headmaster was Mr Sloss, tall, pale, gangly, bald and bland. We
hardly ever saw him, but I remember him chasing Freddy Henderson
through the male staff-room, trying to
catch and belt him.
group of us were having a violin lesson at the time when Freddy
burst in, then charged out of the French
window to the boys' playground with
Sloss in hot pursuit!
that time Freddy was a wee plump boy with huge brown eyes - a
quiet boy, always cheery, not one of the bad lot at all.
Goodness knows what he'd done wrong. I bumped into him years
later, and he'd turned into an unbelievably handsome, willowy man."
"We got belted a lot, even me, and I was a 'good' girl.
temporary teacher, a madwoman whose name evades me,
(a friend of Aunty Jean) once belted the whole class for getting a
phrase in dictation wrong. We hadn't.
The whole 30 of us had all written exactly the same thing, and
tried to tell her that's what she had said, but she wouldn't have
it. So she belted all of us
(1) for getting it wrong;
(2) for arguing."
"The deputy headmaster was a sad,
red-faced man, Mr Forsyth. He was famed for having a whole range
of belts. Only the very worst boys
were sent to him.
don't think he did much teaching. Mostly,
he seemed to stay shut up in his room. He played the violin once
at a school concert, really well.
never had anything to do with him, but I liked him - he was
interesting. I wondered why he was
always so angry."
"There were two old ladies, maybe sixty-ish,
Miss Audie and Miss Groat. I never
had them as teachers myself but my sister did.
saw then about the streets afterwards for years. They must have
lived until they were ninety or more."
"I did have Miss Sinclair
as a teacher, and liked
her a lot. She
was strict but fair. She made us sit with our arms folded behind
our backs - partly so there was no fiddling with things, partly to
make everyone sit up straight.
Everything I learned at Links I learned from her.
It's not her fault
that I never quite mastered counting."
"A horrible Australian woman, Moira
Mackenzie, came in my last years at the
school. She a hefty,
horse-faced, athletic type who took
sports. The other stuff she was
meant to teach us wasn't of much interest to her."
"There were seasons for
for different activities:
was for making slides on the Links,
when the frost was hard enough. There were
snowball fights etc when there was snow.
One season was for swopping scraps; you
put one loose in each page of a book, then swopped the books.
When you got the books, you
moved the scraps that you wanted so that they
were sticking out, then handed the books
back to each other, and started bargaining.
Pre-war scraps had very high value. (There was a good scrap shop
down the Kirkgate.) I don't think anyone ever actually used the
scraps for anything - the joy was in the swopping.
- Another season was for skipping;
we did that in the playground.
was for collecting wee fluffy feathers on the Links and making
them into flowers. That drove Miss
She must have had a desk full of ones
- Then there was:
bools, but that was mostly for the wee ones.
mostly the boys.
Chainy Tig, where if caught you had to
link on to whoever was het, until a whole line stretched behind
where, if caught, you had to stand with your arms stretched
out touching the wall until someone managed to run through them
and free you.
usual singing games.
with proper ropes and, later on, ones made from elastic bands,
very trendy at the time."
"There was yelling at the boys,
over the wall that separated the
Boys' and Girls' Playgrounds, round the
back by the shed.
Boys and girls never played together, not
even on the Links. Sometimes there we
had fights about whose shot it was next
on the slide, but that's as near as we got."
outside, in the shed. They were
horrible. They were used only in extremity. We
never got to use the staff ones inside, as far as I remember.2
"Fights were mostly on the Links.
I don't remember a teacher ever
interfering. The teachers came out at
playtime only when it was time to herd us all back in."
"Oh, the violin lesson!
local schools each got a teacher:
Two schools learned the violin
... so we could form a
The hitch was that the four schools were
at war. Lessons were okay, but
rehearsals were held at each
school in turn, and when you were
in enemy territory, you had to more or less barricade yourself
into a corner of the playground in the break.
remember the other schools :
- I don't
think the Academy joined in. Their primary
school was fee-paying, so
they were not like the rest of us."
"I was sent to the
Nursery. It was a big wooden pen in the girls'
playground - but decided I wasn't having any of it,
so when I could get out I trotted off home and refused to go back.
must have been three or four years old.
Crossing the Links and a road were nothing then!"
- - - -
- - - - - - - -
Out of School
"We were out playing all the time.
Lucky mothers, then;
they hardly saw us. You
came home from school, dumped your bag, and immediately went out.
Sometimes, big girls would call for wee ones to ask if they could
take them out - maybe they liked having live dolls to play with!
Anyway, there were always gangs of us
roaming about, from about three
or four years
old to roughly ten. Those older than that had other
"I suppose that's why we were safe.
There were always others around. Hardly anyone had a car, even
those who lived in the big houses. If you hurt yourself, the big
ones would see you safely home and tell your
mother what had happened.
The only dangers I remember were:
a boy that the big ones told us to avoid.
flasher. We saw him once or twice by the school, but we just
ran away. I don't know if they were ever reported or not. We told
each other - shock, horror, drama, giggle - but probably never
told the grown-ups.
"Out of school, there were:
skates (roller skates)
guiders (carts on pram wheels)
a (very) few tricycles and bikes. Whoever had one of these gave
others a shot - friends only, of course.
"On Saturday mornings, there was
Cappy', the cinema between Easter Road
and Leith Walk. You could get in
with a jam jar, I think
- or maybe it was tuppence.
The rowdy boys sat at the front, the rest of us behind.
I thought Flash Gordon was wonderful."
"There were poor-oots too.
The word would spread if a wedding
was going on, then a bunch of kids would wait outside the kirk for
the pair to come out.
The groom or best man always scattered a handful of change. It was
a bit too much of a rammy for me, scuffling in the gutter for a
I went to Aunty Eva's shop, I could put my foot into a machine
that let you see your bones - to check if the shoe fitted properly
or not. Was this x-rays?
Does anyone know?
(Yes, it was!)
it was, surely a whole generation should have their feet falling
off by now."
"For more distant adventuring, there was
the big stone called the Penny Bap at Seafield -
another thing that's gone.
If you took a running jump,
you could scramble up it. If you
didn't jump far enough, you slithered down and ended knee-deep in
the seaweed/sewage pool at its foot.
used to watch the men burning wee piles of sewage. Happy days!"
Jean, Leith, Edinburgh: 29 August, 2013