The Horror! The Horror! Dr Quin Recalls Glasgow, Circa 1983

Medic turned critic, John Quin recalls his time at Glasgow Royal Infirmary in the early 80s in an exclusive extract from his new book, Dr Quin Medicine Man

By John Quin

Glasgow has had a gang problem for years, razor boys like the Tongs and the Fleet. There’s maybe a hundred or more with daft names like the Sighthill Mafia, the Young Shettleston Tigers, the Carmyle Tahiti. Back in the 80s the top gangster was Arthur Thompson. He might nail you to a floor. Drug rivalries made the city ripe for turf wars.

The Doyle family came in as a group package after their house was firebombed. This was part of an ongoing gang feud now known as the Ice Cream War, a conflict that arose around local heroin sales. Ice cream vans would ramble around the meaner estates selling 99s, ice cream cones embedded with pillars of chocolate flake. But they’d also sell you a few bags of scag and a yellow plastic ‘sin bin’ full of used needles nicked from the hospital. The director of Gregory’s Girl, Bill Forsyth, made a movie that chimed with the madness. He named the picture (with dark irony) Comfort and Joy.

I arrive for the morning shift just after seven a.m. to carnage. What were white coats on the backs of my colleagues are now black rags stained with soot. Most of the Doyle family died of smoke inhalation. Maybe about five of them made it to A+E first before succumbing in ITU. I meet my friend Paul at the handover as we swapped shifts, his face smeared with black stains. He looks shell-shocked, exhausted, his pupils large, his sleepless eyes heavy:

“It wouldn’t have been so bad but we had to repeat lots of the bloods. We filled out the forms saying here’s blood from a Mr. J. Doyle. But then we realised they were called Jim and Johnny and Joe. And so we had to do them all over again.”

Some nights I’d cross the car-park in the dark and get back to my room in the residences around two in the morning and play Sons of Pioneers by Japan and stare out at the empty M8 with its flashing yellow signs warning of ice, its slick surface brightly lit by the overhead gantries. Sons of Pioneers, the hungry men. I thought of myself as one of those hungry men, hungry for action. One month in country and I was getting used to it, getting into it. Being in A+E felt similar to being in the jungle under fire. I saw Big Pat, my senior colleague, was another Martin Sheen figure, another Captain Willard who had been in firefights, had ran point more times than he could care to mention. Pat was the guy who shouts ‘fire in the hole!’

And me? I was more like that wired no-nothing teenager from some South Bronx shithole. I came from a slightly tamer variant of the Wild West known as Westwood, East Kilbride: a ‘new’ town famed for its roundabouts. Polo-mint city.

I looked out at the motorway and its shadows and felt the early hours drag by. Watching the occasional lonely car zip west through the rain I knew I should try to sleep but my mind kept going over and over the craziness I’d seen earlier that day. A wee girl of seven with 80 per cent burns, a sight I’d never want to see again.

A+E was my war zone and the trips down there were an adrenalised high away from the steadiness of my ward, my boat if you like. I’d have that line of Captain Willard’s buzzing in my head every time I’d escape the hole, the hell of Casualty and get back to the wards or my kip overlooking the motorway, my hootch: never get out of the boat. I resolved to spend as much time as I could on my own boat: the ward in the block high above A+E.

A+E was like the sea, unimaginable in its fury at times. John Berger compares a doctor’s role to being not dissimilar to that of one of Joseph Conrad’s Master Mariners. But I could see how as a mariner you could become lost and desensitised, and I got a sense of how you could even become despairing, like Pat, thrashing out. Ultimately you might become a total degenerate like Colonel Kurtz, a Harold Shipman figure deciding arbitrarily who would live and who would die.

I would not become a consultant A+E doctor.

That kid, that wee girl. What had I just seen? Something I’d never visualised before and hope would never see again. But I’ve never been able to forget her image. What I saw was seared into my brain. When we see something horrific (something we’ve never come across even in photographic reproduction or TV or the movies) the retina receives the image and relays it the brain where we try to make sense of what has just happened. But I couldn’t make sense of this: not at first.

