Only wan Govanhill but

close-up of a pink flower on a stem with a blue sky behind

Queen’s Park, everyone’s favourite 60-hectare green space at the top of Victoria Road.

I’ve loved it since Victorian times, back when I was a gentleman in a top hat promenading with a lady in a bonnet, enjoying a little light music at the bandstand, throwing stones at the ducks on the pond, then joining the chaps for a game of fives while the chapesses grabbed a quick hawf at the pub over the road that keeps changing its name.

A central meeting point for the whole of the southside, busy residential areas all around its perimeter.

Our own city non-place, urban version of the countryside with municipal verges and tarmac but a steep hill too, obscure paths along its sides and clumps of trees, tall trees, and wooded areas and secret trails.

On a pleasant summer evening a citizen of the world can stroll past the glasshouse, read feminist graffiti on gendered family roles and the patriarchy, smell the basil and rosemary from the allotments, look over the tennis courts and bowling greens.

And the cricket pitch, jeez, the speed of the bowler and the distance the batsman gets.

Serious-looking groups of young people having a picnic, cheese n crackers, maybe leaning against a tree reading a book.

Tea in the park. Too civilised, middle class, well-behaved.

No one shouting or being drunk or building fires. No lurking neds in sportswear, bottle of Buckie in the back bin, no black Alsatian dogs.

A couple of hipster types trying to play football. Aye right, lads.

Back in our day a kickabout in the park drew a crowd of thousands, a wee guy hitting a Mitre 5 against a wall was live on TV, match reports of three and in were on the radio every day.

The 23-a-side kick and rush on the big open space at the end of your street, occasional grass and broken glass, wee Frankie Devlin goes on a mazy run and beats eight men, mad Slugger does what he wants because he’s pure mad so if he pushes you out of the way or uses his hands you just let him get on with it.

So aye, everyone’s favourite green space that isnae Celtic Park, Hampden Park, or Jurassic Park.

There’s a Queen’s Park in London, a Charing Cross too, probably other areas of both cities with the same names.

Only wan Govanhill but.

Londinium wouldnae dare.

Cheerio.

Cheers Govanhill, Govanhill Street, Govanhill

A cactus looking like a tree on the bonnet of a car with a streetscape behind it

You know me, an imaginary wee nyaff sitting at home making up things about his gaff, but every time I step out on to that main street I bump into someone I know or start talking to some passing stranger about their dog, like does it shit on the bed, chew up your plants, pish on the carpet, bite you on the arse, chase the postie or bark all night?

To which the answers are no, yes, sometimes, hang on, who are you and why all these questions?

The people I meet, though. Woman who works in the shop, guy I know from walking around, neighbour from downstairs, another guy I know from walking around.

Makes you feel part of somewhere, from somewhere, of a place, in a place.

Familiar but always surprising.

A baby on a bike with its mama, a drunk man punching a wall, wee Jeanie who’s just left her flat for the first time in a week.

Pakistani boy with a white stick, vision impaired but fast moving and confident crossing over the lights and down the stairs to the railway platform.

Four teenage girls striding arm-in-arm down Vicky Road. Get out of our way, suckers. And you do, of course you do.

A dog walker with nine puppies on a lead, the Yiddish cafe opening soon with pay-what-you-can, the man in cowboy boots drinking tea and smoking a cigar on the pavement outside the bookies.   

Palestinian flags, BLM murals, anti-Irish stickers on our lamp posts.

Cyclers, byclists, beardless beards and sunglassed tattoo fringes. Freshly grounded coffee and a low-impact life store, all walnut wellness in a piece of bread.

Where are we?

Could be Second Avenue, Third Lanark, Forth Street.

Sesame Street, Coronation Street, Abbey Road.

Or a street with no name, no beginning and no end.

Three cars outside the same building all clamped for not being road taxed. A dead seagull lying as if crucified in the middle of the road. A shouting match between two Romanian families outside someone’s close. Man, they’re loud.

Shared spaces on pavements, backcourts and tenement stairwells for people to drink alcohol.

A plate of whodka, a dish of visky, a pan of vine.

Fastbuck bottle bones, cheap lash purgatory.

