Bell baxter lives section I former Pupils Contents

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Graeme Gilmour

Graeme Gilmour (1981) has had a varied career. He had been studying Modern History and Political Science at Dundee University when he became involved as a drummer with the band Broccoli. The band's success grew and he gave up his studies to travel with the band. The band relocated to London and at one point around 8 years ago they were in Japan. It was there that he met Aiko who was to become his wife. She wanted to come to London to improve her English and met up with Graeme again and he was able the help her get a part-time job with a recording company. Graeme returned with Aiko to Japan and taught English. They married in 2000 and after their 2 children were born they decided to come back to Scotland to educate their children bilingually - English at school and Japanese at home. And now Aiko has set up a clothing company to introduce Japanese children's fashions to Britain.

Michael Gilmour


BBHS 1962-68

Michael Gilmour (1962) was appointed Rector of Woodmill High School, Dunfermline, in 1998 after a period as Acting Rector. Michael graduated from St Andrews with an Honours Degree in Modern History and began his career in teaching at Forrester High School in Edinburgh. He joined the staff of Bathgate Academy as Principal Teacher of English and moved to Woodmill in 1990 as Assistant Rector and later as Depute Rector.

Michael sent us the following in response to our request for personal inputs to this archive:

I started S1 in Bell Baxter in August 1962 at the West Port building after a very happy existence in Castlehill Primary where I had latterly been taught by Sandy Pow, a humane and cultured man who was the first of a line of inspirational teachers whom I encountered both at primary school and, later, at Bell Baxter. The past, however, truly was a different country. There were two high spots in P7: one came regularly on a Friday afternoon when three of us in P7 were tasked with walking up to the Infant School in Westfield Road and collecting the registers to bring back to the main school. The other was less regular but involved three of us occasionally being asked to bank money from the school in what was then the British Linen Bank. We gathered in the head’s office, collected the ‘official’ briefcase containing the money and then walked down the hill to the bank. We never questioned this; to the best of my knowledge I never spoke to my parents about it and I don’t remember the bank being in the slightest concerned. What officialdom would make of it nowadays, not to mention the GTCS, does not bear thinking about. However, for all those who think that giving children responsibility is a novel concept, ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ was alive and well in Cupar 50 years ago.

I remember the start of S1 as coming as a shock: Bell Baxter was bigger and busier than Castlehill and there were strange hierarchies which it took time to understand. The work too was harder and much of it, particularly science, was then and remains now largely a mystery. The teachers I remember most clearly are Mr Scott in English who directed us in a class play which was produced at the ‘big school’; Mr Riddell in RE who allowed some of us to produce our own class magazine on what I think must have been a Banda machine and the poor unfortunate who taught us Latin in second year. To say he lacked control was an understatement; desks were routinely dismantled by taking the screws out, matches shot across the class fired from intricate matchbox ‘guns’ and, on one occasion, I remember water pistols being freely wielded. Every so often there were mass beltings but to no effect. At the time we just regarded it as fun. Now I sometimes wonder what agonies the teacher must have gone through – on the timetable he was teaching 2A1, the top class in the year – yet now I wonder how he could turn up day after day. As was the norm then not a word of this was mentioned at home yet, looking back, the school must have been aware.

Other memories of S1 and S2 include the Christmas Dances in the huts; being taken sledging on the golf course instead of games during the winter of 62 – 63 and having the privilege of swimming at the main building during the same winter. If memory serves we would normally change for games and then walk up to Wetlands. In summer we had athletics at Ladyinch. I also remember being given four of the belt for running in the corridors one lunchtime. Being the slowest meant I was the one caught! The teacher concerned never taught me but I never forgot his name for some reason! Not that the belt itself was a deterrent. In any case for a few months at any rate, the class was able to take advantage of the terms offered by the Mac-Aro Insurance Company who, on receipt of a weekly premium of threepence, would pay out if a ‘member’ incurred lines or the belt. Unsurprisingly to all but those involved, it rapidly became a ‘failed’ insurance company as payouts constantly exceeded premiums. Still, it showed an enterprising spirit which at least one of the founders carried on into later life.

One highlight of S2 was an Easter trip to Belgium and Holland where we were based for several days in a hostel in Noordwyk an Zee and met the Scotland under-23 football team and gathered autographs which meant nothing to me then but which several years later I discovered included such names as Peter McCloy and Jim McCalliog. Sadly, even the onset of maturity has left me unable to decipher the signatures of what looks like the equivalent Yugoslav team of the time.

