Glasgow’s much more than a ‘grim housing estate’

That’s a rude and insensitive slur about an excellent city


Everyone has a reaction when I tell them that I grew up in Glasgow. This reaction is never neutral.

For example, many do a sort of sympathetic grimace. Some of them wince; others quip something about it having a lower life expectancy than Iraq. That was in 2006, and it’s not that funny. Others say something about the Red Road flats, and abundant poverty. Others talk about the Gorbals and abundant poverty. Others talk about Rangers and Celtic, and abundant sectarian violence.

It’s a modern city with a patchwork history, certainly. And I don’t make light of that. It’s divided and there are parts of it that are (still) violent and (still) deprived. But suggesting it’s like some kind of third world is also pretty offensive – to people who live there and to people in the third world.

Here are many other reasons why it’s great.

Glasgow smiles better 

The myth goes that Edinburgh is genteel and Glasgow, neanderthal.

One, that’s bollocks. Glasgow is artistic and cultural – it has a world-class art school and a sharp, dark and witty literary history. ALSO – what really matters – Glasgow is so much friendlier. The mythology goes that if you turn up on an Edinburgh doorstep, the host will say, “you’ll have had your tea?” Subtext: I’m not feeding you (tea is dinner). In Glasgow, they’ll ask, “have you had your tea?” And they’ll hurry you indoors and place a piled plate in front of you.

People smile at you in Glasgow. People joke with you in cinema queues, they quip with you in bars. They talk to you in shops, and they’ll lend you a fag outside a pub. They’ll stand up for you if there has been some sort of perceived injustice. Once a bus driver tried to kick me off the bus because a guy NEXT to me had been mouthing off about something and he thought it was me – and about four middle-aged guys stepped in in my defence.

Its REAL football team: Partick Thistle

Everyone talks about Rangers and Celtic, but Glasgow has a third football team: Partick Thistle – or the Jags – has a legion of furiously fond, devoted fans, who trudge to Firhill for every home game wearing red, yellow and black shirts.

The team is regularly unreliable and useless, and occasionally wonderful. In my years as a fan, I watched the Jags go up and down the leagues. I saw them get strangled by Cowdenbeath in the second division, I saw them almost beat Rangers in the Premier League. I never contemplated supporting one of the more “fashionable”  Old Firm teams: being a Jags fan taught you far more about loyalty and kinship than Rangers or Celtic ever could.

Alright m8

Alright m8

Also we have the best mascot in the world: Kingsley, the grotesque, sharp animated “splatter” created by the artist David Shrigley.

It has cheap public transport and a “Circle Line” that actually runs in a circle 

Now, I live in London, and occasionally, regrettably, I must get on a farce of a “Circle” Line that does not, in fact, run in a circle. Glasgow’s Subway, on the other hand, definitely runs in a circle. You can get on it and just ride it all day, round and round and round, without having to alight at Edgware Road and change onto the other leg of the definitely-not-a-Circle Line. Sometimes, packs of us would just ride it all day. It was warm, and dry, and cheap. It has a really comforting smell: a sort of warm, biscuity whoosh that precedes the arrival of the orange train. The carriages are spacious.

Subway map

Simple

Also, they used to have machines requiring no interaction with a sceptical ticket instructor, so you could buy a child’s ticket even when you were no longer a child.

New Year’s Eve or HOGMANAY

Obviously, Scotland does NYE better – but Glasgow does it so, so much better than anywhere else in Scotland because it is the indisputable mad wi it capital of Scotland.

Once, my street had an impromptu street party. There was a ceilidh, someone made some soup, we threw open all the doors of all of the houses on the long street. Someone rigged up a sound system. People were walking down the street en route to their party and then joining in ours instead. I joined hands with neighbours and sang Auld Lang Syne, and at that moment, I sort of understood the emotion of celebrating the turn of a new year: that it isn’t just “another day”. I am still waiting to have this sort of epiphany while grinding my teeth and limbs in a warehouse in Hackney.

Plus, Scotland stretches its a collective hangover over two bank holidays afterwards – January 2nd is also a day off. It’s the civilised counterbalance to the furious partying.

All the parks

There’s more parkland per head in Glasgow than any other city in Europe. And these parks are tailored to adventure. Kelvingrove Park has so many bits to it – pitches and playgrounds, hills from which to survey the whole city, and large the duck pond, the fountain, and bushes to hide your beer, and paths to walk on and bits of river to play near. The Botanic Gardens are more organised, but the manicured lawns bely the existence of my favourite Glasgow secret: the abandoned underground tunnel. If you’re suitably inquisitive, you will tumble across it at some point – you can walk through it and emerge in a very different section of the park. At some point, in the very middle, it will be cacophonously dark and you will not be able to see any light in either direction. Persevere.

Pollok Park is huge and rambling and beautiful; Bellahouston has the walled flower garden and the House for an Art Lover. And Glasgow Green is a real-life expression of the ideal of what a park should be: the rich open spaces, the pavilion, a fountain.

Beaut park

Beaut park

It’s such a good size 

One of the merits of growing up in Glasgow is that you get the hubbub of a real city without getting lost in its size. There was plenty to do there, but it’s very manageable – you can walk into town, you can jump from north to southside, cross from the east to west end pretty easily. It’s a great city to walk around wherever you are based.

The Duke of Wellington statue with the cone on its head

This just doesn’t get old. Glaswegians were doing this long before every student night out culminated in plonking a cone on the top of a bannister/in someone’s bedroom/etc.

yes mate

Makes you proud to be Scottish

The Barrowlands, King Tuts and even the SECC

Glasgow’s music scene is world-famous. And it’s all about the venues – King Tuts is the byword for the strength of the scene (Oasis were signed there, Radiohead, The Killers, Florence & The Machine and Pulp all played there in their earliest days) but it’s not the only place to hear great music. The Barrowland is brilliant; The Barfly (RIP) was great; and while ABC lacks some character now it’s been reissued as an incarnation of the O2, it still books the acts (which is what really matters). Even the SECC has a strange charm when everyone in the audience is chanting “here we, here we, here we fucking go”.

People from Glasgow are just funny

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