Monthly Archives: November 2013

Hallelujah I’m a bum

I’ve been listening to my granddaughter talk excitedly about her new teacher; he announces the end of lessons by playing a trumpet! She will remember this wonderful teacher all her life. When I was about her age I had a memorable teacher. A music teacher from America who arrived at my school, Lasswade Primary, on a temporary posting and stayed for all too brief a time. But for a short spell we were suddenly exposed to vivid exciting songs and melodies from another continent. Another world.

Our usual music lessons involved vocally stumbling through Gaelic songs about men cutting peat in drizzle drenched glens or herring gulls soaring across drizzle drenched slate grey seas. Of course we had no idea what the gaelic words meant; no more than medieval serfs understood Latin chants. This dreary fare was occasionally lightened with jolly English ditties such as  “d’ye ken John Peel” and at Christmas, carols.

Sandy School boy

This American teacher, with rugged film star looks, brought to us hobo songs with lyrics that painted vivid pictures in our young minds; of box cars crossing vast foreign landscapes, sleeping under canopies of stars and roaming in places where the sun always shone. Songs with memorable titles; ‘Hallelujah, I’m a Bum’, which of course produced sniggers and ‘Big Rock Candy Mountains’.

Accompanied by Our American teacher on the school’s ancient upright piano we sang of buzzin’ bees in peppermint trees, of the place where lemonade springs and the bluebird sings. And the hauntingly evocative ‘Moon River’ from the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Unfortunately my persistent hearing problems made me a less than enthusiastic participant; I had a tendency to cause trouble.  After one episode of misbehaviour I was banished me from the room to stand in the corridor.

The corridor was a terrifying place to be. Mr Clelland, the headmaster, randomly roamed the corridor and meted out punishment to any miscreant pupil he came across. In Scottish schools the tawes, a  thick leather belt, was the traditional implement used to administer punishment by smacking the outstretched hand. The work smack doesn’t really convey the effect of being struck by the belt; the hand could sting for hours and worse if a myopic teacher caught the wrist. However on this occasion my ordeal didn’t last long.

As I stood in terror looking up and down the corridor I was taken by surprised when the classroom door opened and our American teacher appeared in front of me.

He seemed a gentle and kind man so I was taken by surprise when he suddenly morphed into a Chicago gangster, grabbing me by my lapels and hoisting me up against the corridor wall with my feet dangling in space. In his slow American drawl he advised me to stop being “a stoopid kid” and that next time he would give me “a mighty good whipping” followed by various other equally dire promises. But the kind, gentle eyes that looked into mine belied the threats spilling out of his mouth.

I have often thought that this episode in my childhood was not so long after the Second World War. Perhaps our kind and gentle American teacher had seen or experienced enough violence and cruelty on some drizzle drenched battlefield to willingly collude in the cruel and unusual punishments of our school system.

We returned to the class room to continue our music lesson. Chastened and relieved I joined in with a rediscovered passion:

Oh, the buzzin’ of the bees in the peppermint trees

‘Round the soda water fountains

Where the lemonade springs and the blue birds sing

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains………………….


Book review: The Collaborator

The Collaborator

Book:              The Collaborator

Author:           Margaret Leroy

Publisher:      Mira Books

Story genre:  WW2 – Civilians during occupation

5 Star

Personal view:

This is a deceptively complex book presenting the story to the reader in many layers; complicated family relationships, the Guernsey community, the harsh reality of the German occupation and Nazi evil.

The narrative revolves in increasingly tense circles around Vivienne de la Mare from London, unhappily married into an established Guernsey family. Her husband is on active service and she finds herself stranded on the island with her two children (a trying teenager and an innocent but astute child) and her difficult senile mother-in-law. The occupation of the island draws Vivienne into a relationship with Gunther, a German officer and peacetime architect, who is billeted in the house next door.  A forbidden friendship develops in the frightening world of occupied Guernsey risking retribution from both the occupier and the occupied.

The story is exquisitely told, the author describing the commonplace in intricate detail which literally paints a picture in the reader’s mind. You are actually there with Vivienne, aware of the hedgerows, the birds and insects, the light diffusing through leaves, the scents. It is this intense imagery that heightens the senses and created, for me, as the narrative progressed, a deep fear for the fate of the characters. So much so that almost three quarters of the way though the book I felt compelled to read the epilogue to discover who survived and who did not.

At the end you are left thinking, self-evaluating. Of the cruelty of war, of how a soldier as an individual is different to the soldier who is part of a malevolent ideology. What would you do? Collaborate or resist.