Poised and proud, the Duke of Wellington sat astride horseback. Behind him, an impressive edifice, a monument to the arts. Completing the tableau, his bonnet; a hat, a peaked tam-o’-shanter, a crown awarded by his Scottish hosts.
Located on one side of the Royal Exchange Square in Glasgow, the statue stood quietly with honor for most of 140 years. Then, one fateful night in the early 80s, the Duke’s new helmet appeared. The back story is unknown. Most folks figure it was a university student, likely fortified with liquid courage, doing it on a dare.
The Glasgow city council, appalled by the lack of decorum, had the traffic cone removed. This solved the problem for a few days but the die was cast. Inspired by the pointed precedent, a mysterious haberdasher struck again, and once again the Duke found himself directing traffic.
And so it went. The council had the cone removed. The Coneheads struck back. Back and forth, each group asserting itself time after time, year after year.
Finally, in 2013, the council had had enough. They proposed rebuilding the pedestal, doubling its height to 6 feet, to make it more difficult to give Wellington a hot orange Scottish bonnet.
This did not go over well. Within 24 hours, a ‘Keep the Cone’ Facebook page had accumulated over 72,000 fans who united in opposition to the council’s plans. By this time, the gag was so well established the locals felt Wellington’s odd hat was not vandalism, but rather a tongue-in-cheek representation of Glasgow’s culture. They’d rather have a laugh than spend a pile of Scottish pounds on something only the council wanted.
It didn’t hurt that the Duke had become a bigger tourist attraction wearing his orange headpiece than he ever was as yet another statue honoring yet another historical figure. It seemed the tourists would rather have a laugh too. The council recanted, and Wellington officially gained his status as not only an honored leader of the British army, but as the leader of the Coneheads.
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The observant among you have noted I’ve been absent for six weeks or so. This was not because of anything awful or life-changing, I just needed a break from blogging. Hopefully, there are still a few followers out there who will pick up the thread where we left off. And maybe, if I’m lucky, even a few new ones, willing to start the new year with a new adventure.
Where were we, anyway?
Ah yes. We’d just finished our tour of Ireland, ending in Belfast, and heading off to the ferry to take us to Scotland.
Our first stop was to be Glasgow, but en route we passed this forlorn ruin, another monument to an earlier day, also reduced in grandeur.
As for Glasgow proper, we didn’t do that much. We wandered across the Royal Exchange Square, a town square taking a full city block, replete with statues and brick. Across the square from Wellington and his well-trafficked headgear was the city council chambers, an impressive building both inside and out. No wonder they got their knickers in a snit when someone was less than respectful to a British nabob. Could they be next?
I mentioned the edifice behind Wellington was a monument to the arts. Specifically, a Museum of Modern Art, making Wellington’s new look all the more apt. As we had time to kill, and museums in Scotland and Ireland tend to be free (donations gladly accepted, nudge nudge wink wink), we entered the museum for a look-see.
I freely admit I’m not a great fan of modern art. Abstractionism often leaves me scratching my head. (And I’ll thank you to forget I said that, someday when I post abstract macro photos.) Other things seem like the “artist” just gathered up stuff they had lying around, threw it in a heap, and called it a masterpiece of personal expression. Strangely enough, patrons, perhaps reminiscent of their own bedrooms, flock in to agree.
Despite my indifference, I got to see one of Warhal’s collection of Campbell’s Soup can paintings, so I can now say I’m hip with the scene.
The layout was interesting. It had a central open oval atrium running all the way up to a skylight, with doors on each floor radiating to individual display rooms.
While there were a few odds and ends that were interesting, overall neither my wife nor I were all that entranced. So we wandered off into greater Glasgow to ogle the shops, the crowds they drew, and the occasional piece of art.
And so began our Scottish experience, from dour castle ruins to artistic expression that put bees in the bonnet of the Glasgow City Council.