|This is St Cuthbert's Street Catrine.
It looks almost the same today as when this picture was taken before I was born.
My name is Robert Steele. I was born at 5 Shawlands Street, Catrine, Ayrshire in 1950. My father was James Alston Steele (Nicknamed Streamer) and my mother was Margaret Gordon. I was one of six brothers, the eldest being Jim, followed by Gordon, Bill, Norman, myself and David. We moved to a bigger house at 53 Shawlands Street in 1953 just before David was born. I have many happy memories of our youth there. We had a large back garden that lead on to a woodland area and on again to an open valley we called the Indian valley because I suppose all the kids were always playing at cowboys and Indians at that time. This was where we would roll our Easter eggs and sledge in winter. It was a wonderful steep hill that stretched all the way down to the Branch railway line at the bottom. The steepest part of the hill was called the bucking bronco because if you took off from the top on the right kind of home made sledge, you would shoot up into the air and land again a couple of times on the way down and to the spectators it was a bit like watching someone trying to stay mounted on an unbroken horse in a rodeo competition. I remember I had stripped down this old armchair and made my super sledge using the wooden arms as runners which looked a bit like skis. It turned out to be a cracker. The first time I took off on this thing I broke all records. I was still travelling so fast at the bottom of the valley where it levels out that I couldn't stop. I shot through the fence and into a summersault half way up the railway banking. In summertime we could play away in the wood all day making underground trenches and digging up groundnuts. We made bows and arrows and pea shooters and slings. We picked the wild flowers and berries. When Davy Crocket started on television everybody wanted a Davy Crocket hat. My great Aunt Maggie supplied the fox furs and my mother was commissioned to do the business and before long it was like the Rockie Mountains at our back door. There was also two hollows where the water gathered after heavy rain like a big brown lake. When it was dry weather we played at gold mining and sliding down the muddy slipways to the hollow. When it was wet it was a danger zone we only ever ventured to wonder at in awe, as it transformed into a mystical jungle swamp and there was always a huge tree stump floating in one of the hollows, like a dug out canoe. Between the hollows was the favourite spot for most of us kids, the frog pond. We used to gather the frogs eggs and take them home in jars and watch them hatching into tadpoles. I remember having a pet newt for a while from the frog pond but I was persuaded to take it back and set it free. In winter we could sledge, in summer we could swim in the river Ayr and catch streamers and sticklebacks, or you could go and watch the salmon leaping and the men fishing after a spate. The front street at that time was also a children's play area. I can vaguely remember the games we played in the street where we would all recite various rhymes and then run across to the other side of the road. I suppose television and the car were responsible for the loss of those early street games that bonded so many children in my early years.
I can remember that Sanny and Susan Rennie were probably the first people in our street with a television and Sussie invited all the kids in the street in to see Jesus of Nazareth. It was like an early picture house. We all sat cross legged on the floor and Sussie always had a cake for everyone. Catrine was a thriving community then. We had the Wilson Hall which became the picture house twice a week and also a live theatre for the local amateur dramatic society. I am ever grateful to Bob and Aida Paterson who involved the local community by organising bus outings to the theatre at Ayr Gaiety and Glasgow Kings Theatre and the Alhambra, also the annual September weekend to the Blackpool illuminations. Money was always hard to get for us kids in those days. My father was a surface worker at the Barony pit from 14 years of age until he died with lung cancer aged 55. My mother did what she could to make our clothes and she took in sewing for people but she was a fulltime housekeeper and mother with 6 of us to care for so she couldn't go out and earn like today's mothers. In those days leaving school and getting a job came over as more of a prospect than studying for higher education and many people were capable enough at school but were more interested in getting out to work and helping to contribute to the family expenses than involving their parents in the added expense of higher education. It was also considered that only snobs went to academies and I for one made a conscience decision not to go to the academy long before I even sat my eleven plus examination. They actually ruined my school education by keeping me back because I had started school too young and you had to be certain age before moving to the old school so we were all at least eleven years old in the same class when we sat the 11 plus exam. There was a stigma attached to being kept back because they sometimes did it to try to improve the chances of less able pupils on the idea they would catch up. I was top of the class and suddenly I had to sit for a whole term through the same lessons and loose all my friends and start again with a bunch of strangers. I can remember I came out in a rash and Doctor McRae asked my mother if anything had been worrying me because it was a nervous rash. It was a trauma that turned me against all authority and I sometimes think I lost all interest in schooling and competition from that day forth. When I eventually