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RECOLLECTIONS OF SCOTUS ACADEMY
J. M . HUNT
I am very much the Luddite but have recently succumbed to the undoubted attractions of the Internet. I am a Scotus Academy FP and very proud of the fact! My brother Peter – another FP- informed me the other day of your web site and I have decided to take the plunge and respond to your appeal for information on the old alma mater.
Where do you start? When I look back I can only recall happy memories of Scotus. My father was an Executive Officer in the Civil Service and he had a strong belief in good education. He would sacrifice anything in order to obtain a sound education for his boys. We lived on the Broomhouse estate and lived quite frugally. My father considered education the best investment anyone could make and in his mind the Christian Brothers offered just that! My two brothers – Peter and Brian – also attended Scotus. We were required to wear those bright blue iniforms, which includied the hats, as we made our way to and from school. This was like a red flag to the bull! Obviously this made us easy targets for the local lads. We took some ribbing – no, it was abuse! Still there was no harm done.
I had missed two years schooling through illness as a youngster. I had failed my 11+ and was attending St. Anthony's Scondary. At that time I was so backward that I had difficulty spelling my name! Consequently when I was moved to Scotus with its emphasis on learning I found the experience very daunting at first – I was out of my depth! I found, however, the teaching staff and my fellow students very kind and helpful. My mate Brendan McCann took me under his wing and helped me get settled; he did all my latin homework and frequently saved my bacon in class by whispering the answer to some bewildering questions, which were fired at me like a machine gun. It is so unfair that the Christian Brothers receive such bad press these days. There are some people, mainly whingers, who would say that the teaching was tough. Well I won't deny it. However, it had a purpose – it focused the mind. There is no way you can teach without discipline! What the whingers forget is this was the accepted method of teaching in schools at the time. I contend that the control in any other Edinburgh school in the 50s and 60s was no less firm! The proof of the pudding is in the eating - it worked for me! So is everything in the garden lovely as far as education today is concerned ? I think not! Seems to me that the kids are ruling the roost. I won't comment on the standard of education or the calabre of student you find in school in these liberal times. Suffice to say I just found another GCE O Level certificate (grade A +, would you believe) in my packet of Coco Pops this morning; one more and I've got the set! Also, in my time at school, no one was expelled and I can't even remember anyone being suspended; there was no disrespect for authority, no bullying, no vandalism, no bad manners, no graffiti, no ASBOs etc, etc and so forth. I never doubted for a moment that the Brothers had my best interests at heart – God bless 'em. Their aim was to help me achieve my full potential and what on earth is wrong with that! I started at Scotus as an illiterate numbskull and left primed , by no means the finished article,for the rough,cruel and competitive world outside. I for one am grateful for all their efforts I will now slowly dismount from my hobbyhorse!
There was no slacking at Scotus Academy - the Brothers kept us on our toes! From the word go the questions reigned in from all quarters. “Conjugate the latin verb ......”, “ 13 pomegranates at 1 ¾ d each? ”, “ Identify all the clauses and their characteristics...” “What did you learn from that scientific experiment? ” “Who was the main villan in the tragedy of Macbeth? ” etc, etc ......... All very challenging and designed to kick the brain into gear. As well as challenging, for the first time in my life, I found the teaching stimulating and all embracing, The Brothers had the uncanny knack of choosing the most interesting lay teachers. There was Mr. Small the History teacher, who had a very comical Northern Irish accent! A threat from him in class would have you in tears – tears of laughter! “You miserable little c..r..i..t...t...u... rs ” was his war cry . He was an easy teacher to distract ; he loved to reminisce and he had a catalogue of obervations on life which he was more than willing to divulge, He jumped at the bait we dangled every time. “Tell us about such and such Mr Small.” We could then sit back and relax for the next hour while our teacher did all the work. I suppose we did learn something about the state of the nation and a bit about Ireland at the turn of the century. None of it on the syllabus of course but it was a definite improvement on the dry old Tudors and Stuarts! Now that I think of it, I suppose he was a very good argument for discipline in the classroom. Notwithstanding, I found that Mr. Small povided a bright interlude in what was a hectic life and got me interested in current affairs, which led to a working lifetime's preoccupation with trade unionism.
