‘Burnt School’ – Mackintosh Building, Glasgow School of Art

Entrance - the still not yet Burnt School

Entrance – the still not yet Burnt School

‘Burnt School’ – Mackintosh Building, Glasgow School of Art

‘To allow a building to burn down may be regarded as a misfortune; to allow it to do so twice looks like carelessness.’ (With apologies to Oscar Wilde.) But this is the situation the people of Scotland are faced with after the second, even more devastating, fire at the Mackintosh Building of the Glasgow School of Art – henceforth referred to as the Burnt School.

Before the inferno(s)

The Burnt School was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh at the end of the 19th century. He was one of the few British artists and designers who embraced Art Nouveau which was becoming dominant in Europe at the time. (Art Deco, the British equivalent didn’t really take off until after Word War I.) Like others of that school, especially Antoni Gaudi in Catalonia, Mackintosh designed everything from the buildings themselves down to the door handles. The Mackintosh Building was built in stages but was finally completed in 1909.

It managed to survive for just over a hundred years but in may 2014 a fire in the basement, amongst work being prepared by students for the end of year exhibition, ended up destroying a huge section of the building to the right of the main entrance – the west wing – including the very distinctive library.

Old Library - Mackintosh Building - Burnt School

Old Library – Mackintosh Building – Burnt School

I’m not aware of any real investigation into why the fire happened in the first place or why it caused so much damage. What is certain is that no lessons were learnt at all. After all it was such an ‘iconic and historic building’ there would always be public money to rebuild. Modern technology meant that the building had been surveyed and even the door handles (mentioned above) could be replaced with accurate copies. A mere £35 million contract was drawn up and the job was given to Kier Group – which had become a big player in the construction business throughout the UK.

This was in 2016 and at a time when another big player in the construction business (Carillion) was coming under scrutiny for its less than stable financial performance so some alarm bells should have been ringing.

The Second Inferno

The bells made no sound in 2016 and they didn’t on the night of 15th June 2018 either. That was when, the majority of the restoration having been completed, yet another fire broke out in the building. How long the fire had been raging before the alarm was given is unknown (there doesn’t ever seem to be any proper investigations and the apportioning of blame in these incidents) but this time it was impossible for the local Fire Brigade to bring it under control. Basically they were fighting a rear-guard action and were attempting to stop the fire from breaking out of the block where the now Burnt School was located. This meant that an old ballroom, that was being used as a large bar, and a number of shops on Sauciehall Street were allowed to burn – and are derelict to this day.

So much water was pumped into the building that the ground became saturated and the walls, that remained after all the flames had been put out, started to subside. To stabilise the now gutted structure took weeks and local residents in the immediate vicinity were denied access to their homes over that time.

Burnt School Facade - before

Burnt School Facade – before

.... and after

…. and after

(Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris benefited from the Scottish experience as the fire fighters there – in another fire that was burning longer than it should have before the alarm was raised – had learnt that too much water will bring such a major structure crashing to the ground. They followed that tactic despite the wise advice provided by Donald Trump who suggested bombing the building with water from the air – in the same way that forest fires are tackled.)

Burnt School West Wall before

Burnt School West Wall before

.... and after

…. and after

The Aftermath

What was most disturbing about the aftermath of the fire – before any ‘investigation’ of why it was allowed to happen in the first place – was the mad rush by so many individuals, including the Directors of the Art School and top Scottish politicians, to pledge that the phoenix would rise from the ashes. They made these statements as if it were a given. Even while the smoke was still rising from the rubble the figure of (yet another ‘mere’) £100 million was being suggested as the re-bulild price. Anyone who has followed such estimates in the past on many projects throughout the UK would doubt whether the final price would be at that ‘low’ level. Such schemes tend to go two, three or even more times over the original budget.

It was just assumed by this artistic and political ‘elite’ that the public purse would cough up to provide a spanking new reproduction of a 110 year old building and place it in the hands, and under the control, of a group of people who had shown themselves totally inept in looking after what was part of the Scottish National Heritage. You wouldn’t put them in charge of a Wendy house let alone something so valuable.

If there’s such a lot of money sloshing around why isn’t it being used for more important, crucial and socially valuable projects. Glasgow is far from being the wealthiest part of the UK and although there are wealthy people there is an awful lot of deprivation and squalor – even close by the Burnt School.

Soon after the second fire local people, including community groups and local politicians, started to ask if the money couldn’t be better spent. A report from the Culture Committee of the Scottish Parliament (in March 2019) stated that the Burnt School Directors had shown complete disregard to safety procedures and a cavalier attitude towards looking after the building – just assuming someone would be prepared to sign a blank cheque.