And one last memory is of going home for lunch from the West Port and being passed by Mr Lindsay making his stately progression by bicycle along the Bonnygate, presumably also on his way to take his own lunch. That didn’t seem odd to me then. Now I wonder who managed the school during the lunch hour – maybe it ran itself. It is certainly true to say that, in my two years there, I never experienced or saw any bullying and I was aware of few if any fights.

If this seems a very lop-sided view of my time at the West Port building, then that’s how it was for me. I seemed to be marking time and whatever enthusiasm I had had for learning at Castlehill went into cold storage and didn’t re-emerge until S3 and the move to Westfield.

The move to the ‘new’ building at the start of S3 in August 1964 was a revelation. Suddenly there were bright, attractive classrooms and every teacher seemed to have an enthusiasm for their subject and a knack of engaging the class. For English I had Ed Young, the head of department who was to become Rector of the Nicholson Institute in Stornoway at the end of my Sixth Year. There was a rigour to his teaching but energy as well and the grounding in grammar and syntax we received stood us in good stead for years afterwards. For French and German there were Miss King, Miss Dymock and Tommy Muir. The latter stood out for his eccentricities – the only teacher in our experience who opted not to wear a gown and who had a fondness for short-sleeved shirts which, he confided to us, he created himself by the simple expedient of cutting the sleeves off conventional shirts. He also hinted at youthful indiscretions in Paris, suggested that the addition of Russian and Polish during the war to his French and German was an accomplishment hardly worth noting and assumed that we all shared his enthusiasm for modern foreign languages in general and German in particular. He never used the belt or issued any other sanction. When, rarely, he was displeased, the entire contents of the surface of his desk would be swept vigorously across the classroom as we all ducked. Then the throaty chuckle would reassert itself, the class would be asked to gather in jotters, books, pens and pencils and the lesson would continue.

For Latin we had Mr Stewart who always seemed very laid-back and managed the class with a cool detachment. The only time he displayed urgency was when the Rector, Dr Dunlop, swept into the room one afternoon, asked Mr Stewart whereabouts the class was in the textbook, dismissed him from the room and took over. That urgency was swiftly transferred to the class as Dr Dunlop proceeded to put us through our paces with a forensic accuracy that left no room for slip-shod command of datives, ablatives or case endings.

Mr Adam taught me history from S3 to S6 with Mrs Sinclair taking some of the course in S6. It was only then that history came to have a meaning for me and I began to have some concept of the linkages and connections between historic periods and movements. The quality of their teaching was such that I was still using their notes to help with my University essays in the second year of my course at St Andrews. Some of the mnemonics remain with me still - I could still produce a respectable paragraph on ‘Enlightened Despotism’ based on ‘REPLATE”.

Maths was another matter altogether. I was placed in the second set which was accurate and we were taught by Mr Craig who clearly understood that the world contained many people for whom maths was a necessary trial. He taught with understanding and empathy. He also moved me to the very front of the class! This meant that for the first time I actually started to understand certain aspects. Unfortunately this meant that I came second in the class at the end of S3 and was promoted to the top set under Mr Nicholl. Great teacher though he clearly was and an outstanding servant to Bell Baxter over many years, it was very soon very clear that I had little if anything to contribute to the class. At the end of Fourth Year I managed to scrape a pass in ‘O’ Grade maths but before the summer holidays had begun, ‘Kenny Nick’ had made it clear that I should leave the class which was going on to tackle Higher, starting with trigonometry. In those refreshingly unpolitically correct times he simply said, with absolute accuracy, that I was wasting my time, his time and the time of the class. Much better in the Library he suggested. This was one of the few school conversations I shared with my father who looked at me, nodded and left me in no doubt that his sympathies lay entirely with ‘Kenny Nick’, adding only that I should not waste my time in the Library. Nowadays we would call that ‘parental support’.

