Old Penicuik – school’s out for summer

Penicuik High School
Penicuik High School

I remember my schooldays mainly because of the holidays, especially the summer ones. Seven long weeks, seemingly without end, and in 1939 with the threat of war we got ten weeks which made us feel that war couldn’t be all bad – which shows how little we knew.

I started at Kirkhill Primary School in 1934, but I have few memories of my time there. Before our first day our parents told us that if we wanted to go to the lavatory, we should hold up a hand and say: “Please, miss, may I leave the room?” One lad got it half right. He held up his hand and bawled, “Haw wummin, ah want tae the shunky!” Sounds pretty crude, but shunky was a name for an outside lavatory.

We moved from Kirkhill in 1937 to what was then the Junior Secondary School in Carlops Road. We each had to do our bit with the flittin’ and my job was to carry a box of chalk.

Thereafter, as far as actual schooling was concerned, I was neither particularly bad nor particularly good at most subjects. If I had a real stumbling block it was with English grammar. Analysing sentences and understanding terms like intransitive verbs and past participles always baffled me. I once asked a teacher if she would explain it a bit more and her response was: “Don’t ask stupid questions!”

So ended my quest for clarity in grammar. After that, Chrissie Ingles kindly did my homework, thus ensuring that I got full marks, but come the exams I was a disaster. Oddly enough, my teachers never seemed to cotton on to that.

In fairness, that same teacher did once pay me a compliment. I was an avid reader (mainly through the pages of The Rover and The Hotspur) and I enjoyed my visits to the school library. On one occasion I had selected Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, and my teacher snapped, “Excellent choice, Neil!” I would have felt better if she hadn’t looked so surprised.

Read Jim Neil’s full column in this week’s Advertiser. On sale now