Sunday, December 25, 2005

Memoirs of a Fisherman's Son - Part 1, Chapter 9

Chapter IX
Inverness Royal Academy
In 1930 as I was approaching 13 years of age the quiet hopes of my parents and grandfather were realised. As mentioned earlier I had been awarded a bursary of £9 a year to enable me to be educated at the Royal Academy, Inverness. To this school only the brightest two or three pupils from the primary schools in Inverness-shire and the Islands were admitted. In addition the Academy had a number of fee paying pupils and indeed the Primary School was made up entirely of pupils whose parents could afford to pay school fees. In the Secondary department each year's intake was split into 'A', 'B' and 'C' classes as determined by their results in the Bursary competitions or in the case of Academy Primary scholars by their Head Teacher. I was fortunate to find myself one of 30 pupils in the 'A' class. Those of us who had bursaries did not have to pay fees but our parents had to find the money to pay for school books, jotters and such like.

My bursary covered the cost of a season ticket from the railway station at Ardersier (called Fort George station : the L.M.S. Railway Company had intended to take the line all the way to Fort George where so many hundreds of soldiers were stationed but, my Grandfather told me, could not find a way over Cromal Hill and had to terminate the line at Ardersier) to Inverness. About two dozen teenagers travelled each day; some to the Academy some to Inverness High School. The 'puggy' as the train (an engine with two coaches and a guard's van) was called, conveyed us the 1-1/2 miles to Gollanfield Junction where we joined the Aberdeen to Inverness train arriving at Inverness at 8.50 am. This gave us enough time to get to the top of Stephen's Brae where the Academy stands, in time for Assembly at 9 o clock. Assembly was taken by the Rector, Mr Crampton-Smith or in his absence the Deputy Head (and my Latin Master!) Mr Alexander Duthie. The whole Senior School gathered in the Hall seated on benches and standing on the stairway leading to the balcony rooms. The Rector opened the proceedings with a payer, then followed a passage from the Bible and a hymn (usually sung with great gusto even by those who no longer attended Sunday School or Church) and ended with a call for God's blessing on the school, pupils, teachers and parents.

After school Pupils from Ardersier had to catch the 'Puggy' which had come in specially to collect us, at 4.20 pm. If one had a class, as we had two or three times a week, from 3.45 pm to 4.30 pm, it was necessary to seek permission from the teacher to leave early. This was invariably granted but if for some reason one had of necessity to remain until then the next train was not until 6 pm. This was the Aberdeen train and necessitated a change at Gollanfield then on to Fort George by our beloved Puggy with a home-coming at 6.30 pm : and homework to be done!
For my 'elevation' to the Academy Mum had bought me the school uniform of a blazer with school badge, grey shirt, school tie and stockings, blue short trousers, new shoes and school cap. In those days boys wore short trousers until they reached, the age of 16 or so. I had not been travelling by train for a week when one of the older boys threw my cap out of the carriage window. This was such a shocking waste of my Mum's hard earned money that with the help of my cousin Alex John Davidson (A.J. to all) a search was made of the likely landing place and the cap was found.

It became obvious to me that the 4.20 Puggy from Inverness to Fort George was not regarded with much favour by adults few of whom dared to travel on it. I was not surprised for many of the older boys, in my experience, were what would nowadays be called hooligan types. The London train stood at Platform No. I while the Puggy was in No. 2. How superior the great London Train always seemed to me when compared with our little Puggy pulled by a Tank Engine. Passengers of course shared the same Platform and a dear old lady, all the time I was a traveller, wheeled a trolley up and down beside the London train. It was laden with all sorts of sweets, cakes, chocolate, fruit, lemonade, and magazines. As she pushed, the old lady used to shout, every so often, 'chocolate, toffee, bananas and Inverness rock'. I can still hear her cry!

On one occasion a farmer's son, a good friend of mine, the late James Rose from Milton of Connage Farm, was getting impatient because Puggy was late in arriving. To let off steam he used his height, strength and tackety boots to desecrate a poster designed to attract visitors to 'Nairn, the Brighton of the North'. However, he was seen by the Railway Police and 'booked'. Some days later one of these gentlemen travelled by train to our village station and walked the two miles to Connage to speak to Mr and Mrs Rose. He was seen entering the farm-house, when it was reported locally, he was entertained to a splendid afternoon tea and certainly walked back to the station carrying a large bunch of flowers and in a bag a quantity of fresh farm-house butter and eggs! Needless to say Jim was not prosecuted - nor did he ever again damage railway property!

