A Nightmare on Calder Street

close up of a red flower, with green leaves in the background

Strolling along Victoria Road one morning, whistling a tune, kicking a stone, looking for fun and feeling groovy.

Behold, a young fellow sitting at a table outside a grocery store strumming a guitar, bringing chords to the masses, us shivering rat-infested hordes. It’s like that round my house anyway.

I see his socks, odd socks, one yellow, one red. My feet almost cross the road towards him but they don’t, they keep walking instead.

Mind your own business, why get annoyed, just a daft kid, what harm is he doing?

But I feel something rising inside. You know, like that infinite wasteland of pain and disease, unbearable torment and uncontrollable fear? It’s like that round my house anyway.

What if he’s only here because it’s cheap and what if it’s only cheap because we’re poor?

I start thinking about imperialism, cultural imperialism, people coming to our shores to enlighten us with their better ways.

How will our children look back on us and what if our grandparents could see us now?

I think of my own clothes. Terry towelling socks, three for a pound, gents sports socks.

Then I remember out of date men shouting at clouds.

So I keep walking, stay calm, clear your mind, that’s it.

Must watch Apocalypse Now when I get home.

Been thinking about it for ages.


No, yeah?

coffee in a cup

Coffee, café, covfefe, whatever you call it, I’ll drink it.

Don’t care what kind it is. Old, cold, hot, not.

Black or white, instant or frozen, doesn’t matter. Simple minded, talking headed, small faced, I’ll drink it. With pig milk, dead milk, blood milk, but not hot milk.

Coffee and tobacco, my best friends since childhood.

But don’t try to make me feel good about myself over it, okay?

No lessons on roasting, toasting, brewing, dripping or tripping, thanks. Or desperate cakes for desperate people, while we’re at it.

No, yeah? Ya drip.

I’ve been in these coffee shops, here and elsewhere. I’m telling you, I’ve seen what they’re like.

A blackboard, something handwritten in chalk. Smiley face, smiley face, see how happy, smiley face.

Solitary people staring at laptops, too afraid to speak.

My head hurts.

The isolation of the modern world, isn’t it. There’s got to be a movie in there somewhere, or a novel, about alienation and devastation and a neo-liberal economic model which destroyed cultures and collective behaviour and left an uncontrollable elite radically altering the way we live.

Anyway, here’s some horrible weak coffee with shit all over it and a ridiculous name and that’ll be a fiver please.

Scotch broth, probably

Forgot to brush my teeth last night and now I have toothache.

Aye, cheers teeth. Nae luck, face.

My whole head throbs, pulsing in the jawbone and neck muscles and ear drum that won’t stop and doesn’t go away.

Swelling my face till it’s like a golf ball, a goofball, a poolball, a loonball.

A haircut or a pair of sunglasses won’t make this head any happier. Bowls of hot soup might. Scotch broth, probably. Croutons. Antibiotics. Ten cans.    

So I went to the dentist, see what he had to say for himself. He’s at Shawlands Cross. Wish I lived at Shawlands Cross. Traditional tenement, converted two-bed flat, large bay windows, quiet neighbours, little old ladies who keep an eye on the place and sweep the stairs and water the plants on the landing.

He’s a bit tall and weird, my dentist, as most of them are. Not great at the small talk either.

How are your upper molars? See that story about toothpaste on the BBC website? Used any decent floss lately?

But he used to have a season ticket, so he’s okay.

I agree, the manager is doing well. Yes, I hope we win that game too. No, the winger is still shite.

So he slipped me twenty dihydrocodeine for the tooth and another twenty to give to my neighbours upstairs to help keep them quiet for a while.

Cheers, Shawlands Cross.

You is from around here

drawing of a building with lots of faces at lots of windows

We live in the city, an inner city, hundreds, thousands of us sitting on top of one another in tall buildings.

Tenement life, all colour and noise and constantly moving.

Tracey, daft bastard, arguing with her neighbours every day before she tried to torch her flat that time.

Or those two Romanian women in my street, screaming at each other up and down the pavement.

I’d love to mind my own business pal, but you won’t let me.

Can’t breathe, can’t concentrate, too many people, leave me alone.

But where else can you get Chinese food at 4am? Or visit the theatre, the opera, museums and galleries, concert halls, restaurants, nightclubs and cinemas, as we all do.

