This week I’ve been celebrating school leavers’ Masses for St. Martin’s and St. Mungo’s Primary Schools. It occurred to me that it’s exactly 60 years since I made my own transition from primary to secondary school. My primary school years had been spent at St. Peter’s in Partick but, during my final year at St. Peter’s, the Keevins family, mother and three sons, moved from Partick out to Drumchapel. My mum’s two sisters and their families had already moved from Partick to Drumchapel, once described by Billy Connolly as a “desert wi’ windaes”, and so it was a kind of family re-gathering. For a “desert wi’ windaes” Drumchapel has produced some notable residents: Billy Connolly himself; actors James McAvoy and Sharon Small; Booker Prize winning novelist James Kelman; footballers Danny McGrain and Andy Gray; and also, David Moyes, who has just won, as a manager, the European Conference Trophy with West Ham United. That’s to name but a few – not bad eh!
For the last few months of primary school, having previously only had a short walk, I now had to travel in on the bus each morning to Partick, which meant a very early start. Then came the transition to secondary school. My older brother had already gone to St. Thomas Aquinas in Jordanhill, and my younger brother would follow him there a few years later. However, for better or worse, there had been a family decision that I would go to St. Mungo’s, the school that my late father, and namesake, had attended in the 1930’s. I attained a bursary to go to St. Mungo’s and I started schooling there in the autumn of 1963. I spent two years in the Duke Street annexe; two years in the Barony Street annexe (imagine going to school in a Rennie McIntosh building), and my final two years in Parson Street. This of course meant, not one, but two bus journeys from Drumchapel, which meant that I was often late. Parson Street especially was memorable for the way it’s rather eccentric head teacher would deal with latecomers. He would wait until he had a few of us gathered in the yard, thereby making us even more late, and invite us to make up a story as to why we were late. It didn’t need to be true, it just had to be a good story. The boy with the best story would be let off, while the rest would get some form of punishment, one of his favourites being that we would have to hop around the yard a few times. I must say that, while I’ve no doubt it would be frowned upon in present times, I never experienced it in any way as cruel or demeaning, and often it was quite stimulating of the imagination as, whenever I realized I was going to be late, I would be sitting on the bus trying to make up a fantastic story so as to be let off.
Travelling long journeys seems to have been a feature for me. I spent most of my working life at the Olivetti typewriter factory at the Queenslie Industrial Estate, so that was also a two-bus journey. For those years, 1969-1975, late-coming wasn’t an option, and so I had to be up and out of the house bright and early, and be there in time to clock-in. For most of those same years I was in a folk group, playing folk clubs in Glasgow and beyond, sometimes up to three or four times a week. On a significant number of occasions Billy Connolly would have been on the same bill, he at the top of the bill, and we somewhere in the middle or bottom. That was quite a hectic period, getting home from work, heading out again to play my double bass, getting back late, and then up the next morning for work. When I look back, I don’t know how I survived it. Nowadays of course, while carrying out my ministry in St. Mungo’s, I live in Bishopbriggs, and so that’s a bit of a trek each day as well, some days better than others depending on traffic, road works and the like, although now of course I travel by car. All in Bishopbriggs are well, thank God. Father John is still in India.
May our thoughts and prayers go with those children making their transition from primary to secondary school, one of the toughest challenges they will ever face. May God go with them.
As ever, protect yourself, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.