I love the smell of Neeson’s in the morning

nice tenement block in the sunshine, stoops at the front of the building

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.

Uncertain twilight, unsure of the time but knowing very well exactly where we were.

Does Govanhill always smell like this?

Like what?

Like a barbecue or a festival.

Aye, sounds about right.

We were right at the top of the road, near the gates of Queen’s Park, on pavements so wide it could be a boulevard, an avenue, even a thoroughfare. Like an old photo from the past, with a horse and cart, a tramcar, or a wee barra boy back in the day.

Places like Strathbungo – hiya – always have such narrow pavements because everyone drives there and no one walks.

But why would you drive a car in Govanhill? Ye just wouldnae. You might cycle a bike but even then, bikes and cars are almost the same. They’re not legs, which have feet and shoes which drive you forward, push you along, onward then upward on pavements this wide.

Is that grilled lamb?

Might be the vegan and veg café. Could be Anarkali, everyone’s favourite curry house. Maybe smoked sausage or black pudding from the chippy next door. A roll and fritter, a haggis supper, or chicken taco from the place across the road.

Grand tenements up here, bourgeois views over the park, stoops that could double for Brooklyn, aye right. Flowers in a basket, fragrant wee plants from a scratched patch of land in a damp backcourt. Cake box over there, kebab shoap round the corner, spearmint ice cream from the Italian down by. I could feel my brother trying to take it all in.

Every time I come here there’s something new. A café, a pet shop, a record store.

I know, it’s always the same round here.

Then he said there’s so many places to eat no wonder you’re a fat bastard and I said shut it Gorbals and he said calm doon Govanhill what are you having and I said I’m having the lot.

Cheers.

Thou shalt talk tae strangers

mural on a wall showing a man laughing and a woman holding  flower with the sun in the sky behind her

Be careful, non-Glaswegians.

All us lonely souls coming in and out of lockdown means there’s an epidemic of people talking to each other on the street. Watch yourselves.

Saturday morning on a pavement in Govanhill, strolling along as you do, shops a-bustling, cyclers a-pedalling, the smell of fresh bread from somewhere overhead.

There’s a girl in front and her wee pet dug is lying on the pavement panting in the sun and looking at her as if to say, there’s no way I’m getting up hen. She’s tugging on the lead and the dog’s like, no chance.

He’s going nowhere, eh?

That was me, walking past, piping up in that old Glaswegian way. Talking to strangers, friendly approach, salt of the earth, pain in the arse.

And she looked at me like I’d farted in her face.

So listen, Edinburghovians, Englandashians, Strathbun-go-gos or whatevers.

This is Glesga. It’s what we do. It’s not our fault.  

We know you middle class always socially distance from working class, service sector, lumpen proletariat.

You can never understand us for a start, with the glottal stop and weird dialect and all that terrible swearing.

What are we like, eh? Nuggets and jakesters and freakballs, all nicotine fingers and knives of Stanley.

But, you know, we built these streets through famine, immigration and poverty. And we have the teeth to prove it. 

So nae luck, strangers. There’s no one to talk to except you and us and all that’s in between.

Just don’t ever ask about Celtic or Rangers or football at all in fact, especially when we’re drunk, because we know too much and you’ll probably end up crying.

Then I kept on walking and passed other people but couldn’t think of anything to say.

So I made my way home and closed the door and got back to business as usual.

Sit down, drink cans, wake up.

That’s utopia right there.

Talk soon, strangers.

The Second Coming in Cathcart Road

statue of a woman with two children by her side

Turning and turning in the streets of Govanhill, I can hardly hear a thing.

Not Falcon Terrace in Maryhill, nor Falcon Court in Newton Mearns.

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, but if I fix the boiler and sort the floorboards I can worry about the plasterwork later.

New windows, new radiators, full re-wire too.

Surely some revelation is at hand.

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

Keep walking, round and round, lacking conviction, passionate intensity. 

Mad Tracy with lion body and the head of a man.

Rab fae Torrisdale Street, gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.

Watch me go as I slouch towards Bowman Street to be born.

Apologies, Yeats.

Back to stony sleep.

Cheers.

