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.



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.


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.


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.

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.



Why a Jacobite is our favourite chocolate biscuit

Mannequin dressed as a workman sitting on toilet seat with a tenement in the background

Getting drunk with wee Nicola in Glasgow southside is a political act, a separatist act, a nationalist act.

Me and the First Minister out on the razz in her very ain Scottish Parliamentary constituency.

Wee Nicky is the current manager of bony Skotchland, of course. First team coach of the smallest country in the best world, the countriest world of small bests, the bestest world country of smalls, whatever.

Hoots mon, help ma Boab, haggis, neeps and twatties.

Rabbie Burns and Johnny Walker, Sunday Post and Highland flings.

Bag a Munro, finger a MacTavish, tickle a Corbett’s bollocks.

Makes ye proud to be Skarrish.

But wee Nickla is also every citizen of Govanhill’s very ain elected member.

So we had a few swallies and a couple of goldies propping up the bar in Neeson’s.

Went round to Yadgar for a lamb biryani, Peshwari naan and takeaway mushroom pakora.

Then across tae Rab’s over in Torrisdale Street to score some late-night blaw.

Chap the door, just say Mel Gibson sent ye, aw right, job done, nae bother.

And after that we sat on the pavement to have a wee toke and discuss the issues that matter.

The Westmoreland Street question, the Northern Pollok protocol, power sharing between Cathcart Road and Garturk Street. A wealthier, happier, fairer Polmadie?

Indyref too, how now is the time, like it almost was last time and though the moment had gone here it is again, and how once-in-a-lifetime doesn’t come round very often.

And we both agreed we were Glasgow partisans, Govanhill nationalists, tenement city separatists.

Then I poured wee Nicola into a taxi back to Bute House and she said Cheers Govanhill and I went home to my tenement flat for more bonnie wee national stereotypes.

Yesterday I was tartan shortbread tin laddie. Tomorrow I’ll be kilted hunk eating porridge. Day after that I’ll be bagpiping through the glens.

But tonight I’m solving my problems and making them worse by being drunk and falling asleep on the couch.

Wha’s like us?

Me neither. Me too.


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.


You are now entering free Govanhill

set of cartoon faces in various colours against a yellow background

So I bumped into Rab fae Torrisdale Street and he asked me where I’d been and I said I died and came back to life, just like a football team we all know.

He said you must be talking pish because that’s all you ever do and I said too right, fanny baws and kept on walking.

But as I left him alone drinking wine on the pavement I started thinking how a neighbourhood can change, even come back to life, and the gentrification of regeneration reinvented in Govanhill.

How Govanhill is part of Glasgow’s imagination. How it’s been the gateway to the city and the country as a whole, an Ellis Island for immigrants, Jewish, Irish, Bangladeshi, Romanian, for a hundred years and more.

And now non-dom fandans, vegan operatives, bakery extremists, coffee space artisan drips, and that well-known middle-class sneer.

How creatives create creative places for creative people to create and how that can only be good for young professionals like Rab.

But Govanhill is still a place of limping bams and coughing neds with everything to say but no one listening, standing in the road shouting at the wind, nothing to lose and even less to gain.

So welcome to Govanhill’s own local hub, our blended model of folk on the broo or delivering pizzas, of home workers and non-workers, outright shakers and total shaggers, dealers, dopers and a complete set of bastards.

Where digital acceleration means Rab stealing your phone and running away.

Where co-creation is mad Tracy knocking your bike, painting it black and selling it on.

Blunt place, blunt people. Funky weegies, unequivocalists, pain in the arsists, yes we are.

Dough that isnae sour, beards that urnae trimmed.

Nae drive-by almond milk either.

But don’t worry, oblivious activists, organic organisers, community shoegrazing unrealists.

We’re not indigenous, none of us are, that’s the joke as well as the punchline.

Because we’re all immigrants here. Even mad Tracy, who was born during a thunderstorm at 6pm on 6/6 in a bin shed on Edinburgh Road.

No wonder she torched her flat that time.


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.


Ten club king size mate

close up of a mural, two men smiling, one with a beard

People sometimes ask me who the hell I think I am and what the hell I’ve ever done for Govanhill and I’m like ffs, calm doon, I only came in to buy fags.

But let me think about it.

I don’t sit on any committees, it’s true, nor any board, working group, task force, or forum. I was on the panel for a while, but that’s a different story.

I’m not an entrepreneur or a social enterpriser either.

Landlord, stakeholder, partner, investor? Aye, right.

I don’t even like hanging out with my dog, listening to true crime podcasts or baking.

I am nobody, unknown nobody no one knows.  

The only places I’m a regular are the pavement, Celtic Park and my living room.

But I’ve walked the streets of Govanhill more than ever before. I’ve appreciated it, written about it, painted its pictures, sang its songs. Endured it, stood up for it, taken the piss a little.

Also howled at it in the middle of the night, slapping my forehead, gnashing my teeth.

I’ve never shut up about Govanhill, to be honest.

You were always on my mind.

Because I’ve always been here and always will be, for ever and ever, amen.

There was never a different time or a better time, only this time.

I was there back in the day, the old day, in black and white photos of old Govanhill, how clean it looked before car ownership and home ownership, fast food and disposable culture, austerity politics, social media, gig economy.

Remember the wee guy picking his nose and staring at the camera?

I haven’t changed a bit.

I wish my fishmonger were still alive and that mass unemployment had never been invented.

If only the dry cleaners hadn’t closed down and people worked reasonable hours and had nice homes and a pension.

Where is the haberdasher and how come my phone knows everything about me?

I just want to go home.

But you are home.

I know.

In Govanhill.

Yes. I want to go home but I don’t know what that means, where it is, or if it even exists. It must be a place in your head you can always come back to, like a dream or a never-ending story.

Sorry, what are you talking about?

Ten club king size mate.