Word of foot

multi-coloured polka dot thing that looks like a ball with green grass and trees and a blue sky behind

Immigration enriches a place, refreshes it, reminds a culture of its own neglected parts.

Things people used to do but don’t anymore.

Street football, street food, hanging around street corners.

Remember that was us? Immigration brings us closer to home.

Kids from Romania, Kurdistan and Somalia playing football on the basketball court in the park, just as we did when we were young, a Mitre 5 or a plastic job from the corner shop, black sannies or a pair of your granny’s wellies.

Sacred working-class knowledge passed down through word of foot.

We always played football, especially as adults, a game with the brothers every Saturday in the park, whatever the weather and whatever the hangover, then back to the cluttered house swirling in smoke with the endless stream of visitors and friends, relatives and neighbours, the hiss of beer cans opening and voices raised in drunken discussions about politics or Celtic and dad shouting at us to keep it down.

And now a fool like me is kicking a ball around with kids at the end of my street.

The global language of keepie-uppie, noble pastime, a pastime straight from the gods.

An Iraqi boy, fourteen, good player.

Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, head, chest, both knees, even that catching it on the back of the neck thing which always annoys me because you can never do that in a game but I let it go man, he’s only fourteen.

Then he passes to me – what, with my hamstrings? – and a clown’s hooter sounds or a comedy trombone starts up as I stumble and flap in mid-air and the ball bounces from my face to a car bonnet and out to the main road and as I run to retrieve it I’m nine years old again, a bus driver beeping his horn and shaking his fist, me giving him a cheeky wee wave. Hope he doesn’t call the fuzz.

So cheers Kurdistan, Romania and Somalia, for reminders of the old city, city that’s always changing but where a good first touch always remains.

We belong to Glasgow.

Drink, smoke, football, die. That’s what we do.

Cheers.

Govanhill doesn’t really exist

Tenements reflected on a car window, with other tenements in the background

Govanhill doesn’t really exist.

I invented these streets, built these tenements, paved these roads. I serve in the shops, pour the pints, empty the bins.

It’s me who keeps the lights on in MyGovanhill.

Invisible me walking the streets of my imaginary city.

I walk these streets but I don’t really know where I’m going.

Bouncing from sky to pavement and back before standing, standing looking out to the horizon or the end of the road at least.

There may be other places but I haven’t been and I can’t think what goes on there.

Clockwork through these streets instead, catching only my own reflection everywherever I go.

Businesses on this main road, some local, some global, pop-up, closed down. More empty shops than you might think.

Hip wee dogs with English accents, owners’ white skin prickling outside a bakery.

Forget the bakery. The bread tastes like tarmac. Govanhill doesn’t really exist. Leave your tote bag at home, check out these streets I invented instead.

Where nobody knows your name.

And they’re never glad you came.

Forget the bakery. Try queuing outside the pawn shop, the bookies, the chippy. Or the pub, repository of ancient knowledge passed down through the generations by word of mouth.

Bevvy, warmth, companionship, sometimes a guy who’ll throw up on your shoes.

Hings happenin in the streets I paved. Magic.

Tap dancers and pure rockets are singing my songs. Utter bampots and total madmen painting my pictures.

Because I’ve always been here, lived and died round here many times over.

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t here.

Might try writing a sitcom about it.

Set in a bar in Govanhill where a group of locals meet to drink, relax, and socialise which runs for 275 half-hour episodes across eleven seasons.

Cheers.

Govanhill is the human condition

A doll sitting on top of a litter bin in the street

Finnieston, birthplace of the Glasgow hipster, according to scientists.

Food wanker, coffee cock, beard fanny.

I lived there before it was cool, before the BBC moved in across the river, before seafood gin and gourmet lampposts and Michelin stars, aye, aye, aye.

Back when it was a strangely empty stretch of dusty tenements from Yorkhill up to what’s left of Anderston (not much), with good curry houses the Ashoka, the Spice of Life, and Gaelic pubs the Ben Nevis, the Park Bar.

And a demolished concert hall where Gil Scott-Heron once played, the same Gil Scott-Heron whose dad played for Celtic in the fifties.

But don’t worry, Gil. Govanhill will not be Finnieston-ised.

We’re far too weird for that.

We have our pleasant bandstand, uplifting festival, various foods and ubiquitous yoga (nae offence, yogis). But also rockets and muppets and midgie-rakers keeping it real.

Because we live in a weird city.

Weird and a half, odds-on.

A guy having a wash in the street with a bottle of water. Tap aff, splish splash, job done. Wtf, mate.

Transylvania deli with a hearse parked outside, a cup of coffin from Dracucab.

A man on a bike, like lots of men on bikes, but this rude boy has a wagon at the back with a mobile sound system playing reggae tunes, Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker, Burning Spear. Hear me now, Vicky Road.

Shop keepers on chairs outside glass-fronted emporiums selling shiny baubles and fancy goods like a middle Eastern bazaar or an Indian market stall. The long flowing clothes, henna beards, a guy in a Bayern Munich top.

Misspelled shop sines and men-yous.

A hum sandwitch please.

Any screambled eggs?

That lentil soap looks nice.

Because you and I are weird and so is everyone and we all lived here before it was cool.

