McIlvanney’s Glasgow

Heading for Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games? Then have a look at the city as it was until recently through the eyes of Detective Inspector Jack Laidlaw. William McIlvanney’s trilogy of Laidlaw novels, Laidlaw (1977), The Papers of Tony Veitch (1983) and Strange Loyalties (1991), had shamefully been out of print until the start of this year, when that enterprising publisher Canongate, which had snapped up his back catalogue, republished them with several of his other titles.

Glasgow — “a hard town but a terrifically warm one”, in the words of McIlvanney — is as central to Laidlaw as Oxford is to Morse or Edinburgh to Rebus. The detective’s view of it, though, is not necessarily one that a tourist board would be keen to promote, especially this year:

“Sunday in the park — it was a nice day. A Glasgow sun was out, dully luminous, an eye with cataract. Some people were in the park pretending it was warm, exercising that necessary Scottish thrift with weather which hoards every good day in the hope of some year amassing a summer.

“The scene was a kind of Method School of Weather — a lot of people trying to achieve a subjective belief in the heat in the hope of convincing one another.  So the father who lay on the grass, railing in his children with his eyes, wore an open-necked shirt, letting the sun get at his goose-pimples. Two girls who were being chatted up by three boys managed to look romantically breeze-blown rather than cold. An old man sitting on a bench had undone the top two buttons of his overcoat, heralding heatwave…

“But it was the children who were most convincing. Running, exploring bushes, they had that preoccupation which is at any time a private climate. It was one of them who found the reality hidden in the park’s charade of warmth.”

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