Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Prickly Heat

Another hot day dawns, suffocating and still. When I step outside, it feels like a thick grey sock creeps over me and the air is undulating and heavy.

Eleven o'clock sees a steady stream of shoppers heading along Langlands Road. It's the summer holidays so there are a few fractious weans dragging along behind mums and grannies. Two young women cut out of Rosneath Street and walk alongside me for a bit. One is pushing a wheelchair with wheeltrims of bright orange. Sitting in it is a tiny little girl of 8 or 9, sickly but pretty, with lovely ringlets in her hair caught up in a ribbon.
The other woman is bleach blonde, sharp featured with a haunted look, she is speaking in a loud whine.
"Whi' d'they 'hink ah um? Sendin twin'y folk up? Whit's a tha' aboot? They mus' 'hink ah'm gonnae murder thim."
Her friend stares straight ahead, tight-lipped and nodding, pushing the little wheelchair along.
The other laughs harshly, "Aye, ah says, ah'll social work ye . . ."
Her voice harps on and fades as they pass me.

"It's awfy close, Isa," says one elderly woman to another as they meet, "Aye, we're needin' the rain."

At the entrance to the Govan Shopping Centre, one man is telling a story to a group of rough and ready types, chaps who have maybe been guests of Her Majesty at one time or another. One fella sits astride a bike and he wheels back to let me pass, tips his head and smiles. The storyteller is shouting exasperatedly, "An' how're ye suppost tae see who yer assailant is if thir's nae cameras?"

Inside the shopping centre it's a little cooler. I walk around the corner and come face to face with a young lady selling "cheaper" electricity supplies. She is dressed in a smart black trouser suit and white shirt, her long blonde hair is tied in a high ponytail and she clutches a clipboard with a pen at the ready.
"Hello mum," she greets me.
I hardly realise it's me she is addressing before she continues,
"You look as if you'd like to save yourself a few pounds!"

My eyes widen almost to the point of popping and I feel myself draw up, indignant, cheeks burning, ready to retaliate . . . but suddenly the humour of her comment hits me. I let out a scornful laugh and at the same time wonder just how forlorn I am looking today.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Tillie Tells a Tale of Yesteryear

Introducing guest blogger, Tillie, who reminisces on times now past

The Corner Boys
When I was a wee girl and lived in a black tenement in Sunny Govaan, our kitchen window looked into Brighton St., although our close was actually in 161 Broomloan Rd.
I was born in 163 Broomloan Rd., up three storey in a one bedroom and kitchen flat with the luxury of an inside toilet. We moved to 161 Broomloan Rd. when I was seven. This new house had two bedrooms and again we were lucky enough to have an inside toilet.

We could make as much noise as we liked, as our house was exactly above a corner grocer and Jenny aw' things shop, which everyone nicknamed "Bella's".
The owners were two middle aged sisters called Kate Stirrat and Bella Low. Mrs. Stirrat, a widow, lived in Ayr while her sister, Bella, a spinster and a very matronly figure lived locally and served in the shop.
Bella was so kind, so fond of children and sweeties, always giving a sweetie free to the children who came in to do the shopping for their mothers.

When we looked out of our kitchen window onto Brighton St., we were looking at a Ginger Factory across the road from us (we referred to all fizzy drinks, no matter what the colour or flavour, as ginger). The name of the company was Cantrell and Cochrane and the building had a great wall for girls to play ball games against.

One of this building's corners was situated on Broomloan Rd. and Brighton St. and the other end was on the top corner of Neptune St. (nicknamed the Irish Channel) and Brighton St.
Every evening at these two corners there could be seen " the corner boys", boys ranging in age from early teens to very old men.
The teenagers and younger bachelors grouped together at the "Broomloan Rd. corner" while the married men and older bachelors hung about the "Neptune St. corner".
These two groups took up most of the pavement, leaving little room for pedestrians wishing to get past.

In those days folk ate their main meal at lunch time, 12 noon, and so the evening meal was what we called "our tea" at tea time, around 6 pm. This eating arrangement was suitable to the poorer working class families, in our area.
Most of the menfolk worked in the shipyards on the Clyde, and came home to relax at noon and eat a hearty meal. This, they hoped, would give them strength to go back to the hard work they still had to put in during the rest of the day.
After their tea, most men took themselves off to the pub for a wee drink, if they could afford it, and following that they would leave the Segton Bar on the opposite corner of Neptune St. and cross over to the "corner".

One must remember that there was no television in those days for entertainment and not many even owned a wireless "radio".
There were many homes in our building that had no electricity and had to rely on gas to light their homes and cook their food. The gas light was supplied through a pipe which was led up to the mantlepiece (the ornamental shelf above the fireplace) where a gas mantle was situated. Compared to an electric light it was very inferior, but was better than an oil lamp, used by many people who lived out of town in the countryside and who had no access to piped gas or electricity.

Although the old corner boys had very loud voices and were inclined to argue about everything and anything, they were never too rowdy and no fear was felt by anyone skirting past them.
In their midst there were two women who always wore their hair wrapped in turbans and clothed themselves in men's overalls, at the neck of which could be seen a collar and tie. I thought of them as mysterious beings, perhaps as disguised spies - during the war we were constantly on the outlook for spies.

