Perhaps I had ambitions to be an MP - or an undertaker!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008



Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be. (Robert Browning)


In October 1943 I began dental studies at the Anderson College of Medicine in Glasgow. For the first year there were only two subjects Chemistry and Physics - at school I had dropped Science after Third Year. I didn’t find the course interesting at all, and listening to lecturers reading from well-used scripts was a bit of a bore. Nevertheless I passed the exams without difficulty.

I enjoyed the next year more for that consisted of Anatomy and Physiology, and we made a start in the Dental Hospital lab. Some of the classes were held in St.Mungo’s College next to the Royal Infirmary, and I think it was there that we had to attend lectures where a dead body was dissected. Quite a few students fainted at the earlier sessions, but it wasn’t till a later occasion that I suddenly felt dizzy. I slipped out of the room and sat with my head between my knees till I recovered.

This was wartime of course and, like every other building, firewatchers were needed to alert the authorities should enemy action result in a fire. I took my turn at Anderson college and two of us had to stay overnight. We slept in a large dimly-lit room lined with shelves of glass jars containing all sorts of foetuses . A bit scary!

In the dental lab we were taught the work which is done by dental mechanics, and looking back it seems as if we spent most of the time queuing up at the office to get the materials we needed or to have our completed work passed as satisfactory. I found that, whereas at school the staff were genuinely interested in our progress, the very opposite was the case at the dental hospital.

I must mention that during my time there I did something bad. Contrary to regulations I made a set of dentures for my father!

Among the students I made a number of good friends, quite a few of whom, like me, gave up the struggle. One of them became a primary school teacher and for a while taught in Kirkintilloch.

And of course the time came when, armed with probes, drills, and shattered nerves, we were unleashed on the patients. Attired in white coats just like real dentists, we tried to convince the public and ourselves that we knew what we were doing.

And that was when I realised that this career was not for me!


THE SMOKE SIGNAL by Frederic Remington 1861-1909. Born in New York he was a painter, sculptor, illustrator and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction


Jean and I were married in 1954. Our first house was a 3-apartment in Loch Road, Kirkintilloch.

Ten minutes walk in the direction of Lenzie led to Woodilee Hospital, better known locally as “the asylum”. We found that quite a few of our friends from outwith the district had reservations about living so near to such an institution. Of course I had always been used to seeing patients out walking about the town and knew that the more serious cases were kept locked up.

One of the patients I knew quite well. He was a very good dulcimer player and appeared regularly as a solo artiste at local entertainments. He kept a little notebook in which he recorded every tune he could play and every one of his engagements since the 1920s. His big moment of fame came when he performed on a early STV show hosted by Bill Tennant. It was said that Peter could have been discharged from the hospital any time, but his family wouldn’t agree to “sign him out”.

Some of the patients just appeared to be eccentric. There was one man who seemed to be very wealthy for he wore an astonishing range of expensive suits, including complete highland dress and cowboy attire. I seem to remember that he used to visit the small shop near us and buy a large number of loaves to feed the birds, though I may be getting him confused with another patient.

Built in 1875 the Woodilee grew to be a very big place (in 1930 it had 1250 beds) with its own successful farm. I remember when the hospital staff used to hold an annual dance in the ballroom and there was always a tremendous rush by the general public to obtain tickets. I often played at functions there, and for a couple of years provided the music for the staff’s pantomime in the Town Hall.

As time went on there were big changes in mental health, with more and more patients able to live in the community. So the Woodilee gradually treated fewer people until it finally closed in 2001.

In its final years there were a number of wards for people with Alzheimer’s disease, and among them was my father. He had gradually become a problem at home for my mother (although she didn’t admit it for quite a while). That was certainly the best place for him. He always knew us when we visited and seemed to be quite content. He died there on 13th July 1982 aged 88.


Thanks to Anne for sending me the following. I think it’s excellent.

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

“One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.

“The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked, “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed”.


This music clip is of Sarah Chang playing “Cantabile” by Paganini. Born in Philadelphia, she was a child prodigy at ten years old and now is well-known internationally.


Finally, here’s a photo of Binks, the little dog Rita and I had when we were teenagers. The canal bank was a favourite place for dog-walking, and Rita recalls the day when Binks fell into the canal. The bank was rather high at that place, and Rita had to lie down flat and reach down to rescue the dog.


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