Green Coloured Pencils

Writer and historian Daniel Gray is working with CACE Older People Active Lives service users as part of our ReimagiNation creative residency. Below he shares some thoughts on the town from his first visit to the town.

Those who first drew what would become Cumbernauld did so with plenty of green pencils. For each house, a garden; for each towerblock, grass to share and pastoral views to tickle the eyes.

Half of this place would be lush and verdant. City children whose hands had mostly known brick, whose knees were born grazed, could now pat bark and tumble on turf. “It was like heaven, moving here”, said to me a man once of Glasgow in the CACE Men’s Shed. In that city, his young son came home from play with soot on his face. Here, there were grass stains.

Then was then. Everything is certain about the past, give or take a name here, a year there. Now – and Cumbernauld is a place of such surprises – much is just the same. This town is known for its concrete and roads, but green still nudges up to most buildings, and trees wait patiently by tarmac byways, as if waiting to cross. This is only the first day of my residency, and three or four times do I hear the words “It’s not a bad wee place to live.”

The Men’s Shed smells of wood being worked on and has the happy air of all places in which something useful is being done. This morning, half-a-dozen or so men are working on nature boxes. They are industrious and involved, though animated conversation occasionally rises up in-between the putter of a hammer. They spot the writer type at ten paces. A left-handed screwdriver is mentioned. Tartan paint too, I think. Some places you just love straight away. I will be back.

I have no time to stand around being useful. Onwards, to the British Legion, one of those unheralded hubs that make a place human. Beneath these buildings’ flat roofs, a town’s life ticks. Today, for it is the day of the Bard, CACE have organised a Burns Lunch. The sweet scent of boiling turnips greets the happy many who arrive by minibus, each vehicle driven by a CACE volunteer. Individuals gathered in the common interest of celebration and being together and helping one another forget their troubles. That is community defined.

Finally, to Kildrum Parish Church. I will write more of this place and its kindly people another day, but for now I am thinking only of the woods behind the church. As the low winter sun finally nodded off, it created for a moment or two a dusty light show among the trees. I for one am glad of those green coloured pencils.

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