Aye, so, still no Govanhill but eh

Three murals of Glasgow place names, Dennistoun, Battlefield and Govanhill

If an area of Glasgow doesn’t have its own mural, does it really exist?

I don’t mean the usual Glasgow stuff of Saint Mungo or Saint Enoch, Clutha Vaults or Billy Connolly, FTQ or FTP.

I mean a defining mural, a colourful place name like the Hollywood sign or the Berlin wall or you are now entering free Derry.

Cheers Dennistoun, Cheers Battlefield, Cheers Govanhill, to be sure.

If an area of Glasgow isn’t one of the best places on earth, does it really exist?

Last week Time Out magazine named Shawlands the eleventh coolest neighbourhood in the world, while Kelvinbridge was 38th in 2019 and Dennistoun number eight in 2020.

I know what you’re thinking – me too – but I don’t think these fannies have ever heard of Polmadie. There’s always next year, I suppose.

Dennistoun, Battlefield and Shawlands may look like Govanhill, with their rows of tenements, public park and public library, new-build social housing and hidden terraced homes.

Halal, kosher, fenians and billy boys, chop suey, peppermint chai.

Plus a few hip roasters with sustainable trousers who think they’re unique, a real one-off, but don’t understand that everything they say has been said before only better.

Aye, so, still no Govanhill but eh.

Dennistoun’s close to Paradise, of course, and when you live so close you hear the roar from the stands as the tricky wee winger turns his man inside out, the big centre half is winning every tackle, the new centre forward sticks the baw in the pokey.

The swell of noise, the rise and fall, chanting and singing, call and response, the ebb and the flow, tens of thousands of ooohing and aaahing.

Okay I’ll give you that, Haghill, Camlachie, Parkhead, Bellgrove.

Closer to Paradise, still no Govanhill but eh.

If an area of Glasgow doesn’t have its own blog, does it really exist?

Cheers Carntyne, Cheers Red Road, Cheers Maryhill and Whiteinch.

How can you be a real area if some wee nyaff – sorry, influential lifestyle and wellness blogger – isnae talking pish about you twice a week for well over a year, then about once a week and now maybe twice a month if you’re lucky?

So says the fictional narrator of a so-called blog about a made-up place.

My dream therapist said this blog was a role model for young people, but my social worker went off work with stress and my parole officer quit to go backpacking in Auchenshuggle.

Aye, so, still Govanhill but eh.

You are me and I am too and neither of us really exists.



More tea, Yoker?

Phone box with graffiti on the side of a kid standing on the back of another reaching for a can of spray paint, with a mural on a wall in the background

People sometimes tell me Govanhill feels like London. Dalston, Tower Hamlets, Bethnal Green.

I say I wouldnae know mate, I’ve never been to London, don’t even know where it is, is it near Edinburgh?

All I know is Govanhill is part of a city, a big city, dear old Glasgow town.

Govanhill is married to Kinning Park, Anderston, and Dalmarnock.

People talk the same, look the same, the pubs are one way or the other.

Govanhill’s brothers and sisters are Drumchapel, Springburn, and Provanmill.

Same old wheezing at the same old bus stops up and down the main road.

Buildings in Govanhill face the same sun and the same rain as in Possilpark, the Gorbals, Carntyne.

Dry bars, wet faces, cultural dexterity all around ye.

Sandstone tenements mean the streets here look just like Dennistoun, Partick, or Yorkhill.

Working class, high density, low income, ill health.

The same squirming landscapes, bricked-up doorways, underground creatures in basement hellholes in Barlanark, Mount Florida, Tollcross.

Pedestrian walkways showered in graffiti, young young Cumbie kill for fun.

If only city place names gave some clues to the past. Jamaica Street, Kingston Docks, Plantation Square.

The great villages of Glasgow once had mini town centres in their own right, with industry and commerce, thoroughfares and town halls, football teams and newspapers and civic self-worth.

Great villages laid waste and rebuilt, laid waste and rebuilt, again and again, each time less than before.

With solid citizens of pride and warmth weighed down by struggle but eyes that ripple in glittering water.

Shawlands, Oatlands, Newlands.

Aw naw.

Calton, Bridgeton, Royston.

Stop, please.

Linthouse, Auldhouse, Easterhouse.

I can’t take any more.

Too many places, so many stories, so little truth.

And then there’s Springboig.

So London? Aye.

Queen’s Park, King’s Park, Charing Cross, Woodside.

But this is Govanhill, Glasgow, with weird family members all over this toon.

Auntie Garngad, Uncle Auchenshuggle, nephew Cowcaddens and niece Crossmyloof. 

Aw naw, cousin Riddrie’s pissed again.

She had a tactical can at eleven this morning.


Govanhill needs a break

Purple cardboard cut-out of a figure playing the violin against a blue sky with tenements in the background

I need a break from Govanhill.

Hit the road, the open road, Pollokshaws Road, see where it takes me.

Route 66 to Shawlands, Newlands, Merrylee.

