Author Douglas Stuart on Glasgow’s ‘doocot’ culture

I grew up in the east end of Glasgow and most working-class Glaswegians have seen a doocot. My family moved often, and we lived in a variety of council housing: from the modernist, brutalist, high-rise towers of Sighthill, to the pre-sandblasted, soot-soaked tenements. No matter what housing scheme we lived on, if you walked to its edges, you would usually find a doocot built on the fringe.

Doocot o dookit is the Scottish term for a dovecote or columbarium; a structure built to nest and breed domesticated pigeons. Some doo men keep their champion pigeons in doocots cut into attic spaces or adapted garden sheds, but on the schemes I lived on, we had neither attics nor gardens, and so the men who wanted to keep pigeons built their lofts out on any piece of unclaimed ground. Aesthetically they have little in common with the traditional stone dovecotes you might find on the grounds of a manor house. The doocots I remember were monolithic towers, twenty feet tall, and they were built from salvaged materials: old Formica tabletops, screwed to corrugated iron and offcuts of MDF. It gave most doocots a rickety charm, which the men tried to disguise by painting the whole thing a uniform colour.

I was raised in some of the most socialist corners of the city, and I am proud of that. Being part of such a tight knit community came with certain understandings. We were raised to respect a code of solidarity, of equality, of fairness. All the council houses I ever lived in were uniformly designed to reinforce this sense of fairness. No one got more, or “better” than their neighbour. Outdoors, in the wider community, no one took more than their share of the back green; no mother should use a longer span of washing line than was hers to enjoy. Other than the suffocating nearness of our neighbours, the thing that united all the different types of council housing was that they rarely had a private garden, or rather, they never had a green space that was theirs alone. Everything was communal. Everything was shared.

So there was something defiant about doocots, something transgressive about these private pigeon lofts that men built for themselves on open council land. My mother thought it was a barefaced cheek. And yet they also seemed so natural, such a part of the topography of the city, and something that could only have sprung from the minds of the men of central Scotland. Después de todo, it was an innovative way of using the post-industrial landscape for our own purposes, a coping behaviour, where we made the most of the mass unemployment and the ugliness, and the failed urban planning that the government had left us with.

This is an extract from an essay that first appeared in Literary Hub
Young Mungo, Douglas Stuart’s latest novel, is published by Picador

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