Sarah presses me urgently to post something new...
Earlyish in my self-curtailed career as a teacher I left employment in Southampton at the end of one school year and transferred to Moray and Nairn, a fairly remote education authority on the southern shores of the Moray Firth. In some ways this wasn't a good move, because the Southampton term finished on July 24th or thereabouts and the Scottish term started on about August 9th and I've never known a shorter school summer holidays. My 40 or so Scottish Primary 7s (11-year-olds, kids in their last primary school year) had been used to the most rigorous formality. They sat in rows according to the grading they'd received at the end of Primary 6, brightest at the front, thickest at the back.
It seemed to me that some emancipation, some liberalisation was needed. Despite strong hints from other members of staff that any slackening of discipline would invariably lead to total collapse of the entire Scottish social system, I included among their prescribed daily diet of mental arithmetic, 50 long division sums involving yards, feet and inches, learning by heart of Wordsworth poems (or 'poy-ems' as the local dialect had it), endless exercises distinguishing there, their and they're - into all this I insinuated the building of a raft out of planks and oildrums. This was in the context of the Odyssey, parts of which I was reading to them. (Dave, I KNOW Homer doesn't mention oildrums, but we had to make do with what we had. If there'd been oildrums on Calypso's island, I'm sure Odysseus would have used them.)
When finished, it had to be tested. We couldn't fit all 40 kids on board, so lots were drawn and two lads, Angus and Callum, were chosen to pilot the vessel on its maiden voyage. A sea voyage seemed a bit too close to Odysseus for comfort, so I chose Lochindorb, a remote loch in the middle of Dava Moor, which had, as you can see, the added attraction of having an island in the middle with a ruined castle on it.
A date had to be selected. In Scotland an early week in October is - or was then - set aside for what are called the Tattie Holidays, traditionally to free children from school to help with potato harvesting. We agreed on a Tattie Holiday weekday, Tuesday or Wednesday. The raft would be loaded up into the Minivan I was driving at the time, Angus and Callum and I would drive to Lochindorb, assemble the raft and launch it before the wind, steer for Castle Island (we'd even learned the Gaelic for this: Eilean a' Chasteil) and plant the school flag on it and claim it in the name of the headmaster, Mr Petrie. Angus the Scribe and Cameraman Callum were to record all this for reporting back to the rest of the class.
There was just one snag in all these arrangements. I was due to be married back in Southampton on the first Saturday of the Tattie Holidays. Through all the raft-building I was guiltily aware that I was rather compromising our honeymoon...
(To be continued)