Chrs Gvnhll

view of a tenement through blue and red coloured glass

Govanhill’s not that big but it feels big.

Other places may have crunchier cornflakes or rollerblading dogs but we punch above our weight, so we do.

We run faster, walk taller, drop lower.

Govanhill’s not that big – what, ten thousand mthrfkrs round here? – but it gets talked about too.

Myth-making and misinformation from child trafficking and vice rings to top ten coolest neighbourhood.

Squalor, filth and decay to Brooklyn, Kreuzberg, Shoreditch.

Watch out Blackhill, Possilpark, Whiteinch. We’re coming after you next.

Accessible green space, aching hip ass, tasty places to snack, plus cycles lanes which are almost finished after work started during the first Gulf war. (The Persian Gulf, not the Gulf of Garthamlock near Hogganfield loch.)

Govanhill’s not that big but it ain’t all dandelion blossom and orange blush juniper crush candy pale ale either.

This place groans, man. You know it and I know it. The bulk download on our streets, black bags, dead furniture.

Stop it, landlords. You too, tenants. It’s not that hard. Put your shit in the bin, not the pavement, ffs.

But don’t give up hope. Believe in yourself, believe in Govanhill, in Glasgow, maybe even Scotland.

The world is watching. Polmadie is anyway, anxious to join in the fun, hang out with the cool kids from the other side of the tracks, the rough part of town.

Know what I mean, Strthbngo?

Cheerio.

Here be Castlemilks

Cherry blossom tree with white flowers in a small city park

Everyone’s world has shrunk. Now we’re either pacing the floor in the flat or circling the streets in early morning, early evening and sometimes in between.

Seeing more of the neighbourhood, at least, so Govanhill is expanding.

Walking around with these feet and shoes, we own these streets, we have to. Yours and mine, this public space, nae cooncil developer or private investor.

Bestride that path like a colossus, go on.

Maybe stray into Langside, Mount Florida, even the Bungo, though I need a disguise round there these days, a mask or a visor in case I get jumped by a vegan and punched in the kidneys.

Or Shawlands, I like Shawlands, even lived there for a while in a big wonky flat in a tenement block that was sinking into the ground.

Shawlands has pubs, shops, fishmongers, nightclubs, five-a-side pitches and Young’s Interesting Books.

But it’s too quiet, nothing happens and everyone walks around wearing earphones. 

No hundred languages, food you’ve never seen, flymen at the lights to tap you a fag.

So we keep walking, because we have to, through the streets of Govanhill.

Wee Betty with her mask and bag talking to Agnes and Mags at the bus stop. Kurdish guys outside the barber shop, crates of mangoes on the pavement, a crowd dropped off at the street corner after a day’s work labouring or crop picking.

Tiny Govanhill Park, a few streets away from Victoria Road and not a middle class changemaker in sight.

Romanian, Slovakian, Bangladesh, Pakistan. Kids on bikes or the swings or playing cricket, women in headscarves talking, laughing.

Nan’s famous hot and cold takeaway, backcourts that don’t have committees or websites. Over to Riccarton Street, maybe Bennan Square, four in a block with big gardens, space to grow.

And from there Polmadie, Myrtle Park, across to Toryglen, King’s Park and beyond, where there be Castlemilks.

Later, I’m turning down Allison Street and two young guys walk past, faces swelling with alcohol, and one of them asks in Russian I think if I know where the nearest bank is and I’m like yeah just down there at the corner mate and he says cheerski or nostrovia and salutes me.

So, aye. Stay weird, Govanhill.

Govanhill zen

close up of a model of a hare on plinth part of a shop front with tenements in the background

Govanhill goes on and on, it just won’t stop, and no one knows what’ll happen next.

You’d think you might run out of things to say, but there’s always something new. Neighbours, cycle lanes, weirdness.

You’d think you might want to spend more time with your family until you realise Govanhill is your family, the same way your work colleagues are, because that’s what you do with your time.

Out for a walk, stretch the legs, clear the head, the people you meet.

You might bump into the Asian dude from the supermarket, the Arsenal fan, on his way to the bookies to discuss in-game markets or Kieran Tierney or the odds in Govanhill on Bournemouth being relegated.

