Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Stornoway schooldays: More on the Nicolson

Adapted from correspondence between two former pupils of the Nicolson Institute, Stornoway (Primary and Secondary), both born in 1920 (excerpts)

School 1925-34 [aged 5-14]
The old Nicolson Institute school provided education which was second to none in all of Scotland. {Origins etc.*}
The curriculum of the school would be the envy of many schools today. There was English, History, Geography, Maths (arithmetic, algebra, geometry), Languages (Latin, French and German – no Gaelic), Music, Wood- and Metalwork, Science, Domestic Science, Art and Gymnastics. 
After the Qualifying Exam we were divided up into three groups for our Secondary Education – classes , B and C. The bright ones were in class A. Guess which class I was in. The only subjects I was interested in were woodwork and art. At that time I fancied being a woodwork teacher. The art teacher Mr Chalmers said I should get a job where I had to use my hands. Was there an implication there that I would be no use for anything intellectual?
Most of the female teachers got their title of “Miss” like Miss Black, Miss Cheyne or Miss Stobo (she was music teacher) but the men got names like Cloggy, Soup, Vecan, Big Uggie, Little Uggie etc. [Aeroplane story here too - see below]
Not all the pupils on the “C” classes were dunces. Many went on to very distinguished careers not only in this country but all over the world.
Cloggy used to say – don’t use nice because it is not a nice word, and don’t use that word awful...
Mentioning Cloggy brings to mind a picture of him cycling from Seaforth Road to school on a wet and windy morning wearing leggings cut from an old boiler suit or dungarees, one was brown and the other was blue. The poor soul did his best but he was never able to teach me to spell properly… 
I found some more bits you might be interested in as well. I hope you've got plenty of room in your paper recycling bin. I blame Cloggy because I've been writing doggerel for years. 
How lucky we were to have a good Nicolson Institute education… The NI of course taught languages – English, French and Latin but not Gaelic, it was very taboo at that time. Do you remember the pseudo Latin verse about Cloggy,
Amo Amas Amat, Cloggy wears a hat
Amamus Amatis Amant, he wears it on a slant.
  There’s another language (or should I say lingo) in which only those within walking distance of Perceval Square were conversant, called SY as she is spoke.
Examples of "old SY" (Stornoway), the "lingo" of street and playground
[... which is, being interpreted (more or less): Cove = mate, man; "a place in Inverness" refers to the (former) asylum, Craigdunain, as in "There's a place in Inverness for the likes of you!"; the hoil = harbour (water); okrach (spelling varies) = municipal rubbish dump]
Did you see the picture of the seaplane that was wrecked in Stornoway harbour? I remember I was in Vegan's class [aged 10, c1930, probably Primary 6] when we heard the sound of the planes. The whole of the clock school rushed outside and there was what looked like two model planes in the sky. Of course we had never seen an aeroplane before so we didn't know how big a plane was. I still have a souvenir from that plane, a bit of one of the aerolens which I made into a paper knife which I use almost every day. 
{AC told this story more than once, in slightly different words]:
  Do you remember the first time aeroplanes came to Stornoway? We were in Vecan’s class so with a little mental computing that would make it about 1930. We heard the noise of the engines and the whole class ran out en masse and we saw what looked like two model planes overhead. We had never seen an aeroplane before, so we did not know size they were. One of them came to grief, its outer right float was knocked off and it finished up on the beach between the Battery and Lower Sandwick (that’s where the ocroch was in those days. It was a Write-off. I still have a souvenir from it which I use almost every day, a bit of an aileron which I made into a paper knife/letter-opener. 
You will remember Vegan of course. I have a copy of a book he wrote called Peat Fire Memories ([ISBN given] by Kenneth MacDonald). He also wrote poems and Gaelic plays. I remember one of the songs he wrote called “An Cabar Suidhe” which means “sooty rafters”, a derogatory term used to describe an old thatched house with the fire in the middle of the floor… I wonder if you know how Vegan got his nickname (quite sure he was not a strict vegetarian)... Another thing about V-Kan; if it is from the Gaelic, there is no V and no K in the Gaelic alphabet…
"Veecan" (spelling varies) from his book as above.
(In Calum Smith's book, Around the Peat-Fire, "Kenneth Macdonald, Sandwick" is on the list of "Names that spring to mind" from among the "goodly band of socialist propagandists operating in and around Stornoway" in the interwar years (p.111 in 2001 edition).
One incident I remember was when I tried to follow (big brother) Calum to school. I was of course chased back…
In spite of my early abortive attempt I did eventually go to school.
With everyone else I had my eyes tested by the school optician, but when Miss Reid, primary one, called me out to collect them [glasses] I told her just to keep them herself because she needed them more than me.

The next attempt at getting me to wear glasses was a couple of years later in Miss Montgomery’s class. She said [AC] Collect these glasses at the end of class. Then the wee clipe (tell-tale) next to me put his hand up and said, “Please Miss, AC says he is just going to break the glasses.” She sent them round to Miss Bell Morrison’s for Calum to take them home. They did live for a while but I remember using the lenses for windows of a model boat I made. I had a bad squint in my left eye in those days but it seems to have cured itself without glasses.
The Clock School: some primary classes were still being taught there in the 1950s 
* AC's version of the old school's origin and ethos, as carried in memory and conveyed in his memoirs, runs thus
   The school was instituted and founded by the five Nicolson brothers, hence the name. The school badge is in the shape of a shield depicting five entwined burning torches and underneath the legend "Sequamur" which is Latin for "Let us follow". This to imply that we should go forth into the world and make a success of life as they did. The school colours and tie are dark blue and yellow.

A survivor from the Nicolson in the 1930s
(owned by AC's friend and correspondent),
And certificates (1929 and 1934) showing subjects studied at Junior Secondary level: 
English, History, Geography, Mathematics, Science and French

English, History, Geography, Mathematics, Science, Latin

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