Govanhill stories: Head south, they said

colourful collage of made-up gang names

I fled the regime in war-torn Shettleston and moved my family to the safety of Govanhill.

Forced to leave our homeland, our culture, in the hope of a better life.

It was a difficult time in the east end of the city.

Ballot rigging in Ruchazie, voter intimidation across Parkhead, an attempted coup in Garthamlock led to mass demonstrations, factory occupations, land seizures.

Defund the Baltic Fleet. Impeach Milton Tongs. Not in my name, Brigton Derry.

After the collapse of peace talks between Queenslie and the Garngad, Carntyne threatened air strikes on Balornock, a curfew was declared in Tollcross and food riots broke out all over Riddrie.

Unrest even spread to Dennistoun, once the eleventh coolest neighbourhood in the UK.

And when big Malky fae the high flats went on bunger strike until giro day, I knew the time had come.

There had to be a brighter future for me and my family.

Head south, they said. You’ll find sanctuary there, among the vineyards and olive groves, where cattle graze and flowers bloom, all that sort of shite.

So we paid a smuggler to get us over the border and he took us to the bus stop in the dead of night and put us on the top deck of the number 57 to Carnwadric.

Bawheids, growlers, goons, oafs. We’ve all been there.

Huddling together for warmth, trying to ignore the empty can of Irn Bru on the seat, the crisp poke on the floor. I was putting my family at risk, I knew I was, but we endured, we had to.  And thirty minutes later we set foot in the south side.

It’s a different world here. Here there is shelter, clean drinking water, sourdough bread. My kids can go to school without being attacked by Springboig.

We have everything we need in Govanhill. Pubs that are closed, overcrowded homes, a pond where a hundred people can go ice skating during a pandemic.

I might move back east some day. I still dream of the vast open spaces of Barlanark, the soaring mountains of Cranhill, lost civilisations such as Red Road or Hutchesontown, ancient tribes like the Yoker Toi.

Until then, I have the mighty rivers and valleys of Govanhill.

Cheers, tenth coolest neighbourhood in the UK.

Govanhill stories: Marius started painting again

closeup of a painting of a man with dark hair and a beard

It’s a better life in a new country, isn’t it? It has to be. It must be. I’ve started painting again.

Marius always loved painting. Failed all his exams at school, except art. He always loved art. He has an easel in the living room by the window and gets up early every morning to paint before he leaves for work. It’s quiet. No kids running around, his wife isn’t shouting at him, no noise from the neighbours through the wall.

Marius came to Govanhill six years ago with his uncle’s family, stayed on Allison Street, eight of them in three rooms sleeping on mattresses. Once he found a job and a flat through that agency on Victoria Road, his wife and kids came over. And he started painting again.

I do portraits mostly, of family and friends, from photographs. Sometimes pets, favourite movie stars or football players. I don’t make any money, just enough to buy paint, brushes or paper.

I’m still learning, so my favourite thing is to do copies. Van Gogh, mostly. I love van Gogh. Starry night, the café terrace one, the colours he used. I learned so much from him. I don’t show those to anyone.

I work in a car wash. Long hours, low pay, cold and wet, on my feet all day, constant back pain, rude customers.

My boss, a young guy, is a shit. Always trying to prove himself. Even fired my friend for being late one morning because he had to take his son to hospital.

The landlord, he’s also a shit. He put the rent up again, we had no heating for a week, took him a month to fix the front door.

My wife’s cousin is staying with us and he’s a shit too. I’m surrounded by them.

He sits around my house eating my food, wearing the skinniest jeans in Govanhill, listening to 90s hip hop. I love Wu Tang Clan too but not all day, man. But what can you do? He’s family. And he has massive shoulders.

I’ve had no real problem here. I like Scottish people. They’re friendly, but hard to understand. Scottish people are in every country in the world. 

There are a lot of people who look like me in Govanhill. And my uncle, his sister, her kids, my friends, Romanian food shops and Transylvania, of course.

