This personal reflection looks into what it is truly like to grow up in Glasgow.
Glasgow. A Gaelic noun meaning “dear green place”. The place where I grew up.
The earliest cultural identifier of my Glaswegian heritage involved the 2005 World Health Organisation dubbing the city as Europe’s “murder capital”, a title we no longer merit, although my pride for the city endures.
Growing up in Glasgow feels cosy and safe, a by-product of hometown familiarity.
Glasgow is a city of families. We live on top of one another, and our extended family becomes our internal family. Many of our loved ones do not leave behind the puddles of this rainy, stomping ground, nor do they wish to. Football is rife, and echoes of sectarianism and battles past trickle through to the present.
A Glasgow childhood is one of resilience, humour, love and community. The children are brashly witty, and many adopt a shield of self-deprecation to battle the accordingly cruel jibes.
“A Glasgow childhood is one of resilience, humour, love and community.”
Alcohol fuels the weekends of teenagers post-puberty, although I was too anxious for such frivolities, so I drink more now to compensate. The effects of one’s youth still linger years on.
My schooling consisted of extensive lectures on the atrocities of gang violence, drinking and drugs, which felt redundant due to a stabilising social climate. The talks became hopeful reminders that our city was bettering itself, and thus we could remain lost in childhood naivety. Fireworks blew off the fingers of at least two children I went to school with, leading to more safety talks during the winter period of the nativity play. Warmer weather forced landlocked Glaswegians to seek refuge in neighbouring towns. We flocked to grey, needle-lined beaches and chain holiday parks which comprise Scotland’s coastline. Often my summers were spent in Greece or Albania, visiting my non-Glaswegian family who daren’t set foot here for fear of the cold.
I am thankful for the upbringing I received and look back on my childhood fondly, but I cannot ignore that one in three of my classmates grew up in poverty or that my city boasts some of the worst life expectancies and health in the country. This dear green place is the most deprived place in Scotland.
When I first came to university and followed everybody on social media, I felt jaded by the posts curated by eager students venturing nationally and internationally to study here, all of which frame Glasgow as an idyllic, coming of age location. Unlike these peers, I am desensitised to the beauties of the place I call home. My ability to romanticise this city is marred by the realities which many Glaswegians face, suffering on the breadline. This disillusionment for the idealised Glasgow is encapsulated by the West End, a disproportionately privileged microcosm of Glasgow’s city landscape, boasting exceptional financial prosperity and health outcomes. The West End alone does not represent Glasgow but showcases a realm of sanitised privilege and beauty, enveloping students in artificial reality. Popping the West End bubble allows more of Glasgow’s bounty and scruff to be experienced, ensuring grittier narratives surface.
“My ability to romanticise this city is marred by the realities which many Glaswegians face, suffering on the breadline.”
An international student in one of my classes remarked that studying here must feel like an extension of childhood. I think this notion of elongated infancy is something which burdens me. I am always near everyone I have ever known, which is simultaneously comforting and juvenile. I feel disconnected from other students experiencing the city as a hub of growth, embarking on independence and new experiences. The old adage states that you cannot evolve without leaving your comfort zone. Glasgow is my comfort zone.
As of now, I am about to move out for the first time in pursuit of adulthood. With savings in my pocket, I feel more able to ditch the leafy safety net of suburbia than I did all those years ago when I ticked that box for Glasgow and not Aberdeen.
I travelled on the bus recently after visiting an old friend. I was feeling vulnerable for the first time in a long while, and the familiarity of the bus route kept me calm. Before arriving at George Square, the bus journeyed through Finnieston, Anderston and Garnethill. To regulate my emotions, I noted just how much greenery takes up the space in Glasgow. The green frames the adornments of Victorian architecture which meld with the modern metropolis, the River Clyde always churning beneath it all. The bus driver spoke to me, and I said hello to some elderly ladies who complimented my shoes. As I finish writing, I am sitting on another bus now, from Edinburgh to Glasgow. I had to put my laptop away as a fabulously drunk and stoned fifty-nine-year-old Glaswegian enlightened me on anarchism’s power and how Killing Joke’s music sounds like “nature vomiting”. His charm won my apprehension over, and our hour-long friendship proved a hilarious tonic for my ruminating mind.
The warmth of her people is undoubtedly Glasgow’s most beautiful offering, and the mere sound of a Glasgow lilt in an unfamiliar environment can help ease my thoughts. Similarly, Glasgow’s newfound residents who idealise the city are also crucial to the beauty of this place. They remake our shared home into a serene, cinematic image, a lens through which I would like to view my city from now on.
How we inhabit physical space is influenced by our emotions, and I know that Glasgow makes me feel safe when I need it to, and I make it feel safe to others.