While I'm on the subject of music, I fondly recall our Music Master Mr. Oldham. He had the daunting task of teaching us to appreciate music! Here was a very talented man who gave you the impression that he was destined to achieve great things in the musical world. I distinctly remember Mr. Oldham splitting our class into five groups, each with a particular voice range - tenor, base and whatever in between. This brave man tackled with great gusto the nigh on impossible job of teaching us the choral version of “ Ave Verum Corpus.” I was in the base group and our part sounded flat. We were told not to worry as it would all work out eventually. Only one group seemed to sing what I recognised as the melody; the others, like our group, had various subordinate descant roles. After about six weeks of separate drilling he brought the groups together, fitted them as you would a jigsaw puzzle added the music and produced a sound that was for me an absolute delight to the ear! What he had achieved was simply astounding. He had taken a bunch of scallywags, whose appreciation of music was limited to Buddy Holly's latest hits, and to everyone's amazement produced a choir! Henceforth I had less need for catechism in my life! I could find God in music – more accurately in Mozart's “ Ave Verum Corpus,” a truly inspirational masterpiece . “Beauty is truth, truth is beauty” - it's as simple as that in my book. Thanks Mr. Oldham.
Ricky Dimarco was our Art Master and he was someone I took to immediately. He was warm just like Italian sunshine. As a teacher he was second to none and I consider myself very fortunate to have been one of his pupils. He was a young man; full of energy and boundless enthusiasm for his subject and preferred to teach out in the real world away from the cramped little attic that was our art room. I found this enthusiasm infectious. Ricky spoke with passion and from the heart. Here's an example: One day he took our class to Edinburgh Castle and from the rampart he pointed out to us what he called the desecration of Princess Street. He wasn't content to discuss this important matter in the classroom; he had to take us on site and show us exactly what he meant. He felt that without the plethora of shop facades - the bland frontages you could find on most High Streets in Britain – this unique street would have been, particularly because of its marvellous setting , the grandest in Europe. I noticed that he held this view passionately for I could hear the emotion in his voice! He felt that whoever gave planning permission for the change should have been hung, drawn and quartered. Not bad for what was a very mild man! Ever the optimist, he felt that all was not lost for the mistakes of the past could, with the right vision, still be rectified. Ricky marched us through the streets of Edinburgh in all weathers and taught us to be proud of the rich variety of architecture in our city. Ricky was in love with Edinburgh! He would point out the high buildings of the medieval Old Town and contrast with the absolute absolute grace of the Georgian New Town. I can still hear him say, I think it was as he herded us around Charlotte's Square, “Look boys, look at the effect of the sunlight on that building! The effect on the stones and the design it creates!” He was positively elated by the effect of light on objects and was forever singing the praises of the Impressionists; we made numerous visits to the Art Galleries so that he could point out examples and elaborate on the subject. Many times other visitors to the gallery would join our group around an exhibit and listen quite spellbound to his obervations on symbolism, the arrangement of form, the different textures, tones and colours that were to be found in the painting. This artist opened my eyes and taught me to observe and appreciate the beauty around me. It is something that has stayed with me all my life It was a precious gift and I will always be grateful to this fine man for all his valuable time and effort. Here was a someone who knew his subject thoroughly and was desperate to impart that knowledge. Surely a teacher of the highest order! He was the first person to attribute me with some ability; he felt that I was artistic especially in the area of design. He was prepared to help me produce a portfolio for submission to the Art College. With praise from such a man, how could I fail in the outside world that beckoned.
“But deep this truth impressed my mind,
Tho' all his works abroad;
The heart benevolent and kind,
Most resembles God.”
