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.



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.


Govanhill stories: Come home, Steph

view of a church spire with a blue sky behind and autumn trees in front

People say you should have dreams. I say waking up in the morning is what matters.

Steph grew up in a high-rise in the Gorbals, ninth floor, with a view right over the motorway. She loved that motorway.

I used to sit staring out my bedroom window as a wee lassie, mesmerised, wondering where all those cars and lorries and buses were going and wanting to go there too. Still wish I’d learned to drive.

She landed in Govanhill three years ago after living in Pollokshaws, then Summerston, and later her sister’s in Castlemilk when she met this guy Rab and moved into his flat on Torrisdale Street soon after.

What a scumbag. Never had a job, sat around watching telly, stole from me, even tried to knock me about one night so I broke his jaw, moved out the next day and got my own place just off Calder Street. See, I know when to run and when to stand and fight. So nae luck, Rab.

She knows her way around Govanhill too. Knows baked beans are two for one at Sainsbury’s, cornflakes are on special at Tesco, the off sales opposite the bank sells the cheapest beer, and that you should always get bananas from the fruit shops on Allison Street. Knows to get green from big Malky and gear from the Chinese guy round the corner.

I went into that organic grocery store on Victoria Road once, but tomatoes were eight quid a kilo and a loaf of bread cost a fiver.

Nobody there looked like me or spoke like me. I thought, am I still in Glasgow?

I know people come and go in Govanhill all the time, and there’s a lot of immigrants round here, but it’s the same everywhere. Russian was the most common language in my sister’s close in Castlemilk.

See, Govanhill thinks it’s unique, but it’s just like Springburn or Oatlands or any other part of Glasgow. Same tenements, same football teams, same weather, same nuggets.

I live in Govanhill, but that doesn’t mean it’s my home. The block I grew up in was demolished, and my only family is my sister, so maybe I don’t have a home. Or I haven’t found it yet. Home might be the next place I go to. Cowcaddens, Thornliebank. There’s always somewhere better.

She still has a view of the motorway from the back window in her flat. Same road, different view. Now it’s a faint glow at the back of the sky, beyond the horizon, just out of reach.

Now there’s danger in that road. The temptation to lose yourself. That you set off and don’t come back. That you keep going, for ever.

Come home, Steph.

I wish I could.


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.

The wee mini dinosaurs of Langside Road

Side-on view of various tenements in Govanhill with a very blue sky

I’ve seen a cow before and I know what a sheep is, so wildlife holds few surprises for me.

But I learn things on these early morning walks through Govanhill.

Turns out birds don’t just shit on your head from above.

Turns out they write poetry and play music too.

You hear these wee fly men chirruping and whistling away just for the sake of it, for the joy of it, and it’s such a melodious highlight to the day it makes you wonder if this sunshine will ever end.

And to think these wee birdies used to be dinosaurs back in the day.

These things with wings have their own worries too, their own viruses to contend with.

Bird flu, avian flu, mad crow disease.

No lockdown for them, although I did see one fella social distancing on a telephone wire and another alone at the top of a tree beside the railway line.

Was that a great tit, a blackbird or a song thrush? Who knows, mate. Is this a lime tree, a rowan tree, sycamore, walnut? Could be.

They’ve been there performing for years, decades, centuries, but only now are we paying attention.

We may never hear their likes again.

Goldfinch, swallow, maple, giant redwood, doesn’t matter. I’m only a child, a puny child, so these birds, any birds, in these trees, any trees.

And you stand in the stillness and listen to this tiny wonder on a spring morning with no traffic and the sky bluer than ever and you think how beautiful and how generous your city is.

Thanks, Govanhill.

Because without that, all we can do is sit down and weep.

Go on up the road

photo of a nice row of homes designed by famous architect Alexander Greek Thomson

So I left Govanhill for the first time in years to stroll along the boulevards of old Pollokshields, tree-lined early morning with sunshine and bird song.

I’d been out for a walk, one piece of walk in my exercise yard, these hometown streets I know far too well.  

Tenements and building sites and half-finished bike lanes, road works barriers strewn all over the pavement.

I wanted Govanhill to show me something else.

So I walked to Pollokshields.

I’d been there once before, ages ago, years ago, when I landed in some pub which was closed for the winter.

I say winter, it was September. I say pub, I mean village hall with plastic chairs and cans of beer from the shop next door.

Asked the woman if the pub was going to open.

Aye, she said. In April.

But you know how things look from here in Govanhill, our city on a hill at the heart of the metropolis.

We see the Shields, the Shaws, the Gorbals and Cathcart as the rural idyll, all mountains and meadows and midgies all over your face.

But it’s not, I’m telling you.

I know, I’ve been there.

Detached villas and grand tenements, spacious homes on wide avenues with hedges and trees and a Mediterranean blue sky.

Early morning, no one around, always helps, looking fine.

And then, Pollokhill, after we’ve had our walk, Govanshields, we go home to stay in, lie low, steer clear.  

Do you really need that piss poor overpriced takeaway coffee or to stand at that street corner with four other people?

Go on up the road, eat chocolate, drink wine, masturbate, watch telly, remember a virus and stay in the hoose.

Cheers, or not.

No eyebrows but his cock glows in the dark

abstract photo of glass skyscrapers

You can hear the tap tap tapping away on laptops all across Govanhill.

Dystopian sci-fi thrillers, great clunking short stories, yeah yeah yeah.

