Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Mad or Bad?

I heard recently that a substantial percentage of Scotland's prison inmates have severe mental health problems, and today I find myself in company of two nutters.

"Ah know your face fae somewherr," says one to the other.
"Mebbes," comes the reply with a knowing nod of the head.
The first man is a big personality, he fills the whole room with his presence. His voice is loud and he's overbearing, even intimidating. He takes a long good look at the other.
"You in Barlinnie at the riots, at Christmas?"
The other quietly smirks, "Ah wis".
The first man guffaws in an over enthusiastic show of friendship. "Ah knew Ah knew yer face. Whit year wis that? Ah knew ah knew ye fae somewherr."
"Eigh'y-six, Christmas eigh'y-six, it wis" says the other and he continues smirking.
They shake hands and introduce themselves,
"Tam"
"Frank".

They are men well into their forties, maybe even early fifties. The first is dressed in the high fashion of the streetwise; a 'Yankees' baseball cap, tan coloured fleece crewneck, slate grey bodywarmer, tight, tight Prada jeans and white, white trainers.
The quiet man is more rustic looking. He wears the dark green parka of the countryside fisherman or guys you see out with lurchers.
Both are rough and unshaven, faces set hard and mean, empty, expressionless eyes that people get frightened by.

The noisy one begins again, "Ei-ghy six, aye, brillyan' that Christmas. Bootin' the doors when the screws went by. 'Yer no' lockin ma door'. Do you mind Rab S.? Aye, he stieys roon the corner noo. We wir jist talkin' aboot that time."
The quiet one stays quiet but grins. "Aye, men'al" he says.
"Ye stieyin' local?"
"Iona Court."
"Ah've heard that's bad. How is it?"
(Jings, it must be terrible if he thinks it's bad I think to myself)
"Awright. Ye've jist got tae watch the young wans, that's aw".
The big one agrees, "Ah know, a pint a buckfast and they think thur John Wayne."
"Aye, they'll take emdy oan."
Then the quiet man continues, "Ah'm jist oot again."
"Ur ye? How ye copin' mate?" the loud one asks with sincere concern in his voice.
"Hard goin'," he says, "Tryin' tae exist oan £90 a week!"
"You're tellin' me," the other agrees heartily, "Ah don't think so! It's a joke - ye could spend nine'y quid a night in the boozers."

Yeah, it is a joke, right enough.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Midgie Rakin' As An Education

Thanks again to guest blogger Steve who tells us another great story about his well spent youth in Govan

Hello again, I thought I might share a word or two about a subject that I found very difficult to discuss in the playground in the 1950s. This was of course the art of midgie rakin', which is, for the non-Govanite, searching dustbins or middens as they were affectionately known.

I was brought up in and around Burndyke St., and my playground was the empty tenements and the bombsites of the surrounding area. Having a large number of younger brothers and sisters, I very quickly learned that being an explorer in a deserted tenement was a great way to dodge the ever present chore of "watchin' the weans".
Now the empty tenements of Govan were a great source of fun and learning for many a youngster and there were wonderful things to be had, like doors for building gang huts, old enamel hearth plates which could be bent over to form a sort of sledge which would provide hours of fun when carried to the nearest hill.

For me there was also the possibility of finding some items of value, however meagre, that could be traded for a few pennies at Mary O'Hara's rag shop, an establishment well known to my mother as well as may other Govan women who struggled to clothe large families on very little money.
Mary O'Hara's was situated behind Orkney St police station and was a sort of Victorian cavern with a great pile of old clothes in the centre of the floor that people picked through in search of useful items.
In one corner there was a large iron scale for weighing the goods brought in by the totters or rag men as we called them, when they had spent a long day exchanging balloons or sometimes even goldfish for any rags or scrap metal that the kids could persuade their parents to part with.

For my part I would remove old brass door handles, gas lamps, or any item that looked as if it would be worth something. Some of the empty flats would still have items of furniture in them and even pictures hanging on the walls, so when I had gotten old enough to make myself a pramwheel bogie I would put anything I deemed to be treasure on the plank and haul it along the Govan Rd.

Another source of income for me was the much frowned upon practise of "midgie rakin' and this, having begun in Southcroft St, expanded until I would take myself off on a Sunday morning to the far reaches of the top end of Copeland Rd., and even on occasion into Bellahouston.
Whilst this enterprise did in fact sometimes yield a few pennies, I had this great obstacle in my way when, having been rewarded by Mrs O'Hara and headed off home along the Govan Rd, I would find myself at the counter of Sicci's cafe where many of my great plans and good intentions would pass over the counter, leaving me with a full belly and empty pockets.

I went on to become an antiques dealer many years later, but I will ever be aware that the beginnings of my education in the trade, however humble, were in those back closes and bombed out buildings.
I have spent a lot of time over the years at antique fairs and auction houses seeking the rare and unusual, but even to this day I remain convinced that the best treasures I ever found were those found in dear old Govan.

Monday, 13 April 2009

And Another Thing; What's Gonny Be In It's Place???

