Great bunch of lads

cartoons of three pop art cans with the anarchist symbol

Here in the city, the inner city, and all its featured delights.

Green space and birdsong, quality turn-ups and sideburns, a stained mattress next to a three-wheeled pram.

Bakeries and takeaways, friends and brothers all in easy walking distance too.

Great bunch of lads.

Pork chop square slice.

Every shade of black.

In the city, the city of Govanhill, that’s where we are, where we’ve never voted Tory, we didnae vote leave, we don’t play rugby and we dinna even ken where Edinburgh is, okay?

Roman and Celtic, Hibernia and Caledonia, city feed with whisky bars, music in our feet, taste of continents in our food.

Yoga mats and hats from Vietnam and shoes from Sudan and graffiti on the wall that says we’re magic, we’re magic, graffiti on the wall.

Hot chocolate city, hot coffee, sitting on the stoop city, smelling the smoke, the weed, the cigarette blush and puff.

City evening rubbish and flowers in the pavement pushing through concrete ground.

The city is our family, although sometimes invisible in an empty city, an invisible city with buildings too high or windows locked in hidden tenements.

Late night tears, early morning wailing, never forgotten, always remembered, doomed to repeat again and again.

Every type of home in this city.

Early century urban slums, pre-war landlord slums, municipal disasters, free market buy to let and left to rot.

Or brutalist social housing masterpieces, empty space and spray paint wilderness.

Some backcourts are like a garden suburb, others like a medieval dump.

Some have hopeful pot plants, stained glass, perhaps a polite little pushbike chained up.

Others have timeless, placeless terror. No names on doors, haunted letterbox, holes punched in brickwork.

It will all end there, you know it will, in the dead of night, in a dark stairwell with no one to hear you scream.

That’s our city, the constant city.

Student flats or your cousin lives here or a drug dealer does or a family who fled war-torn Debenhams in a small boat.

Because we’re all immigrants here, it doesn’t matter what we wear, or the spices in our hair. In the rain we don’t get wet, or if we do, we don’t care, we ignore.

Straining in the silence, heads wrapped up against the hot and the cold, bare shoulders and tartan trews.

Flesh-coloured fools, a double-headed dragon breathing fire, all the big boots and greasy dust you require or desire.

Sorry, what were we talking about again?

Aye, non-binary fanny magnets, that’s it.



Wee Govanhill boot boys

Exterior of circular building at Nithsdale Drive

Southside myce in the kitchen again, crawling on the crockery by the draining board, scattering over surfaces between plant pots and rotting food.

Wee fannies in all those nooks and crannies.

Why, Govanhill, why?

I feel dirty, like a pure tramp, like I can’t take care of myself even though I had a haircut, changed my scants and brushed my teeth all in the past week alone.

I emptied the bins last year too, so it can’t be my fault.

One feels invaded, exploited, taken for a fool in yer ain midden.

I’m an unlikely parent, unsuitable pet owner, unreliable narrator, all of those things and more.

These southside thugz, wee Govanhill boot boys, are a fact of life, just like surveillance capitalism, poverty wages, slum landlords and haemorrhoids in Nithsdale Drive.  

No wonder I’m cowering in bed unable to put the heating on, worrying about my emissions, afraid to be my true authentic self.

I know these mice better than I know the guy across the landing.

They’re both small and hairy and they both like wandering about at night. Maybe my neighbour lives in a skirting board or likes eating peanut butter without setting off the trap too.

He’s more anti-social than the mice, anyway. There was a fridge outside his front door for a month, then a wardrobe, now a cooker.

Can’t wait to see a dead body, decapitated even, on an unapologetic trap, three in one night, two more a day later, another couple after that.

The mice I mean, not the neighbours.

Then I had a dream about a mouse, a giant mouse, a supermassive suppurating carcass sprawling across the kitchen floor seething with larvae and covered in weeping sores, belching hideous fumes, oozing filth, trailing faeces and vomit.

Or was that the neighbour across the landing again?

I just don’t know any more.

It must be an omen, a bad omen, a sign from above, or below, behind the sink or under the floorboards that things aren’t right, that they’re wrong.

They remind me of me.

Cheese, me.

Nae luck, myce.

Remember the future, Govanhill

six windows in different coloured buildings

I’ve been here before, I know I have, I must have been.

