Our lives, particularly in our early years, are moulded by external factors that create, shape and imprint memories of our places and our journeys. For me it was the three bus routes that travelled out of the housing scheme where I lived in as a child to different destinations. Starting with the number 31 route, here’s some reminiscences.
Part 1: 31
31, 22, 37.
No, not someone’s vital statistics, but the route numbers of the buses that linked our particular part of the satellite housing scheme in 1960s Glasgow to the city itself.
They were numbers learned from early childhood in a place where no one really owned a car and the concept of ever owning one wasn’t really in the orbit of most folk. However, as long as you knew to catch the 31, 22 or 37 it would bring you home to Castlemilk from wherever you might be.
The 31 started its journey from the village called Carmunnock, a few miles up the hill from our place. Carmunnock seemed magical in my childhood. In the summer we’d set off on a walk up Carmunnock Road (carrying the obligatory mik bottle filled with water in case we died of dehydration, and the pieces n jam wrapped in wax paper for a picnic), and once you cleared the Council housing flats you’d hit what was colloquially called the First Farm. I think the people there actually bred Clydesdale horses, those beautiful gigantic beasts with hooves that looked like someone was wearing flared trousers with platform shoes.
Once past there the road wound through fields, and the bitumen changed colour to red. There was always speculation as to why this was – did it mean that we were now in another county? We never found out but it added to the exotica.
Then when we got to the village itself it was a world away from Castlemilk; ancient romantic little cottages and a seemingly even more ancient churchyard with graves bearing skull and crossbones and dating back to the 1700s. There was also a small park where we’d play that seemed to have an air of being right out of Alice in Wonderland. We could dream that we didn’t live in a Council housing scheme; we could dream that we lived in one of the little fairytale cottages with doors that led onto gardens, not up two or three stories in a close. That we were like the other kids in the park whose parents spoke to each other like the people on telly – as if they actually liked each other – and didn’t fight all the time and seemed to have enough money for nice things.
So, the 31 would begin its journey there and make its way down the hill to the stop just past our street – Lainshaw Drive. From our kitchen window you could see up the hill slightly and one of my brothers – I think it was John – would prefer not to wait at the bus stop in the cold but wait at the kitchen window til he spotted the bus coming down the hill and then sprint to the stop, racing it to catch it into town.
The 31 would then make its way further down the hill to Croftfoot and then through Simshill, Cathcart (where there were bought houses, not council houses) and then Mount Florida and Govanhill with its Victorian tenements (and where I lived for many years much later in life), then through the Gorbals which changed as the years rolled by. First it was a warren of old blackened tenements. Just before I
started school my mum, who was a tailoress, went for a job in a small operation up one of those closes in that maze of streets. She had to take me with her as there was no babysitter available and I’d play on the floor of the factory. I remember the grimy unpolished floorboards, the harsh lighting and the piles of offcuts littering the place, all accompanied by the smell of oil from the sewing machines.
Then all the old tenements were knocked down and in their place they build multi storey flats and new tenement buildings called maisonettes. It wasn’t long before the nice white concrete went grey, and then was covered in graffiti, and eventually even these had to be demolished as their damp conditions did nothing to improve the residents’ lives. Nowadays that part of the Gorbals is a pretty smart looking place with nice flats and a sense of renewal.
Once clear of the Gorbals the bus would cross the river Clyde and make its way down Clyde Street, past the ship berthed there named The Carrick, but which we
found later to have the original name The City of Adelaide. It was called that because it originally brought migrants to the new colony of South Australia back in the 1800s and returned to the UK with cargos of sheep fleeces; from my old home to my new home.
It is ironic that as I devoured the vision of it from the top deck of the bus, with its glass-encased naval club dining room showing the white linen, silver cutlery and crystal glassware in a golden lamplight, it seemed to show me a new world that was unattainable at that time. The remains of the ship are to be brought back to Adelaide this year, to much excitement on myself and my sister’s part, and something I’ll write more about later.
Finally the bus would reach it’s the terminus at St Enoch Square. This was another place that seemed magical.
It was a gateway to the treasures of the city centre. It had the most romantic buildings that fed a young imagination – the old disused but grandly gothic StEnoch Railway station;
and opposite the bus stop was Galloway’s the Butchers with its lame neon double entendre “Meat at Galloways”.
For many years the whole square was cobblestones and with the shops behind it including RS McColl (sweeties!) Peacock’s the Bakers (great little cakes) and a seemingly exotic fishmongers in Howard Street, all seemed a fabulous backdrop.
And there was also the back way into department store Arnott Simpson, where my auntie Jean was one of those ladies in the Berketex ladieswear department who wore a brown dress and cardigan uniform, and had a gold chain to keep her glasses around her neck when not in use. As such she was the epitome of ‘posh’ to my young eyes.
When waiting for the 31 back to Castlemilk I remember standing at the railing which was just the height of my nose. The strong smell of that steel, through boiling summers and freezing winters, stays with me. Its harshness was the smell of the city, a two finger salute to the visual aesthetic care taken in the design of the buildings around us; and it was the smell of going home.