Monthly Archives: January 2015

Time to remember

 

This is a memoir written by my mother, Ellen Wilson, 1986. It describes life in Lasswade, a village in Scotland, south of Edinburgh, where she was born during the First World War. She left the village to serve in the Second World War. In the 1950s she and her husband Jim lived in the nearby town of Bonnyrigg. My brother Willie and I went to the same village school and knew many of the places and people mentioned.

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By Ellen E Wilson

When one has reached and passed the half—century in one’s life-span it is time to remember and while memory is still clear, to put down on paper a record of the old days – the time of one’s youth. So, let me take you on a tour of Lasswade as I knew the village when I was a child in the 1920s and 1930s,

Today the village is but a pale ghost of what it was then – a bustling community full of little houses and shops and peopled by many families’ busy, happy and contented folk. The main place of employment was Mr Todd’s St Leonards Paper Mill whose lum (chimney) towered over the village though a few men folk worked as miners at Loanhead pit.

The people were not rich in money terms but they were rich in friendship and in being part of a community that cared about the place where they lived and their neighbours. When there was a crisis or calamity there was always a hand stretched out to help, and if there was reason for celebration then the whole village rejoiced together.

Let us begin our journey near the foot of the Wee Brae. In Bras Cottage (underneath the Wee Brae Hall) lived Henry Young and his family. He was the Beadle of the United Free Church at the foot of the brae. Later it was known as Strathesk Church and now is Lasswade Parish Church.

Lasswade ShopOpposite the church were the business premises of Alexander Lothian & Sons Painters and Decorators which my grandfather had established in 1884; I was born in the house above the shop. Then at the corner of Eldin Place was the grocers shop belonging to Mr Andrew Scott who had taken it over after the death of Jim McKay. Grocery deliveries in Mr McKay’s day were made by pony and trap.

Along from Mr Scott’s shop lived Mr Gray the tailor (where Esk Valley Camera Club now meets). The remainder of Eldin Place provided housing for several families – the McLeans, the Kirks, the Browns, the Campbell’s and others. Over the road at the top of the Steps was the Post Office and general store in the capable hands of Mr Billy Stewart and his wife. Mr Stewart served a term as Provost of Lasswade,

Next door to the Post Office (where the electric sub-station now stands) was the workshop of David Reid, carpenter, cabinet maker and funeral undertaker. He was my grandfathers close friend.

At the corner of Elm Row was the garage managed by Mr Baird and his son Joe (to be followed later by Mr David Burns and family). Across the road was the red sandstone building of the Parochial Board where the Parish Registrar, Mr James Robb recorded the local Births, Deaths and Marriages. In the days before the Welfare State needy people went there for Parish Relief. Mr Robb was succeeded by Mr William Sked.

imageThe Elm Row was full of little houses occupied mainly by workers at the paper mill or miners from the local pits. In a cottage in the middle of Elm Row lived Mrs MacIntosh, a kindly sweet faced white haired lady. She was the village midwife, well thought of by our three doctors Dr Robertson, Dr Chas Somerville and Dr John Young. Her presence was invaluable at the birth of a baby or when someone was suddenly struck down by serious illness or death.

Down from the Parochial Board lived Mrs Yorkston and her sister who on Saturday mornings ran a playgroup for the very young children. These ladies were great story tellers and there were vast heaps of picture books. Before going home each child was given a cup of milk and a slice of home-made seed cake. (Shall I ever forget that seed cake?) All this I may say was provided for the price of one old penny.

Incidentally, one old penny took us into the matinee at Bonnyrigg Picture House on Saturday afternoons. The proprietor was Mr Readshaw and Miss Mary Currie from the village was employed there for several years as an usherette.

Next to the Yorkston house was a baby linen and haberdashery shop run by Miss Maggie Hardie; later when she died it was taken over by Mrs Hay. Long years before, this shop had been a bakers shop with the bake house below. Over the doorway there was an interesting carved stone plaque depicting sheaves of corn. When this building was demolished in the 1950s this stone I believe was removed to the Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh.