Spoon benders, spout merchants, ear poppers. My mate Tommy Two Noses (don’t ask).

So nae luck, Finnieston, with your cornucopia of curated utopia.

Govanhill is the human condition.

Always there, just out of reach.

Cheers.

Return to Clint Eastwood Toll

Spoof nameplates of famous people for the front door, including B Clinton, D Bowie

So they’re filming another Hollywood blockbuster in Glasgow city centre.

Two weeks ago it was Indiana Jones, now it’s Batman or something. Before that it was World War Z, some Fast and Furious bollocks too.

Either the scale of the buildings makes the city centre grid look like New York, Philadelphia or Gotham, or else Hollywood loves the teeth, the food and the patter over here.

Did ye, aye.

Anyway. We’re used to big stars. There’s a long history of Hollywood in Govanhill, a connection that goes way back to earlier this week when I started thinking of something to write.

There’s Clint Eastwood Toll, of course, and Steve McQueen’s Park. And once I saw Redford in Bedford Street and Newman in Newlands.

Superheroes all over the shoap in Govanhill too.

Wonder Woman smoking a tab outside the launderette.

Black Panther dribbling kebab sauce down his front.

Thor getting his baws booted outside the QPC.

It’s also a made-up fact that Marlene Dietrich liked a pie from Greggs, Ingrid Bergman loved queuing for an overrated coffee, and Denzel Washington enjoyed a game of pitch n putt doon the perk.

Remember when Humphrey Bogart had a flat on Kingarth Street? Me neither, but Greta Garbo also lived on Butterbiggins Road and they both went swimming at Govanhill baths but Bogart did breadths and Garbo preferred lengths and it ended in an underwater square go.

Or the night Gregory Peck was drinking in the Vicky Bar and got into an argument with early Marlon Brando over 50p for the pool table and when Peck spilled Brando’s pint it almost kicked off until Bill Murray arrived and distracted them both with some humorous facial expressions.

I’m joking, of course.

The Vicky Bar doesn’t have a pool table.

Anyway. I have an idea for a Hollywood blobbuster.

Miracle on Torrisdale Street.

Dick Tracy is winching Mad Tracy and they set out to save the world as well as city libraries earmarked for closure.

Al de Niro and Bob Pacino are interested, Meryl Fonda and Jane Streep too.

Did ye, aye.

United Colours of Polmadie

I keep on ringing the same bell, I know, but Govanhill always feels different.

People bringing their colour, melodies, eyes and shoes to our already mixed-up tenements.

It’s the second-best thing about Glasgow, after the fact it has the most illustrious football club in the world in the east end. More on that story later.

Govanhill is almost like a caricature of diversity.

Four Kurdish barbers, three French hens, two Polish delis, una La Bianca bistro, and the Niu café, which always makes me think of Krautrock bands like Can or Neu, all cosmic avant-garde and twelve-minute drum solos.

A family from Sudan having a barbecue in the park, men grilling mutton, women sitting in a group, kids playing football close by.

How do I know where they were from? Because I asked them. Because I’m not a dweeb. And because I’m a dork who speaks to strangers.

It’s not even invented, this diversity. Ye couldnae make it up.

Romanians at a corner on Allison Street, big guys, hard looking, wide shoulders, shouting at each other across the way or up to someone at a window.

The darkness of Allison Street, overbearing tenements on all five sides, something crackling in the air, always on the edge of chaos but never quite falling in.

Sweeteries, eateries, sunflower seed blossom all over the pavement.

Saturday evening hot food from the noodle bar down the road, the unique queer bookshop round the corner, Algerian dudes laughing at a car door in front of the off-licence.

Lentil brothers, bao sisters, non-binary fruitarians.

Jakeys like me wandering around, staring at buildings, chatting to dogs.

And Rab fae Torrisdale Street and his mate, long ball Larry, talking in that caricature weegie way – awright maaaate – walking quickly, drawn faces, nae teeth but good clothes, always with the good quality clothes. Maybe gouching outside the supermarket, eyes closing over, sitting waiting for a few coins.

It’s almost comical, this diversity, almost like a cartoon, like some nauseating marketing campaign, United Colours of Polmadie, some ruthless global conglomerate trying to wash its terrible face in our sinks.

A white couple in their twenties walking down Westmoreland Street in bare feet, long hair, wide trousers, loose skirts. It’s like Glastonbury, or Knockengorroch, or a beachfront in Goa. Or cosplay, fancy dress, imitating how nobody dressed fifty years ago.

Nothing wrong with modern-day hippies, but not many children of granola back when the local paper called this the worst street in Scotland.

Back before the hipster apocalypse of loaves and fonts and coffee, before we came to become up and coming.

Back when no one wanted to live here, when people were afraid even to say the word Govanhill.

Ask the wildlife, they’ll tell you.

A pigeon on the roof in afternoon sunlight, head popping, peck pecking, limping along after another day of eternal struggle, break the back to feed the faimly then fly away and shit on someone’s head.

Ask the seagulls attacking black bags at the litter bins, onion skins and used nappies strewn all over the road. 

The dogs in the park, they’ll tell you the same.

It was always like this.

But the guy playing the bongos on Vicky Road? Honestly, mate. I’m trying to work from home over here.

And moustaches? Leave them alone too.

Cheers.

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.