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.



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.

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.


Only wan Govanhill but

close-up of a pink flower on a stem with a blue sky behind

Queen’s Park, everyone’s favourite 60-hectare green space at the top of Victoria Road.

I’ve loved it since Victorian times, back when I was a gentleman in a top hat promenading with a lady in a bonnet, enjoying a little light music at the bandstand, throwing stones at the ducks on the pond, then joining the chaps for a game of fives while the chapesses grabbed a quick hawf at the pub over the road that keeps changing its name.

A central meeting point for the whole of the southside, busy residential areas all around its perimeter.

Our own city non-place, urban version of the countryside with municipal verges and tarmac but a steep hill too, obscure paths along its sides and clumps of trees, tall trees, and wooded areas and secret trails.

On a pleasant summer evening a citizen of the world can stroll past the glasshouse, read feminist graffiti on gendered family roles and the patriarchy, smell the basil and rosemary from the allotments, look over the tennis courts and bowling greens.

And the cricket pitch, jeez, the speed of the bowler and the distance the batsman gets.

Serious-looking groups of young people having a picnic, cheese n crackers, maybe leaning against a tree reading a book.

Tea in the park. Too civilised, middle class, well-behaved.

No one shouting or being drunk or building fires. No lurking neds in sportswear, bottle of Buckie in the back bin, no black Alsatian dogs.

A couple of hipster types trying to play football. Aye right, lads.

Back in our day a kickabout in the park drew a crowd of thousands, a wee guy hitting a Mitre 5 against a wall was live on TV, match reports of three and in were on the radio every day.

The 23-a-side kick and rush on the big open space at the end of your street, occasional grass and broken glass, wee Frankie Devlin goes on a mazy run and beats eight men, mad Slugger does what he wants because he’s pure mad so if he pushes you out of the way or uses his hands you just let him get on with it.

So aye, everyone’s favourite green space that isnae Celtic Park, Hampden Park, or Jurassic Park.

There’s a Queen’s Park in London, a Charing Cross too, probably other areas of both cities with the same names.

Only wan Govanhill but.

Londinium wouldnae dare.


I love the smell of Neeson’s in the morning

nice tenement block in the sunshine, stoops at the front of the building

So I was with my brother but we weren’t in the pub and we weren’t at the game, we were walking down Victoria Road instead.

Uncertain twilight, unsure of the time but knowing very well exactly where we were.

Does Govanhill always smell like this?

Like what?

Like a barbecue or a festival.

Aye, sounds about right.

We were right at the top of the road, near the gates of Queen’s Park, on pavements so wide it could be a boulevard, an avenue, even a thoroughfare. Like an old photo from the past, with a horse and cart, a tramcar, or a wee barra boy back in the day.

Places like Strathbungo – hiya – always have such narrow pavements because everyone drives there and no one walks.

But why would you drive a car in Govanhill? Ye just wouldnae. You might cycle a bike but even then, bikes and cars are almost the same. They’re not legs, which have feet and shoes which drive you forward, push you along, onward then upward on pavements this wide.

Is that grilled lamb?

Might be the vegan and veg café. Could be Anarkali, everyone’s favourite curry house. Maybe smoked sausage or black pudding from the chippy next door. A roll and fritter, a haggis supper, or chicken taco from the place across the road.

Grand tenements up here, bourgeois views over the park, stoops that could double for Brooklyn, aye right. Flowers in a basket, fragrant wee plants from a scratched patch of land in a damp backcourt. Cake box over there, kebab shoap round the corner, spearmint ice cream from the Italian down by. I could feel my brother trying to take it all in.

Every time I come here there’s something new. A café, a pet shop, a record store.

I know, it’s always the same round here.

Then he said there’s so many places to eat no wonder you’re a fat bastard and I said shut it Gorbals and he said calm doon Govanhill what are you having and I said I’m having the lot.


The Second Coming in Cathcart Road

statue of a woman with two children by her side

Turning and turning in the streets of Govanhill, I can hardly hear a thing.

