12/07/2019
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Ah cum frae Govan!

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Ah cum frae Govan! Memories of a Govan childhood by Joyce Somerville.

'Ah cum frae Govan!' When these words are translated from the Glasgow vernacular, they simply mean 'I come from Govan!' Govan is a small district in south-west Glasgow that has a long association with the shipbuilding industry. The shipyard provides employment for many local men to this very day. The Elder Park was opened in memory of the shipping magnate John Elder in 1895 and it is rumoured that no-one is a true Govan resident until they have fallen into the pond. Fortunately it is not too deep and as far as I know no-one has ever come to serious harm there!

 As a child I lived in a Govan tenement with my mum, dad and three sisters. I often went to the park with my sisters and my friends to play tennis, pitch and putt, and sail boats on the pond. The Beatles were in their heyday and I can still recall the excitement when I went to see the film Help!at the Lyceum cinema in Govan Road with my friend Janice. We couldn't wait to see our heroes on the screen in glorious Technicolour. 

A Govan childhood

My paternal grandmother, Granny Miller (or Granny M as we called her) lived in our street and we loved to visit her because she was a great cook. She made excellent soup and steak pies but the real family favourites were her dumplings. They were wrapped in a cloth and then boiled on the stove. If we were lucky we found some silver sixpences inside, wrapped in greaseproof paper. 

Grandpa M came to visit us on Friday nights. He would sit down and then say ‘Go outside and see if you can find anything among the milk bottles’. We found ice-cream wafers wrapped in a paper bag and rushed back inside to eat them before they melted. The wafers came from Joe's café at the bottom of Elder Park Street. It had a big juke-box stocked with all the latest records and one evening I stood in front of the machine, listening to the music I couldn't afford to play. Then an older boy came over, dropped some money in the slot, and asked me to choose three records. I opted for some Beatles tunes and I couldn't believe my luck as the first disc landed on the turntable and Paul McCartney's voice came booming out. I will never forget that boy's kindness.

The sound of music

My maternal grandmother, Granny D, lived in a big house near Govan Cross. Since she had six children who visited regularly with their partners and numerous grandchildren, the house was always full. Granny D loved music and she was delighted when she won a radiogram in a newspaper competition. I can still remember some of the records which were played on it ‘Halfway to Paradise’ by Billy Fury, ‘Telstar’ by the Tornadoes, and ‘You'll Never Walk Alone’ by Gerry & the Pacemakers. Granny D ran various catalogues and the family paid their bills when they came to visit at the weekends. I don't know how she kept track of the money but she managed it somehow. Grandpa D was Irish and he taught us all the words to ‘Paddy McGinty's Goat’. 

Our tenement flat had no washing machine and every week Mum would load all the washing on to an old pram (which was known as a bogey) and wheel it round to the public wash-house, or the ‘steamy’, two streets away. It was a good place for the Govan housewives to meet and catch up on the news. If anyone had done anything outrageous that week they would be ‘the talk of the steamy’.

The local swimming baths were in the same building, and I would help Mum round with her bogey, then go swimming while she did the washing. When I finished I loved to get some hot chocolate from the vending machine to warm me up. It was fun to watch a paper cup come down and balance precariously on the holder before the hot liquid poured into it.

Govan fair

The Govan Fair is held on the first Friday in June every year ‘to celebrate Govan and its people’. The Govan Fair Queen, who has been chosen beforehand from a local school, is crowned at a ceremony in the Elder Park which is the highlight of the evening. All sorts of entertainment is laid on and a good time is had by all. 

Govan has kept up with the times and it has its own website. The residents are always friendly, and to this day they are still proud to say 'Ah cum frae Govan!'

QUICK LINK: Are your childhood books under threat?

(images courtesy of Govan Workspace)

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