That’s where we are.

Blond sandstone in evening sunshine of west of Scotland in early summer with clear sky and lazy air in hazy light.

Then wind in your face and rain on your head, windows rattling, bams square-going and ominous tenements blocking the view everywhere you turn.

Cheers Govanhill, Govanhill Street, Govanhill.

A place you don’t meet every day

A mural depicting an orangutan with its hand held out

Inevitable walking in parts of the city that aren’t Govanhill.

The quiet southside of Battlefield, Camphill, Langside, Pollokshields.

Some of these places get a hard time from us superior Govanhill neds, though not as much as Strathbungo, for obvious reasons.

They have leafy avenues, grand tenements, softer air.

Winding streets, unlike the perpendicular grid you see in most of Govanhill, and sudden villas which appear as if from nowhere.

Less density, less of everything, fewer languages. Fewer people too, and the ones you see are better-dressed, with bigger cars, higher ceilings and a cleaner close.

Then there’s Shawlands, an area of Glasgow, Scotland, located around two miles (three kilometres) south of the River Clyde with an approximate population of 7000, with over 82% dwelling in flats and 79% living alone or with one other person, according to local legend. Or Wikipedia.

We like Shawlands. It’s been there for centuries. I remember it as a kid. Shawlands, we used to call it. Sometimes Shawlands Cross.

Govanhill’s slightly better-off cousin who looks a bit sharper, has a well-paid job and lives in nicer flat with rounded bay windows.

Shawlands is popular with folk from former dry areas of the southside that still have very few boozers, maybe Mount Florida, Newlands, even Castlemilk.

It has solid Glasgow pubs like the Georgic, similar to its brothers and sisters the Viking in Maryhill, the Smiddy in Partick, or the Brechin in Govan.

There’s a Nepalese restaurant in Shawlands, a massive Romanian supermarket, two dormant nightclubs, murals, bookshops, Pollok football ground close by too, so it’s not exactly a wilderness.

But I don’t know how much we have in common any more. Whenever I’m with you, I’m thinking about other places, like Govanhill. We want different things.

I want the weirdness of Govanhill, teeming with exotic lifeforms, interesting boutique shops, drinking dens and dive bars, squealers and dealers and total bastards. Cardboard gangsters, kid-on tough guys, plastic hardmen from the rubber scheme.

That big-city feeling with the brown faces and unusual clothes, looking more like London than any other place in Scotland.

The glint in the eye, the grit on the tongue, the mud and the blood and the beer.

So close, Shawlands, but so different. I think we should see other people.

And then Shawlands Cross got drunk with Eglinton Toll and nine months later Tollcross happened.

Cheers.

Grandpa’s Vietnamese dumplings

Empty cans in a rubbish bin, with one at the front named Che Guava radical lager

The virus has improved my sense of taste.

I don’t mean my pink pantaloons and platform boots, bleach blond beach bum hairstyle, or my engaging content on social.

I mean I can taste Govanhill everywhere I go.

Grandpa’s Vietnamese dumplings, Errol and his hot pizzas, Dracula’s favourite deli. Mushroom paratha, fish pakora, chicken on the bone from Yadgar, priceless, secret Yadgar, the lowest-profile legendary restaurant in Glasgow.

Essential taste from a takeaway joint with a table at the door, maybe a hatch and a plastic screen. Multi-coloured flavours on the roof of your mouth, the back of your tongue, the heat on your forehead from the chillies.

Eggless Turkish pastries, Indian sweets and chai.

The brown taste of coffee. Flat black long. Milk café too.

The city’s best fruit shops. Limes, dates, pomegranates, tangerines or aubergines. And graps, appels and plooms, as we say in Govanhill.

The shop with no signage and a queue of white people outside is a bakery.

The big shop with the Govanhill queue inside is Lidl, the busiest Lidl in Scotland.

And pubs. Closed pubs, dry pubs lying in wait, ready to swing open and spring back to life. A warm gust from an open door, laughter and music from inside. Memories of a past, a past we still hope for because all we have is the future.