I’m standing in one of those jaundiced corridors of A+E about to clerk someone in. I’ve got my paperwork in my hands. And then there is a palpable sense of fear. People are running. Then she swept past me on a trolley fast on her way to Room Nine and the paediatric resuscitation team. There was a frantic air, a buzz of panic, and a sudden pallor in the faces of those who would try to save her. I saw the scarlet anger of her injuries. Both of her legs were bright red, this I remember. More of those black soot stains too that reminded me of the Doyle family, stains on her arms, stains on the white sheets. Even now I realise that I have been suppressing something. This is how we deal with true horror. How we try and forget the truly awful detail. But now I remember it all. The red colour was her legs and it extended upwards; the red line stopped on her tummy. I saw something you should never see. And I knew she would die. Here was a child in great suffering. And me? I stood paralysed in uncontrolled pity.

I knew now too that I could never become a paediatrician.

But A+E was, in many ways, less of a Coppola madhouse, at times it was much more like a Mike Leigh movie: a Mike Leigh movie starring some of the saddest dafties on the planet. Bampots like those vacant-faced junkies who injected their femoral arteries with temazepam. They would then look down in appalled wonder at the mottled, marbled, pre-gangrenous appearance of their leg and say: aye, just lap it aff doctor.

Dr Quin, Medicine Man by John Quin is published by Biteback Publishing

Source: The Quietus | Features | Tome On The Range | The Horror! The Horror! Dr Quin Recalls Glasgow A+E, Circa 1983

My Glasgow: Clare Grogan

Clare Grogan was a waitress at the Spaghetti Factory in the West End – where Stravaigan is now – in 1980 when she was discovered by director Bill Forsyth, who cast her alongside members of the Glasgow Youth Theatre in Gregory’s Girl. Shortly afterwards, her band, Altered Images, signed a record deal for their debut LP, Happy Birthday.

Altered Images went on to tour and release music until 1984 when Clare went solo. She has continued her acting and performing career, adding television presenting and writing a children’s novel, Tallulah and the Teenstars, about a girl who forms a pop band.

Clare remembers some of her favourite Glasgow people and places, a feature from The Best of Glasgow City Guide and Cookbook.

Glasgow Life/Damian Shields

My Glasgow

I have travelled the world and although I’m biased, I think Glasgow has an amazing amount to offer. The buildings are spectacular, the arts, music and culture scene is incredibly diverse and inclusive. And the curries are the best. 

My daughter Elle asked me when she was little if everyone in Glasgow knew each other – I explained that people in Glasgow are the friendliest people I’ve ever come across.  We try to keep that flag waving in London where we live.

My earliest memories here are of growing up in Hill Street and being afraid of the Art School building around the corner. I remember my great aunt Winnie playing the organ at St Aloysius Church and watching films sitting on my mum’s knee at the ABC cinema on Sauchiehall Street.

Our neighbours, the Capaldis, gave me and my sisters Margaret and Kathleen chewing gum – which we were not allowed. I also remember my Dad’s spag bols. And new shoes from Clarks at the start of every school term.

Kelvingrove Park

I had my first cappuccino in Cafe Gandolfi – still one of my favourite places to meet and eat.

I also love the Kelvingrove Gallery – my parents took us when we were little and I go every year. It’s particularly amazing if someone is playing the organ.

I love the Centre for Contemporary Arts and I love the Citizens Theatre – where I saw my first naked man!

I can’t leave out the No 59 bus…don’t know if it’s still a thing, but it took me everywhere I needed to go and I had the best laughs at the back of the bus on it.

When I think of Glasgow I think of crossing the Kingston Bridge and looking both ways down the Clyde.

It’s still one of my favourite places to shop and I still love running occasionally to all the corners of Bellahouston Park where I used to run when we moved to the Southside.

I love Glasgow every which way – it’s in every bit of me.