The young corner boys were fewer in number and were certainly a lot calmer in their conversations. I think that they spent most of their time looking at the passing girls as we often heard wolf whistles coming from their corner. Do you remember that old song? "Standing on the corner watching all the girls go by,". . .
A few of the young corner boys fancied themselves as good singers, so now and again a crowd would gather round as the strains of a popular hit tune came from their midst. One of their number was a particularly good singer and could imitate Bing Crosby. When he sang one of Bing's big hits, a very large crowd would congregate around him, extending onto the road.
We didn't have to worry about getting knocked down by a car. You would have as much chance of seeing two blue moons in the sky as seeing a car on the road. The only person whom we ever saw in a car was the local doctor, who was a very careful driver. Only horses and carts came along and only during the day.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Dog Day Afternoon

Govan is hoaching with dogs. Through all the ages and through all its fortunes - fair and foul - the dugs haven't forsaken Govan. There are dogs in matted coats, shaggy or smooth, and dogs lovingly groomed, and dogs that wear the latest doggo fashion. Some dogs mind their own business and others make it their business to get involved with the human race. They roam through its streets today, friendly rascals or forbidding four legged territorial guardians, scavenging for a bite of whatever they can get.

This afternoon is warm, though dull, and I am leaning on a wall by the pillar box at Govan Cross waiting for a friend. A girl, aged about twenty, has been dashing to and fro and I've half noticed her, but now she runs to two women standing outside the job centre. They are staff members, come outside for a break and they're chatting from time to time as they draw on their cigarettes. The girl is very upset and tearfully asks them if they have seen a wee dog.
"Ah left it tied up o'er there", and she points to a railing. Her voice is rising to panic level, so much so that one of the women puts her arm round the girl's shoulder and says firmly that she's not to worry, she will help, but the girl breaks down sobbing. She left the wee dog over there, she says, and it's just a puppy and she only got it, and she went into an interview at the job centre at ten past twelve and she just got out and now her wee dog's away.
The clock on the Pearce Institute says ten to two.

The woman is tall, tanned and slim. Her long dark hair swishes as she walks with the girl to the front door of the job centre. She is reassuring her and calls to the security man, asking if he has seen the wee dog. And it turns out that he has. A boy and a lassie just took it away, no ten minutes ago.
"Tied up at that railin'?"
He seeks confirmation that it's the right pup.
"Aye," she wails forlornly,
"No ten minutes ago," he says again, shaking his head woefully. "'E hud oan a yella jersey."
I take it he's referring to the dog thief and not the dug, bearing in mind the fashion for doggy dressing that's now in vogue.

Now the girl covers her eyes with her hands and bows her head and stands very still. She is a slight girl, with long hair in a plait and wears a flowery tunic, jeans and little flat shoes. The woman says she should call the police and report it and then she withdraws, back to finish her cigarette before returning to work.

Whilst this doggy drama unfolds before me, a couple leads a happy trio of curly dogs to the pillar box where I stand. They are docile, friendly creatures, gently wagging their tails, all from the same litter, two black and one golden.
He is a streetwise sort, in denim jacket and striped t-shirt, pair of jeans and nae messin'. She is rock star glamorous, blonde, military style jacket and boots. She lets the dogs off the leads and sends them up over the wall to roam about the raised beds of weeds, Greggs paper bags and stamped in dirt.
A girl standing close by, admires the dogs,
"Whit kin' a dogs are they?" she asks the owner, but at the reply she cocks her head and narrows her eyes, the corners of her mouth turned down.
"Is that right? Labradors?" she says disbelievingly, "Is that a labrador? Ye sure?"
"Naw," the woman repeats, "they're labradoodles, it's a cross between a labrador an' . ."
"a poodle!" the girl says, enlightened.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Blood on the Streets

Graceful, yet lethal, two young boys swing onto the Govan Road. One in a red jersey and one in blue, the fourteen year olds are landing punches around each other's face and head. Now they are in the middle of the road and a car is approaching in the dull glow of a summer's evening, but they pay it no heed, each intent on giving the other a doing.

The fracas has broken out at a close mouth. It's a designated gathering place for youths from twelve to twenty. Sometimes there are toty ones too, hanging around the periphery, playing with bikes and balls, watching the machinations of gang life until they are old enough or tough enough to be initiated.

The car slows down and stops, its way barred by the dancing fighters. They are pushing and pulling, grabbing and gouging, thumping fists onto jaws and battering against the body.
Reports of a knife crime epidemic abound, but here we witness a good old fashioned fist fight. All fair in love and war.

There is a lull and the boy in blue pulls away and makes off towards Rathlin Street. He has no supporters.
Now red jersey hangs back while his pals follow blue boy, walking close to him, heckling him, swearing and jeering.
A young girl, with bleached blonde hair and trendy dress, is chattering excitedly on a mobile phone. A barmaid leans against Richards' doorway, her look is impassive but her eyes methodically scan the faces and events.
At the corner of Shaw Street are a few more spectators, but no one intervenes, not even when the bunch of boys starts to push and pull the blue fighter and one slaps him across the head. Another punches him in the abdomen and the boy drops to the ground.
The original red jersey fighter joins them and now he and his comrades start kicking the blue boy lying in the road - not viciously, but with half hearted scuffs, as though it is enough that he has fallen.
He lies motionless on the smooth tarmac, curled up, protecting his head with his arms.

The doors of the Harmony Bar open and out strides a burly guy in his thirties wearing a Celtic away top of ten seasons ago. His laid back swagger exudes the confidence of one who is respected on the street. A little smile plays at his lips but he adopts a stern look as he draws nearer the incident. At his approach, most boys withdraw, back towards the close. Among them is red jersey, whose blood runs in streams from his mouth and nose. Big man stops two of the boys and puts his hands on their shoulders, talking to them quietly, leaning closely into their faces. They nod in acquiescence and walk smartly away in the opposite direction.

The injured boy on the ground clambers to his feet and takes off down the street, a little unsteadily, but with good speed.
Back at the close mouth, the gang is in a state of merry camaraderie and the humour is well good.