Until then it’s the world cups of lockdown beer, some Polish, some Czech, Mexican or Japanese. Craft ale, real ale, pretend ale. Wild cards like Jamaican tonic wine, or the Buckfast your granny drinks to cure her brutal Baileys hangover.

But the greatest thing, the ultimate taste, in Govanhill or not, is hot buttered toast and a mug of tea.

Right there, wherever you are, any time of day. Of course it is.

White bread knocked stupid, ideally. Milky tea, crisp toast, melting butter, marmalade, lemon and lime from a barrel-shaped jar, a jar of memories, lifted down from the shelf at home.

Friday nights, family nights, uncles and aunts and parents and kids, singing and laughing and talking about football, politics, football again over cans of pale ale and bottles of whisky then a game of cards and some tea and toast.

Nights that make you feel you belong. The safety, strength and love you need to endure. Because it’s cold out there, even in the sunshine, and especially when you lose your sense of direction coming home to an empty flat.

Powerful thing, belonging.

I know, Govanhill.

Govanhill stories: Total football in Torrisdale Street

A football pitch at an angle on the side of a hill

Every kid dreams of playing for Celtic. I know you did.

That strip, that stadium, those floodlights.

We lived on football, you and I.

Chasing a ball around city open spaces, Pirrie Park, Dawsholm, Tollcross, Kelvingrove. School playgrounds, red ash, black ash, slide tackles, broken glass.

A corner of green fenced off, maybe a swing park, a grassy verge, a grassy knoll. Long kicks, heady kicks, three and in, seven-by. A five-elevener or a ten twenty-oner.

We used to hang around hoping to join in the older boys’ games and even at that age you were always the best player on the park. So relaxed it was like you had your hands in your pockets. It’s like you were born old.

The kids in my backcourt dream of playing for Celtic too, I can tell.

I look out at them from the kitchen window. Concrete grass and uneven slabs, washing line and rubbish bags, goal posts marked out on the fence.

These kids play the game the right way, the Celtic way, so the ball never goes above head height and there’s never a window broken. Total football next to the bin sheds. Every player comfortable in every position, from the boy wearing his maw’s shoes to the wee lassie pretending she’s a commentator.

You were some player, it’s true. A swivel of the hips, outside of the left foot, a forward pass into the penalty box. You made it look so easy.

Remember you were signed by the boys’ club after playing for the school team and hitting four goals in a semi-final, one direct from a corner? The ref made you retake it and you still scored.

After the age of 14 we never played with you again because the club didn’t want you to get injured. We couldn’t believe it when you got a passport at 15 and started going to cities all over Europe. Rotterdam, Dusseldorf, Valencia.

Man, these kids in the backcourt are loud. League winners, quadruple treblers, European champions of noise. Even two floors up and at the other end of the flat, with the creaking and the groaning and the coughing, it’s still all I can hear.

But you got injured, didn’t you, had to give up playing when you were 16. Broke your ankle during a game, no one even near you, just fell awkwardly running for the ball and that was it. From the only thing you knew, to nothing at all.

I didn’t see you for a while after the doctor said you’d never be able to run again. But I remember meeting you in the street one day and I knew something had changed. You had a black eye too and I asked what happened but you said you didn’t want to talk about it.

Wonder where you are now. Wonder if you’re in a flat just like mine, where things stay the same and what’s broken isn’t replaced.

Maybe the kids in your backcourt are just like mine too. A drag back here, a stepover there, nutmegs, lollipops, hand stands, head spins.

Maybe you’re watching telly, the same BBC4 documentary I’m watching right now, the one with the ponytailed asshole playing guitar in a recording studio. Maybe he has to turn it up to eleven because of the noise from the kids outside.

So cheers, backcourt kickabout weans.

Cheers you, for showing us how to play.

And cheers, total football in Torrisdale Street.

The sound of this place

The corner of a tenement with blue sky behind reflected on a puddle

So I was with my brother but we weren’t in the pub and we weren’t at the game, we were walking down Victoria Road instead.

Or maybe it was Cathcart Road or Dixon Avenue, Calder Street or Kingarth Lane, or some other thoroughfare popular with traffic and pedestrians and sourdoughballs.

Does Govanhill always sound like this?

