People who know me will tell you I'm
During these idle moments I came across a photo of my old primary school in Aberdeen. It’s fair to say my time at Ashley Road Primary School in Aberdeen was not entirely happy. In fact, it was downright miserable. After my parents separated at the end of 1969 I moved from Cumbernauld outside Glasgow to Aberdeen where my mother's family resided. As 1970 began, I was the new kid in class. And not at the beginning of term. In the middle of winter. Moreover, being from Cumbernauld I was out of sync with the rest of my new classmates. Although I had visited Aberdeen to see my grandparents when I was in Cumbernauld and understood some of the local dialect, I struggled at times to understand what my new classmates were saying to me. And this, at the age of seven and three quarters, was already marking me out to be different.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t without friends at Ashley Road Primary School. One of whom grew up to become one of Scotland’s finest artists while another was particularly good at football and would become a professional player for Airdrieonians and Montrose. Indeed, it was as a Montrose player that Innes McDonald laid on a goal that helped Montrose knock Hearts out of the League Cup at Tynecastle in 1986. However, I digress. My best pal was a lad called Ian. We seemed to hit it off right away but we seemed to drift apart in the final year of primary school in 1974.
Ashley Road was one of those older primary schools. When I first went there in the winter of 1969, the toilet was outside. Well, I say toilet - it consisted of a wall and a drain. And it smelled. As you may have gathered, I was not particularly happy there. Initially I kept thinking about my old pals at Seafar Primary in Cumbernauld and the gradual realisation I would never see them again. When I came to accept that, I resented some of my classmates at Ashley Road, particularly those whose trust and friendship I never stood a chance of gaining. This was reflected in the games of football we played in the playground during lunchtime. I was invariably placed in the so-called weaker team and inevitably in defence. Not for me the glory of scoring the winning goal and taking off my school jersey and running aimlessly around the playground. I did get to take the odd penalty kick and on one occasion, the accuracy of my well-placed right foot shot smashed a window of the school art hut. Such things stick in the memory.
The one thing that sticks like no other in the memory - and still haunts me and, I suspect, many other pupils of Ashley Road in the early 1970s - was the quite horrid school dinners. I have no idea what went into those meals - and I don’t really want to know - but they were quite disgusting. So bad, they made many of us physically sick. One of the teachers - an old battle axe called Mrs Cumming - was on school meals duty. She didn’t so much rule with a rod of iron as metaphorically beat us around the head with it. She would not allow any pupil to leave without finishing their meal - no matter how disgusting it was. Quite what the council’s catering department did nearly forty years ago is up for debate but the explanation that they ‘steamed’ the food wasn’t acceptable then and still isn’t years later. It got to the ridiculous stage where some of us were smuggling food out of the dining hut in handkerchiefs - especially the potatoes that were particularly disgusting. Even those that didn’t have bits of what seemed to me like dead flies in them. After weeks of hell, I was pleading with my mother not to send me back to the dreaded school dinner hut. The fact I was throwing up one night told its own story. My mother took time off work the following day and marched to the school to lock horns with the Head Teacher. Whatever mother said it worked. Mrs Cumming was removed from her dining hut duties and the school meals gradually began to improve. My mum became a heroine to those kids who had suffered. However, I suspect I'm not the only one for whom the mental scars remain - to this day I can't abide even the sight of rhubarb...
Forty years later I'm glad to report my grandson Jack, in his first year at primary school in Dalkeith in the heart of Midlothian, enjoys wholesome nutritional school meals - and he loves it. Changed days indeed as John Lennon once said.
Now, do you see the perils of having too much time on your hands? This time next week, I'll be back at the coalface, cursing the incessant ringing of the telephone and the huge pile of work that sadly remained on my desk over the Christmas and New Year period and will need urgent attention.
Like I said, I'm not one to complain...