12 Oct 2009

Glesga Gudfellas

 Time's running out on the meter and Joan's lament is running through my head. Inside the car; engaging the key, my concentration was shattered by the rapping of a sovereign on the windshield. Peering back at me, like a scene from Jurassic Park, was a face unaccustomed to refusal. "Let me try oot yer car," came the order. I got out to clarify what I thought he said. Like a silk snake-belt he slipped around me and into the car. "Just as well I hung on to these" I said, dangling the keys at him. "Thaat's shite son, s'no fer me". As he got out and turned to walk away I called him back - he owed me. He fixed me through his reactor-lies and growled "Wha?". "Your turn to repay the favour - I get to shoot you." He gladly conceded, adding "In the past I'd a had them oot yoor mouth if I'd a caught you round here" (I have two discreet gold caps).

This was Ian - Glesga Gudfella and former safe-cracker. The cut of his jib was razor-sharp. The Paisley cravat, he explained, was his colors. Ian is the Glesga forefather of the Crip - a Clydeside Crip. Back in the car my focus was broken again, this time Ian and three of his associates were deriding my motor. Once again I took the key out of the ignition. "Introduce me then!"
Ian read out the role-call like a well versed brief:

First in line grins Billy. These days he's putting a different smile on the faces of Glasgow.


Jimmy's enthusiasm for misdemeanor is replaced by a wise, calmer demeanor.


 'One Hit' Willie stepped up to the mark. "What was the song?" I teased. "A swan song, one hit an' you'll no be coming back" Ian clarified.

  The Gudfellas were on the street, smoking and regaling the glory days of honest crime. In their sobriety they had found self-respect, something they couldn't extract by fear or extortion.

Saltmarket Suffragists

 Dawn had clipped the last blade of grass on the Pyramids as I pulled into a hung-over Glesga. The shutters were coming down from the watering holes as the Saltmarket started to percolate with briefs and thieves. I'm outside The Big Issue's Glasgow distribution point. From the pavement to the counter vendors queue patiently to collect their badges, get their pitch and stock up on the latest edition.

 Over the Roma-Weegie babel I caught the perfectly pitched "Are ye the guy fae London?" I interpreted that to be me as I was motioned under the counter. I surfaced to meet Lisa, a sonsie las who's bite is no contest for her insanely profane bark. She re-directed me again - "John's ootside havin' a fag". I tunneled back under the battlements and on to the street where John Duffy (distribution manager) was savouring the last draw before casting aside his dowt.

John(Duffy) Distribution Manager, The Big Issue

He's been working since 5am, overseeing delivery of the new issue to centres across Scotland. John is eminently qualified for the post, the years he spent surviving the streets instills respect and trust in his vendors. To them he's much more than an aspiration.

Martin (Hackett), Sales Development Worker, The Big Issue

My guide for today's tour of Glesga's inner-city pitches is Martin fae the Southside. Martin's quietly spoken and tolerant of my scatological tendencies.
 The first of the vendors I'll come to meet is serenading the commuters at Central Station. Joan 'Queen of the Big Issue' greets and sends them on their way, lifted by her cry. There's "no problem. Of course," I can photograph and record her "nae problem at all".
 Taking hold of my arm I guided her inside and recorded her song. Joan's joyful rendition of the Disney classic conceals a painfully modest plea; "to be like yoo..." Her cry is a street lament.

(play to hear Joan's cry)

  After 'touch' she whispered "I wanted tae warm ma'sel on you". Joan is a breathtaking affirmation of the life-line that The Big Issue provides. We left the blind VIP, exposed and at the mercy of the jungle.
 A succession of street-level suffragists painted their story, determined not to be erased, no matter how much they were blanked.




The homeless have an acutely different awareness of 'personal space'. They are disfranchised from a society that takes the security of a home as a right. Their comfort zone is intuitively ring fenced by mistrust and disappointment. With 'touch' they can personify their boundaries without fear of misinterpretation. There's no coercion, their vulnerability is respected, not exploited. They decide whether to expose their identity or delete their image.

While writing this entry the music of Magazine broods in the background. Devoto sneers "So this is real life."

- you're telling me.