Now opportunist politicians, like Nicola Sturgeon, remain quiet after they had been able to shine as concerned under the limelight in the days after the fire. As in Paris there are always those who spout off about what will happen but become quite and slink back into the shadows when they realise that they might have made promises they won’t be able to keep.

Even if you look at the official website of the Burnt School you will find that they seem to think history stopped in the days before Fire No. 2. They report on ‘progress’ up to the early part of 2018 but ignore the present day reality.

As I was checking my information for this post I came across a statement which I found amusing – but also one that asks more questions than it answers. On 29th June 2018 Kier were taken off the contract. Not surprising as (together with the management of the Art School) they were significantly responsible for what happened that Friday night a couple of weeks before. However, I’ve been unable to find out how much Kier had been paid for the work they had completed up to the 15th June 2018. Presumably they didn’t have to wait until the end of the project before cheques started going into their account. Now that all that work has come to nought should they be paying back what they have already been given? After all they have failed to live up to the conditions of the contract.

Kier is presently ‘in difficulty’ financially at the moment, seemingly having followed a similar pattern to Carillion and overstepping themselves. Their responsibility for the fire at the Burnt School might not be the cause but it wouldn’t have helped their current situation. Would you give them a contract for your home?

Another aspect which involves finance is the fact that the Scottish Parliament has compensated those other business in Sauchiehall Street, and some of the nearby residents, for the losses and disruption they have incurred in the last year or so. That money again comes out of the public purse. As with the disaster of the fire in the Grenfell Tower in London two years ago private companies make a cock-up but it is the State that has to pay for the consequences. In London that is amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds and the issue still hasn’t been resolved. What will be the figure in Glasgow?

So that’s the situation in July 2019. The future restoration of the building is certainly not certain and it will probably be sometime before the final decision is made.

The Future?

Now I want to discuss scaffolding.

One of the ‘positives’ of the fire is the amazing structure that surrounds the Burnt School. I’ve only seen the outside but I assume that there must be something similar on the inside of the ruin.

But what can be seen is truly remarkable. That single building must be using virtually all the scaffolding that was in Glasgow and the immediate surrounding area. I have never seen such a complex pattern of scaffolding. The sheer quantity, in such a relatively small space, is mind-boggling.

The owners of scaffolding companies in Scotland must have, figuratively, warmed their hands on the flames of that fire. What they are charging for all this work will keep them in champagne and caviar for a long time on their world cruises. And the actual scaffolders who climbed and created the structure must be glad that Glasgow has so many incompetents in charge of such heritage buildings. In any other circumstance the bulldozers and wrecking balls would have been in within hours and by now the plot of land would be empty, ready for yet another speculative complex that Glasgow doesn’t really need. As it is the scaffolding will be there for years.

But it’s a work of art in itself. It is both aesthetically pleasing as well as being a bit of an engineering masterpiece. It must have been a challenge which no scaffolder had ever encountered in the past. And to keep the place ‘safe’ in the present and for the near future they had to go really far back in the past. The way the scaffolding is constructed, especially on the east side, is reminiscent of the wall of a mediaeval Cathedral, with its buttresses spreading out at the lower levels.

Burnt School - east wall

Burnt School – east wall

I think it’s an artistic wonder in its own way. My suggestion is that they get rid of any of the stone that still hasn’t fallen, or been cracked by the heat after having been dowsed with cold water, so the area is safe and then turn the area and scaffolding into a tourist attraction.

Children could practice their climbing skills. Artists from around the world who have a history of covering mountains and other large structures in coloured plastic could be invited to create temporary installations, perhaps with light and sound shows at night. That would attract even more people than used to visit the Burnt School before it was burnt.

The scaffolding should be bought and that would save a fortune. Such an approach would cost much less than the estimated £100 million and might make people think more seriously about what they have and, hopefully, make them more careful not to lose it through their carelessness.

Future generations would then be able to wonder at the foolishness of mankind and the destruction created as well as the ingenuity of others in trying to mitigate those disasters.

Karl Marx Tomb and Memorial

Karl Marx Tomb - Highgate Cemetery, London

Karl Marx Tomb – Highgate Cemetery, London

Karl Marx Tomb and Memorial

The British working class have shown themselves somewhat reluctant to take on board the revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx in the past. This is a shame on a number of levels but especially as he formulated his ideas based upon the what he learnt of how the first real ‘working class’ – in the sense of a class that was totally divorced and separated from the means of production – developed as the industrial towns of England sprung up from the mid-18th century onwards. But as they were so central to the development of his political and economic theories he lived and died in England and the Karl Marx Tomb and Memorial is in Highgate Cemetery, northern London.