got down to the old school, the older pupils seemed to have the better deal with having access to the woodwork and metalwork rooms and I was always dying to get in there and try my hand at making things. I did however always enjoy my English lessons but my mother was always a very capable speller and a lovely writer and she could have taught us herself. She had always a story to tell us about her young days in service when she worked as a maid in big houses. When the 'Upstairs Downstairs' series came on the television we already knew the environment as she had described it so often. She actually met Haile Selassie when he was exiled in this country during the second world war when she worked for Lady Bolton at Skelmorlie. She unwittingly gave us all a sense of duty and respect for our peers. She did not resent authority but had a great respect for it. I never heard her condemn any of her past employers nor their senior staff, in fact she seemed to revel in having been a small part of their team. I started work against my fathers wishes on night shift delivering milk when I was only 13. I wanted to buy an electric guitar and this was how I managed to get it. I left school as soon as I was 15 and started working as a press operator in a local metal pressing factory for £2.12s6pence a week. After 3 months of this I met up with my former employer who gave me a rise to £3 a week to go back on the milk run. I did this for a year and then I learned about the big money to be made in the B.M.K. carpet factory. I started as a spool boy at the Burnside factory in Kilmarnock at 16 and was moved on to the Riverside factory at 18 to work the creels in the wire wilton department.
I always wanted to travel abroad and when we were only 16 my mate Toni and I decided to hitch hike to France and see the world. We got down as far as a campsite in Nemours and had a great time with our fortnight’s holidays arriving back to Catrine on the local dustbin lorry we had hitched from Kilmarnock after just managing the bus fare from London Victoria to Kilmarnock to get back in time for work. Neither of us could ever really settle after that. A fortnight wasn't enough, we needed longer to explore. I wasn't long in the B.M.K. when I decided to join the Merchant Navy. I went up to Glasgow and passed the medical and all I needed was my parent's consent but my mother who was a widow by this time, wouldn't sign the form. I hated her at the time for that but in retrospect I'm sure she made the right decision. I rebelled a bit by visiting my mate who had moved to Slough and getting my first glimpses of London. I was never very impressed with the big city. I enjoyed my trip to Windsor better. I later worked in Slough for a short spell in one of the many factories there, doing 12 hour shifts at a warp knitting firm called Vita Text. Myself and the foreman were the only white faces on my shift. It was like little India. They used to tell the tale of how a chap in Chalvey went into his loft to fix his television aerial and found 3 Pakistanis had been sleeping there for ages from the house next door. Most of the beds in Chalvey were occupied 24 hours a day because as one night shift worker went out another dayshift worker was climbing in. Some were sharing the same identity and the same job. I suppose it will be just as bad today. My mate worked in the local pub and it was strange to see the local Asian boys buying peanuts and putting them into their beer. A lot of the workers in the factory wore these colourful shirts their wives had made from the bright curtain materials we produced. I used to think they were mostly all gay but it was just these home made shirts. It was a very alien environment for me and I hated every minute of it. I did however enjoyed going out to Windsor and Eton every Sunday which was only a couple of miles along the road and yet was a complete world away from that factory land. I took to the road again in the summer of 1970 on my annual holidays from BMK and hitch hiked solo to Barcelona. I fell out of favour with the BMK manager for taking an extra weeks holiday for my Spanish trip and he sacked me. Well he probably just wanted to pull me into line to be honest, but I told him where to stick his job. I then went through a period of regretting being so headstrong as I found 3 other factory jobs were not for me. My elder brother had moved to Yorkshire to work as a loom tuner and he got me a start at the weaving. This was a great opportunity because if I had stayed in the BMK I would have never made it to being a wire wilton weaver because there were so many other people in the cue before me. So at 20 years of age I moved to Sowerby Bridge in Yorkshire and started working as a Wilton Weaver at Riding Hall Carpets. It was constant nights and I was earning good money. It wasn't long before I had my first bank account and I bought a Suzuki 125 motor bike. I soon learned however, that biking was not for me. I came off it twice and it lay in an outbuilding for months not able to start. It did however get me involved with the maintenance of engines. I bought a book on motor bike maintenance and I renovated the bike and decided to sell it and put the money towards a car. When I went to the bike shop to sell it, the salesman showed me the Reliant Super van. Yes, the very same model that later featured in the 'Only fools and horses' series, except it was white. Only 3 wheels to replace the tyres on and it was as cheap as a motor bike to road tax. Brand new and guaranteed for one year for only £645 on the road. Best of all though, you could drive it with a provisional licence as it came under the same driving class as a motor bike. My mind by this time was set on getting the car and travelling around Europe.
