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  • Glasgow City Council are amazing. In a good way.

    I phoned them to ask if I could get access to the river Clyde and the mud banks so as to take a personal sniff of the river that carries distinct odours of the city. Their reply was that if I would like I could take a ride on a patrol boat with the coastguards who know the river and its stories inside out. I liked.

    Very politely I asked if Teddy the journalist and Steve the photographer (both from the Glasgow Herald) could come along too. We had ourselves the makings of a damn fine day out on the river!

    We boarded the dredger cum barge with Alan and Malcy, our hosts for the afternoon. They asked what types of smells I was particularly interested in… and I replied I was interested in everything that Glasgow had to offer. They offered me a large yellow plastic bottle with a sturdy red lid.

    A part of the dredger/barge patrol person's job spec is fishing out the 12 - 15 dead bodies per annum from the river. Not always certain as to where those bodies have come to rest under the brown, brackish water the coast guards train dogs to sniff for the bodies. To train the dogs it is unethical to use human remains and so they use the closest scent to it - pig. I caught a whiff of decomposing piglet and was surprised to find that it was identical to the smell of the muds of Hamblin Pond (Cape Cod) where I capsized the dinghy and got the mast stuck a couple of years ago. My lunch remained with me.

    As a result of the Scottish diet the coastguards also regularly fish out "Glasgow Cakes" (40cm wide emulsified, solidified fat surrounding faeces) from the excess sewage that flows into the river during wet and cold weather. As always the smells tell a story of infrastructure in that Glasgow, like many cities worldwide, use a combined sewer system which collects both sewage and urban run off int the same pipes. On wet days, to prevent back flow, the excess is emitted through outfall pipes to a local river.

    It was a great journey, full of tales of Glasgow's histories, tragedies, and hidden places where drug addicts and the homeless can hang out without being moved on. There is a bridge where the homeless strap themselves to the struts for a dry night's rest. Next door there is an offshore drilling platform dive boat practice launch that at low tide cannot be used as the water is only 3 feet deep.

    Earlier in the day I practised being a real researcher and interviewed people at the new McCain's bus stop as to what they thought of the scented, warm, three dimensional, super-sized, outdoor advertising. The artificial smell jettisoned from the bus stops is that of cooked jacket spud. After an hour I could smell only that scent, I had interviewed two people successfully and one badly (it is hard to interview when people are waiting for a bus) I was freezing cold and was convinced that I too smelled of "eau de jacket potato".

    The irony? I hate potatoes.
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