Towards Better Democracy

Good words, well written, better the world. Good literature betters the world immeasurably.

Dean Village then

The Dean Village does not resemble the Dean Village of my youth. Youth? Well, when I was five or six.

There was a channel sluced from the Waters of Leith, the port to the north of Edinburgh, on the coast of the wide Firth of Forth. The channel supplied water to a tannery to the back of the hollow in which the village still sits. The tannery was comprised of a three or four story warehouse, or workplace, with windows with no glass in them. An opening in the face of it had a rope hoist to lower the completed leather to some transport to take it away below. I never saw a horse or truck do this but I suppose they did or how else did they goods get to market, wherever that was. The sheep skins would arrive I don’t know by what means, and be scraped in the open. I suppose this was in the morning. I only was in the village after school. The tannery gave off a very particular smell though I am glad to have forgotten how it smelt,

The tanners wore long leather aprons and frowned in concentration of their work. Burly men they were as so befits hefty work. They ignored us children, flies upon the scape.

In front of the tannery, where we played, was a patch of earth, littered with broken bottles and other detritus of human waste. What purpose this land had served I never knew nor wondered.

A tenement rose to the north of this surly patch of land, across the cobbled road, the common surface for roads then in Edinburgh, properly called sets, from Aberdeen, no doubt, Granite City by nickname, Edinburgh’s was Auld Reeky, It is not that now, pristine in its stone faced buildings, the pride of any city to be so bequeathed.

The road ran down and up out of the village to join more major roads at either end. The road we used came to an end at the village’s lowest point. Alongside this road to its north  was a public bath building, Drumshugh Baths, which may be mentioned in a future post (don’t hold your breath) and to the south, a depository for the King’s Theatre, both of which feature, each in their own way, in my childhood growing up in Edinburgh. 

High above the theatre depository, which contained decades of sets never likely to be used again but kept just in case, ran Rothesay Terrace where my home at the time was.

On the other road, the one that goes in and out of the Dean Village, to its south, was the Dean School. This was my earliest school which, too, has for me its own memories. This is where I learn reading, writing and ‘arithmetic.

The centre of this story is, however, the what would be now referred to as a slum tenement. I never entered this building but befriended a girl who lived lived there with her sister whom I met but didn’t like. Margaret was the centre of my female attractions. Well, besides one other in the Dean Village but no mention of her will be made here.

I never met any others of Margaret’s family nor did she ever make any mention of them. I seem to remember a smaller brother. But likely he was too young an age for me to pay attention to.

On the naked patch of soil we, a group of riotous boys of age similar or older than me, would invent games and throw bottles at each other. or put squibs in them and run away. Squibs, for those who don’t know, are miniature sticks of dynamite which have a blue paper twist atop a cardboard cylinder in which the gunpowder was housed. Well, I think it was gunpowder, though, to me now that seems dangerous to the extreme. These implements of the greatest noise and least harm could be bought all year round at any  newspaper store – there were hundreds then in Edinburgh. The purpose of these otherwise lethal explosive weapons was to frighten wifeys, which they assuredly did. These worthy souls came out of the tenements to chase us away, with us running like hell, screaming with laughter. Such was the sport and play of our youth.

Margaret was a sullen beast with lowered eyes which, when raised, looked suspiciously around. For what I knew not. She was slovenly dressed in what today would be called rags. She was thin but was cheerful in my presence, and I much enjoyed her company and our conversation. You then did not play with girls and I was unusual as a boy to talk with girls, But may mates never teased me, I don’t know why. Margaret’s sister had a perpetual scowl on her face and never talked. Snot ran unheeded from her nose. Terrible green stuff the like of which I had not seen nor seen since. If this stuff got too far down her face she would, with a snort, suck it into to her mouth. Margaret seemed dainty by comparison.

At some point my parents must have learnt of my meanders and henceforth I was forbidden to go down to the village. I obeyed this stricture and went to Drumsheugh Baths instead, And there I befriended a girl from a very different class from that of Margaret’s.

Malcolm D B Munro
Monday 14 August, 2017


Filed under: Arts, Current Events, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

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