welcome to the unnatural history museum

(By George Cheyne – Glasgow, March 2021)

Traipsing round a stuffy museum on a school trip can’t be many people’s idea of fun – it certainly wasn’t mine.

I remember dragging my heels as we toured Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in the Seventies for some history project or other. Yawn!

In and out of airless rooms with an interminable amount of portraits, old stones, suits of armour, stuffed animals and some painting of Jesus on the cross from above. At least I think it was Jesus…you couldn’t even see the guy’s face!

The trouble was not so much about what was in Kelvingrove, but what WASN’T in it. A wee bit of pzazz and a helluva lot of imagination and it could have been far more interesting.

So here are some alternative exhibits for the museum – a shrine to the 60s and 70s, if you will – with some of my own historical notes to go alongside.

Loch Ness Monster

The centuries-old Nessie mystery was finally solved in 1971 when a perfectly-formed skeleton of a 27-metre-long Spinosaurus was discovered on the shores of Loch Ness.

The discovery was hushed up because of national security but the bones have now been released under the 50-year rule and will take pride of place in Kelvingrove.

To give context, the diplodocus dinosaur that was the main exhibit at the entrance to London’s Natural History Museum until 2017 was 26 metres long. It is understood the diplodocus was moved out because the London museum knew Nessie would be a bigger attraction – in every way.

Secret soft-drink formula

This was found in a disused store cupboard at AG Barr’s plant in Cumbernauld. Dating from 1968, it was stuck to an iron girder after some Irn Bru had been spilled on it.

Barr’s donated the secret recipe – for a soft-drink called “ginger” – to the museum because it would be illegal to make these days given the high amount of sugar required.

The alchemist who came up with the formula did so in an attempt to avoid confusion in shops when kids would ask for “ginger” without actually knowing what flavour they wanted.

Robert Burns poem

An original work of the Bard – authenticated by a host of Burns experts – was recently discovered behind a false wall in an 18th-century house in Alloway, Ayrshire.

Historians have long since argued about the “Seventies” mentioned in the poem and, while it was originally thought to be the Bard’s look ahead to the 1870s, it is now widely accepted he was referring to the 1970s. 

Ode to a Haggis Supper

Ah could fair stuff my sonsie face,

Wi’ a chieftain o’ the puddin-race,

Dripping in batter and plunged intae hot fat,

Now that wid mak ye a man for a’ that,

Lying on the coonter, O what a glorious sight,

Served up wi’ chips so fluffy and light,

In the Seventies every groaning trencher,

Is bound to be droont in salt ‘n vinegar

Elvis Presley song

An unpublished Elvis Presley song – written on the back of a fag packet – has been donated to Kelvingrove by the late Senga McGlumphey’s family.

Senga was working as a cleaner at Prestwick Airport when Elvis flew in for a stopover in 1960 and got chatting to the legendary singer.

After asking her name, the King started scribbling on a fag packet that Senga had picked up and began humming a tune. A few minutes later Elvis had to leave the building and handed over the Embassy Regal packet with the lyrics to Return To Senga on it.

The song was never published, but it bears an uncanny resemblance to an Elvis smash hit which came out two years later.

Bay City Rollers tartan

This was commissioned in the late 1970s as Les, Eric and the lads tried to unify the tartan clobber they wore to maximise merchandising potential.

Rollers manager Tam Paton came up with the plan to design a new tartan, copyright it and then rake in the big bucks from the new-look merch.

Unfortunately, the band couldn’t agree on a design and the tartan swatches dropped out of sight – until now.

The World Cup trophy

Awarded to Scotland after a series of bizarre FIFA rulings. First, Willie Johnston was granted a free pardon after FIFA admitted it was their doctor who had prescribed the winger the banned tablets at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

Then FIFA agreed to look at the results from the tournament retrospectively and considered Archie Gemmill’s goal against Holland so good that it was decided Scotland should go through to the next round in their place.

The bigwigs further ruled that if Holland could beat Austria, draw with Germany and beat Italy, then surely Scotland could have – so they were automatically put into a final against Argentina.

This match was to be played in 2021 using the original squads from 43 years ago, but Covid restrictions prevented it taking place.

Under pressure to come up with a solution, FIFA then decided the final would be determined by a shots-drinking competition which, unsurprisingly, Scotland won.

But it wouldn’t be Scotland without some sort of problem and Argentina appealed on the grounds that legendary hardman defender Kenny Burns threatened five of their players during the live Zoom event.

However, the SFA put forward a rigorous defence to FIFA, insisting the player had become something of a philosopher in his old age. And they contested that Burns, when asked where he thought the game should be played, had merely said: “Bright views…ergo outside” instead of the widely-quoted “Right yous…square go outside.”

Do you believe that? Nope, me neither. Kenny Burns only threatening five of them? No chance.

The SFA, rightly thinking they had probably got away with one, decided not to organise a lap of honour round Hampden with the trophy for fear of further antagonising the Argentinians.

“In any case,” a spokesman said, “We already did one of those back in 1978 before the tournament started!” 

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