Thursday, 26 January 2012

An Independent Mind

There are those among the general public, passing through Govan's streets, who stand above the rest. Those whose demeanour, patter, dress, attitude, that sorta je ne sais quoi, brings them to our attention and holds them aloft in our gaze.
Mr M. regales us at a corner, a warm-up before his full performance in a Govan hostelry. He is an octogenarian, slim and neat, dapper in a dark grey suit with crisp, white shirt and striped tie. A pressed white handkerchief sits in his top pocket, his black shoes are polished to a shine.
"An' what are you thinkin' aboot that independence nonsense? Eh? What's that aboot? Ah'm tellin ye, that Salmond and Co. are away wi it. Alex's getting carried away wi hissel'. There's nane a them in Edinburgh up to the job, that's the problem. Whit we're needin's Jim Murphy. He's needin tae come up fae London. Aye, we're needin somebody sensible. Jim's needin tae come up and dae a tour a Scotland and tell everybody what's what - Ah mean, me an Alex'll go wae 'im, sort this thing oot."
The Alex he's referring to is a big man mountain thug that Mr M trained in the boxing ring.
I can't help laughing at the thought of this sparse wee gent with his shaven heid minder approaching Jim Murphy to offer their services. Mr M. grins along with us. He's always got a glint in his eye, sometimes kinda evil, but in general good humoured.
"Aye, we'll need tae get a sharp shooter tae get Salmond oot a therr. Get a long distance shooter trained oan'm fae, whit dae ye call that place, Arthur's Seat. Ah mean, it's ok talkin aboot it, but listen, say it did happen, the hale place could be poverty stricken."
I keep a straight face. The only reason I'm hearing this is that I'm in the company of men. Mr M. is old school and doesn't generally address women, apart from a courteous nod of the head.
"Did ye see Margo?" he asks next. "Tryin' tae bring a bill in tae kill everybody. Did ye see'er on the tele, staunin' wi' er two sticks. She's just haudin' oan tae get this through or she'd a done 'ersel' in a'ready. Aye, she'd huv us a' killed"
We're all laughing now and Mr M.'s off and away reminiscing of days past and the old Glasgow gangland. "Aye, it's a' drugs noo. They're no the same, nae characters left. Their heids are a' wasted wi' the drugs."

Wednesday, 18 January 2012


Winter coughs necessitate an early evening visit to the Harmony Row Pharmacy. I reach the doorway at the same time as a woman, forty-ish, tomboy-ish, gallus with a white gauze square taped onto her forehead. I hold the door open for her and we walk inside to the warm, medicinally scented air of the Chemists.
Two teenage girls are sitting on a seat in the middle of the floor. They are shifting about, crossing and uncrossing their legs, leaning forward, stretching back, examining phones.
A woman is popping in and out of the white cubicle which has been erected for privacy from prying eyes and ears. Her wee boy, sooking a lolly, is calmly watching her dashing around.
A sign on the cubicle says,
"Only One Person In The Box At A Time".
I have to wait for a prescription.
The woman seems to decide that she is finished with the box for now.
"Ach, listen, Ah'll just come back," she says and the teens look up lazily and one of them says,
"We'll see ye later then."
"'Mon you," and with a scooping motion she ushers the wee boy out of the door.
As she goes out, a young lady comes in and sidles up to the gallus woman with the bandaged heid.
The young lady is neatly dressed in black trousers and high heels with plenty of feminine touches, like giant hoop earrings and a handbag. Standing close, the girl whispers a long tale and when the woman answers, the girl blurts out, in an exasperated whisper, "Shhhhsht Maw, gonnae leave it."
They approach the counter and the young lady tells the sales assistant that she's got a rash and the assistant - who is a mumsy, comfortable lady - says to hold on a minute and she'll get the pharmacist.
A coupla minutes pass before a blonde ponytailed girl breezes down to the counter.
"So, what seems to be the problem?" she asks in loud, disinterested Newton Mearnsy tones.
The young lady and her maw move as close to the counter as they can.
The young lady explains about the rash.
The pharmacist asks to see it.
The young lady pulls up her top to show her midriff and pulls down her collar to show her neck.
This is awkward.
I'm glad when the sales assistant calls on me to pick up the prescription.
They could be doing with the Box.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Off Your Trolley