Further on down Elm Row was the sweet shop belonging to Mrs Hay’s daughter Nettie. Then we come to the shop run by the Murdoch brother’s cobblers and shoe repairers. Candle Row was the lane at the back of these houses and ran almost parallel but at a lower level to Elm Row; at the point where it re-joined Elm Row was the shop owned by Mr James Henderson outfitter, clothier and general draper. Because of its shape this building was known locally as The Coffin Rouse. Here too were more little houses.

imageOver the road from Coffin House was Mr Robert Arnot’s plumbers business with his house above almost adjacent to Mr Johnny Black, Grocer & Italian Warehouseman whose emporium lay at the foot of the Post Office Steps. It was really something of a delicatessen store supplying such exotic merchandise as stuffed olives, maraschino cherries, pickled walnuts all beautifully displayed in rows of glass jars and stem ginger in decorated stone ginger jars, cheeses and wines from foreign parts. Much of Mr Black’s custom came from the big houses in the Braeheads, Broomieknowe and the surrounding area, deliveries being made by pony and trap. The village folk of course could buy everyday commodities such as tea and sugar scooped out from big bins and weighed and packaged at the counter. The coffee was ground while you waited and wedges of cheddar were cut as required from the whole cheese with a thin steel wire. Sides of bacon and smoked hams hung from the ceiling and canisters of herbs and spices lined the shelves. For a penny we could buy sugar crystals on a string. The delicious aroma of that shop still lives with me after all these years.

imageIt is hard to visualise them today but just up by the Post Office Steps from Black’s shop several houses managed to fit themselves in. Euphemia Stebbings sweet shop was tucked in between Johnny Blacks and Mr Kirk the butcher whose shop was at the corner of West Mill Road which led to the paper mill. Mr Kirk was often assisted in the shop by his wife. Both Mr and Mrs Kirk were very gifted musicians always in demand for concerts and other local functions, Facing them over the road was the building at Bridgend where Mr Fergus Stewart the chemist and Mr Bell the baker had their shops with two or three houses above them.

Returning to Coffin House and entering Candle Row with its numerous little houses we come to the workshop of our other carpenter Mr Peter Lockie. He lived with his wife and family in the cottage at the top left of Elm Row where the road hairpins to Bonnyrigg and known to everyone even to this day as Lockie’s Corner; a fitting memorial to a very kindly man.

From Candle Row we walk down past the War Memorial and the public park to Mrs Kelly’s market garden at Middle Mills where a big basket of fresh vegetables would cost you about 2/- (10p).

imageRetracing our steps to Elm Row we cross the bridge over the North Esk and turn left into School Green with its line of trees and in between them the Loupin Stanes. On their way to and from school it was a favourite game of the children to leapfrog over these stones; the last stone in the row was rather tall and was classed as a ‘henner’.

At the end of School Green was Tom Aitken’s dairy. Before Tom the dairy had been run by Johnnie Beattie and his sister Jane; Johnnie Beattie was the first Provost of Lasswade. Mr Aitken grazed his cows either in the Cow Park below Eldin House (now Nazareth House) or in the Glebe up the Back Road past the Old Parish Kirk (now demolished).

Opposite the dairy we find the church hall which was originally the Parish School of Lasswade. This was the centre of the village jollifications, concerts, dances and weddings. Next to it is the original schoolmaster’s house then the Bank Buildings in the lower flat of which my Grandparents set up house after their marriage in 1884. ‘The bank’ was the local branch of the City of Glasgow Bank which went bust in 1878 and subsequently converted into flats.

imageNext to Bank Building was the telephone exchange and at the corner Mr Montgomerie’s grocers shop. Round into the High Street and tucked as it were into a corner was Mr Harry Royle’s establishment reached by an elegant flight of steps with wrought iron railings. Purveyor of sweets, lemonade, cigarettes etc. and of ‘real Italian ice cream’ a pint jug of which for Sunday lunch could be purchased for 1/6 (7½p). I seem to remember he had a billiard saloon behind the shop.

Further along was the Foresters Arms (now The Laird and Dog) run by Mr and Mrs Jack whose son Lawson was a keen rugby player. Here too was the Gospel Wynd much used by villagers making their way to Kirk and cemetery. Next came Tom Whyte the blacksmith; his shop with its forge was of quaint architecture, very old with diamond paned windows. He supplied the villagers with all their DIY needs in the way of screws, nails, bolts and general ironmongery. His professional services were in constant demand by the local farms and estates.

