Cambusbarron – School and Miss Anderson
Reconnaissance in my early days in the village continued in parallel with necessary attendance at the local primary school whose care of fabric, staff and pupils had been at that point so recently handed over to my dad on the retiral of his predecessor Mr Webster.
As I recall it, dad’s colleague assistant teachers were, Miss Stewart (Infants I / II), Miss Erskine (PI / II), Miss Thomson (P III), and Miss Anderson (P IV). Dad took over the top class, P V, and I fell due to join Miss Anderson’s class of what just happened that year to be the largest of the five groupings with around 32 pupils in all.
The historic school building had been endowed in Cambusbarron in the nineteenth century by the Murray Family of Touchadam and Polmaise Estates within the prosperous parish of St. Ninians, and, during my dad’s tenure as dominie, it was watched over by the Murray Estate Factor, a Mr William Thomson of Bearside, Polmaise, as School Convener.
(I did not know then, as I do now from my recent genealogical researches, that my Great Grandfather James Kerr served for 20 years as Coachman to Bentley Murray and his branch of the Murray Family at Old Polmaise, Fallin on the eastern approaches of this huge St Ninians Murray Estate, and that my beloved Grandma (Jessie Kerr) Henderson had been born in the Coachman’s Lodge, Old Polmaise in 1886, as were her siblings … all nine of them … all ten being born in an industrious spell of procreation by Janet (Richardson) Kerr between 1880 and 1895! )
If the 1949 school buildings and amenities were a little ancient in some respects – especially the smelly outdoor toilets located at the foot of a triangular area of school garden – their basic provisions to a large extent were not only functional enough to provide adequate educational facilities for the young, but the classrooms and central hall were also adaptable enough to house both fairly large social gatherings and non-vocational evening classes too for the community at large. (My dad and Mr Thomson were within a few years of eventful collaboration to change the community facet of all this by establishing a new Community Centre and Association within the decrepit former UF Church building at the eastern edge of the school playground.)
The primary school was so local for me that I was in due course able to fall out of my bed at about 8.45 a.m., throw on my clothes, gulp down my porridge, gobble my toast and marmalade, wash all this down with a cool glass of milk, nip out the backdoor, and then finally leap down the four steps into the boys’ playground to be thereby just in time to join the relevant ‘military-type’ class queues lined up at the Boys’ Entrance in pairs and supposedly formed in immediate response to my dad’s ringing of the large school hand-bell at 9.a.m. then 10.45 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. precisely. (Although, when, as the bell went, intense football matches were usually still raging across this particular playground, my dad, who certainly understood the ‘seriousness’ of such youthful engagements, seemed to turn a blind eye to less than instantaneous stoppage of play, by apparently getting into deep conversation for an extra few minutes with any other member of staff who happened to be on ‘lines-duty’! This, among other facets of his forceful personality, certainly made him a popular, if otherwise, very often, exceptionally firm, but fair, headmaster – or ‘The Maister’ as he was universally called when out of earshot.)
However, for my first morning of school attendance I was as nervous as a kitten as I watched this regimented entrance ceremony from the schoolhouse kitchen, wherein, on dad’s orders, I had been advised to stay until he collected me to accompany him, as he would do with any other newcomers, to assigned classes and classrooms.
My subsequent introduction to Miss Anderson’s classroom and methods of teaching was traumatic, as it firstly involved the negotiation of an ‘obstacle course’ in the form of a huge double seven foot high blackboard lying hard against, and reaching above the windowed door of her room, and thus, being so strategically placed that it very effectively, nae, totally, blocked any view from the outside corridor of what orthodox or peculiarly ‘Andersonish’ teaching activities might be being implemented within what was undoubtedly her regal sanctum!
The next shock, after negotiating this impediment to public view, was my being led to take my place in a front row desk! Horror of horrors this was to me as a ‘clever-dick’, so accustomed as I was to getting a back-row bench day in – day out.
However, the totally elitist nature of educational methods was soon reinforced in the good lady’s welcoming remarks (which I paraphrase here) ….. “If you work hard John and do well in your first weekly test next Friday morning, your seating position will be an immediate way of showing everyone your place in the class order of merit …. Left-hand-side column, back seat for first place … right-hand-side column, front seat close to my desk for thirty second place.”
Thus the ‘rules of engagement’ were established … and at that time they suited me just fine …. Then, of course I was blissfully unaware of the mental cruelty such labelling could inflict on less-able pupils, far less on the usual quota of dunces present in any school class. I boast of course when I state that the lowest bench that the seat of my flannel shorts ever had to keep restlessly polished over what proved to be two years under this lovably eccentric lady, was third back in the extreme left column of desks. Indeed I was cocky enough at times to make deliberate mistakes or omissions in the tests in order to have a better chance of sitting behind either Jan Kerr or Jean Fletcher … because I just loved to chug their pig-tails, or, more surreptitiously dip loose strands of their hair-tails in my desk’s ink-well. Being hard to prove that the said girls’ flipping of such pig-tails back out of the line of sight of their working jotters was not the cause of the staining, I never ever got official blame for the inking. Anyway, the girls never reported me because I am sure they loved the attention from the ‘maister’s laddie’!
Yes, I could be a real obnoxious ‘big-heided’ loon at times in P IV and also in P V.
Over the piece, as I was one of her favourites, and as she spent a lot of time encouraging such as these, I can, without a shadow of a doubt, give Miss Anderson the credit for helping me to become a reasonable mathematician in my secondary school days and later too …. but perhaps even more credit generally is due to her early aiding and abetting of what became in due course my later addiction to problem-solving.
There must be many of her former-pupils from her lengthy years of service to the village who remember her classroom cupboard full of walking shoes to transport her and her 'Pied Piper' followers four times a day via the Burnside and the North End to and from her Dowan Place home .... and the high heeled ones she religiously changed into for classroom 'manoeuvres'. Then of course, there was seldom a minute of any school day when some erring or stupid child would not be in 'exile' behind her camouflaging blackboard – “Out of my sight you abomination”, she would rage! The implied threat in all such banishments was the fear that the ‘maister’ would come a-visiting our classroom. His tellings-off were legend for causing even the strongest willed pupils to dissolve in front of their own classmates into floods of tears. Such tears of indignity then, as I remember them so, so vividly, were the hardest to bear. And I was not excepted by my dad from such public embarrassment when I strayed from the straight and narrow … (of course only occasionally …ha …ha !)