Global pandemic, viral infection, spreading contagion, yada yada yada.

You can hear the gears shifting, the wheels turning, the metaphors wheezing all over the shoap.

A computer virus versus a human virus, how technology will save us if nature doesn’t kill us, climate change and the industrialisation of food, the isolation of our future lives.

Maybe even something about a compliant population and a police state and machine-generated conspiracies about the terrorists, no the Russians, no the Chinese, and facial recognition and vaccinations and 5G and stupidity so stupid it’s stupid even calling it stupid.

Me, I’m working on a movie script.

A hero vows to defeat the virus after it kills his wife and son in a cruel and unusual way.

He’s immune, somehow. Radioactive spunk, probably. No eyebrows but his cock glows in the dark.

He’s from Govanhill, obviously, and his name’s Jack, or maybe he doesn’t have a name because the virus killed off names too, like it did football and pubs and restaurants and shopping and public transport and office working and holidays.

Haven’t decided what happens next here.

Or maybe I’ll just keep going with the hard-hitting lockdown diary, coronavirus curfew capers.

Day 73. Ate the dog this morning, fried in onions and garlic. Neighbour downstairs is looking juicy, yum.

Haven’t decided what happens next here either.

Let you know, Govanhill.


Desert island dicks

five pigeons perched on a wire

I’m walking down Victoria Road and seagulls are out to get me, I know they are.

Woodpeckers, pelicans, golden eagles too, probably.

Perched on top of the tenement opposite, scanning the joint with their beady wee eyes, making me nervous.

Stop staring at me, man. You’re not the cops, or my boss. And I’m not going to try and snatch your wee furry weans, okay?

Quit swooping on me, too. No, you’re not having my fish supper. Nor my miniature poodle.

Typical wildlife, making my life a misery. Why not just unite in silence against me instead of shitting on my head from above?

No wonder vegans don’t eat seagulls. I wouldn’t either.

Desert island dicks.

So I keep walking, head down, straight on, homeward bound.

Along side streets and alleyways, back roads and dead ends, shadows within shadows.

Late evening, then twilight, now moonlight and stars.

Spring lambs gambolling down Garturk Street. Plum trees and lavender all along Annette Street. Buttercups and dewdrops and garlands of daisies on the corners of Allison Street.

Is this still Govanhill?

Flamingos, zebras, great apes, kangaroos.

Don’t know, but it must be. Not sure, but it has to be. There is no other place.

A shoal of mackerel, sardines, tuna chunks in brine.

That’s more like it, Govanhill.

There is another place. There always is.

Cheers, mint sauce.

Like meditation, only worse

photo of paintings in a shop window

Sleepwalking, who needs it? It’s like meditation, only worse.

Me, you, us, as zombies, the undead, roaming around the house, bumping into furniture in the middle of the night.

It’s like some eerie twilit world. Twigs cracking under your feet, wolves in the forest, trolls under a bridge.

And all this supposedly happening here, right in front of you, in your own flat, just off Victoria Road?


I hear people sleepwalking in Govanhill all the time. Top floor up above, downstairs underneath, next door left and right. Cheers, tenements. They’re madness too.

How do they remember to stay upright? Is their blood still flowing round their bodies and do their toenails keep on growing?

Nobody knows. You could get up to all sorts of things during the night and be back in bed asleep before you know anything about it.

Solve cosmic mysteries, witness intergalactic revelations, attain some fleeting oneness with the universe.

You know, like after drinking ten cans and passing out on the couch.

Because that’s what happens when you become temporarily free of the conscious mind.

Once you get your head round that your brain will finally be at rest.

I know. I’ve been there. I’ve tasted it.

Absinthe, man. Crunchy nut cornflakes.

I’m telling you.

Cheers, Govanhill.

We will always have Daisy Street

Road sign with Govanhill, Mount Florida and Cathcart on it

We all love a referendum. Up or down, heads or tails, Special Brew or Super Lager. Binary choice and that.

So good luck to our British neighbours as they leave the Uefa Cup, or Europa League as it is now.   

Glad it’s all working out for them, especially since Scotland became independent after the landslide nearly vote in 2014.

Maybe now it’s time for Govanhill to declare independence.

The community council could impose the dictatorship of the proletariat while we hold a consultation on socialising the means of production and abolishing the hereditary SNP monarchy.

I Love Govanhill facebook group could be our new BBC, and we already have our own university-slash-library.

Royal Bank of Allison Street, Govanhill Baths ministry of culture, you can see where this is going.

It’s a big step, but we’ll be fine. We just have to believe in ourselves. Keep that positive, can-do attitude.

But would it mean a hard border with Pollokshields? Passport controls at Queen’s Drive, Cathcart Road, Pollokshaws Road and Butterbiggins Road?

Just don’t get Rab fae Torrisdale Street involved. He still owes big Malky and ye don’t want him oan yer tail when you’re trying to negotiate a customs union with Shawlands and Langside.

Especially when we no longer recognise Mount Florida as the highest peak in the south side.

Anyway. Friendship treaty with Rutherglen, non-aggression pact with Pollok, entente cordiale with the Gorbals and Castlemilk.

Leave Eglinton Toll as is. Uninhabitable, post-apocalyptic barren landscape.

Let Aikenhead Road worry about Polmadie and if Battlefield start to get wide we’ll set Toryglen on their ass.

Cheers Govanhill.