I could have been a musician.
My sister Morag, seen here conquering England in the pose struck by every Scottish child venturing south of the border, took to the piano like a fish in water. I not so much. However I did have an early talent for reciting poetry, encouraged to stand on chairs from a tender age by our mother Mabel, herself no stranger to standing on chairs.
Mother’s starring role in the 1949 Perth Theatre performance of Bunty Pulls the Strings put her in company of a promising young actor named Edward Woodward, not the first or last time Perth was the springboard for a great career.
Perth is a beautiful place and was, like e.g. Cheltenham, a well-kept oasis for the business of wealthy farmers who had more money than they let on and county types with less than they pretended. John Smeaton, who invented the term civil engineer to refer to what he did, built this bridge over the river Tay at Perth in 1771. Prior to that people from Bridgend, where we first lived as a family, got to Perth by ferryboat. My father’s father, a solicitor’s clerk and who knew everyone, was born in a little house on the far side of the bridge and claimed to know a woman who had never travelled out of Bridgend to Perth in her life.
I liked school, with a few blips, and school liked me because I settled down and learned stuff. Most of the dates I ever learned, functional math and grammar came to us from teachers like Miss Isobel Spy and Lachlan D. Buchanan and his First Aid in English. This education at Perth Junior Academy cost my parents dear — £17 10s a term.
Here I met a future international banker, a golf course designer, an eminent economist and an 80s west coast rocker whose band once opened for The Police. We’re still pals. Also a boy with those enamel train badges on his blazer who started a bus line called Stagecoach and went on to be Sir Brian Souter. At the top of the bank was the senior school, Perth Academy.
Our second year English teacher, David Granger, came up with a wheeze to get us all a 2 week trip to northern Spain with people from 3 English schools, including girls, with all the expenses of our stay in paradors and 5 star hotels paid by Franco’s Spanish government, frantically opening Spain up to tourists. The resulting 2000 word essay, “Tourism — Passport to Peace” did the trick. Who knew words could be so lucrative? It was an important lesson. David wrote to me at the BBC in 2019 after an education career in Kenya and Scotland, and more recently tutoring students from China pro bono in English. He’s that kind of guy.