Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The Old Year Descends to a Close

Hogmanay 2008
A view up river from the end of Water Row to the City of Glasgow

The broken down pier and the view across to Partick
Looking forward to a ferry sailing across here again some day

The last day of 2008 is wrapped in smoky hues of blue and grey and on the calm, still river gulls drift languidly or circle in the sky. A dense chill pervades the air.

The quiet riverbank is conducive to the reflection and resolution that overtakes you on Hogmanay, and can often fill you with a deep melancholy, if you're not careful.

This pensive mood is quickly dispelled as I walk back up Water Row and into the bustle of Govan Road. It's busy, busy with pals crowding the square outside the job centre, chatting and making plans for the evening ahead. A few serious shoppers are pushing Co-op trolleys laden with giant bottles of iron brew and lemonade, cereal boxes, and beer out of the shops and into waiting taxis.
Up on Langlands Road, the butcher's has a little queue of customers buying ingredients for the New Year steak pie and a woman is getting the finishing touches to a blow dry in Esther's Hair Salon.
Outside the Harmony Bar Shaw Street entrance, a middle aged lady in a red jacket is shimmying up and down the pavement while an old gent claps in time to the music they are singing.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

A very large and long white furry coat is advancing up the underground escalator in front of me. Inside it is a funky lady who strides out into the dusk of Govan Cross when we reach the top.
A gang of young revellers is standing near the bus stop making merry on this Christmas Eve. One of them spots her and shouts out, "Aw naw lads - look oot, it's a polar berr" and starts dancing round about, making loud roaring noises. Another of his daft pals joins in. She pays them no heed, neither looking to the left nor to the right, but proceeds along the pavement with her head held high. Eventually they trail away and return to their spot at the cross on the lookout for more carry-on.

Christmas Eve, and there's hustle and scurry zipping through the air. Lights beam and gleam from windows as shoppers return from town laden with bags and hasten through the gloom of the night. Last minute packets of frozen brussels sprouts and, oh no, nae chipolatas left at Farmfoods!

Merry Christmas to Govanites everywhere - hope Santa's good to you!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Memories Make the Season Brighter

Welcome to guest blogger Dan, as the festive season turns our thoughts to family and friends.
Horse-drawn milk delivery cart from Vicarfield Street

Of course I feel very honoured, and privileged, to be asked by Lady Govan to be a guest contributor on her blog - now being read I believe, all around the world. Not that this further exposure on the internet would make such a difference as regards the fame of our ‘dear green place’ -- which is already almost as well known as London, Paris or New York.
I, having passed the three score and ten years mark, confess to not being ‘quite up to the mark’ re memory, but feel well enough qualified (if I dig deep) to come up with something that will interest the older generation who claim a ‘Govan-connection’, as well as inspiring longing in the younger ‘punters’ for what they missed in the so-called ‘good old days’.

I saw Govan -- the streets, the backs (backcourts), the docks, the ferry, the two Town Halls, the ‘pictures’ (cinemas), the Govan Press, the schools (too many to mention by name, but well divided into ‘proddies and catholics’), the shipyards (worked in Stephens), saw and loved everything connected with football (had a leaning towards Rangers, but enjoyed very much the season I played with St. Constantine’s Boys Club -- when I wore, of all things, a Celtic strip). Anyway, these are not my memoirs; I'm merely trying to show how well qualified I am to write about Govan.

I delivered milk for the Co-op dairy in Carmichael Street for about five years, and then for a few years I was at the Co-op dairy at Govan Cross.
Delivering milk around 6.00 am seven days a week lets you see Govan, more or less, asleep -- not influenced by ‘the corner boys’, ‘snottery-nosed weans’ or the shipyard workers--going-to or coming-from the yards.
I hasten to add that I had nothing against the above ‘making up the fabric’ of Govan or I suppose, the character.
But I liked the quiet of 6.00 am, with the lamplighter passing by or occasional ‘wee wummin’ pushing a pram up past the swing park, with a great big bundle covered with a sheet, heading for her early booking at the steamie in Clynder Street (or Harhill Street, near Craigton Road}.

