Lorne Jackson

DOUGLAS Timmins stood at the door of the nightclub he managed in Melrose Place and gazed up into the Hollywood Hills. The Pacific Ocean lapped lazily nearby. It was the only lazy thing in LA. Everything else was go, go, go.

Including Douglas, bracing himself for the night ahead. Would Whitney Houston slink into the club? Possibly. She’d been before. Those fresh-faced celebrity brats would certainly be coming. The Beverley Hills 90210 kids couldn’t stay away. Or the gang from Friends.

As Douglas stood there, Hollywood happy, California content, his thoughts kept sneaking away from him. They clambered over the Hollywood sign, swam the pacific ocean, thumbed a lift to Glasgow. And came to rest in the West End of that faraway city.

Douglas Timmins, now 70, has led an extraordinary life. He has seen it all, been it all. Survived more scrapes than a schoolboy’s knee. Travelled extensively, too. But Glasgow’s West End always draws him back.

“For a Glasgow boy like me, living and working in Hollywood was a dream come true,” Douglas tells me.

“Even so, every now and again that feeling would come over me. I’d realise I was thousands of miles from home. All of a sudden it seemed a really, really long way. I missed my friends. I missed the West End of Glasgow.”

The West End is where I bump into Douglas, a legendary figure in these parts. He’s been a fixture here, on and off, since the late 1960s, when he worked as a barman at a local drinking den. There have been many jobs, and many Douglases, since those days. He’s a fascinating group of people. And a good person to chat to if you truly want to understand the bohemian enclave that is Glasgow’s West End.

This part of town has always been a little bit different. The people are a puzzle to the uninitiated. They march to their own drum. (Actually, it’s hard to imagine anyone round here marching, let alone to a drum. They probably sashay to a digeridoo.)

Booze and womanising

The West End’s unique culture was recently celebrated when Time Out magazine voted it the coolest place to live in Scotland.

Which brings me back to Douglas, who is certainly cool in that quirky, quixotic way that can only be experienced in this part of town.

His personality is too huge, and barnacled in eccentricities, to fit in comfortably anywhere else. With his voice like tractor tyres crunching through pebbles, and a face more weathered than a Mount Rushmore President, he seems to have sauntered straight out of a Damon Runyon short story. Douglas Timmons is a Guys and Dolls sorta guy.

And, like so many West Enders, he has tales to tell. Raised in Mount Vernon, he hitched up his wagon and followed the trail west after hearing from a friend that glamorous Swedish blondes were in much abundance in this part of town.

No Swedish blondes did Douglas find, though he stuck around anyway, and became a settler. Douglas has enjoyed a variety of jobs. He trained as a tailor, though left after a member of the Calton Tong, who frequented the shop where Douglas worked, threatened him with a knife and demanded the contents of the till.

“He happened to be standing next to a hatch that led down to this cavernous cellar,” says Douglas. “So I just pushed him down. He broke his legs and all his mates came back to get me. I decided it was an excellent time to leave that particular job.”

A wide range of occupations followed. Douglas worked briefly as a journalist. He inserted free gifts in comics. He worked in the metal industry, where he met David Murray, a close friend. He set up a modelling agency, and hired a young unknown called Carol Smillie.

He also opened a West End bar and revelled in booze and womanising. Thus his dosh was squandered, and he nearly lost his life, too, when an unforgiving ex hired hitmen to bump him off.

“You always think plotters are intelligent,” Douglas muses. “But not necessarily. What should be straight forward and simple becomes complicated, and they talk everything to death. They go and tell somebody, who tells you. And you stop it.”

And how did Douglas prevent this attempt on his life?

“Let’s just say there was a pavement debate with the chap who arranged my assassination,” says Douglas, enigmatically.

It was another failed romance that led Douglas to flee to America in the early 1990s, where he found employment as a gym instructor. (Impressive, really, as he was now living in the fitness capital of the world, and had only recently stopped boozing and smoking fags.)

Next he worked in nightclubs, as a bouncer and manager. He even got mixed up in the LA riots, and, at one point, worked as a bodyguard for a Russian billionaire who lived near Bob Dylan’s Malibu pad.

“He was a legend for not paying his bills,” says Douglas. “And people would come after him. So he handed me a pump-action shotgun and a Smith & Wesson 38. I told him I didn’t have a license to use guns. I didn’t even have a licence to be in America.”

Eventually Douglas returned to Glasgow and his beloved West End, where he still enjoys meeting new people, and immersing himself in the local culture. “The West End is blossoming, it’s burgeoning, it’s blooming,” he says. “And that’s what I love. Whenever I travel away, I have to come back.”

I know what Douglas means.

Opium den

Even the local second-hand bookstore, Voltaire & Rousseau, is a joy to visit. Imagine Waterstones after an earthquake, and you’ll begin to understand the special ambience that permeates V&R.

In Waterstones the books stand rigid and regimented. In V&R they sprawl and lounge and hunker in heaps.

These mounds of literature don’t demand to be read, they yearn to be bagged, like a Munro. While browsing in this Aladdin’s bazaar I spot a voluptuous and decadent cushion lying atop a towering babel of ancient Bibles. You can almost imagine a debauched aristocrat resting his head upon such a pillow in some 1920s opium den.

A moment later that same pillow yawns, stretches and purrs. It turns out to be a cat who lives in the shop. His name is B.B. Just another West End hipster.

Animals are definitely as exotic as their owners in this neck of the woods. As are their tastes. A local pet store sells Pawseco ‘wine’ for cats and dogs.

Even the hairdressers aren’t content to merely snip the fuzzy tops of customer’s heads.

Joseph Goss, who owns Rum Barber, tells me he’s also a filmmaker.

He, and his business partner, Paul Montgomery, have set up their own YouTube channel, where they create wacky hairdressing content with special effects.

They already have over twenty-two thousand subscribers, many in America, where their fanbase is growing rapidly.

Such a buzz

This can-do creativity and ability to think beyond borders is very much a West End aesthetic.

“We’re trying our best to be media stars,” laughs Joseph. “Our films aren’t exactly James Cameronesque. But they are fun little quirky things that hopefully make us stand out from the crowd.”

Standing out from the crowd is exactly what the Ubiquitous Chip on Ashton Lane has been doing since opening in 1971.

In many ways it’s the epicentre of the West End, a boho bar and restaurant where the edgier boys and girls hang out, hob knob and raise hell. (Allegedly.)

Gabriel Etchells is marketing assistant at the Chip. The twenty-two-year-old graduated from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen last year. Now settled in the West End, the area reminds her of her days and nights hitting the textbooks. (And bars and clubs.)

“With Glasgow University nearby, it’s very student orientated,” she says. “But the West End’s unique because it’s such a mix of young and old. You have the history, the culture, the art and music. Then there’s the young people coming in, shaking things up, making their presence felt.

“I’d say the West End is always flowing, yet never moving. It’s such a unique place. It really is a buzz to live here.”