WHEN I told some friends that I was enjoying Kevin Bridges’s first novel the looks around the table could have toasted the cinnamon on top of their artisan lattes. During the holiday season media types like us are fond of recommending summer reads.
Conversations about books in coffee shops quickly become games of social monopoly. You quickly try to recall the winner of this year’s Booker or Whitbread and roughly what it was about. The trick is to get your bit in early. And then you say: “I’m reading Tomb Of Sand: very profound and with a message for the times we live in.”
It matters not that you’ve only read an on-line review or that you avoid mentioning the author’s name, Geetanjali Shree principally because you don’t know any of her other works.
All that matters is that Tomb Of Sand is the winner of the Booker prize and that no-one will gainsay you because they don’t want to be accused of not knowing who the winner was.
When such conversations occur, I usually take refuge in a cheeky wee Hilary Mantel.
A book with bite
KEVIN Bridges’s novel is called The Black Dog, whose chief protagonist Declan stacks supermarket shelves by day and attends a writing class at night as he clings to his dream of becoming a writer. I found it edgy, dark, funny and perceptive … and very sharply observed.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that one of the UK’s cleverest comedians has written a decent novel. Bridges finds humour in daily human transactions. Often, he simply amplifies incidents and situations, and incidents which had already caused public mirth and then dramatises them. I’m thinking about the Rangers FC face-painter here.
I won’t give any plotlines away, but early on he deploys the phrase “inebriation deficit”. This is when you arrive late for a major bevvy session and ways of catching up quickly with your chums.
In Bridges’s book, this is achieved by purchasing a quarter bottle of vodka en route, topping up a half-full Coke bottle and tanning it on the way, a process he calls a “Coke vodka mixology”.
Words of mouth
ANOTHER Scottish working-class writer, meanwhile, continues to flourish. Sophie Gravia found success last year with her novel, A Glasgow Kiss.
The sanitised blurb for A Glasgow Kiss would be something like: “The hilarious adventures of Glasgow nurse as she navigates the treacherous waters of online dating.” A more accurate strapline might be: “Good, Bad, Ugly: a user’s guide to getting a decent lumber in the west of Scotland.”
It was written with wit, a lot of street wisdom and compassion. It introduced me to concepts and practices that made me feel I’d led a sheltered and Trappist existence. And that these ships were now disappearing beyond the stairlift.
Last week, at the Corinthian entertainment emporium on Glasgow’s Ingram Street, Sophie launched What Happens in Dubai, her follow-up to A Glasgow Kiss. Sadly, but probably fortunately, I had other duties to attend to and couldn’t be there. But a couple of female friends did attend and reported back.
It was, they both said, hoaching with “Glasgow glamour”, by which I think they meant that every woman – young and old – looked like they had dressed for the Oscars and that they had all carried it off effortlessly.
Apparently, there were no blokes present … apart from fit and gorgeous drinks waiters who had neglected to wear anything at all. I’m still not sure if my friends were joking.
And besides, there must surely be a Sunday bylaw in Glasgow that deals with that sort of thing.
LONG before the Corinthian, Glasgow’s demi-monde enjoyed long liquid lunches at a little basement trattoria at the top of Buchanan Street called Caprese.
It specialised in the stripped-back “nessuna sciocchezza” school of Italian cooking under the eye of Don Costanzo, the charismatic and bandana-wearing owner.
Critical to Caprese’s unique charm was that three generations of the Don’s family worked there and made their customers and their families feel part of theirs too. The family was forced to quit the restaurant when the city council revealed its plans for a more modern retail feel to accompany Buchanan Galleries.
They resisted a compulsory purchase order for as long as they could before succumbing when members of staff began encountering low-level intimidation in the form of access lanes being blocked off and bins remaining mysteriously unemptied.
Now, just 23 years after Buchanan Galleries opened, it will be demolished and replaced with a £825m development combining “a multi-purpose shopping, residential and office quarter”.
The existing Buchanan Galleries is a charmless, sprawling mess which makes Cumbernauld town centre look like Las Ramblas. They could do worse than inviting Don Costanzo and his red bandana to return from his current location further west.