Magical safe space where people gather, share tables, break bread

Photo of the sign outside the McDonalds in Govanhill

Lots of breakfast options in Govanhill. Greasy spoon, avocado, eggs benedict, tea and toast.

So I went to McDonalds. Sorry, diversity. Sorry, idiosyncrasy. Sorry, human nature. Too tired to protect myself.

I’d been to a McDonalds before, years ago, in town, after work, lining my stomach before meeting the lads to watch the football down the pub. European tie, early rounds, solid away win.

The McDonalds in Govanhill sits next to KFC and right between two primary schools, including Hutchie grammar for young princesses, no less.

Felt like I was on holiday. Eating out for breakfast, bright sunshine, wearing the stupid T shirt I bought for going to the beach that time.

Familiar, invisible, open 24 hours, machines doing most of the work. Could be anywhere. Argentina, Tennessee, Helsinki, Cumbernauld.

Same brown almost food. Same salt and fat and sugar. Same corporate graffiti outside and minimalist decor inside.

Same customers eating in the same silence, celebrating our common humanity and shared self-destruction.

Cheers, devastating environmental impact, mind blowing ubiquity, global obesity, insufferable marketing.

Bacon rolls and coffee no worse than anywhere else.

I am not from here, or there, but nowhere.

I will come again.

Advertisement

Ye dancin, Balornock?

Photo of a Glasgow tenement at night

Driving through Tollcross, I think it was. After Parkhead anyway. Towards Sandyhills but well before Baillieston. Close to Springboig though not as far as Garrowhill. Might have been Shettleston, come to think of it.

Anyway. A long row of sturdy tenements gently curving in the sunshine. Bay windows, high ceilings, wooden floors. East end, a happy place, a Glasgow place.

I’ve always admired Drumchapel, Cessnock has its charms, and Castlemilk is a mighty fine place to be. Same with Knightswood and Milton and Scotstounhill. And who among us isn’t secretly in love with Balornock?

But sorry, troops. It’s Govanhill for me. Isn’t it?

Yes. Every corner an adventure. Rag tag chaos and overflowing madness. The country’s most international. Chip shops and bottle shops and the sound of a drill demolishing a wall. Dizzying, you might say.

And these new cycle lanes. At last, people round here have something to complain about.

Not forgetting those 42 modern, spacious, energy-efficient homes for social rent on a former derelict site at the corner of Victoria Road and Butterbiggins Road which help increase the supply of much-needed affordable housing across the city.

So it’s Govanhill for me. It must be.

And did I mention the lychees?

Too right, fanny baws

Photo of two Glasgow double decker buses on the road

The Glasgow punters and the legendary native wit.

Too right, fanny baws.

Raucous but intelligent, spontaneous and earthy, drawing on a bipolar linguistic continuum including west central Scots and Hiberno-English, isn’t it?

Pure pish, ya fud.

Our distinctive vernacular is so vibrant, by the way. You hear it in pubs, on the street, in football stadiums, in former industrial heartlands and demolished tenements, but not in joyless cafe bars selling cocktails for twelve quid.

You find it on buses most of all. The banter with the passengers, the chit-chat and the patter, pound for pound it’s the funniest on four wheels.  

Better than drinking beer on the disco bus in Germany, or those five days spent sitting beside a cow on the seat in India. Pure gallus, so it is.

The woman with the shopping bags asking if she can sit on the driver’s knee.

The drunks who climb on and ask for two pints of heavy.

The three New Zealand girls and the driver trying to guess where they’re from.

America?

No.

Australia?

Nah.

South Africa?

Nope. Here’s a clue. It’s as far away from here as you can get.

What, Eastwood Toll?

Mad Tracey and the strategic dialectics of anti-imperialist struggle

Photo of the back of a tenement in Govanhill

Sometimes I like Govanhill, sometimes I don’t. Two contradictory ideas at the same time. Crazy, I know.

I smoke, but I know it’s going to kill me. Look, there it is again. Cognitive dissonance. Oh no. C-c-call the c-c-cops.

Imagine the conflict, anxiety, neurosis, the constant fretting about economic context and class and ethnicity as social determinants of power.

No wonder I smoke.

In Govanhill we have lower incomes, poorer health, fewer opportunities.

I mean, how many members of Boris Johnson’s Cabinet went to school round here? How many chief executives of FTSE 100 companies live in tenements with graffiti down the walls? Not that many.

Maybe quotas are the answer. Rab fae Torrisdale Street doing a stint as head of the BBC. Or mad Tracey, who torched her flat that time, as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Let the sunshine of socialism break free upon our land.    

Cheers, Trace.

It is not consciousness that determines being, but social being that determines consciousness.

Fair point.

Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument.

Keep it real, hen.

Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.

Better.

From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.

