When any important visitors, like inspectors or college tutors or county advisers, arrived at Banknock Primary School during morning lessons, my dad would get me to ‘run the cutter’ to the schoolhouse to tell mum to expect another mouth to feed at lunch-time, ... and who it would be. This latter part of my messaging was not only important for ‘status’ reasons, but also, for more frequent visitors like Mr Mercer, the Phys. Ed. Adviser, it allowed her to prepare something that she knew that he liked!
The peripatetic Mr Alex Mercer was a favourite with staff and pupils alike. Without being in any way unprofessional, he loved to gossip from his experiences around schools … and, of course, teachers being teachers, they always liked to catch up with what was going on further a-field, especially as communications then were far from being instantaneous as now. He also took a lesson with every class during the day and we loved his manner, his humour, and the new games he taught us …. although inevitably, he always wanted to see if our ‘bunny jumps’ along the low bench were improving! Lunch-time in the schoolhouse was a laugh a minute as he regaled us with his recent funny stories …. all suitable for children’s ears too. …..Then some ten years later, when I was about to start my teacher training at the Scottish School of Physical Education, Jordanhill College, Glasgow, he took me with him for a whole week of visiting schools in Stirlingshire – an invaluable experience.
The mention of Jordanhill College and Banknock visits brings back many memories of a very interesting rural schools’ tutor, Mr James P. R. Hunter. His favourite subjects – sharing this with my dad – were English Language and Scottish History and Literature. Thus his lunch-time visits, although less light-hearted than Mr Mercer’s, were, to say the least, very instructive. My present from him in 1948 was his newly published text book of English interpretations, ‘An English Safari’. It was too difficult for me, but one story in it that I did enjoy even then was the one that described a Scotland v England football match at Hampden Park, Glasgow. …. Then, in 1961-62, during my supplementary certificate course of studies and practice for primary teaching, who was allocated as my teaching placement tutor (?), but the same ‘JPR’. He was hard to please … for which I was grateful (later!) … however, his constructive criticism always involved starting with one’s good points during the supervised lessons, before he moved on to his ‘buts’ …. then on to his suggestions about what I could have done as alternatives to what he had deemed to be less than appropriate in my teaching organisation or content or delivery. …. When, later in my career between 1974 and 1994, I was doing this kind of job in Edinburgh, Fife and the Borders, I fashioned my approach to my students on my mentor JPR’s example. Incidentally, he gave me an ‘A’ for teaching during my college time under him!
My dad was an innovator, and one of his concerned taking the top classes on an ‘educational visit’ or ‘day trip’ to Glasgow and ‘doon the waatter’ (River Clyde) to Rothesay and the Kyles of Bute. With parent-helpers he would escort his ‘explorers’ like a good Scout Troop leader to the Broomielaw where the steamer was boarded … supervise pupils’ curiosities about the engines and paddles etc. …. organise distribution of picnics ….. deal with any ‘hiccups’ or mishaps … and much else … before leading the singing of a tired and dirty bunch of happy children on deck in the evening breezes … on the long voyage home.
Dad in his inimitable plus-fours trousers.
One more visit stands out in my memories of the summer of 1948 – Aunt Mary Hope came over from New York on the Queen Mary laden with things we had never before seen … like …. bananas …. her own special brand of good humour and kindness …. and two spools of EastmanKodak coloured film for taking what we in due course felt were unbelievable coloured photographs … a real novelty in 1948.
Mum and Mary Hope on the Schoolhouse Doorstep
Her visit covered the August when my dad’s sister Margot married ‘Buckie’ (Jimmy Buchanan) in the Holy Rude Church in Stirling, and the following two photographs give a flavour of that so special day, not only for the bride and groom, but also for Elizabeth and myself …. We had never ever been to a wedding before …. and I had never worn a kilt before either !
John and Elizabeth in Schoolhouse Front Garden
Buckie and Margot