Govanhill stories: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

two stickers with cartoon heads on the side of a wall

Govanhill is a good place to find yourself. I found people who look just like me. And a guy who punched a car.

Matthew moved up to Glasgow to study at the art school and heard about this great neighbourhood with proper tenements, really cheap, really diverse. Now he shares a flat with a photographer and a web designer, a furniture maker lives upstairs and a chef on the top floor.

We used to have barbecues together in the backcourt. Now we do it online, which is better. Now I don’t have to eat that sourdough bread which tastes like dust.

The close is full of signs reminding residents to keep quiet, close the door, don’t buzz in strangers, separate the recycling, and more.

But Matthew doesn’t mind being told what to do. It helps him make the right choices. And if the people on the ground floor are a bit rowdy, that’s just what happens when you choose to live somewhere cheap.

I knew about Glasgow’s hard reputation but it’s so not true. It’s such a vibrant place. I did see a guy punch a car last week, but he said the car was asking for it.

I don’t know any actual Glasweegies but they seem friendly, talking away, thinking you understand what they’re saying. If they start injecting heroin into their eyeballs, I just keep walking.

I knew about Govanhill’s reputation too, but I haven’t seen kids being sold on street corners or anything.

Matthew’s friend Mark is a music critic, Luke writes a food blog and John is a film maker, although they’re also unemployed. They have a lot in common, such as queuing for coffee on a deserted pavement.

Everyone wants to be with their community, don’t they? Otherwise, you wouldn’t get out of the house. We’re here to support each other, Govanhill or not.

Most of us have side hustles too. Staring at the floor, not washing our hair, crying uncontrollably for no reason.

Matthew loves the diversity in Govanhill. All the different languages you hear on the streets, food you don’t recognise, specialist shops, start-ups. Vintage stores really improve a place too. Without them it’s just charity shops. And the choice of bread is much better than it was.

I love how there are so many communities in Govanhill, and how everyone’s so supportive. Trans activists and radical feminists, socialistas and nationalistics, even the Third Lanarks and Partick Thistles gambolling down Victoria Road arm in arm. It’s such a vibrant place.

My home is still my parents’ house in Brighton. If it doesn’t work out here, I can always go back there. But I chose Govanhill because it’s cheap and it has an edge and it makes me feel alive.

Money’s not an issue. I don’t judge people because they’re poor. Some of my best friends are poor. Rab fae Torrisdale Street, mad Tracy who torched her flat that time.

You just can’t avoid these characters in Govanhill.



Govanhill stories: Come home, Steph

view of a church spire with a blue sky behind and autumn trees in front

People say you should have dreams. I say waking up in the morning is what matters.

Steph grew up in a high-rise in the Gorbals, ninth floor, with a view right over the motorway. She loved that motorway.

I used to sit staring out my bedroom window as a wee lassie, mesmerised, wondering where all those cars and lorries and buses were going and wanting to go there too. Still wish I’d learned to drive.

She landed in Govanhill three years ago after living in Pollokshaws, then Summerston, and later her sister’s in Castlemilk when she met this guy Rab and moved into his flat on Torrisdale Street soon after.

What a scumbag. Never had a job, sat around watching telly, stole from me, even tried to knock me about one night so I broke his jaw, moved out the next day and got my own place just off Calder Street. See, I know when to run and when to stand and fight. So nae luck, Rab.

She knows her way around Govanhill too. Knows baked beans are two for one at Sainsbury’s, cornflakes are on special at Tesco, the off sales opposite the bank sells the cheapest beer, and that you should always get bananas from the fruit shops on Allison Street. Knows to get green from big Malky and gear from the Chinese guy round the corner.

I went into that organic grocery store on Victoria Road once, but tomatoes were eight quid a kilo and a loaf of bread cost a fiver.

Nobody there looked like me or spoke like me. I thought, am I still in Glasgow?

I know people come and go in Govanhill all the time, and there’s a lot of immigrants round here, but it’s the same everywhere. Russian was the most common language in my sister’s close in Castlemilk.

See, Govanhill thinks it’s unique, but it’s just like Springburn or Oatlands or any other part of Glasgow. Same tenements, same football teams, same weather, same nuggets.