On a homeward journey, when we were in the sixth year class, one of my dear friends Arthur Foy from Croy required to use the toilet. Several compartments, but not all, in those old railway carriages had their own toilet facilities 'ensuite' as you would say nowadays. As Arthur was coming out one of the troublemakers kicked the lavatory door with such a blow that three fingers of Arthur's right hand were severely damaged. There was literally 'blood everywhere'. I had gained the First Aid Badge as a Scout and was called upon to apply my knowledge to Arthur's hand. What could I do? All I could do was to tie a handkerchief tightly round his fingers to stop the flow of blood. It certainly helped and Arthur reminded me when he came home from U.S.A. a few years ago (50 years later!) that he had walked home to his Aunt's house at the Streetie beside Loch Flemington, with my hankie soaked in his blood.

For the first two years at the Academy I used to take sandwiches and a flask of tea with me for lunch. No school meals in those days! With others like me, lunch was eaten in the boys cloakroom sitting on the central heating pipes (Wonderful in winter!). In my class was a boy called Lachlan MacLean, the son of the Parish Minister at Daviot ten miles south of Inverness. He and his brother Alistair (who later became world famous for his novels, many made into Films) used to sit with me in the cloakroom at lunch time (or as we called it 'dinner time') and often we shared or exchanged 'pieces' biscuits or fruit etc.

At 11 am each day we were 'allowed out' for a break and run about in the play ground. When one had a spare penny it was customary to join all the others who were equally lucky and run down Stephen's Brae to a Bakers' shop where the most delicious cream dough nuts were made. I remember 'drooling' as I watched the lengths of dough being placed in a pan of sizzling hot fat (as is still done with chips!) and waited until one by one they were deemed ready to be removed by the baker. He placed them on a wire tray so that any excess fat could fall off. They were lifted by his lady assistant, who knew us all by name, given a dusting of castor sugar, split open with a sharp knife and then filled with wonderful cream or if requested with raspberry jam. I can still feel the taste in my mouth!
Running down the Brae we used to sing this Ditty:
There is a happy land not far away
Where Saints in glory stand,
Bright their array,
Oh, how the children yell
When they hear the old school bell,
Oh, how they run pell mell
Down Stephen's brae
The tune of course was that usually sung to a well known childrens' hymn.
After I had been at the Academy for about a year Miss Arras -Mather of Delnies Farm arranged for me to be medically examined free of charge by her brother-in-law Doctor MacKay who had his surgery in Bridge Street Inverness. He normally took only the well-to-do as patients, so I felt suitably honoured. His examination I remember to this day (1995), it was very through as one would expect, but when he stuck his fingers in my mouth and reached up beyond the uvula to the adenoid chamber I just about passed out! Having removed his hand he declared that my adenoids were certainly all right! My Mother was instructed to give me Ostomalt and to stop me from using my beloved Hinksmans. The latter we refused to contemplate. In addition I was to have a 'proper' meal at 'dinner time'. So my dear mum had to arrange for me to go to Melvins the Bakers at the foot of the Raining Stairs on Castle Street. About two dozen pupils filled the restaurant each day and enjoyed a three course meal. Wednesday was the shop half holiday and as a result (for reasons unknown to me) we were always offered two helpings of a delicious apple charlotte on Thursdays! On Friday we had to pay the bill for our week's lunches - five shillings! I am sure my parents had to sacrifice something, albeit unknown to me at the time, in order to pay for these meals.

It was a salutary experience, for one accustomed in Primary school always to be first in the class, to find school mates who could do even better! In my first year at the Academy for instance, my prize 'The Pilgrims Progress' by John Bunyan records that I was 1st in Geography, 3rd (Equal) in Maths and only 7th in Class! Yes, I had to recognise that I was among some brilliant brains: and I did. When the Rector announced my name at the Prize-giving ceremony in one of the local cinemas he greatly embarrassed me by announcing to the assembled company that 'despite thirty days of absence due to asthma during the past session this boy has come seventh in IA and is to be congratulated'. Can you imagine how I felt. It must be confessed that I never cared for old Crampton Smith after that day!

My subjects were typical for a pupil in an 'A' class. For the first three years we had English, Maths, Science, History, Geography, French, Latin, Art and 'Gym'. In my second year I added German (in a class of 9 girls and myself) and in the third year dropped science at which I was really not very good.

For English I had at first, a young teacher Mr Coutts or 'Couttie' as we called him. He was a gentle soul and we all worked hard for him. However, for some reason he told us that during the Easter holidays we were to learn Gray's Elegy' (First line - 'The curfew tolls the knell of parting day). The boys, with one exception, decided that this was a punishment exercise and that not one of us would learn the poem. After the holidays Couttie said that he wanted each of us to recite one verse (there are about 30 verses if I remember correctly) starting with the boy at the back on the left and ending with the girl in the front row at the right. He was very precise! Almost immediately he realised that the boys knew nothing of the poem - he was livid when the very first boy told him we were on holiday and there was no time for learning such a long poem! So out came his belt - to our astonishment he said he was to give us all 'six of the best'. Poor Couttie! After he had strained himself strapping the first two boys he fell down in a faint: someone went and told the Rector who, with his Secretary, conducted our dear teacher out of the room. Never again did he take his belt out of his desk. But we did learn the poem! I am sure he never did reveal to the Rector why he had fainted.