Source: My Glasgow: Clare Grogan – Glasgowist

Gregory’s Girl: the little British film that charmed the world

It’s 40 years since the Scottish romcom, starring a cast of unknowns, became a surprise hit – and paved the way for talents like Danny Boyle

By Tim Robey

“The British are coming!”. With these infamous words at the 1982 Oscars, Colin Welland collected his trophy for the Chariots of Fire screenplay. Perhaps surprisingly, though, he lost the Bafta that year to a proudly Scottish success story.

That film was Gregory’s Girl, the tale of a shy, lanky schoolboy (John Gordon Sinclair) and his hapless attempts to woo the girl (Dee Hepburn) who has taken his place on the football team. This unassuming romantic comedy, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this month, is a classic example of a low-key production which could have disappeared, but won such enthusiastic word-of-mouth acclaim that it ended up becoming a far bigger hit than its Glaswegian director, 34-year-old Bill Forsyth, ever dreamed of.

Cast largely with unknown 18-year-olds plucked from Glasgow’s Youth Theatre, it was shot in 35mm over the summer of 1980 in Cumbernauld, the 1950s New Town best-known as an administrative base for the Inland Revenue. From a budget of £200,000, Gregory’s Girl would end up grossing £25.8 million around the world (not that far off the worldwide take for The Shining the previous year), and played in some London cinemas for an astounding 75 weeks.

In fact, Forsyth had intended it as an even smaller, 16mm venture when he first wrote it in 1977. But when another of his films, a larky teen heist movie called That Sinking Feeling, was a hit at the Glasgow Film Festival, he was able to put together Gregory’s Girl on a fuller scale.

John Gordon Sinclair, an apprentice electrician, had appeared in That Sinking Feeling, but was amazed to be offered the all-important role of Gregory, especially opposite Dee Hepburn, a charismatic blonde bombshell and pin-up-in-waiting who already had some acting experience on television.

“Everyone was a bit in awe of Dee,” Sinclair has admitted. Forsyth, who had noticed Hepburn in an advert, arranged for the actress to have six weeks of intensive football training at Partick Thistle FC, so that her character, Dorothy, could believably come bounding onto the pitch and leave Gregory’s dreams of being the star striker in tatters.

Ironically, despite the attention she gained here, Hepburn’s later acting career was the shortest-lived of the three main players. As well as establishing Sinclair as a familiar face on film and TV, the film launched the career of Clare Grogan, who plays Susan, the other lass waiting on the sidelines while Gregory’s infatuation with Dorothy sputters out. Susan, as anyone who has seen the film knows, is the real Gregory’s Girl.

Clare Grogan
Clare Grogan

Perhaps the freshest conceit of Forsyth’s script is that all this basically happens over the course of a single day, as Gregory dons a borrowed jacket in a nervy state to meet Dorothy, but gets stood up, and winds up having an impromptu date with Susan instead. As the afternoon fades, they find themselves lying on the grass, swapping favourite numbers, and arm-dancing at the base of a tree. It feels very true to the whimsical, slightly makeshift quality of teenage dalliances and the pains of growing up.

“I think it worked because it didn’t patronise anyone; there was a level of honesty that you don’t normally get in teen films,” Forsyth has said.

Grogan, now 59, was a part-time waitress at the Spaghetti Factory in Glasgow, when the director spotted her, mentioned he was casting a new film, and asked for her number. “My mum had warned me about strange men, so I said no! But then he contacted my manageress, who convinced me I should think about it,” she says.

She would go on to have a rambunctious performing career, not only as a stage and screen actress, but as the lead singer of the 1980s new wave band Altered Images, who got signed by CBS Records while the film was in production. Her role in Gregory’s Girl is smaller than the other two leads, but she’s the ace up its sleeve, because of Susan’s wise-beyond-her-years demeanour and her magical chemistry with Sinclair, with whom she has remained close friends over the years.

Her Louise Brooks-esque bob was a convenient way to conceal a recent facial wound, but also – like her beret – sprang fully formed from Grogan’s own precocious aesthetic. Essentially functioning as her own costume designer, she created an iconic look.

“I was really quite fond of silent movie stars,” she tells me. “I mean, I had delusions of grandeur beyond belief, even at that age! So I was quite into the style.

