Place is a mystery to me

A skyscraper against a blue sky with smaller buildings om both sides

I don’t live in a village or small town or some rural outback where everyone knows your name.

I come from the city, a big city, bigger than it looks.

Nobody knows me round here, and I know nobody.

Except Rab fae Torrisdale Street, of course. Mad Tracy who torched her flat that time. Franco the barman, Tony the Gherkin, Raj the Reindeer, Catherine the Great and George the electrician.

But everyone knows them.

Then there’s old Albert, limping round Govanhill Park a hundred times a day on his crutches, two broken legs from a car crash ten years ago, in constant pain but tries not to think about it until he has to go get the plates straightened or the screws tightened.

Maybe Rekan the wee Kurdish barber who lives with his twin brother in his cousin’s flat in the Gorbals and opened a shop in Govanhill.

Said he was covering a shift at his mate’s place in Dennistoun last week and a Celtic player came in for a haircut.

A fancy wee winger on loan for a while who flatters and deceives without doing very much and twinkles with mediocrity.

Hundred quid tip though.

I said that’s us, mate. More than a club. Are you going to set fire to my ears?

Wee Mags is back in town too.

Couple of weeks in hospital, she said. Not the virus, something to do with her legs. I didn’t follow what she was saying.

 We never really listen to each other, me and Mags. We just play along making noises and making faces while the other one speaks, answering questions you weren’t asked, cracking jokes the other misses.

How are your legs?

Ooh, I like Nigella. She’s on TV later. Will you get me the TV guide?

Is your daughter coming over?

I had a pet rabbit called Sparky I accidentally electrocuted trying to cut its hair with a beard trimmer.

Okay, cheers Mags.

She’s got bandages on her shins and a walking stick now but glad to be out because everyone on the ward wore visors and you never saw anyone’s face and Jeanie and big Babs couldn’t get in to visit.

Mags is okay but Maureen who plays the harmonica, Bridie with the hairy feet, big Philomena who’s allergic to altar wine all had to give up their season tickets.

Charlie the Mick and Mick the Charlie too.

Anyway. Apart from all of them, I don’t know anyone.

Place is a mystery to me.



Welcome home, Govanhill

colourful mural of three cartoon heads on a wall, each with speech bubbles

At home in Glasgow looking out at Govanhill.

Home is a city, streets and a set of buildings. 

See how I’ve changed, see how I’ve stayed the same.

I used to be world famous for heart disease, cancer and house fires, with the lowest life expectancy and highest murder rate in Europe.

But I’m working on it. I’m reinventing myself, like.

Now I’m more into green space, cheap rent, low carbon, hi-tech, social enterprise, vibrant scene.

Home is a set of memories, pictures in your head, someone else’s head.

From back in the days when I was a ghetto, a slum, full of immigrants and crime and bedbugs. An exemplar, I was. The most demonised neighbourhood in Scotland, they said.

But I was still at home, I was always at home.

Look at me now. Staycolders, gentle flyers, reinventionaries, new heavy industry, the Govanhill industry.

But the view outside the window is still the same.

Home is a city that keeps on reinventing itself but where people still die young.

High-density housing, old tenements in poor condition, transient population, a wide range of languages other than English.

Home is a set of colours, football colours for example, food and pubs, churches and trade unions, music and literature, comedy and dislocation.

Maybe things were better in the old days.

Good times, growing up, carefree. Smiling faces in photos from the past.

The city may change, but the place you invented stays the same.

A motor car stopped at traffic lights, pot plants near a window, a conversation across the road.

The city belongs to me.

If only I could leave the house.