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.


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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


The noise of this place

Black and white sign with an arrow and the words 'Hidden Gardens' on a brick wall

Listen to the music of the pipes in a tenement.

The low-level hum through the whole building when flat three-slash-two flushes the toilet.

The high-octave drone when ground-slash-one turns on a tap.

If top floor guy runs a bath it sounds like a spaceship coming in to land.   

But at least the neighbour through the wall is quiet.

Must be exhausted after last night’s cattle stampede.

Or maybe he’s fixing the bolts in his neck.

The noise of this place.

A mouse scurrying, the trap’s snap, a faint squeal from under the sink in the bathroom.

Nae luck, wee sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous bastart.

Or maybe it was a giant cockroach, you just never know.

The noise inside, like tinnitus. Interior monologue, voices in the head, the stories you keep on telling yourself. Round and round, on and on, never stop.

The noisiest place.

The people at the front of the close playing music, smoking weed, drinking cans. Fair enough, quite respectful, you did it yourself back in the day, but not now, it’s a young man’s game now.

Seagulls squalling and circling overhead then prodding through the bin bag pavement smorgasbord.

Six angry women arguing in the street about payment due and tic fae big Malky that someone did or didn’t get.

A speeding car roaring fifty yards down the main road then having to stop at the lights because wee Betty’s crossing to the bookies to put a fiver on Kyogo to score first and nae boy racer in nae kid’s motor is getting in her way.

But tonight it’s quiet in the inner city, in Govanhill. The weather is calm, roads are silent, there’s no one around, no fireworks either.

It’s hidden now, the noise of the people, the will of the people, we are noise and to noise we shall return.

The people are resting, waiting for a happy ending in the strangest corner of the most mysterious city in the world.


No Govanhill, yes

So I woke one morning from uneasy dreams and Govanhll was no longer there.

Gone, girl. Disappeared.

No roads or traffic or trees or people or wind and rain or anything.

Aye right, Gvanhll.

I tried to go outside but it wasn’t the same, it was totally different, nothing was happening at all.

Nae Rab fae Torrisdale Street, mad Tracy who torched her flat that time, vegan young team, nothing.

Aye cheers, Gvnhll.

Where’s Victoria Road and its ever-changing shop fronts selling strange items and trinkets? Tin pot pale face trying to tap you a few bob, slummer with accent and slight entitled air?

None of it there, all of it gone.

Gvnhl, disappeared.

No more stories to write or read.

Not an eye or a pen to neither see nor tell.

Nothing to say, not even a goodbye.

I didn’t know what to do.

I always knew there was something missing in my life. Turns out it’s Gvnl.

Then I remembered that we are dust and to dust we shall return, so I returned home to the dust and shadows to sit on the couch and drink cans. But there was no couch, and no cans either, so I went to sleep and tried to remember those uneasy dreams and bring Gvl back to life.

I heard laughter outside, clinking glasses, a stranger swearing, a motorised wheelchair speeding down Cathcart Road.

An evening class in Mandarin, a night of Lebanese cuisine, knock-off Russian cigarettes.

Vast bellies, slapping flip flops, the smell of baked bread from somewhere overhead.

Not gone, Gl.

Pictures, sounds, impossibilities running through my head.

Still here, G.

Hope I wake up soon.