“I didn’t realise what an incredibly privileged position I’d ended up in until afterwards, when the reality of having a career in this business suddenly hits you. When you’re that age, and you think, ‘When I leave school, I’d like to be a film star and a pop star’? That’s what happened. And I will never understand that.”

Despite her self-confident style, Grogan, for many years, was unable to watch herself in the film and, in fact, only watched the full thing in 2015, when the BFI included Gregory’s Girl in a special Love season. She saw it with her then-ten-year-old daughter Ellie, realising that opportunities to catch it on a big screen might not come along too often again, with a child who was “just old enough to get it.”

Idyllic though Cumbernauld looks in Gregory’s Girl, 1980 was actually the worst summer in the area since 1907, and the colour of the football pitch kept changing in the rain. Nevertheless, the cast have fond memories of filming.

“Shooting never felt like work,” Sinclair told a journalist in 2015. “You knew you were getting it right because you’d see Bill’s shoulders shaking with laughter behind the camera. I had to ask him to move out of my eyeline, because it would get quite distracting.”

Grogan says she remembers a lot of it “really clearly.” “I particularly remember the part with me sitting on a bollard whistling, waiting for John Gordon to arrive. Bill had been determined that I had to be a whistler. And of course I couldn’t whistle. I was a seriously crap whistler! So I had to practice considerably.”

As for lying on the grass, trading pet integers with her co-star as they waved their hands in the air, “that very much came from Bill. I’ve been asked to do that in many places, by many different people, to recreate that moment. Including on the Tube.”

It was thanks to Gregory’s Girl’s success that a number of Scottish financing bodies sprang up in the 1980s, paving the way for the first features of Danny Boyle and Lynne Ramsay, among others. The film, as Grogan once learned, is a firm favourite of Martin Scorsese, and the influence of its quirky humanism on the likes of Wes Anderson and Shane Meadows is obvious.

Forsyth would become a critical darling with the likes of Local Hero (1983), Comfort and Joy (1984) and the sublime Housekeeping (1987), but would never again reach these heights at the box office.

With its mischievous first scene of Gregory and pals ogling an undressing girl through her bedroom window, the film’s formula is that it starts out as the Scottish, small-town equivalent of a Porky’s-esque adolescent sex comedy, and then, with an ever more tender trajectory, gets real.

Source: Gregory’s Girl: the little British film that charmed the world

Annie Lennox: To end violence against women we need global cooperation from our world leaders

Assault and violence is a living reality for millions of women in every corner of the globe

Consider the fact – recently revealed by the World Health Organisation – that one in three women face physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

Keep repeating this fact until it settles into your mind. Take a moment to reflect on what this means. It is beyond the realm of our worst nightmares, but it is a living reality for millions of women in every corner of the globe.

Assault, violence, and violation is taking place in a country, a city, a town, a village, a public space, a school, a college, an office, a street, a house, an apartment, or a room near to where you are right now.

If we are to truly end violence against women, then we need a truly global approach. Although I am encouraged to see the recent outcry, new conversations, protest and debate following Sarah Everard’s death, it pains me that it takes a particularly horrific act to trigger a public outrage.

The culture of violence and rape against women has been ‘normalised’ for decades in many countries around the world as these statistics show.


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Molly Linen’s ‘A Lot To Give’ Is Remarkable

It’s a delicate, hugely emotional return…

Glasgow based songwriter Molly Linen returns with new single ‘A Lot To Give’.

The new single was recorded at all-analogue Glasgow studio Green Door, with Molly working alongside producer Ronan Fay.

There’s a sparsity to the recording that is truly remarkable, with Molly’s softly picked guitar patterns aligned to the drone of an old air organ.

Shades of Ivor Cutler in the use of a drone, yet Molly’s vocal is in a world of its own, a suggestive, beguiling, and plaintive offering.

“An imagined conversation with an imagined person who lacks empathy,” she comments. “A heart broken like a carelessly dropped vase.”

Out now on Lost Map, you can check out ‘A Lot To Give’ below.


Source: Molly Linen’s ‘A Lot To Give’ Is Remarkable