Cumbernauld High School - The Early Years (2)

Cumbernauld High School

The years spent at Cumbernauld High School, like any secondary school tend to leave an indelible imprint on you. Whether we realise it or not at the time, as well as teaching, which is their main reason for being there, our teachers tend to pass on some of their opinions, prejudices, and if we are really lucky and have a good teacher, their passion for the subject.

The very first head of the English Department was Alex Gold, and he was one of the best liked teachers in the school. He made lessons enjoyable with his frequent injections of humour into the lessons. I used to wonder if Stanley Baxter ever met him because Alex Gold exploited the concept of "Parliamo Glasgow" before Stanley Baxter ever brought it to the TV screen. One classmate whom we shall call Davy, was prone to speaking fast and running words together. After being adminished for some misdemeanour, he protested his innocence. Alex Gold would just look at him then slowly get up from his desk, walk to the blackboard and write phonetically what Davy had just said.

As "itwisnaemesurhonest" took shape on the blackboard, there would be an indignant outburst from Davy. Alex Gold would say nothing but would return to the blackboard and write Davy's latest verbal outpouring. "awcumoansurthatnoferryoorjistakinthemick" This gave some innocent amusement to the rest of the class and I'm sure Davy enjoyed being in the spotlight. Alex Gold just had the gift of communication and I still vividly remember snippets from his lessons.

When the new Cumbernauld High School building opened for business in August 1965, we had moved on to second year and there was a new first year, effectively doubling the school roll. There was obviously a requirement for more teachers and we would see this repeated at the start of every new school year.

Mathew Brown was the first Rector of Cumbernauld High School. We hadn't seen much of him up until now, but the new building allowed him to make himself very visible. Mathew Brown had a very recognisable way of speaking, starting off his monolog in morning assembly with his stock phrase "It has come to my attention..." This of course made him an easy target for classroom impressions, and I never tired of listening to one of my classmates rendition of his trigonometry speech.

"It has come to my attention that some of the pupils in this school have taken to demonstrating their knowledge of trigonometric theory in a practical manner. Students of trigonometry know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and have put this into practice by taking a short cut across the football field instead of taking the designated route along the path,"

No one could ever accuse Mathew Brown of using one word when three or four were available. Unsurprisingly his teaching background was in English.

Another new face was Mr Pickup, the new Head of the Cumbernauld High music department. I don't recollect his christian name, but a voice in the back of my head is saying Ronald. It's more likely however that my subconscious mind is remembering the name of Ronald Pickup, the actor, rather than Mr Pickup, the music teacher. Mr Pickup was very keen to pass on his love of classical music, but I'm not sure much of it stuck. There was one particular Mozart piece Rondo Alla Turca which was popular with the class but somehow the name became distorted so that we called it "Rondalaturka" which I suppose was close enough.

Mr Pickup's flirtation with trying to teach us the finer points of classical music came to an abrupt end. In one memorable lesson, he brought along a violinist to play a duet with him on the piano, but some wag who will remain nameless took a handful of pennies out of his pocket and threw them onto the floor at the front of the classroom at the feet of the illustrious guest musician. Needless to say, we never saw that violinist (or any other guest musician) in music classes ever again. His other claim to fame was in writing the school song which we hapless pupils were obliged to sing in assembly at the whim of Mathew Brown. (Is the song still in use? I wonder.)

Two or three years after Cumbernauld High School was founded, we acquired a Deputy Rector as well. He went by the name of Mr. Lyons, but kids being kids, he was very quickly nicknamed Snagglepuss, after the TV cartoon character which was very popular at that time.

It was easy to tell where some nicknames came from - there was a huge geography teacher called Mr MacNicol, who looked as though he could have been a rugby forward in his younger days. He was initially dubbed "Big Ben". This name never really stuck and it was swiftly decided that "King Kong" was a more apt nickname.. Sometimes nicknames are more easily remembered than actual names. There was one teacher in the technical department whose name totally escapes me, but the subject he taught us was Applied Mechanics and his nickname of Loci Joe is firmly fixed in my memory.

More bewilderingly, the school librarian Douglas Vallance, was nicknamed "Wee Buff" for no apparent reason I could see. Wee Buff later went on to write several spy novels. His first two - "A Prize of Traitors" and "Man In The Lubianka" used to be available to borrow from Cumbernauld Town Centre Library, but they're out of print now although you can still see them advertised on second hand book sites. He was the only teacher I remember in my time at the school, who had a beard, and the rumour was that he grew it to hide a scar on his jaw which he got from fighting the Japanese in World War 2. The fact that he may not have been old enough to have fought in the war never even occurred to us. To we pupils, most teachers were regarded as ancient.

One teacher who very definitely was not ancient was Miss Gilchrist (at least I think that was her name). I never had the experience of being taught by her, but that was probably a good thing as I imagine it would have been difficult to concentrate on anything apart from her gorgeous figure. You could almost tell which route she had travelled recently by the tell tale pools of teenage drool caused by her pleasantly undulating passage.

We didn't realise at the time, but some of our contemporaries were shortly to become famous to a greater or lesser extent.

Andy Park taught art at Cumbernauld High for several years before leaving to concentrate on his twin careers as jazz musician, and helping to launch Radio Clyde when commercial radio started to take off in a big way in the 1970's.

Andy Anderson, always a stalwart of the school football team would go on to play for Partick Thistle, where he stayed throughout his professional football career.

Isobel Buchanan was well known as a member of Cumbernauld Light Opera Society, winning a scholarship to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama where in her final year she won the Student of the Year prize and the Governor's Recital Prize. After graduation, she went on to become one of the world's leading and most sought after operatic sopranos.

Jimmy McCulloch was deeply into music very early and before he entered his teens, together with his elder brother Jack, played many local dates with their group the Jaygars. Jimmy however was destined for greater things. He bailed out of Cumbernauld at an early age and headed south. Jimmy first came to national prominence as the guitarist on the Thunderclap Newman hit "Something In The Air" before joining "Stone The Crows" as a replacement for Les Harvey, then a brief spell in another Scottish band "Blue", before replacing Henry McCulloch and gaining worldwide acclaim in "Wings" alongside Paul McCartney.

What Other Visitors Have Said

Teenage Years In Cumbernauld. (by Jim Skene)

Hi, we must have been at Kildrum primary at the same time! I came from Carntyne primary about 1960 to Seafar and then was in the last year of the kids that went to Lenzie by one of the 6 buses..................

My Days At Cumbernauld High. (by John Gibson)

Reading your story of Cumbernauld High, I remember many of the teachers' names you mention, like "King Kong" and Mr Brown, although the head teacher when I was there was Mr James Mearns..................

Maisie Miles The Music Teacher. (by Morag Norman nee White)

Masie wrote the first school song. "We enter in these doors with pride and each must play a part." I know this song by heart, we sang it in assembly for years...................

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