Over S3 – S6 I had few changes in teachers. ‘Foxy’ Reynard saw me through ‘O’ Grade and Higher English, perched on an old-fashioned high desk surely rescued from the West Port. A conventional grounding, though none the worse for that, in ‘Lycidas’, ‘L’Allegro’ and ‘Il Penseroso’; the essays of Elia; Bacon and Addison & Steele, ‘Macbeth’ and the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. Then Ed Young reappeared to take us in Sixth Year and, if anything, the workload increased. ‘King Lear’; ‘Othello’; Donne’s metaphysical poetry; ‘Catcher in the Rye’; Owen’s war poetry; a clutch of modern American poetry and an introduction to the works of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler which led to my life-long enjoyment of detective fiction. Not to mention a subscription to the ‘Spectator’ which we read last thing on a Friday afternoon when we tried to convince ourselves we were metropolitan intellectuals who understood all the contemporary allusions! It took me years to understand that what Mr Young, and indeed other teachers were doing, were giving us the academic grounding which would allow us to exist in any world we chose. This attitude was evident too in Modern Languages where, although Mr Muir retired at the end of S4, Miss Dymock and Miss King maintained the standards he had set. And in S6 I had Pat Ewan for German who, for the most part, tolerated my slapdash ways with good nature. His sudden early death while playing tennis was a loss to the school.

If I benefited in the classroom from high quality teaching, I, and many others, also gained immensely from the wide range of extracurricular activities on offer. I played rugby in my senior years and was a member of the 1st XV in Sixth Year where I also captained the Cricket 2nd X1. This latter post carried with it the responsibility of manning the telephone in the West Port office on a Saturday morning in case of cancellations. I must mention Jock Blair as being an excellent coach. A man of few words, he nevertheless always made it crystal clear what he expected and what his values were. Any rugby player who was coached and taught by Jock became a better player. All fixtures were important to him but it was also evident that there was always an extra edge when we were playing Dunfermline High, Buckhaven High, Madras College or Kirkcaldy High. Oddly, forty years on I still retain those prejudices! Years later, when I came to Woodmill High School I met Jock’s son Grant Blair again, who by then was also teaching in Fife and I saw both his daughters through Woodmill; each of them an excellent netball player. How many degrees of separation are there? Sixth Year also gave me the opportunities to debate, to go on theatre trips to the Byre in St Andrews and a cinema visit to Dundee to see Olivier’s ‘Othello’. We daringly visited the Cupar Arms before the Christmas Dance and everyone pretended that no one knew we were Bell Baxter seniors sampling the wild side. I was also part of the backstage crew for the school show in the summer of 1968 – ‘Everyman’. As we had finished our exams but had no classes this provided the opportunity for the creative use of non-rehearsal time which in our case meant shutting the curtains on stage and using the sound system to play Pink Floyd and Cream relentlessly over and over. My last official duty was to edit the school magazine and then it was the final prize giving. No ‘Leavers’ Nights’ then or Proms; we simply quietly drifted off to our futures. Although I have a misty memory of a decorous barbecue on the West Sands at St Andrews which seemed to involve a number of year groups.

I had no regrets when I left Bell Baxter. I knew that I had sampled all it could give me and I was ready to move on. Looking back I’m conscious of the quality of education and experience which was provided, particularly at the senior school in S3 to S6. I am now also conscious of the fact that we were in many ways the lucky ones whom the Qualifying Examination at the end of P7 had selected to benefit from those opportunities. Others were not so fortunate.

Now that the wheel has come full circle and I am the rector of a Fife high school, I am more aware of the rigour in my education at Bell Baxter and of the high aspirations which staff had of us. The staff at the senior school each had a mastery of their subject, an enthusiasm for the subject and, almost without exception, a strong and identifiably unique personality. I remember too their passion for their subjects – not always shared by the classes but always vigorously expressed. I think, too, that Bell Baxter has been extremely fortunate in having high quality, long-serving rectors – only four in over half a century – which has led to an enviable consistency and continuity of purpose. Of those four, one, the redoubtable J E Dunlop, was my rector for five years. The second, Dr McLaren, came at the start of S6 from Kirkcaldy High School and was still an unknown quantity when I left but I have subsequently met him twice recently at head teachers’ dinners and found him still to be as intellectually sharp as ever and very much enjoying the latest "heidies’ gossip". The third and fourth rectors, Doug Campbell and Phil Black, I have worked with as colleagues and know their skills and attributes at first hand. Bell Baxter has been exceptionally well served over the last fifty years and the leadership and vision of its rectors have been clear factors in the school’s continuing success story.

I believe the school did, and does, allow its pupils to fulfil completely its motto, ‘Ad vitam paror.’ More importantly it allowed me to learn how to be prepared to live a life which, if it was to be taken seriously, should never be taken too solemnly. And that was a valuable lesson I learnt in a BBHS classroom.

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