When winter set in he also made skates. The skating and curling ponds were situated just beyond the gates to the manse drive in the Edinburgh Road; when the ice was bearing the ponds at night were lit by oil lamps hung on poles and the curlers and skaters had a high old time.

Above the smiddy was the Police Station with the constable’s house while across the road were two cottages, one occupied by Danny Munro the Parish Kirk beadle and the other by the Stirling family. Along from St Ann’s House was the sweet shop run by wee Mrs Cousins, a small woman hut with a big heart where children were concerned. Her tiny shop was an Aladdin’s cave of confectionery. I still remember her gold-rimmed spectacles and the little steel hammer she used to break up the large slabs of toffee.

Just here stands the Town Hall (now a small factory); in addition to political and council meetings it was much used for social functions, fancy dress balls and the local Unionist Association annual ball. In the open space between the Hall and the paper shop was a row of houses. In those days the newsagent’s shop was run by old Mrs Black to be followed by Mrs Meldrum and later by Mrs Clark. At the end of the block next to the bridge was Mr Stirling’s general store.

Back to the School Brae; half way up at ‘Sunnybrae’ was Mr Forrest’s market garden where he grew fruits of all kinds for the market. We, as schoolchildren spent many happy days there during the summer holidays berry picking at four pence per hour. There were tomato houses and also a vinery.

imageAt the top of the brae was our school – Lasswade Secondary School. It was a good school with a splendid band of teachers, dedicated men and women who seemed to stay with us right through our years at school. One or two of them were still there when my own children went to school. At secondary level pupils came from as far away as Penicuik, Polton, Roslin and Loanhead. In those days there were no school dinners; the children carried ‘lunch pieces’.

With very little motor traffic, we children could play quite safely in the streets. Two cars I can remember were SY-8 belonging to the Hoods of Midfield House and SY-10 belonging to Waldie of Polton both of them being local coal-owners.  Occasionally one of the doctors would drive past on his rounds or the Rev R. H. Pryde the Parish Kirk minister who also owned a car. Until the SMT (Scottish Motor Traction) arrived with their bus service via Loanhead to Edinburgh the main link with the city was by rail from Lasswade station via Broomieknowe, Eskbank and Portobello.

imageOver and above the natural playground of the School Green and the public park there was the vast space for adventure provided by the Braeheads, Kevock and the Haveril Woods. Children anywhere in those days were as safe as houses. We had a great respect for authority – the schoolmaster, the school Jannie, the ministers, the village bobby and even the scaffy who saw to it that we did not become litter louts. Many an ear was cuffed in the process. We had law and we had order. Palmies were dealt out at school when necessary which was not very often, and parents did not go calling for redress at judicial courts. In fact we children found it prudent to keep quiet about the administration of the strap at school because if we complained at home we could end up with another lecture and “Ye shouldn’t ha done that anyway”.

So we come to the end of a sentimental journey. It has been quite difficult for me to fill in so many vacant spaces with houses, shops and people. Came the day when Lasswade was joined to Bonnyrigg making one burgh and the village sank slowly into decline, From a self-sufficient bustling community Lasswade has become another dormitory of Edinburgh,

First the people were moved from the old village houses to the brand new housing scheme in Dobbies Road; a good many of them were not keen to move and often said that if houses were built in Lasswade they would like to come back. Just before the war a small group of Swedish timber houses was built at Melville View.

The old village houses were left empty to rot and decay, One by one the shops and small businesses closed down for the customers were no longer there. In the 1950’s the scene of devastation was such that one visitor enquired if we had suffered bomb damage in the war! The old Parish Kirk on the hill had to be demolished because of dry rot. Foreign competition ensured the demise of St Leonards Paper Mill; the lum (chimney) which had stood guard over the village for so many years was felled and the mill stripped and razed to the ground

However succeeding councils did their best to cover up the scars. The School Green was landscaped as well as other vacant spaces; trees, flowers and shrubs were planted and the War Memorial rescued from years of neglect.

But when you move the people from a village you rip the heart out of it. Lasswade will never be the same again but it still remains an attractive and pleasant place to live in. After all, Lasswade will always have its place in history.

Printed in Midlothian Advertiser 20 March 1986

Revised August 1991

Reprinted May 2013

 

Dib, Dib, Dib.