Not Falcon Terrace in Maryhill, nor Falcon Court in Newton Mearns.

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, but if I fix the boiler and sort the floorboards I can worry about the plasterwork later.

New windows, new radiators, full re-wire too.

Surely some revelation is at hand.

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

Keep walking, round and round, lacking conviction, passionate intensity. 

Mad Tracy with lion body and the head of a man.

Rab fae Torrisdale Street, gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.

Watch me go as I slouch towards Bowman Street to be born.

Apologies, Yeats.

Back to stony sleep.


The Buddha of Bowman Street

Two posters celebrating key workers

You learn so much from bins and lamp posts and bus shelters on the streets of Govanhill.

Politics, religion, gender, fitba. Magic.

It’s like the university of Cathcart Road.

I mean, we all know that wherever living things draw breath the Buddha shall appear in compassion.

But I didnae realise the big yin with the big belly liked to stroll through Govanhill scrawling graffiti.

sticker on a lamp post saying: Expectations are the thieves of joy

Maybe he had a pint in Neeson’s with the Dalai Lama, bought some weed aff Rab fae Torrisdale Street at closing time and then went wandering through the streets of Govanhill, singing songs, staggering along, got the munchies, grabbed a kebab, before catching the late bus back to Nepal-slash-Tibet.

Nae offence like, Buddha. Please don’t set yourself on fire or anything.

I’m only practising thinking non-thinking.

three stickers with anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti=fascist, pro-refugee messages

Ways of seeing, ways of living, how all are welcome in this most diverse set of tenements.

stickers of German football team St Pauli, with skull and   a Muppets character

Everybody’s second favourite football team, anti-racist anarchist punk squatter collectivist anti-fascist St Pauli.  

Read more about those jolly rogers here.

Then I went to Glastonbury to catch up on English history, stopped for the architecture at Stonehenge and saw this.

sign on a wall which says: Stonehenge, built by immigrants

And soon I came back here to learn about the dialectics of historical materialism and the corporate takeover of time and space.

sticker on a lamp post saying: Defeat your final boss, organise your workplace

The gig economy, low wages, zero-hours on demand. No job security or sick pay or holiday pay or pensions or trade unions working in retail or waitressing, warehouse or call centre, delivering, labouring, crop picking.

sign on front of Govanhill baths, reading: Unity in Diversity

Because this is Govanhill, power to the people, who took on the cooncil when they tried to close our baths and the people said naw and occupied the building for 147 days.

United we will swim.

Cheers, Govanhill.

two posters celebrating key workers

Less than real

section from a stained glass window, showing the back of two figures and an industrial worker in foreground

We don’t remember the past, we only imagine it.

Paint pictures, tell stories, sing songs, of someone, somewhere, at some point in time.

But which memories are important, what past do we remember, whose lives matter?

Our heads used to be full of future possibilities. Mine was, anyway.

What’s for tea, how long till pay day, three points on Saturday. How history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce.

Now we sit at home and think of things we used to do and look forward to doing them again.

The future will take care of itself as long as we take care of the past. It’s all we have, the past.

Imagine an industrial heyday, a city once the fourth largest in Europe after London, Paris and Berlin. A quarter of the world’s ships launched on this very river.

City of industry, heavy industry, with factories and docks and foundries, steel mills, gasworks and chemical plants. River of two hundred ship yards, of tug boats, warships, cruise liners and titan cranes. City of soot and smoke and heat, city of noise.

Screaming weans and women at windows shouting at men in crowded streets or voices raised in rowdy pubs or football grounds or music halls, on railway platforms and subway carriages or at the top the bus, all the way home.

That was a place, once upon a time, in the long ago.

Derelict brick buildings, covered in graffiti

But sometimes history speeds up, sometimes you wake one morning to find a city destroyed overnight.

Closed factories, abandoned buildings, vast acres of empty land.

There used to be places where there aren’t any now.

A hollow city, city of ghosts, people and communities demolished.

No more units of work and place and of who we are.

