Let me talk to you about the place I was born. Not the room, not the building but the town.
I’m Scottish but not from the part you’ve just thought of. I am not from the Highland Glens or the Northern isles. I have no connection to the streets of Glasgow or Edinburgh. I come from the South, the lowlands, right next to the stretch of water known as the Solway. I was born in Dumfries although I have never lived there. My day job recently meant I had to return after many years.
Carlisle, the first city over the border in England, was the place I went to as a child with my parents shopping. It was where I went for nights out as a teenager and where I studied at college. It’s also where my day job is based. Carlisle changes but I’m there when it alters. Dumfries feels like a memory I had which somebody has built on and rearranged.
The first morning I went back I parked up in Broom’s Road. I recalled the visits I used to have to the town to visit the dental clinic at the hospital. These visits were to fix my teeth which were all over the place in my youth. At one stage I had to have seven teeth removed as they were creating a second row of teeth behind the lower ones. My Mother, obviously aware of the delicate confidence of the fourteen year old male, described the look as ‘an explosion in the piano key factory’. It’s the only hospital operation I’ve ever had. It’s also the time I learnt to never have Rice Krispies for breakfast when you have a fresh new scar on your gum line. After the check ups in the weeks afterwards we’d park the car here and walk into Dumfries town centre.
I walked up to the road and crossed over, making it to the Loreburn Centre. My memory of this place features the Wimpy Burger bar that was at one end. During my last year of school we were taken by bus to a careers fair at Easterbrook Hall. Being young and deeply resistant to our futures we automatically left the hall and went down town, stopping here for coke and burgers. It’s gone now though.
I step out of the automatic doors towards the fountain in the town centre. On the right hand side there’s a building which seems empty but has a banner above. The words ‘Brave Enough To Take Risks And Surprise’ are emblazoned in white lettering on the blue background. This is a statement to live by, for all to see, in a town centre. It makes me grin and give it a wee thumbs up. I later learn it’s for The Stove, an artist collective in Dumfries.
The statue of Robert Burns is surrounded by workmen. They’re modernising the pathways around the monument. Burns is a hero, a romantic master of poetry. Amongst the noise of saws and hammers the big man himself looks on. Dumfries has changed far more for him than me. I look down Friar’s Vennel. This street leads down the hill towards the River Nith and The Whitesands. I think of my witches, it is after all where their story ends.
Maybe I’ve been away a fair while but there seems to be something of a vibe in Dumfries. Despite the empty shop units and the usual pawn shops and bookmakers there are events happening. Carlisle waits with baited breath as to the possible opening of a Primark, Dumfries just gets on with it with events like The Big Burn’s Supper.. It’s something that makes me quite proud to have Dumfries as my birth place.