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 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?