The Reliant Super van was more than just a car. It was like a communist's dream. The first time I had a puncture I was standing at the side of the road scratching my head wondering what to do when along came a friendly reliant owners club fanatic. He took over and had the thing fixed for me in a jiffy. Everyone in a Reliant used to wave at you like we were all in the club. It could zip down the road at 80 miles an hour and get up to 90 and more with the wind on your tail. We used to call it The White Tornado. You had to be very careful in windy weather you didn't get blown off course. A front wheel blow out could be curtains. I'll never forget the first time I arrived home from Yorkshire to visit friends and a friend of my brother had enquired on seeing the car parked at the door if there was something wrong with my legs when I was driving an invalid car.
I first took the notion to travel to Africa because of the reliant owners club. I was never a member but I got their newsletter from the Halifax garage I bought the car from and I read various articles about how far these different people had travelled in their Reliants. There was also a feature on how far you could get on a gallon of petrol and one man, between freewheeling etc. had clocked up 90 miles to the gallon in one of these competitions.
My mate Toni is the grandson of an Italian and we planned to visit Italy but I wanted to go to north Africa first so we decided to head straight down through France and across the Pyrenees and follow the Mediterranean coast all the way to Gibraltar and take the ferry from Algeciras to Morocco. We travelled around Morocco for 3 weeks getting down as far as Marrakech. I can remember the Simon and Garfunkle tape was playing most of the way. (Don't you know we're riding on the Marrakech express.) Morocco was like going back to biblical times. The medinas were wonderful places to learn about life. We were very fortunate to be skint enough to blend in with the locals. I've always wanted to go back to Morocco but as you get older you tend to play safer and I often think we were very lucky to have come out of the medinas with the few pounds we had for the trip. We did manage to get robbed a couple of times. Toni lost his watch to a big black boy who washed cars as a front while he stole everything he could. Then the car was broken into and we lost our precious tape recorder so the music stopped. It was probably very lucky that it was a three wheeler as the car was too odd to be worth stealing. Never the less we met some very lovely people in Morocco too and I have a great admiration for that country. I could write a book on our experiences in Morocco but it would only be a book about two young enthusiastic Scotsmen finding their way in life and the experiences I think have served us both well. We returned to Spain and retraced our route along the Mediterranean coast and followed it along the French Riviera to Monte Carlo and the Italian Riviera. We visited Florence and Pizza and crossed to Venice and back across to Rome and on to Naples and Sorrento where we crossed over to Capri. The blue grotto in Capri is still my favourite place of all. We returned by the Brenner Pass into Austria and Germany and Belgium and Holland and France. That first trip lasted about 8 weeks and we ended up skint in Dagenham Essex working in a telephone cables factory. We only lasted a week in the factory before the sun beamed in the window one day and beckoned us forth. I remember that the accelerator cable broke the day we were leaving for home and Toni who is a first class engineer, rigged up a makeshift repair using a piece of string and a spring. We travelled all the way from Dagenham to Catrine with Toni operating the accelerator by hand while I was driving. When I arrived back in Scotland, my brother Dave was busy forming his first group and I got somehow involved with trying to help to organise the thing and I ended up the lead singer.