I’ve been walking these streets all my life, drinking in these pubs since before I was born, in a previous life as a Roman centurion, some Spanish aristocrat or a flea-bitten medieval jakey.

Not a Friday night but a Saturday morning, sunshine on sandstone glowing in that morning when the sun is up but the streets are quiet, people out running with dogs alongside and fat legs in shorts, that’s the time, the best time.

Green land in the city’s grandest park, blossoms in gardens and wee backcourts, pot plants crowding tenement window or balcony space.

There’s beauty among the middens too. Seek and ye shall find, I tell thee.

A queue of people, and not just white people, outside the bookies and the boozers and the chippy, not a tote bag in sight, no ankles or moustaches nor expensive loaves of bread either just warm people who talk to each other but have fewer teeth and different tattoos than design consultants, picture framers or brave makers and doers.

Old souls from yesteryear who’ll always have your back. Ways of behaving that bind you to a place.

Remember the future but remember the past too, a heavyweight past, not just Govanhill but the black and white city we knew as kids.

That lost civilisation of gaudy murals on gable ends, rotting wood and dead masonry, empty space with giant puddles like vast lakes beside mounds of earth and piles of tyres that seemed hundreds of feet high.

We lived and died there and nobody knew.

Quieter streets too, odd pockets of suburbia in Cessnock, Springburn, Tollcross and Maryhill. Smart terraced homes on neat little avenues, villas and bungalows with garden paths, hooses with an upstairs where each child has its own bed, even its own bedroom.

Strange eyes round every corner, unknown buildings like a synagogue or an art gallery or an ice cream parlour. A little girl in red shoes.

Or cheap sannies, ninety-nine pence slip-ons, black canvas with caramel soles, the shoes of municipal socialism.

Football learned in those shoes on tarmac and concrete and gravel, red ash and black ash, blood and snotters from sliding tackles and diving headers because to do is to be and to be is to struggle.

Council grass worn away to smooth earth, two young trees as perfect goalposts for tenement kids kicking a ball around.

Dreaming of Celtic Rangers, Scotland England, home internationals, world cup glory.

Reflected dreams from telly and playground. Diced carrots next to the roundabout, broken glass in the sandpit.

Crouching pavements, hidden walls.

Black tar also softens in the sun, yellow flower dandelions reach out from cracks in a concrete wall.

All in this place, always this place, it’s all there’s ever been.

It was always the most fascinating city in the world to me.


Hotel Govanhill

A mural of blue faces of two women with red in the  middle

Govanhill has so many pockets and compartments of different people and new languages surfing our streets in their idiosyncratic style.

Many Govanhills, one culture, Govanhill culture.

If you’re ever in the area, come on round to our corner, because that’s where it’s happenin.

G Hill boyz and girlz, our songs of transition and displacement. Fringes you’ll see nowhere else in the city.

Niche markets, jasmine and coriander, coughing a lot, maybe drinking too much.

Unexpected music in winter afternoon sunshine in these streets of mystery, the same streets we grew up on.

Oh look, a childhood emptied on to the pavement. A ransacked bedroom, sitting room furniture and black television set, kitchen implements and someone’s dinner.

Fast moving junk buckets, eyeballing jakesters, that’s us.

Broken teeth and bad breath and hard times. Kebab stairwells too.

High flats and dampies and a sociology of emptiness. Low demand, expensive to maintain, high rates of turnover.

Many Govanhills, one culture, Govanhill culture.

Dickster hips with privileged clothes and lack of ideas. Stupid heads are often young, but not always.

Tote bag maniacs, vegan thugs showing too much ankle, sympathy for moustaches. Yeast farmer operatives wearing big dungarees. See?

Polka dot smug, yellow woolly hats, awful little dogs.

The busker who doesn’t look up or say thanks for your coin.

Trying-to-be radicals picking a fight with stricken local authorities broken by austerity.

Spotless vintage shops, no sense of dust or chaos, of second-hand poverty or desperate past lives.

Never places of need, just places for wee posh c*nts behind the counter to live lives of usefulness and time-filling.

Only here because we’re cheap, n’est-ce pas?

The black clouds among the inanity are real, though my dad bought the flat.

Hotel Govanhill, discretion guaranteed, you’ll never leave.

