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

Monday, January 23, 2012



There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep sea and the music in its roar
I love not man the less, but Nature more.
(Lord Byron)



I suppose that, when I was at primary school, over half the children there belonged to families who today would be considered under-privileged. I was fortunate in that my father’s job was secure, and both he and my mother were careful with money.

Quite a few of my fellow-pupils came to school poorly dressed, often not very clean and probably hungry. Of course there was a great deal of unemployment at that time - it’s reckoned that between 1931 and 1933 more that a quarter of the nation’s workforce couldn’t find jobs. Unemployment benefit was paid for the first 26 weeks, and then the infamous Means Test took over. That involved an official visiting the claimant’s home and thoroughly examining the finances of the family; apparently any possessions, such as a wireless set, could be taken in to the calculation to assess what money should be paid to them.

My first teacher was an aunt of mine; in fact my first day at school was her first day as a teacher. Of course I had been well warned to call her Miss Hardie and not Aunt Cissie. I’ve always said that I was the best behaved pupil in all my time at that school, for I knew if I misbehaved my mother would soon hear of it! And having an aunt on the staff worked to my advantage, for I found that the teachers, always so stiff and strict, tended to soften a little with me.

I could be a bit of an know-all. I remember we had been learning how to differentiate between verbs, nouns, proper nouns, etc., and the teacher (not my aunt) was going round the class asking each one of us to give examples. When my turn came, she asked for any proper noun. I stood up and said “Yell.” Of course she looked surprised at my answer and shook her head. But little John knew better. “Please miss, Yell is one of the northern isles of the Shetlands.” What a horrible little show-off!!!


Discipline of course was strict at both primary and secondary schools. We sat in rows facing the teacher and talking was not allowed under any circumstances. If you wanted to say something to the teacher, you put your hand up. And behaviour was generally good. For those who offended in some way, there was punishment; every teacher possessed a belt and in primary school would use it often. Sadly it was sometimes inflicted for spelling or counting mistakes.

The belt was administered on the palm of the hand, and for serious offences “six of the best” would usually bring tears to the eyes. I hasten to add that I didn’t ever get the belt at primary school. (I told you I was the best-behaved boy.) I was surprised to learn that at some schools boys were belted on the bottom and shocked to read this account which referred to a school in Dumfries.

“The use of the tawse (belt) was a daily occurrence for trivial offences. The boys were brutally beaten on the bare backside by the headmaster while two teachers held the struggling victim across a school desk. Female teachers were excused witnessing the spectacle, so that they would not see a bare backside.”


The female teachers at my primary school were all spinsters and none of them ever got married. One was very old indeed - in fact she had taught my mother! I didn’t particularly like or dislike any of them, but I will testify that they were all good at their job. Both there and at my secondary school, the standard of teaching was high. The aim was to prepare pupils to pass exams and the system certainly achieved the desired result. Whether that should be the purpose of education or not, is of course another question!



The Reluctant Bride,
by Auguste Toulmouche (1829-1890)



When grace is joined with wrinkles, it is adorable.
There is an unspeakable dawn in happy old age.
(Victor Hugo)


Next post here - Thursday 26th January


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