Excellent. Here, take puff of this hen.

Cheers, Govanhill.

Arrogant swines, swans

Photo of a swan on the pond in Queen's Park

Got lost in Queen’s Park at the weekend.

Thrashing through the undergrowth, blades of grass tearing at my flesh, no phone signal. Remote, potentially-dangerous, sparsely-populated mountain country.

Eventually ended up in a clearing before a pond-like body of water.

Sat down on a bench, had a few cans to celebrate, started watching the swans.

Arrogant swines, swans.

Giving it the big I am, flapping in, wings stretched, chest out.

Ooh, see the drama and the spectacle of my entrance, a piece of stylish theatre to make everyone else jealous.

Grow up, swans. What are you, water skiers?

Then the preening and the picking at those perfect white feathers and that long elegant neck, or staring at your own reflection on the surface of the water.

You should know better, swans. Didn’t you used to be ugly ducklings, plump body and grey feathers inviting general ridicule when you were chicks, yet now with the pretentious and the grandstanding?

Thank God you don’t have eyebrows. You’d never get anything else done, such as sticking your beak in and scooping dead leaves out of the water.

Yeah yeah yeah, king of the world. It’s only a pond.

I thought about opening another can.

Big world out there.

Even bigger one inside.

Cheers, Govanhill. 

Why Transylvania is better than Oxbridge

A group of Polish people in traditional dress laughing in Govanhill

People sometimes ask me how Govanhill’s international festival compares with Edinburgh’s and I say I’ve never been to Edinburgh, mate. Don’t really see the point. Don’t even know where it is, to be honest.

But I know we have fewer Oxbridge fannies.

And a Transylvanian ceilidh, a Sufi festival, and wooooooof, a book festival with football commentating’s Archie McPherson.

There’s a curry festival, Roma film festival, open mic and spoken word, walking tour and theatre show and Polish dancing in traditional dress just across the road.

We have cricket in the back courts. You can buy a Govanhill bobble hat. We have our own correspondent on the evening paper.

Plus it’s Glasgow, not Edinburgh, so we don’t make our pets wear slippers at home.

We have more tenements, noisier kids, cheaper off sales, rammys in the street, architecture that we take for granted. We recognise each other by our coughs.

The patter on the buses is better and we’ll happily talk away to tourists from Mount Florida, Parkhead or Corkerhill.

Even the mice love it here.

And we still have those fruit shops, man. The highest ratio of nectarine to human in the country.

So nae luck, Embra. And cheers, Scotland’s most interesting.

Colossus on a bus

An upturned bike on the pavement

So I was on the bus, going to work, nice weather, end of the week, feeling okay.

Best seat in the gaff too. Tap dancer, front row.

I’m towering over the city, man. Bestriding the streets like a colossus, on a bus.

We’re stopped at the lights, cyclers up ahead waiting for green. Well done, byclists. Ought to give it a go myself some day.

But there’s one guy, oh no, in T-shirt and shorts doing yoga in the saddle. Stretching back, forth, up, down.

Course you are, mate. What’s that move called – the dog scratcher, milk snatcher, fanny fiddler?

Yeah, that’s it, take a look back, make sure people on the bus are watching you.

We’re surely admiring your efficiency and time management. Not only cycling – hello, saving the planet here – but doing yoga in the few seconds you’re at the lights too.

Brilliant. Bet you’re great company down the pub, pal. Bet you just hate talking about yourself.

Later, I’m walking home from work and a hip man with a moustache comes out of nowhere bouncing a basketball along Vicky Road.

I had this urge to go over and tweak his nose or ruffle his tousled mop of floppy hair.

But I didn’t, of course I didn’t. I would never do that. What do you take me for, some kind of working-class savage?

One Govanhill, many cultures.

Punk rock, acid house, dub reggae

Photo of cobbler's that used to be on Calder Street in Govanhill

There used to be a cobbler’s on Calder Street. Solvents, black leather, new shoes.

But people don’t get their shoes fixed these days and a place you don’t go to closes down.

There used to be butcher shops too, with carcasses hanging in the back. But you don’t hear much about oxen these days either.

Or coal men, rag and bone, victuallers or haberdashers.  

I remember a shirt I used to have, a pair of boots, a hat I sometimes wore which had stripes along the side. Hair, teeth, skin, enthusiasm, going to openings and happenings and other interesting events.

I might have been a sophisticated man of culture with wide-ranging interests and a decent first touch on the football field.

Good taste in music too. Punk rock, acid house, dub reggae.

That might have been a place, at the heart of things, in someone’s memory.

There might have been industry round here too, with factories and jobs and relative prosperity, when people worked reasonable hours and could have hopes and dreams and nice homes and a pension.

Cheers, neo-liberal disruptors and global changemakers.