(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson, of Glasgow – April 2021)
Growing up in Scotland’s first ‘garden village,’ sounds absolutely idyllic. And I have to say, I have no complaints – I loved it. But things are not always as they seem.
So, with apologies to my English teacher for starting the previous two sentences with conjunctions, and with tongue firmly in cheek, what follows are some of my personal recollections of that time.
I should though, perhaps insert the caveat that the supposed parallel lines of my memory and imagination do sometimes tend to merge like the proton beams from multiple Particle Throwers in Ghostbusters. The not-quite-so- catastrophic results can very easily be rectified in the Comments section below.
I’ll spare you the full history lesson, but Westerton is a district of Bearsden, which is itself a suburb set to the north of Glasgow, Scotland. The village holds the distinction of being the first ‘garden village’ in Scotland.
By the time my family moved into the area, the ‘village’ had expanded in the forty-seven years since formation in 1913, but the core area remains relatively unchanged in the sixty years hence.
The number of similarly aged kids living and playing on Deepdene Road and the surrounding streets was quite remarkable.
In those days, you see, it didn’t really matter if you were boy or girl; if you were five years old or eleven. Everyone played together. And even if natural ‘geographical’ splits occurred along each third of the street, there would still be groups of at least fifteen tearing about like noisy, hyperactive rejects from Fagin’s gang.
Street football, with lampposts for street-wide goalposts; kick the can; hide and seek; endless wars between perceived good and bad adversaries. I guess the noise level must have upset certain neighbours; I know the old ‘ball in garden’ most certainly did.
Mr Allan, an old Captain Mainwaring type and also a Bank Manager, was one such. He terrified us, and would often confiscate the ball should it end up in his flower bed. He’d give us pelters if he caught us sneaking in to retrieve it without permission.
I remember vividly, then, one Sunday morning when an attempt on my ‘keepie uppie’ record hit the buffers and the ball was launched a la Peter Kay (“ …’ave iiit!”) over his hedge.
It ended up within reach of his front door. I could easily have picked it up and legged it, but rang the bell. It was a good few minutes before Mr Allan appeared – in his dressing gown. His face was puce with rage. Seems not many kids practice their footie skills at seven a.m. on a Sunday!
Where there is now a small power substation, there once stood a pylon. A pylon for climbing and an area of grass large enough and far enough away from any windows to play football and cricket / rounders.
What else could a kid of the Sixties want?
Probably not a bit of a kicking from the advance party of a gang from another neighbourhood! But that’s what happened when three unknown lads approached the ten year old me, and asked what football team I supported.
Remember, this is late Sixties, West of Scotland. To reply either ‘Rangers’ or ‘Celtic’ would offer best odds of 50:50 chance of upsetting the inquisitor. So, thinking on my feet, the streetwise, wee, ten year old me looks one of the lads straight in the eye and says, “Dunfermline Athletic.”
Next thing, I’m lying on the grass nursing a few rapidly appearing bumps and bruises, and watching these ne’er-do-wells laughing and run off with my football. “Raith Rovers fans in Westerton? Who’d have thought,” I pondered, before busting into tears.
One side of Deepdene Road formed a continuous pavement that ran best part of four hundred metres (four, forty yards in those days) around onto Monreith Avenue and to Wheatfield, then back to Deepdene. This was our racetrack: be it on home-made bogies; running in our gym shoes; on space-hoppers or even just hopping – we’d organise races around it.
Without the benefit of smart watches, stop watches, or indeed, watches, the recorded times relied heavily on the veracity and concentration of the designated timekeeper. World records were set and repeatedly broken throughout the course of an afternoon. Disputed results often resulted in black eyes and tears … but everyone reconvened the following day, ready to take on some other challenge – like who could climb to the greatest height on the pylon.
This was the small grocery store closest to our house. There was a newsagent / sweet shop next door.
“You got money for Jaimie’s?” would be the common question to and from school, in the hope your pal would either lend you some or at least buy you a gobstopper.
I’d have been about Primary Four, I think, when it converted to a self-service convenience store. All of a sudden, ‘dogging’ lunch became the in-thing. Beef olives with turnip and potatoes from the school canteen didn’t seem quite so appealing when chocolate bars, chewing gum and Lucky Bags could be had for the same price at Jaimie’s.
Same price? Word soon came back from the older kids that these goodies could all be had AND you certainly didn’t need to spend all your lunch money. These new self-service stores were like manna from heaven. Kids of all ages now discovered just how light their fingers could actually be. They would later find just how red and sore they could be when Headmaster Mr Thompson found out what they’d been up to.
The village centre was the community hub: there were three shops as I recall. A Co-op to which we’d be sent to for ‘the messages’ by our Mums; the butcher shop, and I think, a sort of haberdashery shop.
These are now long gone, as is the old Library / Village Hall which sat beside them. It was here that as a young, impressionable Cub Scout, that I witnessed the older Boy Scouts have a real set-to, clubbing each other with the long wooden staves they carried.
“It’s character building. It’ll make a man of you,” was the level of concern expressed by my ex-Boy Scout father when I told him I wasn’t sure I wanted to join when old enough.
The original Primary School was also on that site.
An abiding memory of my first day at school is a sort of plasticine mixed with wood varnish smell … and Blair McKellar and Wallace Drummond knocking seven bells out of each other at the back of class.
Funny the things you remember, eh?
THE PLAYING FIELD and THE DUMP:
These were the two areas of grass to which crowds of kids would gravitate whenever the West of Scotland climate was in good humour. Aspiring, and crap, football players would mix with those who preferred to chase after their ‘Getaway Discs,’ (frisbees.) Older boys and girls would gather in groups to smoke a fly fag, and talk about the latest entry into the music charts and the upcoming youth club disco.
Then the shout would go up – “The P.G.B. are coming!”
No need for mobile phones in those days – if one of the neighbouring area gangs like Peel Glen Boys, Scurvy or The Fleet were on the march, word spread pretty fast indeed.
There would be that moment when if it wasn’t always so wet in Glasgow, tumbleweed would have rolled over the field; a heavy silence would descend and a church bell would ring out doleful single chimes.
It was like the black clad gunslinger had “come for ma boy.”
Kids would scarper; the field would empty; the silence would be broken by the sound of doors slamming shut. There would be a stillness.
But something else was happening. At the other end of the field a group of older lads would peel away from their retreating friends and congregate in formation.
Yes! It was the Defenders of Westerton. Our very own Justice League. It was The Wessy Rats!
The astute reader will perhaps by now have noticed a bit of a theme running through this piece. It really wasn’t too bad at all. It was certainly no Crenshaw or Compton, L.A. Whether it were individuals squaring off or gangs passing through rival territory, most of what went on was posturing.
Me? I wasn’t too sure. I decided that cowardice was the better part of valour and joined my local athletics club.
If I was to be chibbed by the P.G.B., they would have to catch me first.
Hi-yo Silver! Away!