I miss the music back home, and I don’t mean Wu Tang Clan. Whenever we go back to Romania there are only old people left, like my parents. They like to play but there’s no one there to hear. Me, I prefer painting.

My home is my family, my wife and two daughters. Maybe my daughters will grow up to be teachers one day so I can retire and go to art school. Until then, it’s the car wash.

I’m trying to give my family a good life, like your parents and grandparents did.

It’s better, isn’t it? It must be. Always better, always worth it. Isn’t it? At least I’ve started painting again.

Noroc, Govanhill.

Govanhill stories: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

two stickers with cartoon heads on the side of a wall

Govanhill is a good place to find yourself. I found people who look just like me. And a guy who punched a car.

Matthew moved up to Glasgow to study at the art school and heard about this great neighbourhood with proper tenements, really cheap, really diverse. Now he shares a flat with a photographer and a web designer, a furniture maker lives upstairs and a chef on the top floor.

We used to have barbecues together in the backcourt. Now we do it online, which is better. Now I don’t have to eat that sourdough bread which tastes like dust.

The close is full of signs reminding residents to keep quiet, close the door, don’t buzz in strangers, separate the recycling, and more.

But Matthew doesn’t mind being told what to do. It helps him make the right choices. And if the people on the ground floor are a bit rowdy, that’s just what happens when you choose to live somewhere cheap.

I knew about Glasgow’s hard reputation but it’s so not true. It’s such a vibrant place. I did see a guy punch a car last week, but he said the car was asking for it.

I don’t know any actual Glasweegies but they seem friendly, talking away, thinking you understand what they’re saying. If they start injecting heroin into their eyeballs, I just keep walking.

I knew about Govanhill’s reputation too, but I haven’t seen kids being sold on street corners or anything.

Matthew’s friend Mark is a music critic, Luke writes a food blog and John is a film maker, although they’re also unemployed. They have a lot in common, such as queuing for coffee on a deserted pavement.

Everyone wants to be with their community, don’t they? Otherwise, you wouldn’t get out of the house. We’re here to support each other, Govanhill or not.

Most of us have side hustles too. Staring at the floor, not washing our hair, crying uncontrollably for no reason.

Matthew loves the diversity in Govanhill. All the different languages you hear on the streets, food you don’t recognise, specialist shops, start-ups. Vintage stores really improve a place too. Without them it’s just charity shops. And the choice of bread is much better than it was.

I love how there are so many communities in Govanhill, and how everyone’s so supportive. Trans activists and radical feminists, socialistas and nationalistics, even the Third Lanarks and Partick Thistles gambolling down Victoria Road arm in arm. It’s such a vibrant place.

My home is still my parents’ house in Brighton. If it doesn’t work out here, I can always go back there. But I chose Govanhill because it’s cheap and it has an edge and it makes me feel alive.

Money’s not an issue. I don’t judge people because they’re poor. Some of my best friends are poor. Rab fae Torrisdale Street, mad Tracy who torched her flat that time.

You just can’t avoid these characters in Govanhill.

Cheers.

Govanhill stories: Come home, Steph

view of a church spire with a blue sky behind and autumn trees in front

People say you should have dreams. I say waking up in the morning is what matters.

Steph grew up in a high-rise in the Gorbals, ninth floor, with a view right over the motorway. She loved that motorway.

I used to sit staring out my bedroom window as a wee lassie, mesmerised, wondering where all those cars and lorries and buses were going and wanting to go there too. Still wish I’d learned to drive.

She landed in Govanhill three years ago after living in Pollokshaws, then Summerston, and later her sister’s in Castlemilk when she met this guy Rab and moved into his flat on Torrisdale Street soon after.

What a scumbag. Never had a job, sat around watching telly, stole from me, even tried to knock me about one night so I broke his jaw, moved out the next day and got my own place just off Calder Street. See, I know when to run and when to stand and fight. So nae luck, Rab.

