I will return to the Tattoo in a future article and share some memories of 2018 when our children were joined by girls from our partner school in Malawi but decided that first of all I should say something about how ESMS has worked to support others. It was always very important to my Junior School colleagues that we should help our young children to understand and appreciate the importance of making a difference to the world around them.

I was always on the lookout for causes which would change the lives of a small number of children in a practical way. Young people are naturally idealistic and often told me they wanted everyone to live in peace, for all children to be guaranteed a good education and for no one to be poor. I used to explain to the children that, although they could not achieve these lofty ideals, we can all change the lives of individuals and that is what I regularly challenged them to do when they told me, as they regularly did, that they wanted to raise money for a favourite charity.

As an example of this approach I remember two Primary 7 girls asking permission to hold a cake sale to raise money for the RSPCA because they loved animals. We talked about their request for a few minutes and I suggested that instead they should look for a very small, local charity which helped animals as they would then be able to see what an enormous difference their kindness and hard work could make. After a Google search they decided to donate the money they raised to two elderly ladies who looked after pet dogs if their owners lived on their own and had to spend time in hospital. They used to bring the dogs into the hospital to see their owners, which was of course very therapeutic for both patients and dogs! The girls organised their event and afterwards we sent a cheque for about £200 to the charity. The girls were amazed when I told them that the two ladies had phoned to ask if they could visit the school to thank them in person for having made the biggest gift they had ever received.

Whenever a major disaster hit the headlines children always asked if they could raise money to help and we used to do this by applying the same principle of making a difference to the lives of a small number of people, usually children. In the wake of the 2004 tsunami children raised money to cover the cost of rebuilding a very small school on the north-east coast of India which had been washed away. After the Haitian earthquake their fund-raising efforts enabled some local children to return to their badly-damaged school and, when the cold and mountainous regions of Pakistan were struck by an earthquake, hundreds and hundreds of fleeces were donated by children and airlifted to Pakistan so that young children could stay warm.

I always enjoyed the challenges implicit in raising large sums and tended to think that the greater the challenge the more fun children would have trying to meet it, and the greater the sense of satisfaction they would feel when their target was reached. There are far too many initiatives to recall here but the following will provide an idea of the different large-scale challenges we undertook:

  • One year we raised a very large sum for the Blue Peter appeal by climbing Ben Vorlich with the Junior School orchestra, playing the Blue Peter theme and Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ on the summit in a howling gale and pouring rain. One of our cellists that day was a very young Garry Walker (currently Chief Conductor of the Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie, Artistic Director of Conducting at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Music Director of Opera North!). I had already helped him to raise money by taking him up Arthur’s Seat with his ‘cello and a BBC crew and thought we should go one better by taking an orchestra up a Munro. I approached Blue Peter and they readily agreed to film the event, even sending the presenter and a crew to climb with us, accompanied by a helicopter. The weather was so bad at the top that aerial shots were not possible – you will see why from the recording I made of them trying to get some sort of sound from their instruments through their frozen fingers and mouths. In the video you will see on the left of the orchestra Garry Walker manfully playing his cello and you will also notice the presenter banging a triangle!

    Finally it was time to leave the summit and, as we trudged back down, exhausted and soaked to the skin, the sun came out! The camera crew in the helicopter contacted us with a suggestion that we might like to trudge back up to the summit for a second recording. However, I made an executive decision that we should continue our descent but despite that I still ended up with one of the special Blue Peter badges! 

    I remember being impressed that Blue Peter had initially taken our proposal so seriously that they asked me if they could send two members of the team up to Scotland on a reconnaissance mission, and if I could arrange for a few of our children to meet with them and climb a short way up Ben Vorlich to give them an idea of what the camera crew could expect. I agreed and emphasised that, as his colleagues were travelling up in April, they should ensure they had appropriate outdoor clothing which would be suitable for a Scottish Munro in spring. I was assured that the two volunteers were used to the hills as both had walked the Dorset Way!  I got the distinct feeling that the producer was not really listening when I explained that Ben Vorlich in April was not quite the same as the Dorset Way in July! We agreed to pick up our two intrepid guests from Glasgow Airport and I remember saying to the children that they would recognise them as they would be decked out in trendy ‘outdoor’ gear! They were! 

    We drove north on a bright morning which gradually turned grey as we reached Loch Lomond. Then it started to rain and, as we continued north, the wind got up and the rain turned to snow. Our two visitors lapsed into silence and stared at the falling snow and, when we arrived at the base of the mountain, they initially seemed somewhat reluctant to leave the mini-bus.  I asked the children to get their gear on – this was definitely not trendy but it was heavy-duty and perfect for climbing on what was by now a very dreich Scottish winter’s day. 

    After an awkward pause our guests asked if we had by any chance brought something suitable for them to wear. I feigned surprise when they admitted that their powder-blue cagoules and denim jeans might not be quite right for the climb! We had of course brought some adult sized spares and the Dorset gear was replaced by thick orange cagoules and over-trousers. They were very grateful but, as we could not help with boots, they were still unsure as we set off, realising that the walking-boots we had been told they were bringing were not much more than summer trainers. After no more than 20 minutes walking up the nursery slopes of Ben Vorlich they declared that they had seen all they needed to see and were happy to return to the mini-bus. We left them back to the airport and promised not to tell their boss that they had not managed to get very far up the mountain. We did notice when they returned in June for the filming they were all dressed for the worst and that is exactly what they experienced on the summit, so in the end the recce proved worthwhile!
  • We also took an orchestra of Junior School children on a circumnavigation of all the Pentland Hills, walking 17 miles up and down all 11 tops and playing music on the top of each. That was in about 1991 and I do not recall who we were raising money for!
  • We returned twice to the Pentlands in future years on major fundraising challenges. Having already raised a lot of money for Children in Need the year that Pudsey appeared in ‘Joseph’ we managed to get Pudsey back to join us in a helicopter as once again we walked over all the Pentland Hills, again playing music on each of the 11 summits. We were invited to bring some children to Glasgow for the live ‘Children in Need’ show and I had a special banner made so that everyone who watched would know where the children were from. We were disappointed to learn that banners were not supposed to be displayed but, with a little bit of planning, we succeeded in raising it just in time for the cameras! I remember feeling quite pleased that we had managed this little bit of subterfuge but the floor manager seemed less amused. He got his own back when I was being interviewed live on camera later in the evening and was attacked by a pantomime cow which jumped on me mid-sentence, an incident which ended up with me on the ground and both the floor-manager and the cow grinning broadly!
  • Our final Pentland Hills adventure involved every child in Primary 6 joining one of about 20 groups, each led by two or three adults, walking or mountain-biking various distances from 8 to about 18 miles over the hills. This challenge originated from a conversation with the Outdoor Education instructors at our annual Primary 6 camp at Lagginlia near Aviemore. They told us one night that, as a result of budget cuts, the local authority could no longer subsidise the cost of outdoor camps for children in local Primary Schools. The result was that young children from the most disadvantaged families, who would have benefited more than other children from a week away at an outdoor centre, were no longer able to attend. I spoke with our own children and they were very keen to help, hence the decision to take 192 of them to the Pentlands. They each raised money through personal sponsorship. From memory about £25,000 was raised and donated to Lagganlia where the money was used to subsidise children’s residential visits.

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