My first experience of Kelso was as a young boy during the Second World War.
I stayed on a farm just outside the town for most of the war years, flitting between there and my home in Galashiels. It was an idyllic place to me, full of magic, cobbled streets, real shops and mostly a farming community.
Nestling in the arms of the nearby Cheviot Hills and overlooked by the Eildon Hills in the near distance, Kelso was indeed the jewel in the crown of the Borderland. Everyone was very friendly and there was a very strong community spirit.
The fact that Kelso was not a major industrial city and therefore not a specific target for the German bombers helped preserve the town in its original market town style.
I was very fortunate to be able to return to Kelso many years later in 1970 when I set up home in the new estate at Queens Croft. The town had changed little in the intervening 31 years, having kept its cobbled streets and many of the old shopfronts remained untouched by the developer’s heavy hands. The town square was kept clean and after a shower of rain the cobbled streets used to sparkle.
One of the most noticeable features were the individual house gardens, both private and council-owned. My own garden was my pride and joy. Almost everyone kept their gardens in spectacular condition. The town parks and gardens, along with other spare bits of public ground, were looked after with a certain amount of pride.
The amenities available for everyone to join in were extensive, including the ice rink, golf course, tennis courts, green bowling club, swimming pool, quoits and sports centre, with squash courts and gym. There was also a strong senior and junior rugby club, rivalling for young lads with the senior and junior football and the cricket club.
There was plenty of opportunity for the musically-minded with the amateur operatic society, music society and music club, alongside the amateur dramatic society and camera club. Youngsters also had the Scouts, Cubs, Girl Guides, Brownies and Beavers. For the more adventuresome there was ATC and Army Cadets. Then there was Kelso Civic Week.
One could attend all these facilities, take part and rehearse, and when finished, no matter what time of night they finished, you could walk home in late summer or dark winter night and feel safe in the community.
My next observations take me up to the present time and are my own personal views of Kelso today.
Many of the amenities of yesteryear are still available, along with a few new ones. That is a credit to the organisers of these various clubs and societies, and long may they continue to flourish.
The major differences are in the Kelso community of today. No longer does the council take the same loving care of the surroundings. Litter and dog fouling seems to have run amok. Could this be caused by centralisation and the creation of the monster known as Borders Regional Council? Rule from afar was one of the main reasons for the collapse of both the Roman and British empires.
Community spirit and the feeling of “we are all in it together” seems to have been replaced by “it’s nothing to do with me”.
No longer can you walk home after 9pm and feel entirely safe. Again, policing from afar – whatever happened to the local bobby. Call the police and if they turn up at all, it may be days after the event. The responses when they eventually get there is can you identify the culprit? Do you have any reliable witnesses?
Parents now take their children to and from amenities by car or accompany them.
There are certain elements of the youth of Kelso who are holding the rest of the community to ransom. The open-plan housing and home gardens once the pride and joy are now fenced off. My own garden is a particular example – high fence with entry deterrents and locked gates. It looks and feels more like Guantánamo Bay or Stalag 14.
The house is under constant intermittent bombing with eggs, rotten apples, litter, beer cans, half-filled plastic lemonade bottles and other missiles hurled by the few mindless youngsters of today.
We seem to be bending to the yob culture. Don’t say anything, or the situation will get worse. Don’t whatever you do confront them as they know the modern law better than you do.
I know Kelso is not alone in having this problem, it is nationwide.
What is the answer? Batten down the hatches like during the Blitz years of the Second World War? Keep saying: “It has nothing to do with me”? Give in and build bigger and more effective safeguards against the destruction of our community?
I don’t have the answer – does anyone out there have it?