of juice, and smells like a meaty urine infection. You could knock someone unconscious with it AFTER you’ve removed it from the can. Whatever: one forkful of that syrupy shit, and death is certain.

t4There will be so many branches of Tescos that asking for directions will assume the complexity and pointlessness of a Dan Brown novel.

‘Ah, you’re looking for Tesco Elms, in Tescoton? Certainly, sir, head down Tesco Boulevard, take a right on Tesco Lane, left on Tesco Street, past the lights on Tesco Grove, through Tesco Avenue, on to Tesco Street VIII, hook a left, and you can’t miss it, it’s just after the seventh Tesco on the right. You know, you’ll pass the Tesco Megastore, the Tesco Hyperstore, the Tesco Superstore, the Tesco Metro, the Tesco Compact, the Tesco Micro, and the Tesco Teeny Weeny… it’s after that one. Across the road from the Tesco Titty Bar. Next to the Tesco funeral parlour.’

Because you’ll get a Tesco funeral; a Tesco Finest one if you’re rich. It’ll be great. You’ll be buried in a golden coffin, and they’ll serve chicken Balmoral and expensive French cheese at your wake. A bit skint? Never mind. Have a Tesco Value funeral. Your coffin’ll be a giant plastic, Tesco Value pedal bin. Versatile, because if you fancy an open casket funeral, your loved ones can simply stand on the pedal.

‘Oh, you’ve done a lovely job on his face. Why the whiskers though?’
‘Tesco Value, love. Mortuary guys are expensive. We could only get a child’s face-painter. He thought a jolly pink tiger best captured your dead husband’s essence.’

 

This picture's existence means some other cunt beat me to the Tesco Value funeral idea, but let's just pretend I made this picture myself, right? Good.

This picture’s existence means some other cunt beat me to the Tesco Value funeral idea, but let’s just pretend I made this picture myself, right? Good.

Your relatives will stand at the wake devouring tubes of 48p poloni slicing sausage, washed down with that lemonade that tastes like it’s been devised by a homeopath – a millionth of lemonade dribbled into a litre of fizzy water; that shit makes Soda Stream taste good.

Eventually there’ll be no more room for Tescos on the surface of the Earth, or even on the Moon. They’ll have to pump money into Innerspace technology. Shrink them down. Eventually open a Tesco inside a minor celebrity’s body:

‘This is the 10 o’clock news. PM David Cameron, Howard from the Halifax ads and ex-Eastender’s heart-throb Pat Butcher were just some of the special guests shrunk down to the size of a bacterium to attend the grand opening of the world’s first Tesco Intestinal store… up Keith Chegwin’s arse.’