Susan Deacon (1964) – Inveresk Village, Musselburgh 1960s & 1970s

I have always used as a talking point the fact that I was born in a park. The fuller version of this is that I was born in the maternity hospital, which was once in Lewisvale Park in Musselburgh. The hospital is now long gone, having become first a psychiatric unit and then subsequently demolished and replaced with some very nice flats, but it means that I can say with impunity that I come from Musselburgh!

Inveresk village, looking along Carberry Road to Doubledykes corner. The gatepost on the left belongs to Catherine Lodge

The same could not be said of my family – my mum, dad and older brother – who moved to Musselburgh from Leith in the early 1960s. Keen to get out of the city, they applied for a position with Mr and Mrs John Bartholomew (he of maps fame) at the Manor House in Inveresk Village. They lived in the coach house (now occupied I believe by the famous cook and other things, Clarissa Dickson-Wright) and, in return, my mum cleaned the Manor and generally helped the Bartholomews look after the house. When the Bartholomews decided to move – across the road to Rosehill, an equally lovely but smaller house – my family’s services were no longer required.

As luck would have it, Major and Mrs Haviland, who owned Halkerston Lodge ‘next door’, were looking for caretakers to mind the house as it underwent renovation while they were abroad. My mum and dad accepted.

The arrangement was originally meant to be a temporary one for a matter of months. Once the renovations were complete, however, Mrs Haviland asked my family if they would like to stay on to act as caretakers and generally help look after the house and garden. With some trepidation my mum said she would love to but that there was a complication – a baby was on the way (ie me!!). Far from withdrawing the offer Mrs Haviland said that that would be lovely and so my family stayed on.

In the event, we stayed in Halkerston Lodge until I was 11, moving only after Major and Mrs Haviland had passed away and the house had been sold. Not bad for a short-term appointment of a few months!

My memories of growing up in the Village are very fond ones. There were lots of children and lots of activities – summer fetes and children’s parties among them. I spent many a happy hour in the garden of Halkerston Lodge – picking flowers or berries, playing hide and seek or generally whiling away the day with a book and Speedy the tortoise – who had a nasty habit of wandering off into the flower beds. Music was also an early love of mine and I was very lucky to get the chance to learn on the grand piano in Halkerston’s drawing room.

I suppose that, technically, we were ‘below the stairs’ but that was never the way we were made to feel. To this day my family stays in close contact with many of our friends from the village. Julian Haviland (Major and Mrs Haviland’s son) recently delivered a beautiful eulogy at my mother’s funeral. She would have been so proud.

Many of my childhood memories involve the natural surroundings I grew up in. Long walks by the river Esk – picking brambles and feeding swans. Cycle runs with my brother to such far flung places as Elphinstone, Pencaitland and Cousland. And time spent at my dad’s allotment at Inveresk – learning that potatoes and peas did not come from a shop but from a painstaking process in the ground.

Trips to North Berwick were a big highlight for us. My dad worked with the railways so we got free passes and ‘PT’s’ (privileged tickets, I think). Our big weekend out was a bus to Prestonpans station (no car then) and a train to North Berwick. This was followed by sandcastles, paddling and, if we were good, an ice cream and a strawberry tart at some point in the day.

Even after we had left the Village, I greatly enjoyed the surrounds which the area had to offer. I remember spending many a Sunday afternoon as a teenager walking aimlessly along Musselburgh beach – I only wish I had more time to do that now!

I stayed in Musselburgh until I was 19 and a student at Edinburgh University. Keen to get ‘independence’ and all that, I moved to a city centre student flat. But time passed and the novelty wore off. I moved back to Musselburgh, by then with my partner, twelve years ago. It is a move I have never regretted. Our house looks over Musselburgh racecourse and the view is a welcome antidote to a ‘hard day at the Parliament’. Living within walking distance of parks, seaside and a great local shopping centre, not to mention one of the country’s best ice cream shops, is reason enough to be here. Add to that the fact we are but short car, bus or train trip to both the city centre and rural East Lothian and we could not ask for better.

Now that I have two young children of my own, I try to make time to relive some of the experiences of my own childhood. Walks to the harbour, the lagoons or along by the Esk are less frequent than I would like them to be, but they are lovely when we can manage them. My brother takes my eldest child, Clare, on regular train trips to North Berwick which she seems to enjoy every bit as much as her mum did all those years ago.

I consider myself very lucky to have been brought up in this area. I am sure that my children will one day say the same.

Since 1999, Susan has been the MSP for Edinburgh East & Musselburgh, serving as Minister for Health and Community Care.