She knows her way around Govanhill too. Knows baked beans are two for one at Sainsbury’s, cornflakes are on special at Tesco, the off sales opposite the bank sells the cheapest beer, and that you should always get bananas from the fruit shops on Allison Street. Knows to get green from big Malky and gear from the Chinese guy round the corner.

I went into that organic grocery store on Victoria Road once, but tomatoes were eight quid a kilo and a loaf of bread cost a fiver.

Nobody there looked like me or spoke like me. I thought, am I still in Glasgow?

I know people come and go in Govanhill all the time, and there’s a lot of immigrants round here, but it’s the same everywhere. Russian was the most common language in my sister’s close in Castlemilk.

See, Govanhill thinks it’s unique, but it’s just like Springburn or Oatlands or any other part of Glasgow. Same tenements, same football teams, same weather, same nuggets.

I live in Govanhill, but that doesn’t mean it’s my home. The block I grew up in was demolished, and my only family is my sister, so maybe I don’t have a home. Or I haven’t found it yet. Home might be the next place I go to. Cowcaddens, Thornliebank. There’s always somewhere better.

She still has a view of the motorway from the back window in her flat. Same road, different view. Now it’s a faint glow at the back of the sky, beyond the horizon, just out of reach.

Now there’s danger in that road. The temptation to lose yourself. That you set off and don’t come back. That you keep going, for ever.

Come home, Steph.

I wish I could.

Cheers.

Govanhill stories: What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

a tenement block in morning sun, with trees and a hedge to the left

Mags was a fierce wee wummin in a fur coat with a supermarket trolley that took no prisoners, a walking stick she brandished at litter on the pavement, and windows she banged when anyone came near her close.

But her legs are going, especially her knees, and now she hardly gets out at all, not even to the pensioners’ club at the community centre for a cheeky wee sherry with Betty, Jean and big Babs.

Now she pads around the kitchen in her chunky blue cardigan with pockets at the side, from armchair to TV and back again, trying not to think of what might have been.

What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

Condensed milk for my morning coffee, son.

Her daughter comes by once a week to help with shopping, driving in from Hamilton or Motherwell or Bellshill or somewhere.

Mags said she doesn’t even know where Lanarkshire is and I said I think it’s near Paisley.

What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

Biscuits I baked for the great grandweans, son.

Mags moved to Govanhill after her husband died and the house got repossessed and she lost her job when the department store she worked in closed down.

I didn’t think I’d end up here, son. I wanted to travel, go to university, maybe become a lawyer. I worked in a shop and had a family. I thought I’d have a different life.

What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

Two bottles of whisky, sixty Temazepam, and a bag of weed my grandson left.

We had a lot in common, me and Mags. Sometimes we swapped tips on catching mice.

I use a hammer, son.

What?

Only joking. Peanut butter, on a trap.

We both lived in the same kind of place, recognised our neighbours by their coughing, knew the guy upstairs’ favourite music, tried to ignore the bin bags on the landing.

What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

Govanhill, son. Your home is in your head, so why not your pocket too? Govanhill is my home, but it’s changed. The noise, the rubbish, people who look nothing like me. Maybe it used to be better, maybe it was always like this. People remember whatever they like. I remember wanting to travel. Now I just want to get out the house and see my pals.

What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

A set of golf clubs. In case you find yourself dressed like a twat and have nothing to do.

I might go to the shops. Want anything?

Get me some peanut butter, son. Cheers.

Always cheap and super hip

A tenement reflected in a puddle, with blue sky behind

We grew up in Govanhill, or places just like it.

We didn’t move here in our twenties because of cheap rents and cool places to hang out.

You and I were always cheap and super hip.

We went to school round here, played in these streets, got chased, kicked a ball, climbed trees, got chased again.

We grew up in confined spaces, living on top of one other, side by side, above and below in sandstone blocks on tenement streets. Eight flats in a close, two or three apartment, four bods in every bedroom.

