In the spring of 1958, my family moved from a rat-haunted tenement on King Street to one of the last remaining prefabs in Cowdenbeath. It was a move up, in most ways; the prefabs had been built as temporary wartime accommodation but, to my childís mind at least, the cold and the damp, the putty-tainted pools of condensation on winter mornings and the airless heat of August afternoons were minor concerns compared with the pleasure of living on our own garden plot, in what was, essentially, a detached house, just yards from a stand of high beech trees where tawny owls hunted through the night, their to-and-fro cries so close it seemed they were right there with us, in the tiny bedroom I shared with my sister, Margaret. Just beyond that stand of trees was Kirkís chicken farm, where the birds ran free in wide pens and Mr Kirk, who lived in an old stone house that I took for a mansion, walked back and forth all day, distributing the feed, collecting the eggs and mucking out the henhouses. Later, when I was old enough, he would let me walk with him, and I took great pride in keeping pace with a grown man as he went about his business, peering into the incubators and manhandling heavy buckets of grain from here to there while he watched, with a soft, contained amusement. On the other side of the house, towards what I liked to think of as open country, the fields ran away to the strip woods, in one direction, and the grey, leechy waters of Loch Fitty, in the other, and I wandered out there whenever I could, imagining myself a child of the countryside, like the boys in picture books, or one of the chums from the Rupert annuals my Auntie Sall gave me every year for Christmas.
LRB 2 June 2011 | PDF Download