Alex Smeed (1979) 1980s & 1990s in Dunbar

Looking back on growing up in Dunbar in the 1980s and 1990s, I realise how privileged and fortunate I was. From the perspective of an ‘adult’, I hope that my kids can grow up in a small town like Dunbar and benefit in the same way that I have. The problem is that when I was a kid growing up in Dunbar I didn’t feel privileged being in a small and hard Scottish town.

From an early age I can remember vividly Springfield House, which was to eventually become our family home. I loved the openness, the massive garden in which I could run around and shoot my two brothers with the various weapons boys invent to inflict pain upon their loved ones! Every summer, as the tourists came and stayed with us in the guesthouse, I would love the constant bustle of being part of the tourism in Dunbar, meeting people from all over the UK and further afield. This experience has marked my summers as I grew up and became mum’s regular waiter, serving meals at night and making beds in the morning. Now I still enjoy the many tourists passing through Dunbar as I moved from waiter to tourism advisor in the High Street.

Anyway, back to my earlier years, when I would run along Belhaven Road to school, stopping for a 20p mixture at the Rigg garage. Primary school itself is a blur of playing ‘deserters’, stuffy classrooms and caring teachers. The many projects we did kept our attention and developed our skills without any of us even realising. Perhaps the most vivid memory is of going on a P7 camp to Aberfeldy where the joys and frustrations of sharing a room with friends first became apparent! Early secondary brings a whole new range of memories. At this age I took up golf properly and would be found as often as was possible on the course, Winterfield that is! Living less than a good 3 iron from the course I would hurry home from school, which was now just across the road, grab my clubs and head for the course. In the height of summer we could play 27 holes or more before the sun finally set and ended our aspirations of becoming the next Nick Faldo – but only until the next day. Once a week there was the junior medal, which my brother and I would play in. The constant pressure we put on ourselves to get our handicap down brought out the best and worst in us! Being invited to play on the Winterfield team was a real proud moment and we all did our best to win against the other junior sections of East Lothian’s many courses. 1992 was especially memorable when the Open came to Muirfield. Seeing top players in the flesh was an amazing experience.

As I became older, my experience of growing up in Dunbar changed again. Golf gave way to long evening walks out to John Muir Park. The teenage desire to develop our own identities led us to the country park where we could be free from parental constraints, have our own space and wander for literally hours along the beautiful coastline. This time gave me a life-long appreciation of the coastline. Every time I go away, and then return to Dunbar the sight of Belhaven beach, the Bass Rock and Fife remind me that I am home. Friendships were developed and stengthened during these days as parties were held out at John Muir or in friend’s homes (when the parents were away for the weekend!). Music was a huge part of our lives and being part of several bands in Dunbar was amazing and a great learning experience.

Then when I was 14 I became a Christian and suddenly the youth fellowship became an important and vivid part of being in Dunbar. Held in the stables at Belhaven church and in one of the leaders’ houses in Kirk Park, YF was a fantastic part of growing up in Dunbar. The faith of the leaders inspired and challenged me and the friendships developed within the group were special and real. We would go on ‘safari dinners’ around the town, visit the YFs in other East Lothian towns, play games, watch videos, study the Bible, go on weekends away – the list is endless! The wider church frustrated us, but I became more and more involved in the life of the worshipping community in Belhaven. Memories include carol singing for Save the Children, leading worship with my new-found guitar and the church fete.

School was also a huge part of this period of my life in Dunbar. Before the current renovations we had to have classes in the infamous and ‘temporary’ annexes. Pressure mounted as we sat prelims in the hall, which until then had been the venue for school dances and volleyball during PE. The invigilator still haunts my memory! Being part of the school basketball team was a highlight, as well as the many school concerts where I was part of the backstage team. As school came to an end we all started filling out our UCAS forms for university and then the parties really started! Coming of age also meant beginning to drive, giving us freedom to leave what we saw as our small, unexciting town.

Having temporarily left Dunbar, it is now, looking back, that I see the real benefit and joy of growing up here. While these memories have been superficial at best, I hope they do convey the love and respect I have for Dunbar and how much I enjoyed growing up in it!

Alex was head boy of Dunbar Grammar School in 1996/7 and then had a year out in Australia. He graduated MA with Honours at Edinburgh University in 2002 and is now studying for a Bachelor of Arts Degree in theology in the International Christian College in Glasgow.