I live in Govanhill, but that doesn’t mean it’s my home. The block I grew up in was demolished, and my only family is my sister, so maybe I don’t have a home. Or I haven’t found it yet. Home might be the next place I go to. Cowcaddens, Thornliebank. There’s always somewhere better.

She still has a view of the motorway from the back window in her flat. Same road, different view. Now it’s a faint glow at the back of the sky, beyond the horizon, just out of reach.

Now there’s danger in that road. The temptation to lose yourself. That you set off and don’t come back. That you keep going, for ever.

Come home, Steph.

I wish I could.


Govanhill stories: What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

a tenement block in morning sun, with trees and a hedge to the left

Mags was a fierce wee wummin in a fur coat with a supermarket trolley that took no prisoners, a walking stick she brandished at litter on the pavement, and windows she banged when anyone came near her close.

But her legs are going, especially her knees, and now she hardly gets out at all, not even to the pensioners’ club at the community centre for a cheeky wee sherry with Betty, Jean and big Babs.

Now she pads around the kitchen in her chunky blue cardigan with pockets at the side, from armchair to TV and back again, trying not to think of what might have been.

What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

Condensed milk for my morning coffee, son.

Her daughter comes by once a week to help with shopping, driving in from Hamilton or Motherwell or Bellshill or somewhere.

Mags said she doesn’t even know where Lanarkshire is and I said I think it’s near Paisley.

What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

Biscuits I baked for the great grandweans, son.

Mags moved to Govanhill after her husband died and the house got repossessed and she lost her job when the department store she worked in closed down.

I didn’t think I’d end up here, son. I wanted to travel, go to university, maybe become a lawyer. I worked in a shop and had a family. I thought I’d have a different life.

What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

Two bottles of whisky, sixty Temazepam, and a bag of weed my grandson left.

We had a lot in common, me and Mags. Sometimes we swapped tips on catching mice.

I use a hammer, son.


Only joking. Peanut butter, on a trap.

We both lived in the same kind of place, recognised our neighbours by their coughing, knew the guy upstairs’ favourite music, tried to ignore the bin bags on the landing.

What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

Govanhill, son. Your home is in your head, so why not your pocket too? Govanhill is my home, but it’s changed. The noise, the rubbish, people who look nothing like me. Maybe it used to be better, maybe it was always like this. People remember whatever they like. I remember wanting to travel. Now I just want to get out the house and see my pals.

What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

A set of golf clubs. In case you find yourself dressed like a twat and have nothing to do.

I might go to the shops. Want anything?

Get me some peanut butter, son. Cheers.

Always cheap and super hip

A tenement reflected in a puddle, with blue sky behind

We grew up in Govanhill, or places just like it.

We didn’t move here in our twenties because of cheap rents and cool places to hang out.

You and I were always cheap and super hip.

We went to school round here, played in these streets, got chased, kicked a ball, climbed trees, got chased again.

We grew up in confined spaces, living on top of one other, side by side, above and below in sandstone blocks on tenement streets. Eight flats in a close, two or three apartment, four bods in every bedroom.

Everyone annoyed the neighbours, everyone got fed up with the noise through the walls. The electrician from Poland, the teacher from the Western Isles, wee Mrs McGlumpher who always gave you money.

And who among us hasn’t found a drunk man mumbling in his sleep at the back door of the close at some point in their life?

We went to the chippy round here, the fruit shop, the paper shop, were sent to get our dads out of the pubs, even the bookies.

We played in the backcourts, jumped across dykes, fell over and cut our heads. Knew the places not to go, the bams to avoid too.

Wee Rab dropping one of his smelly turds on Torrisdale Street.

Wee Tracey playing with matches, setting fire to her dolly’s clothes.

Because we grew up in Govanhill, or places just like it, and our memory is longer.

You and me, us and them, families, strangers, children, grannies in crowded apartments with leaking pipes and creaking floorboards and permanent struggle like every person in every building everywhere.

We carry this city around with us, on our shoulders and inside. A city not built on coffee and bread, but broken teeth and ill behaviour.

Twenty-year-old students come and go, our long memory remains.

Govanhill or not Govanhill, Glasgow is the question.