Friday, 12 February 2010

Our Island Race

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)


I, Like The View said...

*rushes off to find some words of worth*

I, Like The View said...

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune,
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.


The Writers Blog said...

the silence between the notes
the distractions between the intentions
let us hear
let us live
what is

Dave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave said...

Your suggestion regarding daily mental arithmetic has been duly noted. I shall have a quiz on Monday.

Christopher said...

I: Thank you. Very glad to be reminded of this splendid sonnet, tho' not one the kids in the post were ever required to learn. I first came across the last 6 lines introducing Andrew Lang's Greek Legends when I was about 8 and have had a fondness for them ever since.

TWB: So very good to welcome such existentialist sensitivity here, hands across the sea from Las Vegas. Are you really that old?

Dave: Monday morning mental arithmetic! Why, that's Sarah's favourite occupation!

Z said...

Oh I say. That beats a honeymoon spent (by the groom) antique-hunting, any day.

A governor was asked to attend a meeting of the School Council today, at the local high school, to talk about the school uniform. We assumed that they were going to ask for some slackening of the rules. In fact, they were making the point that some teachers are much too lenient, and please could they be asked to enforce the rules more diligently? I'm bemused.

Sarah said...

Sooooo rude..but you are right, I always sat at the back.

Oooh I love raft building...did a similar challenge down the Severn river..scary.

To be continued........

Dave said...

I trust a full Health and Safety risk assessment was carried out beforehand. I suspect one might not be allowed to do this nowadays.

I'm glad my Scouting days were before the world went safety-mad.

Christopher said...

Z: They were very good kids, splendid examples of what Scottish education could produce, tho' it's not impossible parents had something to do with it as well. I hope I didn't slacken the twist in trying to open their eyes a bit.

Sarah: I never said a word!

Dave: Ah, too true. There was nothing in the way of H&S regulations then, just (supposedly) common sense.

Sarah said...

(Just to put your mind at rest....he thinks *brains and beauty? nah* I got 10 o'levels 4 a levels's and a first class degree.....not in spellin' or maffs!)

Christopher said...


*stands up, scratches chin, stares out of window at serins and goldfinches feeding in snow: so overwhelmed by irrefutable evidence of brains and beauty shown by Spadoman on I,LTV's comments thread that he forgets they may co-exist elsewhere. Never doubted it, of course*

Spadoman said...

Thor Heyerdahl used up all the oil drums. At least that's the way I heard it. I never did read the entire book, but the blogs told me the entire crew is now passed on.
I'm anxiously waiting the continuation as I make this post, (and others from the likes), part of my British education.


Christopher said...

Hi, Spadoman. Very pleased to see you. Draw up a chair by the fire. Make yourself at home. Tea? Earl Grey? Lapsang? Rooibos?

Oildrums. Yes, we were lucky to find any after T. Heyerdahl's depredations. And those Caribbean steel bands - I hadn't thought of a musical raft, that's true. Next time, maybe.