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Friday, 7 November 2014

A Commonwealth Crawl - Part 3

The Pig & Whistle, 68 McNeil Street, Gorbals, Glasgow
The Oak Bar, 774 Springfield Street, Glasgow G31 4HL
The Bells, 990 Tollcross Road, Glasgow G32 8UP
The Waverley, 1034 Tollcross Road, Glasgow G32 8UW

The target this time was Glasgow Green, the piece of parkland designated for use by the city’s inhabitants for centuries. And in times of general squalor and overcrowding a very welcome relief and place to breathe.

For the Games it is the National Hockey Centre at the east end of the Green that is the focus and thus the nearest pub is in the Gorbals. The joint in question is the Pig and Whistle. To get to it I got off the 75 just before it crosses the Clyde and walked east for five minutes along Ballater Street.

The tenements have almost all been razed from the Gorbals and this pub is housed in a low-rise building that looks, at most, 50 years old, in a street unrecognisable to old Gorbalites.

I was joined at this stop of my journey by LJ and 48-Inch Chest (44 isn’t very impressive these days). We expected to find a hybrid of various styles adapted, modified and deleted, so to speak, over the last three or four decades. Instead there is a coherent, traditional interior of dark wood with a long counter in the main body of an upturned L. At the far end is a seating area and around the corner a wee snug.

What appeared to be the aftermath of a funeral or some other cross-generational gathering was drawing to a close this early evening as we ordered and moved along through towards the back, leaving space for those around the bar.

About to take a seat there I noticed another set of doors that led to a great little enclosed and sheltered outside area. It still being pleasant out we settled down for our smoke of choice. Soon we were joined by two attractive ladies in their early 30s. They entertained us with various anecdotes of recent holidays in the sun, specifically Magaluf.

Not that they were actually talking to us, their voices were that loud and close that even eavesdropping – a skill of mine – wasn’t required. All of it is unrepeatable but it was of research value for my two companions who before this were looking for ideas of where to spend their summer holidays. Both assured me, later, they would be onto their travel agent first thing Monday with a definite destination in mind.

Another voice joined in – a pal of the girls – from beyond the fence enclosing this mini beer garden. Declining to come round through the pub and join us she chatted for ten minutes to the two of them about various things – bling, make-up, plans for the night ahead.

When she left one of the girls beside us said, “She’s a real cow, that one.”
“Backstabbing bitch,” agreed the other.
To be honest I wanted to stay for the next episode but my two friends reminded me of the task still to complete. So we left.

Initially we had intended to get a taxi east but we began walking anyway, hoping to hail one as we moved. Over the Clyde and into Bridgeton, in the sunny remnant of the day we strolled, after ten minutes forgetting the taxi idea.

Bridgeton isn’t a thriving district, hasn’t been for decades, and a sign of this is the complete absence of any kind of hostelry apart from the main artery, London Road. We reached that road sooner than expected and kept going towards Parkhead.

Even a small Orange march didn’t stop us. We had the time to detour through Dalmarnock and look at the area that’s been most affected by the Games.

The athletes’ village, The Chris Hoy Velodrome, the Emirates Arena and various new roads are all here and at much cost to the locals. Apart from the massive loss of housing and residents moved from streets they’ve lived in for generations, those that are left have had local shops and services closed meaning a long walk to Bridgeton.

Even more serious is the closure, to make way for the Village, of the Accord Centre for vulnerable adults and their carers. But don’t worry; they have these shiny new sports centres to use for their recreation. Unfortunately, unlike Glasgow Green, they are far from free

As mentioned above, those two new centres are key Commonwealth venues, as is the neighbouring Celtic Park. So I should really have picked three pubs but Turnstiles, The London Tavern and The Springfield Vaults were closed, either for good or because the main football season was over.

So, we walked halfway up Springfield Road to the Oak Bar, this being the only bar within 500 metres of any of these venues. The Oak would sit near the top of most people’s lists of forbidding exteriors and there was some reluctance from my pals to entering.

However, there was no more than five seconds of lingering looks from the folk inside, and within a minute we had our pints in our mitts. We were in the Lounge Bar area but never have I seen less of a distinction between that and The Saloon Bar, which you walk through to get to the Gents. The only difference apparent being the younger ages in the saloon.

