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Intriguing glimpses into city's past

THERE are lots of ghostly little imprints of the past in Glasgow city centre, if you know where to look.

The plaque in Sauchiehall Street, for example, that commemorates the old Empire Theatre - or would commemorate it, had the plaque not disappeared ages ago.

Further up the street, towards Charing Cross, high up on an old building, faded, worn lettering advertises a long-gone business. More legible is the "Grieve Ltd" wording still on display near the top of a tall building at the junction with Garnet Street.

Across town, in the inner courtyard at Royal Exchange Court, there's a fascinating old sign. Age has chipped away at some of the wording, but the message is to the effect that any boys caught playing at something or other, "or Marbles, will be handed to the Police".

There are captivating little things like that all over the city - though probably few are as ghostly as something film-maker May Miles Thomas once encountered.

She was alone with her camera in the site of what had been Paddy's Market. Unable to get in, she put her camera on the railings to shoot footage of Shipbank Lane. Hours later, in the dead of night, she was looking over the film at home when she noticed something.

"You can see, quite distinctly, a door opening and closing. There was absolutely no wind. I never even noticed it when I was shooting it."

May's film, The Devil's Plantation, is an arresting, contemplative, 93-minute collection of short, black-and-white films she has made about Glasgow. Narrated by actors Kate Dickie and Gary Lewis, it takes as its starting point the travels made to Glasgow's significant places by Harry Bell, author of Glasgow's Secret Geometry, and a psychiatric patient called Mary Ross.

May and her camera doggedly re-traced their footsteps over two-and-a-half years, travelling a remarkable 4,000 miles in the process. She visited many cemeteries and even spent a week at the Necropolis.

Though The Devil's Plantation has rarely been screened, it was a hit at last year's Glasgow Film Festival and was nominated for an audience award.

This Friday night it is being dusted off for a screening at the Glad Cafe in Pollokshaws Road, Shawlands, at 7.30pm. May and Gary are doing a question-and-answer session, too. It's worth going to see if, like me, you are interested in Glasgow's intriguing, forgotten history.

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