Just after teatime, Ned arrives and slings the free rag he picked up at Elderpark Library over to me. The headline reads,
"END OF THE ROAD FOR TRAFFIC HELL
'Danger' building will be demolished"
There is a photograph of Napier House, the old model lodging house on Govan Road with the caption, "Coming down".

John 'Wide as the Clyde' MacLean rants on about "six months of hell", the "misery", the "total nightmare" endured by all who had to drive an extra quarter of a mile diversion when the council closed Govan Road because the 100 year old building was suddenly going to crash down around our heads.

Residents are fed up with extra traffic carousing through the side streets and Summertown Road is apparently pitted with potholes now (haven't noticed anything different from Glasgow Council's usual neglect).

Three skanky businesses apparently have gone under due to a lack of passing trade. Well, that could only be the couple of shops that are directly under the model lodging house itself and now they are going to be CPO'd and demolished along with the rest of this historic building anyway.

Councillors and MPs are pictured, smugly declaring that they are responsible for hurrying along the demolition. They don't even care enough to put up a pretence of being concerned about conservation, architecture, preservation, history, or even - culcher!

I cast the paper aside and feel so down in the dumps. The road's been shut for ages, it's true. I have been hoping they were going to shore it up, make it wind and water tight and then turn it into flats. Can you imagine living in there? Living in grandeur in a stately home of red sandstone; the view out your window, across the river, up to the city and doon the watter, ships passing and birds flying, sunshine in the summer and howling wind and rain in the wintertime.
And now, we've no chance of making this a reality cos those cretins are pulling it down. You'd think they would have learned by the 21st century, after all their idiotic, shambolic, criminal mistakes in the 60s, 70s and 80s that we're still living with. Scream.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

A Romantic View of the Pearce Institute

As part of the 'Homecoming Scotland' series,
here is a very atmospheric picture of the PI in woodland setting

Monday, 6 April 2009

Let's Excavate

I seem to remember going on a tram. Do I? Yeah, I think so, but I was just wee. I certainly remember the tram lines set into the roads but they are all covered over now with tarmacadam.

As I am in preservation mood, I decide to take a picture of these tramlines set into the cobblestones of Water Row. They now run out of the green wilderness and into the waste grun. Wonder where they used to run from and to?


The old road and a bit of pavement and kerb is being uncovered inside the green wilderness too. What an excavation for the archaeologists of the future; tram tickets, fag douts, pennies, all sorts of treasures.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Govan Memories, History and Hysterics

A very warm welcome to guest blogger Steve who has been tracked down via a comment left on the site. Thanks for sharing your fascinating memories - next best thing to a time machine.

For years I have treasured my memories of dear old Govan and the people I grew up with there. I grew up in the bomb sites, back closes and dunny's that were the playgrounds of the day.

I am the eldest of twelve children, seven of whom are sisters and all of us lived in the single-end, one up in No 8 Burndyke Street. I started Copeland Road School in 1953 and went on to Govan High School after my "Qually".

My father's family came from Neptune St, so I grew up with a knowledge of history of local characters and events that were the subject of the very many Sunday gatherings at the Burndyke St single-end when some of the local men (my father included) would drown their sorrows with such notable libations as Lanliq, V.P, Melroso, Eldorado and other such fine wines, obtained "on tic" at twice the normal price from the local shebeen.

A part of this gathering on occasion was a much loved resident of Govan called Gandhi Sharp, who was a docker and to whom fell the dubious distinction of, when made redundant, bought and took delivery of his own coffin. This was discussed for many years afterwards and became almost folklore.

For those of you who are familiar with Govan, you will know that for many years there has been a pub on the corner of Burndyke St and Govan Rd called "The Bells".

The back close of No 8 Burndyke St had a couple of "middens" and a cut through to the back close of 571 Govan Rd. This was a much used shortcut for us kids going to the shops and on one such expedition I dropped a penny in the back close of 571. As I watched the precious coin roll away I was amazed to see it disappear down a crack between the large slate slabs that made up the floor of the close.

In tears I went home and reported my loss and the mysterious crack in the close to three or four of the Sunday drinkers who were there. I think someone may have given me another penny,and the matter was forgotten.

Two weeks later on a Sunday, someone lifted the slabs in the back close of 571 and emptied the cellar of The Bells which is where my beloved penny had gone. The results of this daring feat were the subject of many Sunday gatherings thereafter and for years I wondered if my penny loss had inadvertently led to the whole caper.

I am sitting at home in London over 50 years later and this memory comes back as if it were last week. I must try and do some work today so I will sign off and post some more Govan memories later.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Oh To Be In Govan, Now That April's Here

March goes out like a lamb and we awake to warm sunshine and hazy blue skies. The cherry blossom is in full bloom on a couple of trees on the Govan Road and buds are greening and beginning to burst.

Govan Cross is redolent of a sweet, spicy cinnamon scent. Could it be wafting over from Shearer's Candles?

Sun worshippers take up the benches on the paving stones by the now defunct gents' lavvies and along the cobblestones of Water Row, you can feel the natural energy pulsating through Govan's little bit of wilderness.