Like what?

Like a building site.

He’s right, of course. He always is. Just don’t tell him I said that.  

Road works might be over, cycle lanes complete, but blocks of flats are being built, sewers and drains need replaced. Diggers and rollers on pavement tarmac, cutting and drilling through landscape concrete, hi viz slow motion lo viz blur.

Not quite suburbia round here, is it?

He’s right, again. Too much shared space, too many exotic lifeforms, not enough deadly white silence. No kids in crash helmets on their bikes in a cul-de-sac.

You hear more languages round here, too. Arabic, Kurdish, Farsi and a hundred more to go with the high-density housing, exclusion and ill health. Creaking floorboards, a dripping radiator, the sound of a mattress dropped in an alleyway.

We both look up but there’s less sky in Govanhill, we see roofs instead of sky, hear seagulls on those roofs, not like a gentle sunset by the evening shore but like screeching banshees angry at a tree.

Barking dogs, scurrying mice, I’m sure I heard an owl in the attic last week.

Still, it’s good to be out of the house, walking around, sight and sound. It helps us stay alive.

Up near the park now, buskers busking, almost jazz in the almost sunshine, or Roma musicians with fiddle and squeezebox. A siren in the distance, probably an ambulance or a fire engine or a cop car. Thunder overhead, rain starts to fall in long grey sheets that make so much noise because there’s only us there to hear.

I ask my brother what it’s like in the Gorbals and he said the ice cream van plays the Benny Hill tune, sometimes the theme from The Godfather, and the neighbours through the wall were playing a game of rugby last night. Still, makes a change from you listening to you talking pish.

I said shut it Gorbals right and he said by the way Govanhill, keep it down.

Cheers.

The best of all possible Govanhills

A white rocking horse on a pole in a shop window with a purple frame

Too much, Govanhill.

Too much place, the same place, the one that never changes.

Relentless rows of street after street, tenements with faces, big glass faces, walls closing in, blocking the view, limiting our horizons, everywhere we turn.

Inside is too crowded, even if you live alone, office, restaurant, entertainment hub all its own.

There must be different places, other things going on, over there not here.

But I don’t know and neither does Govanhill.

So we’re stuck together going round and round in the streets, in the flat, on the page.

The same shops at regular times for essential purposes, daily walking along identical pavements.

Reheated eating, repeated every day, always on that chair, wearing this set of clothes, the usual rubbish lighting on Zoom. We even go to sleep in the same position each night.

I’ve worn you out, Govanhill.

Crossed all your roads, climbed all your trees, been down those forest trails, mountain paths and hidden glens.

Stared out at your flat sky from the living room, bedroom, kitchen window.

Clapped with my neighbours, heard the ambulances in the street and the crying relatives, and sat and watched the moon rise over the roof of the tenement opposite.

In the best of all possible Govanhills.

So it might be too much but there’s nothing else for it, it is all there is.

I can’t see less of Govanhill, nor less of myself.

Can’t sing in another voice, wear a new outfit, breathe different air, not here, not yet.

So it’s me and you, round and round, nothing less, nothing more, no more than Govanhill.

I have to be where I live, otherwise it would be a different blog.

Cheers, drinking cans.

Cheers, watching telly.

Cheers, walking aimlessly round the flat.

In the best of all possible Govanhills.

Can’t live anywhere else

A bench in a park overgrown with weeds

You know I love you, Govanhill.

Yes, I went to Shawlands. But only the once and only for a coffee. It meant nothing to me.

Yes, I used to live there but now I love you, so I do.

Sick of the sight of you too, though. Your daft face there every morning as I wake up, looking just that bit worse than yesterday.

Bored of you, mate. Seen it all before. And these days there’s nothing else to look at so aye even better, cheers. Nightmare. You’re a nightmare.

No. I didn’t mean that, I’m sorry I said that, please forgive me. You know I pure love you.

But really, neither of us are at our best.

I’m in a state of extensive disrepair. Face collapsed, knees too, other bits needing replaced, recharged, tarted up.

Exhausted and rundown, and everyone I see is the same. An attempted hairstyle and colourful clothes can’t hide the inevitable sense of decline, eh? We’re all falling apart.

