Land o’ darkly rollin’ Dee, Land o’ silvery windin’ Cree, Kissed by Solway’s foamy sea, Bonnie Gallowa’
When people ask me where I’m from, I always say Edinburgh. The truth is, it’s a bit of a long story really. And not a terribly riveting one, I expect. Nonetheless, with a trip coming this weekend to the place where I was really raised, I can’t help but reminisce.
Due to my Dad’s very successful career in the fire service, we moved around a lot. With each promotion, we upped sticks and moved on. That was just the way it was and I expect that this is the root of our collective wanderlust and often itchy feet. I have no idea how many houses and flats I have lived in, throughout childhood, university and my twenties. Many of them hold great memories, some of them hold dreadful ones. But the one place that always remains my favourite is where I spent the years up to age 10. Newton Stewart, in rural Galloway. Or as I explain to people, go north, get to the border, turn left and stop just before your feet get wet. With me?
I know that I look back with an element of romantic retrospect and that I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable living there now. But as a child, in the 80s, it was idyllic. I was a pupil at a tiny school, we played in our cul-de-sac, only returning home when it was dark, or when the midgies were eating us alive. We swam in the river, threw stones into wishing wells, built dams in streams. We rode our bikes to the tops of hills and then came back down, feet off pedals, squealing with delight. And often squealing with pain when we fell off. We went to brownies or cubs, stayed with our Granny and went on forest walks at weekends. For ages, I hated the forest walks, they were SO boring. So, in a stroke of parental genius, ‘The Woodpecker’ was invented. Basically, a stick that I would push along the ground and make it jump. Like pecking. No? Well, it worked to get me on family walk. That, and lots of Creme Eggs.
We had the family yacht nearby, Ophir, a little 22 foot Westerly on which we spent lots of family time. I can look back now and think how wonderful and how lucky I was. But at the time, I only remember it being cold (it was the Irish Sea, not the Caribbean), wearing a hat made of itchy wool and so many layers of clothing and safety equipment that I needed 30 minutes notice to go to the loo. Which was actually a bucket. I gladly went on these trips though, with the promise of Mars Bars.
Halloween was always the highlight of the year, my parents went to some serious effort with our costumes. Mum was responsible for outfits, Dad for the poetry that we would recite. No short amusing ditties here, oh no, we would show up in your home and do at least 6 verses. A group of us would wander round Old Minnigaff and perform, collecting sweeties and coins in our bags. The highlight was always one particular home, that of Mrs McGuffie. Our school dinner lady and creator of the finest butterscotch tart and tablet that you would ever find. One year that stands out was when I was dressed as a birthday cake. My Mum worked for the local electricity board and had saved me a cardboard box, from a washing machine. Now, I was about 7 or 8, so you can imagine how big this box was. None of your sleek appliances in those days, folks, we are talking the size of a tank. All decorated, off we went. We arrived at one house which had two small split front doors, only one of which was open. All the kids trooped inside, leaving me, inside my giant cake box, to stand outside and be passed sweets through the window. Just a few nights later, whilst at the brownies Halloween party, we sang ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands’. Well, I couldn’t reach my hands, with my arms sticking straight out the side of a bloody great box. So I cried and had to go home early. Birthday-cake-gate aside, Halloween was always spectacular. I will never forget the sight of my brother (now a very senior businessman in Edinburgh) dressed as a frying pan. Actually, dressing your child as a frying pan is slightly playing up to the Scottish stereotypes, now that I think of it.
Many of my weekends were spent with my childhood best friend, Marion. Marion was raised on a farm, Parkmaclurg, with her lovely family and best of all, Patch and Josie, the Jack Russells. As if my life couldn’t be any more idyllic, I’d sleepover at her house at weekends, playing until dark in the fields and haybarns, returning to the house for fresh roast chicken or spaghetti bolognese, on trays in front of The A Team.
I adored my childhood in Newton Stewart. I’ve not been there for around 8 years, mainly due to its remoteness, not easy to reach from the South of England. But that why it’s so great. Nobody knows that it’s there and it’s miles from anywhere. This time when I return, I have a new surname, a new-ish husband and a little girl of my own. To be able to take her to the places where I spent my own childhood and where I was SO happy, living in blissful naivety, means the world to me. When we take her new bucket and spade to Mossyard and dip her little feet into the Irish Sea, it’ll be like passing a little bit of this on to her. I only hope that in 33 years time, she can look back on her own childhood with the same warm heart.