Saturday, 31 May 2008

A Tender Farewell

At the corner of the now decimated Golspie Street a young man, wearing a dark suit, crisp white shirt and dark tie looks intently at his mother who is issuing earnest instructions. He is nodding his head of dark wavy hair and reassuring her as she reassures him. In his hand is a white envelope. The woman is standing in front of him and gripping both his arms. He seems anxious to take his leave and finally he breaks away and she pats his back as he sets off briskly walking along Govan Road. Going for a job interview? Unlikely. Court appearance? Perhaps.

A mass of people emerges from St. Anthony's as I approach. Lying on the pavement is a floral tribute in white and yellow flowers that reads DAD and inside the hearse is another in gold and white, trimmed with greenery that says GRANDA.
So, the boy in the suit is going to a funeral . . . but no. He has hurried past and continues down to the cross.

The family is outside now and clinging to each other, crying quietly as the coffin is laid in the hearse. The pavements are full of people. Even on the other side of the road, a crowd has congregated to wait and pay respect.
From the corner of McKechnie Street, I look at St. Anthony's. The charming Byzantine edifice of honeyed stone is weathered and worn. It wouldn't be out of place on a verdant Italian hillside.
The immediate family and close friends are seated in cars and the remaining mourners are catching up with those they haven't seen for a while, sharing news and asking after each other.

Then the funeral director, in black top hat and tail coat, takes his place before the hearse. He walks with dignity, leading the cortege along Govan Road. Shoppers and passers-by stop and wait, some make the sign of the cross, all set aside their duties for a moment as death imposes its rites over us all. And now the director stops and bows before the deceased and they continue the slow sad recession to the grave.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008


May seems to be a political month. There's May Day, and in May we always got a day off school for Local Elections and I have the impression General Elections are usually in May too. Now the PI is the venue for a radical bookfair and discussions on "the corrosion of the social base".

What will the anarchists have to say and, more importantly, who are they exactly?

I take a wander down this cold May afternoon, stopping off to buy a card in the shop across from the Lyceum. Inside, a mum is viciously threatening her daughter with a leathering and the six year old, who has been whining up until now, calms down. There is a big display of cards and gift sets for Communion and Confirmation; little white bibles and rosary beads, with an old fashioned picture of a very pious boy or girl on a card. Suffer the little children.

And I am cast suddenly back to my own childhood as I push open the heavy doors of the MacLeod Hall in the Pearce Institute. The strange sensation of being a little girl in a party frock engulfs me and memories of nervously racing round in a frantic game of musical chairs seep back into my mind. Yes, it must have been here that the Fairfields Christmas parties were held. It must have been. I haven't been in this hall for many years, but it's so familiar. In spite of an overpowering smell of dampness, there is a shabby splendour in this beautiful, wood panelled hall. I remember lots and lots of children and games and maybe adults sitting on chairs watching. There was food too, cakes and dumpling. And did we have ice cream and jelly? Santa came to the party of course, and we all got a present. It was a glittering occasion and there was a giant Christmas tree with sparkling lights and a big star on top. I stand at the doorway, wide eyed and smiling for quite a long time before calling myself back to the present.

Today there are tables all around the room with displays of wood carvings, radical books, bee keepers with honey, a back massage thing and in the middle of the hall there are cardboard boxes galore for kids to build towers and knock them down. On the stage is a sign that says, "Learn to Solder" but I mis-read it and think it says "Learn to Soldier" and I'm struck by the oddity of this activity amongst anti-establishment, free thinking, war protesting, radical book lovers.

There are a couple of Govanites in today, women pushing prams and letting their kids get involved in the destruction of cardboard. The rest look like they've drifted over from the other side of the river, west endy book stall holders, drinking tea and chattering merrily.

Advertised upstairs is a discussion on "Participatory Democracy, Autonomy and Self Determination", led by New York activists. A rant against the gentrification of Glasgow is in full flow so I creep in and sit down. This hall has been transformed into a theatre with a metal structure of rising seats and stairs.
What a disappointment; a boy sits at a computer and the activists are speaking through an internet link. They're not even here and their voices sound like robots and are barely discernible. I don't recognise any of the participants. Don't think there are any Govanites in here, by the look of them. They're all dreadlocks, butch haircuts for the ladies, heavy dark spectacles and earnest expressions.

Two children come in, a boy and a girl of about ten. They clamber up to the back and sit for a couple of minutes giggling and their laughing gets louder and louder until they jump up and clatter down the iron steps, making the whole frame of seating rattle and shake, interrupting the important broadcast.
Some of the radical agitators seem a bit agitated. Ha!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Boom Box

The generation before mine used to say that "in Govan the people knock the cars down". In other words the people were feisty, gallus, defiant, wouldn't wait for something so mundane as a car or a bus, or even further back, a tram or a horse and cart to pass before they could cross the street. A 'wha daur meddle wi' me?' mentality. No surrender.

The Govan Road is perhaps quieter now since so many of the shops have closed but there's still traffic. And today some of it is quite entertaining.

I can hear a throbbing bass in the distance as I pass the defunct public lavatories by Water Row. There is a high metallic wailing and a staccato rat-a-tat-tat soaring above a deep, rhythmic boom boom boom. It draws closer and I wonder what the devil the noise is, knowing all the time it will be a boy racer with the windows down and the music up full blast.