The Winter Solstice has passed and the first signs of new life have been noted after the turn of the year. Children's voices soar up from Govan's back courts and along the riverbank in the lengthening days.
A wee gang of two boys and three girls are running to and fro and stop me as I walk along Clydebrae Street.
"Hiya, where've ye been?" says one.
"Up the town," says I.
"Whit ye gettin'?" and runs away without waiting to hear.
The owner of the trolleycycle has come out of his workshop and is taking questions on Govan's own chitty chitty bang bang. He's speaking in a loud Teutonic kinda accent and the kids are swarming around, one attempting to jump into the basket, another trying to clamber over the handlebars.
A girl and a boy run back over to me and walk alongside. They are nine year olds, with clear, open faces. She has bluey-green eyeshadow stroked patchily on her eyelids and is wearing a pink jersey and pink shorts with woolly black tights under them.
"You've got eyeshadow on," says I.
"Ah no, hee hee," says she.
The boy is wearing a thin quilted jacket and his blue eyes are watering with the cold.
"James, wipe yer nose," she says to him and shivers like she's got the boak.
He looks ashamed and draws the elasticated cuff of his sleeve across his nose and mouth.
"You goat any ginger boattles?" he asks me.
"No, but you're first to get them when I do."
The other children come dashing over, squealing that they're getting a shot on the bike tomorrow.
"Wur gaun ower the squinty bridge!"
And off they go, running and yelling helter-skelter down towards the Riverside.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Indoor Games Near Govan Cross

A darkening winter's evening sees me walking briskly along Govan Road. The air is cold but dry and there's a moon rising, illuminating low clouds in a pale blue light.
Now and again I turn to cast a glance over my shoulder, just to keep an eye on who's about. Good practice, as many will agree.
I look around and as I scan the tenements on the other side of the road, my attention is caught by a lighted first floor window. The walls of the room are painted an underwater, mariney green and from the centre of the ceiling is suspended a single bare lightbulb.
This is an unusually long room with two sets of windows set in the dark stone and I just have to stop for a moment to watch a wee boy, aged about 9, wearing only a pair of shorts, who is bouncing up and down, backwards and forwards on a bed. Jumping along to the end, he turns and jumps back again.
I can't see the bed of course, can just see him, up and down, head back, lost in his own imagination, trampoline champion of the world.
And watching brings a thrill of childhood games, bouncing on beds with creaky springs, hide and seek inside dark walnut wardrobes and in den one two three. And this keeps me smiling as I hurry on into the night.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Cold Comfort

A couple of wee roly polys, cheery, jokey and jolly are busying with their business at the post office counter. So alike they must be sisters, one has hair of gold and the other is chestnut brown.
Bustling about with benefit books and bank cards, they are in and out of purses and bags, zips zipping back and forward, and button snaps snapping.
"Could you tell me," says the blonde to the p.o. man " did Ah get a Cold Weather Payment in ma account?"
The p.o. man looks at the p.o. woman who is the most knowledgeable of all Counter Staff members.
She scarcely looks round but says, authoritatively, "There's been no Cold Weather Payments. For the simple fact that it's not been cold enough."
The rosy cheeked blonde nods in agreement, "Aye, that's whit Ah wis thinkin'. Ah didnae think . ."
Her chubby sister chimes in, "Naw, but it's just she's wonderin' how she got a' that money in her account. She goat a big whack a money in her account n she disnae know how she got it."
The p.o. woman looks askance.
I take a look at the blonde heiress and wonder about this Cold Weather Payment. Isn't it just for pensioners? She looks no younger than 28 but no older than 40. No way is she a pensioner.
"Naw, Ah wis jist wonderin' who the money wis affa. Naw, it's no been cauld enough, that's right."
"Aye, it's no, sure it's no. Don't know wherr ye goat that."

Thursday, 5 January 2012


It's cosy in a tenement. A wild wailing gale has whooshed past the windows and battered the roofs, but wrapped in warm red sandstone, you are protected and secure. Govanised.
And in the morning, the gales have blown themselves out and we awake to blue skies and calm. Out in the streets there are plastic bags wedged into railings and branches of trees.

We haven't quite reached the twelfth day of Christmas, but Govan's Christmas Tree has been taken down, by the wind itself! Tipped up and over and, ha ha, has smashed flat the ugly metal grille surrounding it.
For the second year running, the powers that be have seen fit to erect this railing around our festive tree. What for? No need. So, there you go, take that.
And nobody's knocked the lights off it either.