This is a memoir of my days as a Cub then a Scout in Lasswade, a village near Edinburgh in Scotland. It is the late 1950s when life was simple and uncomplicated. The next decade, the Swinging 60s was about to kick off.

imageI was about to embark on my first Scout camp. I was still a cub, so it is probably 1959 which would make me 9 years old. In the picture, taken outside the Scout Hall in Lasswade opposite the Laird and Dog, I am in the middle, the second blond up from the front row. My brother Willie is standing to the left of the Scoutmaster Tommy Green. For the photograph, taken by my dad, Jim Wilson, we were arranged on the loading ramp of a cattle truck, which still reeked of recent and more appropriate passengers. This truck would be our mode of transport to the campsite at near Tantallon Castle on the coast of the Firth of Forth. The equipment for the camp, the tents, cooking gear, food supplies, our personal luggage (usually packed in military surplus kit bags) and so on were loaded first, followed by us, the Scouts and Cubs, on top. In those days, Health and Safety was not a consideration, in fact the only concern was that we didn’t fall out of the back.
The journey probably took a couple of hours as we meandered across the countryside, then along the coast roads. I recall the fun we had, as we passed slowly through the towns and villages, mimicking the cattle and sheep that would have been the normal cargo. Unsuspecting pedestrians were startled by the cacophony of moo’s and baa’s that came from behind the wooden slats, followed by hoots of raucous laughter.

imageAt the campsite we were released from the cattle truck, clattering down the ramp like a herd of beasts. The equipment was unloaded, tents set up and the latrine excavated; a long deep pit like a grave with a canvas screen and as time passed an evil smell. There was a large tent that acted as a kitchen where, in the morning, you could watch the porridge cooking in an enormous black pot while one of the scout leaders casual tapped his fag ash into it. I think there was probably about six occupants to each tent where at night, after lights out, gruesome stories and jokes were told. The photograph shows my brother Willie, standing by the tent pole, with his group posing like a nonchalant Edwardian safari party. I recall a torchlit midnight ramble along the seafront, games of rounders, campfires and learning scouting skills. I also remember the smells; damp grass, damp canvas, drinking chocolate. And the latrine.

imageThis photograph is of my initiation into the Lasswade Scout group. I would be about ten or eleven years old, dressed in a kilt, but hatless. Everyone looks a bit gormless, Dib, Dib Dibbing, and giving half hearted three finger salutes. The troop was organised into four patrols and mine, somewhat disappointingly, was called the Owls. The others had more inspiring names; the Hawks, the Eagles and the Ospreys. Inside the scout hall there was a canvas enclosure in each corner, one for each patrol. At the start of each session there was a pledge allegiance to God and the Queen followed by inspections by the Scoutmaster, who peered critically at the uniforms, shape of the hats (achieved by steaming and ironing) and position of the woggles. The enclosures were then scrutinised for cleanliness and order.

Activities included learning the scouting skills, knot tying and stiff, necessary to gain the various badges, and a variety of games. In the summer we could be found following trails through the local woods, the Braeheads and in the dark winter months we played indoor games. A particular game that I recall involved a boxing glove. The troop formed a circle facing inwards, eyes firmly closed and a boxing glove was handed to a scout who then started beating his surprised and startled neighbour with the glove as he chased him round the circle back to his place, bruised and panting. The glove was then randomly passed to another scout and the frantic pursuit repeated; an opportunity to settle scores.
In those uncomplicated days, the Scouts, Guides, Cubs and Brownies, like the church and school played an important part in the life of the village.

But soon, to the great disappointment of my dad, a King Scout in his youth, I left the Scouts.
One dark Winter evening, I was climbing the Post Office Steps, on my way home from a Scout meeting.
“Ye heard, Pal?” A voice in the dark..
“Heard what?”
“President Kennedy’s gone and been assassinated, Pal.”
It was 7.30 on Friday the 22 November 1963. I went home and sat on my bed in a state of deep shock. At a time when political leaders were old men with grey hair, pipes and moustaches, Jack Kennedy, with his film star looks, was someone we teenagers could relate to. He had celebrity status; a year before we had followed the Cuban Crisis with apprehensive awe.
Suddenly, life was no longer simple and uncomplicated. Not long after, I drifted away from the Scouts, an organisation that didn’t seem relevant in this new world, the world of the swinging 60s.

