Soor Plooms and Sair Knees – Bob Dewar
“Soor Plooms and Sair Knees” – written and illustrated by Bob Dewar (Birlinn)
Soor Plooms and Sair Knees – an exhibition of Bob Dewar’s original illustrations at Doubtfire Gallery, Edinburgh, 5 – 26 April, 2014
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley (1953).
Subtitled “Growing up in Scotland after the War”, Bob Dewar’s witty and affectionate account of his childhood, “Soor Plooms and Sair Knees”, is a perceptive and personal vision of family life, schooldays, the working class community, work and culture through the 1950s.
As he comments in the Introduction, “ Looking back on my childhood, it seems less like another world and more like another planet. Yet at the same time it feels like it all happened days rather than decades ago.”
The term “The Generation gap” was coined in the late 1960s, to explain a lack of communication between one generation and another brought about by differences of tastes and values.
Teenagers today brought up in the era of the World Wide Web, mobile phones, texting, internet, 24 hour TV, X box games, would certainly view the experience of a post-war childhood as “another planet”.
For those of a certain age, heading towards milestone 50, 60, 70th birthdays, will perhaps remember with quiet nostalgia through rose tinted glasses, the classroom capers and endless hot summer school holidays, an innocent time of outdoor fun and freedom.
Bob Dewar captures the period of Austerity after the War with great humour through colourful caricatures and sketches, complemented by an explanatory narrative to describe the sense of time and place.
Here are the stories and experiences of playing Cowboys and Indians, picking apples from other people’s gardens, Eagle comics, household chores and Housewives Choice on the wireless, coal fires, the joy of penny chews and soor plooms at the sweet shop, the local grocer’s shop selling broken biscuits and Camp coffee.
As Bob Dewar recalls, “ Almost everything you might need food-wise along with paraffin, mouse traps could be found… Butter was left out overnight but nobody seemed to die of butter poisoning. This was in the distant past before hygiene was discovered. “
(Long before the current nanny state health and safety laws, sell by dates and food wastage!…)
There’s an hilarious illustration of a school gym, with the large class of boys and girls climbing, jumping, somersaulting and horse vaulting with red faced exertion.
And summer holidays by the seaside are beautifully captured with charming vintage manner and style – the steam train, station porters, caravan park, hand knitted swimming trunks –
As Bob Dewar recalls, “The water retention of a woollen costume was phenomenal, it felt like around a hogshead (12 barrels) of clammy North Sea. … the ability to walk comfortably when wet was severely impaired.”
It’s certainly the time for nostalgic memories. This month (April, 2014), in a new TV series, “Ian Hislop’s Olden Days”, the 50-something editor of Private Eye explores the British love of tradition, and how people use the past to help shape the present: the fact that parents start telling their children about their childhood as if it were some sort of olden, golden period.
In similar vein, Bob Dewar has written a wry, dry, sardonic and amusing homage to reflect on the experience of his early life and times. This is not simply a personal memoir, but a valuable social history of post war Scotland – a time travelling journey back sixty odd years to a place and period very much akin to a foreign country.
Soor Plooms and Sair Knees -by Bob Dewar published by Birlinn, Edinburgh. www.birlinn.co.uk
A wonderful selection of the original drawings from the book is currently on show and for sale at the Doubtfire Gallery, 3 South East Circus Place, Edinburgh.
www.doubtfiregallery.com t. 0131 225 6540