Original Location

Karl Marx original tomb - Highgate Cemetery, London

Karl Marx original tomb – Highgate Cemetery, London

When Marx died on 14th March 1883 he was buried in the family plot which already contained his wife, Jenny, who had died a couple of years before. They weren’t alone for long as within a week of his death Marx was joined by his five year old grandson. The family’s life long friend and companion (who had started out as a servant) Helene Demuth joined them in 1890 – after helping Frederick Engels put together Marx’s notes that became the second volume of Capital – and then the last of the group to use the plot was Marx’s daughter, Eleanor, who died young in 1898.

This unremarkable and nondescript grave, tucked away in the central part of the cemetery, was Marx’s almost final resting place until the 1950s.

The plan for a Memorial

Coincidently or not (I’m not sure) very soon after the death of the great Soviet leader and Marxist-Leninist, JV Stalin, in March 1953, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) made plans for a much more substantial memorial to the founding father of Marxism. An application was made, and permission given, for all the remains in the original location to be disinterred and reburied (in 1954) in a much larger plot close to one of the main pathways through the cemetery.

A commission was then given to a member of the CPGB, Laurence Bradshaw, a sculptor and he designed the plinth (made of marble), the very large bust of Marx (bronze) and also choose the quotes and completed the calligraphy. One thing he did which I very much liked and that was in no place will you see mention the sculptor’s name. This is in line with arguments I have made in relation to art commissioned and carried out under a system where Socialist Realism is in operation, in particular Albanian lapidars, that the artist should step back from the art work and not make it all about themselves. The memorial was unveiled on 15th March 1956 in a ceremony led by Harry Pollitt, at that time the General Secretary of the CPGB.

The Memorial

It’s quite a simple, and striking, monument. Whether I like it is another matter.

It’s a basic marble clad monolith upon which sits a huge bronze bust of Marx. The plinth is about 3 metres high and the bust must be at least a metre high itself. I think what makes the bust seem slightly strange is that Marx’s beard is virtually touching the edge of the plinth. He looks as if he is crouching down. Perhaps if Bradshaw had given Marx more of his shoulders then it wouldn’t look so pressed down. Apart from that I think it’s a good likeness of the proletarian ideologist.

On the front of the plinth, just under the bust, are the words ‘ Workers of all lands unite’, the final word, the most important word in the phrase, being on a separate line underneath, placed exactly in the centre. These words come from the very end of The Manifesto of the Communist Party although in authentic texts they are written as ‘Working men of all countries, Unite!’ The meaning is the same but with a different construction taking into account the way of thinking in the middle of the 19th century. Then just about halfway down, and centred, is the name ‘Karl Marx’.

Karl Marx Tomb - central plaque

Karl Marx Tomb – central plaque

Beneath his name (also centred and slightly indented) is the white marble plaque placed at the original site of the tomb. Or should I say ‘was’. It was damaged in February 2019 and now there’s a plastic facsimile in its place. Whether the original is underneath or has been taken away – either for conservation or for repair – I wouldn’t know. This is inscribed with the names of the five individuals in the tomb, with there birth and death dates.

On the bottom third, or so, of the plinth are the words ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it’. These are the very final words from the Theses on Feuerbach, (point XI), which was written by Marx in the spring of 1845 – preceding the publication of The Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848). One slight quibble here. In the written text the words ‘interpreted’ and ‘change’ are emphasised. As Marx thought it important to do so in his text it’s a shame that Bradshaw didn’t also include, in some manner, the importance of that stress. All the text is highlighted in gold.

On each side of the plinth is a single olive wreath, close to the top and centred, in bronze. This can be interpreted in a number of ways, as in the past such wreaths have come to have various meanings. One would be a celebration of the successes and the achievements of Karl Marx. He was the first to formulate a coherent ideology which, if implemented in the manner expressed in the quotes on his tomb, is exclusively of use to and benefit for the working class and all other oppressed and exploited peoples of the world.

It would be difficult to suggest that the olive branches represent peace. Like all great ideologists many of Marx’s words can be taken out of context and thereby remove the revolutionary nature of Marxism. In his early writings Marx was clear on the need to complete replace the old system and replace it with one that was designed purely for the working class. If he had any doubts about that (which I don’t think he did) before 1871 he was clear in his own mind, and in his writings, that such a change would invariably have to be violent after the experience of the Paris workers in 1871. The ferocity of the reaction and the slaughter that accompanied the defeat of the Commune showed the world that once capitalism’s power was truly challenged they would stop at naught to crush any such attempt. Events worldwide in the almost 150 years since the Commune has proven that thesis time and time again.

