Schools and Teachers

By Thomas Griffen

I would like to write about St. Charles School, which I remember as if it were only yesterday that I went there, although it was from 1941 – 48. In 1948, then aged 12, I was transferred to St. Mirins Academy.
I remember St. Charles vividly because of the cruelty of the teachers – it will always remain in my memory. We all seemed to be constantly whacked and I imagined that schools were basically meant to be about legalised corporal punishment, and that lessons and learning were of a secondary importance.
I remember the teachers, and the various straps – wide, which were less sore; others with thonged split ends; then the most dreaded narrow ones.

The teacher most feared was ‘Clara’, an Irish woman who looked like a fat man in drag! Next came Miss White, but her wide strap was less effective and she didn’t seem to have the strength to use it like others. However, to little children, it still was painful. We had ‘Bulldog’ Drummond who James Tervit mentioned at South School. I am sure that he left our school to go to South School. Lastly THE HEAD MASTER. We were sent to him if anything was real wrong, and he was most feared. It was very unusual for anyone to come back into the class without crying after they had been with him.
It was no use complaining to our parents. They would only say we must have deserved it.

All of this wouldn’t be allowed now in schools, and quite rightly so, but it is a thing you never forget. I remember once when I really expected the worst because I got into a fight after school, and the teachers knew about it. I was certain that meant being punished by the Head Master the following day, and I dreaded it.

It all happened because a mischievous boy set two of us up by telling lies about us, saying we could beat each other in a fight. It didn’t bother me, but the other lad, a fiery red head called Murphy, it did. He wanted a fight to settle it after school.

When I came out of the gate, there was a large group waiting to see the punch up, or ‘square jig’ between Murphy and Griffy, but I told him there was no point in beating each other up because he had never done anything to annoy me at anytime. He wasn’t interested in what I was saying, and all of a sudden attacked me, with everyone egging him on. In he came, fists flying, then BASH. It was all finished. I threw one punch and it was all over – it caught him square on the nose and he wasn’t fit to fight on, it was bleeding that much.

The next day, I dreaded going to school, because the teachers had probably watched it from the classroom windows, and what punishment would they deal out now?
Murphy was sitting at the opposite side of the classroom, no doubt expecting retribution on a higher scale, like myself. This would give them a real excuse. When Bulldog Drummond came in, he stared at both of us and shouted MURPHY STAND UP. Followed by GRIFFIN – STAND UP. It was the only time I heard all the class really laugh. When he said, looking at Murphy – ‘Who do you think you are, Jack the Giant Killer?’ and that was all. But I did acquire a certain amount of respect from the other children, especially the school bullies who never bothered me.

It was almost the same story when I went to St. Mirins Academy. The PT instructor was picking some of us to box, and he selected certain boys at various weights, and sizes, for future bouts, and unluckily I was fixed up to fight the school bully, the biggest toughest boy that everyone was frightened to cross, never mind punch. If they ever got the chance. The instructor seemed to favour him, praising him on his bone structure, which he said he could tell by his thick wrists, but it was true, he really was huge, and it was said that he fought two men and beat them up, and that he was part gypsy. I could well believe that.
So the fight was on, and again it seemed that everyone was shouting for him to win, not me, but I suppose that they were scared to do otherwise.

First round. He came in all style, ducking and weaving, then his punches were coming in from every direction, so I hit out. BANG. The fight finished. He was under no condition to continue. The instructor looked disappointed, his blue eyed boy had been truly beaten after all the boasting he had done about him. I did wonder if this boy or his gang would seek revenge from me for breaking his nose, but they didn’t, and now I had a reputation at St. Mirins, too. I think it gave me the confidence to work at the Alex at nights after school, and all day Saturdays, helping the other two men as chuckeroot. I had the opportunity to be the projectionist, but I found it rather boring having to remain in the room running the films. It wasn’t the job for me.

When I left St. Mirins, I got a job at a shipyard just across the road from the school, working in the gate house, clocking men coming in and out. In between times, I would mess about on the ships. What I didn’t like was all the noise made by hammering and welding.
I tried to get a job as a pattern maker, but there were no vacancies, so after a short time I left. I got a job as a brass finisher at works at Espedair Street, where as a child, I used to try jump over the burn. The burn was built with hard glazed brick, and it made it exceedingly slippy, and if any of us had fallen in we would have been in a terrible mess because the water was filthy, and always different colours from the dye works at Jenny’s Well laundry, but still we tried and we took the consequences, knowing when we got home, our mums would be mad! ‘Have you been jumping the burn again?’
I think that those sort of things you never forget, whether it be good or bad, it gets imprinted on your mind. As you might say – you can take a man from Scotland, but you can’t take the Scotland from the man. Its always part of us, no matter where we go to settle down, it’s our roots and our heritage.


“Sadly Tom “Big Tam” Griffin died of a heart attack at the end of May 2005, at the age of 77 years.”