Three cheers, Govanhill

Front of a building with multi-coloured squares beside some windows

So I’m walking through Govanhill the only way I know how, slowly, repeatedly, religiously.

Walking these streets is just like going to church.

I don’t mean worshipping dead leaves by the railway line, praying on your knees before a boarded-up shop, or seeing the face of baby Jesus in a used nappy on the pavement.

I mean because it’s boring, it goes on too long and can’t I just stay in bed?

There must be a quicker easier way for my sins to be forgiven.

I could try being rescued by the dogs in the park, the freedom and abandon of these charismatic wee bandits, running around, chasing a ball, legs twirling.

Redemption every morning watching a puppy do a shite on the grass.

Walking these streets doesn’t clear your head either, it just muddles your thinking, adds extra complexity, a burden of truth it’s impossible to ignore.

Confusing your thoughts, darkening your outlook, multiplying grief, just like Shawlands Cross or Eglinton toll.

Rubbing salt into your wounds, pepper in your eye, mustard up your arse, just like Langside Avenue or Battlefield Road.

Forward into oblivion, or Pollokshields East at least, Pollokshields West at best.

Walking these streets doesn’t clear your head because your head is never clear, nothing ever is, you understand less, certain of nothing, trust in everything.

I walk therefore I’m not.

I do it because I don’t.

I can’t because I won’t.

See? Nothing is clear. Litter on the road, the rattling in your ears, dust in the creases of your face.

So you head out from Govanhill, out towards the light where the sky opens up, where everything looks bigger, things might be better, and you might be too.

Higher ground, clearer path to the truth and the light, the same light as on the tenth floor of that high-rise block, one solitary light on at seven in the morning, someone just finished work or just starting work, who gets up early or goes to bed late, or both at the same time, watching Starsky and Hutch, listening to Radio 4, tending their plants, rubber, cheese, succulent or savoury, too skint to turn the heating on.

There’s always a hill to climb, a decision to make, a puzzle to solve, so you keep on walking because it’s all you know, there’s nothing else to do.

Aye right, fresh air.

Nae bother, steps.

Very good, exercise.

It’s just daft shoes on black ice in dull darkness and cold wind and look and feel ridiculous.

Three cheers, Govanhill.

Songs of Tongland

Four statues, maybe historical figures, men with beards and women with flowing hair

There’s only one Govanhill, two Govanhills, three Govanhills or more.

All in one place, one time and place, here on these streets in the south of the city.

This Govanhill pavement, flattened canvas coated by centuries of shoes. Scattered history across cracked stone, dead wheels and broken feet.

Listen to that pavement, song of the banging close door, sirens in the night, quiet weeping from a darkened room, a black dog barking.

A toot from the railway line sounds like midnight fog horns from the old river on New Year’s Eve, the ringing of church bells.

Call and response, lonely harmony of distant sounds.

The people on that pavement, you and me, them and us. A painted anarchist in a dress, inverted full-backs, caffeine turn-ups and varnished nails. Doers and makers and tossers and dossers. 

Agile dredgers, community-based mentalists, nimble home-based flip flops.

Or a young teen with blood down his face from a cut on the head, a bottle smashed, glass war.

Valium encounters, chib mark minimalism, nuisance behaviour, stealing your bike.

And on that pavement might be Irish bar, local boozer, big guy with a baldy napper and bad skin who’s drunk but friendly, fat and polite.

Or a problem drug user punting shoplifted perfume, splintered jewellery and bottles of strong drink.

Even a hip joint with craft beer and t-shirt slogans but no one standing at the bar and bored dogs ignored on the floor.

Sometimes that pavement goes backwards not forwards, backwards in time, because history had dreams when it was young too although things never turn out quite the way you’d hoped and now there’s less to look forward to than ever before.

Dead giants roam our streets, heavy ghosts of industry, of furnace and shop floor, of heat and smoke and noise.

Dusty roads and corners of grass where kids kick a ball at dykes in the backcourt or rats in the bin shed.

Sprayed slogans on the decaying bricks of an old city.

Shamrock, Gaucho, Fleeto, Tongland.

