The Scots, at Their Posts

The tall sandstone gateposts of Pollokshields were what I had in mind.

But our visiting photographer looked quizzical. His look meant: Gateposts? You think they're photogenic?

"I'll take you on a tour," I said.

His "OK" had a profound, Oregon kind of shrug about it. (He comes from Oregon.)

Pollokshields - where we have lived for 17 years now - is a small inner-city suburb south of the River Clyde in Glasgow, Scotland. Seventeen years of walking dogs up and down these drives and avenues lined with large, now often subdivided, Victorian stone mansions tends to make one aware of certain local characteristics. One of these is definitely the gateposts. They come in extraordinary variety.

Basically square in cross section, these sentinels and monoliths marking the boundary between private and public space are crowned with all manner of capitals, pyramidal or conical: strange petrified Buster Keaton hats or esoteric bishops' miters; Palladian houses or schematic mosques; ancient Grecian steles or Scottish castles; enormous chess pieces la "Alice Through the Looking Glass." Two particularly grandiose gateposts are so elaborate as to be virtual mausoleums. Some posts are hidden under hirsute burgeonings of ivy. Many have become, through subsidence, miniature Leaning Towers of Pisa.

It's local differences that make the world go round. Someone once said that what differentiates countries is the shape of their windows. But who does not, in fact, live most of life in a far smaller environment than a country? Even today, when the entire globe is supposed to be a village, we still live in localities.

GATEPOSTS are consciously intended to impress one en route to the front door. The stonework is not carved, one might say, with manual sensitivity. But it is efficiently done. The multiplicity of designs here is typically Victorian. Not too many years ago, I have no doubt, they would have been dismissed as being in very poor taste. But tastes change, and Victorian eclecticism is no longer regarded as beneath contempt. All the same, I find their pretension basically comic while their plurality of design is charming.

Photographers, however, look through different eyes.

What our visitor observed were people, and on our tour there were a surprising number in evidence in this usually indoors neighborhood. There was the Irishman who tends his own and other peoples' gardens with efficient clippers accompanied by his two dogs, never on a leash. There was the old school reunion, already congregated merrily between the gateposts for the annual photograph by one of their number. There were the boys with their skateboards, more than eager for photographic immortality. All, in different ways, had broken through the gatepost barrier and provided our photographer with something less architecturally abstract than carved stone pillars.

Fair enough.

But still, one day, somebody should make a photographic record of these upstanding examples of rather fantastical and imaginative masonry.

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