This post is by Nancy Jardine.
Fun days, sad days and brilliant reflections – and – funerals don’t have to be a time just for tears.
Recent fun days for me were exploring Rome, a city that was new to me. Steeped in history, I was enthralled as I walked the legs off my husband. His groans must have been heard world-wide when he approached yet another flight of stairs in one of the many museums visits we squeezed into the short trip. Endurance was the name of his game because he’s not great with steps…
Immediately after my Rome trip I attended my first ever official high school reunion back in my birth city of Glasgow, shoulder-to-shoulder with 450 other ex-pupils. I topped up my reminiscence folder during the evening event but hanging out the following day at breakfast with 5 of my old school friends was magic! Our nostalgia natter was worth the 300 mile round trip.
Some shadows followed our reunion but they’ve come with positive edges. A good part of our reunion time was spent rehashing escapades and happenings that were memorable at school. The teaching staff also figured a lot in the recall of our school days and that’s where it got poignant on Tuesday 3rd May, only 4 days after the reunion.
I received an email to say that Andy Stirling, one of my old teachers, had been taken to hospital and his time was limited. It’s probably not all that common for pupils to keep in touch with their teachers but I’d exchanged Christmas Cards with him for decades, though I’d only occasionally met up with him since I left school in 1970. On Tuesday, I was making plans to drive the 360 mile round trip (again) to visit him in hospital in Greenock ( south of Glasgow) along with my best friend from school who had kept even more regular physical contact with him since she lives near where he lived. Unfortunately, 85 year old Andy died on the Wednesday.
Andy Stirling was like the best sort of glue.
He was a Technical Studies teacher which in my day at school was a non-academic subject, only taught to the boys (My school was forward thinking and yet still very sexist). He was also Head of our school Guidance Department. I’m guessing he would have been called a Guidance Counselor in the U. S. though I’ve no idea what you might term it now.
Andy was definitely a superb candidate for that job. He was always interested in people and especially in his pupils. I’m told that he always listened carefully and gave sage advice without preaching or being too lenient- though I never had to be counselled by him. Due to his very positive influence he gave a lot of young people at my school the courage to hold themselves together and to move forward towards their future with better self-worth. He nurtured their insecurities and guided the kids in ways that would hone and polish their skills and aptitudes whether they were academic or vocational. My school was in a housing estate in Glasgow, a place populated by people who lived from week to week waiting for the Friday Pay Packet. White collar workers were rare in Drumchapel where I grew up and Andy had his fair share of mixed up kids to deal with but… his kind of glue was an invisible support—strong and long lasting.
My own experience of Andy was extra curricular. He was the founder of the School Ski Club and the Hill Walking Club (Not rock climbing). If he hadn’t given up his weekends to lead our expeditions, I would have missed out on many character forming experiences. My parents did a lot of hiking in and around Scotland but they didn’t do the kind of hill-walking that Andy organised.
Due to Andy, I can boast to having not only climbed Braeriach, the 3rd highest peak in Scotland (and the United Kingdom) at 4,253 feet, but I also camped near the summit of it to watch the dawn appear on the Summer Solstice of June 1970.
My best friend June, next to me in the above photo, recently reminded me that it rained so hard we were washed out of our tents yet, according to her, I slept on oblivious of the lack of shelter from our 2 man ‘bivvy’ tent and I missed the actual moment of the sun rise. Naturally, that’s the sort of fine detail I’ve shoved to the back of my memory banks! That kind of soaking was definitely character-building because we had to come back down the peak just a wee bit drookit and the tent was a dead weight dripping across the top of my rucksack. (Turn about with carrying the gear was the name of the game!) As I look at the photo above, I’m noticing the ratio of adults to pupils. We’re not sure who took the photo but think it was another teacher, which would put it at 4 teachers to five pupils. June and I were already 18 by then, the boys a year younger.
Scotland isn’t famous for predictable weather. It can turn on a whim and can be especially dangerous on our mountains. Even though we got washed out on the occasion above in June (and on many other occasions, if truth be told) Andy never ever took any chances with the safety of his pupils when we were out on the hills. His policy was to check weather reports and he phoned people in the vicinity of where we planned to climb or ski before we left Glasgow. Then he’d re-check, evaluate and re-evaluate. Sometimes he would change tack and re-plan something that was viable instead of the original concept—for example if there was no reasonable snow to be had for a skiing weekend then we climbed instead on lower peaks that were uncovered.
