Glasgow, a great city blighted by Mways vandalism and drugs

Glasgow, city of flyovers

WHEN I went to work on the Express in Glasgow in the late 1990s, I found the city to be everything that I expected. Good and bad.

 It was a mixture of old and new where vandalism was rife, along with drug abuse, and swathes of motorway cut through the lines of historic tenement blocks that held a century of social history.

 As you entered the city from the south by car, you didn’t have to be Capability Brown to see that the civic vandalism of the 1960s planners was a dream gone wrong.

 And yet when I scratched the surface of this wonderful place, I found warmth, excitement, friendship and a love of the architecture from its people. A city knee deep in history.

Beautiful Victorian architecture was everywhere, and the gothic university building and other public centres were a prime example. But so too in their way, were the tenements the planners left … long lines of terraced stone housing blocks with large bay windows that stretched from east to west.

 I rented a flat in one off the Byers Road in the West End, the trendy place to be … a bustling thoroughfare of shops, pubs and coffee bars, and never regretted it. The Express newsroom was a 20-minute walk away in what they called The White Tower, an old building that looked part-castle, in a quiet residential area on the edge of the city centre.

 But this was the era of Trainspotting and you didn’t have to walk very far, to take a short cut under a motorway or through a derelict building to find drug addiction on a major scale. Bodies on pavements; people leaning against walls or slumped in doorways; even queueing in pyjamas for a legal fix from chemists.

 The old bus station at night was even worse, drugged prostitutes bonking their clients standing up and doing other things in the half light. Touting for business under the concrete pillars of flyovers, so they could buy a fix. 

During daylight the place was littered with syringes and used condoms.

Heroin use was the leading drug choice then in the 1990s, a trend highlighted in the Irvine Welsh book and film Trainspotting, meaning trying to find a train (vein) in the tracks of your arms and legs to inject heroin into your body. It was to be a cancer that still rots Glasgow to this day, making it the drugs capital of Europe, although heroin has long slipped down the table of mind-blowing, life-threatening drugs on its streets.

 I don’t think a week ever passed when I didn’t see drugs at work on the streets in some form. But after a while what struck me was the loneliness of it all. Men, women, boys and girls by themselves in corners oblivious to what was going on around them. They were just the ones you could see.

 We tried as much as we could in the paper to highlight the loneliness of it all and were always approaching the ‘experts’. The trouble was, the public were not overly interested, as they aren’t today, they were concerned, yes, upset even. But they had their own lives and most readers (not all) couldn’t have cared less if an addict died. That’s the truth of it. We could bore them. Sad but true.

 One preconception I had about Glasgow was that the tenement houses were slums, as they were often portrayed in the south. But nothing was further from the truth. These were trendy places, some with vast, elite apartments of up to eight rooms. True, there were some down-market areas, but I never saw squalor.

The property market was booming in them, and the youngsters were moving in, doing them up. They were buzzing with the new generation in a city that loved to party. But I wanted to find out more about how people lived in the days when they were built.

And so, I found myself walking through the front door of 145 Buccleuch Street, the home of Agnes Toward for more than 50 years. You’ve probably never heard of her, but if you are ever in Glasgow, take an afternoon to visit her home, a time capsule museum, that tells you what life was like living in one of these tenement houses in the early 1900s. And it was good.

Hoarder Agnes Toward

Agnes was a hoarder. She filed away old household bills, recipes, wartime leaflets, letters, and personal papers. Her home was virtually untouched. Its original gas lighting was not replaced with an electric version until 1960, almost five decades after she began living there.

 The apartment and its carefully preserved contents – period chairs and beds, old theatre programmes and perfume bottles – have been transformed into a museum of urban life in Scotland a century ago.

 It has a kitchen with a large, black coal-burning cooking range, and heated water for the rest of the flat, with a recess bed where a maid could have slept; the bathroom had a deep bath with brass fittings and a high-sided, marble-effect washbasin with mixer taps. A bright, white bedspread covered the expanse of Agnes’ large, elaborate brass bed.

 The flat had four rooms – a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and main room – and each opened on to a central, square hall. I learned that this was a basic design repeated by builders across the city in Victorian times.

Postcard from Mr Bulldog

Agnes, a shorthand typist, who lived alone with her cat Tibs, died in 1975, aged 73. Men didn’t seem to feature in her life, but in a kitchen drawer is a postcard she received when she was a teenager; she kept it all her life.

It was from an Englishman named Tom, who suggested she came to see him on Monday night, after he was unexpectedly detained the night before.

He signs off: "I am, ever yours, Mr Bulldog."

No one ever knew if she met the Bulldog, or not.


No.9 Bus in the Fleet Street smog, 1952

IT WAS fascinating to see the nostalgic picture of the London fog in 1922, hanging over our parish of Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street in the Drone last week. But how about this nostalgic flashback of a No9 bus slowly making its way down Fleet Street in the killer smog of 1952, in which 4,000 people died and thousands were ill.

