Week Fifty Four
A few weeks ago, on the way to a shoot in Dunfermline, I dropped my dad off in Rosyth, the place where he was born. He wanted to spend an afternoon wandering the streets of his youth. When I picked him up a few hours later he was full of stories, with little incidents and anecdotes from his boyhood. I had been thinking a lot about doing something on my hometown of Perth but couldn’t quite work out how to approach it. Listening to my dad though I realised that each of us has memories of the places and landmarks of our childhoods that are uniquely personal. His memories of Rosyth, though separated by distance and time were essentially the same as mine were from Perth. What linked these memories was their very inconsequentiality. They were such small, unremarkable, events yet to us, as small unremarkable children they are the grains of sand that over the years accumulate the patina and substance which transforms them into the pearls of memory.
In childhood my world was small, but I knew every inch of it; the walk from home to school, the streets, pond and park close to my home were the clearly defined limits of my existence. Within this framework the early part of my life was played out. This macro-universe tends to be true for most children and like most children the physical elements of this universe held special significances completely lost on the adults that herded and shepherded us so annoyingly when it was Time For Tea.
The photographs I have included this week are shamelessly and unapologetically personal. They are the small, humdrum landmarks from my earliest memories. Each has attached to it equally small and humdrum associations. The first image is of a folly clinging to the edge of Kinnoull Hill, overlooking the Tay as it winds it merry way eastward to Dundee and the North Sea beyond. As a child though this was a Roman lookout point, isolated amongst the numberless warriors intent on its destruction. It would be years later before I found out it was a nineteenth century vanity project to try and make the area look more like the Rhine, studded as it is with hilltop castles.
The second image, ‘Glennifer’, is somewhere I once walked past everyday of my life. It is a door. A door in a wall. There are no sides to it. You can walk round the back and walk through the door on to the street. Or at least I think you can – in all the years I walked past it I never tried. I don’t know if the door was locked or open. I don’t know if the postman put letters through the letterbox or not. I could never decide if I would technically be a burglar if I walked through the door. So I never did. But it fascinated me then, and it fascinates me still today.
The third photograph, the monument to The Battle of The Clans in 1396 is another landmark from my walk to school. For years I knew that if I did not pass it by a certain time I would be late. So for me this was no marker of a barely remembered medieval battle, but a very real indicator of whether or not a highly embarrassing dressing-down from a purple-faced headmaster was on the cards or not.
Image four, the two boxes in front of the hedge still sends a shiver down my spine. It was next to where we used every hour of available light to play football. It was where the girls would sit. Pity the poor boy who ventured too close to retrieve a wayward ball. The girls were bigger than us, the girls were older than us, and the girls were in no mood whatsoever for us. Those modern-day sirens never even bothered with the sham of the siren-song. A stream of abuse, and if you weren’t fast enough a slap was your fate. And of course we loved them, and we convinced ourselves they loved us. I bear the scratches still that prove they did not.
The final two images are of a shop, long-closed, and a close-up of the sign which hung from it. I was a small child and had not then reached the statuesque 5 foot 7 inches of my adulthood. This meant it was years before I could actually read the sign properly rather than backwards, from the bottom up. The shop itself was a scary one. I would only ever venture in with my mum. It was supposed to sell everything, but in reality seemed to sell nothing. It had those big old scales though and that wonderful yellow acetate paper in the windows on sunny days (where has that paper gone?). Unsettling and as free of stock as it was, again though it was a landmark of my childhood.
Everyone must have these symbols that they remember from their own neighbourhoods. To return to explore again the map of our younger lives can be unsettling, it can be emotional, it can be strange but it is rarely without interest.
Some of the places and buildings from when I was young are gone or changed forever, but many remain and although the world I inhabit is much bigger now than it was then, there is a power still in these places that has lasted down through all the years of my life and will, for me, end only when I myself am no longer around to remember them.