Guy Grieve ex­pe­ri­ences the tougher side of Glas­gow

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

Glas­gow is vivid, and it’s the peo­ple that make it so un­for­get­table. Al­most ev­ery en­counter, good, bad or ugly, has left an in­deli­ble mark on me. There’s some­thing mer­cu­rial about Glaswe­gians that has left me charmed and be­guiled one minute and con­fused and an­noyed the next.

One as­pect that’s not in doubt is the hu­mour. When I was a stu­dent I worked as a labourer for a longestab­lished Ed­in­burgh-based fam­ily-owned build­ing firm run by a man who be­came, and re­mains, a good friend. One morn­ing we gath­ered out­side the vans to hear that the com­pany had won a con­tract to work at Bar­lin­nie prison in a place just out­side of Glas­gow called Rid­drie Stepps. There were ar­eas we were al­lowed to walk around in and others that were out of bounds.

Of course, be­ing a gorm­less stu­dent, I soon wan­dered into the ‘no-go’ zone and found my­self in a ware­house filled with men tai­lor­ing don­key jack­ets and work­ing den­ims. I re­alised that these were pris­on­ers and I froze. At which point a wiz­ened lag sit­ting near me looked up and winked, a wide smile play­ing across his face. ‘It’s all right gadgie,’ he said in a thick Glas­gow ac­cent. ‘We’re nae gonna slit ye!’

I smiled ner­vously and re­treated, laugh­ter echo­ing all around me. A few days later a prison guard ap­peared and, with a smile, handed me a don­key jacket – a gift from the pris­on­ers.

Later dur­ing that job I earned my spurs with the com­pany when we were tasked with edg­ing our way along a nar­row tun­nel around a hot wa­ter pipe. The man sent in soon re-emerged in a flat panic, knock­ing some trop­i­cal-sized cock­roaches off his shoul­ders and swear­ing that he’d not go down again.

I laugh­ingly vol­un­teered and like a US army tun­nel rat I squeezed my way down into the hu­mid space. I shone my torch and saw that the place was alive with roaches.

The top of my hat scraped the roof and a hand­ful of dark, wrig­gling in­sects fell neatly be­tween my sweat­ing neck and the top of my over­alls. I couldn’t get to them and so they slipped right down my body un­til I was able to stamp them out in­side my boots.

The ex­pe­ri­ence is seared into my mem­ory, as is the laugh­ter of the men when I was awarded a ‘cock­roach bonus’ of £50 at the end of the week. Ev­ery time I drive into Glas­gow along the M8 that mem­ory re­turns to me and in some ways it sums the city up. A place of hard­ship made bear­able by huge amounts of hu­mour.

Five years ago I was at a fish mer­chants’ din­ner in Glas­gow and was hugely en­joy­ing the com­pany of the man sit­ting next to me. The laugh­ter and ban­ter was flow­ing freely as it only does in Glas­gow. And then the sub­ject of the 2014 ref­er­en­dum came up.

Un­wisely I de­clared my­self as a ‘no’ voter. ‘I be­lieve in unity,’ I said naively.

He stared at me stonily, all laugh­ter gone. ‘I sup­pose you could call me a Union­ist,’ I con­tin­ued, join­ing the fin­gers of my two hands to il­lus­trate. It was the ab­so­lute wrong choice of words, I now know of course. His face dark­ened and trans­formed into some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent. I reached over and touched his arm, con­cerned. ‘Are you okay? What’s wrong?’

Around us the whole ta­ble had fallen silent but I per­sisted still, un­aware of the cul­tural mine­field I’d stum­bled into. ‘Do you want to go out­side and dis­cuss this?’ I asked, think­ing he might need some fresh air. At that point the whole ta­ble shouted as one: ‘Guy, NO!’ And the penny dropped as I looked back at my now-seething din­ner mate.

This is both the fas­ci­na­tion and the fear that I have for Glas­gow – it op­er­ates on its own rules which are far from ob­vi­ous to the out­sider. It is known for its friend­li­ness but the un­wary can eas­ily get them­selves into hot wa­ter. How­ever, the ugly only makes the good even brighter.

Some time later Juliet and I were walk­ing to an awards cer­e­mony in the rain, dressed in our fin­ery and without an um­brella. A taxi stopped and in a voice en­riched by many cig­a­rettes the driver called: ‘Jump in, I’m nae driv­ing past while youse get soaked.’

And he re­fused to be paid. Glas­gow: good, bad and ugly, but never for­get­table.

“The laugh­ter and ban­ter was flow­ing freely as it only does in Glas­gow

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