What a stinker

It is a holiday ritual. As the plane levels off and the sign lights up allowing passengers to unbuckle their seat belts, my wife, Val, will lean forward to begin a silent conversation with me. A conversation that requires minimal lip reading skills.
“Is that you?” She mouths.
“What?” I mouth back playfully, knowing full well where this is leading.
“That!”
“What?”
“That smell!”
“What smell?”
Exasperated, Val cuts to the chase. “Have you farted?”
“No, it’s not me!” I terminate the conversation, knowing my protestations will fall on deaf ears, read my book and sip a gin and tonic. If it was me the oxygen masks would be deployed.

This is not the first time in my life that I have been falsely accused of creating a stink. In 1956, as a six year old pupil at Lasswade Primary School, I was humiliatingly assumed to be responsible for a smell, a dreadful smell, in the classroom. It was not me.

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Still coming to terms with primary school life I sat, seeking anonymity, somewhere in the middle of the classroom at a wooden desk, one in a regimented sea of desks. The sun is streaming in the large window, the room was warm and my mind probably elsewhere; mulling over the latest exploits of Davy Crockett or Quatermass, a scary science fiction TV film which surprisingly my dad had allowed me to watch at the impressionable age of six.

The class, in a state of mild excitement, was about to go to the music lesson to be held in a large room at the other end of the school where I would wield a triangle, the extreme limit of my musical talents.
My day unravelled with an unexpected and uncontrolled fart; loud enough for the teacher Mrs Blair, a tall, middle aged lady, to give me a disapproving look and the girl sat next to me to snigger. No longer anonymous I was the centre of attention.

imageThe moment passed and I slipped back into my default daydreaming mode. But this hiatus didn’t last. I slowly become aware, along with the teacher and my fellow pupils, that the room was slowly being blanketed with the smell of poo mingling with the ever present chemical odour, wafting from the paper mill on the far side of the River Esk. My recent fart had placed me firmly in the frame as the source of the smell. The teacher, suspicious that I had suffered a catastrophic ‘follow through’ told me to sit at the front of the class in an attempt to isolate the problem.
Even at the age of six I recall feeling victimised; surely the teacher couldn’t  believe that the sheer volume and persistence of the smell could possibly have seeped from my small body.
Much later in my life my mother would often announce, to my extreme embarrassment, in her lilting, but loud Scottish voice, that when I was a child Doctor Sommerville had remarked that I had very large bowels; the chatter and clatter in restaurants would be suspended at this revelation.
But, back to my childhood. I am sat, probably red faced at the front of the class with the teacher taking frequent smell readings over me with her nose. Things were about to get worse.
The class was marshalled into a column of pairs, a miniature military column, girls and boys holding hands to start the long march down the main corridor of the school. We set off, travelling in a cloud of poo smell. I was holding hands with teacher, my classmates smirking at my discomfiture as Mrs Blair stopped at intervals to bend over, and with fabric between thumb and forefinger, lifted up the leg of my shorts and sniff; a chef lifting the lid of a saucepan, uncertain of the contents.
This final humiliation was intense but short lived. Suddenly, a girl in the column burst into into uncontrollable tears. Thankfully the humiliation was transferred from me to the distressed girl as Mrs Blair gingerly lifted her skirt to reveal a memorably large poo slung in her knickers.

The unfortunate girl was led away. I replaced her in the column holding the limp, reluctant hand of her erstwhile companion. In the music room, at the back of the small orchestra, I again became anonymous, pondering on the recent indignity while striking the metal triangle vaguely in beat with the music.

Her influence is still around me, guiding me in difficulties, cheering me in sorrow

 

This family story has been taken from my daughter Laura’s blog, www.arewenearlythereyetmummy.com

Lasswade ShopWritten two years ago, it is a tribute to my Grandfather Clement Walter who died in the First World war. Clem was married to Laura (my daughters namesake) the daughter of Alexander Lothian who had an house decorating business in Lasswade. The shop was located opposite the church at the bottom of the Wee Brae. 

Clem’s mother Elsie died when he was thirteen years old and his father James remarried. This blog story was uncovered by Catherine, a great granddaughter of the second marriage. Catherine has contacted my daughter and  hopefully we will learn more about our family.

Laura’s story about her Great Grandfather.

This is my Great Grandfather, Clement Henderson Walter. He was born on the 28th of November 1885 and died in 1917 aged only 31.

