Recently I welcomed visitors from Ireland and, as we were still enjoying that blessed period of beautiful weather, we took a train journey to Largs for the day. The train wasn’t too crowded so it was a very relaxing trip, lasting just under an hour, during which I filled in some details for my friends of what I knew about the various stops along the way.
When we got to Saltcoats I got rather nostalgic as this was the holiday destination for the Keevins family throughout nearly all of my childhood years. I can remember the excitement when the period of the Glasgow Fair was getting nearer and the cases started being packed. Usually on Fair Saturday we would splash out on a taxi to bring us from Partick to St. Enoch’s Station where the steam train was waiting, belching out smoke, and the smells, the noises and the bustle of the station would increase our excitement. For those who are familiar with J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, it was the nearest thing I can imagine to getting on the Hogwarts Express and heading off for an incredible adventure. We would climb aboard; father, mother and the three boys, find a carriage, and think that the time was never going to pass until the guard would close the doors, blow his whistle, and we would be on our way.
We would always stay in the same boarding house. The family that owned it had a huge Dalmatian which we called “spotty dog” and we would be looking forward so much to seeing it again and getting an excited waggly tail and slabbery tongue welcome. I’m sure the dog had a name but I couldn’t tell you what it was, to us it was just “spotty dog”. We would be on the beach every day, even when it was cold and windy, making sand castles and running in and out of the sea – none of us could swim. When I look back at the old photographs, in most of them we look frozen and windswept, but also happy and smiling. Even after our father died, while we were still young, we made the same trip with our mother, and there is always a poignancy in looking back at photographs where there were two parents, and then only one.
I can remember a bridge over the railway tracks and going through a period of trainspotting. I would stand on the bridge with my pencil and my jotter, waiting for the trains to pass underneath, and trying to jot down the number on the engine as it sped past. I can also remember the fish and chip shop near the boarding house from which, every night, we would bring back a carry-out of chips and a bowl of peas and vinegar. Heaven couldn’t be better. All too soon it would be time to return home again. After a while the memory would fade, until the Glasgow Fair came around once again, and we would start all over.
I left all that behind as I arrived with my visitors in Largs. I said to them later that I didn’t think anyone had ever taken longer to walk the short distance from the train station to the seafront as, before we caught sight of the water, we had stopped at just about every shop along the way where they bought sandals; coffee and cake; suntan lotion; a hat; a book, and fancy tissue paper. Once we did arrive at the seafront they were very impressed with the promenade. We sat for a while watching the ferry cross to and from Millport and then had a lovely stroll to the little lake at the end of the prom where men were sailing model yachts. We strolled back and of course had to have ice cream cones from Nardini’s, to which the seagulls also took a notion, but they didn’t bother us too much. There was more shopping before we got back to the train; two more pairs of sandals, quite a few golfing shirts, and I can’t remember what else. The serious shopping was still to come in Glasgow the following day, when I would mostly leave them to it, but, all in all, it was a really lovely day out.
It’s so important, from time to time, just to get away from the normal grind, and even a few hours away, at a different location, moving at a gentler pace, breathing fresher air, enjoying the smell and feel of the sea, can make such a difference. Jesus said to his disciples, `Come away with me. Let us go alone to a quiet place and rest for a while’. How wise he was.