Was I unwilling? Not really.
The simple fact is that I was told I was going to school, and that was the end of it!
By the summer of 1929 one of my mother’s sisters had gained a BSc degree and completed her teacher training. University graduates at that time were experiencing difficulty in finding work, and by August on the following year she was still unemployed.
However, a local post of infants teacher came up and she accepted it, not realising that her first class of new starts would include her nephew - me!!!
Of course I was well warned that I was to call her Miss Hardie, and not Aunt Cissie. I can assure you I was the best behaved pupil, not only in her class, but through all my time in that school, because I knew that any misdemeanour on my part would eventually be reported to my mother.
We soon learned to sit up straight with folded arms, and - most important of all - to keep quiet.
Behaviour in that school was generally pretty good. Of course there was always the strap as a deterrent, and it was used frequently for children caught talking, not paying attention or producing unsatisfactory work.
On one occasion, when I would be about 10 years old, there was an important event which hadn’t happened before. The headmaster visited our class. Now, I’ve no idea what he spoke to us about for, like the rest of the class, I was sitting shaking in fear of this great man.
When he finished talking, he turned to the pupils in the back row and asked the first one, “How long is the River Clyde?”
There was silence! We were horrified when he produced his strap and belted the boy.
He directed the same question to the next pupil, and again, when no answer was forthcoming, he used his strap.
And so he continued along the row, gradually getting nearer to where I sat, trying to appear invisible.
No one knew the answer and the punishments continued till it was my turn.
But - wonder of wonders! He didn’t ask me. Instead he told us the answer, and chided us for not having paid attention to his little talk.
And that’s the story of how I nearly got the strap at primary school!
And how long is the River Clyde?
I’ve just done a Google search, and the answer is about 106 miles.
I suppose it was around that time when we began having PE from a visiting teacher.
Up until then, the boys of 2 classes were taken by the janitor for football on the hard concrete surface of the playground. (I suppose the girls were knitting or sewing during our game.)
Can you imagine 30/40 boys running around playing football? Most of the time, I didn’t know what side I was on.
My mother used to recall the day I came home from school and proudly announced that I had managed to get a kick at the ball!!!
In Primary Seven “The Burial of Sir John Moore” was my favourite poem, probably because our teacher Johnny Maclennan gave us such a vivid picture of the circumstances surrounding the Battle of Corunna, and the conditions under which the soldiers fought.
THE BURIAL OF SIR JOHN MOORE by Charles Wolfe 1791-1823, an Irish poet
Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note, as his corse to the rampart we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot o'er the grave where our hero we buried.
We buried him darkly at dead of night, the sods with our bayonets turning,
By the struggling moonbeam's misty light and the lanthorn dimly burning.
No useless coffin enclosed his breast, not in sheet nor in shroud we wound him;
But he lay like a warrior taking his rest with his martial cloak around him.
Few and short were the prayers we said, and we spoke not a word of sorrow;
But we steadfastly gazed on the face that was dead, and we bitterly thought of the morrow.
We thought, as we hollowed his narrow bed and smoothed down his lonely pillow,
That the foe and the stranger would tread o'er his head, and we far away on the billow!
Lightly they'll talk of the spirit that 's gone, and o'er his cold ashes upbraid him,
But little he'll reck, if they let him sleep on in the grave where a Briton has laid him.
But half of our heavy task was done when the clock struck the hour for retiring;
And we heard the distant and random gun that the foe was sullenly firing.
Slowly and sadly we laid him down, from the field of his fame fresh and gory;
We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone, but we left him alone with his glory.
One further memory of primary school -
Every class at one time or another was taught the song “Nymphs and Shepherds”, and I don’t think a week passed without hearing it coming from different rooms.
Those nymphs and shepherds followed me to me secondary school, and there too, their music, perhaps sung more confidently, filled the air.
With words by Thomas Shadwell 1642-1692 and music by Henry Purcell 1658/9-1695, the song had become popular by a record made in 1929 by the Manchester Schools Choir, conducted by Hamilton (later Sir Hamilton) Harty.
This is a short extract. There is a 20 second delay before the music starts.
Finally, a cheery thought for those of us who are EIGHTY PLUS -
One of the good things about getting older is you find you're more interesting than most of the people you meet. (Lee Marvin)