Blackhill, Haghill, Lambhill.

And two Govanhills, non-binary, very binary.

We have, you don’t.

We exist, you won’t.

We are, who are you?

Not yet, Govanhill. Not yet.

Hope so, suits me, about time

Brick archway with colourful graffiti sprayed round the side

Interest in property in G42 has soared by fifty per cent in the past year alone, with house prices surging to a new record high.

So said Rab fae Torrisdale Street just before he passed out on the pavement after drinking ten cans of Special Brew.

Substantial investment in local infrastructure such as the South City Way and the new public square at the south-west corner of Queen’s Park has made the whole area an increasingly attractive place to live, work, visit and invest. Then there’s excellent transport links and quality food and drink right here on your doorstep.

In summary, added Rab, bakeries, coffee shops, ethical grocers, green space and cycling. What more do you need?

Nothing, I said, nothing at all. Because that’s all that matters to the people who count.

So I left Rab to it and watched him lie down on his mattress made of cans and I kept on walking through the streets of Govanhill until I found myself back in ma ain midden.

Wish someone would buy my tenement flat.

Grey walls surround it, cold wind blows through it, empty space at the heart of it.

Formica ceiling, old brick and tarmac, attitude baked into the plaster.

There was an earthquake in the kitchen last week too.

Underground eruption, seismic outbreak, shifting tectonic plates over by the sink.

I thought it was the Big Bang but this time in reverse. Thought I’d be sucked into a supermassive black hole, pulverised, destroyed, incinerated in an instant.

But it’s okay, don’t worry, I wasn’t, not really.

Instead, a cup fell off the table and smashed on the floor.

The only mirror in the house came down from the wall.

Two slices of bread popped up from the toaster too.

Maybe it was just the mice getting wide, too wide, too massive, supermassive, like giant rats, black dogs, angry goats, running riot round the kitchen knocking things over.

Hope none of this comes up in the home report.

Along with the jakey who’s pished his troosers and is sleeping in the close.

And the sleekit wee neds by the bin sheds.

Offers over might bring on buyer’s remorse.

Could be worse, I suppose.

Could be living in Strathbungle.

Churros, Govanhill.

The hungriest ghost in Govanhill

windows on the outside of a tenement block

Motorway signals Glasgow approaching and it lifts your heart, it always does.

Back to the city. No more beach or hillside or holiday home, no tourists with backpacks and bumbags, nor fish and chips that Tripadvisor says are the best in the region.

No more timetables or roadworks or departure queues, just yer ain bed and yer ain shower and clean clothes to wear again.

Thank God for the city, the imaginary city, with chimney pots and parked cars and apartment buildings that aren’t being shelled at least.

It’s the city not the suburbs so it’s walking not driving, public not private, shared space not fenced off.

I know what it’s like in suburbia. I’ve been there, man. Seen it with my own eyes. No municipal parks or skating rinks or swimming pools or department stores or football pitches with red or black ash, nothing.

Here it’s tenement blocks and busy pubs and crowded streets that look global but act local.

Hindustan Times, Donegal News, Evening Citizen Saturday pink edition.

The beat of our shoes on the pavement, scruff shoes, Charlie Chaplin shoes, mostly.

The four guys at the corner look like they’re staring you down but they move out the way as soon as you approach.

People with nae teeth, skinny legs and brass necks who smoke too much but whose warmth keeps you dry during the rainy season, where a total stranger gives you a straight answer and if you don’t take yourself too seriously, you’ll be just fine.

I’ve always lived in the city, an imaginary city, and now I am Govanhill and Govanhill is me.

If it didn’t exist I’d have to invent it and where would I start?

An imaginary city, an invisible city, a unifying place, Pittsburgh, Prague or Pollokshields. Wherever you are, that city is with you, for ever and ever, walking alongside.

Foot-high toddlers with kites in the park, Polish mademoiselles strolling arm-in-arm, an Indian family kicking an evening ball past jogging runners and cyclists.

No fantasy city or invented place, not theoretical but realitical, real-life reality of crumbling walls, dogs barking and bins unemptied since medieval times.

