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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, October 02, 2006
    The triumphal entry into Glasgow
    The M8 link road between Edinburgh and Glasgow is the first and last east-west motorway north of the M62. Some call it the dullest piece of road in the country. Others applaud its style, in the way it runs right into the centre of Glasgow, blasting a path through the city and out the other side. One man, the playwright David Greig, has walked its length, and Nick Thorpe sent me an article he wrote about Greig's trip and a BBC Scotland film of the four-day excursion, completed in 2002.

    Greig thought he knew the road until one dark November night when his engine spluttered and died, and all his perceptions changed:

    “I was forced to pull over rather suddenly somewhere in Lanarkshire,” he recalls, much in the manner of someone recounting a religious conversion. “I remember this profound feeling of being catapulted into an environment that was real - not the televisual experience you get through your windscreen from the warmth while you listen to the radio. Suddenly I was next to a field, in the rain, in the dark.”

    This epiphany prompted the walk - interestingly, east to west - which was Greig's attempt 'to re-explore and re-uncover what we pass by.' He found plenty of good material en-route. The M8 arts project sprinkles some large-scale pieces of public art along the 60-mile route, and Greig particularly enjoyed detouring to The Horn, a 72ft steel periscope rising from Polkemmet Country Park, broadcasting a long loop of different pieces of music and speech, including Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream…” and Ennio Morricone’s soundrack to A Few Dollars More, unheard by the thousands of passers by, only the cows.

    Greig also seemed to relish his arrival into Glasgow. For car drivers this stretch of road can be nightmarish, 'notorious(ly) inadequate for current traffic levels, forming two sides of a never-finished inner ring road, (with a lethal) mix of local, long-distance and commuter traffic'. On his approach into Glasgow Greig found himself overwhelmed by the “boldness” of the city in taking the motorway right into its centre.

    “It’s almost like a triumphal entry to the city, like arriving in Rome or something. The way the junctions are organised it’s like you drive under a gateway and the city rises about you as you drive into its heart.”

    In the film Greig kept saying that his writing from the walk would complete the project; but I've not yet found any evidence that he's done that yet. The walk goes on, in that case, and so does the mission, which I share:

    “Isn’t that the writer’s job,” he asks, “to look again at familiar things?”