The next 2 years were spent playing in a Scottish Dance Band we named Katamas after Ketama in Morocco. We played the entire Scottish dance scene at that time which consisted mainly of town halls from Frazerborough to the borders. The number one band in Scotland of the time was Salvation with Midge Ure, then there was Tam Paton's Bay City Rollers. It was difficult to get work as there were so few venues and bands like Salvation got priority. I decided to take the boys to Yorkshire to play the club scene in northern England to gain experience and get the band tight. Home sickness soon set in and sent some of the boys back to Scotland. I decided to head back to Morocco. My brother Dave formed a new band straight away in Yorkshire and they went on to tour with Billy Ocean. I took my first wife to be, to Morocco where she rediscovered her school French and she decided to go back to school to study for A levels in French and English to gain entry to university to study French. A happy marriage followed and we moved to Glasgow when Linda gained her place at Glasgow University. After the first year into the course we managed to find a static caravan at Catrine House. This was where my love affair with the countryside began and I found my happiest times. I also enjoyed spending a year living in France as Linda's French course required her to spend one year as an assistant in a French school. We lived in the Limousin for a year and met some lovely French people and learned so much about French country living as I was 6 months in Limoges and 6 months in a small country cottage near to Saint-Junien-la-Bregere where I found work as a forestry labourer. Our marriage ended when we left France. I did not really want to remain there as a forestry labourer as the wages were too low to save any money and the work although interesting was really very dangerous. On returning to Scotland I took a government training course to learn to be a carpenter and after completing the course I went to work with my brother Dave in London for a while. I hated London but it was work and I could always go home from time to time because I kept on my caravan at Catrine House. I had some good experiences in London and enjoyed the work but the accommodation was usually a big part of your wage and was usually so depressing that you couldn't really sit in at nights. You had to get out and that cost more money so you couldn't really save anything. I fell into some luck at one point when I managed to get a cheap little flattlet for 6 months from a lady Dave and I had rented from before and we had been good tenants and also did on odd building repair job for her. I managed to save a bit and after 6 months I'd had enough and I eventually came home for good and vowed never to go back to London to work. I needed fresh air and peace and quite. I don't know if it was just my mood at the time or if being born and raised in a rural situation affects you, but I felt positively ill after too long breathing in city fumes and the inescapable drone which replaces silence.
I settled back into the quiet life at Catrine House and learned how to fish for trout and breed chickens. I played the clubs and pubs as a one man band for a while until I got so fed up with music I couldn't even listen to it for a period of years. I think it was because of the computerised music I was playing. I used a midi keyboard for a backing band which I controlled with midi pedals I played with my feet, while playing guitar and singing. It was all too much like work and it was a lonely life going 'round gigs on your own. You couldn't even have a drink when you were out playing because you were driving. It became a real grind and I became completely disinterested in all music. I can remember saying to people, "I don't know whether I'm a musician or a computer technician." Ironically I ended up becoming completely engrossed in computing.
I became interested in computing in 1994. My first computer was a second hand Amstrad with a whole 64k of memory and a cassette tape for storage. I was fascinated with Amstrad basic and I enrolled in a course in 1994 to learn the basics of computing. I soon realised the need for a modern machine and I bought a 486 with a 540mb hard disc and an 8mb memory chip. I studied information technology to ordinary national level and went on to study for a higher national in computing in 1995. I have always enjoyed getting things to work properly and English language as my main interest. I never really took to the internet until 1999 after becoming interested in web authoring. My favourite toy on the computer was always the word processor and the various tools I use for graphics manipulation and text editing. I earned my living for a while as part of the production team who built the large servers that serve the internet. This of course like the weaving industry before it, has all but gone now and I have been a care worker these last few years. I enjoy using the PC today as a communication tool and I am pleased to see how computing technology and digital recording techniques have only enhanced the quality of music that is available today. We have so many new tools to make life simpler and enhance our learning experience through the growth of the computer industry. The quality of all our products is greatly improved through computer aided design and data collection helps to constantly monitor everything that is manufactured leading to better and better performance from everything we make or should I say, we get the Chinese to make for us in China. My main interest these days are my grandchildren. I have always encouraged them to use the computer sensibly and I believe it has been a great aid to early learning but their internet activities are always worth checking out. Apart from the predators we keep hearing about there is a whole new movement of mindless drivel pushing piffle out there that has no place in educating our kids except to have them pass time wastefully and wallow in being recognised and liked and popular. It's as pathetic as the mindless and very lucrative computer game and play station syndrome which I have grave doubts about which is very addictive as they are lulled into a false sense of achievement as they fritter away the hours in an offhand way. Of course it's all horses for courses and some parents could be glad of them being happy to rave away to their pals in cyber talk or shoot away at cyberspace, as against actually running the streets. After all I'll be digging around on a piece of ground in my home town, waiting for someone or something to show me the way. And I'll probably have the mp3 player plugged in and I'll be singing along with Pink Floyd at the top of my voice while I 'm up there.
I have managed to do a fair bit of traveling again lately thanks to our Prestwick Airport being so handy and the continued success of Ryanair at opening up new routes. This has been a great thing for the area and hopefully it will continue to flourish. With the regular services and reasonable rates to London from Prestwick the whole of Europe is at your doorstep. Ryanair are a very efficient airline and I would recommend anyone to use their services. Their fleet of Boing 737 800 series aircraft are all in excellent condition and I feel very safe traveling with Ryanair.
