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  • Dougie

All ears, ginger hair and freckles

Updated: May 30

This photo popped up on my Facebook page. I guess a former class mate found it in a drawer or a box in some attic or an old, old album from 50 years ago and more. How Twentieth Century life was back then.

The past is indeed a foreign country. And we did things differently there.

I am surprised, in a way, by the number of faces I recognise (55 years after the fact) and names I can still put to the faces. We were happy by and large (as I recall). And fortunate, of course. The sons and daughters of the newly emerging and expanding Scottish middle class of the late 1950s and 1960s.

Our parents were born before the war. In our family's case, as I imagine for many others, my mother and father were born into poverty but avoided factory, iron works, ship building or manual labour by making their way into white collar jobs. My dad worked in newspapers then television and radio for the BBC. My mother was a post-war land girl, a garment maker then a housewife then a shop assistant then a widow and single parent.

After living in Aberdeen for four years my father's employment with the BBC brought our family back to Glasgow. But not to the Glasgow of my parents youth (Bridgeton in the East End) or the Southside of my first two years (living near Ibrox Park). Our parents could afford a newly built three bedroom semi-detached 'villa' in the fringe suburbs of Bearsden, a dormitory town (Royal Burgh in those days) to the north east of the great conurbation. Glasgow: once upon a time 'the second city of the Empire' (not as good as it sounds).

Our house on Rowan Drive put us in the catchment area for Bearsden Primary School and Bearsden Academy, one of the best performing state comprehensive schools of the age. There was no need for my parents to invest in our education at a private school (not that they ever wanted to). As long as your single income household (father's wage) could afford the mortgage on a new home -- roughly £3,500 as I recall from reading my father's papers following his premature death in 1974 -- your parents could be sure you would go to one of the best schools in the country.

That certainly saves an old commie like me from the young adult embarrassment of attending a private school. The words "standard" and "double" come to mind but not necessarily in that order.

I was struck when I came across this old photograph by the knowledge I have now of how many of my class mates did not live to even my ripe old age. At least seven of the nineteen boys are dead. I hope they lived good (albeit short) lives, except I know that in at least two cases they did not. One, we might have guessed (if we had known about such risks when we were all so young and smiley with our chests puffed out and heads held high). Another we might never have guessed.

I know almost nothing about the girls. My loss, I'm sure.

Miss Johnston was our teacher. I think I liked her (although the comments on the former pupils Facebook page suggest there was little to commend a possibly strict and judgmental teacher). She ran the Scripture Union, taught music (or maybe just proselytized) by playing hymns on a piano and making us sing. She liked poetry and, if I'm not making this up as an old man, she loved a poem I wrote once about a Magnolia tree.

Who in Bearsden in the 1960s would have a Magnolia? Maybe everyone except us. Betty, my mother, was fiendishly keen on planting small conifers in the newly cleared ground of our 1963 John Lawrence & Bros., house in Rowan Drive. According to Google maps they flourish even now ... Betty Herd's woodland driveway. Sixty years on.

The rather military looking gentleman is our Headmaster, Mr. Sutherland. He looks perfectly reasonable. But he was, I think, distant, aloof and committed to punishment as a learning strategy. My only true recollection of the man is of three of us standing to attention outside his ground floor room, waiting to be belted on our outstretched palms for some misdemeanor or other ... breathing irregularly, giggling in line, being lefthanded (not me obviously) or being young, a boy with freckles and Scottish (me obviously).

Scottish education ... finest in the world (we were told) ... if in doubt thrash them with a snake-tongued leather belt. The infamous tawse.

Some teachers were sadists. Numph (aka Mr. Galbraith) the music teacher at our secondary school, for one.

Although -- now I think on it -- there was that episode once (in primary 5 maybe). Firing paper pellets from catapults made of rubber bands nicked from Mrs. Bankier's class at people waiting at the bus stop outside the school. Some daft laddie fired at Mrs. Bankier. Caught her in that Dusty Springfield rock solid hair of hers.

Screwed. But that's a different story.

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