It could be heaven or it could be hell, just like everywhere else.

But it always ends the same way.

Me and the pigeons in an alleyway, partners in purpose. They’re pecking at a stray piece of cardboard, I’m having a pish behind a bin.

Cheese, Govanhill.

Quantum Govanhill

One image of two similar looking buildings at Shawlands cross and Eglinton toll in Glasgow

So I drank ten cans and lay on the couch and looked out the window at a cold sky, a low sky, hollow somehow, and suddenly I realised that Govanhill is me and I am Govanhill and neither of us really exists.

It’s a nightmare, a quantum nightmare.

I didn’t really know what I was talking about so I decided to drink more cans instead.

Be yourself, they say. But it’s not that easy if you’re a fictional narrator, a fake character, a false man, a made-up guy.

There’s nothing real about me at all, and that’s the truth.

No genuine emotions, no truthful movements, no proper connection with the rest of humanity.

It’s a nightmare, a quantum nightmare.

But these cans taste good and that’s a fact, quantum or not, so I lay back down and started thinking about who am I and who is Govanhill and if we’re both truly being as good as we can be.

Am I the best version of my authentic self, or is someone else being me, someone who passed an exam, won a contest, with the top prize the chance to be me? Aye, right.

And is Govanhill really the best it can be, or is Polmadie, Shawlands Cross or Eglinton toll better at being Govanhill instead?

It’s a nightmare, a quantum nightmare.

More Govanhills, other Govanhills yet to be invented.

More languages, extra colour, louder women, fatter blokes.

It’s confusing, I know.

But blame the universe, not me.

Because Govanhill is me and I am Govanhill and neither of us really exists.

And if I invented Govanhill then I also invented Castlemilk Drive and Drumoyne Circus, Balmore Road and Mosspark Boulevard, Cumberland Street and Knightswood Avenue.

It’s a nightmare, a quantum nightmare.

If only there was a place, an imaginary place, an imaginary city, not as real as Govanhill but a parallel universe, an alternative reality, a different dimension where I’m a different person, a better person, less of an asshole, because I made different choices, better ones.

My head hurts.

But this is Govanhill, no two ways about it, quantum or not, so I opened another can and phoned my brother and he asked me how I was doing. Glad you asked, I said. Paranoid eyebrows, bipolar shoulders, schizophrenic shoes and a growing sense of dread at the impossible search for meaning in a desperate Godless universe of never-ending trauma and struggle. You?


Keep it light, Govanhill.


City of splinters

'Way out to Victoria Road' sign at the top of of stairs with a fence on either side and tenements behind

I’m in a really bad place right now.

I don’t mean mentally. I mean Strathbungo.

These might be the worst pavements in Scotland.

Too many runners for a start. All that jogger’s forehead is putting me off sitting on a bench in the park drinking cans.

Too many aching hips, productive starter-uppers brimming with ego and wellbeing. Heavy lesbian day too, autonomous space, new moon yoga for the winter equinox.

All those science-based foundations for a happier bourgeois life.

It’s the blood and soil I miss. And the myce.

Lady Govanhill is not without grit, has both affordable rent and slum landlords, the world’s coolest streets, the greatest local journalism and the best homegrown businesses in the country, perhaps. 

The empty tins of Strongbow on the corner where pavement collides with tenement.

Kurdish beard trim, digestive biscuits, men in wigs or nail varnish.

Back here on Victoria Road we can’t even hear the crows, afternoon crows in winter sky, pale sky with mild sun, weak sun but no rain, at least there’s no rain.

The sound of walls crumbling in the close, bins not emptied since medieval times.

Cropped hair guy with scars on his face kicking in doors along the pavement.

A phone goes, with the same ringtone as your work mobile and immediately you decide you never want to hear that noise again.

Because now it’s early evening and your teeth hurt, your ears are getting cold at children screaming in seven pm street traffic and tenement living rooms with the big light on.

Are they our kids? They must be, they have to be, the children we had back in the day when we walked everywhere and labour was manual and we didn’t love ourselves quite so much. When we had steady jobs and warm homes and food on the table and schools and trains and hospitals that worked.

We didn’t live as long back then, and we won’t now again either, but our sons might, our strapping sons of six foot not gnarled like their old men because of a healthier diet of less Irn Bru, fewer chips and better drugs.

