Chapter 1

School Days

 

My parents moved from Edinburgh to Lundin Links in 1897. My father equipped a Bootmakers Shop. The house was above the shop. The weather of that year was very stormy, and snow lay deep. Ships could not get out of Largo Harbour. All available men were mobilized to cut through snow drifts and open up roads for horse drawn food lorries and vans. The roads between Lundin Links and Largo were opened in the middle of January 1898, something that pleased my mother very much, for my entry into the world was about due. I was born on 19th of January - the Largo Doctor was in attendance, along with my grandmother - Granny Rodger, a well known midwife who had brought a thousand babies into the world, and her proud boast was she had not lost one.

By all accounts I was tiny, weighing only two and three quarter pounds according to my grandmother. I was wrapped in cotton wool and placed between a pig hot water bottle and my mother's warm body. I was tiny, but I had good lungs for I was forever bellowing for food. I was the sixth in the family so I had many helpers. My growth was normal, thanks to my mother's tender care, and my grandmother's liberal droplets of castor oil. I have always detested castor oil - no doubt it stems from my babyhood. I believe I walked before I was one year old, scampered around furniture like a hare, and at the age of two chattered like a monkey during my wakeful periods. Be that as it may, I was soon to learn that young children must not speak when their elders are speaking. I have faint recollections at an early age, of having my petticoats lifted and bottom smacked for speaking out of place.

In early life I had three illnesses which stand out in my memory, croup, measles and mumps. All were very painful -perhaps more so, as I was kept in bed and in the dark. I have a vivid recollection of a croup attack, struggling and gasping for breath, with many anxious people around me, especially Granny with her bottle of magic in her hand - castor oil! I can still see a bespectacled man, opening my mouth with a spoon. He spoke quietly, then he poured some coloured mixture down my throat. In a little, hot poultices were wrapped around my throat, and one placed over my chest. How long I was ill I don't know - the experience of the agitated people, the 'specky' Doctor, the medicine and poultices remain fresh to this day.

The day came when I had to go to school. How I dreaded that day, for I had heard so much from others about 'The Strap' and dreaded homework. On my fifth birthday Mother helped me on with my Sunday Clothes and I was led by my big brother David to Balmullo School which was about half a mile from my home.

At that time I could write ALEX CASEBY in big bold letters, count up to twenty, repeat the first verse of Psalm 23 and Psalm 121, croak, rather than sing 'God is always near me,' and 'Jesus Tender Shepherd hear me.' I did not like the teacher. She was a wild looking young woman who seemed fond of smacking and roaring at pupils. The first day she shook and strapped a boy second left from me and a little later the boy next to me got a wallop on the cheek, both for no good reason that I could understand from my loving home background. I thought in my young mind, 'Alex, you will be next for the strap.' So, seeing the door open. I ran out of the class, down the road and to the safety of my house. My adventure was short lived. Even as I told Mother my story my big brother arrived home looking for me. He dragged me out protesting and marched me back to the classroom. This time an elderly, peppery teacher caught me by the sleeve, thumped me with her fist and then strapped me. I struggled, freed myself, and once more escaped from school.

This time I did not go home but hid in a shed until near four o'clock, when I heard the scholars shouting as they left the playground. When I got home my good clothes were taken off, my mother gave me a scolding, my bottom was smacked, and I was put to bed without a meal. I felt I had a raw deal, and in that thought I sobbed myself to sleep. When I woke up Mother was at my side. She was not angry. I got up, put on my 'old clothes', and sat down to a bowl of broth and some kind of pudding and a cup of cream. All was forgiven, my first day at school was over, the adventure past.

Next day I went to school by myself and was met by my first teacher who had scared me. She gave me a sweet, and asked, 'Why did you run away, Alex?'

I told the truth in a sobbing reply: 'I thought I was next for a strapping, or a smack on the cheek.'

She laughed, patted me on the head and said reassuringly, 'I'm a good teacher.'

I looked up into her face and blurted out between sniffles, 'The boys call you Miss Pepper!' She roared with laughter. Then she trusted me by giving me money wrapped in a note to be taken to a little village shop. What I brought back I do not know, but I was patted on the head and rewarded with a caramel. After that we were good friends.

