Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Devil Rides Out

I thought this a warm and cheering window at Govan Cross on a damp, chill Hallowe'en. It's a countrywide bakery chain, but that's ok; it's keeping a shop open in Govan, which is very welcome. Their pink jammies are yummy into the bargain, although they don't beat a coconut icing bun fae Watsons.
A dry night brings out guisers and there's a fair number zipping up and down Govan's streets, including witches, vampires, a skeleton and a mummy.
We celebrate the evening with an owl and a pussycat and have dooking for apples (full face in, no forks) and demand a wee turn before handing over nuts and sweeties.
Who dared to chap the door of the devil lurking at this Govan tenement window? No me, no me, no me . . .  

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Leerie, Leerie, Licht The Lamp

On the night the clocks go back an hour and we enter a period of winter darkness, we thank Blogger Dan for his reminiscences of lighting up and putting aff.

A source of great pride to me as a child of eight years old, was my hairstyle – fashioned by my ‘Lamplighter’ Auntie, Maggie. It was usually before we set off for school, probably about 7.30 am, that Auntie Maggie would call in from her lamplighter round, to spend time with her older sister, my Mother. There would be a contest between myself and two brothers to see who could get the ‘putting-off’ pole and run up all the closes in nearby Burndyke Street, and a few in Govan Road, to switch off the gaslight on each of the three-storey landings. The job would take about thirty minutes and we loved the thrill of it. The pole was about three feet long with a metal end. This had a slot which fitted into a metal piece below the gaslight mantle and we would turn this to switch off the gas.
Disappointingly, we were not allowed to do the even more exciting job of switching on the gaslights in the evening – obviously, earlier in winter than the long, light summer nights. The lighting-up pole was about five feet long; bigger to reach above the mantle and it had a round metal box attached which held carbide, kind of like a blowlamp and a nozzle which was lit. There was a slot similar to the switching-off pole, needed to switch the gaslight on before applying the flame to light-up.
As children we used to look in the gutters in the evening, as it was a common practice for the leeries to empty the used carbide near to one of the many big metal ‘stanks’ by the pavement. I remember the pungent smell the carbide gave off -- and when placed in a puddle it would fizz for ages. I don’t recall any accidents from the probably toxic white powder, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be allowed nowadays.

Auntie Maggie was a big favourite with our family – not only because of her lamplighting job. I was one of five brothers and two younger sisters. My Mother, I’m sure, didn’t have time to fuss over five boys getting ready for school – but Auntie Maggie would wet my hair and put waves in or just the one big wave right at the front of my head. Sounds crazy and a bit jessie – but it made me feel, well, as I said,  kind of proud. When I think about it now, I’m sure that ‘Oor Wullie’ would definitely not have let me into his gang -- behaving like that?
The Lamplighting Depot was in Broomloan Road, close to the ‘Potted Heid’ Bank, just behind where the Orkney Street Police cells were. It was quite a sight to see the army of Leeries almost marching along. They carried their lighting-up sticks as if shouldering arms, setting-off on a designated route to bring light to dark and dingy closes around Govan.

I don’t know if there is any truth in the story that a politician of that day made his manifesto the following: a promise that blind people would not have to pay for the stairheid gas; hot water pipes throughout the cemeteries; a glass roof over Glasgow to give carters an inside job.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Sisters Of Shaw Street

On this dull, fine October morning, a polisman stops traffic entering Shaw St. from Govan Road. Is it a raid?
A woman passing along informs me. "Therr filmin a comedy."
Another Glasgow street finds filming fame.
It's cosy and bright in Watsons Bakery. "What's happening out there?" I ask Jean.
"Och, it's a tv comedy. They were in here. Three men dressed up as nuns, ye know, beards and everything, nuns outfits and busts an'all. I don't know if they were good nuns or bad nuns. One of them bought a pie and stood here and ate it."
"Are you in it?" I ask. "Och no, no" she replies. "It's to be on early 2013."
A woman in a blue jacket comes in and nods back towards the door with a lift of her eyebrows.
"It's a comedy about men dressed up as nuns," I tell.
"Is that right? I'll no be watching that," she says shaking her head.
Back out on the street a loud southern English lady's voice rings out very bossily.
"Let's try that again. Ok, so you make your way over and stand in front of this door . . . "

Friday, 12 October 2012


It's the evil glint in Mr M's eye that gets me. As soon as I decide that it is definitely evil, his countenance softens and the glint turns to a twinkle.
The dapper octogenarian is regaling ma da with his latest news and views.
"Whit aboot this G51 rubbish again?" he's asking, referring to grun' south of Ibrox Park. "An' shares? Whit dae ye actually think o' that David Murray?"
The other men in the group give forth their opinions.
"Aye," he laughs caustically, "Should pit 'im doon a hole, him an' Whyte tae. Aye, hahah, alang wi' that Jimmy Savile, eh? Whit dae ye make a' him? Aye thought he wis a weirdo."
He's in full flow now, dark suit, a little shiny with age, white pocket handkerchief neatly in place, starched shirt and narrow tie, shined-up shoes and today a little black woolly hat. An autumnal chill makes us shiver, but the hat seems a bit too informal for a gent such as Mr M.
"Och, there's gaunae be a lot o' them quakin' in their boots noo. It's a' gonnae come oot noo. They've even goat him oot a' Hong Kong, whit's his name? Patten. Seen him oan the telly bubblin' oan aboot it a'. hahaha! Oh aye, therr's plen'y mair tae be revealed. I'll tell ye."
 His chortle is humourless and he gargles like a choked drain.
"D'ye know Savile's meant tae huv hud a big hoose in Scotland?"
Ma da laughs sardonically, "It's a mansion in the sky noo."
"Skye?" queries Mr M. "Is that where it wis?"
"Naw," ma da says, "in the sky. A mansion." And they both break out into hearty laughter and I snigger quietly, cos I'm just earywigging, just speaking if spoken to, which I'm not.
"Ha ha, good yin," continues Mr M. "Ah can see Jim'll fix it at the pearly gates. Peter'll be like, 'naw, naw, you're doonsterrs. Git goin. Aff wi' ye!'".

