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Carluke H.S. Magazine

My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is.
[With great pleasure we, print here the John Gass Essay  -which was won in 1950 by Jennifer Ritchie.]

Sometimes,  when I cannot get to sleep at night and all the house is still, I let my thoughts run back over all the pleasant things I can remember - the little details-—scenes, sensations, which so often seem unimportant when seen or heard, but which are so vividly real many years afterwards. I always try to notice things which I can remember with pleasure another time. Thoughts are like a well-loved book. They can be opened at any page just for the pleasure of reading a paragraph, line or phrase which still delights the mind.

My favourite memories are those I remember of the little Ayrshire village where I was born. The village lies on a slope in some of the richest farm-land in Ayrshire. It is very small with only a few shops.  At the end of a long winding main road lies our house, a rambling red sandstone  building. There are the green railings which always hold a fascination for me. One day I am sure there is a leering, owlish face peering at me as I sidle through the gate. Next day it has vanished. Farther down the road, huge beech trees grow. Their delicate foliage interlaces, forming a tunnel, and flakes of sunlight dance over the tarred surface. Now and then, the windscreen of a car which has been shattered into neat little squares can be found. We rush home to put them into a bowl of water where they are transformed into diamonds. A penny clutched in our hands, we press our noses flat against the window of the tiny sweet-shop. Shall it be a little sugar pig with its pink string tail ?  This is a question to be taken seriously. Sunday-school is an adventure-  Squeaking  shoes; white  silk socks and a hat with elastic which hurts if it is snapped by mistake.

There is a long dark lane on the way to church. No sunlight ever lights up its gloomy, dank atmosphere. On tiptoe we walk past the castle. There are skeletons in the dungeons and chains with iron balls attached. I once “led ” an  expedition to explore the castle - armed with a string rope-ladder, three matches and a candle, we didn’t go at all. Courage deserted us at the crucial moment. Now big dark walls hem us in and we climb up to see the stream which flows into the moat. Every Sunday we vow never to look at it - and every Sunday we do. It is yellow and rushes over boulders. A nameless fear rushes over me as I think of that burn. It always used to make me feel sick although I watched it spell-bound for ten minutes at a time. There are minute little flowers growing in the moss on top of the wall. . Pink and white, they are mysterious and fairy- like. This will not do. I am nearly 16.

I am still not asleep and there are more things to think about,  such as all the beautiful sights I can remember.  I do not know why there seem to be more beautiful sunsets and dawns in Ayrshire than in any other county.  At seven o’clock, when the greyness of dawn is not yet come and the sun is not yet risen, we walk up to the baker’s for rolls. They are brought out of the oven and handed to us, soft, puffy, and delectable. From the baker’s we can watch the sun rise, First there is an almost imperceptible lightening and then the sun’s disc rises slowly over the hills. We stay just long enough to watch it spill bver the horizon, then  rush home for breakfast. The sunsets, too, are lovely. I remember watching one on my birthday. When the sun  had completely disappeared a curious black cloud in the middle of the sky suddenly resolved itself into a battleship. There was nothing in the sky except this cloud, which was silhouetted against the steel blue heavens.  Then there is the smell of tar melting in the heat, and the fragrance of the flowers when the dew is not yet dry. There is the homely smell of cooking and sometimes, when  we decide that the smell of dog is too much to be borne, great excitement arises. There is a confusion of barking dog, screaming children, howling babies, upturned basins, soap-suds flying and general wetness.

We must have been cruel children my brother and I, although I think most children are like that between the ages of three and six. The head-less bees, halved worms, Wingless blue-bottles and martyred frogs. Once my mother noticed a strange quietness in the house. This meant trouble. Going into the kitchen she saw my brother, aged three, on hands and knees, watching with absorption a strange insect. This turned out to be a blue-bottle minus his wings.
Above all, I love to remember the sensations of child-hood. Bare feet on damp earth, cold spring water on parched throats, and the rough texture of an old beech tree. Every year we went to my grandfather’s house on the banks of the Tay. My grandmother had a little mother-of-pearl box. I would sit for ages holding it and tracing out the little lines of rainbow colour. It is smooth and cool as the big lobster- claw which lived in the bottom drawer of the desk.  My father let me hold his shotgun once. It seemed so harmless then, but later in his hands it was transformed  into a harbinger of death. These are only a few of my memories. It seems to me that my childhood was much more interesting than my life is now.  Perhaps when I am older I shall remember my life now as I am remembering my childhood. But for all that, I would still rather be a child again and relive my short life,  trying to notice all the things I must have missed before.


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Created before 2012