August 1974 – first day at school
August 1974 saw Richard Nixon resign as US President; a coup in East Timor; the Turkish army attacking Nicosia in Cyprus; USSR USA and France all testing nuclear weapons; 4000 Bangladeshis perish in a hurricane and subsequent flood; the Ramones perform their first concert and John Lennon as still seeing things in the sky, although this time it was not Lucy and there did not appear to be any diamonds.
Inflation was at 17.2%!
Tracy Ann Tormey was five months old. The Rumble in the Jungle was a mere two months away and Germany had won the world Cup.
In August 1974 I was four and half years old and I did not know, or even care about any of that. I was forcibly removed from our ground floor flat, taken 100 yards across the road, through the gates that would play a massive role in the next seven years of my life and dumped in a room full of other children that I had never met.
In August 1974, against my will, I started Blairtummock Primary School.
To make matters worse Darrin, my wee brother, was left at home. I did not like this.
My first day!
Early primary age kids had to enter in via the Aberdalgie Road entrance. We were in Miss Beck’s (later to become Mrs Angus after being married) class. I sobbed and cried all the way to school. When I was eventually brought into the class with all my classmates already seated, I got to sit in a chair at the front to make me feel special.
It made me the centre of attention (like the crying hadn’t) and I did not like that.
Mum and dad, entrusted by God to feed me, clothe me, give me food and shelter – to love me – abandoned me at the gates.
In I trudged to this strange, concrete prison yard, overshadowed by the monstrous, high roofed dining room, that seemed to tower over the much smaller primary 1 – 3 playground.
It really was quite an enclosed space, with the shelter attached to left hand side of the building. Next was the wall of the building, with the toilet windows being the prominent feature, and then that dining/assembly hall.
This was to be my recreational space breaks and lunchtime for the next three years.
I got over the initial shock of my world suddenly changing and soon settled into the regimented regime of the class.
It was not long before I found that I loved class. We had a fantastic teacher, although even at that early age I had my questions, and I asked them.
My class mates were brilliant, 44 years later, I still know and communicate with some of them. Now isn’t that fantastic?
Others disappeared into the sands of time, and still I look and for for news of them.
My first day, though.
The classroom itself always seemed dark, with not much natural sunlight coming in despite the big windows. This was because a large line of bushes ran along the back of the classes. P1 & 2 were on the ground floor, so hence the gloom.
The most stand out moment from that first day was story time.
At story time we all gathered into a semi-circle and Miss Beck, (now seated on my chair at front of class) would read to us. She was great at it. I loved, even at that early age, of being transported to another world through books. It is something that has stayed with me all my life. I believe it is because there is that part of us that knows we are something bigger than our physical experience. Solomon says that God has placed eternity into the hearts of men, and in Psalm 42 the writer urges us to the understanding that “deep calls unto deep”. What we see can never be enough whilst that deep rooted longing for eternity and our home with God beckons us.
This unlocking of my imagination that first day may have taken many years to hit home, but here we are.
Story time allowed my imagination to carry me off to places that my body could not go. It wasn’t just novels either. I had an unquenchable thirst for general knowledge. News, papers, encyclopaedias, general knowledge books – like the character Jonny 5 from Short Circuit, (one of my favourite characters growing up) and his incessant cry of “Need more input”.
I did like football, and playing outside, and doing the jumps game (parkour before parkour was a thing) but I loved reading. I loved to feel the stimulation as even news pieces allowed my mind to explore what my ears were hearing and what my lips were reading. My eyes eager to move onto the next words as if each one was a secret code that unlocked another hidden destination.
Very quickly I settled into school because of this. The nightmare scenario of the prison gates, the concrete recreation areaand the shame seat was replaced by the comfort zone of learning. What seemed a place of undeserved captivity became an infinite universe of possibilities.
School became the means to finding my voice and finding my place.
I already mentioned the unknown kids all seated, witnesses to my private hell as I was escorted into my seat in the class at the start. As I became familiar and comfortable with the setting and the purpose, I also became family with the other pupils. One of my earliest memories is of David Alexander. He was the quiet, unassuming one that just got on with it. Always very good, always diligent. I never knew David to say or do anything unkind, never. I am proud to say that David is still around and I still, regularly, communicate with him and his wife Joanne, whom I have also known most of my life.
I asked David if he remembers starting school, though, and he begged for mercy. “That’s 44 years ago Stuart”.
David has managed what I did not, and that is to stay stable within his life and not get sucked into the outward pressures of scheme life. I love watching the adventures of David and Joanne unfold on social media, and how loved and respected they are by all who know them.
They are a fantastic couple.
Another classmate was my cousin Caroline Dott.
Caroline’s dad was actually my dad’s cousin, and I loved that we had family so close to us. Parents Robert and Margaret along with Lorraine, Evelyn, wee Robert and Caroline lived down Duntarvie Road in the early years and I used to be a regular visitor to their house.
Caroline was brilliant, attractive and popular – and my cousin- that was a good person to have in my class. She was also a very good friend to me whilst we shared a class, and life is much richer for having had my “wee cuz” Caroline there all these years.
There were others, Todd Coster, Linda Shergold, Graham Keene and a whole class load that I was going to spend the bulk of the next 7 years with. It is with great fondness and affection I remember that day – that day that started off so badly.
So here I am. 44 years later and writing about vague impressions left in my memory cells, being dragged through the school gates, dragged to the class, sat in front of everyone, so much of that I did not want, I did not like and tried my hardest to make it not happen, and yet it unlocked the greatest treasure that my loving heavenly Father has given me.
This blog is part of a wider collection to show the journey that would eventually lead me to the cross of Jesus Christ, my personal redemption, and my journey of faith afterwards. If you would like to know more of my story, please click on my “About” page and take it from there.
Alternatively, you can visit the Media Links page and see a short visit done by BBC Radio Scotland for an interview I did there.
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