Back in the city, that’s where we are, and wherever you are, I wish you were here.

Cheers.

Govanhill.

Why a Jacobite is our favourite chocolate biscuit

Mannequin dressed as a workman sitting on toilet seat with a tenement in the background

Getting drunk with wee Nicola in Glasgow southside is a political act, a separatist act, a nationalist act.

Me and the First Minister out on the razz in her very ain Scottish Parliamentary constituency.

Wee Nicky is the current manager of bony Skotchland, of course. First team coach of the smallest country in the best world, the countriest world of small bests, the bestest world country of smalls, whatever.

Hoots mon, help ma Boab, haggis, neeps and twatties.

Rabbie Burns and Johnny Walker, Sunday Post and Highland flings.

Bag a Munro, finger a MacTavish, tickle a Corbett’s bollocks.

Makes ye proud to be Skarrish.

But wee Nickla is also every citizen of Govanhill’s very ain elected member.

So we had a few swallies and a couple of goldies propping up the bar in Neeson’s.

Went round to Yadgar for a lamb biryani, Peshwari naan and takeaway mushroom pakora.

Then across tae Rab’s over in Torrisdale Street to score some late-night blaw.

Chap the door, just say Mel Gibson sent ye, aw right, job done, nae bother.

And after that we sat on the pavement to have a wee toke and discuss the issues that matter.

The Westmoreland Street question, the Northern Pollok protocol, power sharing between Cathcart Road and Garturk Street. A wealthier, happier, fairer Polmadie?

Indyref too, how now is the time, like it almost was last time and though the moment had gone here it is again, and how once-in-a-lifetime doesn’t come round very often.

And we both agreed we were Glasgow partisans, Govanhill nationalists, tenement city separatists.

Then I poured wee Nicola into a taxi back to Bute House and she said Cheers Govanhill and I went home to my tenement flat for more bonnie wee national stereotypes.

Yesterday I was tartan shortbread tin laddie. Tomorrow I’ll be kilted hunk eating porridge. Day after that I’ll be bagpiping through the glens.

But tonight I’m solving my problems and making them worse by being drunk and falling asleep on the couch.

Wha’s like us?

Me neither. Me too.

Cheery.

More tea, Yoker?

Phone box with graffiti on the side of a kid standing on the back of another reaching for a can of spray paint, with a mural on a wall in the background

People sometimes tell me Govanhill feels like London. Dalston, Tower Hamlets, Bethnal Green.

I say I wouldnae know mate, I’ve never been to London, don’t even know where it is, is it near Edinburgh?

All I know is Govanhill is part of a city, a big city, dear old Glasgow town.

Govanhill is married to Kinning Park, Anderston, and Dalmarnock.

People talk the same, look the same, the pubs are one way or the other.

Govanhill’s brothers and sisters are Drumchapel, Springburn, and Provanmill.

Same old wheezing at the same old bus stops up and down the main road.

Buildings in Govanhill face the same sun and the same rain as in Possilpark, the Gorbals, Carntyne.

Dry bars, wet faces, cultural dexterity all around ye.

Sandstone tenements mean the streets here look just like Dennistoun, Partick, or Yorkhill.

Working class, high density, low income, ill health.

The same squirming landscapes, bricked-up doorways, underground creatures in basement hellholes in Barlanark, Mount Florida, Tollcross.

Pedestrian walkways showered in graffiti, young young Cumbie kill for fun.

If only city place names gave some clues to the past. Jamaica Street, Kingston Docks, Plantation Square.

The great villages of Glasgow once had mini town centres in their own right, with industry and commerce, thoroughfares and town halls, football teams and newspapers and civic self-worth.

Great villages laid waste and rebuilt, laid waste and rebuilt, again and again, each time less than before.

With solid citizens of pride and warmth weighed down by struggle but eyes that ripple in glittering water.

Shawlands, Oatlands, Newlands.

Aw naw.

Calton, Bridgeton, Royston.

Stop, please.

Linthouse, Auldhouse, Easterhouse.

I can’t take any more.

