No Mean City is a novel written by Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long and is about the razor gangs of the Gorbals, a notorious working-class district on the south side of the River Clyde. It was set in the inter-war years and did nothing to change people’s perception of Glasgow’s tough reputation, one in which the stereotype is likely to be a heavy drinking sectarian football fanatic who might well have worked as a welder in a Govan shipyard and spent his Saturday nights trying to drink Sauchiehall Street dry.
Glasgow’s tough reputation stems from the days when it was the ‘Second City of the Empire’. The industrialization of Glasgow produced shipyards, factories and slums, and although there are plenty of examples of some fine Victorian classical architecture, I don’t think that even the staunchest Glaswegian would say that they live in a beautiful city – but beauty is only skin deep. Scratch below the surface and you’ll find that there’s a lot more to Glasgow than you might have realised.
For a start, the River Clyde is much cleaner now. The shipyards have all but gone and heavy industry along the riverbank is giving way to a collection of modern buildings that suggest the city is looking forward to a much brighter future after a period of stagnation and desolation.
If you’re a night owl, the theatres, concert halls, pubs and restaurants are legendary, and the city is always buzzing on a night-time. Mind you, holding the bar up with a ‘Weegie’ singing “I belong to Glasgow” in a back street pub somewhere might have been the norm a while back, but these days you are just as likely to be rubbing shoulders with an office worker at a wine bar in the Merchant City having a pre-theatre meal.
For those who like a bit of retail therapy you are definitely in for a treat (so I’ve been told) because the city is widely regarded as offering some of the best shopping facilities outside of London, but if you prefer to keep your money in your pocket you might also like to know that there is a host of great free museums and art galleries to occupy your time instead.
There is still more work to be done though, especially where the perennial problem of housing is concerned. Slums that blighted places like The Gorbals have largely gone now, but they were replaced, particularly during the 1960s and 70s by estates on the city’s fringes and high-rise flats. They might have improved living standards to some extent, but were far from idea, and even these are now being demolished.
Glasgow, it has to be said, isn’t just an urban jungle because there are plenty of open spaces – and don’t forget, Loch Lomond is only just over half an hour away from the city centre.
Above all though, it’s the Glaswegians themselves that make the city what it is. Forget about their tough reputation because where tourists are concerned this is No Mean City. They are some of the friendliest and warmest people you’ll meet anywhere, and if you can decipher what they’re saying you’ll also find that they have a great sense of humour too.
I may be a sassenach from south of the border and certainly don’t know the city inside out, but in future posts I hope to convince you why Glasgow should be an essential stop on any tour of Scotland – and by the way, whatever stories you may have heard elsewhere, Glaswegians are definitely not mean where buying a round of drinks is concerned. Trust me, I know.