The visible carnage of rotting wood and dead masonry, burned-out holes in the ground. Invisible carnage of contaminated land, chromium, cyanide wasteland.

Weeds as high as trees, rats the size of dogs, black water lapping against stained walls.

That was a place, that derelict place. City of fog and thunder. Gale force winds again. Good later, not now.

The empty self is at home in this dead place.

Glass frontage of a modern office block

But new places can be built, new cities can appear, less than before and less than real.

Places of industry become places of consumption. Retail park shopping centre drive-thru strip malls.

Or affordable housing, maybe a bus garage, a new campus for a rebranded further education college.

A city of digital and finance and creatives and tourism. A low carbon, high-quality, cost effective location. A great place to live, work and invest.

Maybe that’s what Govanhill is now. An innovative place, whose people make it. Maybe that’s how we were invented.

Because we know better than anyone how things can change.

Remember the demonisation of Govanhill, the fear and loathing, when no one loved us and we hated ourselves?

Look at us now. Creative hub, development trusts, social enterprises, gentrification, the coolest place in the UK. 

A city of darkness moving into the light, is that it?

We were never sustainable before. Not white enough, or vegan enough, and far too working class.

Thank goodness being so poor made everything so cheap so the right type of person could move here.

Why not Bidgeton or Yoker, even Clydebank or Greenock? They might be innovative places too. Springburn, Rutherglen, Parkhead. Post-industrial, cosmopolitan, inexpensive.

Our story is the story of a city, a city longer and wider and deeper than anyone understands.

City of the past, a famous past, an illustrious past.

Slums, poverty, illness, alcoholism, violence, death.

We love you, the past. Don’t leave us, the past.

Cheers, mother Glasgow. You too, Govanhill.

Always changing, always the same.

empty street with rail bridges overhead

Every city has its wilderness, even a new city.

Places no one goes, paintings no one paints, sounds you never listen to, stories we won’t tell.

A city no one imagines. City of dust, of vacant land under motorway bridges, disused railway lines near the waterfront, empty spaces which used to be more.

Sometimes land for future use, perhaps a retail opportunity yet to be fulfilled.

Non places which are always around. Forgotten parts of an invisible city.

You can still walk in these places, though you’re really not supposed to, past light industrial units or garage forecourts, muffled engine exhaust fumes from somewhere overhead.

Wholesale cash and carry warehouse, car tool hardware stock room.

But no one belongs here and nothing much happens.

Can I help you?

Leave me alone.

You can’t go in there.

Wasn’t going to.

You shouldn’t be here.

I know.

Everyone is a non person in this non place.

So you keep walking. A scratchy path and gravel underfoot, a fence with a razor wire crown.

The tracks of other wildlife, fag ends and crisp pokes, even droppings. Invading undergrowth reclaiming concrete, weeds growing from walls.

And then you sit down, open a can and start to meditate, contemplate, listen to the music of the non place.

It might be repetitive, monotonous, like a passing train or an industrial drill.

Bury yourself in that distant ever-present rumble.

It might be the sound of the past, ghosts of the past, a forgotten place in an invented imagination.

A hollow city, phantom city, zero miles, becoming gone.

The silence of the past.

The sound of empty rooms and deserted streets.

A past and a future running away from us.

colourful abstract mural featuring human shapes

But now. Now. Everywhere is a non place now and everyone a non person, an almost person hiding at home from what can’t be seen.

We look through our windows at half places, frozen and empty. Closed places which won’t re-open, more abandoned, emptier still.

Maybe we walk from room to room, flitting round the house in our bare feet, hair sprouting, clothes unwashed.

Time doesn’t pass in this place, might not exist at all round here.

Black clock, dead hours, un time in a non place.

The drinking, insomnia, desperation, mental violence.

Everyone sounds like such a prick on social media too but it’s the only thing there is, the only place we exist, along with the past.

Wherever you are, Govanhill or Madagascar, Mesopotamia or Andromeda, Narnia, Zion, or Never fucking Everland, the past is all you have left.

