Primroses

It’s a sure sign that the seasons are changing when the stunning yellow primroses appear in clumps throughout the grounds at Powdermills, and the tell-tale vivid green stems of the bluebells are starting to blanket the woods.  It won’t be long before a sea of luminous blue beams from the floor beneath the oaks appears on the hillside.  It’s a scene worth imagining as it takes me to a tranquil place of reflection.

I don’t know what it is about Easter, but I find it a time for contemplation.  I’m not religious; I admire people with such faith.  However, this weekend has been spiritual for me.  No, not hand clapping, chanting round a fire dangling crystals type of experience.  It had me reminiscing and began with the distinct yellow primrose. 

It’s bizarre that you are touched by someone you have never met.  But I didn’t meet my Granddad, Archie Christie, on my mum’s side.  He was a miner from Ormiston, East Lothian, gassed with chlorine in WW1 in 1917. He fought with the Gordon Highlanders at the small village of Zonnebeke 8km east of Ypres, the town all soldiers who fought in Flanders knew so well. The attack was later officially named the ‘Battle of the Menin Road’ and part of the ‘Third Ypres Offensive.’  He was evacuated back to Scotland but suffered health problems for the rest of his life.  He died when my mum was only seventeen.  He couldn’t do physical work, so he eked a living doing odd jobs, surviving on his war pension, and reporting on Ormiston Primrose, the local football team, as the sports reporter for the East Lothian Courier.  He was a die-hard supporter, as was the Christie clan who played for and followed ‘The Primrose.’  They played in yellow and black, and I vaguely remember watching them play some matches on the New Recreation Ground, Ormiston.

My sport, however, was not football but rugby. This weekend was dominated by the matches in the European Champions Cup, the European Challenge Cup, and U18 Mens Six Nations Festival in Ireland, which dominated the TV coverage.  It was hard to find any news on the Melrose 7’s at the Greenyards in the border town of Melrose.  It is the leading seven-a-side tournament in Scotland for clubs, and it invented the game that is now an Olympic sport.  Coincidently, Melrose also plays in yellow and black.  The world of professional rugby has usurped the event, but it was the highlight of the amateur British rugby calendar up until about twenty years ago.

My dad and I would make our annual pilgrimage at the end of every season. My first sevens tournament there was in 1971, and I only missed one ten years ago.   A ten thousand crowd packed into the picturesque ground, supporting border teams against any city clubs like my club Stewart’s Melville (red, black, and yellow strips). It was colourful, even when the weather was poor. Exotic guest teams from around the world added to the excitement. Stewart’s Melville was always in contention and won it a few times.  But winning wasn’t the point; it was a festival and celebration of running skills and passing that still lingers in the memory.

Most importantly, I did it with my dad, year in and year out.  Lunch in a hotel in the town, a leisurely walk down the high street, into the stands, meeting old friends, and watching six hours of rugby. Bliss.  It used to be on BBC TV until this year, so I couldn’t relive the nostalgia and the fun with my dad and revel in the joy of Rugby. 

Bereft of watching the sevens on the telly, I was forced to complete my chores.  The weather was fine and dry, so tidying up and painting the tables, chairs, and benches was the order of the day.  I enthusiastically threw myself into jobs, especially playing, no sorry, cleaning with the pressure washer on the entrance and patio.  A damn fine job, I did, if I say so myself, but it only highlighted how dirty the areas were and how they should have been tackled earlier.  

But once on a mission, I undertake these tasks with gusto and determination.  It’s a trait both my parents had.  My dad had to fill every waking hour with action.  It was exhausting when he joined us on family holidays.  Similarly, my mum’s work ethic was legendary.  Everything in her life was completed at a manic pace because her life was hectic.  Therefore, it was poignant that my first job was to paint my mum’s memorial bench, no not primrose yellow, but that’s an idea for next year.  I talked to her, laughing with her that Sue and I now operate a B&B just like she did.  Except, we’re a poor imitation because she had three times the guests and provided evening meals seven days a week.  And she did it single-handedly.   

Mum’s bench has a special significance.  It’s the Powdermills smoking area.  I often grin when I view a guest drawing on a fag sitting and watching the world go by, just like my mum would.  I often imagine my mum sitting there, ash drooping off her cigarette and chatting away.  She’d be there with a fellow puffer if she were alive today.

The other memorial benches are on the far side of the bog.  Sue’s dad Terry, contracted Mesothelioma from his days in the merchant navy as a boilerman.  His life was cruelly cut short, and his bravery in facing a terminal illness to the end was inspiring.  His bench sits next to my dad’s seat.  We imagine that they chat away, keeping each other company.  I did my usual, bade them both good morning, and spoke as if they were there, explaining how the family was doing.  Daft, yes, but I felt them there, at least listening.  I discussed the latest rugby with Dad; he wasn’t happy that the Melrose 7’s weren’t on the box, but we recalled the great players we’d seen at the Greenyards.  As usual, we agreed to disagree, as Roger Baird and Dougie Morgan were great players.

I finished all the jobs with time to sit and watch La Rochelle v Saracens rugby in the European Cup on Sunday afternoon.  It was turgid, just bulked-up men bashing ten bells out of each other.  My dad noted that Jim Renwick would have broken the French defense open.  This time I had to agree with him.  Terry suggested the football match between Liverpool v Arsenal might be more entertaining.  It was, but some controversies were more like a scrum than soccer. I dozed off on the couch, exhausted at my weekend exploits, but a smile etched on my face of past, present, and future conversations with Mum, Dad, and Terry.

Whatever your creed or religion, Happy Easter, everyone.