The Outsider

By Alexander Frew

What can I say of the woods and country roads near where I grew up? I lived and still live in a beautiful part of the world called Ayrshire in South-West Scotland. In fact I love the Ayrshire countryside so much that even named my writing group South-West Writers just to remind myself of how lucky I am.


Ayrshire is a strange anomaly in the normally cold and wet country of Scotland because it is caught in the Gulf Stream. This is a cross-current of warm water from across the ocean that hits our coast. Thanks to the gulf stream this part of Scotland is warm and balmy in the summer (mostly) compared with the rest of the country.  


Ayrshire has a coast scooped out of the side of Scotland so that it has long, warm beaches in summer and the trees and greenery of the countryside are rich and wonderful in the summer months. Of course when I was a child I didn't have to cut the grass, which grows like billy-o in this weather.  


Instead I was able to roam the woods and hills and farming country near my home with my friends. We used to do what the West Country people call 'scrumping.'  This is basically apple stealing, as if by using a word for it you were all right doing so.


However, the local farmer didn't think so and he actually had an old shotgun filled with pepercorns that he used to discharge at us if he caught us amongst his precious apple trees. And believe me, they stung. The peppercorns I mean, not the trees.


Then when I was even older I got a dog called Duke, a collie cross, and we roamed about the woods and fields looking for rabbits for him to chase (not that he ever caught one) or just going for long, lovely walks.


I used to make Duke run behind my bicycle and we could go for miles like that towards Ayr shore and he didn't seem to mind loping after me on the dusty, nearly deserted country roads. Although I must have made him pretty tired.


Then I used to walk out with some friends from school. We never did much really, except to take a long walk to the local rubbish dump. It was five miles there and five back, so not many went a second time, but my father had brought us up to walk and cycle from an early age - he couldn't drive and never seemed to feel the need to learn - so we didn't think there was anything unusual about getting round like this.


The dump was a huge place located near Tarboloton - where Robert Burns lived for a while. Tarbolton has the unique distinction of having one of the first ever Burns Clubs in the world.


I was always appalled at the dump with how much our society throws away. Being poorish I would pick up all sorts of things there like brassware or even bike wheels, Cod's bottles, books, copper wire. In fact, anything I could re-sell to make a few bob. Otherwise most of it just went to landfill. I was recycling goods long before the green revolution.


Not that I was allowed to go to the dump. My hard-working father would have seen it as an admission of our near-poverty that I felt the need to do such things.


Anyway the dump was guarded by a personage in dungarees we called 'Dumpy' who despite his nickname was a big man with a violent disposition who would summarily punish us for being there. 'Dumpy' was not often seen, because he only worked from nine-to-five and his main job was taking the goods from the catchement area to the main dump itself which we avoided like the plague because it was occupied by Council employees.


Better than the dump though, was the walk back, all downhill to my home town. When walking I would not take the road, but crossed through fields (always being careful not to walk through crops - my father taught me this). Then through clumps of trees and out to the long hill that led down to my house.


At other times I would cycle and I cannot tell you what a pleasure it was to go hurtling down the long hill that led to my home. It was a one-in-three slope called Craigie and at its peak it was 1,800 feet above sea level, so we could reach terrifying speeds of forty miles per hour, made even more frightening by the fact that the hill had more bends than a pretzel.


When I reached home I always felt like a hero for doing this wonderful ride. Loooking back I shudder as I think of my shorts, t-shirt and unprotected head, for they didn't have cycle helmets then. If I had fallen off I would have been dead.


It never happened to any of us, of course, athough we had some close shaves. And as I remember those walks and cycles through the luxurious green of the Ayrshire countryside I cannot help smiling in affection at those days long gone when a long walk, a dog by your side and the companionship of a good friend or two was enough to make you feel your world was complete.


I was happy then, outside a society where being a consumer was everything, where the worlds of the mortgage, the car and the meaningless job were just words. I was a rebel without even trying, just a young man who never saw the point of striving for all those material goods that people seem to need to give their lives meaning.


In that way I am still a rebel, getting meaning from my writing and the love of those around me.


Money truly doesn’t buy happiness.


personal rebellion, community