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.



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.


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.


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.


Massive onions

collage of loaves of bread

I like bread, we go back a long way, bread is my friend.

Bap, wrap, bloomer and bun.

Farmhouse, shithouse and downright granary.

Plain, pan and rustic cob.

Bread is the best thing since sliced mushrooms.

It works as a doorstopper, helps plug a gap in a leaky window, and is great for soaking up the alcohol when you come home from the pub pished but have a job interview the next morning. You know what it’s like, we’ve all been there.

A founding principle of Govanhill, of course, is that everything except soup and beer is better wrapped between two pieces of bread. (Others include: eating the crust gives you curly hair, swallowing an apple seed means a tree will grow inside you, and masturbation improves your hearing).

Another basic truth is that hot buttered toast before the mid-morning cocktail helps settle the stomach.

And if you like a longer sandwich – maybe grilled giraffe neck, fried elephant tongue, whale liver and massive onions – there’s a baguette for that.

Me and bread go back a long way.

I remember the old bakery on the main road next to the cobbler’s, beside the butcher shop with carcasses hanging on hooks in the back and sawdust on the floor. Chugging motor cars and buses outside, belching exhausts all soot-blackened black, pedestrians in overcoats and headscarves.

The soft smell from that bakery, warm dough rising, sweet and nutty and pastry. Loaves nesting on shelves cooling, stacked in flour, cakes settling, oozing warmth and comfort.

Rolls, flat rolls, therteen of them, when your baker’s dozen was a real thing.

So aye, me and bread are good pals.

Honestly but. Nine quid for a loaf? Nah, mate. Ah cannae, ah wullnae, and am urnae gonnae, okay?  

If only I’d gone to art school to study baking.

Cubist brioche, sliced impressionism, abstract expressionist panini.

Maybe that’s why Glasgow School of Art burned down. Twice. In four years. With the same people in charge.

Maybe they’ll spend £100m on an exact replica of my arse instead.

Anyway, don’t worry, I’m only joking, I’m not a philistine. I like art, we go back a long way, art is my friend.

Surrealist cereal, dadaist croutons, renaissance ravioli.

Whatever you feel, Govanhill.


Increasing Victoria Road later

Cartoon picture on a wall of a pigeon, with 'pigeons make Glasgow' written behind it

And now the shitting forecast, issued by Cheers Govanhill on behalf of the Inglefield Torrisdale maritime and coastguard agency.

Weather reports from coastal stations, ya bass.

Thundery showers. Irish Sea in Govanhill. Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Black, North and Baltic.

Westerly Pollokshaws at the moment, perhaps gale nine later in Pollokshields east.

High pressure Cathcart Road, Daisy Street recent hail, Ardbeg Lane spilling shortly.

Fog banks, ten sometimes, a hundred after that, but very poor, unusually poor, visibility poorer still.

The wind was four by north three or something when it happened outside the Queens Park Café.

Guy had it coming, didn’t know what he was doing, said the wrong thing.

Punched in the face, moderate not fair.

Walked away, backing south easterly.

Becoming variable, then cyclonic.

Collapsed in Kingarth Lane.

East side of south, Govanhill Street then Butterbiggins Road, veering northerly into traffic. Thousands and se7enty se7en, falling slowly.

Low cloud, complex low at best, violent storm ten, perhaps storm eleven.

Otherwise becoming speechless, or less.

Occasionally nine nine nine later, so it must be Dixon Avenue, Niddrie Road or Calder Street.

Now rising more slowly. Inshore welcome coastal waters alongside Langside Drive.

Drizzle at times on Allison Street. Increasing Victoria Road or not. Govanhill Baths automatic.

Southerly, sisterly, moonlight, oh moonlight, thank you moonlight.

That completes the shitting bulletin. More to follow, midnight every night.


Attack of the 50 Foot Mango

close up of a cardboard sign with mangoes on it in the street outside a shop

Govanhill is the fruit capital of Scotland.

Vineyards, plantations, vast orchards of pistachio, chocolate chip, vanilla.

We like chips and pies but we also love our greens.

Grass, absinthe, limeade, remember?

What I mean is, Govanhill has the best fruit shops in Glasgow.

Kumquats and blood oranges are as much part of our brand as crumbling tenements and stupid trousers.

I agree with fruit, I support it, plums are my friend. Back in the day when I worked in an office I had a fruit bowl on my desk, next to the ashtray, the spittoon and the ejector seat.

These days I wear a big Velcro hat, Carmen Miranda-stylee, with watermelon, kiwi, pomegranate, maybe six cans, in case I fancy a mid-morning snack or some afternoon delight.

You’ll also catch me strolling down Westmoreland Street in my big banana boots, cherry on the end of my nose, belly button pierced with pineapple ring, impromptu coconut shell earphones.

Community acupuncture with ambient beats here I come.

Heavy is the heid that wears the crown but so make sure that Carmen Miranda fruit stack disnae topple over.

Blue velvet, green tambourine, red lorry yellow lorry.

Anyway. What I really mean is, Govanhill is the mango metropolis of north Britain.

June till August every year is Feast of the Immaculate Mango, Our Lady of the Blessed Mango, all over Govanhill and Pollokshields, with boxes of sweet honey mangos imported from Pakistan piled up outside every fruit shop in the area. Night of the Living Mango, Attack of the 50 foot Mango, Last Mango in Paris.

Forget the terrible puns kids, put down those swedgers and try this sweet yellow flesh instead.

Juice on your eyebrows guaranteed.


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.