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.



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.

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.


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.


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.


Return to Clint Eastwood Toll

Spoof nameplates of famous people for the front door, including B Clinton, D Bowie

So they’re filming another Hollywood blockbuster in Glasgow city centre.

Two weeks ago it was Indiana Jones, now it’s Batman or something. Before that it was World War Z, some Fast and Furious bollocks too.

Either the scale of the buildings makes the city centre grid look like New York, Philadelphia or Gotham, or else Hollywood loves the teeth, the food and the patter over here.

Did ye, aye.

Anyway. We’re used to big stars. There’s a long history of Hollywood in Govanhill, a connection that goes way back to earlier this week when I started thinking of something to write.

There’s Clint Eastwood Toll, of course, and Steve McQueen’s Park. And once I saw Redford in Bedford Street and Newman in Newlands.

Superheroes all over the shoap in Govanhill too.

Wonder Woman smoking a tab outside the launderette.

Black Panther dribbling kebab sauce down his front.

Thor getting his baws booted outside the QPC.

It’s also a made-up fact that Marlene Dietrich liked a pie from Greggs, Ingrid Bergman loved queuing for an overrated coffee, and Denzel Washington enjoyed a game of pitch n putt doon the perk.

Remember when Humphrey Bogart had a flat on Kingarth Street? Me neither, but Greta Garbo also lived on Butterbiggins Road and they both went swimming at Govanhill baths but Bogart did breadths and Garbo preferred lengths and it ended in an underwater square go.

Or the night Gregory Peck was drinking in the Vicky Bar and got into an argument with early Marlon Brando over 50p for the pool table and when Peck spilled Brando’s pint it almost kicked off until Bill Murray arrived and distracted them both with some humorous facial expressions.

I’m joking, of course.

The Vicky Bar doesn’t have a pool table.

Anyway. I have an idea for a Hollywood blobbuster.

Miracle on Torrisdale Street.

Dick Tracy is winching Mad Tracy and they set out to save the world as well as city libraries earmarked for closure.

Al de Niro and Bob Pacino are interested, Meryl Fonda and Jane Streep too.

Did ye, aye.

United Colours of Polmadie

I keep on ringing the same bell, I know, but Govanhill always feels different.

People bringing their colour, melodies, eyes and shoes to our already mixed-up tenements.

It’s the second-best thing about Glasgow, after the fact it has the most illustrious football club in the world in the east end. More on that story later.

Govanhill is almost like a caricature of diversity.

Four Kurdish barbers, three French hens, two Polish delis, una La Bianca bistro, and the Niu café, which always makes me think of Krautrock bands like Can or Neu, all cosmic avant-garde and twelve-minute drum solos.

A family from Sudan having a barbecue in the park, men grilling mutton, women sitting in a group, kids playing football close by.

How do I know where they were from? Because I asked them. Because I’m not a dweeb. And because I’m a dork who speaks to strangers.

It’s not even invented, this diversity. Ye couldnae make it up.

Romanians at a corner on Allison Street, big guys, hard looking, wide shoulders, shouting at each other across the way or up to someone at a window.

The darkness of Allison Street, overbearing tenements on all five sides, something crackling in the air, always on the edge of chaos but never quite falling in.

Sweeteries, eateries, sunflower seed blossom all over the pavement.

Saturday evening hot food from the noodle bar down the road, the unique queer bookshop round the corner, Algerian dudes laughing at a car door in front of the off-licence.

Lentil brothers, bao sisters, non-binary fruitarians.

Jakeys like me wandering around, staring at buildings, chatting to dogs.

And Rab fae Torrisdale Street and his mate, long ball Larry, talking in that caricature weegie way – awright maaaate – walking quickly, drawn faces, nae teeth but good clothes, always with the good quality clothes. Maybe gouching outside the supermarket, eyes closing over, sitting waiting for a few coins.

It’s almost comical, this diversity, almost like a cartoon, like some nauseating marketing campaign, United Colours of Polmadie, some ruthless global conglomerate trying to wash its terrible face in our sinks.

A white couple in their twenties walking down Westmoreland Street in bare feet, long hair, wide trousers, loose skirts. It’s like Glastonbury, or Knockengorroch, or a beachfront in Goa. Or cosplay, fancy dress, imitating how nobody dressed fifty years ago.

Nothing wrong with modern-day hippies, but not many children of granola back when the local paper called this the worst street in Scotland.

Back before the hipster apocalypse of loaves and fonts and coffee, before we came to become up and coming.

Back when no one wanted to live here, when people were afraid even to say the word Govanhill.

Ask the wildlife, they’ll tell you.

A pigeon on the roof in afternoon sunlight, head popping, peck pecking, limping along after another day of eternal struggle, break the back to feed the faimly then fly away and shit on someone’s head.

Ask the seagulls attacking black bags at the litter bins, onion skins and used nappies strewn all over the road. 

The dogs in the park, they’ll tell you the same.

It was always like this.

But the guy playing the bongos on Vicky Road? Honestly, mate. I’m trying to work from home over here.

And moustaches? Leave them alone too.


Govanhill stories: What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

a tenement block in morning sun, with trees and a hedge to the left

Mags was a fierce wee wummin in a fur coat with a supermarket trolley that took no prisoners, a walking stick she brandished at litter on the pavement, and windows she banged when anyone came near her close.