I had her for about one and a half years, then I had the Headmaster. Some days he was good and most days not so good. As a result my previous good work deteriorated and my family became anxious and made enquiries. Many parents were so dissatisfied with the ever changing type of teacher, many not qualified, that they called a meeting of The School Board Committee and, not getting satisfactory answers, decided to withdraw their children from the school. My elder brother Bill and I, and fourteen children left and daily walked three miles each way to Dairsie School in August 1905. I was seven and a half years old.

There were neither free school transport nor many owners of cycles then, so almost everyone had to walk to Dairsie School and it proved to be a mostly enjoyable journey. The road was very rough, there were many pot holes which, when wet, formed muddy puddles of water everywhere. 'Wellies' did not exist, waterproof capes and mackintoshes had either not been invented or were too expensive. Yet we would always get to school on time, take off our soaked overcoats, leave them in the cold cloak room and do our lessons without grumbling.

Dairsie School was vastly different from Balmullo School. Mr W.S. Seath was a first class Headmaster, despite his weaknesses which were his temper, impatience and constant and mostly unjust use of the strap. My two other lady teachers, in separate rooms, were the opposite in personality and behaviour, quiet and strict, who gave lines to write at home as punishment instead of the strap. Line writing could not be done secretly in our small house and soon led to questions at home from my parents about my conduct during and attention to lessons and thus to many a scolding. The ladies' method of correction was very effective because I hated upsetting my parents and making them cross with me.

School had only two afternoon breaks before the Christmas holidays, the first Tuesday in August for the Cupar Market and Fun Fair held in the streets, and the second Tuesday in September for the similar but much larger St Andrew's Lammas Fair. At both fairs there were amusements of every kind, also Stalls with goods, Fortune Tellers and voluble cheap-jacks.

September also meant Haymaking which was a long laborious job. For those concerned there was hard, hard work in stooking, forking sheaves on to carts and then stacking. Quite a number of eleven to thirteen year old farm children had exemption from school to help with the work full time and the rest of us helped part-time.

Haymaking and harvest over, we had less than one month at school before the 'Tattie Howkin Holidays' came round. Two weeks were allowed in October for all children who wanted to work; a permit from the Headmaster was necessary to cover a third week. Most children worked the minimum, for the job was cruelly backbreaking, cold and tiring, and all felt proud to hand over their pay to Mum. I know I did. I was happy to be back at school.

Despite the normal autumn and winter wet and cold weather, the school had no facilities to provide hot meals or drinks of any kind - not even soup, nor even tea, coffee nor cocoa as they were too expensive. For lunch we bought a slice of bread from a local sweet shop, spread with treacle or syrup; the same knife spread both, at the princely sum of one halfpence. Fizzy drinks cost one and a halfpence for half a bottle. So to all hardy youngsters, the one meal between eight a.m. and four fifteen p.m. was a syrup piece, and a scone one carried in one s pocket from home for a 'leave piece', which was eaten at the morning breaktime. If one got an odd coin, for doing some good turn, it bought a cake of chocolate, or four bull's eyes, or packet of sherbet, or four broken biscuits from the shop. I usually took my coin home to save in my 'Purley Pig'. Hard days indeed but pleasant ones which were full of happy memories. We were all in the same boat, except for one or two fortunate children from monied families.

At my first lesson with Mr Seath, he handed me a large sheet of paper with about forty questions on it. I had to write in the answers, some only requiring one word. They touched on History, Geography, Spelling, Sums, Religion, Distances, Towns and Rivers. John, my eldest brother who was a student at St Andrews University, told me to do the easy questions first in an exam, then there will be more time for the difficult ones. I found all the questions quite easy. All at once the Headmaster's strap was thrown at me, hit me and fell to the floor. I was bewildered by this and by the fact that the classroom had gone very silent. It was a sign from the Head that I was for the strap, something I did not know. Innocently I picked it up, walked to the front, placed it on his desk and returned to my seat. Talk about a 'bellow of rage.' He rushed up and barked at me, 'I cannot stand anyone, who idles his time in dreams!'

I looked straight into his face and uncomprehendingly said, 'I'm sorry, Sir. What have I done wrong? I have finished all the questions.' He snapped at me: 'Take that smirk off your face.

