Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Glasgow 40 years ago

I once spent three months in one of the small towns which surround Glasgow. I can boast that during this time I taught the 8th stream in a Glasgow comprehensive school and survived to tell the tale. Actually it must have been quite a well-run school, since nobody actually threw anything at me. On the other hand, I was booed the first time I walked up the school drive. I thought this was strange: after all, for all they knew I could just have come to read the gas meter; what had they got against me? Then I thought; I'm wearing my college scarf; What colour is it? green and white! the Celtic colours! Whoops! These things matter in Glasgow! I hid the scarf for the remainder of my stay. This proved wise: the art master at the school asked me, “Didn’t I think Catholics must have a warped view of life?” and also said, “Celtic have sometimes had to play Protestants in their team, ‘cos Catholics aren’t all that good at football; but Rangers have never played a Catholic, and they never will!” (Sadly, this no longer applies).

I had to teach a history syllabus that I regarded as somewhat odd, because it was exclusively English history, not Scottish; so I was teaching Henry VIII's Reformation to a class containing not a single memebr of the Church of England, one of whom had never previously come across the word "vicar". Two days before the end of term, myhead of department approached me first thing in the morning and asked, "What are you and Mr Thompson doing with the third form first period today?" "Nothing, really", I replied, "It's their last period with us this term and we've covered everything we intended doing". "Well, you'd better think of something", she told me, "because an inspector's coming!" I hastily cobbled something together, being materially assisted by the said Mr Thompson, who contrived to take twenty minutes collecting in the dinner money, including spilling it all over the floor and sending a boy with a severe limp to change a £10 note at the school office; after which he hissed, "I've helped you all I can: it's up to you now!" I just about kept going till the end of the period. The inspector complained that the lesson hadn't been very interesting. He was right too.

On the whole I think I did better than my friend Jimi. He was a Nigerian, a splendid chap who spoke like a negro in an old-fashioned film, and who had volunteered to go to Scotland because he wanted to learn to ski, not realising that Glasgow was a long way from Aviemuir. He ended up teaching biology at a very puritan school in the city centre, where he wasn’t allowed to teach sexual reproduction of hydra. (One pupil looked it up in the textbook and asked about it. “Oh”, said Jimi, “I haven’t bothered to do it, because it only happens in very cold winters at the bottom of deep ponds!”) When the inspector came to visit Jimi, he conducted a lesson revising what the class had learnt about spirogyra. "Can anyone tell me how they breathe?" he asked. A forest of hands shot up, because they all liked him. "Och, shmtbchkltf sir!" a boy answered. "Yeah, that's very good!" said Jimi, "Now, can someone else tell me how they move?" "Och, khlnmdctr sir!", "Yeah, I'm really pleased with your work this term!" This continued for the whole lesson, at the end of which the inspector said, "This is all very well, Jimi, but why don't you build the lesson round their answers a bit more?" "Oh", said Jimi, "That's because I can't understand a word they say!" However, they passed him. I think they passed everyone.

On Saturdays I used to take the train into Glasgow city centre. On my first visit I walked the wrong way down St Vincent Street and ended up somewhere around the Broomilaw before beating a hasty retreat. The strangest Saturday was when, with a masterpiece of timing, the university Rag coincided with Celtic meeting Rangers in a cup-tie. Total mayhem prevailed. I realised it was going to be an unusual occasion when I found a male striptease being conducted at Glasgow Central Station. I travelled on the city underground, which had rather charming little toy trains. In my compartment was a Celtic supporter, already hopelessly drunk, swaying around the compartment singing obscene songs attacking Rangers and falling onto someone’s lap every time the train went round a corner. Fortunately everyone was too amused to thump him. I wonered whether he got to the match at all.

Leaving Glasgow for the last time, I drove through Hamilton, where there was a sign proclaiming the town to be "Bingo Capital of Scotland!" I felt this was somehow appropriate.

1 comment:

  1. I remember Glasgow from 50 years ago. I went train spotting there twice with Paul Norman in about 1960. The trams were still running then.