However, when the sound pulls into view, I see we are a step up from the regular mobile youth; all cheap spoilers and fancy hub caps, the driver and four passengers jerking around as they shoot off and screech along the road in bursts of high speed.
Here instead, is a gleaming silver sports car with the top down, low and sleek. Its driver is young and has streaked blonde hair. He's wearing shades and an earring and he is tapping his fingers on the steering wheel in time to the very loud, pulsating beat.

He has stopped at the pedestrian crossing for an elderly Govanite who has lost her nerve and is relying on the green man to get her over. He is casual and relaxed, enjoying the sun glimmering on his golden locks and enjoying too the attention from a crowd of spectators standing at the corner of the Job Centre. The music is throbbing but above its howling squeal the voice of one young man resonates from the pavement group. He is dressed down in a navy blue tracksuit with a grey stripe down the side of the leg and a peaked cap is set jauntily back on his head.
"Ex-cuse me," he calls out with exaggerated politeness.
He stands with his feet apart, leaning slightly back and his hands are stuffed into his pockets.
Louder again he shouts, "Excuse me, by ra way . . . D'je know yer music's oan?"

The driver does not look round, although he will have heard. I can hear and I am on the other side of the street.
Everyone laughs raucously and turns away.
The driver maintains a cool exterior but roars off at excessive speed as the ear splitting music cries out, look at me, look at me, look at me . . . are you impressed?
Naw, actually.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Crying Very Sore

Morning time, and as I pass Brechin's Bar I notice a crowd standing across the road outside the Bank of Scotland. I wonder what's up and decide to wander over. I actually reach the bank door before realising I've missed what everyone is gawping at. There's a body lying at the edge of the road. Someone has put a jacket under her head and she lies on her back, motionless. She's wearing trackie bottoms with a stripe up the leg, white trainers - well scuffed - a dark padded jacket. This may be May Day, but the weather is not so fine. She's an adult woman. Then I see her pal who is diving about, leaning over her, talking and giving reassurance before turning to the rest of us, pursing her lips and shaking her head. "See her," she's saying over and over.
I ask a man what happened to the lassie. "She got money oot the cash machine an ran across the road. She only looked the wan wey. I seen it a'. Her heid went right through the windscreen."

Over by the corner of Water Row, a blonde woman in her 40s is standing in some distress. Must be the driver. A young girl stands supporting her, arm around her waist. The woman is wide eyed and shaking. Someone comes out of the bank and tells her to go inside. The bank staff have said she can sit down and wait in there till the police come. The woman hangs back and doesn't seem able to move but she is surrounded by women saying not to worry, it wasn't your fault, she came flying out of nowhere. She moves slowly inside. I see a smart little mini cooper in red and white sitting at the edge of the road. Wow, there's a hole the size of a football in the windscreen, splintered glass radiating out from it.

I know the pal's face and from that I get a picture of who it is lying so still in the street. They are a couple of tearaways grown old, 'girls' in their late 30s, dressed poorly, tough looking but with eyes that dart about fearfully, always on the lookout for what's going to set about them next; a car this time.

Standing guard over her in the middle of the road, are the two security men from the job centre. Smartly dressed in snowy white shirts and narrow black ties, they are grimfaced and taking this task very seriously. They direct traffic around the victim and make sure people don't get too close.

Two boys come running up and stop at the scene. One of them is the injured's cousin. Her pal tells them what happened and they stand looking glaiket and everyone in the crowd stares at them, expecting them to do something.
At this point, the ambulance pulls up, two paramedics get out and one crouches down to try to rouse her. The cousin is asked for her name and other details.
Someone from the crowd calls out, "Should you no' phone her ma, son?"
"Aye, aye," he nods and calls up on his mobile.

Across the road there's another band of concerned onlookers. There's quite a buzz in the air and lots of blethering about going to bingo, getting your hair done, starting a new job, while we await the next stage of recovery. For recovery it is! The paramedic is successful and suddenly we see her move and hear a wail of pain. Smiles break out all round. She's crying "very sore", as was said in the old days. "That's a good sign", people are saying and the woman is slid onto a stretcher and into the back of the ambulance.

Now the police car arrives. Now the pal disappears, hotfooting it across the road and into the throng. A policewoman gets out and tries to get details from the patient, but no luck there. Then she approaches the crowd, but noone seems to have seen much.
The man who saw it all starts walking off down Govan Road as soon as the police car draws up. Only one woman gives a statement. No one else saw a thing.

The cousin has crossed to watch from the other side of the street. The policewoman goes into the bank to speak to the driver. The paramedic is closing the ambulance doors when a few women start shouting to the cousin, "Are you no' better goin' wi' her son?" "Do ye no' think somebody should go wi' her?"
The cousin looks very reluctant and hangs back. But eventually he is harassed enough by the calls and walks half heartedly over to the ambulance.
After speaking to the driver, he turns to the crowd and shrugs his shoulders, saying, "Ah'm no' allowed". He looks sad about this, but the ladies all know that he's actually relieved and is now going to pass his cousinly duty onto another family member.

Drama over for us and I go into the bank. The driver is telling her story to the police, her supporters around her. She says her husband will have to come and get her. She just can't drive again. She just can't drive ever again.