But I can still pass for a young man, of course. Therty at most, probably younger. No? What are you laughing at? Cut me some slack, Jack. These are challenging times. Unprecedented, even.

Your four walls don’t look great either, Govanhill.

Boiler leak and room freeze, broken floor to suspect window, cooker dead and chairs unknown. And don’t talk to me about the backcourt.

You could do with a lick of paint, a few nips and tucks, spruce yourself up.

And don’t worry, I’m not going to move to a three-bed new-build with a posh balcony in Langside, or hook up with some wee trampy bedsit in the west end.

You know I can’t live anywhere else.

Don’t know if we need some time apart, a bit of space, get our heads together, find out what we really want.

Me, I fancy a pint.

Talk soon, Govanhill.

Chips, and hold the adjectives

close up of some chips

Back when I worked in an office we would go for a drink on a Friday and on the way home I’d stop at a Chinese on Allison Street for balls of batter in a bright red sauce congealing before my eyes.

Now it’s a Ghanaian takeaway with a friendly young guy serving fish chowder and yams, and the office is still closed.

Always so many places to eat round here. Afghan, Kurdish, Vietnamese. Halal, vegan, deep-fried. New places which opened then closed, old ones I haven’t even tried yet. Takeaway, kerry out, readymade.

The chippy’s still allowed too.

Hot potato oblong seared in molten fat, yes please.

Closing time on a Saturday, standing in the mouth of a close eating a bag of chips, hoo-hoo-ing and haa-haa-ing, blistered tongue, teeth burning, steam rising. Hold your chip up to the night sky and it looks like an alien monolith, except smaller, and much tastier.

Vinegar, of course, never sauce. No adjectives, either. Not curly or French or crispy or waffle or sweet or fries or anything. Just chips. Scorched fried floury tattie bits to fill the belly and soak up the beer, cheers.

Watch you don’t meet Rab fae Torrisdale Street but. Mad Tracy said the sight of him eating chicken and chips was the most disgusting thing she’d ever seen.

Maybe me and mad Tracy should start a food blog. Take an in-depth look at Govanhill’s culinary scene. I could be the restaurant critic, an undercover eater writing online reviews.

Definitely food. Smiley face.

Served on a plate. Thumbs up.

Pure pish. Sad face.

Still honing my skills but you get the idea.

Until then it’s a yard of ale and broccoli ice cream like everyone else who’s working from home.

Cheerio, Ovenhill.

Always there or thereabouts

brightly lit windows on a tenement block at night

Here now at dusk in Govanhill and places just like it tenements are glowing through tea time windows with curtains open and sitting room lights on.

City winter early evening comfort chair. Pub, restaurant, nightclub, cinema, shopping mall, football stadium and holiday resort right there, at home, in your flat, on the couch, in your slippers.

Our past is written in those windows. You, me, we, all of us. We know these places, and places just like it. We were always there or thereabouts.

We sat in closes with brothers and sisters, friends and enemies, away from the house with the clutter and shouting and never enough space.

We kicked a ball, cracked a window, stained glass, broke a tile, wally dug, aw naw, ran away. We scratched our names into the walls, got caught winching or tasting cheap booze.

We were there when it was somewhere to hide for a desperate guy being chased by the polis or a mob from some other scheme. Or a nice spot out the rain to tan your wine. Might as well have a pish while you’re here, eh?

We were there or thereabouts.

In dark pubs with dim light and strong drink and bare walls and sawdust floor and wooden seats and flat cap, gap tooth men.

In corner shop and sweet shop, with multi-coloured chews and gums and balls and plooms and kubes.

In open space around high rise blocks, landscaped emptiness and public art, bookies, offies, jakeys.

We were there or thereabouts. Our parents and grandparents too. Folk fae roon the corner, families up top, people down by, everyone, all of us, we were there.

And then as now, years ago and at this moment, when the sky clears anything feels possible.

Breathe more deeply, see more clearly our brothers and sisters on the street beside us, all of us together, part of a whole, of something bigger, ourselves and each other, always together.

So cheers, Govanhill.

And places just like it.