As the last weeks of our shared annus horribilis slowly passed I began to write down some of my memories of the 42 years that I spent on the teaching staff of ESMS from my appointment in August 1974 as a teacher of Classics (with a bit of English on the side) to my retiral as Headmaster of ESMS Junior School and Vice Principal of ESMS in June 2016. I have no idea what prompted me to start, perhaps I was just bored one day as the rain beat down and gardening did not seem like much of an option – golf might have been tempting but Covid travel restrictions ensured that wasn’t even a starter. I certainly seemed to have more spare time during the winter lockdown restrictions in West Lothian than I did during the first national lockdown when the sun shone.
I think there was possibly a bit of guilt too as I have often been encouraged to commit some anecdotes to paper and could no longer make the excuse that I simply did not have the time. Whatever the reason, I decided to share some memories of my life at ESMS since I joined the staff of Stewart’s Melville College in August 1974. Not that ESMS was an acronym anyone had ever heard of then – in fact it would not be adopted for another 35 years – all I knew was that I had been appointed to teach at a school where there was plenty of Classics and plenty of rugby. I am not sure which was more important!
What follows is emphatically not an account of my time in the schools but more a series of anecdotes and personal memories which I hope will cause the odd smile or quizzical expression. I have forgotten plenty but remember almost as much. I have not attempted to include anything in the way of detailed information about significant academic and educational developments, I have not attempted to offer any deep analysis of anything in particular and I have emphatically not tried to write even a very small book (and yes, that is the question I am often asked!).
What I have tried to do is to recall some of the special moments, the special events and the stranger than fiction things that have followed me, and I suppose in many cases I have been responsible for, and put them all down as a series of reminiscences, some of which might jog some personal memories – ‘I remember that, I was there!’. If that is you, it would be brilliant to hear from you with your own memories of the same or other incidents which I have forgotten. Please share some anecdotes and, if you can, please share some photographs. You can contact me direct at email@example.com .
I have tried to stick fairly closely to the chronology but have not always succeeded given that some of what I have included continued for several years or even longer but I guess that is inevitable and I hope it is not too off-putting!
All right then, here we go …….!
WHY DID THEY EVER APPOINT ME?
Starting as I mean to go on the answer to that question does not include any of the usual stuff about applications and interviews but just a couple of clear memories:
- Born and bred in Dublin I was keen to find a teaching post in Edinburgh and one summer I managed to find a job as an assistant greenkeeper at Murrayfield Golf Club. One day I was playing a few holes after work and managed a hole in one on the short 13th (yes, honestly!). Another golfer who was playing the 12th and had seen what had happened came across for a chat and we agreed to meet later in the clubhouse for a celebratory drink. I explained that I was hoping to teach Classics and coach sport in a school in Edinburgh and I was amazed when he told me that he taught at Stewart’s Melville and he thought that there might be a suitable job in a couple of years’ time. His name was Peter Stoddart who, as it turned out, was a teacher in what was then the Technical Department. As good as his word, Peter arranged for me to meet with the Principal, Bertie Bellis, who seemed pleasantly surprised that I was both a classicist and a budding rugby coach which he thought was rather an unusual combination. I was delighted when he confirmed that he would have a job for me after we had finished our degrees in Dublin and so, two years after meeting him, I arrived at Queensferry Road little knowing that 46 years later I would still be there!
- Teachers in Scotland have to be registered by the General Teaching Council of Scotland and back then they were jealous guardians of the purity of Scottish education. As a Dubliner my qualifications were from Trinity College and the GTC refused to register me as a foreigner until I proved I could speak English! It was made clear that I would need to travel to Edinburgh so that I could meet formally with the Registrar and prove exactly that. Interestingly this was explained to me in a telephone conversation, which not surprisingly was conducted in English! I flew across and waited for most of an afternoon before being told the Registrar was unable to see me. However, my ability to speak English was noticed by other GTC employees and I was registered although the official letter made clear that I would need to serve two years as a probationer rather than the usual one year because I was foreign. Two years later I received my full registration.
More to follow…