What have the Dalai Lama, Billy Connolly and Nelson Mandela got in common?
A desire for world peace, obviously, but apart from that their common thread has been their appearances at Glasgow's City Chambers - in the case of Billy and Nelson, to be given the Freedom of the City, and for the Dalai Lama to be guest of honour at a reception.
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Our favourite story about Glasgow's prestigious honour is the relative of a recipient getting her hair done and the hairdresser asking if it was a special occasion. "My father's getting the Freedom of the City," she proudly replied. The hairdresser quietly asked: "How long was he in for?"
As for the Dalai Lama, I was told that the council officer was instructed to ask for a round of applause from the guests before they went through to the dinner. Not sure what to say, he attempted to announce "a big hand for the Dalai Lama." Unfortunately it came out as "a big handshake for the Dalai Lama." So dinner was delayed as the 300 guests lined up to shake hands with the smiling, orange-robed priest.
At the City Chambers there is a tour twice a day full of tourists gawping at the rich Tuscany marble staircases, intricate mosaic ceilings, alabaster walls, and elaborate paintings and tapestries. It truly is one of Glasgow's wonders, although few locals bother to visit.
A tour guide last week was telling folk that 600,000 people turned up just for the laying of the foundation stone for the building in 1883. Now I know that tour guides can bend the truth, and that there was no television in Victorian times to keep folk occupied, but that was more than the population of Glasgow, so could it really be true?
Where else but check the Glasgow Herald which noted about 50,000 spectators in George Square for the ceremony. But before then, the Herald of the day explained, there was a procession through the city with thousands of people representing all the trades in Glasgow with their uniforms, colourful costumes, horses, lorries and banners, taking part. En route, says the Herald, half a million people watched the procession.
Even the Herald reporter was surprised because, as he wrote, "there was no added element to lend eclat to the proceedings." I'm more surprised that the Herald was using stylish French words such as eclat in an era known more for its detailed newspaper reportage than its flair.
There were fewer, well an awful lot fewer, folk at the City Chambers last week for the monthly meeting of Glasgow City Council. The council chambers itself within the City Chambers is an almost gloomy room of dark mahogany lined walls with the 79 councillors sitting in rich red-leather benches arranged in a semi-circle facing the Lord Provost who chairs the meeting. Behind them, in what's dubbed the bed recess as it is a reminder of that tenement style, sit the council's senior officials.
Upstairs overlooking the proceedings is the public gallery with a brass rail in front like a large private box at the theatre. But there was not much theatre at the meeting. In truth all the major business of the council is conducted in committees before the full council meeting. So instead we have a procession of committee chairpersons standing up to move their minutes and for someone else to second them. There is a green light when a councillor speaks, which turns to amber, then red, when he or she reaches the end of the time allocated. The lights are more dazzling than some of the contributions.
It was not always the case. My eyes rove over to the huge marble fireplace at the side of the chamber where diminutive Tory councillor Len Gourlay years ago once hid so that he could leap out in a tied vote and win the day.
Veteran councillor Jean McFadden, who served at the council, girl and woman, for 41 years, tells me this was journalistic licence as Len was merely hiding behind a chair at the fireplace and not actually in it. But hey, why spoil a good story?
She admits that debating was more energetic when the Tories were Labour's main opposition in the chambers. Lively public speakers such as John Young and Bill Aitken on the Tory seats, always crossed swords in an entertaining fashion with their Labour opponents. Jean thinks the present SNP opposition is too wrapped up in independence to actually concentrate on council matters.
Crossing swords ...which sparks of course another memory of the council when pompous, yet effective, Lord Provost Peter McCann returned from a trade mission to Saudi Arabia with a gold sword given to him by the Mayor of Jeddah which he then gave to the council. Another sword, a silver one, which was given to him by an Arab prince, Peter kept for himself as a personal gift. The Tory opposition was outraged, accusations flew that Peter was profiting from his post. The Lord Provost then successfully sued one of the Tory councillors for his remarks. It really was a proper stushie. Eventually both swords given to Kelvingrove Museum were stolen, and later handed back.
Other Lords Provost were more down to earth. Tommy Dingwall when LP looked out his office window, and saw some kids playing on the Cenotaph opposite. He ran down the marble staircase and across the road to tell them off.
Last week's meeting did debate a report on the consequences for Glasgow if Scotland votes for independence. The SNP accused its author, the council's chief executive George Black, of talking up fear while talking down Scotland. George, sitting in the bed recess, was disdainfully studying his fingernails at this point.
It was as exciting as it got. Next year, there are plans to possibly stream the council meeting on the internet. I'm not much of a betting man, but I wouldn't put too much money on 600,000 folk turning on to watch it.
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