Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What we did on Friday

Mr Life is an only child. This probably has its advantages in some ways – he got his parents’ concentrated attention. (Is this a good thing? What do you think? One reason that I wanted several children was to dilute the concentration of my worrying.) However, it also has its disadvantages and one of these is that, since his parents have been dead for a long time, he has no one with whom to share his childhood reminiscences. His father died at 64, when Mr Life was 36, and his mother at 70, when Mr Life was 43; and he’s now 61.

He does have eight cousins. I myself am completely cousinless and quite envious of his, but he didn’t see all that much of most of them when they were young – two, indeed, emigrated to Australia – and though we’re in touch with them all, only one lives in Edinburgh and we see only her and her brother at all regularly. And however nice cousins are, they don’t usually share your past like siblings do.

His family also moved around quite a bit with his father’s job, which it made it harder to put down roots. I myself am extremely rooted and attached to my home patch.

For a few years he lived in Alloa in Clackmannanshire, where his maternal grandparents also lived so that even after he left, at the age of seven, he visited it frequently. But we haven’t been back for years. So on Friday we got the train there (this has only recently become possible again and Mr Life likes trains) and we wandered around, visiting the scenes of his childhood.

On the way, we went through Linlithgow - there's the palace on the skyline where Mary Queen of Scots was born.

And here's Stirling, with its castle on the rock - rather like Edinburgh's at first glance. Mary was crowned there in 1543, but bits of it had already been on the rock for four hundred years or so.

Approaching Alloa, we got a good view of the Ochil Hills.
Alloa's just a small town and it’s changed quite a lot. There are various new roads for which buildings have been cleared away and the main street isn’t looking prosperous, with many small shops which have closed presumably because of the big supermarket just a short walk away. But the town hall, above, is much the same, as is the area where Mr Life lived as a boy, round the corner from his Granny and Granddad.

The technical department of the school where his Granddad taught is still there but it's boarded up.

Here's his grandparents' house - it has new windows and it looks quite loved.

This is where little Mr Life lived for a while. A lady inside was somewhat startled to see me taking photos.

The park. It was very chilly!

And the church where Mr Life's parents and grandparents were married.

After our nostalgic wanderings, we were glad to find The Royal Oak open for lunch. It was excellent – should you ever happen to find yourself in Alloa. (This is maybe not very likely.) This painting was on the wall beside our table; it’s supposedly of people going off to America from Alloa harbour because of the Highland Clearances. They all look a bit sinister so maybe they weren’t a great loss to Scotland. Isn’t the water of the River Forth a startling blue?

I spent a lot of the next few days marking, though. Explain to me why I gave my evening class TWO literature essays to do for homework for last Tuesday and then made them write another one in class – all as preparation for the preliminary exam this week? There are 18 people in the class, so 18 x 3 = 54 essays! What was I thinking of???
This was probably rather a boring post unless you happen to be Mr Life or me (and let's face it: most people aren't). Sorry! - but I wanted to record the day.


  1. I don't think it was a boring post at all, Isabelle. I think it was lovely that you and Mr. L went to see his childhood home. It really is important to have those connections and I totally understood what you were saying in the earlier part of the post. My sister died when I was 20 and she was 22. She was my only sibling and now I have nobody to share that 'past' with. Then I had only one child. I wanted more, but time got away on me and now she's almost 18 and I think I'm too old for another. I feel bad that she will be lonely when her dad and I are gone. sigh.
    At least Mr. L has you to share his present and future with, as well as a chunk of his past.

  2. Isebelle I love your story I too am an only child I came to australia when I was 19 with my now x husband and one son I never saw my parents again my dad and mum were seperated he died 10 years ago amd my mum died two years ago I miss them.mr.L is lucky thet he can go down memory lane.I cant its too far away.but I think back on my childhood often it's good to have memories.thanks for your story I enjoyed it.
    Hugs Mary.

  3. Not boring at all, I loved your day and wish I could have shared it. Love Scottish and family history,my Grt Grandfather Donald Fraser came from near Inverness where everyone seems to be named Donald Fraser.

  4. No not at all boring - as I think I told you I lived in Kincardine before moving to Australia so was quite familiar with Alloa and really enjoyed seeing it again. Thankyou Zxx

  5. It is not boring at all, Isabelle! I love retracing my family's footsteps too, and seeing where they lived and what the towns were like. My Granny came from Glasgow so I have a strong Scottish connection.And there is every chance I will get to Alloa one day soon, so I will remember!

  6. I was an only child until I was 7. I was immensely jealous of my brother although we get along famously now. I think the trick is a smaller age gap, although my mum always claimed it was easier because she said it was like having two only children.

  7. I wasn't an only child, but my there's a gap of 13 and 11 years between me and my sister and brother, so we didn't really have a shared childhood. They spent their entire childhood in the city, whereas mine was split between inner-city Bristol and the Essex countryside. We also had totally different education experiences. I used to feel this really strongly when I was small and we'd look at photos of family beach holidays they'd taken before I was born, especially as we didn't do that when I was little. It also means that most of my cousins are older, too. My sister died last year having spent 38 years in Australia and only returning twice, so I feel I missed knowing her as an adult.
    We have an only child - not by choice, and she feels a lack of family I think. She has cousins and step-cousins she hasn't ever met. I'm sure you and Mr Life enjoyed the trip though, it's great to show one's past haunts to someone as it brings it alive for both of you.

  8. What an enjoyable day you two must've had! I love going back to old places that we've lived, and it's really fun to see a bit of Mr. Life's past!

    I do think it better to have a sibling (at least less lonely.) Although, eventually, only one will be left. My father is now in that position and I think he's very lonely. Even though he has all of us around him, there's something that ties you to your "first" family. He calls his cousins (several of them who are the last ones left in their families too) a lot more now than he ever used to call.

    Very lovely post Isabelle!

  9. Absolutely NOT boring. I think it's wonderful that you went with him and helped him record these places that hold memories for him. That is what being married to someone you really love is all about, I think. Making the things that are important to them a priority.

    I went with my husband to Staten Island, where he spent a good part of his childhood (a place where I had never been before)and spent the day. We did a very similar tour to yours - the church, his former dwelling places, and the local eatery - which still makes excellent cheeseburgers!

    For my part, I found it fun and exciting, and I loved hearing all the tales of his childhood adventures and seeing all the landmarks.

    And now I got to vicariously enjoy yours and Mr. Life's!

    Very cool - thanks for sharing!

  10. Not boring.
    Touching base is important.

  11. Well, I enjoyed the recording of the day, with accompanying wonderful photographs. You seem very lucky to have such historic sites to visit.
    I know we have some too, but we are young and brash, in both New Zealand and Autralia, compared to your wonderful old historical sites.

  12. A quite wonderful post, I thought. It has a stream of consciousness quality to it which reminded me of letters I used to get from my grandfather. It's often the details of daily life that are most interesting, to me anyway.

  13. I must confess I have never been to Alloa. I have no relatives there or any other reason to visit, but it is nice to know that if I find myself there, I know where to go for lunch. A beautifully contemplative post, as always Isabelle.