Everyone annoyed the neighbours, everyone got fed up with the noise through the walls. The electrician from Poland, the teacher from the Western Isles, wee Mrs McGlumpher who always gave you money.

And who among us hasn’t found a drunk man mumbling in his sleep at the back door of the close at some point in their life?

We went to the chippy round here, the fruit shop, the paper shop, were sent to get our dads out of the pubs, even the bookies.

We played in the backcourts, jumped across dykes, fell over and cut our heads. Knew the places not to go, the bams to avoid too.

Wee Rab dropping one of his smelly turds on Torrisdale Street.

Wee Tracey playing with matches, setting fire to her dolly’s clothes.

Because we grew up in Govanhill, or places just like it, and our memory is longer.

You and me, us and them, families, strangers, children, grannies in crowded apartments with leaking pipes and creaking floorboards and permanent struggle like every person in every building everywhere.

We carry this city around with us, on our shoulders and inside. A city not built on coffee and bread, but broken teeth and ill behaviour.

Twenty-year-old students come and go, our long memory remains.

Govanhill or not Govanhill, Glasgow is the question.

Cheers?

Cheers.

We is all there is

Two colourful paintings side by side: a woman sitting on grass in a backcourt, another woman sitting indoors drinking tea

It’s me and you Govanhill, like it or not.

Stuck with each other like a pair of cranky old buzzards arguing over a dead mouse.

We’re too much alike, and too different for words, but there’s nothing else to talk about, so what can I say.

We is all there is.

Wonder what it’s like in other places. Open space, ocean views, tumbleweed? Dysfunctional homes, hidden violence, addiction? Aye, here too.

But at least Govanhill is a weird moveable feast, like a train station concourse spread over a few square miles.

Everyone’s leaving or everyone’s arriving or halfway between the two.

This overworked, undersized constant crowd of limbs and masks and bikes and prams and fireworks being let off in the street, ffs.

Lorry drivers, dog walkers, shelf stackers. Trans activists, trade unionists, migrant workers. And those young minds who entitle themselves and whose main entitle is themselves.

What a main road we have too.

Charismatic wee Romanian deli, new Italian bistro, hardware store with floors and aisles invisible from outside.

Silversmiths, tattooists, Asian outfitters, organic grocery and community food bank.

Primary schools, building sites, pubs sometimes open but mostly closed, and right at the top is the best one of Glasgow’s ninety three parks, dear green place and that.

The supermarket chains, the global fast-food brands that gie ye the dry boak.

Great institutions like the library and the swimming pool yet to reopen.

The start-ups, closed downs and gone for evers.

Miles and miles automatic, recent rain now rising.

Dry afternoons and wet evenings becoming drier, wetter too.

So it’s me and you Govanhill, like it or not, in it together, together as one.

Not walking on air, soaring over the rooftops or flying through the heavens but down here, swimming on the pavement.

It’s our nature, and everything has to be true to its nature.

Cheers.

Go.

Van.

Hill.

Lovely couple flee Govanhill in a bathtub

a tidy row of rubbish bins outside a block of flats

This flat used to be a great place to live but it went downhill after I moved in.

A lovely young couple were here before me. She worked in newspapers, he was a university librarian.

But they fled Govanhill in a bathtub one night and are now seeking asylum in a three-bed semi just outside the city with good transport links and excellent schools.

Lovely couple would never have let things deteriorate the way I did. They were always too busy holding hands and sailing through life having fulfilling careers and beautiful kids.

And then I arrived, from just around the corner, and brought the tone of the place right down.

House prices began to fall, estate agents started rebranding Govanhill as south central Polmadie, wider Crosshill north, western Bathstrungo.

It was a different time. More chaotic, much less chaotic. A time when you could get to the game, go for a swally, visit a restaurant, catch a movie, go to the hairdressers all on your way home. I mean, I haven’t been to a soft play area in ages.