(Go into the cloakroom.'

I waited, and waited. It seemed a long time. The door opened, in came Mr Seath who calmly muttered, 'Go back to your seat, all the answers were correct. I believe you'll make a good scholar!' Then in a louder tone as I entered the classroom he said loudly, for the benefit of the other students, 'Take that smirk off your face!' That remark was all the pupils in the class heard.

After this incident I found most of my lessons difficult for, as a result of Mr Seath's entry test, I was soon promoted to a class where pupils one year older had the advantage of previous lessons at Dairsie School.

My mind was made up to succeed and this resolve caused me to tax my brain at times but, having a determined nature, I progressed well. One thing I had difficulty with was Maths and Mr Seath just could not understand why. Of course I easily made up in all other subjects. So much so that in the Standard Attainment Class test which covered Reading, Writing, Poetry, Comprehension, Arithmetic and Religious studies, I reached sixth place out of eighteen. Seldom was I taken to task for my academic work.

After this achievement and although I had the strap a few times for mischief, I got on well with Mr Seath for the rest of my years at his school. He continued to roar and bellow at the students in turn. When he was in his 'hate Alex mood' I learned just to smile and listen for his now familiar shout - 'Take that smirk off your face!' This lulled me into a sense of false security as can be illustrated by the following incident.

Once, when at a History lesson where kings and politicians had nicknames, Mr Seath asked generally, 'Has anyone in the class got a nickname?' Alan Clark said he was 'Nobby', Jim Gunn answered that he was 'Guy', another with the surname Black claimed to be called 'Whitie'. The Headmaster, who was now standing next to me, grinned, enjoying what he heard. He looked at me and asked. 'Alex, have you got one?'

I replied, 'Not that I know of, Sir. Unless you count Eck which my friend call me instead of Alex.'

Bending down he grinned at me and stage-whispered. 'Have I got one?'

I remained silent, for I somehow sensed trouble.

He prodded me painfully and agitatedly instructed, 'Just say Yes or No.'

So with no help from the deliberate blank looks of my fellow students I nervously blurted out, 'Yes, Sir. Your one is "Cocky" Seath!'

He puffed up his cheeks and went so red that I thought he would burst, grabbed me by the arm, dragged me out of my seat and roared at me, 'Come to my desk.' Then he added in a very hurt and indignant tone, 'I never heard such cheek!' He pulled out his strap, 'Take this,' he said, but I stood still with my hands by my side. 'HOLD OUT YOUR HAND,' he bellowed in a terrifying way. I did.

He lashed at my hand and missed, missed again and missed for a third time because I moved my hand each time the strap came down, my reflexes were swift. After each miss the wayward strap walloped his knee, making him grimace with pain. After the third miss he was out of breath, puffing and with his face bright scarlet. Whilst he recovered, he just stared and stared at me, utterly bamboozled, then ordered me to my seat. The ordeal was over and I did not feel in the least guilty. After all, I had done no harm but to tell the truth.

Lunch time came and I was off like a shot to the 'wee shoppie' to buy my syrup piece. I had just finished my 'meal', when a boy told me that I had to go to the Schoolhouse as soon as possible. I went in fear and trembling only to be met by Mrs Seath. She was a charming person and my mother's full cousin.

'Alex,' she kindly said, 'I believe the Maister has been on his high horse with rage at you. She put her arm on my shoulder and comfortingly added, 'Don't pay any attention to him. His bark means nothing!'

I replied with conviction, 'It does to me! He is clever, but he can be nasty.

'Look Alex,' she replied reassuringly, 'He has been known as "Cocky" Seath for years, but you are the first to tell him to his face and he was upset.' She gave me a nice scone covered with jam and a penny to spend on sweets.

After lunch, all was quiet in the classroom. At one point the Head came sneaking up to me and entreatingly whispered, 'Forget what happened, Alex. Please don't tell your parents.'

We became quite good friends except for his periodic outbursts and my deserving an occasional strapping for some sort of mischief. I was beginning to understand that although it was always right to tell the truth it was also sensible to be economic with it on some occasions - something my older brothers called tact or diplomacy.

