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1st day at work

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Message Paul Titterton
Ballochry is a town near the Fife coast that I had been associated with for 15 years, maybe more. Hence long enough to have worked with the parents, their children and of course, their grandchildren. The generations as well as the houses are close together.

The people are friendly, but mainly during the day when you can see them clearly and would be able to identify them in court. It is a tough place, being an ex-mining town, not a lot of spare cash, but a real sense of sharing is apparant when a wallet is lifted from some hapless lost tourist.

I first visited, having to uplift a young lad, Jim, when I started work in his "Special" school in Taybank. They had asked for 2 volunteers for the task. Now this was Taybank, a tough place by anybody's standards, but no one would accompany the new boy.

The staff were really nice as I set off, waving fondly." Have you got a shilling?" "Yes I have...let me see.. about ú3." "No, God no! Just a shilling for the phone for emergencies. Don't take more than that and don't let anyone see it." "Tool kit?..Spare tyre?"

I nodded and looked in the mirror..was that the cook crossing herself? I went via the Tay Bridge and as I crossed it, I could see Fife in the distance and as instructed, I locked the doors and reset the clock.

I drove into Ballochry. On the sign was "Twinned with East Berlin" (I jest, but one neighbouring town has a street called Gagarin Way and another had the only Communist MP in Britain.) The town's coal pit had not closed because of the vindictive Thatcher, as the Gorgon had not yet begun her stoning. No, they were still on strike from 1929!

I drove down a street where the windows were boarded up because the Council were still repairing some damage from a New Year Street Party. This was May. As I drove, the road began to deteriorate. First potholes then a dirt track.

I got to the house and it had no roof! As Jim bounced out for his lift, I asked when will his house get fixed and he said 'what do you mean?' He seemed a little hurt. His mother explained. The flat above had been destroyed by fire and they had just levelled it and tarred the floor!

The whole family came out to see the van. In those days before discriminatory considerations, the vans were bright yellow with "Taybank Special School" in giant letters on the side. Despite this, his mother asked for a lift to the town centre. Now, I was new and nice. " Yes of course."

Suddenly the van was full of aunties and friends and cigarettes. 'You don't mind if we smoke son, do you? ' I knew from the file that I was older than this lady, but "son" it was. We stopped twice on the way, once to pick up a cousin and once because someone called Jean was ill. Car sick. We had travelled nearly a mile!

We got to the shops. A Co-op, a pub, and a Police Station. Jim's uncle came out of the pub. He looked drunk and tried to encourage him to run away. Jim explained he was going to see Dundee United play that night and did not want to miss it.

The uncle got into his car shouting that he hated Social Workers. I said he should stop them then, absurdly thinking my quick witted banter would somehow calm the situation. (We are all big, tough, swearing lads together).His car lurched at me and I ran into the Police Station in a big, tough kind of way.

He got lifted and the entire town seemed to gather suddenly. They swore vengeance Sicilian-style. I had no family then but said they would wait. A half brick hit a reinforced window. A mountainous policeman made them put the bricks back into the wall of the pub, which had nearly collapsed.

Jim was totally unperturbed and I think this was not really such a big deal for him. I still shake 25 years later. As we left, his mother said "Well, are we not getting a lift home then?" That was my welcome to Ballochry.
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'Hamish ' is an antiwar writer socialist- scientist and musician living in Scotland.
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