But don’t worry, lovely couple. Things have changed since your day. My poor performance meant the flat was placed in special measures, with a new management structure, co-opted board members, an interim chief exec. Now it’s an area on the up.

Check out what I’ve done with the crib.

The windows were washed just three years ago. An avocado might have been in the fridge last June. There’s even a pot plant somewhere.

I made other improvements too.

Stole the flag pole from the top of the hill in Queens Park and put it in the hallway and now I have great views over the city and beyond.

Applied for planning permission to rebuild the old Cladda club in the back bedroom.

And I recently decreed that every pub in the area closed because of the pandemic shall reopen in my kitchen, free of charge.

So nae luck, lovely couple.

And fingers crossed, Govanhill.

A piece and Jamieson Street

Fireworks at night, with brightly-lit window of a tenement at bottom left

A wee spell in Govanhill should be on everyone’s to-do list, bucket list, shopping list.

Living round here should be on the syllabus in schools, legally prescribed by doctors.

Think about it. Your five a day could be Butterbiggins, Inglefield, Torrisdale, Hollybrook and Carfin.

I mean, Govanhill already gets great reviews on Amazon, tripadvisor and we buy any car dot com too. It should be a compulsory purchase.

Folk could stay here for a six-month stretch, on a rotating basis, in alphabetical order.

Hello, is that Aaron fae Ardbeg Street?

People might learn a few things living round here.

Tolerance, humility, a new language every day, how to drink communion wine laced with caffeine without getting the jail.

You’d soon start to appreciate the innate beauty of a bin bag, I tell thee.

Free your mind. Come live round here and hang with our punk poets, queens and queers, free radicals and earth mothers.

Tickle your tartars with our dive bombers and gable enders, our weirdo wackos, sleekit wee bastards and glaikit downing outs.

A wee spell in Govanhill would do you good, people.

Send your CV on a postage stamp to the usual address: Cheers Govanhill, Govanhill Street, Govanhill.

Please include relevant experience, qualifications, career highs, career lows, career goals, goal of the season, and ideas on how to fix a football team which is in danger of falling apart in the most important year in its history.

Cheers in a row.

Why Govanhill looks like you and looks nothing like you

photo of a pool table outside in an alleyway

I thought Govanhill was expanding but turns out it’s collapsing.

By collapsing, I don’t mean the buildings and by expanding, I don’t mean more buildings.

I mean Govanhill is shrinking and Govanhill is also taking over.

It’s everywhere. When I’m outside I’m in and when I’m inside I’m out and vice versa.

My flat is Govanhill, a tiny Govanhill, with the same unruly parts, raggedy bins, boarded-up corners and fresh layers of dust.

Fewer funky places to snack, right enough, and no real evidence of recent renovation.

It’s not just Govanhill either. Bet it’s the same where you are too. Balornock all over the shoap, Kelvindale round every corner, universal Provanmill.

I mean, we’d like to get away, away from home, this never-ending home. A wee holiday, trip up north, a weekend break, take care, see you soon, bye bye.

But the travel’s not essential so there’s nowhere to go and we cannot escape, inside or out.

Stuck in yer ain midden, it’s not funny. You know what it’s like, claustrophobia, climbing the walls, walking the same floors day after never-ending day.

That’s why we’re all meditatifying, practising emptyheadness, learning empty’s good, empty’s your friend.

Anyway. There are worse places to be, I suppose. And always reasons to be cheersful.

I’m lucky Govanhill is always there when I open the door and still there when I close it again.

I’m grateful it’s nowhere else and it’s all there is, inside and out, the place that won’t leave me alone.

So aye, cheers Govanhill for keeping going and keeping me going. For staying the same by always surprising. For the constant reminders it’s not all shapeless shapes and vegan brunch. (Nae offence, calcium-fortified plant milks.)

Cheers for looking like me and looking nothing like me.

Cheers for not being neutralised or gently-fried.

Not yet, so far, let you know, Govanhill.