Advent 2 On the unintended consequences of freedom to roam
I told a lie yesterday when I said I had only a single childhood memory of Christmas. I woke up thinking of another one.
It must have been well into December and in North East Scotland that meant it was dark and cold by the end of the school day. Nevertheless on Tuesday afternoons after school I went to swimming classes. In Aberdeen in the 1950s every school child began swimming classes as soon as they started in the Infants.
For some reason (I think it was the prevention of child drownings plus the enthusiasm of some counsellor to produce an Olympic champion) Aberdeen had set up a free swimming programme for all children and built an Olympic standard pool. It had the deepest deep end in the country and proper diving platforms. The city was very proud of this.
I just thought all swimming pools were like that and swimming was what all children did.
Nobodies’ parents (that I knew anyway) ever took them or collected them from these classes. Mothers were far too busy cooking tea and fathers were at work. We just walked to the baths from school and then daundered home afterwards.
But first, and always after swimming, we had our “shivery bite”.
There was a chip shop conveniently opposite the baths so we always stopped for a 3d poke of chips before we made our way home. This could take quite a time, hanging around relishing the steamy aroma of the fryer, sharp with the tang of the vinegar.
This particular evening I ate all my chips before starting for home. I walked on my own, because by this time we had moved house and I was no longer on the tram route. I had to cut through the back roads to our new flat.
It wasn’t a brightly lit route lined with cheerful houses. I went down a steep narrowish wynd at the side of the baths, then along an ill lit lane of storage depots towards the rear of the main shopping street. Even I thought it was a bit spooky, but it was usually deserted and you had good sight lines if anybody should appear, so it would have been no problem taking to your heels. I often dawdled, hard as this may seem to believe.
This particular evening I was just getting towards the end of the lane when I saw a figure advancing from the distance. I was horrified to realise it was my mother! I was immediately struck with dread. I must be in trouble if she had come looking for me! What forgotten crime had come to light that I had committed?
It never occurred to me that she might be worried!
Nor was she! She was furious!
As a great surprise treat she had bought tickets for the pantomime, and now it was so late we would never make it. We hadn’t got a car and public transport or Shank’s pony would never get us there in time.
I was marched home in disgrace, doubly guilty for dawdling and wasting precious money.
I was just coming up to nine years old!
I never did make it to a pantomime, but, on the plus side, I could dive and life save by the time I was ten!