There is nothing on the back of the plinth.

As an aside here it’s worth mentioning that at the time that the CPGB was making moves to commemorate Marx with the structure in Highgate Cemetery the Party itself was making moves to go against the very revolutionary essence of Marxism. The Party had already adopted the revisionist British Road to Socialism as its programme. By the end of the same year as the unveiling of the monument the Party leadership would accept the attacks made on JV Stalin by Khrushchev at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Subsequently the CPGB took the revisionist, capitulationist, side in the upcoming Polemic in the International Communist Movement.

Target of Vandalism

From the early days the monument has been the target for anti-Communist and Fascist elements within British society. In 1960 it was painted with yellow swastikas and suffered a couple of inept bombing attempts in the 1970s. There was also a paint attack in 2011. However, things have heated up recently as there have been two attacks this year (2019).

The first was on the night of 5th February 2019 when Marx’s name was chipped away at by a hammer. This might have done irreparable damage to the original marble plaque but it wouldn’t take too much to get a replica made. Whether the money or the will is there is another matter. Then, less than two weeks later, on 15th February 2019 it was daubed on three sides with anti-Communist slogans. These were easily cleaned off but I think the strip of red that runs down the facsimile of the plaque when I visited (in June 2019) was a remaining sign of that paint attack.

For those who believe and follow the ideas of Karl Marx a visit would be recommended if in the vicinity. The Marx monument was the result of a local, British initiative. The raising of a statue to Frederick Engels in Manchester was as a result of the failing of the revisionist system in the Ukraine. That’s also worth a visit.

How to get there:

Get to the centre of Archway (by the underground station) either by Tube or Bus. Then walk up Highgate Hill, away from the centre, passing the hospital and a statue of Dick Whittington’s cat, and at the top of the hill, by the church on the left, turn into Waterlow Park and exit by the bottom entrance which is right beside the entrance to Highgate Cemetery.






51° 33′ 58.32″ N

0° 8′ 38.04″ W

Highgate Cemetery (East) Plan

Highgate Cemetery (East) Plan

A paper map is given after paying at the entrance but if you want an idea before you arrive click on the above for a pdf version.

Opening Times and Entrance Costs:

Daily: (except 25 and 26 December)
10am to 5pm (March to October)
10am to 4pm (November to February)
last admission 30 minutes before closing.

Adults: £4.00 (capitalism even makes money out of revolutionaries – and the dead)

Under 18’s: Free

The ferry from Corfu to Saranda – what you need to know

Hydrofoil Kristi - Saranda port

Hydrofoil Kristi – Saranda port

One of the best ways into Albania is via the ferry from Corfu to Saranda in southern Albania. What follows is the practical information of what you need to know to make that process easy and – hopefully – trouble free.

I’ve been to Albania three times now, so far, and each time via Corfu. The first time I arrived late at night and was expecting to leave on the ferry the next morning. That was thwarted due to an annual safety check on the hydrofoil (so I was told though I heard a different story in Saranda) which meant there was no departure for three days. The second time everything went as it should and the journey was made much easier due to my previous experience. What surprised me the most was there was no way I could find detailed information about the logistics of getting across a relatively narrow stretch of water. This posting is an attempt to give an as up to date and accurate step by step approach to getting from one country to another as is possible.

Where you buy your tickets depends upon the time of year. During the high season, when there is more than one sailing a day, there is a kiosk just inside the main New Port entrance, to the left backing on to the main road. However, outside of the months of June to September tickets are only sold in the company’s office.

This is the head office of Ionian Cruises. That’s a grand title but it’s based in small shop facing the Domestic Terminal building, which also houses the biggest café in the area (as well as a left luggage office) on the road that runs parallel to the sea. There is a small sign indicating that they sell tickets to Albania (in English).

All the details I’ve been able to collect are as follows:

Ionian Cruises – Petrakis Lines, 4, Ethnikis Antistaseos, 49100 Corfu, Hellas.

(The website has improved significantly since I first published this post. Any additional information will more than likely be found there, e.g., vehicle tariffs.) 

Tel. : +0030 26610 38690, 31649, 25155

Fax : +0030 26610 38787, 26555

The office is open from 08.00 and the people who work in there speak English, which makes life easier for some of us non-Greek speakers.