But her legs are going, especially her knees, and now she hardly gets out at all, not even to the pensioners’ club at the community centre for a cheeky wee sherry with Betty, Jean and big Babs.

Now she pads around the kitchen in her chunky blue cardigan with pockets at the side, from armchair to TV and back again, trying not to think of what might have been.

What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

Condensed milk for my morning coffee, son.

Her daughter comes by once a week to help with shopping, driving in from Hamilton or Motherwell or Bellshill or somewhere.

Mags said she doesn’t even know where Lanarkshire is and I said I think it’s near Paisley.

What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

Biscuits I baked for the great grandweans, son.

Mags moved to Govanhill after her husband died and the house got repossessed and she lost her job when the department store she worked in closed down.

I didn’t think I’d end up here, son. I wanted to travel, go to university, maybe become a lawyer. I worked in a shop and had a family. I thought I’d have a different life.

What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

Two bottles of whisky, sixty Temazepam, and a bag of weed my grandson left.

We had a lot in common, me and Mags. Sometimes we swapped tips on catching mice.

I use a hammer, son.


Only joking. Peanut butter, on a trap.

We both lived in the same kind of place, recognised our neighbours by their coughing, knew the guy upstairs’ favourite music, tried to ignore the bin bags on the landing.

What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

Govanhill, son. Your home is in your head, so why not your pocket too? Govanhill is my home, but it’s changed. The noise, the rubbish, people who look nothing like me. Maybe it used to be better, maybe it was always like this. People remember whatever they like. I remember wanting to travel. Now I just want to get out the house and see my pals.

What’s in your pocket today, Mags?

A set of golf clubs. In case you find yourself dressed like a twat and have nothing to do.

I might go to the shops. Want anything?

Get me some peanut butter, son. Cheers.

Chrs Gvnhll

view of a tenement through blue and red coloured glass

Govanhill’s not that big but it feels big.

Other places may have crunchier cornflakes or rollerblading dogs but we punch above our weight, so we do.

We run faster, walk taller, drop lower.

Govanhill’s not that big – what, ten thousand mthrfkrs round here? – but it gets talked about too.

Myth-making and misinformation from child trafficking and vice rings to top ten coolest neighbourhood.

Squalor, filth and decay to Brooklyn, Kreuzberg, Shoreditch.

Watch out Blackhill, Possilpark, Whiteinch. We’re coming after you next.

Accessible green space, aching hip ass, tasty places to snack, plus cycles lanes which are almost finished after work started during the first Gulf war. (The Persian Gulf, not the Gulf of Garthamlock near Hogganfield loch.)

Govanhill’s not that big but it ain’t all dandelion blossom and orange blush juniper crush candy pale ale either.

This place groans, man. You know it and I know it. The bulk download on our streets, black bags, dead furniture.

Stop it, landlords. You too, tenants. It’s not that hard. Put your shit in the bin, not the pavement, ffs.

But don’t give up hope. Believe in yourself, believe in Govanhill, in Glasgow, maybe even Scotland.

The world is watching. Polmadie is anyway, anxious to join in the fun, hang out with the cool kids from the other side of the tracks, the rough part of town.

Know what I mean, Strthbngo?


Take me home, Govanhill

three boys on the streets of Govanhill, one carrying a football

So I was over in the west end but I really wanted Govanhill to take me home.

To familiar faces, streets we walk, where there’s nothing else to know.

Home to the displaced, immigrant and refugee. Edinburgh, London, Brighton.

To people in transit or running on the spot. Transylvania, Kurdistan, Saracen Cross.

Our doorstep is your doorstep.

Home to sharing a room with four sisters, long hours and low wages, dying before you reach sixty-five.

Fenians and billy boys, Afghan and Somali, kosher and halal manbuns.

Private schooling, family connections, socially-distanced yoga.

Or a square go outside the pub because what the fuck are you looking at?

Poets and academics, neighbours and their bin bags, a place so vibrant you have to close your windows in the evening.

All of the above, thanks.

Oven chips are cheaper than avocadoes but we’ll have them both, please.

Happing and clapping and jigging the joie de vivre round the bin sheds every day.

Two portraits of a woman with a dog and a man with a dog in Govanhill,

Our photographers know it.

Two close up portraits of an older woman with short hair and a man with a tattooed face smoking a cigarette

You can see it in on display in our shop windows.

Photo of a young man with a hat with eyepieces over the top half of his face

So nae luck, west end ten-storey concrete hell.

The cheap rent and never-ending streets are here, not there.

Writer’s block and works in progress are in a tenement off Cathcart Road, a basement in Dixon Avenue, a bedsit in Daisy Street.

Not Crown Circus, Athole Gardens or Woodlands Road.

So take me home, on the bus that still goes from Donegal to Govanhill four times a week.

Home to artists’ collectives, gallery co-operatives and jakeys and bams and rockets.

Place of chaos we always come back to, place of refuge which won’t leave us alone.

The starting point, the final destination, and the map that gets us from one to the other.

So then I was making my way home and I met my brother for the first time in years and asked him what it was like in the Gorbals.

He said it’s pishing with rain and full of vampires.

I said cheers Govanhill.

(Photographs: Simon Murphy)