A childhood spent in Melrose is the perfect foundation for life, said guest orator Roy Mack at the Installation and Crowning ceremony at the Abbey last Thursday evening.
He talked of the Abbey, whose strong foundations had ensured so much of its beauty remains today, despite the “human destruction” that was its downfall.
The 1973 Melrosian said: “It got me thinking about the fantastic start to life young people like those here tonight have being brought up in Melrose.
“It’s not something they will be thinking about just now, of course, but if, like me, they leave the town to work, in time they will reflect on how lucky a start they had.”
He talked of how he had lived and worked in Edinburgh, and saw how playing fields became flats and school activities had become greatly reduced, with youngsters not having the opportunity to “become involved in their local community and learn all the lessons that are gained there”.
He said: “Then I think of Melrose and my own experience. Although I was made to walk from Bowden Moor Farm and back every day, the journey was broken up by my community.
“My Aunty Jean at Rosebank gave me sweets that got me up Dingleton to where I bought a penny ice lolly at Jim Hogg’s shop, eaten by the time I got to the last house where Mrs Eckford usually saw me and provided a wee bit of home cooking.
“I was probably so full of E numbers that I could have run up the last part of the uphill journey.
“We had the BBs, rugby, fishing, trips to the Rhymers Glen ... every one a great adventure.
“People looked out for us, and, sadly, I am so aware that children of today don’t have that freedom.
“I guess, mind you, if my parents had known what we were up to, we may have been banned for a while.
“But life is risky and our young have to experience risk sometimes and learn from it, and not be hidden from its dangers.
“My point is that being raised in Melrose did and I am sure still does allow youngsters a chance eto discover just what a community is.
“Today we have this great Festival where the young, and remember it was created as a children’s festival, can horse ride, cycle, play football, fancy dress, watch tonight’s ceremony, and go around on Saturday morning and be reminded of the town’s varied history – what an environment to be brought up in!
“Add to that a book festival, rugby sevens, the best fishing in Scotland and the finest scenic walks you could hope for, Melrose really does punch above its weight.”
However, he said, the Melrose of today is immeasurably changed from the Melrose of the 1960s.
He added: “The young will experience a very different world to that we were brought up in.
“When I started teaching, high tech was using coloured chalk! No computers, tablets, mobiles, DVDs.
“You can live your life on a screen, but you cannot live the atmosphere of a town unless you feel its hearbeat ... again, such a great opportunity for our young to develop life skills of confidence and discovery.
“This can, of course, sound like someone older reflecting on his own happy days here in Melrose, and I did wonder if that same passion for the town exists today, and then I read this year’s winning essay by Maddie Thomson and I was reassured.”
In Maddie’s story, a young girl is promised a gem at the top of the Eildons. When she got there she was angry as there was no gem to be seen, until she looked down and saw the True Gem of Scotland – Melrose itself.
Roy said of the essay: “It’s a fantastic piece of work and I congratulate her on both her industry and reassuring me that the town still has such an important place in the minds of the young.
“The Masons and Monks of old certainly provided us with a true literal foundation upon which to build our festival in the knowledge that this old Abbey will be waiting to host another ceremony year after year, and it is up to us to make sure that it is both supported and cherished.”
Chairman James Marjoribanks thanked Roy for his address, but added: “I’m glad Roy had such a long walk to school and back. If he hadn’t, with all the sweeties and treats he received on his way, he’d be twice the man he is now.”