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.



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.


Songs of Tongland

Four statues, maybe historical figures, men with beards and women with flowing hair

There’s only one Govanhill, two Govanhills, three Govanhills or more.

All in one place, one time and place, here on these streets in the south of the city.

This Govanhill pavement, flattened canvas coated by centuries of shoes. Scattered history across cracked stone, dead wheels and broken feet.

Listen to that pavement, song of the banging close door, sirens in the night, quiet weeping from a darkened room, a black dog barking.

A toot from the railway line sounds like midnight fog horns from the old river on New Year’s Eve, the ringing of church bells.

Call and response, lonely harmony of distant sounds.

The people on that pavement, you and me, them and us. A painted anarchist in a dress, inverted full-backs, caffeine turn-ups and varnished nails. Doers and makers and tossers and dossers. 

Agile dredgers, community-based mentalists, nimble home-based flip flops.

Or a young teen with blood down his face from a cut on the head, a bottle smashed, glass war.

Valium encounters, chib mark minimalism, nuisance behaviour, stealing your bike.

And on that pavement might be Irish bar, local boozer, big guy with a baldy napper and bad skin who’s drunk but friendly, fat and polite.

Or a problem drug user punting shoplifted perfume, splintered jewellery and bottles of strong drink.

Even a hip joint with craft beer and t-shirt slogans but no one standing at the bar and bored dogs ignored on the floor.

Sometimes that pavement goes backwards not forwards, backwards in time, because history had dreams when it was young too although things never turn out quite the way you’d hoped and now there’s less to look forward to than ever before.

Dead giants roam our streets, heavy ghosts of industry, of furnace and shop floor, of heat and smoke and noise.

Dusty roads and corners of grass where kids kick a ball at dykes in the backcourt or rats in the bin shed.

Sprayed slogans on the decaying bricks of an old city.

Shamrock, Gaucho, Fleeto, Tongland.

Blackhill, Haghill, Lambhill.

And two Govanhills, non-binary, very binary.

We have, you don’t.

We exist, you won’t.

We are, who are you?

Not yet, Govanhill. Not yet.

The hungriest ghost in Govanhill

windows on the outside of a tenement block

Motorway signals Glasgow approaching and it lifts your heart, it always does.

Back to the city. No more beach or hillside or holiday home, no tourists with backpacks and bumbags, nor fish and chips that Tripadvisor says are the best in the region.

No more timetables or roadworks or departure queues, just yer ain bed and yer ain shower and clean clothes to wear again.

Thank God for the city, the imaginary city, with chimney pots and parked cars and apartment buildings that aren’t being shelled at least.

It’s the city not the suburbs so it’s walking not driving, public not private, shared space not fenced off.

I know what it’s like in suburbia. I’ve been there, man. Seen it with my own eyes. No municipal parks or skating rinks or swimming pools or department stores or football pitches with red or black ash, nothing.

Here it’s tenement blocks and busy pubs and crowded streets that look global but act local.

Hindustan Times, Donegal News, Evening Citizen Saturday pink edition.

The beat of our shoes on the pavement, scruff shoes, Charlie Chaplin shoes, mostly.

The four guys at the corner look like they’re staring you down but they move out the way as soon as you approach.

People with nae teeth, skinny legs and brass necks who smoke too much but whose warmth keeps you dry during the rainy season, where a total stranger gives you a straight answer and if you don’t take yourself too seriously, you’ll be just fine.

I’ve always lived in the city, an imaginary city, and now I am Govanhill and Govanhill is me.

If it didn’t exist I’d have to invent it and where would I start?

An imaginary city, an invisible city, a unifying place, Pittsburgh, Prague or Pollokshields. Wherever you are, that city is with you, for ever and ever, walking alongside.

Foot-high toddlers with kites in the park, Polish mademoiselles strolling arm-in-arm, an Indian family kicking an evening ball past jogging runners and cyclists.

No fantasy city or invented place, not theoretical but realitical, real-life reality of crumbling walls, dogs barking and bins unemptied since medieval times.

Back in the city, that’s where we are, and wherever you are, I wish you were here.



More tea, Yoker?

