Tuesday, August 06, 2013



Eight year old Ralph was in tears when his little friend Charlie left Glasgow and went off to live in Russia.

The Russia of 1927 was supposed to be some kind of Utopia.

Russia 1927

But Ralph was not a believer in Utopias.

Ralph's mother had died of cancer.

Shared toilets in the Gorbals often overflowed. "Rats and mice moved about freely, seeming to share the accomodation with us grudgingly..."

Ralph lived in the Gorbals, a slum of the sort that can be found in Calcutta.

In the Gorbals many children suffered from rickets and went about barefoot.

Gorbals by Bert Hardy. "The streets were slippery with refuse and often with drunken vomit. It was a place of grime and poverty"

Ralph went to the station to see Charlie off. 

Ralph did not accompany Charlie's family onto the platform as he could not afford the platform ticket.

"Ralph's eyes were so full of tears that he could see Charlie only dimly through them...

"Charlie pressed against the iron trellis gates, and stared and stared and poured tears on to the cold metal."

Russia in the 1920s

Ralph wrote to Charlie many times.

Months went by.

No letter came.

Ralph was not a believer in Utopias.

Gorbals by Bert Hardy.

Ralph Glasser, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, has been compared to Zola and Gorky.

Ralph Glasser won a scholarship to Oxford and became a writer, an economist, a psychologist and an adviser to developing countries.

Ralph Glasser - Telegraph


Ralph Glasser's memoirs "tackle the Big Questions, from the meaning of life to the travails of love: rhetorical questions abound, as do capitalised references to Destiny and Providence."

Gorbals. The Victorian building, in red sandstone blackened by smoke…was in decay. Splintered and broken floorboards sometimes gave way under your feet. Interior walls carried patches of stain from a long succession of burst pipes."

Ralph Glasser was born in 1916, and was brought up in Glasgow's Gorbals, one of the worst slums in Europe.

Gorbals by Bert Hardy

 Ralph lived on the top floor of a three-storey tenement in Warwick Street.

"The lavatory on the landing, shared with several other families, frequently overflowed, and young Ralph shared a bed with his parents in an alcove off the kitchen.

"His mother died when he was six, his two older sisters decamped as soon as they could, and Ralph was left alone with his father, whose addiction to gambling made life still more perilous."

Ralph Glasser - Telegraph


Ralph left school at 14 and went to work as a "soap boy" in a barber's shop, and then as a presser in a garment factory.

Ralph spent his evenings in the public library and at night school.

Gorbals by Bert Hardy

At the end of the 1930s Ralph won a scholarship to Oxford.

Ralph could not afford the train fare from Glasgow to Oxford.

So Ralph cycled the whole way, 400 miles.

Gorbals by Bert hardy

Philip Toynbee tried, without success, to enroll Ralph in the Communist Party.

Ralph wrote Growing up in the Gorbals (1986), Gorbals Boy at Oxford (1988), Gorbals Voices, Siren Songs (1990), The Far Side of Desire (1994) and Gorbals Legacy (2000).

Gorbals by Nick Hedges.

Ralph Glasser was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants.

Ralph Glasser The Gorbals boy who cycled to Oxford University

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bert Hardy = top photographer.

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