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!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My family grew up in Pearce Street and I have very fond memories of the PI. My Granda was a member of the blind men's club, and my sister and I took part in many of the activities offered in the
50's. I love reading your stories and observations of life in Govan today. Please keep posting!