Monday, 8 October 2012


Gangs swarm round Govan, ganging together in generational groups and keeping to the same streets, walls, and closes. As the years pass, you watch the same wee boys grow older, smarter, dumber, marching to the fore or falling to the rear as they nip and zip through their territory, slowing to a swagger as they pass through their teens.

A new wee squad has formed and gelled over the summer and fine weather sees them enjoying all the fun activities of their very own playground. In the early evening, they kick a football back and forth across Govan Road, dashing in front of cars at breakneck speed. In Shaw Street, they blooter the ball against metal shutters with a regular thump, bang, and crash of dull cymbals. They disappear up closes and emerge out the backs, running from one building to the next, vaulting over railings and diving across middens.
Energy and confidence are at a peak amongst this gang, noticeably so, given their age group. I'd put them between 6 and 8 with maybe a 5 year old tagging along. He's wearing the same puffa gilet as the leader of the pack who's a titchy 7 year old, brimming with bravado and derring-do. The two of them stand out from the rest who are de rigueur in t-shirt and trackie bottoms. As Wee Raberta always says, the only concession the Govan boys make to their dress code is to remove the t-shirt when the sun shines.

By ten o'clock, they're taking a breather on the pavement, the wee one is jumping on and off the kerb. A couple of old men outside the pub are chawsing them and before long they take off up the road, stopping in the middle of the street to gaze up at a girl who stands, hugging a coffee mug, in a brightly lit, uncurtained window.
"Hi, you!" They begin to call out, raising their voices to shouts. "Open the windae. Gonnae come doon? Can we come up? Can we come up an' rape you? Gonnae gie's a penny fur the guy?" All the while gesticulating, jumping on each other, swiping and punching.
The girl pulls up the window, "Go home you little boys," she calls back in Eastern European tones, "You silly little boys. You have school in the morning. Go away."
And she withdraws from the window and dims the light.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Eat Fresh

Subway; Eat Fresh! goes the slogan of this global sandwich bar. After the Aldwych Cafe at Govan X closed a coupla years ago, the shop stood empty until this fastfood piece chain set up their deli counter and a few tables and chairs for the punters.
I think each franchise is told to customise their premises to make the locals feel it's their very own Subway, a unique Subway that's truly serving the community in which it's sited. Why else would there be a dog eared bit of paper, stuck up on the door with blu-tac on which is scrawled, "STAND AWAY FROM DOOR". That's you telt. Then in fainter pen, "thanks" added as an afterthought incase a high powered manager jets in from LA to check the Govan Subway is treating the valued customer with respect.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

In The Close

The close is an important element in tenement living. Well, of course, it's the central corridor and staircase which leads you to the various storeys, homes, lavvies, cellars, and out to the back courts. It's essential to the structure of the building, but there's more to it than just a built walkway to get you around.

Thinking back on all the closes through which I've wended my way; mostly, they've been dark and dull, of yellow lamplight, shadowy, eerie, stairs opening onto stairheids, rising up and up, the doors on the landings austere and unwelcoming.
The close is often chill, the stone steps worn with a low dip on each tread.
There's a strange, echoey silence; the slam of a door, even internal, reverberates through the stairwell and the scliff of feet ascending can fill you with intense dread.

Some closes are manky and smell of urine and mould. There are unpleasant stains against the walls and suspicious wetness running in streams down steps and along the floor. Plaster is cracked and flaking, names on doors - if there are any - are paper labels written in pen. Spidery webs cling in corners and beetles and slaters scuttle around.

Houseproud tenement dwellers, on the other hand, extend their pristine habits to outside their front doors; polishing up the letterbox, doorbell and nameplate till they gleam, plump doormats are set in place, curtains hang at the staircase window, with even a plant or vase of flowers, albeit artificial.

In olden days, a white edging would be applied with pipe clay down the stairs, but today this is usually white paint. Wally closes with beautiful tiles and stained glass windows belong in another Glasgow story; not in Govan as I know it.

Many a game's been played in the close; wee hooses, hospitals, schools. Scene of love affairs, welcome and not so, fights, secrets shared, deals done, a place to hide, from somebody, or just out of the rain.

Today's not raining. It's bright outside with the occasional shower but fairly pleasant.
On opening the house door, I can hear a woman, talking in a husky, low voice in the close. Down a flight of stairs and turning on the landing, I come upon her.
She's sitting on a step, cigarette in hand, and she's saying,
"See her but, see if she thinks she's gonnae get away wi that. Aw naw, Ah'm gonnae kill'er.She'll get battered."
Then she looks up at me.
"Hey doll, sorry hen, therr ye go," and she shuffles over, lifting a cheap plastic lighter from the stair to let me pass.
She looks up at me with her dark eyes, tired, dull, her face so thin, drawn and wrinkled. Her hair is a dry tangle of black and grey.
I step down gingerly, squeezing past on the narrow stairwell.
On the landing, standing with his back to me and looking out of the window over the back courts, is a grey haired man in black leather jaiket and denims. He's strong looking, feet apart and arms folded in a macho stance and as I pass, he stands stock still and never looks round.

On my return, all the evidence of them being there is a couple of fag douts, spit and phlegm.