So you think back to the good times, your best times, when you went places, met people, did things.

Paint that picture, sing that song, listen to the stories you tell yourself.

Young, good looking, unstoppable you. Confident, upbeat, employable you. Maximum you. Telling it like it is-slash-was.

And as you sit and remember and think of that time the past pulls you back to the present, the here and the now at the centre of you, the stillness and silence and the emptiness there.  

Half a person, less than real.

Staring at the wall, drinking too much, tired all day, not sleeping at night.

But if history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, then what went around might come back again.

Fingers crossed, Govanhill.

The future will be colder, warmer too.

Victoria Road automatic

Photo of a shop front in Govanhill, Transylvania shop and coffee

My favourite shop in Govanhill and it hasn’t even opened yet.

Passed the guy putting up the sign one sunny afternoon and asked what it was and he said a shop and also coffee and I said cheers Govanhill and walked on thinking weird, but not, as usual, can’t wait.

Rising slowly, mainly fair, visibility moderate or good.

So Govanhill’s changing but it was always changing, even when some people didn’t want to come here.

We always had Kurdish barbers, Panjabi street food, Italian ice cream, magazin Romanesc, Irish boozers, African grocers, halal butchers, Polski Sklep, Polish Daisy.

Bin men and bone men and potato peelings and sharp-dressed chancers. And the fruit shops, Govanhill’s most popular characters.

We just needed the white bourgeoisie to become up-and-coming.

But watch out, creatives and innovators. This place is so quirky you might hurt yourself, even if you’re a freelance graphic designer.

Thank goodness you have this spiritual guide to give you a tour.

The shipping bulletin, area forecast, weather reports from coastal stations.

The soothing intimacy, the ritual incantation, travelling the seas without leaving your scratcher.

Kingarth Lane recent hail, Allison Street decreasing north, veering down Victoria Road later.

Complex low pressure, sooner dark at times, occasionally Polmadie.

Visit the uninhabited outlands, the crazy zone, where no one’s ever been. Hillpark, Merrylee, Croftfoot.

Hear the mysterious place names that exist only in our imaginations. Southside central, Strathbungo East, Queen’s Park.

Or stupid names a drunk guy made up, like Nithsbiggins Avenue, Buttermoreland Boulevard, Cathtoria Road. Orgasm Valley, frontal systems, warnings of gales.

So here we go, Transylvania automatic. No unsmiling fringes in sight.

Clear sky, ship ahoy, straight ahead, new high.

Always at last, never at first, variable in between and expected sooner.

Cheers Govanhail, hail hail.

The tenement opposite

View of two Glasgow tenements taken from a second floor window

I look outside and see the tenement opposite, full of people just like me, we, you and I.

It’s always there, the tenement opposite. Unchanging horizon. Nobody move, stay where you are, don’t touch your face, stand two metres apart.

Haven’t seen it for years, the tenement opposite. It’s like I stopped looking, took it for granted, didn’t even notice what was right there in front of me.

It’s reassuring, the tenement opposite. Fine blonde sandstone, west of Scotland light, kids’ rainbow posters in the windows. It’s better than having a garden.

I used to wave to the neighbours there as we clapped for each other once a week.

Tonight I see the moon in its little piece of sky above the roof of the tenement opposite. It’s reassuring, seeing the moon. It means the earth is still turning, somewhere.

Cheers, tenement opposite. For showing me the future. The future is wide and tall and clear, the same as the past.

But then I left my tenement and went outside and met Rab fae Torrisdale Street and he asked if I thought he was immune from the virus because he used to drink in the Corona bar in Shawlands and I said could be, you never know, but now that I think about it of course not, ya fanny.

Then he tapped me a fiver because he needed the fare to get tae his maw’s to go to the chemist but he’ll square me up, I know he will, I know he’s good for it.

After that he made no plea or declaration and I didn’t see him again for 30 days.

So I thought I’d go home and look out my window at the tenement opposite.

But my phone went and it was Conde Nast asking about a lock-in at Neeson’s.

Cheers, Govanhill.