Friday, 18 May 2012

The road and the miles fae Forfar to Dundee : August 1950

I was born in Dundee in 1945. We lived for a few months in an old tenement near the new housing development Fleming Gardens while we waited for my Daddy to be demobbed from the Royal Navy.  Soon after this we moved to Forfar where Daddy had got a job as an engineer at Dons Brothers' Jute Mill.

For the next 5 years we stayed at 9 Green Street which was off the High Street. Green Street led down to the Greens. They were called the Greens because they were the communal washing greens where people who lived nearby could hang out their washing   It was also where the tinkies - who I once tried to run off with -  would congregate and stay for a while with their ponies, carts and caravans, but that's a story for another time. It's a car park now though the wee burn I used to try to jump over and most times fall in, still runs through it and I think it still feeds the remains of a square concrete children's paddling pool where my younger sister  - who'd decided to make her appearance in 1946 -  and I played as toddlers.

Number 9 Green Street was a wee privately rented "but and ben" cottage which has since been re-developed (though I am always comforted when I return to Forfar to see that Green Street and the rest of the centre of the town look very much as I remember them when I was a bairn in the late 1940s). Our house consisted of two rooms. One was my parents' bedroom and the other was a communal room which was  at one and the same time the kitchen and living room as well as having a curtained off alcove where my sister and I slept. The lavatory was situated off a tiny passage that led to the back door.  We got our water from a well in the back garden.  We had no electricity, so we had a gaslight and our radio (or "bandie" as we called it) was powered by large clear and heavy bakelite batteries which seemed to be filled with a blue liquid. The bandie had other fascinating things inside it that my Daddy called valves. These would best be described now as looking like funny shaped clear glass electric light bulbs (the kind of light bulb which is itself now defunct).

One day in August 1950 we moved back to Dundee.  My Daddy had got a job at the Timex watch factory at Camperdown. At the same time we had been provided with a council house in Clement Park in Lochee, once a small town in its own right but by this time engulfed by the greater Dundee urban connurbation.

On the day we flitted,  Mummy, my sister and I sat in the front of the removal van. Daddy was at work. As we set off on the 15 miles to Dundee it was decided that I was to sit next to the driver.  Nowadays the road to Dundee from Forfar is a dual carriageway. In those days it was a winding and twisting road until you got to the long straight which passed by  - as I remember it -  Tarbrax and Tealing.   About 5 miles into the journey there were a series of hairpin bends at Toddhills. As a boy every time we subsequently made this journey to and fro  on our visits to Grannie and Grandad Sharpe who lived in Forfar,  I found Toddhills  the scariest part of the road for the land on the left hand side seemed to fall away steeply into a ravine. I knew we'd got through the scary part when we'd reached a junction where if you turned right you headed towards Glamis and Kirriemuir and if you went left continuing on the main road you headed on to Dundee.  On the day of our flitting to Dundee it was just after this point of our journey that I built up the courage to talk to the driver of our removal van. There were things I thought he needed to know.

"We're moving to a council house. It has an upstairs as well as downstairs. It has things called switches on the wall and if you touch them  lights come on and in the kitchen there are two wells. One has cold water and the other has hot water. I didn't mention that there was a room on the upstairs with a bath in it that also had  hot and cold wells. At that early age, and for some time to come, having a bath held little appeal for me. In Green Street my Mummy had struggled to get me into the zinc bath she filled with water for me and I was only persuaded to get in it when she threatened to tell Daddy how naughty I had been when he came home from work. This threat modified my behaviour throughout my boyhood but I have no recollection of my Daddy ever punishing me following such an ultimatum. I continued my information sharing with our driver thus, "There are plugs in the wall and we will have a new bandie and it will not need batteries because it will be plugged into the wall but Daddy says we are not allowed to touch the plugs".

Once I'd finished my lecture about my new house, the driver  - who I now understand not to have been a country town Forfar loon, but a streetwise big city Dundonian -  didn't seem to share my excitement about my new project. His response to my tutorial was,  "Eh, that'll be right".

About 12 miles into our journey, at the end of the long straight we saw to our left the ruins of Powrie Castle, and at the top of Powrie Brae, where the Black Watch memorial now stands, the road turned a sharp right and then descended to a winding left hand turn where suddenly we saw the steeples and chimney stacks of the city and there in the distance briefly curving out across the Tay estuary before it straightened towards Fife was the Tay Rail Bridge. I didn't know then that in less than 10 years time I would cross that bridge and leave Dundee and Scotland for what has seemed forever.