Dispatch #2: A Day in Paisley

 

We took the train to Paisley. It’s about an hour ride from Ayr. The two-way trip costs about $21 USD. Paisley is home to another University of West Scotland campus. A much larger campus, it is located about a 10-minute walk from the train station, which is located just off the town square. Paisley bills itself as Scotland’s largest town. Indicating, I suppose that it is not a city like Glasgow, which is only about a 12-minute train trip from Paisley. Ayr on the other hand, is a beach town and its campus is more like a community college with a residence hall. Paisley is full of history, as is Ayr, as is all of Scotland.

It was my idea to go into Paisley. The UWS was hosting the Paisley Book Fest. There was a presentation in the evening about C.J. Cooke’s latest book – The Lighthouse Witches – that I was keen to hear. Since the event didn’t take place until 6 p.m., my flatmate Renee and I had all day to explore Paisley.

I, naturally, had done my homework, learning all about the textile industry of Paisley prior. The Swift Mills were a significant contributor to the industry and growth of my hometown in Columbus, Georgia. And, of course, the Pendleton Woolen Mills were a part of the landscape of our children’s growing up in Pendleton, Oregon. One of my favorite books is Wiley Cash’s The Last Ballad which speaks to the textile industry of North Carolina. So it was interesting to think about the threads that tie us to places.

“Nobody bought thread when we were growing up,” said Mary Scott, one of the locals we met. The reason they didn’t buy thread is because it was so plentiful, you could just have a friend bring you some home from the mills. Mary and her husband AC were kind enough to explain to us some of the memorials we were studying upon. Like the one of Queen Victoria which had her back to the other memorials. She was supposed to be facing the town square the Scotts explained, but the city forefathers got upset when she didn’t show up for a scheduled event, so they turned her away from town, indicating that Queen Victoria had turned her back on the town. Despite the fact that it was Queen Victoria who in 1842 reportedly bought numerous Paisley shawls from local weavers and thus, created a fashion and economic boom for the town. The Paisley pattern originated in India, but by the 1860s there were over 70 Paisley shawl manufacturers in town. Of course, The Beatles helped revive the pattern again in the 1960s, and Goldie Hawn did her share of promoting the Paisley pattern, from which the town derives its name.

The memorial we spent the most time talking about, however, was the one dedicated to the children who died in the Hogmanay Glen Cinema. Hogmanay is the Scot’s New Year eve. On that day, mothers sent their children to the local cinema were they could get in for a pence. Brothers and sisters, cousins and friends, all went to the cinema so that their mothers could clean their houses, Mary told us. On Dec. 31, 1929, over 700 children, from infancy to 14-years crowded into the cinema for the afternoon matinee. Once the doors were closed and the lights went out, the assistant film operator noticed smoke coming from the film canister. He attempted to smother it, to put out any flames but that just created more smoke. Someone reportedly yelled “Fire” and the panicked children ran for the doors, which had been padlocked and were intended to open inwards anyway, which even when the padlocks were unlocked, the crush of panicked children kept the doors from swinging inward.

Over forty children were injured and 71 children died, mostly crushed to death. The Scotts had a family member who sat quietly in his seat during the panic and thus, he survived.

It is considered one of the worst disasters in Scotland’s history

The family members who lost children that day continue to grieve them. Loss is something the Scots, of course, have had to come to terms with, much like the Vietnamese.  I am not sure Americans have ever learned to come to terms with grief. We seem to get stuck in anger, poking the eye of God as it were, and never moving beyond even the most minor of grievances.  As my friend Peter in Vietnam once told me: We had to come to a peace with it. We’ve been at war for a 1,000 years.

Americans carry on about how exceptional we are, how God has blessed us when what we really mean is that we have never suffered the way other nations have, except by and large as a result of our own doing, like the Jan 6th Capitol Riot. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are both considered to be full of bullocks by many of the locals. They wouldn’t be wrong about that. It’s a toss up as to which one is more full of it. One fellow told me he’d like to hold them both down and shave their heads with the clippers. I’d pay good money to see that, wouldn’t you? Perhaps when he goes to prison… 

Unfortunately due to Covid restrictions, the museums and art galleries were closed. I hope they open before long so that we can visit them. For the most part, people here take Covid seriously. I don’t feel uncomfortable moving about. I continue to wear a mask and haven’t seen one MAGA hat or mask since I left the US. I don’t feel like I have to worry much about Covid, primarily because I am fully vaccinated and boosted and feel like for the most part, due to universal healthcare, the Scots are as well. I rarely see someone not wearing a mask, and on the occasion that you do, they are wearing a little badge noting their exempt status.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pubs and restaurants are full but servers continue to mask up and encourage safe seating. We found a terrific place to have a real American hamburger – The Keg – just off the town center. The fella who runs the joint told us he’d just returned from Vegas a week ago. And I was elated to find a Starbucks. The coffee in Scotland is the opposite of the coffee in Vietnam. They may make their whisky strong but their coffee is mostly milk. I’ve learned not to order a latte, and to get a black coffee instead. This is a cup of the black coffee I ordered.

The evening event was everything I hoped it would be, informative and entertaining. I was delighted to learn about a new podcast – Witches of Scotland – hosted by Zoe Venditozzi, Author, and Claire Mitchell, QC. Zoe was the moderator interviewing C.J. Cooke about her book. Zoe is incredibly knowledgeable about the misogyny and patriarchy that led to women being labeled witches. We still do it, she noted, pointing out how media and Social Media alike vilify Hillary Clinton, Alexander Ocasio Cortez, and Scotland’s Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who will be one of the upcoming guests at the Paisley Book Fest.

If I attend, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, you can hop over to the website for the festival and attend your own events virtually for a small fee.

It’s not the same as being in Scotland but you are sure to learn something you didn’t know before.

 

Karen Spears Zacharias is a graduate student at the University of West Scotland and author of the upcoming book, The Murder Gene (May’22).

 

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

8 Comments

about 6 months ago

What a treat on a frigid Sunday morning in northern Minnesota. Thank you for your dispatches so I can do a bit of traveling, too.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 5 months ago

Happy to bring them to you, albeit, even on sunny days, it's cold, cold, cold here, too.

Reply

Reid

about 6 months ago

Thank you, Karen, for sharing! I always enjoy your posts! Stay safe and have a blast!!!

Reply

Joan Schearer

about 6 months ago

Did they say why the movie house doors were padlocked? Queen Elizabeth just tested positive for COVID. Love the blog.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 5 months ago

They didn't say why they padlocked the doors. I assumed to protect the kids and keep them from wandering about. And yes, the Queen has been ill since my arrival. It's worrisome.

Reply

Pat Jordan

about 6 months ago

You are a walking talking miracle! A blessing and I thank goodness for you!

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 5 months ago

Awww....

Reply

Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt

about 5 months ago

Love this dispatch, Karen. The nice thing about the closed museums is that you can return and devote a day just to those. What a fabulous program, Witches of Scotland. Bless the witches and all those smart talented, women who paved the way for the rest of us! Sylvia

Reply

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