The boy downstairs who went home to Romania at the start of the pandemic and came back a foot taller, with voice broken and a beard. Kids grow up so fast these days.

Or the friendly chef outside the pizza joint who was fed up working long hours for terrible pay but who’s much happier here in Govanhill doing something he loves with good people.

Maybe you chat to the brothers from the best off sales around, Drinks. Clear messaging, easily communicated, easily understood. Does exactly what it says on the bottle. Malt whisky, craft ale, German lager, yum.

An old Sikh man on a bicycle, bright turban and long grey beard. Couple of bams drinking cans in a doorway, sounds of a barbecue from the backcourt.

Further along a game of cricket going on in the park, over there an outdoor boxing class for women, and if you head down Victoria Road you might grab a wee fish taco, or a chicken paratha, or a street food sausage supper.

And later that evening an outdoor cinema showing a French surrealist movie in a gap site on Westmoreland Street right where the famous Irish Cladda club used to be, beside street corners crowded with wide shoulder bruisers, a giggle of smokers dancing outside Neeson’s in their Saturday night finery, and you stand in the road and look up to the sky and summer darkness coming down and think, aye. Geez. Noo. Cheers Govanhill.

Gorbals, where’s yer troosers?

close up of the pink petals of a rose

So I was otherwise engaged for a period of time and while I was away people kept asking me what my favourite Govanhill song was and I was like there’s just so many to choose from, pal.

Auld Lang Side, for a start. That always goes down well at Burnside nights, after the haggis suppers but before the roast of the tatties.

Then there’s the Proclaimers classic, I Would Walk 500 Miles (to get away from Polmadie). Because you would, wouldn’t you?

The Bonnie Banks of the pond in Queens Park, that’s another personal favourite of mine.

I wanted Runrig to play it live at a gig at the bandstand with stalls selling merch and craft beer and spicy buffalo cauliflower wings and I pitched the idea to Govanhill international festival and they were like shut it wee man.

Turns out Runrig are all in the jail anyway. Persistent anti-social behaviour, including ironing their jeans and rolling up their jaiket sleeves. They’re now called the Longriggend male voice choir instead.

But the favourite ditty in this Scotch living room has to be Gorbals, where’s yer troosers?

Speaks to the heart, that song. Powerful lyrics of loss and displacement, the pain of loneliness, alienation, the other.

I’ve just come down from a scheme in Milngavie

Something something something something

And the rockets shout when I go by

Gorbals, where’s yer troosers?

As I say, heart-wrenching stuff. It’s like the Hyndland clearances all over again.

Anyway. You finished?

Aye. How you like me now, Govanhill?

Cheers.

Take me home, Govanhill

three boys on the streets of Govanhill, one carrying a football

So I was over in the west end but I really wanted Govanhill to take me home.

To familiar faces, streets we walk, where there’s nothing else to know.

Home to the displaced, immigrant and refugee. Edinburgh, London, Brighton.

To people in transit or running on the spot. Transylvania, Kurdistan, Saracen Cross.

Our doorstep is your doorstep.

Home to sharing a room with four sisters, long hours and low wages, dying before you reach sixty-five.

Fenians and billy boys, Afghan and Somali, kosher and halal manbuns.

Private schooling, family connections, socially-distanced yoga.

Or a square go outside the pub because what the fuck are you looking at?

Poets and academics, neighbours and their bin bags, a place so vibrant you have to close your windows in the evening.

All of the above, thanks.

Oven chips are cheaper than avocadoes but we’ll have them both, please.

Happing and clapping and jigging the joie de vivre round the bin sheds every day.

Two portraits of a woman with a dog and a man with a dog in Govanhill,

Our photographers know it.

Two close up portraits of an older woman with short hair and a man with a tattooed face smoking a cigarette

You can see it in on display in our shop windows.

Photo of a young man with a hat with eyepieces over the top half of his face

So nae luck, west end ten-storey concrete hell.

The cheap rent and never-ending streets are here, not there.

Writer’s block and works in progress are in a tenement off Cathcart Road, a basement in Dixon Avenue, a bedsit in Daisy Street.

Not Crown Circus, Athole Gardens or Woodlands Road.