History was taught in our first two years by Miss Daisy MacKenzie (Daft Daisy to all her pupils!) in a room next door to the Rector's Office. Daisy could teach history but she could not control her class when they were in exuberant mood, as they often were! She was a quite delightfully eccentric lady who endeared herself to all who had the pleasure of being taught by her. I remember one day a boy, a doctor's son, who was himself to become a noted consultant in Gynaecology brought his camera to school and without Daisy knowing he took a series of snapshots of the dear soul with a variety of facial expressions and in an assortment of positions. When poor Daisy saw them a few days later she did not know whether to laugh or cry. They were all too dreadful for words but she laughed and, of course, the class laughed. Indeed we laughed so loudly that old Crampton next door decided to investigate the cause of so much hilarity in the history class. As soon as his face appeared round the door there was a deathly silence and to the relief of all, including Daisy, he withdrew. Thus was our teacher spared the embarrassment of showing the snapshots, admitting that she did not know they were being taken and of 'harming the boy'.

During all my time in the Academy Mr. Alexander Duthie, M.A., was my Latin teacher. I came to know him very well! He used to sit on my desk with his feet resting on the seat beside my left thigh. IF anyone in class made a mistake in reading Latin prose or poetry he had the habit of slapping the left side of my face - gently may I add - and declaring 'You wouldn't make that mistake would you 'Cam Shron'? The Gaelic for 'Crooked nose'! That is what the name Cameron means in the Celtic tongue. Never once did he ask me to read or recite but, no doubt as a consequence of our 'close relationship', I knew my Latin and used to do very well in exams.

Mr Duthie had edited and published several Latin books, e.g. Readings from Caesar: The Gaelic War Books I - III, Readings from Livy a Primer of Roman History and Early European History to the Fall of Rome. His books were used by many schools, throughout the country and, to use his own words, 'even in the Emerald Isle'. For each book sold he received a royalty of 1½d. He told us! And not once but often.

It is to his credit that I still remember the opening lines of the Aeneid by Virgil one of the great poets of ancient Rome: -"Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus aboris, Italiam fato profugus Lavinaque venit'. But more I do not remember. However these have been sufficient over the years to floor those trying to give the false impression of being classical scholars! If you are interested they translate as follows:
'I sing of arms and the man who first came from the shores of Troy, exiled by Fate, to Italy and its Lavinian shore'.

And then there are others that one cannot easily forget, such as:
'Omnia vincit Amor, et nos cedamus Amori - Love carries all before it: we too must yield to love'.
For me it is one of life's sadnesses that none of my family have studied or are likely to study a little Latin. But one never knows. We do have an 'Open University' now!

We had two periods (45 minutes each) of 'gym' each week. Our 'teacher' was an old boy Donald Dallas who was better known for his appearances at the Nairn Games, and no doubt other Highland Gatherings. He used to go round the arena with a large megaphone into which he bawled - Yes - or shouted announcing the various events as they were about to begin and the results when completed. Literally, he had a voice like the proverbial fog-horn. He was athletic in his youth but when I knew him he was a stout old man. We had all the usual P.T., climbing wall bars, swinging Indian clubs, playing net-ball etc. We regarded these periods as relaxation from work: and there was no Higher Leaving Certificate in P.T. to aim for!

In the German class we had as our teacher, Miss Jeannie Cruickshank from Aberdeen. There were in the class eight girls and myself - the only boy! I enjoyed this class very much because Jeannie was a dear soul and she always gave us every encouragement with personal attention when required. After four years I achieved a Lower German in my Higher Leaving Certificate.

A story worth telling from this class: - In front of me sat two girls Betty or Barbara Riggs and Kitty MacKenzie - both very athletic types. Kitty became captain of the Hockey team. Each had very long hair done up in ringlets. One afternoon I succumbed to a temptation, which had existed for a long time. I tied together a ringlet from each head of hair and dipped the combined end in the ink - well; of course when the girls rose at the end of the period they were tied together! Jeannie was appalled - and when she found her hands covered in ink on endeavouring to untie the locks of hair, she was dumbfounded. She could not believe that her 'little man' could stoop so low! Did I get a telling off! Indeed I did. The girls wore dark blue gym-slips (school uniform in those days) which did not show any stain mark. They assured me their mothers would never notice and in any event the 'gyms' were washed each week-end.