My ‘rambling’ has led me to my delivering of milk -- and I suppose, the Christmas-connection in my ‘blog-writing’ would be the tips we looked forward to, especially at Christmas time. Although some of our customers would give ‘a bob’ or so each week, the other good time for tips apart from Christmas was at the Glasgow Fair holiday.
The main part of ‘our run’ was Neptune Street (aka ‘the Irish Channel’) with all the tenement closes. It seemed that the people with the biggest families who needed the most bottles of milk would live ‘three stairs up’ and though it was not the most wealthy of neighbourhoods, the people were, I would wager, far better at tipping than their ‘posher’ counterparts in Newton Mearns or the West End.
So Christmas was very good for the milkboys -- not that my brothers or myself saw much of the money we earned, or the tips -- coming from a family of seven, and a father earning, I would think, less than £3 a week. All other money had to go into ‘the kitty’ (the household budget), and I certainly don't ever remember grudging that -- it was a ‘good feeling’ being able to help out.

I remember one of the best gifts I ever got. It wasn’t Christmas, but it certainly felt like Christmas -- and if it had been it would have counted as my best ever.
My eldest brother, John, did his National Service in the RAF and was in Singapore and India, must have been about 1946, just after World War II had ended. I reckon it would be around June-July when he got leave from the RAF on his return from abroad.
When in India, he bought a few pairs of football boots -- thinking back (with my poor memory, too) I’m pretty sure that these football boots were made of cardboard (only joking, but that’s how they looked and felt).
I would have been about 14 years old then, and they were more than gratefully received -- in fact, I remember being ‘over the moon’ with them. Even big and ugly (not me, the boots) as I now remember them -- I loved them more than if they had been a pair of ‘Beckham’s Beauty Boots’ today! I suppose I would have thanked my brother John for the boots -- but probably not enough.

I was also grateful to John for a ‘cast-off’ suit, which’I fell heir to’ -- it was powder blue. John was a real snappy dresser as a teenager and in his twenties, and he was always very generous. I loved that blue suit and have often wondered since, did it look as good as I felt when wearing it?

John has now passed on from this world, as has my brother Harry (also, a great big brother, in different ways from John) -- there was another brother, Billy, who died as a child before I was born. As Christmas is a time for families, I will dedicate this blog to ‘family departed’ -- I suppose I may be trying to make recompense for that ‘wishing’ feeling we often have when some family or friends pass on, and we wish that we had made ‘more of the time’ we spent with them in this life.
Think what you will, I thank Lady Govan for the opportunity to ‘air’ some of my feelings for family, Govan and time spent there -- and wish you a Happy Christmas and a Healthy and Prosperous 2009.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Tree Tops Glisten

The switching on of Govan's Christmas Tree lights takes place beneath the benevolent eye of the Black Man. Above us a pearly white moon beams in a deep blue sky. Little children skliff their feet along the damp and frosty pavements on their way to meet the season's most welcome visitor.

And here he comes, running across the road from the PI in a bright red suit, smiling and a little self conscious. A plastic green and white gazebo has been erected for the occasion and under it a couple of DJs play "Do they know it's Christmas?" and a string of number one Christmas hits.

The little ones form an orderly queue and mums and dads look fondly on as they have a chance to shake hands with Santa and tell him what they are hoping for in their Christmas stockings. His helpers, in Santa hats and bubble jackets or winter coats and scarves, are handing selection boxes to Santa to give out to the girls and boys. The children are pleased and excited, walking briskly to and fro, showing each other what they got, tearing open wrappers and eating sweeties whilst the adults chat.
Now the man from the press steps forward to take a picture of Santa's visit and Santa poses with a girl and boy and then with local Councillor, John Flanagan and then with an older lady who sits on Santa's knee and whoops it up, cosying into Santa's beard with her arm hooked tightly around his neck.
Has everyone got a selection box? A few latecomers come forward shyly as the Christmas pop blares harshly through the air. Santa waves and runs across Govan Road and into the Pearce Institute. "Cheerio! See ye's all on Christmas Eve!" he calls.

The music stops abruptly and I cross over to chat to Ned who is walking towards the Cross. We watch the plastic gazebo being dismantled and Santa's chair being taken away. And then I see a scene unfold that is so sad I feel like I'm watching a heartbreaking Christmas movie. The little girl in the wheelchair with the orange wheeltrims has arrived at the tree, too late to see Santa and too late to get a gift. Her ten year old brother pushes her with expert care, and an eight year old sister walks alongside. The girls are wearing matching pixie hats, in the style of last century children. The boy quietly explains they have missed the event, but they take time to look at the weak blue lights on the tree and then set off on their way, trundling along in the darkness.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

An Icy Snap

Jackie Frost has visited over a clear starry night and the morning dawns bright and chill. Underfoot, the earth is radiant and glittering like diamonds but is so slippery that people are performing ballet dances along the streets, grimacing and fighting to keep balance.

Down by the river the waste ground is a delightful skating rink - if a little rough - and boys are hurtling along a lethal pavement slide of frozen water.