Lovers of the Para Handy stories may not know that the author Neil Munro (https://bit.ly/2oKm2JT) also wrote humorous stories about other characters living in and around Glasgow. Here is a tale from his stories of Erchie, a sometime beadle (church warden) and waiter, in conversation with Duffy, a coal merchant. This was written in 1922 and laments the state of traffic chaos in the centre of Glasgow; gridlocked streets are nothing new. The characters speculate on the extent of traffic congestion 20 years hence in 1942 and Erchie opines “twenty years from noo, when everybody has a motor-car; ye’ll see some fun!”. Erchie also make the astute observation that the size of the Glasgow roads are fixed (aren’t made of rubber) and that thus can’t take the ever increasing levels of traffic demanded of them by an increasing population. After nearly 100 years, Neil Munro’s 1922 tale provides an interesting perspective from which to view our 21st century traffic woes. It always seems to be the safety of the poor old pedestrian that gets forgotten in all our great transport schemes.
GLASGOW IN 1942, Neil Munro
“The only consolation I ha’e in gettin’ auld,” said Erchie,”is that wherever I am in twenty years it’ll no’ be in Gleska.”
“Ye’ll may be in a far waur place,” suggested Duffy ,drily.
“I couldna be. Conan Doyle has nae intelligence o’ trams and motor-cars on the Ither Side (Conan Doyle was a convert to spiritualism); ye jist skliff aboot on your feet or whiles tak’ a flee to yoursel’. There’s nae vehicular traffic. Mr Dalrymple’ll (Dalrymple was GM of Glasgow Corporation Tramways 1904 – 1926, https://bit.ly/2wPOCht) get an awfu’ start when they hand him a trumpet and gie him a job in the orchestra. There’ll be naething in his ain line for him to dae.”
“What’II we get to dae oorsels?” inquired the coalman, entering into the spirit of these speculations.
“I’m a’ richt!” said Erchie blythly. “There’s bound to be some jobs suitable for a chap accustomed to handing ’round a tray. You bein’ in the fuel tred of course ye’ll be in the ither department …. Did ye ever in your life see such a habble?”
They stood at the upper end of Jamaica Street, held up by a maelstrom of traffic that made any attempt to cross look suicidal. North and South, as far as the eye could see was an unbroken line of inanimate tramcars. On the narrow margins on either side, automobiles, waggons, lorries followed each other closely.
“When I mind first o’ Gleska,” said Erchie, “there was some kind o’ pleesure in gaun aboot in’t; ye didna take your life in your hand if ye stepped aff the pavement. The folk that came in frae the country then – ye would see them daunderin’ up the middle o’ Jamaica Street the same’s it was the Crow Road oot to Fintry. As late as the early ’80’s I’ve seen the point polisman oot in the middle o’ the crossin’ there talkin’ Gaelic for half an oor at a time wi’a wheen o’ his kizzens new aff a trip frae Campbeltown. Just every noo and then he would birl his whistle and let a hearse or a beer lorry past. Some o’ the polismen had their books wi’ them and carried on their studies for the college. They were fed up with the loneliness o’ their job at Jamaica Street, and the craze wi’ some o’ them was to get a nice wee manse in some brisk place like Invergordon.“
“It’s gettin worse and worse every year; a man’s no safe to tak’ drink noo on a Setterday if he’s gaun to venture nearer the centre o’ the toon than Possilpark or the Halfway Hoose. He’ll get nailed as sure as fate unless he tak’s a tramway car.”
“That’s maybe Mr Dalrymple’s notion – to abolish walkin’ althegither. But the problem will aye be hoo to cross the street.” “Aboot 1942, if I’m no’ mistaken, everybody in Gleska ‘ II have his jeckets made wi’ a ring in the middle o’ the back.”
“What for?” asked Duffy.
“To cross the streets wi’. They’ll sling him across on overhead wires, and the ring’s ‘II be needed to hook him on wi’ ‘The Dalrymple Patent Safety-First Slinger. Ball bearin’s. No jerk at the start and no jar on landin’ .’ There’ll be cross-traffic underground escalators too; ye’ll go doon a hole at Simpson’s comer; slide under the main drain-pipes and come up at Chrystal Bell’s Soda Fountain.”
“This is a fair beezer!” said Duffy, surveying the congested thoroughfare. “Maybe we should go do on to the Boomielaw and work oor way roond by Finnieston.”
“Whit ye’re seein’ there, Duffy,” said Erchie, gravely, ” is the Triumph o’ Civilization, and the Age o’ Progress. It’s maybe a bit awkward for the like o’ you and me no’ to get the safe and rational use o’ the Gleska highway, but consider the swellin’ revenue o’ the Tramway Department and the praise that Gleska gets in the foreign newspapers for tramways that mair than pay their way! “Do you know that 10,000 tramway cars and other vehicles no’ coontin’ bassinettes (prams) pass this comer every day? There’s gaun to be mair, too. They’re gaun to chip aff the comers o’ the crossin’ here, and mak’ a kind o’ circus (roundabout). ”
“It’ll take the place o’ Hengler’s,” (a circus on Sauchiehall St, https://bit.ly/2oIuCJ8) suggested Duffy seriously. “We’ll can see Doodles again.” (a clown at Hengler’s Circus)
“It’s no’ that kind o’ circus exactly,” explained Erchie. “You and me ‘II be the Doodles. It’ll look fine on the map, the circus, but it’ll no mak’ the least wee difference on the problem o’ congested traffic in Argyle Street, JamaIca Street, and Union Street; there’ll no’ be ony mair room for jazzing between the cars.”
“I see, ” said Duffy, “they’re gaun to hae a ‘No-Accident Week’ in Gleska soon; it should bring a lot o’ folk in frae the Mearns’ that’s frichtened to venture in at ordinar’ times. Whit’ll be the safety tips, I wonder?”
“I hear a rumour that, over the city generally, pedestrians is only to get movin’ aboot on the convoy system twelve at a time, in the chairge o’ a policeman carryin’ a red flag. For the No-Accident Week every car ‘II ha’e a cow-catcher on the front and a steamboat bell. Naebody allo’ed to walk in the main thoroughfares except athletes; women and children that’ll no tak’ the trams ‘II be conveyed in tanks kindly lent for the occasion by the War Office. Motor car and locomotive boiler traffic confined to the West-End Park. First Aid Hospital at the corner of Gordon Street and Hope Street and a bulletin board in George’s Square givin’ the casualties from hour to hour. “Any bloomin’ thing, Duffy, that’ll mak you and me believe that life and limb’s as safe in the streets o’ Gleska as in Balmoral Castle. Of course they’re no’, and never will be In oor time. “The streets in the middle o’ Gleska were laid oot for a population no’ the size o’ Greenock. The great mistake was that they werena made o’ kahouchy.” (rubber) As lang as Menzies busses and the horse had the cairryin’ traffic there was nae great inconvenience to the foot passenger; he could stop In the middle o’ the street and tie his laces, and there wasna ony need for an ambulance. “But any kahouchy quality the streets had vanished when the tram-rail and the motor came in vogue. Nae human Ingenuity noo can widen them to accommodate safely what’s expected o’ them. In the past ten years the population’s risen a quarter o’ a million; the traffic’s speeded up at least four times what it used to be when the horse was bloomin’; and twenty years from noo, when everybody has a motor-car; ye’ll see some fun! The Tramway Department in 1942 ‘II need to hae break-do on gangs continually on the move, wi’ derricks to deal wi’ the street fatalities. ”
“But maybe there’ll be nae tramway cars,” suggested the coalman hopefully.