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Caithness Field Club Bulletin
Allan's Reminiscences by Allan Abernethy)
My connection with Caithness began when I was informed by Glasgow and West Lothian Education Authorities that having my name on the waiting list should bear fruit in about ten years.
I came to the conclusion that the further you were from industrial areas the more likely you were to have success.
My sister-in-law was in the civil service and had been in Wick for some years, so when I saw the advert for a gym teacher I applied. Four years in Bilbster Schoolhouse was quite challenging with no electricity and an unreliable water supply and 2 bicycles to get around. Mrs Henderson of the smithy was a very good neighbour to us. She gave us our first hens.
The old gym in Wick High School backed on to the Wireless Station and the music room and blacked out cinema were next door. The gym had doors leading on to a corridor which served as changing room and apparatus cupboard. There was a closed stove in one corner of the gym which raised the temperature in winter about one degree (in that corner of the gym).
Outside there was a line of toilets stretching down towards the main school building, which separated the boy's playground from the girls, both being in grass.
One of my first tasks was to secure a number of wall bars, which were in a rather dubious state. I would probably get the sack now, not being qualified to mend apparatus. You have to get a specialist from the south at considerable cost.
N.B. When I was at school, you got 2 periods of gym in the week. All games, athletics was after 4 o’clock. Post war things were loosening up and in the High School the summer term was devoted to athletics and the early part of the autumn term was outdoor games. Boys were taught separately from girls, except for a few weeks before Christmas when social dancing was introduced. I spent 2 days in the High School and the rest of the week at the Wick primaries and Lybster Junior Secondary.
One particularly cold spell I complained about the lack of heating. In due course I was supplied with 2 paraffin lamps, which brought the temperature in the rest of the gym up another degree. Provided the apparatus has been stored away before the end of the period, there was always a short ball game. Unfortunately the inevitable happened (the highlight of the lesson was not to be abandoned because of a couple of lamps).One of the lamps was knocked over and blazing paraffin spread across the floor and up one wall. Having righted the lamp and sent for the Fire Brigade we watched this spectacular display, which quickly burnt itself out before the Brigade arrived. Pitch pine linings don’t catch fire very easily.
The school went through a horrendous two year period at the beginning of the sixties when a new assembly hall, swimming pool, new gym, extra classrooms and inside toilets were built, after the old gym was demolished. The dust, dirt and noise were unbelievable. I had to survive in a hut at Rhind House which had a bitumen floor which sweated most of the time. You could hardly keep your feet.
There were two schools of thought amongst the teachers.
1 Buttonhole the Architect to make sure you got the facilities you wanted.
2 It is not part of my remit to spend time arguing with the experts.
In the first blue print for the swimming pool, pupils came out of the dressing room and walked along the corridor to the swimming pool and at the end of the lesson walk back up dripping wet.
Going into the front entrances to the fancy old part of the school, you first enter a small eight sided area. One of them was the original Rector's room and the other, one of two small men's Staffrooms. After the 1960 upheaval I was quite disappointed to find that no longer was there just room for just one conversation, you just talked to your neighbour instead.
The original single ladies staffroom was somewhat long and narrow and there were two groups, factions if you like. One at each end, no one in the middle. Any new teacher coming into her first interval would pause, then make a fateful decision about which group she would join.
In those early days the school ran itself, the timetable never changed. It was a talking point if a new teacher came, and the Rector spent a while reading his morning paper.
There was no afternoon interval, so occasionally I boiled a kettle near the end of the second period. Brewed some tea on top of an upturned one bar fire and knock twice on the wall for George Swann, the music teacher, to come for a quick cup. This , of course, was just between ourselves and kept very quiet. On one occasion George failed to hear my knock. Eventually one of his pupils put up his hand. “Yes boy” George always addressed them thus. “Please Sir your tea's ready.” George eventually left and went to London, where he accompanied dancers in Scottish and other national groups. One of the replacements was a huge man, I can’t remember his name, who came from London. That’s the time that I really heard the boys say, “He must have had magic – he wore a pinstripe suit.” He decided that he would stage the “Bells of Bronze” as part of a school concert.
One day he mentioned to my wife Margaret that he had accompanied well known singers in London. The next day he came in with a pile of programmes showing just that.