One piece of mischief that I was caught at stands out in my mind. In our school cloakroom there was a big wheel which two boys at a time had to turn to draw water from a deep well to fill a small tank with water for our one cloakroom wash hand basin. This was a short and welcome distraction from lessons each day until Mr Seath employed Mr Skinner, the local Blacksmith, to install some pipes, which meant that a new and very large Schoolhouse tank also needed filling. What had been fun now became a tiring chore involving several shifts of boys. We all thought that this was unfair. One day some of us found a way of loosening screws on the plunger - the wheel turned easily but no water was pumped to the Schoolhouse tank. We could see this on the so-called barometer. All the Headmaster could see from the classroom was the wheel going around.

Those of us in the know tried the trick often and kept the secret. Much to our amusement there was consternation and arguments on many occasions between the Head and his wife in front of the class and in the playground. He would insist that the job had been done and she would say that he had forgotten and would have to draw the water himself, or, that the Blacksmith had not done the job properly.

One day two of us were unlucky, for the Head, suspicious that something untoward was happening, decided to do a spot check and caught us out. We each got six of the best in front of the class as an example. We dared not complain to our parents. The Headmaster, no doubt, would get a good row from all in the Schoolhouse if he revealed the truth. There were no further problems with the water supply.

My brothers John, James and David were often at Dairsie Schoolhouse, as the Headmaster had a family of three, Bill, Bellie and Nan Seath, who were similar in age to my teenage brothers and so went to school and played together.

One morning the Headmaster said to me, 'I believe your brother David, the joiner, is working on the interior of a newly

built house along the street.' I nodded in agreement and was asked, 'I have a letter for him, will you deliver it?' I agreed. It was the first of April and David laughed as he read the contents out loud.

'Please give Alex a square piece of wood to fit into a round hole.'

He gave me a penny to buy sweets and after getting me to help him for half an hour moving boards, he sent me to Charlie Skinner, the Blacksmith, with the folded letter plus some ideas of his own as to how the Head could be made the FOOL. Charlie laughed and asked me to blow up the bellows to brighten the forge fire. Soon another boy was sent to my brother, then to the Blacksmith, to find out why I had not returned to school. Charlie Skinner sent us both to the other end of the village to the Post Office with the note. The Postmistress roared with laughter and sent us to the Minister. I spent half of my penny on sweets. We walked back to School and then ran when we heard the lunch bell ringing. The Headmaster was at his lunch break and so when afternoon school began I stood before the red faced and furious man with strap at the ready who demanded, 'Where have you been?'

I said what my brother told me to say, 'Delivering your letter, Sir. My brother could not supply what you wanted, he sent me to the Blacksmith, the Blacksmith sent me to the Postmistress, she sent me to the Free Church Minister, but I returned when I heard the Dinner Bell. What wrong have I done, Sir?'

He blew, dithered and shuffled his feet as if he had wet his breeks. 'Don't you know what day it is?'

I replied, 'Yes, Sir, it is April 1st. April Fools Day.'

He pocketed his strap and said with gritted teeth, 'Get back to your seat, you Fool.' As usual, as I walked back to my seat winking at my friends who were trying to keep straight faces, he growled, 'Alex! Take that grin off your face.' I had a good day.

April was the month when all teachers in the school picked pupils, for singing, plays, elocution, miming, dancing and choir, etc. for the School Concert that was held in the Village Hall each June. The money raised was for school prizes. Those selected had to stay at school for rehearsals on two nights per week, usually on Tuesday and Thursday. We got sandwiches, cakes and tea to ease our hunger. The two lady teachers had no trouble in managing the younger ones. Mr Seath lost his temper time and time again if a poem, song or tune was not correct, or if a play was not to his standard. One lad dressed up as a farm servant and was very good at Bothy Ballads, another played the violin. I played the Jew's harp, the mouth organ and yodelled. When put together with other group and individual items it was a very fine entertainment which was crowded out for its two nights.

