Great bunch of lads

cartoons of three pop art cans with the anarchist symbol

Here in the city, the inner city, and all its featured delights.

Green space and birdsong, quality turn-ups and sideburns, a stained mattress next to a three-wheeled pram.

Bakeries and takeaways, friends and brothers all in easy walking distance too.

Great bunch of lads.

Pork chop square slice.

Every shade of black.

In the city, the city of Govanhill, that’s where we are, where we’ve never voted Tory, we didnae vote leave, we don’t play rugby and we dinna even ken where Edinburgh is, okay?

Roman and Celtic, Hibernia and Caledonia, city feed with whisky bars, music in our feet, taste of continents in our food.

Yoga mats and hats from Vietnam and shoes from Sudan and graffiti on the wall that says we’re magic, we’re magic, graffiti on the wall.

Hot chocolate city, hot coffee, sitting on the stoop city, smelling the smoke, the weed, the cigarette blush and puff.

City evening rubbish and flowers in the pavement pushing through concrete ground.

The city is our family, although sometimes invisible in an empty city, an invisible city with buildings too high or windows locked in hidden tenements.

Late night tears, early morning wailing, never forgotten, always remembered, doomed to repeat again and again.

Every type of home in this city.

Early century urban slums, pre-war landlord slums, municipal disasters, free market buy to let and left to rot.

Or brutalist social housing masterpieces, empty space and spray paint wilderness.

Some backcourts are like a garden suburb, others like a medieval dump.

Some have hopeful pot plants, stained glass, perhaps a polite little pushbike chained up.

Others have timeless, placeless terror. No names on doors, haunted letterbox, holes punched in brickwork.

It will all end there, you know it will, in the dead of night, in a dark stairwell with no one to hear you scream.

That’s our city, the constant city.

Student flats or your cousin lives here or a drug dealer does or a family who fled war-torn Debenhams in a small boat.

Because we’re all immigrants here, it doesn’t matter what we wear, or the spices in our hair. In the rain we don’t get wet, or if we do, we don’t care, we ignore.

Straining in the silence, heads wrapped up against the hot and the cold, bare shoulders and tartan trews.

Flesh-coloured fools, a double-headed dragon breathing fire, all the big boots and greasy dust you require or desire.

Sorry, what were we talking about again?

Aye, non-binary fanny magnets, that’s it.



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.

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.


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.

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.


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.


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.