Sometimes the noise is reassuring. The sound of the traffic, an argument next door. It means I’m at home, means I belong.

The pubs where they know your name, if you’re going to the game at the weekend, or watching it in here, or round a mate’s house instead because at least there you can see what’s happening, can’t you, concentrate on the match without the jostling and the drunks.

Or the corner shop, where you pop in for milk or fresh rolls, and if it’s late in the day and they’re no longer so fresh then he’ll give you them for free because who’s going to buy yesterday’s rolls tomorrow?

So don’t worry, we know who you are, you have nothing to prove. 

Usual please cheers Govanhill.

Thou shalt buy thy round

Photo of the mural at the Clutha bar, with Glasgow people including Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Billy Connolly, Alex Harvey, Gerry Rafferty and Frankie Miller

What makes Govanhill unique is being part of Glasgow.

Same with Oatlands, Easterhouse and Blairdardie.

The best thing about them all is the city they’re attached to.

Glasgow’s like an independent city state and I’m like a partisan. Cheers, Ruchazie. Cheers, Barmulloch. Cheers, Partick Cross. You too, Govanhill.

The great villages of Glasgow and the grand thoroughfares that run through them.

Victoria Road, Alexandra Parade, Paisley Road West, Duke Street.

Unmissable day trips on your doorstep. 

The art deco cinemas and Victorian burgh halls, municipal parks and swimming baths. And public libraries too, havens for self-educated men and women, a place of silence away from the noise and the clutter of the house.

These great villages had their own football teams, Benburb, St Anthony’s, St Roch’s. Sometimes their own newspapers, Springburn Herald, Govan Press, Rutherglen Reformer.

The same rows of boutique shops, cafes and bars and diverse populations, just like Govanhill.

Indian and Pakistani in Ibrox and Pollokshields, Irish in the Gorbals and the Garngad, Italians in Dennistoun and Yoker, Chinese in Garnethill.

And the people. Salt of the earth, rough diamonds, cracking jokes singing songs, ready to pick a fight at a moment’s notice.

And our most important commandment.

Thou shalt buy thy round.

So cheers, mother Glasgow. And welcome home, Govanhill.

Coconut water will save us

Close-up photo of red apples outside a fruit shop

We knew nothing about food, until recently.

We didn’t grow up on porridge or lentil soup, or barley or butterbeans.

Or uncle Frank’s root vegetables from his allotment down by the old dry docks, you know, next to the motorway flyover.

We didn’t have delis or grocers which sold cereals and pulses and grains, or milk in bottles or bread in paper bags from the local bakery.

We cycled because it was cheaper than the bus, recycled because we couldn’t afford to buy new.

I mean, I wore my sister’s hand-me-down shoes for two years at primary school.

Of course I didn’t. But my brother did.

We didn’t even understand that roll-ups were just organic cigarettes.

We have no memory of the past. Job security, trade unions, collective bargaining, social contract, welfare state.

We didn’t know anything about radicalism either, so thanks for inventing that too.

Now we have vintage emporiums instead of tacky second hand shops. Thank goodness that old army coat is thirty quid instead of forty pence like it used to be.

And now we can pay six pounds for a schooner of piss-poor craft ale instead of three for a pint of foaming Czech lager.

Vinyl, video tapes, board games. Feels like we’ve been here before.

All we need now is a future we can survive.

Fingers crossed, Govanhill.

Half a person, or less

photo of bare branches of a tree against a blue sky

So I had an argument in the street.

I know, I know. Mindfulness, compassion, zen-like calm.

But it’s easy to get wound up round here. And some people have too much to prove.

You know what it’s like, coming home from work, where you don’t matter and no one listens, and now there’s a chance to have power and influence and bend people towards your will.

A guy dumped a black bag on the pavement in front of me and I asked if he’d like me to come and leave my rubbish outside his house.

He called me a name and I told him go away.

Then I described him as something and he told me to push off.

He took a step towards me and I took a step towards him and there we both stood.

It’s a long moment, isn’t it? Don’t want to back down. Don’t want to brawl in the street in your work suit either.

But he knew and I knew and you know that when nothing happens in the first two seconds then nothing’s going to happen at all.

So after a bit more gazing into one another’s eyes and some more muttering I went home and sat on the couch and had a few cans and woke up the next morning a man’s man, a real man, half a person, or less.

Wonder what happened to the bin bag. Cheers, him. Cheers, me.