Too many places, so many stories, so little truth.

And then there’s Springboig.

So London? Aye.

Queen’s Park, King’s Park, Charing Cross, Woodside.

But this is Govanhill, Glasgow, with weird family members all over this toon.

Auntie Garngad, Uncle Auchenshuggle, nephew Cowcaddens and niece Crossmyloof. 

Aw naw, cousin Riddrie’s pissed again.

She had a tactical can at eleven this morning.

Cheers.

You are now entering free Govanhill

set of cartoon faces in various colours against a yellow background

So I bumped into Rab fae Torrisdale Street and he asked me where I’d been and I said I died and came back to life, just like a football team we all know.

He said you must be talking pish because that’s all you ever do and I said too right, fanny baws and kept on walking.

But as I left him alone drinking wine on the pavement I started thinking how a neighbourhood can change, even come back to life, and the gentrification of regeneration reinvented in Govanhill.

How Govanhill is part of Glasgow’s imagination. How it’s been the gateway to the city and the country as a whole, an Ellis Island for immigrants, Jewish, Irish, Bangladeshi, Romanian, for a hundred years and more.

And now non-dom fandans, vegan operatives, bakery extremists, coffee space artisan drips, and that well-known middle-class sneer.

How creatives create creative places for creative people to create and how that can only be good for young professionals like Rab.

But Govanhill is still a place of limping bams and coughing neds with everything to say but no one listening, standing in the road shouting at the wind, nothing to lose and even less to gain.

So welcome to Govanhill’s own local hub, our blended model of folk on the broo or delivering pizzas, of home workers and non-workers, outright shakers and total shaggers, dealers, dopers and a complete set of bastards.

Where digital acceleration means Rab stealing your phone and running away.

Where co-creation is mad Tracy knocking your bike, painting it black and selling it on.

Blunt place, blunt people. Funky weegies, unequivocalists, pain in the arsists, yes we are.

Dough that isnae sour, beards that urnae trimmed.

Nae drive-by almond milk either.

But don’t worry, oblivious activists, organic organisers, community shoegrazing unrealists.

We’re not indigenous, none of us are, that’s the joke as well as the punchline.

Because we’re all immigrants here. Even mad Tracy, who was born during a thunderstorm at 6pm on 6/6 in a bin shed on Edinburgh Road.

No wonder she torched her flat that time.

Cheerio.

Govanhill needs a break

Purple cardboard cut-out of a figure playing the violin against a blue sky with tenements in the background

I need a break from Govanhill.

Hit the road, the open road, Pollokshaws Road, see where it takes me.

Route 66 to Shawlands, Newlands, Merrylee.

Highway 61 to revisit the Gorbals, Oatlands, Richmond Park.

Big world out there.

I could be crossing the continent coast to coast, desert freeway with the top down. Carndwadric, Thornliebank, Hillpark.

Rickety gas stations and burger joints and neon-lit diners selling corndogs and grits and refried beans. Myrtle Park, Toryglen, Langside.

There’s a soundtrack too, with slide guitar, probably in D minor. Maxwell Park, Pollokshields, Dumbreck Road.

It’s Jack Kerouac, isn’t it, wise mystic bum saint in that soft desolate west, howl of the freight train in the soulful American night.

Junction three on the A727 just past Clarkston.

Want a lonesome ballad about life on the road? Try waiting for a late bus from Polmadie on a wet Tuesday in February. It’ll break your heart.

I might need a break from Govanhill but there’s no need to leave tenement city.

Glasgow has the best beaches in Scotland.

Pristine sand, sunset cocktails, relaxing sea air, none of that shite.

I’m talking the Broomielaw, Yoker, Clyde and Forth canal.

Go swimming at Kingston docks, Prince’s dock, or the old dry dock, splat.

Take a cruise on the Renfrew ferry, the Govan ferry, or round the pond in Queens Park.

Wild camping in the wilderness of Kelvingrove, Glesga Green, Pollok estate.

Escape to the mountains, and not just Mount Florida but Mount Vernon, even Mountblow.

Flee to the hills, and I don’t mean Crosshill or Maryhill, I mean Sighthill and Prospecthill.

