Saturday, 26 September 2009

Memories of a window sill

Long ago, I used to be taken to my grandparents house in Stranraer, a small ferry port in southwest Scotland. It's not a famous place, although every person from Northern Ireland will tell you they got stuck the night there once. My grandfather owned the town pharmacy, on Hannover Street, the crooked old main shopping street: number 37, I think it was. In those days, they would switch the parking from one side of the street to the other on alternate days.

In the mornings, early, very early, a man would come and change the signs. He would presumably climb a ladder and fold the signs over on one side of the street. Then he would fold the signs out on the other side. In a town where "Horse stumbles in George Street" was reputed to have once been a headline for the Wigtownshire Free Press, the changing over of the signs was pretty much it, as far as secretive goings-on were concerned.

One small boy, however, was determined to catch the man doing his duty. I would force myself awake, somehow, in that cold little bedroom in the attic and clamber over to the windowsill. I would peer down trough the misted panes, waiting as the grey light smeared into a paler dirty white over the low hills. Bad-tempered gulls would wheel, signs that a boat was just in. I would trace my name into the condensation and wait for ever. The light would grow and I'd eventually fall asleep back on the bed.

I never did get to see the sign-changer, and now I have no connection with Stranraer, except a brief stirring when the Scottish football results come in. As Billy Connelly once joked about Partick Thistle, for a long time I believed the town's name to be Stranraernil. I do have memories but I have no idea what to do with those: you can't really share them because no-one else cares for the memories of others.

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