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A Muse in Galloway

Childhood memories of the 1950s

This was originally written for the children of Kells Primary School, New Galloway.

I attended New Galloway Primary School when I was five years old; and my family lived in a caravan, through all of the seasons, as my father was employed by the Forestry Commission: but we eventually moved to Snowdrop Cottage and it as a very happy place to live for a child. I have many happy memories of that time.

Once, a travelling Magic Show came to the village and everybody from miles around turned out to see the performance. It really was the highlight of the year, just like the occasional film show which would take place in the village hall. The Magician's assistant, a very large, grand lady, would shout out to the audience after every trick left us spellbound, "Bamboozle 'em". And he did. No one in the audience ever managed to find the £5 note, a massive sum in those 1950s days, which was in a sealed envelope and which many in the village hall were convinced was in their possession.

Across from the old Primary School, now in it's new incarnation, the Catstrand Centre and the cultural hub of the region, there was a little park and I spent many happy hours running and playing there with the other children of the village. My father was the man who levelled the land with his bulldozer. I was sitting on top of the machine beside him when he pointed to something which was partly concealed in the soil. When I jumped off to investigate, I saw the shiny object was a pistol of World War Two vintage, the war had ended barely twelve years before. We called the village policeman and the weapon was removed for safety. Actually, it was not uncommon to find buried weapons in those days; but can you imagine the scare there would be today?

My family were regular visitors to the ruins of Kenmuir Castle, near the village, but even in the summer it can be a gloomy place. One evening when we visited it, my mother told us a story to entertain us and she wove a magic spell, among the ruins, of elegant ladies and their escorts attired in evening dress, alighting from gleaming motor cars and we were convinced that we could hear the sound of the music, from long ago, and of another time, wafting through the large bay windows. She was a grand story teller.

We held a fancy dress parade in the summer, the boys and girls dressed in all sorts of colourful costumes paraded through the village, with first second and third prizes presented in the village hall, followed by a great party with cakes and trifles and lemonade. The village bobby, the policeman, whom we all knew stopped the traffic and made sure that everyone was safe during the procession.

There was also an annual Harvest Celebration to give thanks for the produce grown by the farmers who would parade through the village on their tractors that were gaily decorated with streamers; and there ere floats built on trailers and a brass band playing.

New Galloway was also the place where I wrote my first poem which, when I had plucked up the courage, I presented to a girl called Geraldine. To my eyes, she was the most beautiful girl in the whole and when she accepted my offering, I danced with glee through the little lanes and alleys all the way home.

Snowdrop Cottage was a great place to be a child. I have visited since those days and it has not changed - apart from looking smaller. It still has a wonderful ambience. The lady who lived there hen I called as kind enough to invite me in for a coffee. As I sat in the lounge, I could see it as it was in my childhood - with my mother in the little kitchen baking a cake, the one with the thick, pink icing on top; and the birds singing as they sat in the branches of the withered pear tree outside in the garden. It was overgrown in those days and was a jungle for a five-year old boy, a rare place, hunt for gold and treasure and to hide from the pirates (the kids next door).

One night, when it was dark my mum looked out and saw a hedgehog sitting by the kitchen door. She put down a saucer of milk for it and closed the door gently so as not to scare the animal.

In the morning when she went out for the saucer, she found she had placed it down beside an upturned scrubbing brush!. She always laughed at the memory of that.

Christmas was a very special time for us children in Snowdrop Cottage. We rose early on Christmas morning, indeed, we probably hadn't even slept but two hours in total but then, lying abed waiting for the sound of sleigh bells, what child in New Galloway had?

The main gift from Santa was a cowboy suit, very popular in those pre-computer days. Even although it was freezing outside, I was soon dressed as Roy Rogers, with waistcoat, hat and gun-belt, a five-year-old desperado striding down that long ago High Noon street, rattlesnake eyes peeled open and searching the town, looking for the varmint, my pal, Wee Smithie, ho was also the lucky festive recipient of Western attire.

I have been to many places worldwide since those days yet, as I look back now, they are some of the happiest of my life.

When you are a child, the bad things in life are as nothing as long as you are fortunate enough to be loved and cared for - and we were. I can still see my father in the tiny sitting room playing the massive 78s, the records he had bought, on the ancient gramophone which smelt of furniture polish and seemed to take ten minutes to warm up to play tunes with catchy lyrics like -

'Gee but its great being,
being out late walking my baby back home,
Hours go by and she gives me the eye,
Walking my baby back home'

And then we would climb the big wooden ascent of the stairs to bed, clutching our teddy-bear hot water bottles and dressed in our favourite 'Mr Turnip Man' pyjamas, still listening to the music coming faintly from downstairs until the melodies became part of our slumbers.

Next time, and every time I walk past that little cottage and pause for a moment, I will see those people ho shared those long ago moments with me; Spot the mongrel racing madly up the road to greet us in the afternoon sunshine as we returned from the village school.

Those happy days will always remain a secret garden in my heart where the flowers bloom forever. That is what New Galloway meant to me and hat it always will.

'Although they have gone,
and I have moved on,
In my memory, they will always be.
Now and then they will flow
from my pen, and, once again,
I will see those childhood places
And the untied and the little boy
that was me.'

In memory of my father & Mother, Bill & Isla Martin

Previously published by Scottish Memories Magazine, Warners Group Publications plc.