Journalists and other staff at newspapers like the Express struggled to get into work as 1,000 tonnes of hydrochloric acid and 14 tonnes of fluorine compounds were mixed with 370 tonnes of sulphuric dioxide to make a deadly mix of acid breathed into the lungs of everyone who walked Fleet Street. It was so bad, the Express reported that even cows chocked to death in fields.


WELL DONE Ed Walker and Luke Beardsworth the two former Reach executives launching a series of weekly email newsletters in the North of England. They’ve finally gone live in Blackpool and Bolton.

Ten are planned with a focus on politics and culture and Teesside and Stoke-on-Trent follow shortly. Ed says: “The response to the launch of The Blackpool Lead and The Bolton Lead has been fantastic. We’ve already featured some in-depth pieces on the topics we want to explore and what our readers tell us they want us to focus on.”

 Is this the start of something big, we wonder? After all, look how the free newspapers took off. A couple of subs on the Express became millionaires starting them up.

I worked on the idea of an email newspaper for Northcliffe a few years ago, but the arithmetic just didn’t add up commercially. We all knew there was something in it, if we could just crack the secret of financial success. After all, emails are instant news … and newspapers are old news.


THERE was a wonderful interview with star of our era Nanette Newman on Sky Arts last week, talking about her movies and life with husband producer Bryan Forbes. She starred in many films with Peter Sellers which were reviewed in the Express, such as The Wrong Arm of the Law. It was the custom in those days for the cast to buy each other a present at the end of filming and she told how she gave Peter a book after one picture, which he looked thrilled about. He took her outside the studio to give her a gift too … a brand, spanking new, red Jaguar E-type.



IT IS not good Karma to put down our Godly leader of the Church of England. But what is the Archbishop of Canterbury, bless his silk socks, playing at trying to ban our elected Government’s flights to Rwanda, and new rules to curtail the Third World moving in, as the Press revealed last week that immigration figures are set to swell our population to a staggering 73 million.

And the Home Office last week was reported as calling for an extra £2.6bn to fund emergency accommodation for illegal immigrants after numbers leapt by 13p er cent last year.

 We know His Holiness reads the newspapers and calls in reporters at the drop of a holy tot. So, what doesn’t he understand about our own citizens going hungry; dying of the cold in their homes if they have them; and struggling to get medical help because our Health Service doesn’t have enough money? Must our tax money really go to millions of men from another country to live here and create a new population.

 Justin Welby says of frustrated Rishi Sunak’s plans to ignore the international courts: “If international law and conventions don’t matter, and you can disregard them when you want, what does that say for the international rules-based order?”

 Excuse me, Your Rev, but aren’t thousands of illegal, African male immigrants, flouting our laws of entry to England in small boats? What about our laws, our rights, legal borders and way of life. Many of the young men come here for benefits, lie about their ages and identities and even commit crimes and bring diseases long gone into our society? What does that say for our rules-based order? Of course, we need to help genuine legal asylum seekers where we can, but an open door is swinging.

 Bishops in the House of Lords are unelected, unlike our government. And yet they are at the centre of our politics daily. Let us not forget the trouble they caused over the National Lottery. Many denominations shouted it down saying it was a gambling sin against God … and others refused to take much needed lottery funding to rebuild crumbling churches and their own charities, even though followers wanted them to.

 Welby and his legions live in a world of their own, which is fine, and they have the ultimate leader, God, of course. But most British people seek change in a modern world. Change that benefits them and the country their ancestors have built and died for. There is so much truth in the saying Charity Begins At Home!


THE GREAT robot land battles of the sci-fi writers aren’t far off, it was reported in papers last week. And we don’t have to look any further than Ukraine to see their birth.

 For Kyiv is already using experimental robot tanks equipped with machine guns in the front line against Russian forces. But this isn’t just about armoured cars and tanks. Some will soon be humanoid soldiers of AI intelligence coming off production lines who are capable of close combat. Both Russia and Ukraine have been working on them and so too have the Americans, French and British.

Pictures and videos already reveal Ukraine’s new robot tanks rumbling into the fray. Kitted out with a machine gun or robotic combat turret, they drive out nasty pockets of resistance.

They move at a brisk pace too, about 12 miles an hour through thickets. But it won’t be long before the necks of the enemy will be held in the iron gloves of AI Special Forces.


Sewage pipes above ground in Northampton

CAN you imagine your neighbours’ home sewage pipe being installed outside your front door — above ground! That’s what happened to unlucky council taxpayers in Stanton Cross, Wellington, Northants, the Northampton Telegraph reports.

 The structure will allow repairs to take place on the underground pipe connecting local roads, where a leak is detected. Hopefully the pipe will be replaced later in the year.

 One resident said: "It's an absolute eyesore and sometimes it really does smell, especially if the wind is going in your direction."


5 February 2024