And then back to Govanhill, jewel in the crown, hidden gem, perfect holiday destination.

It’s out there, I know it is, I’ve seen it, I’ve been it.

Stunning landscape, vibrant culture, friendly locals.

Nae midgies either.

Cheers.

Massive onions

collage of loaves of bread

I like bread, we go back a long way, bread is my friend.

Bap, wrap, bloomer and bun.

Farmhouse, shithouse and downright granary.

Plain, pan and rustic cob.

Bread is the best thing since sliced mushrooms.

It works as a doorstopper, helps plug a gap in a leaky window, and is great for soaking up the alcohol when you come home from the pub pished but have a job interview the next morning. You know what it’s like, we’ve all been there.

A founding principle of Govanhill, of course, is that everything except soup and beer is better wrapped between two pieces of bread. (Others include: eating the crust gives you curly hair, swallowing an apple seed means a tree will grow inside you, and masturbation improves your hearing).

Another basic truth is that hot buttered toast before the mid-morning cocktail helps settle the stomach.

And if you like a longer sandwich – maybe grilled giraffe neck, fried elephant tongue, whale liver and massive onions – there’s a baguette for that.

Me and bread go back a long way.

I remember the old bakery on the main road next to the cobbler’s, beside the butcher shop with carcasses hanging on hooks in the back and sawdust on the floor. Chugging motor cars and buses outside, belching exhausts all soot-blackened black, pedestrians in overcoats and headscarves.

The soft smell from that bakery, warm dough rising, sweet and nutty and pastry. Loaves nesting on shelves cooling, stacked in flour, cakes settling, oozing warmth and comfort.

Rolls, flat rolls, therteen of them, when your baker’s dozen was a real thing.

So aye, me and bread are good pals.

Honestly but. Nine quid for a loaf? Nah, mate. Ah cannae, ah wullnae, and am urnae gonnae, okay?  

If only I’d gone to art school to study baking.

Cubist brioche, sliced impressionism, abstract expressionist panini.

Maybe that’s why Glasgow School of Art burned down. Twice. In four years. With the same people in charge.

Maybe they’ll spend £100m on an exact replica of my arse instead.

Anyway, don’t worry, I’m only joking, I’m not a philistine. I like art, we go back a long way, art is my friend.

Surrealist cereal, dadaist croutons, renaissance ravioli.

Whatever you feel, Govanhill.

Cheese.

Increasing Victoria Road later

Cartoon picture on a wall of a pigeon, with 'pigeons make Glasgow' written behind it

And now the shitting forecast, issued by Cheers Govanhill on behalf of the Inglefield Torrisdale maritime and coastguard agency.

Weather reports from coastal stations, ya bass.

Thundery showers. Irish Sea in Govanhill. Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Black, North and Baltic.

Westerly Pollokshaws at the moment, perhaps gale nine later in Pollokshields east.

High pressure Cathcart Road, Daisy Street recent hail, Ardbeg Lane spilling shortly.

Fog banks, ten sometimes, a hundred after that, but very poor, unusually poor, visibility poorer still.

The wind was four by north three or something when it happened outside the Queens Park Café.

Guy had it coming, didn’t know what he was doing, said the wrong thing.

Punched in the face, moderate not fair.

Walked away, backing south easterly.

Becoming variable, then cyclonic.

Collapsed in Kingarth Lane.

East side of south, Govanhill Street then Butterbiggins Road, veering northerly into traffic. Thousands and se7enty se7en, falling slowly.

Low cloud, complex low at best, violent storm ten, perhaps storm eleven.

Otherwise becoming speechless, or less.

Occasionally nine nine nine later, so it must be Dixon Avenue, Niddrie Road or Calder Street.

Now rising more slowly. Inshore welcome coastal waters alongside Langside Drive.

Drizzle at times on Allison Street. Increasing Victoria Road or not. Govanhill Baths automatic.

Southerly, sisterly, moonlight, oh moonlight, thank you moonlight.

That completes the shitting bulletin. More to follow, midnight every night.

Cheers.