Grandpa’s Vietnamese dumplings

Empty cans in a rubbish bin, with one at the front named Che Guava radical lager

The virus has improved my sense of taste.

I don’t mean my pink pantaloons and platform boots, bleach blond beach bum hairstyle, or my engaging content on social.

I mean I can taste Govanhill everywhere I go.

Grandpa’s Vietnamese dumplings, Errol and his hot pizzas, Dracula’s favourite deli. Mushroom paratha, fish pakora, chicken on the bone from Yadgar, priceless, secret Yadgar, the lowest-profile legendary restaurant in Glasgow.

Essential taste from a takeaway joint with a table at the door, maybe a hatch and a plastic screen. Multi-coloured flavours on the roof of your mouth, the back of your tongue, the heat on your forehead from the chillies.

Eggless Turkish pastries, Indian sweets and chai.

The brown taste of coffee. Flat black long. Milk café too.

The city’s best fruit shops. Limes, dates, pomegranates, tangerines or aubergines. And graps, appels and plooms, as we say in Govanhill.

The shop with no signage and a queue of white people outside is a bakery.

The big shop with the Govanhill queue inside is Lidl, the busiest Lidl in Scotland.

And pubs. Closed pubs, dry pubs lying in wait, ready to swing open and spring back to life. A warm gust from an open door, laughter and music from inside. Memories of a past, a past we still hope for because all we have is the future.

Until then it’s the world cups of lockdown beer, some Polish, some Czech, Mexican or Japanese. Craft ale, real ale, pretend ale. Wild cards like Jamaican tonic wine, or the Buckfast your granny drinks to cure her brutal Baileys hangover.

But the greatest thing, the ultimate taste, in Govanhill or not, is hot buttered toast and a mug of tea.

Right there, wherever you are, any time of day. Of course it is.

White bread knocked stupid, ideally. Milky tea, crisp toast, melting butter, marmalade, lemon and lime from a barrel-shaped jar, a jar of memories, lifted down from the shelf at home.

Friday nights, family nights, uncles and aunts and parents and kids, singing and laughing and talking about football, politics, football again over cans of pale ale and bottles of whisky then a game of cards and some tea and toast.

Nights that make you feel you belong. The safety, strength and love you need to endure. Because it’s cold out there, even in the sunshine, and especially when you lose your sense of direction coming home to an empty flat.

Powerful thing, belonging.

I know, Govanhill.


Govanhill stories: Total football in Torrisdale Street

A football pitch at an angle on the side of a hill

Every kid dreams of playing for Celtic. I know you did.

That strip, that stadium, those floodlights.

We lived on football, you and I.

Chasing a ball around city open spaces, Pirrie Park, Dawsholm, Tollcross, Kelvingrove. School playgrounds, red ash, black ash, slide tackles, broken glass.

A corner of green fenced off, maybe a swing park, a grassy verge, a grassy knoll. Long kicks, heady kicks, three and in, seven-by. A five-elevener or a ten twenty-oner.

We used to hang around hoping to join in the older boys’ games and even at that age you were always the best player on the park. So relaxed it was like you had your hands in your pockets. It’s like you were born old.

The kids in my backcourt dream of playing for Celtic too, I can tell.

I look out at them from the kitchen window. Concrete grass and uneven slabs, washing line and rubbish bags, goal posts marked out on the fence.

These kids play the game the right way, the Celtic way, so the ball never goes above head height and there’s never a window broken. Total football next to the bin sheds. Every player comfortable in every position, from the boy wearing his maw’s shoes to the wee lassie pretending she’s a commentator.

You were some player, it’s true. A swivel of the hips, outside of the left foot, a forward pass into the penalty box. You made it look so easy.

Remember you were signed by the boys’ club after playing for the school team and hitting four goals in a semi-final, one direct from a corner? The ref made you retake it and you still scored.

After the age of 14 we never played with you again because the club didn’t want you to get injured. We couldn’t believe it when you got a passport at 15 and started going to cities all over Europe. Rotterdam, Dusseldorf, Valencia.

Man, these kids in the backcourt are loud. League winners, quadruple treblers, European champions of noise. Even two floors up and at the other end of the flat, with the creaking and the groaning and the coughing, it’s still all I can hear.

But you got injured, didn’t you, had to give up playing when you were 16. Broke your ankle during a game, no one even near you, just fell awkwardly running for the ball and that was it. From the only thing you knew, to nothing at all.

I didn’t see you for a while after the doctor said you’d never be able to run again. But I remember meeting you in the street one day and I knew something had changed. You had a black eye too and I asked what happened but you said you didn’t want to talk about it.

Wonder where you are now. Wonder if you’re in a flat just like mine, where things stay the same and what’s broken isn’t replaced.

Maybe the kids in your backcourt are just like mine too. A drag back here, a stepover there, nutmegs, lollipops, hand stands, head spins.

Maybe you’re watching telly, the same BBC4 documentary I’m watching right now, the one with the ponytailed asshole playing guitar in a recording studio. Maybe he has to turn it up to eleven because of the noise from the kids outside.

So cheers, backcourt kickabout weans.

Cheers you, for showing us how to play.

And cheers, total football in Torrisdale Street.