Light-hearted life in the dark days

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The nights, as they say, are fair drawing in. Darkness is descending earlier and earlier with each passing day. Summer is officially over and autumn is officially here.

And – weather-wise in the Borders – we can’t really moan about our lot over the past 12-plus months.

Last winter was indeed extremely kind to us. Shops were left with shedloads of snow shovels because most of us only saw a few flakes of the white stuff. Adults were happy, but the young ones were disappointed at not being able to get out on their sledges – or bogies as my generation knew them.

What memories. My age group was the probably the last that went sledging on public roads.

In my area of Galashiels, that meant Snyders (I never know how to spell that) Brae and over The Bump. The Bump especially became sledging territory. Motorists wisely gave it a miss. We turned it into a virtual downhill ice rink. And I don’t think there was one of us who failed to collide with the lamp post at the foot of the hill. It took some bashing.

But our winter fun run was much curtailed from that of my dad’s generation. They could start at the top of Meigle Street and – on a good day – finish up in Gala Park or even onwards down Bank Street Brae and into Bank Street itself. This was done on sledges in the winter and home-made wheeled bogies during the summer.

And, of course, this fun, laughter and enjoyment was repeated across the land.

Mostly now it is done in the relative safety of parks or out on the slopes of some hill. Safety is paramount and it would not be prudent to suggest we go back to the good old days. There’s simply too much traffic on the roads these days. So really, some of the fun has gone out of it.

When the nights had really drawn in, that’s when some of our fun really began. Crawling along dykes – some with glass embedded as a deterrent – to plunder for apples, pears and goosegogs. We didn’t eat many and, truth be known, it was a bit of a waste of good food.

One bite and then they became handy missiles, littering the streets – food for the birds.

Thing was, we were raiding from neighbours and friends who would willingly have given us the fruits from the labours of their toils if we had simply asked. But there was no fun in that.

Rap-door-run was another of our ploys.

A chap of the door knocker and off like the clappers to watch the result from a hidden spot. Sometimes, if the distance from the door to the garden gate was too great to ensure a safe retreat, thread would be tied to the knocker and tugged from behind a hedge. This was mischief. To us it was harmless, but it must have been really annoying for the victims – victims of our mischief.

Sometimes we would retreat to the sanctuary of The Whins – wild territory that was part of the Laird of Gala’s estate close to Balmoral Primary School. The aim here was to tease his dogs safely behind bars in their kennels.

At quieter times we played conkers and marbles.

But we liked the dark nights – and as we got older we sometimes liked them even better.