We don’t remember the past, we only imagine it.
Paint pictures, tell stories, sing songs, of someone, somewhere, at some point in time.
But which memories are important, what past do we remember, whose lives matter?
Our heads used to be full of future possibilities. Mine was, anyway.
What’s for tea, how long till pay day, three points on Saturday. How history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce.
Now we sit at home and think of things we used to do and look forward to doing them again.
The future will take care of itself as long as we take care of the past. It’s all we have, the past.
Imagine an industrial heyday, a city once the fourth largest in Europe after London, Paris and Berlin. A quarter of the world’s ships launched on this very river.
City of industry, heavy industry, with factories and docks and foundries, steel mills, gasworks and chemical plants. River of two hundred ship yards, of tug boats, warships, cruise liners and titan cranes. City of soot and smoke and heat, city of noise.
Screaming weans and women at windows shouting at men in crowded streets or voices raised in rowdy pubs or football grounds or music halls, on railway platforms and subway carriages or at the top the bus, all the way home.
That was a place, once upon a time, in the long ago.
But sometimes history speeds up, sometimes you wake one morning to find a city destroyed overnight.
Closed factories, abandoned buildings, vast acres of empty land.
There used to be places where there aren’t any now.
A hollow city, city of ghosts, people and communities demolished.
No more units of work and place and of who we are.
The visible carnage of rotting wood and dead masonry, burned-out holes in the ground. Invisible carnage of contaminated land, chromium, cyanide wasteland.
Weeds as high as trees, rats the size of dogs, black water lapping against stained walls.
That was a place, that derelict place. City of fog and thunder. Gale force winds again. Good later, not now.
The empty self is at home in this dead place.
But new places can be built, new cities can appear, less than before and less than real.
Places of industry become places of consumption. Retail park shopping centre drive-thru strip malls.
Or affordable housing, maybe a bus garage, a new campus for a rebranded further education college.
A city of digital and finance and creatives and tourism. A low carbon, high-quality, cost effective location. A great place to live, work and invest.
Maybe that’s what Govanhill is now. An innovative place, whose people make it. Maybe that’s how we were invented.
Because we know better than anyone how things can change.
Remember the demonisation of Govanhill, the fear and loathing, when no one loved us and we hated ourselves?
Look at us now. Creative hub, development trusts, social enterprises, gentrification, the coolest place in the UK.
A city of darkness moving into the light, is that it?
We were never sustainable before. Not white enough, or vegan enough, and far too working class.
Thank goodness being so poor made everything so cheap so the right type of person could move here.
Why not Bidgeton or Yoker, even Clydebank or Greenock? They might be innovative places too. Springburn, Rutherglen, Parkhead. Post-industrial, cosmopolitan, inexpensive.
Our story is the story of a city, a city longer and wider and deeper than anyone understands.
City of the past, a famous past, an illustrious past.
Slums, poverty, illness, alcoholism, violence, death.
We love you, the past. Don’t leave us, the past.
Cheers, mother Glasgow. You too, Govanhill.
Always changing, always the same.
Every city has its wilderness, even a new city.
Places no one goes, paintings no one paints, sounds you never listen to, stories we won’t tell.
A city no one imagines. City of dust, of vacant land under motorway bridges, disused railway lines near the waterfront, empty spaces which used to be more.
Sometimes land for future use, perhaps a retail opportunity yet to be fulfilled.
Non places which are always around. Forgotten parts of an invisible city.
You can still walk in these places, though you’re really not supposed to, past light industrial units or garage forecourts, muffled engine exhaust fumes from somewhere overhead.
Wholesale cash and carry warehouse, car tool hardware stock room.
But no one belongs here and nothing much happens.
Can I help you?
Leave me alone.
You can’t go in there.
Wasn’t going to.
You shouldn’t be here.
Everyone is a non person in this non place.
So you keep walking. A scratchy path and gravel underfoot, a fence with a razor wire crown.
The tracks of other wildlife, fag ends and crisp pokes, even droppings. Invading undergrowth reclaiming concrete, weeds growing from walls.
And then you sit down, open a can and start to meditate, contemplate, listen to the music of the non place.
It might be repetitive, monotonous, like a passing train or an industrial drill.
Bury yourself in that distant ever-present rumble.
It might be the sound of the past, ghosts of the past, a forgotten place in an invented imagination.
A hollow city, phantom city, zero miles, becoming gone.
The silence of the past.
The sound of empty rooms and deserted streets.
A past and a future running away from us.
But now. Now. Everywhere is a non place now and everyone a non person, an almost person hiding at home from what can’t be seen.
We look through our windows at half places, frozen and empty. Closed places which won’t re-open, more abandoned, emptier still.
Maybe we walk from room to room, flitting round the house in our bare feet, hair sprouting, clothes unwashed.
Time doesn’t pass in this place, might not exist at all round here.
Black clock, dead hours, un time in a non place.
The drinking, insomnia, desperation, mental violence.
Everyone sounds like such a prick on social media too but it’s the only thing there is, the only place we exist, along with the past.
Wherever you are, Govanhill or Madagascar, Mesopotamia or Andromeda, Narnia, Zion, or Never fucking Everland, the past is all you have left.
So you think back to the good times, your best times, when you went places, met people, did things.
Paint that picture, sing that song, listen to the stories you tell yourself.
Young, good looking, unstoppable you. Confident, upbeat, employable you. Maximum you. Telling it like it is-slash-was.
And as you sit and remember and think of that time the past pulls you back to the present, the here and the now at the centre of you, the stillness and silence and the emptiness there.
Half a person, less than real.
Staring at the wall, drinking too much, tired all day, not sleeping at night.
But if history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, then what went around might come back again.
Fingers crossed, Govanhill.
The future will be colder, warmer too.