Ralph Glasser (1986) Growing up in The Gorbals.

I gave up on Scotland. I’m as patriotic as the next man, but I could only watch a bit of their game against Serbia. It was 0-0 at half time. We’ll lose. We always do. Growing up in the Gorbals is one of my favourite books. It’s a coming of age drama set in a period when even the plague rats demanded new housing. Glasser is Jewish and an outsider. Kids don’t know whether to batter him for being a Proddy or a Catholic, or just leave him alone. The first chapter is called ‘Charlie disappears to Russia’. ‘Charlie Varnett said, ‘We’re all going back to Russia soon.’ They were Lithuanian and with the five year plan and the ten year plan the economy was booming –so it was said. His letters to his best friend went unanswered. He learns not to score 100% in exams because other kids don’t like it. When he is seven or eight he explains to his sister, a mother figure, that a mind can’t grasp infinity so it puts up barriers to try and contain it. As an adolescent he attends a lecture given by the most well-known man in the world at Glasgow University and realises he knows more about the theory of relativity than those sitting swapping jokes in robed gowns. Ralph spends most of his time mooching about, working on ‘the donkey’, a metal contraption that presses down on newly cut cloth, reading and thinking in the reading rooms of The Mitchell library. His precocious knowledge however is doomed to be worn down by a hard life, but for a fluke. He enters a competition run by Oxford and offering a scholarship. I think the question was ‘Has science made the world a better place?’ His answer was no. That got me thinking and my answer would be yes. Every chapter in this book brings to life different characters and the predicaments they face. In an ugly environment beauty shines and burns out too quickly. This a reminder what a waste land of humanity looks like.