SOON I shall be 60, which is hard to comprehend.
I have never been keen on growing old. Even when I was a teenager, I did my best to ignore birthdays. In those days 18 was the magic age, at which point you could legitimately enter a pub and order a dry martini.
In the first place I attempted to do this the barman said that if I was 18 he was Denis Law. With no means to prove it, I gave him my home phone number and begged him him to call it. He got my grannie whose reaction was "Where did you say he is? A pub! What's he doing in a pub?"
I was born in 1952, before the present Queen was crowned and Everest remained unmolested. It was, at least in my recollection, a very gray and constricted world. We lived on a small estate out of which we ventured only rarely and then with a sense of Columbus setting sail to discover America. The street was where we children played. Every boy wanted to a footballer. What every girl wanted to be I have no idea because there was none in our circle.
Everything was makeshift. For one Christmas I was given a second-hand bike, for another a tracksuit. If you wanted to buy anything yourself you had to earn the money by doing a paper round or shake coins from your father's trousers. When he wasn't wearing them, of course.
Near our house was a farm. In the summer I would go there with my mother and pick peas and strawberries, which we ate until we were sick of the sight of them. In the winter I went tattie howking which looks and sounds now like the kind of activity you might associate with Burns's era.
I had an uncle who lived across the street from us who was a farm labourer and I used to see him going to work in his overalls and wellies with a haversack slung round his neck in which he kept a piece and a flask. That, too, is evocative of another century.
Where the farm once was are houses. That saddens me, because it is part of the concretisation of the landscape. One of the few consolations of growing older is that I shall not be here when the globe is bereft of trees and grass.
Around this time of year we became obsessed with chestnut trees and would forage for conkers as food fanatics do today for exotic funghi. Even now I cannot pass a chestnut tree without scouring it for "chessies" which, in their shells, I've always thought look like ancient instruments of torture.
My generation was the first to benefit from the welfare state. It was just one of many ways in which we were blessed. Another was that we never had to go to war, though the Boys' Brigade made sure we "Christian soldiers" were ready to should the need arise. Higher education was open and free to anyone, however poor, who had the necessary qualifications.
Most folk worked in the mills which made the wire that was used for the Forth Road Bridge and paper on which was printed all the news that was fit to print. Where they stood formerly, smoking and belching and turning the river a toxic ochre, is a giant Tesco's, which is by far the biggest employer in the town.
I always assumed that as an adult I would live elsewhere. Yet here I still am, marooned in Musselburgh as George Mackay Brown was in Stromness. Nor am I unusual. Daily I bump into old friends with whom I am always happy to chat.
Had you told me at 18 that this is where I'd be in 2012 I would have laughed in your face. Television, which soon invaded every house in our neighbourhood, made people envious and eager to travel and I did, which was fine.
You need to do things like that to get them out of your system; you need to compare and contrast as the examiners of old invariably insisted. Eventually, though, you come to realise that everywhere is pretty much like anywhere – give or take the odd ray of sunshine.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.