I’ve been doing some research recently for a novel I’m beginning. It’s a crime fiction set in Glasgow and I’ve been using Google Maps to investigate the streets where the story takes place. I had two possible locations in mind: the Southside, where I lived last in Glasgow and where my more recent memories are from, or the east end where I was born and raised. Because I have an idea for a second book using some of the same characters which is very specific to a certain time and place, I had been going to plump for the east end. After poring over Street View, I’m no longer so sure.
I knew that the house I was brought up in had been demolished many years ago, but the last time I visited Queenslie the old street grid was still there and I could pinpoint exactly where my close stood, where my primary school was, the shops, the undulating piles of dirt where we used to play until it was flattened for a new nursery. Now, it’s like being on a different planet. Even the street names have changed and where 1950s ‘modern’ tenements used to stand there is a plethora of identical industrial and office units. Queenslie always had an industrial estate. Olivettie Typewriters had a factory there and the Canda made fashion for C & A’s. Now these have gone and the streets where I walked my dog are unrecognisable.
I went to secondary school in Garthamlock but school there has been demolished too, along with most of the housing. New and vastly improved houses and blocks of flats stand where the old landmarks were and I recognise very little.
I wish this is where it ends, but there is virtually nothing physical left of my past.
We moved to Carntyne when my dad had a lung removed and could no longer manage the stairs to our top floor flat. The house is gone.
The department store where I had my first Saturday job has been cut up and changed until it bears little resemblance to its 1970s and 1980s heyday.
My first proper job – demolished, as was the building I worked in when I got married. Even the hotel where we had our wedding reception has been pulled down and a block of flats built in its place.
I don’t know why this upsets me so much. I don’t have many particularly happy memories from Queenslie, Garthamlock or Carntyne, but they were a part of me, responsible for who I am today. Perhaps if I don’t keep moving, whatever it is that destroyed my past will catch up with me and start to destroy my present, my future. It’s totally irrational but I feel that if I visited Queenslie my physical presence would cause a tear in the space/time continuum and existence as I know it would disappear with a soft plop and the distant horn from the number 51 bus.
I am left today feeling discombobulated and antsy and very, very blue. Like Tom Hanks in The Terminal, my country has been taken away from me and I have nowhere I can point to and say, this, this is where I’m from.
My book will be set in Pollokshields. To try to set it in a past that no longer exists would be foolhardy. There’s no looking back.