Calling time at a town institution

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Alas the Cross Keys is no more. It is being acquired by Scottish Borders Council to be de-pubbed and transformed into a community hub, whatever one of those might be, although the very name suggests a variety of uses, some of which will change the focus of Selkirk life.

Various other plans for the building are blowing in the wind, but translating big talk into big action is never a straightforward process. Whatever comes from this development, I would appreciate any move that preserves the name of Cross Keys in the new enterprise.

I have fond memories of the Cross Keys from days when visiting local pubs was part of my lifestyle, and although I sampled most of the Selkirk hostelries, the Cross Keys and Town Arms remained my equal favourites until my own life patterns changed.

Initially, my collection of hobbies meant my evenings were no longer free as I gardened or beavered away in my workshop most nights until well after closing time. Then several medical conditions came along, most of which limited my alcohol intake until I reached a point where the booze became a definite no-no.

To tell the truth, by that time my taste for drink had diminished to a level where becoming a teetotaller was no big deal at all – I just don’t miss the stuff. Sometimes when eating out in a restaurant I come over all daring and take a chance on a half-pint of lager shandy, but most of time something like a glass of lime and soda, or even plain water, is fine for me.

Unless the standard of pub refreshment is truly appalling, for me beer was well, just beer, and after a couple of pints it all tasted more or less the same. But that distracts from the real reason for going to a pub – it is the people who frequent the place who matter. A chance to exchange news, gossip and scandal, or just enjoy the company of people you like is the real deal.

During what we call the good old days, a visitor to licensed premises could accurately predict more or less everyone he would meet when he came through the door, often to the point he could say exactly where a regular customer would stand at the bar. Bar conversations were well known to range over a variety of topics, although I found it best to steer clear of religion or politics for personal safety reasons.

A little alcohol can always add a certain something to debate, which is maybe why there are so many bars in the Houses of Parliament down there in London town.

I suppose my best times for being a pub regular coincided with days when Sandy and Rob Donald had the Town Arms, and Keith and Moira McFadzen ran The Cross Keys. Both had an amazing clientele and the brilliant craic was always enough to encourage me to linger for one more pint when I should have headed for home. I learnt a lot about life, Selkirk and people in these places, much of which is still with me to this day.

But in the UK life patterns have changed a great deal and pubs have lost a lot of their popularity.

Television and its associated entertainment availability, combined with plentiful supplies of cheap drink from supermarkets, means more of us stay at home. It is also of note that whereas smoking is banned from pubs, those dependent on tobacco can reek away in the comfort of their own home without limitation – all factors in the decline of social pub drinking.

Like many other folk, I have been dismayed at the number of licensed premises which have closed their doors for good over the last few years – but realise we must move with the times. Will the pub ever return to its former place in our society? Only time will tell, but any changes will be gradual and it might be the case that some event or crisis will be enough to draw us together for a common purpose in a way no community hub will ever achieve. What that might be is a matter for endless debate, but it is useful to recall that in two world wars pubs played a vital part in keeping public morale going – we can only hope that will never again be the reason for their return to popularity.

Looking forward (at last), a community hub situated in the heart of Selkirk can only be a good thing and we should all give the project our support. But in order to sell the idea to Souters, there is a clear need for more information as to cost, exactly what it will be and, more importantly, an estimate of the timescale for the work involved.

I have a feeling this addition to Market Place activity will play merry hell with the car parking situation and might even trigger the resumption of calls to make major changes to the whole area, with relocation of the bus stance a priority. But that is another matter, with current financial limitations keeping such ideas on the back-burner for the time being.

With the wind farm proposals going down the tubes, our regeneration ambitions took a big hit, but maybe gave some indication that ambitious schemes are all very well, but without popular support their prospect of success will be limited. The Selkirk regeneration project appears well aware of this and although the cash spent on the windmill feasibility study seems excessive, its value will be seen as a case of nothing ventured, nothing gained, at the same time giving notice to predatory wind farm developers that they are not welcome around here.

There are still many options open to regenerate Selkirk as a living town in a land where so many others have had the heart ripped out of their centres by the big supermarkets. Halting the decline in small retail businesses is a big ask for any organisation, and giving our support to the regeneration group and local traders is not an option – it is a duty.

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