Monday, June 30, 2008

Hairy: No Mean City

We lived in Glasgow, in the Red Road flats, for eight months or so in 2002/03. It wasn't a comfortable time, but added to one's knowledge of the human condition. And the experience is adding depth to No Mean City, which I'm reading just now. Not that you can lump together too blithely the book's Gorbals with modern day Springburn.

When you live in Glasgow, you learn to be wary of Neds. The ignorant often consider Neds to be the equivalent of the English Chavs, but I know both breeds and it's like comparing pit-bulls with labradors. And the "etymology" given in that Wikipedia article by Rosy Kane is frankly bollocks. My guess would be that Ned is the Grandson of Ted, etymologically as well as culturally.

The Wikipedia article also gives some female equivalents. You might hear them, but the term I heard was "hairy". And here we have a definite etymology from No Mean City.

If Mary Hay had used rouge and lipstick; if she had polished her nails instead of merely trimming them; if indeed she had sported a slightly superior 'paraffin' she would have proclaimed herself, coming as she did from a poor class tenement, as a prostitute - amateur if not professional. But she did none of these things. She was, quite definitely, 'one of the hairy' - a hatless slum girl conscious of her station in life.

The noun "hairy" comes up again and again to refer to a (hatless), poor working class young woman in the novel.

So there you go.

Incidentally, considering that this is the defining novel of the "Second City of the Empire", there are precious few web resources that I've found on it in Google and Google Scholar. I heard somewhere that it was proscribed by the Catholic Church in Scotland at one time, (which only encouraged my devout mother-in-law to read it). So if anyone googles their way to this post, and knows more about that, do tell.