Sarah Geraghty . . . on Glasgow growing up

Sat, Jul 19, 2014, 01:00

We’re strolling through Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens, a bottle of Prosecco under one arm, a city rental bike under the other when a man approaches with

an almost impenetrable accent: “Soarrrry, girls d’ya mind me askin’ how d’ya find the bikes?” Sorry? “The bikes. How d’ya find them?” We’ve been here about three hours and he’s the sixth local to ask us the same question. We think it’s the same question, anyway.

It’s odd. Maybe we have the sleek air of a velodrome-champion like Chris Hoy about us, I suggest to my sister. “Are they heavy?” asks a lad, caressing a saddle slightly alarmingly. He’s serious. He actually wants to know if the bikes are heavy.

That’s how we discover that Glasgow’s new on-street bike rental scheme is only a week old. Which is why we’ve become de facto city bike guides in the city of deep-fried Mars bars and Irn-Bru.

We try to remember what Dublin city was like before Dublin Bikes but it seems now that the transition was so painless (was it?), there is nothing to remember.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, the talk is that they’re adapting to them way more speedily than those snotty Londoners with their Boris Bikes, although the figures are a bit iffy. One thing is certain: Glaswegians are spending a lot more time with theirs. The average hire in Glasgow lasts 58 minutes, compared with just 17 minutes in London and a very efficient 13 in Dublin.

What are they doing on those bikes for that long? Well, we know that one intrepid couple cycled all the way to Loch Lomond on their People Make Glasgow-branded, three-speed steed. That’s about 30 miles away. A 60-mile round trip.

Has anyone gone this far on a Dublin bike – from the city centre to say, Punchestown racecourse?

We’re considering offering our bike ambassador services to Glasgow City Council when we find ourselves making an unplanned approach to Edinburgh across a fairly terrifying fly-over. With some beeping and flailing of fists we decide to call it a night.

It is five years since I was last in Glasgow. Back then I was studying in Edinburgh, where a proper Scottish accent was almost exotic, so for a real dose of Scotland, we would hop a Megabus to Glasgow to stock up at Primark, or for gigs at the dusty, rowdy old Barrowlands Ballroom – “probably the best wee venue in the world”. The whole area had a dicey feel to it which was part of the attraction.

Afterwards, we would leg it back to a far more refined Edinburgh, the castle on the hill serving as our homing beacon.

Well, from where we’re standing now, Glasgow looks like it has finally moved out of the JK Rowling-shaped shadow of the capital.

And we happen to be here as it all kicks off.

The bikes are only a part of it.

Next Wednesday, Rod Stewart and SuBo will launch the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. If a close relative wasn’t involved, we probably wouldn’t even know they were on. But on the ground, these games are a big deal – hardly a surprise with 71 participating countries and a potential TV audience of about a billion.

Our closest bike station is at George Square, where for a tenner, you can get your photo taken with Clyde, the Commonwealth mascot thistle- man. The BBC will put on a show every day of the games with a performance today by Clyde-sider Chorus, a choir comprising 50 Commonwealth volunteers led by Dalkey-born Barbara O’Neill. Clyde? The River Clyde, of course.

They used to be called the “Friendly Games” to denote their low-key status but with Glasgow spending upwards of half a billion pounds on them, and the next hosts – Australia’s Gold Coast – budgeting to spend twice that, they don’t sound quite so cosy anymore.

On the one hand, the fear is that they’re turning into a mini-Olympics; on the other, there’s the excitement of hosting something so huge that Glaswegians talk of little else. It was like the referendum – you know, the one to split Scotland from the UK – was happening on another continent.

Meanwhile, back in the Botanic Gardens, a violinist and a guitarist play something beautiful as a heavily tattooed, sad, friendly ex-army man lies down beside us, takes a swig from a bottle and asks for a spin on the bike. When we look a bit alarmed, he says he’ll settle for a smoke.

You don’t know it yet, Glasgow, but you’re asking all the right questions. And very soon, those bikes are about to give you the freedom of the city. And not only that but those bikes were the key to a (generally) spat-free weekend for us sisters. We suspect it might have been a different situation had we been traipsing around by foot.

Róisín Ingle is on holiday

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