ClemI dug out an old file that my Scottish Grandfather, Jim Wilson, who is no longer with us, compiled.  I’ve always known that it’s there, brimming full of family history, but I’ve never sat down and read it. The file traces both my paternal Grandfather and my Grandmother’s family, in one case to 1722. It’s fascinating. There are four lines of family tree. Every person has a photo, a back story. Of the immediate family there is a wealth of first hand musings about each relative. One part of the file particularly resonates with me and that belongs to my Great Great Grandmother, Elsie, and her son my Great Grandfather, Clement.

My Great Great, Grandmother, Elsie (born 1860) was a prolific writer of short stories.  She wrote a book called ‘Recollections of an Old Street Lamp’ which told tales of the comings and goings of all the people in the street. There is a copy of the book in the file.  Sadly, she died at the age of 40, leaving two sons behind, Clement and Richard.  On his thirteenth birthday Clement wrote to a cousin “Greater loss than that there is none … I always loved her devotedly and more so when terrible and incurable illness came upon her … And she is gone and I was empty … but her influence is still around me, guiding me in difficulties, cheering me in sorrow”.

Clement worked on the Glasgow Herald, wrote poetry and was also a talented musician and artist.  He married my namesake, Laura, and in 1915, 4 months before the birth of his daughter, my Grandmother, he volunteered in the Battalion of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers.

Clem eatingOn 9 April 1917 the 3rd Battle of Arras started and from the sewers and cellars of Arras where they had been hiding for three days, the three companies of 7/8 Battalion of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers sallied forth in an attack.  It is thought that this is where Clem received the wound that was to prove fatal.

Some considerable time later one of Clem’s comrades came to the home of my Great Grandmother, Laura, to tell her the circumstances.  Hit during the battle, Clem, with his hip shattered was laid in a shell hole for shelter until he could be picked up; when they came later there was no trace of him and he was never found.

My Grandfather, when compiling the vast family archives, wrote “Aged only 31, a man of talent with promise of better things to come, he shared the fate of thousands who like him went off with high hopes to a World War triggered off by the dynastic pride and vanity of emperors and the aftermath of which brought only misery to countless millions the whole world over.”

 

The moving finger writes

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This class picture was taken in the playground of Lasswade Primary School. I am on the top row in the middle. It is 1959 and I am nine years old, the tallest, youngest and with thick blond hair.Too easily identifiable in the school and the neighbourhood for my own good.

My early school years were plagued by persistent hearing problems and by the time I was 9 years old I was almost completely deaf. My father once told me that when I was playing on the living room floor he would speak to me from behind his Scotsman newspaper without getting any response. I was probably suffering from ‘glue ear’ and nowadays would have grommets fitted. But in 1959 the cure seems to have been removal of the adenoids and so in the November of that year I had the operation.

imageMy classmates were given the task, by Miss Neilson, of composing letters to be sent to me in hospital. I still have these letters today. Careful copperplate script pencilled onto lined yellowing paper tell of the goings on at the school in my absence. Clearly, Miss Neilson didn’t censor the letters which speak, not just of school events, but of the occasional breakdown of discipline.

Brenda Ewing,  Sandra  and Moira in their letters tell me that new sums were being taught and that we were to be allowed to do our homework in ink. Brenda ominously stated that “the teacher said that if we had a mistake in our mental we would get the belt.” Hearing this could have caused a relapse in my recovery. Mental arithmetic, or indeed any sort of arithmetic, was my worst subject. This may have been due to my hearing problem or simply that I was thick. Morag, daughter of the Polish emigre known locally as ‘Joe the Pole’ twisted the knife of anxiety by revealing that the new sums involved multiplying by pound, shillings and pence. This revelation would have had me ringing for the nurse. In those pre-decimalisation days you could be set the task of calculating how much it would cost to buy 15 yards, 2 feet and 4 inches of curtain material when the price was one pound two and three pence a yard; extreme numerical torture. She continues, ” Mr Clelland (the Headmaster) showed us some writing from quarter to three till ten past three.” This was followed by “gym with Mrs Mackinnon’s class till four o’clock.” No going home early in the 1960s then.

