A wet walk in a Glaswegian graveyard might not be your idea of fun, but then you might not have spent the past two hours in the Glasgow Science Centre. Endure that, and see the sodden Necropolis stroll swell in allure.
The Science Centre is one of the emblems of the new Glasgow. Rising from the old docklands on the south side of the Clyde, beside the BBC at Pacific Quay, it is one of the shouty new buildings leading the regeneration of the old shipbuilding areas. These buildings and their outlying friends still look like awkward blow-ins here, isolated blobs of glitter studding the wasteland. There’s not yet much sense of any connection with Govan Road, 200 yards to the west, but people are certainly coming here from somewhere for something, and in their multitudes.
The Science Centre is a vogueish sort of place that encourages absolutely everything except contemplation. It screams fun at its visitors, especially children, who are duped into thinking they are in a play park and who behave accordingly. My four-year-old kept asking to go on the bouncy castle even though, quite surprisingly, there wasn’t one. Instead we put him through the face-ageing machine. It took his photo and then revealed how appalling he will look in ten years’ time if he chooses to spend the decade boozing, and how much worse he’ll look if he’s been on the fags as well. Salutary larks.
Meanwhile, a lunatic press of children with green mohicans and replica football shirts yank levers, spin magnets, measure their heartbeats and twist hyperboloids for a few seconds apiece before dashing to the next attraction. The amount of scientific knowledge gleaned from these interactions is evidently zero but everyone seems to be having a splendid time. Or almost everyone.
I despise the mania, but I have our trip to the Necropolis to look forward to. When the time comes to drag the happy boy from the plastinated lung display, he collapses in protest and screams, awkwardly and repeatedly, ‘I don’t want to go to the graveyard!’ Nevertheless, to the graveyard he went and, as it turns out, he had even more fun there because it was raining and it was a big wet hill full of wet trees and wet puddles and the quiet threat of ghosts.
If the Science Centre represents Glasgow’s lumbersome transition from shipyard to faux-educational pleasure dome, the Necropolis still stands for the might of the Second City of the Empire. Built around 1831 on a hill behind the cathedral, this 32-acre site hosts the bones of some 50,000 Glaswegians. Bold Victorian Glasgow is represented here among many magnificent tombs, some designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh or Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson.
The Necropolis is essential Glasgow. With its greenery, quiet, and roaming views, the city of the dead remains a blessed foil to the urban thrum below and, while elsewhere the city’s heritage is erased, here at least old Glasgow will endure.