A moment white then gone forever”
The Brothers continually introduced us to different sports. As well as the academic and cultural side there had to be sport; after all a lad had to let of steam! They would try one sport and if it didn't work move on to another. For instance there was boxing. Now that was a disaster; certainly as far as I was concerned! One year Brother Duignan arranged a boxing competition. Out of the bottom of the sports cupboard came two pairs of very saggy and well worne boxing gloves; they may well have belonged to the great John L O' Sullivan at one time in the distant past. Anyway they had seen better days! I fancied myself as a boxer. My Uncle Eddie was a professional boxing trainer and he had taught me some ringcraft. He thought that I had what it takes but my mother would have none of it. I waltzed into the final without breaking sweat and thought the last lap would be a formality. I was showboating, Dick McTaggert like, trying to impress my classmates when my opponent sturdy Paul Martin hit me plump on the chin with a haymaker! You know you really do see stars and they are all sizes and all colours! When I came round I was lying flat out on of all things the laboratory bench in the science classroom. So ended a promising boxing career! Then there was cricket. I put the kibosh on that too! You've probably heard some teams complain the poor state of the wicket. Well they obviously hadn't experience the hand mown, never rollered strip at Scotus- “ The dreaded front field!” I was a fearless cricketer and would field right up to the bat. None of that Nancy stuff like padding for me. Well one day my luck ran out . I took a full blooded drive on the unmentionables. I squirm at the thought of it even to this day. Never again! My dream of playing at The Grange had been shattered. Who remembers the cross country? Around the perimeter of the school! Not only were we required to navigate through thick undergrowth, contend with very rough and often swampy terrain, and in all weathers but we had to do it twice! I ask you! Running down the steep “Zoo” side was considered acceptable even to the laggards. However, it could have its hairy moments; in fact in the winter it became as dodgy as a toboggan run. I'll swear that if they had left the bottom gate open many runners would have just shot through at amazing speed! The bottom straight was sheer jungle! If you came out of it alive you had then to contend with, dare I say it, the steep and torturous DRIVE. I was fed up always trudging up that godforsaken, uncompromising,steep hill ten minutes behind the leader so one day experimenting with stimulants, as boys do, I despatched a miniture bottle of whisky secretly before the run. Would you believe it, all my usual aches and pains disappeared and I was ready to take on Brendan Foster. I flew up that drive in top gear on the very heels of the front man Mike Ashley and to the astonishment of Brother Duignan whose job was to”count us out and count us back again.” - yes it was it was a war out there! I never could convince Brother Duignan that I had indeed completed two laps that day.
I remember clearly a golf match Brother Duignan had arranged for us at Carrick Knowe against Heriots. Another disaster! It's ridiculous but I still get upset when I recall the tiddler I missed on the 16th to lose my match. Phil Smith a schoolboy internationalist and our captain that day soon made amends. The Brothers even organised an athletics competition in which I become, by some flook, the school champion. It was a two day affair where the throwing events, for safety reasons,were held on the first day at the school and the running events the following Open Day at the back of Murrayfield Stadium. There was quite a “big gate” that day - parents and the like - and although it started sunny the weather soon deteriorated – not unusual for Edinburgh really. Points were awarded for the first three in each event. Now, although I say it myself, I had a good throwing arm and consequently I won the javelin and came second to my Nemesis Paul Martin in the shot. So I had a tidy lead at the end of the first day. I only needed to be placed in one of the running events to be overall winner. Well to be honest I have always been a bit of a plodder – 4 .47 for the mile and that was at my peak. The three mile race was run in a thunderstorm and everyone except the competitors scarpered to the stadium for shelter. In racing parlance the going changed from Good to Very Heavy. The conditions now suited yours truly, a plodder par exellence .Many of the runners got stuck in the mud but I managed to plod on to an astonishing third place. I was presented with a wooden spoon, sorry wooden tennis racket, which gave me many hours of enjoyment on the courts in Corstorphine Park. The tortoise had beaten the hare!
Now a potted history : James Hunt is the name; married with three grown children and six grandchildren.Live in Burgess Hill underneath the glorious South Downs. 64 years old and been retired for 12 years – leukaemia chief reason. With BT all my working life and enjoyed every minute of it! Finance Manager covering every aspect – contracts, budgets, billing etc. Trade Union Representative at local and regional level for about 25 years; heavily involved in trying to improve workers' pay and conditions; health and safety, pensions, flexitime, unfair dismissal, industrial democracy etc. Workers' Rep. on Area Board. Main preoccupation now is golf; play 3 times a week and will never ever tire of it. Remember, always make time to stop and smell the roses. Relax doc. I promise to keep taking the tablets!
“But stooks are coupit wi' the blast,
An' now the sinn keeks in the west,
Then I maun rin amang the rest,
An' quit ma chanter;
Sae I subscribe myself in haste,
Jimmy the Ranter.”
My thanks for the quotes go to my old friend and constant companion right through life Robert Burns. Good luck with the reunion and thank you for all your good work!
Read an extract from the Scotland On Sunday about the school
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