I was asked recently what I remembered most about my school days and I trotted out the usual silly stories, the fun times etc. that we all do.
It wasn’t till later that evening, sitting with my dog, a book and glass of fine malt scotch that I thought seriously about what I remember most about my school days and I realised that I remembered a man.
I was born and raised in a slum area of Glasgow called Maryhill until I was 6. I then moved to a newly built area called Easterhouse. New built yes, but a slum in the making. When I was 11 we moved to a new town halfway between Glasgow and Stirling.
I mention this as background not because I came from a deprived or broken home. Far from it. My parents were wonderful people who looked after my sister and I magnificently in often difficult circumstances.
I mention it because kids from this background are not easy to deal with. They tend to be mouthy, independent, uncaring of anything remotely resembling the cultural or poetic. I was exactly like that.
Then I met a man. His name was Alec Gold. He was my English teacher all through secondary school, but he was more than just a teacher. This man was an educator.
He took 30 potential little yobs (both male and female) and turned most of their lives around.
It was Alec Gold who managed to instil in these kids a love of reading and literature. He managed to make Shakespeare and Chaucer interesting (making Chaucer interesting is a REAL achievement).
He organised a Hill Walking club and insisted that it be open to both boys and girls. I later found out he had one hell of a fight with both our headmaster and the education authority to get the girls in, as in the mid 60’s such activities were not normally considered “suitable” for girls.
On these walks, climbs in some cases (we were all sworn to secrecy over that part because there was no authority, no insurance and no parental permissions for ropes and pitons and going up sheer cliffs) he taught us what teamwork meant. He took a bunch of rowdy individuals and made them work together.
Wee Alec (we all called him that behind his back. We thought he didn’t know. Of course he did) took slum kids well on the way to a life of either menial jobs or crime and turned out university students, teachers, doctors, scientists.
Wee Alec died when I was 23. I was still in touch with a few from the school and they told me that there was to be a memorial service for him. I managed to attend. His wife (also a teacher) was somewhat surprised to find the church packed and over 300 people stood outside. They ranged from 15 year olds to about mid 40’s.
So you see, it wasn’t just me he had an effect on. It was generations.
This is what I remember most from my school days. I remember a man.