Our kind of ‘out in the wild camping’ meant site changes could be made relatively easily. Andy knew most of the head ghillies (gamekeepers) of the large estates around the Grampian Mountains and could readily get their permission for us to camp on the land. That was important because the ghillie knew when stalking or shooting parties were ‘out in the field’ which would have been dangerous for us walking across the land to the mountain foothill.
Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland (& the U.K), is only 4,409 feet above sea level followed by Ben Macdui at 4295 feet so Braeriach at 4253 feet is nearly as high. That’s peanuts compared to Mount Everest at 29 thousand+ feet, or to Denali Alaska at 19 thousand+ feet, or to Mount Elbert in Colorado at 14 thousand+ feet but like many mountain climbs the strain of the event is often over walking the long distance to access the foot of the peaks. In Scotland, there are often no roads near the mountain bases and a long walk over many fields and rough ground is necessary before the climb even begins. Endurance was the name of the game back then as well…
On reflection, I remember my first ever hill walking weekend arranged by Andy Stirling. There was a mixed bunch of lads and lassies. I was about 16, some were older some younger. On that first weekend one of the accompanying adults was a female P.E teacher. She was the youngest of our trio of female P.E. teachers and a lot of fun. What my friend June and I didn’t really appreciate at the time was that the two of us (the only girls) were being ‘tested’ for more than just our ability to endure the long walk, the arduous climb, and cope with the basic countryside camping beside the River Spey. (The closest facility being a large bush for privacy)
I now see that Andy Stirling was maybe also being ‘tested’ for his ability to lead an expedition that included both sexes.
I can say he passed with flying colours. He never favoured June or myself. He never let us off any of the duties we all had to undertake re: equipment maintenance and the carrying of food stocks/cooking utensils, In 1968 there were few MREs i.e. packet meals. It was mostly heavy tins to carry and the empties to carry back home- the country code strictly adhered to. Boys or girls – we were treated no differently.
Andy treated us with respect for what we had chosen to endure. He encouraged us to push our physical boundaries when the going was very tough (and it often was with a howling wind blasting our faces) but most memorable of all, he treated us as adults. He set rules but we had fun within those rules!
I wrote a personal blog post last week as a tribute to Andy Stirling but also to Waverley Secondary School in general, applauding lots of the other teachers whose influence on me was equally great in other formative ways. (It’s a very long one but it’s HERE) I was really cheered to find some responses to my blog post on the Waverley Secondary school Facebook Page. One fellow pupil said that if I got around to writing a proper ‘Memories of Waverley’ book he’d definitely buy it. (Maybe I’ll need to fit that in sometime!)
My appreciation and liking for Andy isn’t unique. He was the glue that bound a lot of us at Waverley and he is remembered with great fondness. As I publish this post I’ve just returned from the 380 mile round trip having attended his funeral on Friday 13th. Another 4 ex-pupils like me attended and one ex-teacher who is now 83 years old herself…so that’s where the brilliant positive edges come in- it wasn’t too sad a time because I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted that! The humanist celebrant gave a perfect speech emphasising the fact that the attendees were there because Andy had meant a lot to us at some point in his life, and that he also had memories of the many friends and pupils etc he had encountered.
His glue is still binding a lot of us together.
As I wrote this post, I was thinking that writing a book is a bit like the above story. Endurance is staying with the manuscript until it’s done. All of the other bits that Andy did for our expeditions can be equated to the writing process. Plan>organise more details> check> re-check>change tack if necessary> complete the main part of the project> hone and polish> evaluate> celebrate when completed. My books don’t all happen in that order so a bit of manoeuvering around can also happen.
I hope your weekend goes well.
Nancy Jardine writes: all sorts of things these days including historical romantic adventures; time travel adventures and contemporary romantic mysteries.
http://nancyjardine.blogspot.co.uk http://nancyjardineauthor.com/ Twitter @nansjar Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG and http://on.fb.me/1Kaeh5G (for The Rubidium time Travel Novels.) email: email@example.com
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