Highway 61 to revisit the Gorbals, Oatlands, Richmond Park.

Big world out there.

I could be crossing the continent coast to coast, desert freeway with the top down. Carndwadric, Thornliebank, Hillpark.

Rickety gas stations and burger joints and neon-lit diners selling corndogs and grits and refried beans. Myrtle Park, Toryglen, Langside.

There’s a soundtrack too, with slide guitar, probably in D minor. Maxwell Park, Pollokshields, Dumbreck Road.

It’s Jack Kerouac, isn’t it, wise mystic bum saint in that soft desolate west, howl of the freight train in the soulful American night.

Junction three on the A727 just past Clarkston.

Want a lonesome ballad about life on the road? Try waiting for a late bus from Polmadie on a wet Tuesday in February. It’ll break your heart.

I might need a break from Govanhill but there’s no need to leave tenement city.

Glasgow has the best beaches in Scotland.

Pristine sand, sunset cocktails, relaxing sea air, none of that shite.

I’m talking the Broomielaw, Yoker, Clyde and Forth canal.

Go swimming at Kingston docks, Prince’s dock, or the old dry dock, splat.

Take a cruise on the Renfrew ferry, the Govan ferry, or round the pond in Queens Park.

Wild camping in the wilderness of Kelvingrove, Glesga Green, Pollok estate.

Escape to the mountains, and not just Mount Florida but Mount Vernon, even Mountblow.

Flee to the hills, and I don’t mean Crosshill or Maryhill, I mean Sighthill and Prospecthill.

And then back to Govanhill, jewel in the crown, hidden gem, perfect holiday destination.

It’s out there, I know it is, I’ve seen it, I’ve been it.

Stunning landscape, vibrant culture, friendly locals.

Nae midgies either.


Aye cheers, Googlehill

Close up of a yellow sunflower with a wall in the background

So Google wrote me a letter in pen and ink on headed notepaper telling me everywhere I’d been and how long I was there.

Busiest day, shortest day, most steps, fewest steps, various visits for food and drink, shopping, attractions and sports.

How I went this way on Tuesday, another way on Wednesday, eight miles on Thursday, poached eggs on Sunday.

A second-hand copy of Ulysses. Forty eight cups of coffee. Three nil at half time.

Why are you telling me all this, ya mad maniac tech tyrant eavesdropping search engine bastart?

Denial is my friend. Ignorance about my life is all I have left.

Stop showing off. Quit boasting how much you know about me just because you can. What’s next, harvesting my organs?

So I kept on reading but then I had to sit down when Google told me my all-time data, the total number of places I’d been in my entire life and all my days was just 419.

Is that it? I wanted to travel the world, expand my horizons, experience other cultures and all I’ve been to is a lousy 419 places?

Poor show, wee man.

Talk about a life unlived.

Wait. I’ve been in Shawlands a few times, Pollokshields, Langside and Polmadie. Aw naw. I got lost coming out the pub and ended up in Strathbungo one night too. Battlefield, Mount Florida, Cathcart Road, a few more. Aw Jeez.

Throw in the Gorbals for visits to my brother and that must add up to 419. Nightmare. Pollokshaws West ruined my life.

Aye, cheers, Googlehill.

Stop shrinking my world with data. Some things are best left alone.

So to cheer myself up I used some crayons to draw a map of where I went yesterday, my direction of travel, and lo and behold it was shaped like a huge cock and balls.

Roundabout at Nithsdale Drive, left along Darnley Street, back down Titwood Road, wee tour round the pond in Queens Park and there you have it, man with giant erection.  

It’s just like that ancient chalk drawing on a hillside in Dorset.

Anyway. Not in my name, Googleballs.

I didn’t ask for this, I don’t want it, of course I do, I can’t help it, yes please.

You spent six hours seven minutes in Paradise, Google said.

Not long enough, I replied.


Why Govanhill, why?

A grey box on wheels on the side of a street with a big orange question mark on the side

Govanhill is whatever you want it to be because it only exists in your head.

Just like thoughts. Or a headache.

You only see what you want to see. 

It might be some creative hub with studio space and vegan eateries and graphic design and young somethings with something ideas and these or those side hassles.

Wallahs queuing outside twelve coffee shops on Vicky Road. Sightless, sorryless, motherless.

Or you might see the same high street stomp as all over this city, and places just like it.

Overwork and lack of work, the relentless drag of poverty killing the body and the mind.

Three jobs, two kids, new shoes, lost shifts, zero hours, nae money, rent’s due, still owe big Malky for that half n half too.

Young, old, poor, ill, excluded, disabled, invisible.

Me and you, in other words.

Baking cakes of concrete and exhaust fume, garnished with broken table leg. Slow cooked tenement beans, side dish of noisy neighbours. An Allison Street omelette.

But it’s not just that, it’s more than that, and it’s not all just in your head.

Flowers in the air on a Friday evening in the rolling fields and open moors of Govanhill.

Three Pakistani families outside Kebabish, a wee tubby Romanian kid giggling with his sister. Spoon carvers, ring binders, rib ticklers.