Those toilets are very basic but I’ve seen far worse, particularly in coastal resort bars in France or Spain. There is a wee bit of stained-glass partitioning on the wooden bar counter in the lounge but this nice detail is undermined by the counter being a two-tone affair, as if it’s been repaired numerous times after a hatchet attack, heaven forbid. Ignore my flights of imagination, there will be another, more boring, reason.

Some folk might also dislike the stone floor but it fits with the pub and is far better than carpet, which hardly ever works in any decent bar. LJ and 48-inch chest were enjoying their time here and were more reluctant to leave than they had been entering earlier. But I insisted on the time schedule. It was after 8.

Once we had left the Oak Bar they even suggested another in The Five Ways or The Anchor Bar just up the road on Gallowgate but here we split. They were off to meet some others in and around High Street while I was going further east.

Near Parkhead Cross, the 61 arrived at my stop. The last of the these roads was the route to the last Games’ venue – Tollcross Swimming Arena – and its nearest pub, The Bells.

Reaching there just before 9 I ordered quickly in a pub that was moderately busy. With the light only beginning to dwindle what features are of note could be seen clearly. These include what looks like a decently-aged gantry, stained glass booth partitions and a well-maintained wooden floor.

The Special was off so I picked the John Smith’s instead, a bad choice. I moved around the interior looking for some more interviewees, despite the earlier strife in Montfords. In doing so, I noticed the space outside to the back. Enough space for a beer garden but not capitalised upon.

While I’m still looking around, an old guy nudges me and asks – “Do you work over the road?”
“I work over some road, yes.” I grin.
But he ignores my glibness and continues – “In that swimming place. We get some of them in here occasionally.”
“Very occasionally, I’ll bet.” He sort of nods and takes a sip from his dark pint.

“A quiet lot.”
“But they were handing out all their leaflets and shit. Smiled at us and left.”
“Unsociable bunch, then?”
“Yep”, he sniffs. “This kind of life is beneath them.”

I don’t know how to beat that. He’s summed it up. But I try.
“You know their boss is a Yank wrestler?”
He nods. “I’ve thought about that. We can’t even trust one of our own to run the damn thing.”

“Aye, David Giffen is…
“I’d have that cunt on that shiny floor and show him wrestling. I’d thrash him easily, he’d be weighed down with those saddlebags full of cash – fucking cowboy.”

I tipped my hat to the fellow and he kept me amused for another three quarters of an hour with his anecdotes, most of which I can’t repeat for fear of the libel polis.

That was the best of Bells for me – it got busier but it was a mild evening and I wanted a bit of alfresco. I’d overheard chat about The Waverley along the road and its area out back.

It was only a hundred yards away – a bigger bar with a younger clientele. The main difference is the outdoor facilities – loads of tables filling an area of about 200 square metres. No greenery but an abundance of fresh air.

Everyone else knew each other it seemed, but being the only stranger isn’t new to me so I drank in the atmosphere as the light and the adventure faded into a gentle haze. I had a few more and listened a bit longer – to the nearby conversations and my thoughts.

There had been eight (or was it nine?) bars and a great day/night out. I’d covered west to east, via the south and traced experiences possible to any Games visitor seeking refreshment near any venue.

A special day, then, but also really no different than any random cross section I could have taken to reveal the relationship between Glasgow and its pubs. And only one of millions of such tales of revelry across generations of Glaswegians. A sense of one’s own insignificance is invaluable for any reviewer/writer.

That last realisation prompted my departure. The number 2 bus, another cross-city traveller, sat with its engine idling a few streets away. It was ready for me and vice versa.


The Games are finished and the sports centres are open again. Leaving that revealing dichotomy aside, it can be said that the consensus is the XVI Commonwealth Games were well run and those involved had a memorable time. In those narrow terms, then, it could be called a success for Glasgow.

And Games’ grandees trumpet the achievements of regeneration, greater sporting participation, the enhancement of the city’s tourist potential and a myriad of other benefits detailed in their press folders.

However, many respected analysts dispute the scale and veracity of these achievements and other of us wonder why it needs a sporting jamboree to do these things that the city needs?

And why, in the process, were Glaswegians from some of the poorest areas of our city decanted from their homes and/or deprived of vital community facilities? As the husband of Margaret Jaconelli put it during the final throes of their eviction from the family home in Dalmarnock – “It takes them 40 policemen and chainsaws and this is what they do to Glasgow citizens just so some idiots get to run around in shorts for two weeks.”

He put it better in those few fraught seconds than I have in over 4,000 words.