One thing especially upset the Head and that was if the words of 'The Sandwich Board Men', were mumbled. Many firms, such as the makers of Sunlight Soap, Boot Polish, Mazawatee Tea, Coates Cotton Reels, Victory V Gums, A 1 Washing Powder, and Soft Goods, sent illustrated boards, and poems to advertise their goods. Playing this part was great fun. As 'The Sandwich Board Men' we had to come onto the stage between the main acts wearing advertising boards, showing product samples and then had to recite a jingle supplied by the manufacturer. The Head took back all the samples afterwards. Need we wonder who used them!

At some rehearsals, Mr Seath would stamp his feet and shout, 'Dreadful!' And waving his arms about and shaking his head, much to our unconcealed mirth at his antics, he would add, 'No concert this year,' - over and over again - until his wife could cool him down. So we restarted again and again and eventually met with his approval, which he signalled by saying, 'Thank you all, your parents and friends will enjoy YOUR efforts.' Needless to say, the concerts were a great success, for no pupil knowingly let any teacher down and any errors made just added to the fun of the evening for all concerned.

Every morning at school Mr Seath held a Religious Session. He was very exact and it was a great joy for most of us to hear the pleasant way he explained the prophets, apostles and the moving way he described the marvellous sayings of Jesus. Deep down in his heart he was a religious man. He loved the psalms and requested, never commanded, us to memorize some and also to read passages in the Bible. I just loved the first half hour of each day. Perhaps I got naughty after that! Just like the Headmaster and as my own way for blowing off steam!

Dairsie had two Ministers. The Rev D. Graham Webster of the parish church. He was six feet three inches tall and always wore a tile hat, plus a frock coat. The other was Rev James Cameron of The United Free Church. He was five feet five inches and wore a lounge suit and pancake hat. They walked the length of the village every day and were nicknamed 'The Tall and the Short'. They came to the school once each month to test us on the Headmaster's religious instructions. Rev Webster often picked on me. One day he said, 'Alex, what are the first and last verses of Psalm 23.'

For devilment I said, 'I to the hills will lift mine eyes. . . He interrupted, 'Tut, tut, Alex. I said Psalm 23, not 121.'

Without further ado. I repeated the whole of the correct Psalm. The Minister complimented me.

'Very good indeed Alex, we all make mistakes.'

If Mr Webster had only looked back, he would have seen Mr Seath thump me on the back as I returned to my seat, shake his fist and scowl at me. The Minister's kind remarks saved me from the strap in front of the class. Some days later Mr Seath did say to me after another incident, 'Don't try and trick me, as you managed to do to Mr Webster!'

One Sunday, when I was ten years old, my three older brothers, John, James and David were invited to the Dairsie schoolhouse. For some reason they were told to bring me too. I wonder why? Had I done something wrong? Well, Granny Moyes, Mrs Seath's mother, our Mum's aunt, was there. She wanted to see me! I got a fine welcome from all, including Belle, Bill and Nan. The 'Maister' was very subdued. Granny asked me many questions. I was glad when all were called for a lovely tea. The six so-called children, set out for a walk. It was near to my bedtime and I made for home. The Headmaster seemed to be even more tolerant towards me from then on.

Another favourite activity was our 'mushroom runs' which started in the late summer. David, my elder brother, was usually the leader. Carrying our new willow potato creels, we would set out at five a.m. from our home in north Fife. At Seggie Hill, the gatekeeper at the railway crossing was on the spot to let us through with the advice, 'Go to the right, lots of good pickings!'

My brother always thanked him politely and then took us to the left where we would find hundreds of the choicest mushrooms. We soon filled our creels and sprinted for home. We kept some mushrooms for breakfast. They were delicious fried in bacon fat. Many we gave away to our friends, relations and old people in the village. For the others we were paid one penny per pound. Our trips out were normally on Wednesday and Friday, before going to school. Up to mid-September we usually managed about six trips, averaging around seven shillings out of our early morning journeys. The willow creels we used were being specially made for the October potato gathering. They were made by 'nomads', who cut the wands from the willows. The creels cost ten pennies and a jelly piece' for the bairns. We were able to use them later for our 'tattie howkin' during the school holiday in October.

I made two trips to Dairsie schoolhouse during the late summer holidays, once with a basket of mushrooms gathered from the many farm paddocks, and another time with punnets of blackberries from Lucklawhill heather area. On this second visit, just before school restarted, the Headmaster was in one of his best moods, until his Mother-in-law came into the room. She was, as ever, very forthright in her words when she greeted me.