Me and you again.

We don’t stop, we never stop.

Ugly beautiful, noble bawbags.

Dazzling smile and snotters in our nose.

Us, in Govanhill, and you, wherever you are.

Parkhead Cross, Riddrie Knowes and Paisley Road West, or Springburn, Tollcross, Drumchapel. Down Great Western Road and Cumberland Street, Alexandra Parade and the Gallowgate, Cessnock subway station and the north face of Mount Vernon. Drumoyne, Shettleston, Thornliebank. Dear old Glesga toon.

Bet it’s the same where you live.


A place you don’t meet every day

A mural depicting an orangutan with its hand held out

Inevitable walking in parts of the city that aren’t Govanhill.

The quiet southside of Battlefield, Camphill, Langside, Pollokshields.

Some of these places get a hard time from us superior Govanhill neds, though not as much as Strathbungo, for obvious reasons.

They have leafy avenues, grand tenements, softer air.

Winding streets, unlike the perpendicular grid you see in most of Govanhill, and sudden villas which appear as if from nowhere.

Less density, less of everything, fewer languages. Fewer people too, and the ones you see are better-dressed, with bigger cars, higher ceilings and a cleaner close.

Then there’s Shawlands, an area of Glasgow, Scotland, located around two miles (three kilometres) south of the River Clyde with an approximate population of 7000, with over 82% dwelling in flats and 79% living alone or with one other person, according to local legend. Or Wikipedia.

We like Shawlands. It’s been there for centuries. I remember it as a kid. Shawlands, we used to call it. Sometimes Shawlands Cross.

Govanhill’s slightly better-off cousin who looks a bit sharper, has a well-paid job and lives in nicer flat with rounded bay windows.

Shawlands is popular with folk from former dry areas of the southside that still have very few boozers, maybe Mount Florida, Newlands, even Castlemilk.

It has solid Glasgow pubs like the Georgic, similar to its brothers and sisters the Viking in Maryhill, the Smiddy in Partick, or the Brechin in Govan.

There’s a Nepalese restaurant in Shawlands, a massive Romanian supermarket, two dormant nightclubs, murals, bookshops, Pollok football ground close by too, so it’s not exactly a wilderness.

But I don’t know how much we have in common any more. Whenever I’m with you, I’m thinking about other places, like Govanhill. We want different things.

I want the weirdness of Govanhill, teeming with exotic lifeforms, interesting boutique shops, drinking dens and dive bars, squealers and dealers and total bastards. Cardboard gangsters, kid-on tough guys, plastic hardmen from the rubber scheme.

That big-city feeling with the brown faces and unusual clothes, looking more like London than any other place in Scotland.

The glint in the eye, the grit on the tongue, the mud and the blood and the beer.

So close, Shawlands, but so different. I think we should see other people.

And then Shawlands Cross got drunk with Eglinton Toll and nine months later Tollcross happened.


Govanhill stories: Head south, they said

colourful collage of made-up gang names

I fled the regime in war-torn Shettleston and moved my family to the safety of Govanhill.

Forced to leave our homeland, our culture, in the hope of a better life.

It was a difficult time in the east end of the city.

Ballot rigging in Ruchazie, voter intimidation across Parkhead, an attempted coup in Garthamlock led to mass demonstrations, factory occupations, land seizures.

Defund the Baltic Fleet. Impeach Milton Tongs. Not in my name, Brigton Derry.

After the collapse of peace talks between Queenslie and the Garngad, Carntyne threatened air strikes on Balornock, a curfew was declared in Tollcross and food riots broke out all over Riddrie.

Unrest even spread to Dennistoun, once the eleventh coolest neighbourhood in the UK.

And when big Malky fae the high flats went on bunger strike until giro day, I knew the time had come.

There had to be a brighter future for me and my family.

Head south, they said. You’ll find sanctuary there, among the vineyards and olive groves, where cattle graze and flowers bloom, all that sort of shite.

So we paid a smuggler to get us over the border and he took us to the bus stop in the dead of night and put us on the top deck of the number 57 to Carnwadric.

Bawheids, growlers, goons, oafs. We’ve all been there.

Huddling together for warmth, trying to ignore the empty can of Irn Bru on the seat, the crisp poke on the floor. I was putting my family at risk, I knew I was, but we endured, we had to.  And thirty minutes later we set foot in the south side.

It’s a different world here. Here there is shelter, clean drinking water, sourdough bread. My kids can go to school without being attacked by Springboig.

We have everything we need in Govanhill. Pubs that are closed, overcrowded homes, a pond where a hundred people can go ice skating during a pandemic.

I might move back east some day. I still dream of the vast open spaces of Barlanark, the soaring mountains of Cranhill, lost civilisations such as Red Road or Hutchesontown, ancient tribes like the Yoker Toi.

Until then, I have the mighty rivers and valleys of Govanhill.

Cheers, tenth coolest neighbourhood in the UK.

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.


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.

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?