I too have been [extremely] fortunate to have enjoyed/endured a multitude of lifetime experiences, each intertwined with their own share of love, despair, [military associated] violence – and ultimately, much-craved for success.
The net result being, on reflection, that my creator dealt me a pretty good hand… but it didn’t get off to the best start – by any stretch of the imagination.
The neighbourhood, in which I was raised, nestles quietly on the west side of Edinburgh, a relatively hushed district situated close to the city’s main thoroughfare, known worldwide as Princes Street.
Our family occupied a two-bedroom ground floor tenement apartment on an avenue bereft of trees, in place of leafy conifers, stood tall, eye-catching Victorian lampposts, standing as bright sentinels and each oozing indispensable floodlighting to pedestrian and motorist alike, critical additions to our locality, particularly during the bitterly cold, densely dark and smoggy nights, so prevalent between the months of October and April of that era.
Each landing of our tenement building was furnished with a central toilet, this situated at the centre of each floor as none of the flats at that time came with their own WC, therefore, as many as twelve people depended on this facility as the only means available to address the call of nature.
During the long and bitter winter evenings of the fifties, my brother, sister and I, used to bide our time before making a dash for the ‘loo’ – it was best to stand in the hallway – and then wait and listen – the ideal moment to occupy a seat was following our next door neighbour’s nightly visitation to the latrines.
Mrs Campbell was an uncharacteristically large woman for the times – and she therefore comfortably engulfed the seating arrangement within – once she had addressed her own bodily needs and then departed that tiny cubicle – this was the most opportune moment to jump-in.
The warmth that radiated from that toilet seat following her each and every “appointment” was rapture beyond compare.
By the time I entered primary school in nineteen fifty-five, it had became apparent to most adult folk, those who had endured the austerity of the war years, that the nineteen-fifties were proving to be a boom time – an economic miracle – heralded especially by the belated installation of in-house toilets in our otherwise basic living arrangements.
Yet, whatever architectural and fiscal advances were being realised on the outside, similar improvements were not being mirrored on the inside of many of the non fee-paying schools throughout Edinburgh.
“Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child” was the credo or common call of countless Scottish faculties – ultimately, this lead to abhorrent brutality being apportioned by many belt-wielding teachers to supposedly errant schoolchildren, specifically to those aged eight years and above, of which I was no exception.
At that time, the ‘Tawse’ was universal throughout Scotland. (‘Tawse’ was the official term, but in general conversation it was always referred to as ‘the belt’)
This draconian and reprehensible instrument of punishment was permitted under the then Code-of-Practice agreed between Scottish Teachers’ Union and the Scottish Education Department.
Officially, there were nine recognised belts, depending on the comfort and grip, teachers would select what they considered to be the most appropriate appliance for them to inflict throbbing castigation on their infant charges, personal choice also being dictated by the length of belts on offer.
Female teachers’ invariably opted for shorter versions of these leather straps in order that their limited ‘swing-plane’, in comparison to male counterparts, would transport the most-telling of deliveries to the uncovered hands of the perceived guilty party – six lashes usually prevailed as the norm – Agony indeed!