Because today we’re in love with the whole splintering city, its big quick river wintry bridges, its brazen black Victorian heart. Apologies, Liz Lochhead.

And welcome home, Govanhill.

No hills and not even part of Govan.

But at least it isnae Strathbungo.


Three cheers, Govanhill

Front of a building with multi-coloured squares beside some windows

So I’m walking through Govanhill the only way I know how, slowly, repeatedly, religiously.

Walking these streets is just like going to church.

I don’t mean worshipping dead leaves by the railway line, praying on your knees before a boarded-up shop, or seeing the face of baby Jesus in a used nappy on the pavement.

I mean because it’s boring, it goes on too long and can’t I just stay in bed?

There must be a quicker easier way for my sins to be forgiven.

I could try being rescued by the dogs in the park, the freedom and abandon of these charismatic wee bandits, running around, chasing a ball, legs twirling.

Redemption every morning watching a puppy do a shite on the grass.

Walking these streets doesn’t clear your head either, it just muddles your thinking, adds extra complexity, a burden of truth it’s impossible to ignore.

Confusing your thoughts, darkening your outlook, multiplying grief, just like Shawlands Cross or Eglinton toll.

Rubbing salt into your wounds, pepper in your eye, mustard up your arse, just like Langside Avenue or Battlefield Road.

Forward into oblivion, or Pollokshields East at least, Pollokshields West at best.

Walking these streets doesn’t clear your head because your head is never clear, nothing ever is, you understand less, certain of nothing, trust in everything.

I walk therefore I’m not.

I do it because I don’t.

I can’t because I won’t.

See? Nothing is clear. Litter on the road, the rattling in your ears, dust in the creases of your face.

So you head out from Govanhill, out towards the light where the sky opens up, where everything looks bigger, things might be better, and you might be too.

Higher ground, clearer path to the truth and the light, the same light as on the tenth floor of that high-rise block, one solitary light on at seven in the morning, someone just finished work or just starting work, who gets up early or goes to bed late, or both at the same time, watching Starsky and Hutch, listening to Radio 4, tending their plants, rubber, cheese, succulent or savoury, too skint to turn the heating on.

There’s always a hill to climb, a decision to make, a puzzle to solve, so you keep on walking because it’s all you know, there’s nothing else to do.

Aye right, fresh air.

Nae bother, steps.

Very good, exercise.

It’s just daft shoes on black ice in dull darkness and cold wind and look and feel ridiculous.

Three cheers, Govanhill.

Songs of Tongland

Four statues, maybe historical figures, men with beards and women with flowing hair

There’s only one Govanhill, two Govanhills, three Govanhills or more.

All in one place, one time and place, here on these streets in the south of the city.

This Govanhill pavement, flattened canvas coated by centuries of shoes. Scattered history across cracked stone, dead wheels and broken feet.

Listen to that pavement, song of the banging close door, sirens in the night, quiet weeping from a darkened room, a black dog barking.

A toot from the railway line sounds like midnight fog horns from the old river on New Year’s Eve, the ringing of church bells.

Call and response, lonely harmony of distant sounds.

The people on that pavement, you and me, them and us. A painted anarchist in a dress, inverted full-backs, caffeine turn-ups and varnished nails. Doers and makers and tossers and dossers. 

Agile dredgers, community-based mentalists, nimble home-based flip flops.

Or a young teen with blood down his face from a cut on the head, a bottle smashed, glass war.

Valium encounters, chib mark minimalism, nuisance behaviour, stealing your bike.

And on that pavement might be Irish bar, local boozer, big guy with a baldy napper and bad skin who’s drunk but friendly, fat and polite.

Or a problem drug user punting shoplifted perfume, splintered jewellery and bottles of strong drink.

Even a hip joint with craft beer and t-shirt slogans but no one standing at the bar and bored dogs ignored on the floor.

Sometimes that pavement goes backwards not forwards, backwards in time, because history had dreams when it was young too although things never turn out quite the way you’d hoped and now there’s less to look forward to than ever before.

Dead giants roam our streets, heavy ghosts of industry, of furnace and shop floor, of heat and smoke and noise.

Dusty roads and corners of grass where kids kick a ball at dykes in the backcourt or rats in the bin shed.

