Dundee’s French Quarter is situated in the west end of the city. Stretching from Dudhope Castle through to Balgay Park. Start at Blackness Road and head north until Ancrum Road.
I proudly reside in the heart of the French Quarter, just off Petit Four Street and on the corner of the infamous Bènviè Road.
I can’t think of one person in the area who talks French, few even speak English and many like to communicate through snarled slurs or grotesque grunts but I once saw Angie Claire in a beret and a striped breton so that’s French enough for me. Once described by Jackson Craigie as a throughway of Dundee, Cleghorn Street is full of hustle and bustle, predominately of dark behaviour. A cultural shock of families of every ethnic origin, students, junkies, alcoholics and allegedly women of the night. The bins are rarely emptied, staffies run wild and free short of their leads and bereft of owners and the one-eyed fat alley cat affectionately named gypsy sneaks in the back doors of houses filling her boots with soured milk and tinned tuna.
Round the corner you will find the Friary, a beautiful church, grand in stature and once home of Catholic ceremonies, dance classes and fabulously drunken summer fetes until priest in residence Father Eugene disbanded from the faith and jumped ship to Spain with his congregational mistress whom was twenty years his junior. Across the road you will find the Johnstones, newlyweds just fresh from their honeymoon and in the first flush of romance. Their mature years serve them well and both enjoy curling up on the sofa with separate copies of ‘The Tully’ rarely conversing a single word. In the same small flat, festering away in a room which can only be described as half way between an uber cool antique shop and Beirut sleeps Ruadhan Scanlan, a budding artist, opinionated beyond reason and possibly the coolest cat I have ever set my eyes on. Ruadhan loathes work and relishes in partying. Heavy in her beliefs, she is a prolific agitator and antagonist and one day I hope she runs for president. Her twin sister Ellie recently moved from the area to a classier suburb just off the Perth Road. Ellie at the tender age of nineteen finds self sufficiency difficult and often comes back to the nest to eat ham rolls and her body weight in pickled onion crisps. I can’t imagine she washes her own clothes either and Mrs Johnstone’s parlour often resembles a 1950’s washhoose.
A minute’s walk will take you to Kat and Nessie’s flat, a beautifully cosy abode they share with Bramble and Ralph their fluffy rag doll cats. Kat is a champion childminder and lovingly looks after three of the Scanlan rascals Freddie, Oscar and Ruby. The kids dote on Kat as do their parents and if you ever need a shot of positivity then her benign personality will give you just that.
A hop, skip and a jump brings you to the Craigie household where Jackson lives alone. If you ever decide to visit him then be sure to take a torch as the closey light is never on and it’s inevitable you will trip and fall over the black bags and empty pizza boxes that crowd his front door. More often than not you will find Jackson along with Chaz, Dylan and Jon in a plume of smoke surrounded by more than two dozen empty space raider packets, playing FIFA or discussing the five states of sleep and consciousness including delirium and REM whilst skilfully strumming the guitar and scraggly writing down lyrics. A radiant bunch of boys with welcoming presence and thoughtful manners. Many wild parties have been thrown at this dwelling and often result in me swinging from the light fitting or jumping through the sofa bed.
Stroll a hundred yards along Petit Four Street and you come to the Rattray’s where Evan and Kathryn live with their two curious kids Daisy and Jacob. The Rattray’s home is the social hub of the district and if you ever visit you will find a cosy group of mums gossiping whilst drinking Kathryn’s homemade herb tea or more than likely a bottle of Cairn o’ Mohr. The kids enjoyably fend for themselves and love making mischief in the middle park or patiently painting on the kitchen table. Eclectic furnishings, high pitched laughter and chat full of conspiracy theories. It’s a well known fact that Kathryn Rattray may well be a member of the CIA. If only walls could talk…
Right next door is Studio 51, run by Mrs Rattray who, amongst her many other talents, is a pro photographer and anyone who is anyone has had a profile taken at this well known establishment.
A wee march down City Road will take you past The Queen Anne, a cheery wee public house where The Poley Mad Squad like to congregate, specifically on a Sunday when the karaoke is in full swing. Many characters can be found in the scraggy tavern including Jimmy Buble, Dundee’s famous singing taxi driver. Jimmy is always up first with renditions of Frank Sinatra classics. By the end of the evening everyone is riotously dancing on bar stools, pouring their own pints and there was once an incident where I ended up with Newcastle Don’s false teeth not only in my mouth but also in my handbag.
We have local celebrities here too. Fashion designer Hayley Scanlan resides just next door with her twin boys. Her plush apartment bringing an air of suave to the unsophisticated area. I’m almost certain the mere mention of her well known name will push house prices up.
Artist and musical theatre connoisseur Titi Finlay stays just across the road and you are sure to hear her roaring, operatic chanting float down Glenagnes Street. Titi lives with two remarkably caring boys, Robbie and Craig who take great consideration in looking after their petite friend. Making sure she’s ok by cooking pleasant meals, rolling her cigarettes and picking her up from the club when she has had too many espresso martinis. Always keen to pull her weight, she in return keeps the house animated with her vivid paintings, child-like carefree nature and intelligent mind. You will more than likely find Titi making skilful yet frantic instagram videos in a pair of Calvin Klein pants.
Many other friends reside in these parts, including Louise Wilson who lives just on the cusp. I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting Louise’s place but with an active social life you’re sure to catch her out and about. Auntie Jean can often be seen at Balgay Park, taking her dog Charlie for long leisurely walks. Joy Gansh is another playful resident, parties are sure to be found at the stylish student’s pad and I often hear Joy screeching happily at six in the morning outside my bedroom window whilst I’m tucked up in bed. Sir Ryan ‘Herc’ Ireland lives only a few doors down, a fantastic chef and a quiet chap I often forget is there until he makes a witty joke on facebook or i bump into him at the shops. I’m still patiently waiting for my invite round to his for tea.
The Poley Penthouse is where Ruby and I call home and with prolific views of the city’s Law Hill and River Tay I can only dream of a better location. I am predominately found in the VEF headquarters (kitchen) cooking baked ouefs on Gary my 1970s electric cooker or writing comfortably at the kitchen table wearing a cowl neck fleece and socks with my Birkenstocks, Etta James or 1894 overture blasting out the radio. Give me a penthouse apartment looking over Central Park in Manhattan and I’ll take it, a condo on Miami Beach and I’ll grab it, a chateaux in the South of France and it’s mine but in Dundee, there is no place I’d rather be. The quirky flat kitted out with our favourite things and comfy surroundings is more than we will ever need. The door is always open and friends are more than welcome. We have never felt more comfortable in the place we call home.
You can buy your wares from Cleggie News or Cleggie Booze who are always there to lend a hand. Have a quick trim up at Cara’s Barbers or head to Mr Singh’s for homemade samosas, I’ve heard from a reputable source that Mya’s vindaloo is the best and the hottest in the toon.
Most important and best of all, even though we may not be French, everyone who communes in the french quarter cares and looks out for each other. We stick together and share the load to make our life easier, as well as trying to make a difference to our loveable but challenging surroundings.
Lets make Bènviè Road brighter.
Long live the VEF and The Queen Anne, where everybody knows your name.