Now that the clocks have moved forward, the days are lighter and the air sweeter. No better time for me to make the third and final set of trips if I’m ever to complete this project. It’s fitting then that the first of these requires me to attend to unfinished business – Carmyle Fords, a place of some significance to my inspiration, Harry Bell, on his quest to find a fording point across the River Clyde. The location is one of several emanating from Camphill Earthwork in Queen’s Park where, less than a year ago, Moira Jones was brutally murdered. At time of writing the trial is taking place at the High Court in Glasgow where the accused, a 33-year-old Slovakian, Marek Harcar, pleads innocence. With this dark cloud hovering on my mind, I make a detour to Queen’s Park to pay my respects. Little did I know what I was about to find.
Pausing at the Pollokshaws Road gates, I’m struck by a home-made flyer for a lost dog. I’ve passed it on numerous occasions recently, but for some reason today it stands out. Then, on my way to the only public toilet in the park, by chance I meet my friend walking her dog. Our talk soon turns to the Moira Jones trial – she lives on the same block as the victim and, after no less than five visits by Strathclyde’s Finest, her partner was called as a witness.
Months ago we spent many hours speculating on the details of the crime, trying to make sense of a tragedy that, if one also dwells on the 50-plus alleged sexual assaults reported in the district in the last year, induces paranoia in all women living in this area. Today we’re none the wiser. My friend tells me how, in the heat of the police investigation, the city council promised to make the park safer – lighting, CCTV, panic poles – but so far their announcement rings hollow since to date nothing’s been done, just routine maintenance and the installation of two new children’s play areas.
My friend points out a grassy bank on the Langside Avenue end of the park where only a couple of weeks ago another murder took place, a man, discovered at night by a dog walker. Apparently the guy still had a pulse when he was found but was pronounced DOA at the Victoria Infirmary, less than a hundred yards from the spot. Hard as I look, I fail to find many details of the deceased. Unlike the Moira Jones case, this latest murder attracted scant media attention, coming second on the list in a local newspaper report –
No photograph, not even a name. A lost dog manages to get more attention. Scrambling down the bank, I find a few floral tributes, an upturned cuddly toy and the colours of both Rangers and Celtic football clubs. At least the poor guy was in someone’s thoughts. Meanwhile my friend informs me she’s tripping over hacks and camera crews on her doorstep as they report on the trial and who exercise little discrimination when it comes to photographing people on the street when not a single image of the accused has been released for public consumption.
Not wishing to deny the tragedy of Ms Jones’ murder – time was when any murder committed made the front page. But the many other murders, the casual, workaday murders, the wanton ned-on-ned murders dismissed by the police and therefore deemed unremarkable still qualify as crimes in my book, even if they go unreported in the local, never mind the national press. This is Glasgow after all, where in the collective psyche, the incidence of murder is only worthy of a mention in international league tables – such as this recent Herald article.
After a brief pitstop at ASDA, I venture on via Toryglen – last seen in a very expensive Sony commercial extolling their goods by means of coloured paint explosions. I pass Rutherglen and the Old Parish Church and the Gallowflats Mound. My last visit to Carmyle was thwarted by the weather – a summer of constant rain, good for vegetation on the banks of the Clyde, but not for sensitive electronic components in digital cameras or tired, grumpy unpaid filmmakers. Not that I’m complaining. I’m not making a bean out of this project, but at least it’s affording me the tools to pursue it. I’ve long adopted the tape and food attitude to the work in hand, so when I submit my receipt for a salad marked down to 80p I trust the Scottish Arts Council will not query it.
I go by the route I know and soon get lost. Rechecking my map, I arrive at River Road, Carmyle, just north of the Clyde and just in time, judging by the first sprouting greenery of spring. Before long I attract the attention of a passing cyclist. Frank Mahon is taking advantage of the weather. Seeing my tripod, he makes the inevitable query – am I anything to do with housing development? After putting his mind at ease, he tells me about his experience of being filmed as part of a documentary for Alzheimer Scotland, having cared for his wife for many years. I ask, what was the hardest part of caring? It’s an ill-judged question because it would take an entire book to answer, so I’m humbled when Frank replies – ‘the last five or six years’, leaving me in awe of his commitment to his late wife, just as I’m in awe of his cycling.
Turning to the subject of my purpose here, Frank informs me that indeed monks used to cross the river at this spot, adding that the area took its name from the Carmelites. A quick look at a Wikipedia entry seems to confirm this. On another site I find the following –
I dig out my OS Explorer map. Roughly a hundred metres from where we stand a weir was created to service the power station, Frank tells me, as was the now-defunct railway bridge. Pointing out a nearby pub, long closed for business, he adds that the Carmyle Bowling Club is the only place to get a drink in these parts nowadays. As he goes, I take his photograph and suggest he look up my blog.
After taking my shots, I pause for lunch. I watch two dogwalkers chatting in the lane. Seeing them, a third dogwalker with a tiny mutt in tow hesitates before passing without incident. Sitting here, I’m conscious of my obsession with the number 3, already noting the three CCTV cameras perched on the roof of the bowling club.
The comedy over, I make the short trip further upstream and sure enough, find the weir and the old railway bridge. Harry Bell got it right. The Clyde certainly looks navigable by foot from this spot, even if he makes no mention of the Carmelite monastery or the monks who crossed the water. The sun’s past its zenith now and for the first time this year I catch the scent of spring and the freshly-mown grass of the riverbank. Before too long, I tell myself, this view will be obscured again.
On my way back to the city, passing a row of shops, I can’t help but notice a sign for a tanning parlour, alongside the Carmyle Credit Union and the Shimla Tandoori. It’s called Tanquility, an apt name for this spot. I like Carmyle. It’s exactly the unprepossessing kind of place I had in mind when I set out on this journey in the hope of finding magic in ordinary places.