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.

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