'Guid t' see you, Alex. Is the Maister still civil wi' you?'

Mr Seath took me by the arm, spluttered the command, 'Come into my room!' There we talked and talked, then he said, 'When you return to school I hope you will be a more attentive pupil.' I felt I had to say something.

'Of course, Mr Seath, I have always tried to be a good scholar, you have said so yourself, but I do object to your nasty remarks and temper.

He was silent for a few minutes, then dismissed me with the words, 'I'm glad you are going to behave.'

Summer holidays over, I resumed my five day trek to Dairsie for my second year and most of my lessons proceeded pleasantly. I had no complaints; my first year of irritations from Mr Seath seemed over, although his temper, at times, turned on another boy, who never spoke back. I learned that one mother, anxious at her daughter's nervousness, had spoken to the Chairman of the School Board of Management Committee who had spoken to Mr Seath about his treatment of pupils. Possibly the schoolmaster took the hint that his behaviour was bordering on the unacceptable.

Advancing classes meant that there was a grand variety of new lessons added to the previous ones. Outside there was drill in the playground, field-trips and visits to places outside Dairsie, such as Wall's Nurseries at Cupar. Inside there was Music, for which I had no ear, Speech Craft (Elocution) and something I liked very much, Still Art, because it allowed me to draw trees, bushes, houses, and other inanimate things, in black pencil or ink, and white crayon on black paper. I had some fine pictures.

One thing pleased me very much, eight of we older boys were taken once each week on a hike to the Old Dairsie Castle and told its story, then on to Dura Den, locally one of the finest sources of fossils, where we hunted for specimens in the overhanging rocks and in the 'dry stane' dikes built from riverbed stones, and, with bare feet, in the stream bed. Some of our other lesson-hikes took in the wealth of fruits, flowers, roots and herbs found in hedgerows, also the insect life to be found under the piles of stones taken off fields by farm workers and deposited in odd corners. We had to write essays and draw sketches of our discoveries after each field trip which were entered for competition categories set by the Head but judged by an independent source. I always had a flair for story writing or pen drawing and took most of the money prizes.

I had grown to love Dairsie School, most lessons came easy to me and I had a good memory. Like any other boy I had many fights, usually with some boy cheating at games. When we were caught at this we were severely punished. Innocent devilment always got the better of me at school as my next recollection will show.

Once a visiting Inspector told us something about the common things that were chemicals, such as baking powder and about their properties. Mother used baking powder and so I took some to school next day in my hand and put it into the Headmaster's inkwell on his desk as I entered. The ink boiled up in a most alarming but gratifying way and soaking everything lying on the desk, including the strap, with blue froth. My fellow students shrieked with delight at my chemistry experiment. When Mr Seath whirled round to see what was causing the hilarity and saw the mess, he picked up the inky strap and, as was usual, threw it at the person he suspected was guilty - me. There was now ink on many books, papers and students. I had to take the strap back to him and I still recall the cruel thrashing he gave me and which my father repeated after school.

One day, as the weather was good for October, it was decided the big boys should tidy up what the Head called, 'The School Garden Plots,' and the older girls have lessons in dressmaking, knitting and plain sewing. Judge our surprise when we were told to clean out his smelly henhouse instead, and barrow the manure to a compost heap, near to the five school plots.

Quite near to the front door of the schoolhouse was an apple tree which had one maturing apple on it for the first time in many years and Mr Seath was very proud of it. Mrs Seath came out with a basket chair and embroidery. She was there to guard the apple from us! The evil smelling manure had to be dug out, loaded into the barrow, wheeled from the henhouse, between Mrs Seath's chair and the apple tree, then to the plots for dumping, and returning empty by the same route. There appeared to be no way that the apple could be removed without detection. What a challenge to secure it as recompense for the 'forced labour'.

I was not in agreement with the plot to steal the apple for it was dishonest, risky and would infuriate the Head. I promised to do nothing to prevent it or to tell afterwards how it was done and who did it! Barrow after barrow passed to and fro. Mr Seath came out to see how we were getting on in the henhouse, then round to see the compost heaps. All at once he roared, reverting to local dialect, 'Babbie! Whaur's ma' apple?'

