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Poems and Stories by George Scott Wilkie
The Vertical Village

A look back at life in a Leith tenement.

I’ve read the moaning, groaning books, Angela’s Ashes and The Road to Nab End,
But both of their authors drive me right round the bend
With their self-pitying girning at being born so poor
You can tell that they’re not Scottish for we’d show them the door.

They talk of inner-city deprivation, that’s why the poor lad’s turned into a lout,
Well, I was born and bred in an inner city and I say they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Too many people look at grey tenements and get the hump. “
Isn’t it disgusting that poor people have to live in such squalor, why can’t they get decent jobs and move away from this depressing dump”.

The best description I ever heard of the tenements, or stairs, or closes,
Was when I heard them described as vertical villages.
Whoever said that was a man of great profundity
But doubtless many would claim that was a total absurdity.

My own wee village street had thirty-six stairs each with twelve wee houses,
Nowadays they call them flats, or apartments, but we never had such fancy choices.
Our wee house remained the hoose, the stair was never owt but the stair,
Wi’ a’ our relations a’ living so near, we thought it was rare.

Now each of these houses had on average three living souls,
All working or retired, certainly not collecting the dole.
So if you multiply 3 by 12 by 36, the answer comes to 1296.
All these people living in one street and no trouble did we ever meet.

You see, they were skilled workers the men of the street Who got on with their lives without a girn or a greet.
If the women were married, then they stayed in their hoose
Latch-key bairns were unheard of running wild, running loose.

In these days the families all lived side by side,
Your aunties and uncles close by you would bide.
My mother’s two sisters, her brother and a’
Lived all close together, just a knock on the wa’.

The men of the street may have worked with their hands
But they knew what was happening throughout the land.
They could comment very wisely on affairs of the state
And on Sunday morning for church they’d never be late.

One old chap I remember, he painted in oils,
He’d do a shift in the coal yard then sit down painting flowers.
Books from the library were a source of much learning
No envy, no slacking, no time wasted in yearning.

Us kids went to youth clubs, BB’s or the Scouts,
The Guides or the Brownies, there were plenty about.
We went spick and span, in our uniforms bright,
On buses and trams we travelled safely at night.

When us lads were eighteen a brown envelope came
To tell us to join up, it was time to leave hame.
The Army and Air Force, they banged us in line,
A few got the navy and the ships of the line.

So where did it go to, our idyllic youth,
It went in the 60’s and that is the truth.
No more National Service saw the end of respect
For your betters and elders, but Oh, what the heck.

In came the druggies, the pot heads, the loons,
Out went society, shot down like a balloon.
Forget about marriage, just shack up wi’ your lass,
These old folk know nothing, so stick that up their arse.

The polis stopped walking around on their beat,
We no longer saw them strolling the street.
They took to their cars driving all around
Missing out on the places where the nutters were found.

Our village has gone though the houses still stand,
Not just our street but right through the land,
Where the artisans lived and were proud honest men,
Tarts now sell their bodies for a fix of heroin.

The stairs, once so clean and looked after so nice
Now stink like the lavvie with the reeking of vice.
No milkboys now whistle in the dark, scary stairs
No girls carrying papers now ever would dare.

As society moves forward, there’s a chunk left behind,
Some folk have no interest in being part of mankind.
Squalor and filth seem to suit them ok,
Till the black van arrives and takes them away.

I mourn for our village, I mourn for the past,
But I ought to have known that good things seldom last.
I mourn for our neighbours, now strewn o’er the land,
I now look around and hold my head in my hands.

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