ONE of the more enjoyable moments at this year’s Brit awards was when Lewis Capaldi wobbled on stage like a trifle soaked in uncut Tennessee moonshine. Some onlookers remarked at the time that he surely must be three sheets to the wind. On further refection it was agreed that more than three sheets were at play, and that Lewis must have heaved an entire laundry basket of boozed-up bonhomie onto the podium that night.

It was also noted that the West Lothian crooner was clutching a vital clue to his exuberant behaviour. A bottle of Buckfast wine, the favourite after-dinner tipple of Scotland’s shell suit class.

“Heavens!” gasped a deeply perturbed TV-watching nation, “we can’t condone such abhorrent behaviour. Especially when it comes from a chap who commands such an unhealthy influence over our impressionable youth.” At which point everyone reached for their vials of smelling salts, to prevent any untoward swooning over the chaise lounge.

Actually, only a smattering of people seemed genuinely concerned about Lewis and the Bucky bottle. And most of them had a newspaper column to file, a deadline to hit, and nothing better to be incensed about in print that week. Everyone else just shrugged, with the occasional “G’on yer sel’, big man!” thrown into the mix. People understood that it’s a music icon’s duty to shock with bad behaviour. It always has been.

Lord Reith

Most hip hop artists made their names rapping about gang culture, while the punk scene’s spiky-haired peacock preeners took their hit of fame, then overdosed on drugs. (Sayonara, Sid Vicious.) Prior to that there was Led Zep zapping the zippers off groupies, and the Rolling Stones rolling over anything that was female and in a miniskirt.

But when did such outré antics begin? When did it become all the rage to amp up the outrage? There’s no definitive answer, though I’m happy to take an educated guess. As far as I can tell, it’s all the fault of George Formby.

Think about it, Gormless George was glorifying criminal behaviour long before hip hop happened. According to UK law, voyeurism is the illegal viewing or recording of another person while they conduct private activities. Did such an edict concern our George? Not much, it didn’t. In his song When I’m Cleaning Windows, which he first belted out in one of his popular movies, Formby boasted about the amount of sneaky peeking he enjoyed while he was meant to be innocently plying his trade.

On the tune’s release, the BBC was as disgusted as any newspaper columnist spotting a bottle of tonic wine in the hand of a West Lothian crooner. The head of the corporation at the time, Lord Reith, sputtered: “If the public wants to listen to Formby singing his disgusting little ditty, they'll have to be content to hear it in the cinemas, not over the nation's airwaves.” As he was born and raised in Glasgow, Lord Reith surely must have been an expert on disgusting little ditties, so should have been obeyed by the great unwashed. But the public chose to ignore him instead, and Formby’s song become one of the biggest hits of the 1930s.

Which proves that the public loves a bad boy. Even if the bad boy plays a ukulele. It also proves, rather disturbingly, that the public has a genuine soft spot for Peeping Toms. We’re a nosey lot, and there’s nothing we like better than seeing what people get up to in the privacy of their own homes.


Which brings me (rather circuitously, I admit) to the subject of this week’s Diary at Large. You guessed it, I’m spending the day spying on Lewis Capaldi. Okay...not quite. Though only because I’m assuming Lewis has a bunch of snappy, scrappy dogs roaming his grounds, protecting him and his privacy. And those snappy, scrappy dogs are probably tanked up on the Bucky, just like their sweetly-crooning master.

Since an invasion of Capaldi’s privacy isn’t on the cards, I instead find myself, late of an evening, in Glasgow’s south side. And just like Mr Formby, I’m staring through the windows of the homes of people I don’t know. Furthermore, I’m getting away with it. (Yippee!)

Is my reckless criminality going unpunished because I’m a slippery sort of fella, who happens to be lurking in a bush while draped in khaki? Afraid not. I’m wearing a caramel-coloured duffel coat which provides as much camouflage as I’d get dressed in Elvis Presley’s Vegas-era pyjamas. (Not that I’ve ever seen a photo of Elvis in his jim-jams. Though I’m assuming they were as subdued and understated as everything else in his wardrobe.) I’m also standing quite conspicuously in the middle of the road, staring up at the windows opposite me, occasionally taking photographs of them with my mobile phone. I might as well have a neon sign above my head reading: “Yoo-hoo, house dwellers! I’m spying on you!”

So how am I getting away with such conduct? Well, for a start, I’m not the only person behaving in this murky manner. There’s a large crowd of us – men, women, children – all ogling the neighbourhood windows. We occasionally clap and cheer, too, if we spot something we all agree is particularly entertaining or memorable. Meanwhile, the people in the houses play up to our prying. Some of them sing and dance; others just cavort without musical accompaniment.

The reason for all this vibrant voyeurism? I’m at Strathbungo Window Wanderland, a curious event, now in its fourth year, where locals decorate their windows in a lavish and sometimes surreal fashion.

Why? For the entertainment of anyone who happens to be sauntering past, of course. Though most of the people on the streets tonight aren’t random rubberneckers. Like myself they arrived quite deliberately. We’re all loitering with intent; here to experience a very unusual evening.

Advent calendar

Some of the windows I stroll past are decorated with simple designs. One homeowner has painted a barcode across glass. There are also pop culture references galore. I spot the silhouette of Yoda from Star Wars, and a Harry Potter themed house.

A few images are political, and therefore tedious. A window is a transparent sheet of glass, after all, that allows light to shine through. Such glass should never be dulled by the dreary smear of dogma.

The houses are backlit by interior lighting, making the length of each street look like a glowing advent calendar. Perhaps the most impressive display is a two-storey house kitted out like a giant jukebox. And it’s a loud jukebox, at that. On the second floor of the house a live band are playing. They face the window, their music flowing onto the street.

During my window walkabout I bump into Brian Morgan, who lives nearby and is manning a stall selling decorative art made out of fragments of old Strathbungo windows. “We reclaimed them,” he explains, “and turned them into shapes that are based on a map of Strathbungo.”

The glass shapes are crafted to look decidedly quirky. I ask Brian if the average Strathbungo resident is similarly offbeat in shape.

“People living here are more likely to come from an artistic or creative background than in other parts of Glasgow,” he says, adding: “Not everyone’s like that, of course. But what most people do have in common is a sense of community. Strathbungo has a self-contained vibe. It’s a little area in a very big city, with a real village-y feel to it.”

And how far does that community feel extend, I’m curious to know. I decide to step outside the Strathbungo ‘village’ and find myself back in the city of Glasgow, where I spot a pub packed with punters. None of the tipsy tipplers look particularly disappointed to be missing out on the Window Wanderland taking place only a few metres away. The only glass object they’re intent on gazing upon is the kind that holds a pint of frothing beer.

A sign outside the pub underlines this point with understated aplomb. “The window thing is today?” it reads, then adds with a triumphantly dismissive flourish: “Whoops.”