During this past week I have been celebrating Leavers’ Masses in St. Stephen’s & St. Kevin’s Primary School, and also with St. Mungo’s Primary School in the church. They were joyful occasions with just a tinge of sadness at the moving on, but it strikes me more and more that these transitions from Primary School to Secondary School are huge rites of passage for these young people, a journey into another world that can never be fully prepared for, and that certainly was my own experience.
Leaving aside the death of my father when I was in Primary 2, I remember my own Primary School days at St. Peter’s in Partick as a gentle time. The day would often begin with Hugh and I serving early morning Mass in St. Simon’s, then a trip to the back door of the bakers for piping hot early morning rolls, two of them well fired for my Uncle Tony, and back to my Granny’s to devour them with a cup of tea, and melting butter from the rolls flowing down our chins. It was a ten-minute walk from home to school which we would do twice a day, there and back, as we would come home to Granny’s at lunch time for big bowls of potato soup, or plates of mince and tatties, with the One O’clock Gang on the telly in the background. I may be viewing those days through rose tinted glasses, and with selective memory, but I think I enjoyed Primary School, winning a few prizes along the way for spelling; for reciting Burns’ poetry, and for religion. I consider one of those prizes as the first book I ever owned, a magnificent illustrated version of Treasure Island, and the joy of it gave me a love for books and for reading that has stayed with me ever since.
When I was in my last year of Primary School, with our home due to be knocked down as part of the tenement clearances, we moved from Partick to Drumchapel. My mum’s two sisters and their families had already moved, and in our regular visits to see our cousins, there seemed a certain luxury in having an inside toilet, a garden, wide-open spaces, and the bluebell woods to play in. This meant that, after we flitted, when it came time for me to go to St. Mungo’s Academy, unlike my two brothers who went to St. Thomas Aquinas, I was faced with a two-bus journey every morning and evening, which inevitably meant I was more often late than on time, and thereby had to endure the rather eccentric punishments of the head teachers of the Academy at that time. Whenever I come across anyone of the same vintage as me who went to St. Mungo’s Academy, those eccentric punishments for late-coming tend to be a main topic of conversation. There were even more bizarre punishments for not having your school tie on, but we just accepted these as part of the culture of the times.
The long daily journey, however, was the least traumatic part of the transition. The hardest part was not really knowing anybody, as only two other boys made the same changeover from St. Peter’s to St. Mungo’s, and we weren’t put into the same class. I felt very alone and far from home for the first year at least. I found the academic transition difficult as well, getting used to all the new subjects, and to this day I never did develop much of a gift for science subjects, for languages, or even for History and Geography. I think had I felt safer and happier in myself I could have knuckled down and developed more, but Maths, English and Religion were pretty much the only things I was consistently any good at. It was also the Glasgow of the 1960’s, gangland era, and I think that the eclectic mix of pupils from all over the city echoed the turf wars that the rival gangs were engaged in during that time, before they evolved into the organised crime gangs of the 70’s. There seemed to be a permanent undercurrent of menace that sometimes overflowed into very serious fighting in the schoolyard or at some waste ground nearby after school. I tended to keep it quiet that I came from Drumchapel as there were plenty of gangs in the Drum that I could be assumed to be part of, which of course I wasn’t. But, if I am looking at primary school years through rose tinted glasses, I am probably looking at secondary school years through glasses too dark, and there were of course moments of brightness too. It was the 60’s after all, with the greatest music ever, Vatican II causing a church revolution in the first half of the decade, and the green and white hoops emerging in the second half of the decade to bring such great joy, that we’re still talking about it and celebrating it today.
My heart, my thoughts and my prayers are with these children, and so many others like them, as they move on, saying thanks for what has been, and yes to what lies ahead. May they know the closeness of God in their lives, looking at and looking after them at all times.