The last time Scotland sweltered for so long under a relentlessly sunny sky was a significant summer in my life. I was eight and my little world changed dramatically. For three years we had lived in Dumfries, the Queen of the South straddling the River Nith. I have partial memories of living elsewhere but the south western town was the first home I properly remember. I started school there and made the first friend with whom I am still in touch.
Looking back, my strongest memories have always been how much I didn’t want to move away. And that was certainly true. I was miserable at the thought of leaving behind the house and garden I’d loved, the dancing class I went to and the group of friends I’d made at school. But those memories became overshadowed as years went by and I fell in love with Lossiemouth, the town on the Moray Firth to which we moved.
I was reminded sharply and unexpectedly of my early years when I read Frank Cottrell Boyce’s book, Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth. It’s clearly set in and around Dumfries although it’s never overtly stated. The lie of the land is accurately enough described, though, that I knew immediately where the action took place and could follow in the characters’ footsteps even though I’ve been away for over forty years.
It made me wonder what my life would have been like if we hadn’t moved. My sister and I made friends with another pair of sisters and I also had a small group of close schoolfriends. We played together, attended each other’s parties and walked to and from school in different formations. Had we remained I’d have stayed at Troqueer Primary with them and moved on to one of the local secondaries. I might even have carried on dancing and been as good a country dancer as my Mum (doubtful). Inevitably there would have been changes. Secondary school, I imagine, would have broken up the little group but we all lived near each other and I like to think that we’d have stayed in touch.
The idea of seeing where two different courses of action lead is NOT original but that doesn’t make it any less fun to pursue! I’ve been back to Dumfries for fleeting visits over the years so I know that there have been huge changes to the town. I think I might like to go back again and see what I still recognise and which memories a visit might rekindle.