In the first year we had a delightful maths teacher, Miss Strath. She certainly made the subject interesting and opened up the mysteries of algebra and geometry. But in the next two years we had to suffer the most incompetent teacher of this subject; he sat on a chair all the time and told whoever of the class he called to the floor what to write on the blackboard. We were all very conscious of the fact that with his teaching methods we would never obtain a pass in Higher Mathematics and that was an essential for University Entrance. However when we were half way through the third year he was appointed Rector, no less, of a school on the West coast. There then arrived an expert Maths teacher in the shape of Leslie Frewan. My word, he brought us up to scratch and for me made algebra , geometry, trigonometry, arithmetic, logarithms came alive. So in the fifth year I secured Higher Maths.

From the second year onwards I had the privilege and pleasure of being taught English (including History) by Donald John MacDonald M.A. (Hons), later to become Rector of the Academy and since my retirement a very dear friend, until his death at the end of 1993. The impression he made on me in the classroom remains with me still. It was a joy to listen to him speak and to comply with any request he made, for he never ordered a pupil to do this or that; but he did encourage us! And so we learnt by heart screeds of poetry and passages from scripture many of which I can still recite. Somehow we came to realise that 'D.J.' (as we affectionately called him) took it for granted that we knew how to spell every new word we came across in literature and to understand its meaning such that it became part of our vocabulary. Yet he was astonished when, meeting after my many years in the south following my retirement, I told him that he had been in my thoughts all during my career as a solicitor. Yes, when engaged, as I so often was, in writing complicated agreements, contracts, letters etc. I would consider how my old teacher would express a thought on paper if he was confronted with the particular problem facing me at the time.

D.J. never 'corrected' an essay (and we had to write many) but he did suggest how his red ink amendments would improve it. Little did he know that I was to follow his example both in the Army and as head of the Legal, Estates and Wayleaves department of the South of Scotland Electricity Board! I did not use red ink - but my staff expected me at least to use a pencil!

One incident in D.J.'s class will certainly never be forgotten by those who were present: We had to sit a term or quarterly exam in history. The books (pink covered) were handed in for correction. A few days later D.J. arrived in the class room his gown flowing behind, his face florid and the 30 or so exam books under his arm. He placed all but one book on his desk and proceeded with that one to his lectern and for the next half hour gave us an address on the subject of honesty. We were 3rd year pupils at that time. I'm sure we all felt alike - that we were each and every one of us the most dishonest person on God's earth until that moment but from then on we would be as honest as George Washington is reported to have been. At the end of his speech D.J. produced from the exam book a large sheet of blotting paper on one side of which was written everything we were supposed to have learnt that term - yes, everything. But not a name was mentioned. There was a deathly hush in the room as he put all the exam books away in his desk and locked it. The class was then dismissed - it was the last period of the day, indeed of the week. On the Monday following one boy was 'missing'. He never returned to school but he did appear in the Inverness Savings Bank the following Monday! It was said that his father had plenty of money in that particular Bank! With D.J. as our teacher passes in Higher English and History were achieved in the fifth year.

Soon after commencing sixth year studies; with a view to adding to the subjects already included in my Higher Leaving Certificate, the Rector called me to his study and told me that a firm of local solicitors, Davidson Scott & Co. of 42 Union Street were looking for an apprentice. He had taken the liberty of mentioning my name and recommended me to go for an interview. Before doing so however, he asked to see my mother in order to explain to her what would be involved and to obtain her agreement in the absence of Dad who was at Yarmouth at the time. So my dear mum arrived at school and together we saw the Rector. What could she say but that she agreed to my embarking on a career in the legal profession. As mentioned earlier in these memoirs I had been encouraged from my earliest years to aim at a career in a profession but had not yet made up my own mind. One of the advantages of going into law apprenticeship was that during my five years of training I would receive a wage! The practice of requiring law apprentices to pay a premium for the privilege of being trained in a law office had recently ceased. And so I was interviewed by the late Donald Henry MacDonald and John MacBean the sole partners of the firm and was offered an apprenticeship there and then. I had sufficient Highers to allow me to matriculate at Edinburgh University in the Law Faculty. They explained to me that I would serve with them for two or three years and then go to an office in Edinburgh to complete my five years apprenticeship and do three years study at University in order to take the Bachelor of Law Degree. On satisfactory completion I would be admitted to the profession. My starting salary as an apprentice would be five shillings per week from which would have to be deducted 10 pence per week, being my contribution to the Inverness County Benefit Society! This was the forerunner of National Health Insurance introduced after the 1939/46 war.

I went home and discussed the whole matter with my dear old Mum who told me that this seemed to be God's will for me and that I should accept the firm's offer of an apprenticeship. And so I did. My grandfather was delighted - of course. The next letter from Dad, in Yarmouth, carried his congratulations and blessing.

In a later chapter you will find a record of some of my experiences with D. S. & Co.
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