In a fluster she stammered in confusion, 'I have never moved from here.' Then she regained her composure and said somewhat indignantly, 'You cannot blame me, nor any boy! Confidently she concluded, 'No one has stopped coming or going, whilst passing by me.

We were lined up. The furious man said to each boy in turn, 'Did you steal it?'

The answer from each was the defiant, if unconvincing, exclamation, 'No, Sir!'

Following each disclaimer, Mr Seath snarled at the suspect, 'Well, take that blasted smirk off your face!' We were ordered to clean our boots, wash our hands and get back to the class room.

What happened to that apple? As the barrow passed by Mrs Seath and under the tree, a boy who was a crackshot threw a small stone and struck the twig, the apple fell among the soft 'pongy' dung. The boy pushing the wheelbarrow continued as normally, dumped the load, pocketed the apple and returned with the empty barrow to the hen house. We cleaned up the apple and all had a bite in turn. The small core left was crushed and thrown over a wall into a field and eaten by a cow. My 'bite' was a good one! I never knew who threw the actual stone. If a showdown had resulted in a strapping to draw the truth from me, then I would have submitted to the 'taws' rather than tell, just like the others. After all, no ONE of us had stolen the apple, so our answer of 'No' to our personal interrogation was almost true!

Some twelve years later, I took Williamina MacFarlane, my sweetheart, to Dairsie schoolhouse, to meet Mr and Mrs Seath as family relations. In conversation, the mystery of the apple came up. It obviously still perplexed the Head, so I told the true story. Instantly, as if the incident had happened only the day before, Mrs Seath declared triumphantly, emphatically and with some feeling, 'There you are, Willie. I did NOT fall asleep in my chair while at my embroidery!'

We all had a fine laugh, except for Mr Seath. I was surprised that he did not tell me to take the smirk off my face!

For five years on end our school garden plots were judged to be the best amongst local schools and so in 1910, as a reward for our efforts, the Headmaster took we boys of his gardening class on a tour of interesting gardens and lovely homes. Mr Christie, farmer of Dairsie Mains, was so pleased with our results as one of the governors, that he paid for a two-horse wagonette to take us around. We visited Melville House which was a lovely building with gardens of great beauty. To our delight the Head Gardener, with rows prepared for beans, peas and parsnips, gave each boy some seeds to sow. He gave Mr Seath two musk rose bushes, which were duly planted in the school garden. A young man from the house arrived with a tray of cakes, chocolate and apples and a tumbler of lemonade. Melville House, dating back to the seventeenth century, had quite a number of uses down the years, and now after being a school, it was taking on a new lease of life as a hotel. The old gardener accompanied us to Fernie Castle which was also going to become a hotel and gave us its history as once the seat of the Earls of Fife. The churches of Monimail and Bow of Fife were of great interest and with full congregations each Sunday we were told. At the smiddy, the smiths were assembling cycles or making very pretty wrought iron gates. Then we moved on to Collessie. The horses were given a meal while the Minister of Collessie took us for a mile walk, every yard of which was history, ancient ruins of a fort, burial grounds and excavation areas where prehistoric articles of gold, bronze and china had been found. At the Minister's manse we were given pies and mugs of cocoa - delicious indeed. Then a long, slow and gentle journey home with lots of singing and happy laughter. It was a lovely reward for our gardening efforts.

One thing always saddened us. At the end of November, many clever children left our school for pastures new and we lost playmates. It was the 'flitting' (housemoving) time for many farm servants who had been 'fee'd' to work for other masters at the August Lammas Fairs. The fathers always explained their job changing as 'improving their position'. There could have been some small financial benefit in some of the cases I knew about, but the work tasks to be done were much of a muchness wherever they went. Perhaps restlessness was the cause of many moves. Replacements who came to the farms usually had very fine children who joined us at school. It took we long-term students a long time to really know the Headmaster and his ways, and more so for the new pupils from different schools.

We were all of one mind: Mr Seath was a very good Headmaster, until the strap was revealed. One new boy was not afraid to speak and said when threatened, 'I have been in four schools, and never had the strap, and I am not to have it now.

