This weekend I had reason to visit Kirkcaldy, a town located on the Firth of Forth approximately eleven miles north of Edinburgh.
These days it’s hard to imagine more than a few people having reason to visit Kirkcaldy, and of those who find themselves in proximity to the once infamous “Lang Toun” it’s likely that even fewer still would choose to stay longer than was absolutely necessary.
It is not a pretty place. Once home to coal miners and linen manufacturers, the town has long since fallen into disrepair, with many of its shopfronts now missing important letters and the main shopping centre served by a truly grotesque car park that was either never finished or not built to last.
Apparently unbothered by the 21st Century — save for a billboard advertising Ron Howard’s upcoming Rush and a branded car sporting a giant can of Red Bull — there is unmistakably a ghost town vibe as you move through the streets. Whereas most places boast a handful of supermarkets, coffee shops and fast food restaurants, all Kirkcaldy seems to offer is a Lidl, a shop selling bicycle spokes and something called Baby Land.
With about an hour to kill I set off along St Clair Street in search of something — anything — to do. I walked up and down and back up the street, but to no avail. I was just about to conclude that Kirkcaldy was the most featureless, charmless and downright depressing place I had ever been (or at least on a par with the Belgian city of Liège) when I happened across Lynne’s Cake Emporium.
Unbelievably, for a Saturday in summer, the shop seemed to be closed, leaving me transfixed on the street, my face all but pressed against the glass as I stared hungrily at its window display. I’m not sure how I missed Lynne’s Cake Emporium on my first pass, as the quite simply spectacular Super Mario-themed birthday cake sitting in the window was the most colourful thing for miles.
I had all but devoured the thing with my eyes when it started to drizzle and my view was obscured by the brown rain streaking down the glass. The colour first dulled, then disappeared completely. I had been eyeing up Rejects, the local department store, from the other side of the street, and out of desperation (very little else seemed to be open) I overcame my better judgement and hurried inside.
And better judgement be damned, for I could have spent all day in Rejects. I very nearly did spend all day in Rejects, in fact, as I almost immediately got lost within. Although in reality it was only three stories high, the split level stairs (and abundance of mirrors) at almost every turn gave it a TARDIS-like sense of being vastly bigger on the inside. In addition to the equally TARDIS-like sense of being completely outside of time.
Before IKEA and Dobbies homogenised the market, multi-functioning department stores like Rejects could be found just about everywhere in Britain. At once selling everything and nothing at all, they once proved a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of trinkets and oddities that included everything from place mats to assorted honeys. In fact, as a child I remember them selling everything other than toys — at least the kind that you actually wanted to play with.
Rejects was no different. Indeed, it was as though Kirkcaldy had inherited all of the unsold stock from such places as they closed down to make room for supermarkets. I walked the aisles in awe, picking up plastic vegetables (not just peppers, but radishes and onions), pausing to read the inscriptions on pet gravestones, and loitering to hear one cashier’s astonishment when a customer admitted she was visiting for the first time, and was therefore in need of directions.
“You’ve never been before? But where are you from?” She exclaimed, sounding genuinely surprised.
This was the sort of place where you could buy bristled boot scrapers, a “multi-relaxer” or a stone Buddha for your garden. Rejects stocked bird feeders by the wall, paper cupcake cases by the shelf, and which had a whole department devoted to umbrellas. There was also a section for designer spades, and a wallpaper department featuring designs which included leopard-print, “Urban” (essentially a grey background with the word “Urban” faux-graffitied onto it) and One Direction.
Upstairs The Gallery offered wedding furnishings to rent, graveside decorations to buy and artificial flowers of every colour and kind. Not only could you buy synthetic roses or lilies, but sticks, cacti (because in nature they are so famously high-maintenance) and thistles, essentially a sort of Scottish weed. You could, should you so wish, populate your fake garden with pretend animals, too — rabbits, squirrels or a single, solitary cobra.
I suspect its the sort of place where Art Deco goes to die. The rule of thumb seemed to be: if it hasn’t sold in the next decade, saw it in half and affix another mirror. A small decorative boat had been halved and turned into a bookcase, there was a water-feature made to resemble the upper section of a crocodile, and a table and chairs had been fashioned from even more shapeless chunks of wood. Everything else you could see your reflection in.
My favourite thing to do in such places is to find all of the little items which have been ostensibly personalised with names or common sentiments (though why anyone would want a miniature espresso cup marked “Yours” I will never know). Rejects offered a selection that was by no means limited to greetings cards, mugs, jewelry, door plaques, coasters and pocket torches. Once again I was unable to find a single thing bearing my name, though Stephen and Stephanie were both catered for. You were also in luck if you happened to be called Mason, Noah or Blank.
All good things must come to an end, however, and as quickly as the excitement had begun it was over; I was back on the streets of Kirkcaldy, soaking in a sort of liquid grey. I doubt I’ll be back any time soon, to be perfectly honest with you. As entertaining as my hour spent exploring Rejects undoubtedly was, it’s difficult to imagine the various attractions holding up to repeated viewings.
That said, if I ever need a bipedal, ornately dressed elephant holding a pocket watch I know exactly where I’ll find one without my name on it.