And it all came about when I booked a package holiday to Greece with Thomas Cook a few years back. They put us into an old DC10 at Glasgow Airport after a 12 hour delay. The airline was called Transjet. After the long delay getting started the plane had to turn back from over the English channel and make an emergency landing at Gatwick. On landing we were surrounded by fire engines as one of the engines was low on oil and had started to catch fire. Another 12 hours later we were eventually flown from Gatwick to Greece by an Air 2000 jet and we managed to make the most of the rest of our holiday until it came time to fly back. Believe it or not they sent the same wreck back for us and it damaged it's undercarriage landing in Kefalonia. This meant a further 12 hour delay while they shuffled a group of passengers bound for Gatwick back into their hotels and gave us their plane. This Swedish company were running their business with 3 old DC 10s and within a month of our return they had gone into liquidation. We got £40 compensation for all that and I decided there and then to try the cheap scheduled airlines in future. I had my first no frills flight with easyjet and everything went ok although their planes are a bit older than any I have since travelled in with Ryanair but they did get me there on time. If you are a regular computer user check out Ryanair's website and you won't believe the bargains they have on offer from time to time. I have now decided to go back to Greece this year but unfortunately Ryanair don't fly to Greece so we're going direct to Athens from Gatwick with easyjet. I now love to fly but I like to see a fairly new 737 and I am afraid to book a package holiday. The flight times for these scheduled flights are always more suitable than the package tours and I have found some good websites for accommodation throughout Europe. So the package days are over and the only thing I worry about these days is French Air Traffic Control strikes. Yes and the other French Airlines who are trying to stop Ryanair being competitive in favour of their own lack of initiative and overstaffing. In my opinion Ryanair have given us a golden opportunity to travel in Europe which is the very thing that Europe needs. Any subsidies they have received have been well spent and should not only continue but should be extended to other routes in Europe to bring the community into it's own and to continue to stimulate business throughout the Regions. British Airways and Air France if they were as efficiently run as Ryanair would be able to compete for such subsidies but the truth is that they have enjoyed a monopoly of the best routes for too long and their airlines are now in just about as poor a state as British Rail was in before the start of privatisation. If these companies get their way then we will be living in a Europe where only the rich and privileged will be able to travel in Europe. What will this do for the people of Europe? Will we be back to driving our older cars and paying huge ferry fares just for the privilege of landing in Calais and wondering how far our petrol allowance will take us. Not for the faint hearted. Only the young and dafter members of these Islands with an ultimate thirst for travel will ever get to see what Europe has to offer. Three cheers for Ryanair. I wish you every success and wish to thank each and every one of your staff for all the flights I have been able to enjoy recently.
Well I've just enjoyed a spell back in Yorkshire working with my brother on a small building contract. We were doing some refurbishments for a company called Multiflight who maintain various aircraft and also train pilots at Bradford Leeds airport. It was nice to see Yorkshire again after all these years and I can say the Dales are looking well. I never got a chance to visit my old haunts but I enjoyed the experience and felt quite at home among the Yorkshire people again whom I have always held in high regard. During my spell at Multiflight I worked with so many very good people and it was made all the more memorable at having been given the chance to fly a small aircraft on 2 separate occasions. If this had happened to me in my teens I think I would have been determined to become a pilot. It was a wonderful experience and I am determined to see to it that my grandchildren are at least given the chance to fly at least once. Driving was always simply a means of getting there and I never took any real pleasure in driving a car but an aeroplane has a different pull. I love flying because I love the view from up there and you get the very best views in a small aircraft like the Cessna and Piper I was up in. Jets are also great when you're above the clouds but you don't get long coming down and going up to view the landscape so the small planes were particularly interesting to be in.
I expect to be getting more time to myself this year and I hope to plant a few more vegetables and perhaps get back to my music for my own pleasure and get some more walking in. I'd like to wish everyone all the very best for 2008. If you have any questions about Catrine and it's people please don't be afraid to contact me at the address below and I will do my best to help.
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Electronic mail address: rab at catrine-ayrshire.co.uk
You need to enter my address as above and substitute the at for the @ sign. I have to do this as live links to email addresses end up generating nothing but Spam from the robots that scour the web looking for emails to target.