Sprayed slogans on the decaying bricks of an old city.

Shamrock, Gaucho, Fleeto, Tongland.

Blackhill, Haghill, Lambhill.

And two Govanhills, non-binary, very binary.

We have, you don’t.

We exist, you won’t.

We are, who are you?

Not yet, Govanhill. Not yet.

Hope so, suits me, about time

Brick archway with colourful graffiti sprayed round the side

Interest in property in G42 has soared by fifty per cent in the past year alone, with house prices surging to a new record high.

So said Rab fae Torrisdale Street just before he passed out on the pavement after drinking ten cans of Special Brew.

Substantial investment in local infrastructure such as the South City Way and the new public square at the south-west corner of Queen’s Park has made the whole area an increasingly attractive place to live, work, visit and invest. Then there’s excellent transport links and quality food and drink right here on your doorstep.

In summary, added Rab, bakeries, coffee shops, ethical grocers, green space and cycling. What more do you need?

Nothing, I said, nothing at all. Because that’s all that matters to the people who count.

So I left Rab to it and watched him lie down on his mattress made of cans and I kept on walking through the streets of Govanhill until I found myself back in ma ain midden.

Wish someone would buy my tenement flat.

Grey walls surround it, cold wind blows through it, empty space at the heart of it.

Formica ceiling, old brick and tarmac, attitude baked into the plaster.

There was an earthquake in the kitchen last week too.

Underground eruption, seismic outbreak, shifting tectonic plates over by the sink.

I thought it was the Big Bang but this time in reverse. Thought I’d be sucked into a supermassive black hole, pulverised, destroyed, incinerated in an instant.

But it’s okay, don’t worry, I wasn’t, not really.

Instead, a cup fell off the table and smashed on the floor.

The only mirror in the house came down from the wall.

Two slices of bread popped up from the toaster too.

Maybe it was just the mice getting wide, too wide, too massive, supermassive, like giant rats, black dogs, angry goats, running riot round the kitchen knocking things over.

Hope none of this comes up in the home report.

Along with the jakey who’s pished his troosers and is sleeping in the close.

And the sleekit wee neds by the bin sheds.

Offers over might bring on buyer’s remorse.

Could be worse, I suppose.

Could be living in Strathbungle.

Churros, Govanhill.

The hungriest ghost in Govanhill

windows on the outside of a tenement block

Motorway signals Glasgow approaching and it lifts your heart, it always does.

Back to the city. No more beach or hillside or holiday home, no tourists with backpacks and bumbags, nor fish and chips that Tripadvisor says are the best in the region.

No more timetables or roadworks or departure queues, just yer ain bed and yer ain shower and clean clothes to wear again.

Thank God for the city, the imaginary city, with chimney pots and parked cars and apartment buildings that aren’t being shelled at least.

It’s the city not the suburbs so it’s walking not driving, public not private, shared space not fenced off.

I know what it’s like in suburbia. I’ve been there, man. Seen it with my own eyes. No municipal parks or skating rinks or swimming pools or department stores or football pitches with red or black ash, nothing.

Here it’s tenement blocks and busy pubs and crowded streets that look global but act local.

Hindustan Times, Donegal News, Evening Citizen Saturday pink edition.

The beat of our shoes on the pavement, scruff shoes, Charlie Chaplin shoes, mostly.

The four guys at the corner look like they’re staring you down but they move out the way as soon as you approach.

People with nae teeth, skinny legs and brass necks who smoke too much but whose warmth keeps you dry during the rainy season, where a total stranger gives you a straight answer and if you don’t take yourself too seriously, you’ll be just fine.

I’ve always lived in the city, an imaginary city, and now I am Govanhill and Govanhill is me.

If it didn’t exist I’d have to invent it and where would I start?

An imaginary city, an invisible city, a unifying place, Pittsburgh, Prague or Pollokshields. Wherever you are, that city is with you, for ever and ever, walking alongside.

Foot-high toddlers with kites in the park, Polish mademoiselles strolling arm-in-arm, an Indian family kicking an evening ball past jogging runners and cyclists.

No fantasy city or invented place, not theoretical but realitical, real-life reality of crumbling walls, dogs barking and bins unemptied since medieval times.

Back in the city, that’s where we are, and wherever you are, I wish you were here.