At the Corner


Every small village has its own particular spot where folk like to meet and in Hilton young and old used to gather at the corner. Many years ago there was much more open space there than there is now, it was an advantageous spot for seeing a lot that went on in the village. There was an uninterrupted view of the whole of King Street, you could see right to the top of the brae as well as to most of the Braefoot and parts of Back Street and Shore Street. A small path ran down to the pier and any sailing craft that passed by could be observed. Any traffic on the top road was noted too, not that there was much in those days. Dan McKay’s bus ran several times a day, one of the Donald Wood’s horse drawn carts might trundle by and Marie Urquhart with her pony or even “Johnnie with the cockles” from Inver could come along.
There was always a small gathering of young men at the corner, some of them unemployed and others maybe on a spot of leave from the Merchant Navy. Younger children joined them and listened to the tales of far off places. Some of these tales were true enough, others greatly exaggerated for the benefit of young ears. Sometimes the stories were of a different kind, like ghost stories which made one’s hair stand on end. I remember, as a child, when in the dusk or gloaming I came to a certain place, I closed my eyes tightly and ran until I was well beyond it.
There was also much fun, laughter and games of all sorts that were played, in which children, teenagers and adults all took part. For the adults, “Pitch and Toss” was the favourite, the stakes being half pennies or matches. It was no uncommon sight to see two young men ‘cawing’ the rope while girls skipped in and out. The roles then were reversed! The rope was usually a thick one, ten to twelve feet long. Games of Marbles, Port, Hop Scotch, Rounders, Hide and Seek, Cattie and ‘The Priest of Paris’ were all played at the corner. It was hard to find a village child who didn’t learn new card games there.
In those early days children’s bicycles were unheard of in the village and most youngsters learned to ride a bike ‘under the bar’. Older folk helped hold the bicycles steady, little bodies twisted into Z shapes took off amid roars of encouragement from the onlookers. In next to no time they were experts enough to take another child on the carrier.
Many a mischievous prank was hatched at the corner. There it was decided which windows were to get the ‘Peeterie-Dick’ or ‘Topping-Purn’ treatment, whose rain water barrels were to have the lids banged, or whose house was to be smoked out by putting a divot or cabbage atop the chimney can. Many a teenager took part in playing those pranks on his own parents. On summer evenings dances were held on the grassy patch across the road. Local lads brought their melodions and got the reels going. After a few nights of noise and merriment, residents in nearby houses protested that their men folk needed sleep having to go out to sea early. The venue then switched to the neighbouring village of Balintore.
A regular visitor at that time was the evangelist Wolfe Murray. When word got around that he was in the village many folk gathered at the side of Uiside’s house to hear this well loved and respected man. There was a hushed silence while he delivered his message and the religious together with the less so ecclesiastical figures of the village gathered to enjoy the familiar hymns and choruses.
There was another well known character, who, almost every day liked to join the younger men at the corner. He was known as ‘Huke’ and he dearly loved music of any kind. Many a time voices were raised in song and one of the favourites was ‘When the British Fought at Alma’. Another was ‘Down by the Green Wood Sidey-oh’. Sometimes to the accompaniment of one or more mouth organs, a detachment marched along the street six or eight abreast and no one seeing them raised an eyelid in surprise.
From the corner a splendid view could also be had of all the happenings on the pier. In the summertime it was a favoured spot for bathers and each persons progress at swimming or diving was applauded and encouraged. Many a happy was spent, by myself, as well as with other children, on that same pier. Time was forgotten as we fished happily, using a stick, to which was attached a piece of fine string with a bent point at the end. For bait we used limpets or mussels chopped into small pieces and our catch would be enough sellacks and sooyans to feed all the cats in the vicinity.
There are memories of winter too and the happy snowball fights that were a feature of many winters. Very few passed that way without receiving one or more hits. It was Christmas that I remember the best. Old Tom, the postman, delivered the mail faithfully each day, No matter what the weather was he cycled around the village and the countryside. At Christmas the volume of parcels and cards was too much for his trusty steed so the heavier goods came by cart or small lorry. All the mail was dumped on the grass across the road from the corner, then ensued a real melee as children dived in to see if there was anything for their own families. In no time at all the mail was delivered to its rightful owners.
Those are some of my childhood memories but there is one other incident which I can recall. It happened many years later, World War II had just begun and many young men who were in the Naval Reserve were called up for active service. One day I saw them board a bus at the corner, their friends and relatives were there to wave them off. That was a sad and tearful occasion. Some of those lads did not return and the village mourned those who did not. They too, at some time or other, had shared happy fellowship with their friends at this well loved spot. I think they would like us to remember “the corner” as a special place of companionship and goodwill.
Katie Ross