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Saturday, 17 July 2010

Woodside Sanctuary

The Woodside Inn, 239 Maryhill Road, G20 7YB

Some places you just pass by, even buildings you can see from your window. Then you discover them as new.

St. Columba’s RC church on Hopehill Road is just such a building. It’s an imposing structure, built during the war, one half of it looking like a scaled-dow Battersea Power Station. Its red brick, Italianate finish also reminds of the nearby Woodside Hall. In front of an annexe there is a large, slightly overgrown garden much like the kind in which they tend the wounded in war movies. Picture a strange amalgamation of Clint Eastwood’s The Beguiled and A Bridge Too Far. It comes as no surprise that is the home of the Dominican (the Order of Preachers) community in Glasgow, the building looking too grand to be merely a local church. As such it takes on the character as a place of refuge from the material world.

Just down the road from the church is The Woodside Inn, a place I’ve similarly neglected on the corner of Maryhill Road and North Woodside Road. The Royalty Bar, The Thistle and Castle Vaults are the nearby pubs and, of course, I’ve been in them all but never stopped at the Woodside. A definite blip.

No reason for this omission, but as a younger man I was so confused with the areas of inner Glasgow that I mixed up the location of this pub with Crosslands on Queen Margaret Drive some mile or so away to the North West.

But this time I entered the premises, under the oversized gas lamp, a caricature of Victorian lighting. It’s a free house with a worn exterior betraying a probable shortage of funds so the rather smart interior is a surprise. The furniture – chairs, high stools and booths – is substantial, the seating finished with a suede covering.

A stained glass partitions do a decent job dividing the bar space and there are the obligatory photos of old Glasgow. The World Cup was just beginning but there was only the one discreet TV placed high on a shelf. Aside from the football, Sky and ESPN racing was advertised. Behind the bar a Glasgow Warriors scarf is pinned to the wall, this being on the route from the West End to Firhill Stadium.

I had to call across to the barmaid who was standing at the far end of the bar chatting to punters, to get my order in. Belhaven Best was the only draught on offer aside from the usual global brands. Despite her inattention she wasn’t unfriendly and her rapport with the regulars was apparent.

Everyone else in here is an obvious regular but I get no undue attention sipping my pint and reading the local freesheets. I go to the toilet and notice missing tiles, more evidence of limited monies. Leaving the toilet I glance right to the quiet area with tables that may be used for dining – the furniture matches that in the rest of the pub – or functions or big televised sporting events. This part used to be called The Inn Crowd, but this moniker seems to have been dropped, probably for the best.

The chat is still going between the barmaid, another off-duty member of staff and the regulars – mostly and elderly bunch. Returning to my booth I am followed by a wee dog of one of the punters. It hangs around at my table until I have sat down, then it wandered round my feet and the legs of the table before joining me on the seat. I pat it for a while, and then as if satisfied at gaining my attention it returns to the floor and then back to its owner.

There’s no preaching going on but this place is another sanctuary. In it you not only feel comfortable but also forget the realities of the pub trade, supermarket competition, dwindling margins, falling pensions, benefit cuts...

All these vanish from your mind, and this easy state of mind feels like it could continue not only for this afternoon but for as long as you wish.

I have to go, messages to do, but could always pop into another hostelry at the opposite end of North Woodside Road, The Pewter Pot, that being another retreat, but of an entirely different sort. I think twice about that idea. Not a good one.

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