Crazy about Carluke

30th July 2004 at 01:00
"Carluke is not the first place you would choose to come on holiday," said the documentary presenter. It must have been in the mid-to-late 1960s or early 1970s and the programme was called Raw Deal, a half-hour investigation into a situation that made someone, somewhere feel hard done by.

In this case, I think it was to do with a new road that was going to plough through a living-room. It could easily have been a biological weapons testing facility as far as my childish self was concerned. I was too busy seething at the "holiday" slight.

After the excitement induced by the knowledge that our town was going to be on television, the comment came like a slap on the face with a dead fish.

What did the television man know about Carluke? It was a great place for a holiday. My brother, sister and I and all our friends spent weeks of our summers playing there. We lived in half a crescent. The builder went bust midway through creating the town's first batch of affordable private houses.

They were the snobs' houses, kids from across the field would sometimes mutter, but none of us was class conscious enough to know what they were on about. The street petered out into an overgrown piece of wasteground that had probably been the spoil area of a quarry at one time.

It was a mixture of rough grass, marshland, heather, gorse and broom. On a hot day when the air danced and there were no sharp edges, you could hear broom pods popping. There was a small hill in the middle of it all. From the top, you could see everywhere that mattered. It was reached by a dusty path. You could run up and down the path no bother, but if you tried to do it on your bike you'd fall off. Raleigh Choppers were the worst.

We played hide-and-seek. We played 45 Acey, which was like hide-and-seek, except that you shouted "45 Acey!" when you freed the den. We played commandos, which was like hide and seek except that you shot one another with imaginary machine-guns while making a noise that is impossible to describe in print.

Deviating from hide-and-seek-based games, we would have a round of Dead Man's Fall. One kid stood at the bottom of the hill. He was the executioner. The rest stood at the top. They took it in turn to tell their dispatcher how they wanted to die. He would mime killing them that way and then the victim would mime dying. This invariably involved much leaping, yelling and rolling.

The person judged to have had the best death got to be the killer next time round. Initially, most chose to be shot but after a time the means of demise became more imaginative not to say bizarre. "I want to be chased by a pack of wolves into an acid bath then electrocuted." Above us, a lone kestrel hovered.

A half crescent did not suffer from an excess of traffic. Most cars disappeared for the morning commute to Ravenscraig or Terex. Shopping vans hooted their way up and back once a day but for the rest of the time the road was ours.

We played with our bogies. These had nothing to do with nose-pickings. (See King o the Midden which, I can exclusively reveal, is soon to be joined by a pocket version and a sequel. Available from all good bookshops around autumn.) Rather, they were pram-wheeled go-carts knocked together by our dads. They had no pedals but I discovered that bogies could be propelled, gondola style, with a stick. This was probably the first time my scientific abilities were acknowledged.

Beyond the wasteland was a proper swing park with a wonderful, potentially deadly chute. I broke my arm falling off the bottom. The park keeper was egg-shaped, with saucer eyes and a mouth made of two sausages. There was a sick way and a not sick way of going round the roundabout. Nobody could remember which was which. Somebody had a pee while they were on a swing.

As we grew older, the countryside expanded. We discovered rubbish tips, bings with fossils and an empty reservoir. There was a bottomless pool in the woods. Carluke had everything but the seaside. The builders had left some sand but it wasn't very much, so perhaps it was worth going to Leven for your holidays.

For me, though, the whole point of a holiday was that I was not at school.

I remember standing on the hill the day before I was due to start back one August. Close to tears, I said my goodbyes to freedom for another year.

Even as a teacher, I have never felt so bad.

Gregor Steele is a physics teacher in Lanarkshire, currently seconded to the advisory service. He is the author of the children's poetry book, King o the Midden.

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