Phone box with graffiti on the side of a kid standing on the back of another reaching for a can of spray paint, with a mural on a wall in the background

People sometimes tell me Govanhill feels like London. Dalston, Tower Hamlets, Bethnal Green.

I say I wouldnae know mate, I’ve never been to London, don’t even know where it is, is it near Edinburgh?

All I know is Govanhill is part of a city, a big city, dear old Glasgow town.

Govanhill is married to Kinning Park, Anderston, and Dalmarnock.

People talk the same, look the same, the pubs are one way or the other.

Govanhill’s brothers and sisters are Drumchapel, Springburn, and Provanmill.

Same old wheezing at the same old bus stops up and down the main road.

Buildings in Govanhill face the same sun and the same rain as in Possilpark, the Gorbals, Carntyne.

Dry bars, wet faces, cultural dexterity all around ye.

Sandstone tenements mean the streets here look just like Dennistoun, Partick, or Yorkhill.

Working class, high density, low income, ill health.

The same squirming landscapes, bricked-up doorways, underground creatures in basement hellholes in Barlanark, Mount Florida, Tollcross.

Pedestrian walkways showered in graffiti, young young Cumbie kill for fun.

If only city place names gave some clues to the past. Jamaica Street, Kingston Docks, Plantation Square.

The great villages of Glasgow once had mini town centres in their own right, with industry and commerce, thoroughfares and town halls, football teams and newspapers and civic self-worth.

Great villages laid waste and rebuilt, laid waste and rebuilt, again and again, each time less than before.

With solid citizens of pride and warmth weighed down by struggle but eyes that ripple in glittering water.

Shawlands, Oatlands, Newlands.

Aw naw.

Calton, Bridgeton, Royston.

Stop, please.

Linthouse, Auldhouse, Easterhouse.

I can’t take any more.

Too many places, so many stories, so little truth.

And then there’s Springboig.

So London? Aye.

Queen’s Park, King’s Park, Charing Cross, Woodside.

But this is Govanhill, Glasgow, with weird family members all over this toon.

Auntie Garngad, Uncle Auchenshuggle, nephew Cowcaddens and niece Crossmyloof. 

Aw naw, cousin Riddrie’s pissed again.

She had a tactical can at eleven this morning.


Govanhill needs a break

Purple cardboard cut-out of a figure playing the violin against a blue sky with tenements in the background

I need a break from Govanhill.

Hit the road, the open road, Pollokshaws Road, see where it takes me.

Route 66 to Shawlands, Newlands, Merrylee.

Highway 61 to revisit the Gorbals, Oatlands, Richmond Park.

Big world out there.

I could be crossing the continent coast to coast, desert freeway with the top down. Carndwadric, Thornliebank, Hillpark.

Rickety gas stations and burger joints and neon-lit diners selling corndogs and grits and refried beans. Myrtle Park, Toryglen, Langside.

There’s a soundtrack too, with slide guitar, probably in D minor. Maxwell Park, Pollokshields, Dumbreck Road.

It’s Jack Kerouac, isn’t it, wise mystic bum saint in that soft desolate west, howl of the freight train in the soulful American night.

Junction three on the A727 just past Clarkston.

Want a lonesome ballad about life on the road? Try waiting for a late bus from Polmadie on a wet Tuesday in February. It’ll break your heart.

I might need a break from Govanhill but there’s no need to leave tenement city.

Glasgow has the best beaches in Scotland.

Pristine sand, sunset cocktails, relaxing sea air, none of that shite.

I’m talking the Broomielaw, Yoker, Clyde and Forth canal.

Go swimming at Kingston docks, Prince’s dock, or the old dry dock, splat.

Take a cruise on the Renfrew ferry, the Govan ferry, or round the pond in Queens Park.

Wild camping in the wilderness of Kelvingrove, Glesga Green, Pollok estate.

Escape to the mountains, and not just Mount Florida but Mount Vernon, even Mountblow.

Flee to the hills, and I don’t mean Crosshill or Maryhill, I mean Sighthill and Prospecthill.

And then back to Govanhill, jewel in the crown, hidden gem, perfect holiday destination.

It’s out there, I know it is, I’ve seen it, I’ve been it.

Stunning landscape, vibrant culture, friendly locals.

Nae midgies either.


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.


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.


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.