No. 10

by Anne Outram, née Forsyth

When I think of Number 10, it isn’t of 10 Downing Street, but Number 10 Hope Street, St Andrews.

In its day it was just as important to us students, for it was well known as the first mixed ‘bunk’ in the town. A bunk was a house, which took in students – for bed and breakfast, sometimes evening meals too, and the landlady was called ‘the bunk wife’.

In the early 1950s I was lucky enough to be one of the students, who lived in Number 10. I kept a pocket diary for a couple of years in the ’50s. When I moved into Number 10, there is a note: ‘no.10 – super bunk, fish and chips for supper’. We were always hungry – the girls too. And the meals were always plentiful – quite a challenge as there was still rationing. What a good time we had! Though Mrs Mac (the bunk wife) took in boys as well as girls, it was run with great propriety. To this day I hear people say with a nostalgic smile, ‘I was in Number 10.’ There is no need to explain.

We were a mixed lot – a student from New Zealand, a couple of American girls, as well as Scots and English. It was a happy mix – after the evening meals we’d settle down in front of the gas fire and tackle the crossword. We got up a team to take part in the annual charities event. We argued amicably about the election of the Rector (the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres was elected). I remember laboriously stitching a banner with the name Crawford, and trying to persuade someone at the front of the house to hang it out of his window.

My diary records that we all went on a torchlight procession – and ‘ there was a fight outside HH [Hamilton Hall]’. A fight? In St Andrews? Finally when the new rector was elected there was a student procession through the town: and he was presented with gifts along the way. I was lucky enough to present him with a gift from the bunks (a hot water bottle) and I felt this was an acknowledgement of Number 10 Hope St.

There seemed to be plenty happening in the town – we often went to the Byre (in those days it was just a cowshed – with notices that warned, ‘please keep your feet off the stage’): we spent a lot of time drinking coffee in Joe’s in Market Street (you could sit all evening with one cup of coffee, while lots of the university clubs held their meetings there); there were rehearsals for the Mermaids (we did Antigone that year). So when did we do any work? I remember sitting up all one night and hearing the dawn chorus.

Mrs Mac liked to sit up late. So it was well known that we’d troop down to the kitchen late at night and sit drinking tea with her for hours putting the world to rights. I think my record was sitting there until four in the morning! As exams loomed we all started working late, but the kettle was always on no matter what the hour. We were very well looked after – I have several notes in my diary, ‘Breakfast in bed.’ Really! Not many bunk wives offered this luxury, as Mrs Mac and her daughter did.

We got to know the family. Mrs Mac had a son and daughter, Duncan and Seonaid.

Seonaid had a little daughter Nivena, and later the grown-up Nivena had two of a family, Paul and Caroline. I still remember it was the year when ‘Singing in the Rain’ was a hit song from the film of the same name. It was a great favourite with Nivena – then about six years old – and she would skip round the garden singing tunefully. Caroline, Nivena’s daughter – the fourth generation – is a good friend to this day.

I remember one very unusual occasion. In the mid-1970s I had gone out to Nigeria for a three-week tour, to work with the Nigerian editor of our publishing firm. We had driven from early morning down potholed roads, from Ibadan to Lagos – with a long delay on the bridge into Lagos. At last we reached the Ministry of Education to visit one of our authors, and waited, tired and hungry, for the lift. Suddenly the lift doors opened, and a man stepped out. He was wearing a St Andrews alumnus tie and greeted me with ‘ Number ten Hope Street!’ (As a greeting, I think that trumps, ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume!’) I remembered him well – he was one of those who gathered round Mrs Mac’s friendly table, but I had no idea he was to be there – in fact he had arrived from Tanzania just the day before to take up a post with the British Council. We had a brief conversation, (‘What are you doing here?’) and went on our separate ways.

In later years Number 10 was still known for its hospitable welcome as a B&B. When the residents of a local care home had to move out while their rooms were refurbished with en-suite (some time in the ‘90s, I think ) they went to stay for a short time in Number 10. And they always remembered the kindness and hospitality shown them by the then owner. ‘We didn’t want to go home,’ said one.

The last time I stayed with Mrs Mac was the time I returned to St Andrews for graduation. It was a glorious summer morning and I felt excited about the very special day ahead. A group of us were sitting round the breakfast table when someone brought in a newspaper. We all crowded round, and there it was, the great news – Everest conquered!

It seemed a shining omen – not just for the dawn of the Elizabethan age and the beginning of the reign of the new Queen, but for one hopeful graduate, who will always remember those days at Number 10, a real family home.

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