He picked up his bag and walked out, followed by his sister. Mr Seath was visibly stunned. Next day, the boy and his sister were back, not a word was said and neither were ever strapped.

Everything progressed quietly and in a reassuringly predictable way for me in my last few years at Dairsie School. A few months before leaving his school, Mr Seath had us all hard at revision on the previous quarter's lessons. I must say, most of the girls were very clever and we boys in the same grade did not want to be on the losing side for test results. We all tried hard and we suspected that something special was to happen when the Head made us work even harder for two days.

We soon knew why this extra effort was needed. At the end of the second afternoon Mr Seath said to the class, 'Tomorrow I want each one of you to come dressed up. That means, clean boots or shoes, tidy in every way. You must have well-washed faces and hands, combed hair and come prepared to be on your best behaviour. The Inspector of Schools comes tomorrow.'

Next day Mr Seath was smiling as each pupil passed him for close inspection: he had no complaints. He was all dressed up himself, fine suit and shoes and, much to our surprise, no strap dangling from his pocket. We were told the routine. Mrs Seath would watch for the horse-drawn cab coming from Cupar. She would give two taps on the window with a long brush as the signal that the Inspector was near. Mr Seath would then ask easy questions until the Inspector knocked on the door when we must become silent in class, with our heads down pretending to read.

When our visitor eventually entered the Head announced, 'Scholars. The Inspector for Schools.'

We all rose in our places and said in well-rehearsed unison, 'Good morning, Sir.'

He replied, 'I'm delighted to see you. You all look so happy and cheerful. You are a credit to your Headmaster.' We were then told to be seated.

Mr Seath took a sheath of papers from his desk. The Inspector looked them over, then got down to business. He asked many questions on various subjects and was obviously very pleased with our responses. Then he came around, looking at exercise books, jotters, drawings, and individual essays and made a point of speaking with each pupil. He looked at my writing and queried of me, 'Who taught you to be such a fine copperplate writer?'

I replied, 'Mr Seath, Sir.' The headmaster beamed from ear to ear. I do not think he saw me smirking!

The Inspector was more than delighted and complimented all on the satisfactory progress in all subjects. Much to our joy he recommended that the Headmaster give us the afternoon off.

As he made ready to go to the door with Mr Seath we all stood up and chorused, 'Thank you for your visit, Sir. We wish you, Good Morning.'

So ended our major examination. We did not linger around the school, nor run for our ba'bee treacle or syrup lunch pieces, but all made a beeline for home. Soon our smart clothes came off, old ones on, and out, after a meal, to tidy up someone s garden.

At school the next morning the Headmaster looked very relaxed and beaming. He said some flattering words, telling us, 'In all my experience, this was the first time any School Inspector has given a perfect report. I am proud of you all.'

My time at Dairsie was coming to an end. I sat an exam in the Bell Baxter School, Cupar, and was awarded a bursary to the Harris Academy, Dundee. At my school prize-giving day I missed winning the best pupil 'Dairsie Medal' by one mark. It went to a girl who had all of her education at Dairsie School. I had the 'Duncan Prize' for my second place and several prizes for other subjects. After the ceremonies, I spoke to Mr Seath and thanked him for all his patience with me. He shook me by the hand, patted me on the back and after a pause said, 'I was determined to thrash you into a first class pupil. I believe you will prove a credit to Dairsie School and make your mark in the world.'

I was sorry to leave. On the whole I was happy and maybe was full of mischief at times.

I was very proud of my prizes, many of which were for my essays and art book sketches done in pen and ink and pencil. I had also enjoyed doing crayon ones, but they were hopeless and had brought me no success. My father admired my prize books and set about reading them immediately. He had them all read before I had a chance to do so! Mother was also very charmed indeed with the results of my efforts, and eventually kept them on display, in her special place, together with all the prize books and signed parchments my elder brothers had previously won. Together we boys had all worked and studied hard to please our parents, and inwardly we were proud of our well-earned school awards.

When Mr Fred Innes, Editor of The Fife News learned of my prize essays and drawings he wanted to print them. My father refused to allow this for reasons he never explained to me. However, from that time, he encouraged me to contribute articles, gaining one penny per column inch! It was the beginning of a long career in journalistic writing. 

 

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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.