Michael Blair, whose mother, if I remember correctly, was Swedish, and Elizabeth tells me that my team, The Rabbits,  were very proud of me. “You have earned thirty four points for your team by yourself alone,” wrote Michael. Maybe not  so thick then. Elizabeth had signed off with 14 kisses. David, informes me that he is now my team leader, confirmed that I was second in this mysterious test by scoring 34 out of 38 points and that we were “still on tapestries at Handwork.” I still have this piece of tapestry to this day.

More praise from William (probably Billy Watt or Watty)  for my test score “I must say ‘well done'” he says, then worryingly signs off with three kisses. Norma Goodall reveals that discipline is breaking down “every day someone is being put outside the door” then, teasingly will not tell me what my score was in the test, oblivious that everyone else has told me. She ends her letter with eleven kisses. I doubt at the time I appreciated all this attraction from the opposite sex. Margaret Stewart engages in a bit of oneupmanship. “I had to get my adenoids out and my tonsils,” and “was in the hospital for four days.” Ha, well I can’t remember writing to you! Neil Woodcock, the son of the paper mill manager is pleased the spat between Robert and Gordon has been resolved; “I am glad to say they became friends again.”

John Steel, “David’s letter has a surprise.” Obviously my stunning mystery test score. Catherine Frizzell tells me that “in History we are doing Margaret Tudor and James IV,” then confirms that teacher is in a bad mood but, worryingly adds, “she is very angry with you.” Betty Gillies, in her letter, breathlessly elaborates on the collapse of law and order in the classroom. “Robert and Gordon started a fight and Gordon was put in corner and Robert was put outside the door,” then she reports more trouble “a minute ago Jennifer’s desk was pulled out to the front and she was made to face the class.” In her long missive Betty describes Remembrance Day the previous Sunday. “It was cold standing at the monument. The Brownies, Guides, Cubs and Scouts were there.” I would have been upset to have missed the ceremony. The name of my maternal grandfather Clem Walter is on the monument in the park. It must have been cold as Catherine Wimbles, the class weather woman, in her letter predicts, “It is going to snow soon.”

Was Michael Bannerman in a different classroom? In his letter he contradicts his fellow pupils “the teacher has been in a good mood so far and we have had a good time and teacher has done some of your Handwork.” In the following Summer Michael would die, falling from a tree, and be buried in the graveyard across the lane from the school, the Cubs forming a Guard of Honour. My first funeral.

Robert, the son of another Polish emigre, had learning difficulties, and sang a lot and could be disruptive. But he was accepted as one of us. His letter, although neat, rambles. “I hope you got one operation and not two or three or four or five of them.” Yes, Robert I was pleased it was only one.

Catherine Swan with a small hint of envy says that Margaret Duncan’s writing is best. And there is some truth in this. Margaret Duncan, a tall girl, in her best writing reports that “the classroom is so quiet without you.” Then, as though I would be interested, “Elizabeth has brought her doll Vicky to school and it has a pair of long pants and a hat and a jumper which are red.” Yes, right. Despite complaining that I am always pulling her hair I am awarded ten kisses. Jennifer, the naughty girl facing the class, announces in faint spidery writing that “the tea tickets for the sale are out and cost one shilling.” Vital information for a 9 year old lying in a hospital bed. Sympathetically Gordon states the obvious when he writes “I don’t think you would like an operation,” and Corinne asked me “How do you like being in hospital.” Probably liking it more than doing mental arithmetic, getting it wrong and getting the belt.

Kenneth, an avid collector of wild bird’s eggs, mysteriously asks “I hope you are not forgetting our motto ‘Shoo’?” Then describes how “Fatty was sitting on the wall and I just about pushed him over. I wish I was you.” Meaning, I suppose, being in hospital instead of being in a classroom with a bad tempered teacher. Finally, happily, Barbara makes me feel tons better by telling me “We miss your fun!”

Most of my class mates omitted their surnames, a few, more formally signed off with their full name. Oddly, I remember the sound of the Polish surnames but I wouldn’t like to attempt to spell them. Morag Mal-eka-die and Robert Tris-cal-ski.

We would all too soon disperse to different schools. Some to the Edinburgh private schools, but most of us would end up at Lasswade Secondary School with it’s functional, soviet style buildings. I badly missed the village school with its easier pace of life and friendly architecture. My mother and her mother before her had been taught in the same, virtually unchanged, building. I felt at home.