Fast Ferry – Hydrofoil

You need your passport and you MUST buy a ticket before going to the boat. As of April 2018 the adult cost is  €19 each way in the low season. The cost increases to €23.80 from mid-June to mid-September. Children go for half price. Departure Times (all year) are at 09.00, but with 2 or 3 extra sailings from the middle of June to the middle of September. Check the website for times when you want to travel. The latest sailing from Corfu is 18.30. Apart from possible disruption due to the weather or mechanical issues the ferry should run every day of the year. There is now a facility to book and pay online

The hydrofoil leaves from the top end of the new port. This means that after buying your ticket in the office you have to get to the main entrance to the Port of Corfu which is about 400m along the road, heading northwards out of Corfu town. Once through the main gates turn left and head to the New Passenger Terminal, the sandy coloured building about a 100m away. Here you will get your passport and ticket checked. There is also a small Duty Free shop but few other facilities.

Duration of journey: 30 minutes.

Once on board leave your bag at your seat (or at the luggage store by the entrance) and go right to the back of the boat and get a sensation of speed without being blinded by the spray that obscures any sightseeing from the cabin. The boats are Kristi, Santa and Santa III, Komet class hydrofoils, not that young any more but still up to the task in hand.

Remember to put your watches/time pieces forward one hour when landing on Albanian soil (you effectively arrive before you have left!).

Car Ferry

A ferry taking vehicles is also now an option. From 16th May till 25th October there’s a departure from Corfu at 19.00. There’s an extra ferry between 1st July until 25th October at 13.00. From Saranda the departures during the same dates are 10.30 and 16.00 (local time). Costs are too complex to list here but all are on the website.

Duration of journey: 70 minutes.

These times and prices are valid for 2019.

There are no visa requirements for citizens of the European Union, citizens of other countries should check first. Passport formalities are remarkably innocuous on entering (or leaving) Albania. The passport will be scanned and recorded on the immigration service computer. You normally get a stamp in your passport if arriving or leaving by boat but this is not always the case at land borders. The lack of a stamp took me by surprise the first time I entered by land, from Greece, but later learnt that this is common and you shouldn’t be concerned if there is no entry stamp.

Once you leave passport/customs control you might well be approached by Tomi. He’s an English-speaking Albanian who runs a basic hostel less than 100m from the port entrance. If you are new to the country, want to meet other foreign visitors to pick their brains about what/when/where the hostel is a good place for all of this. Tomi also is a mine of information and if he doesn’t know the answers will almost certainly know someone who does. If you miss him you can call his mobile, +355694345426.

Another good place to check out is the Dolphin Hostel, located at 168, Rruga Lefter Talo. This is just above the street Rruga Flamurit, which is effectively Saranda’s interurban bus station.

The ticket office to get tickets to Corfu is in the building on the main road, directly above the dock. The name over the office is Finikas Lines. Sailings from Saranda vary depending upon time of year. There’s always at least one a day but there are extra sailings in the peak season. Check the link above for exact sailing details.

Recommendations and suggestions

So now you’ve arrived in Albania (hopefully without too many problems) what do you do? Below are some places you might want to visit. Also there’s a bit more (hopefully) useful tourist information as well as some commentary on Albanian politics and society. Click on the image to be taken to the post.

If you are interested in Socialist period culture (i.e., monuments – known locally as lapidars, bas reliefs, mosaics etc.) many examples of which still exist – in varying degrees of repair then here’s a page with links to locations throughout the country. This page also includes some of the post-Communist constructions in the country, e.g., churches and how the reaction has used Socialist Realist styles to promote the opposing ideology.

For more detailed information on Albanian lapidars go to the Albanian Lapidar Survey page.



Butrint – a Greek and Roman story in Southern Albania

Albanian Town Planning - drastic measures taken

Albanian Town Planning – drastic measures taken

Visiting Enver Hoxha' Grave in Tirana

Visiting Enver Hoxha’ Grave in Tirana

Komani Lake - The most impressive ferry trip in Europe?

Komani Lake – The most impressive ferry trip in Europe?

Impressions of Saranda, Southern Albania

Impressions of Saranda, Southern Albania

'King' Zog's remains return to Tirana

‘King’ Zog’s remains return to Tirana

Reasons to be suspicious – Albanian-British Relationships in the 1940s

Reasons to be suspicious – Albanian-British Relationships in the 1940s

Tirana International Airport - Albania

Tirana International Airport – Albania

Kosovo entry stamp

Kosovo entry stamp

The bus from Bajram Curri to Tirana

Vlora Independence Monument

The Vlora Independence Monument in 2011

A hundred years of Albanian Independence?

Vlora Martyr's Monument on Liberation Day 2011

The workers’ red flags to celebrate Liberation Day in Vlora

29th November 1944 – the date of true independence for Albania

Syri i Kalter, the Blue Eye, southern Albania

Syri i Kalter, the Blue Eye

Chairman Mao and Enver Hoxha

Chairman Mao and Enver Hoxha

The definitive split between Albania and China, 1978