So take me home, on the bus that still goes from Donegal to Govanhill four times a week.

Home to artists’ collectives, gallery co-operatives and jakeys and bams and rockets.

Place of chaos we always come back to, place of refuge which won’t leave us alone.

The starting point, the final destination, and the map that gets us from one to the other.

So then I was making my way home and I met my brother for the first time in years and asked him what it was like in the Gorbals.

He said it’s pishing with rain and full of vampires.

I said cheers Govanhill.

(Photographs: Simon Murphy)

#streetlevelphotoworks

Microeconomics is pish easy

A lockdown sign asking people to stop shaking hands and hugging each other

Lockdown was great, didn’t want it to end, wish it had lasted for ever.

I miss the panic buying, the empty shops, the deserted streets.

Birdsong, sunshine, walking down the middle of Victoria Road because there’s no traffic.

I miss the fear of other people, the prospect of other people with their bodies and surfaces and those killer droplets from their mouths.

I’m often asked how I managed to cope so brilliantly with lockdown.

I say that after I woke up on the floor in the first week, naked and cold and soaked right through, I realised I had to start fulfilling my potential.

I knew I had to learn to play the cello, do eight thousand press-ups every morning, finish my PhD on string theory or learn ancient Greek, whichever came first.

That’s why the flat is spotless, a spiritual place full of hope and pure joy.

Staring at the wall, drinking too much, tired all day, not sleeping at night?

Not round here, pal. No way. Not at all.

Didn’t grow a beard, either. No gingered grey rusting collage of tufts knots and waves.

No unsightly magnet for viruses, moths, other people’s fists.

Instead, I gave an inspirational TED talk to help my fellow strugglers survive lockdown, called Microeconomics is Pish Easy.

Advice on speaking Mandarin, taking ice baths at dawn, studying one-handed knitting.

How I’ve been learning sign language because there’s no one to talk to.

How my flowers are blooming because I don’t have a garden.

How I’ve been swimming laps of the pool in my basement.

Practising the pole vault in the living room, the javelin in the kitchen.

Tried the hammer too but the nails fell out because the walls of my building are five thousand years old.

See ye, Govanhill. Maybe, some time, one of these days.

Tongues, you bass

Photo of flower sand plants outside a row of nice terraced homes

So the Strathbungo young team turned up outside my flat, started throwing toilet rolls at the window and shouting at me.

Here Cheers, you rotter. Stop pushing Strathbungo around. It’s so unfair.

Tongues, you bass.

(Wee Glaswegian in-joke there, tongs ya bass being a popular pre-ned rallying cry. Nae offence, neds.)

Anyway. Crikey. These bungo bawbags mean business.

I know Strathbungo sounds like some Highland spa town, and it’s really just five streets with large terraced homes the other side of Pollokshaws Road, but don’t be misled.

The very name strikes terror into our God-fearing Govanhill hearts.

These bungo blawhards flooded the streets with sourdough, ran the sweet potato protection rackets and other avocado-related activity.

The shit they used to pull. Baggy trouser displays, ankle of the year awards, most insufferable vegan championships. Nae offence, vegans.

All those organic carrot incidents, the pumpkin seed riots, so many innocent people going to bed at a reasonable hour. Tragic.

Their last spoon carving workshop got out of hand when the Battlefield binliners stormed in on tricycles and shot up the place with water pistols. Three fringes ruined and a beard needing towel dried. Madness.

And remember the notorious southside turf wars with the Crosshill Puzzlers, Polmadie Dobbers, Pollok Park Peculiars?

It got so bad even the Partick Monkeys had to play a benefit gig to try to calm things doon.

Anyway, we should feel sorry for these bungo bawheids. They just don’t enjoy the advantages we take for granted.

Decent boozers, love of football, an eclectic mix of streetwise bampots and clatty bastards.

So I thought I’d better get the old crew back together, the ones who were outta the joint anyways.

Rab fae Torrisdale Street, mad Tracey who torched her flat that time, the bloke with the big knuckles from the Queens Park Café.

But then I thought nah, canny be arsed, and I drank ten cans and fell asleep on the couch instead.

Nae luck, bungo boabies.