When I was at school (from age 5 onwards; the one I was at had kindergarten, primary and secondary departments all on the same site), I passed the Glasgow School of Art – the Mack – every school day. I also went to painting classes there on Saturday mornings for several years. The building was part of the fabric of my life, as it was of my mother’s: she lived just a stone’s-throw away from it during her school years (and attended the same school I later went to). She subsequently studied there for many years – just evening and Saturday classes, but she studied not only drawing and painting but pottery, glass-blowing, ceramic painting and textiles. The vases in the photo are just two of her artefacts from that time.
So I was heartbroken by the first fire at the Mack, in 2014. It seemed to me – and to many insiders – that it started due to a cavalier attitude to fire safety in an incredibly flammable building, plus the fact that a sprinkler system had been purchased but not yet installed. But that tragedy simply provoked much public wringing of hands, and not a few crocodile tears. In any case, it turned out that the damage, though considerable, could be repaired, to a certain extent. The building lived on.
I can’t describe how I felt when I saw the TV footage of what was clearly a catastrophic fire on Saturday morning. Heartbroken doesn’t begin to cover it this time.
But, in common with many former students of the Mack and other fellow-Glaswegians, by today my sadness has turned to fury. How could the people with a duty to look after an irreplaceable and iconic treasure like this have failed to learn any lessons from the previous fire? Where were the fire prevention and control measures in the almost-completely-restored building? The structure was covered in scaffolding, thus making it vulnerable – any fool knows that. Where were the nightwatchmen? Where was security?
This time, thank God, people are starting to ask the right questions. Enough of the hand-wringing. They’re getting mad, not sad – and in this sort of scenario, anger can be very productive. It leads to action. Sadness, all too often, leads to apathy.
Know what I’d like to believe? That the Mack hasn’t died in vain. People are waking up. Maybe now they’ll get thoroughly angry about some of the other abominations we in Scotland are subjected to at the moment: the Brexiteers’ lies; Russian interference in the referendum; Westminster’s despicable treatment of Scotland’s devolved powers and of the elected politicians who try to defend them.
Stay angry, folks! Stay angry and keep asking the right questions of the bad guys, whether it’s dodgy politicians, sleazy businessmen or people who have stewardship of buildings we love and value.