In which Ruth ponders the exams she didn’t really pass

All over Scotland today young people will be ripping open envelopes containing their exam results. Or perhaps they don’t get envelopes these days? Perhaps it is all done exam resultsonline? I’m told the pass results are the best ever but I seem to remember that being said last year and the year before and the year… The teenagers I know these days seem to take it all very seriously and study ever so hard for those exams. Those who can afford it have tutors to help and their social lives take a long backseat while they study for that chance of a place in the university of their choice.

When I was young not everyone was expected to go on to University. In fact, it may have been a minority who did, even at my fee-paying school. Neither of my parents went to university although one uncle did and he was always thought of as the brains of the family. (Sadly he died last year of Alzheimer’s.) However, my mum and dad did have a faint hope that I might have gone to university but there was certainly never any pressure to do so. Which was just as well.

Revising for exams in my teenage years coincided with the much more exciting task of getting to know boys and going to parties. Being at an all-girls’ school (and from a family of four sisters) meant that I knew nothing of the mystery of the male species until a skiing trip to Switzerland in 2nd year with nearby Broughton High School. All of a sudden there was something more exciting than playing rounders or hanging round the swing park. Or studying for O levels. I’m sure if I had hung around with boys sooner it would not have been such a distraction. And there was no amount of revision which was going to take me away from listening to T Rex and Bowie on a record player in someone’s house while their mum and dad were away.

I was only allowed to sit three Highers and when that brown envelope came through the door nobody was in the slightest suprised that I only passed one – English. However, on appeal I got French and Art but they must have been the lowest mark possible for a pass. I think in those days you were expected to do 3 Highers in 5th Year and then more in 6th. I didn’t stay on for that, needless to say.  Although I was accepted at Queen Margaret College to do Drama with my one English Higher, I never did go. They wanted me to wait a year until I was 18 and by that time I worked in the bank and was far too used to having money to spend. The student life would not have suited me then at all.

But things change and life moves on and somehow in my late 30s I found myself doing an Access Course at New College, part of the University of Edinburgh and was accepted to do a BD. In 1996, at the grand old age of 40, I became a full time student and had the most glorious four years studying theology. Oh it was hard being a mature student with a lousy memory, but what fun. I think the only TV I watched in those four years was Casualty on a Saturday night for the rest of my evenings were spent writing up notes, revising and trying to remember what I’d learned that day. And you know, I think university would have been wasted on me as a teenager. Far better to be there when I really, really wanted to do it and could appreciate it.

So for those of you who haven’t got the results you want today, have no fear. There’s always time. And perhaps the time is not right for you at the moment. I can thoroughly recommend becoming a mature student. And Son #1 went in his late 20s too and got a great degree, which I’m sure would never have happened as a school leaver. Let’s hear it for mature students! Yay!

mature student

In which Ruth remembers her Quali

There has been a lot of talk this week about Proms. On Woman’s Hour there were interviews with Year 6 leavers who talked about being in tears at leaving their Primary School, about the sadness of leaving lovely teachers, of frocks and limousines and all the rest. It was quite a revelation to me.

Let me tell you about the Quali Dance at James Gillespie’s Primary School, for yes, it was not called a Prom in the 1960s. In my day it was the Qualifying Dance (known as the Quali) and I assume it was for those who had qualified to get into the Secondary School. I don’t remember anyone who didn’t qualify but there was a test which was very scary. Did anyone fail it? I don’t know. Of course we left at the end of P7 and I’m not quite sure if it is the same as the current Year 6. Anyone know?

Although there was a James Gillespie Primary School for Boys there was no joining up for the dress patternQuali so it was girls only. I remember I wore a coffee coloured dress which was painful to wear. It had a sticky-out skirt and it itched. I hated it. With a passion. Frou-frou it was. I’d rather have worn my lovely cat-suit and no, there are to be no photographs. No way. There may have been white socks too. Lovely. (Not long white socks, by the way, as those were only worn by the Roman Catholic girls at the Convent next door – ours had to be short, or long grey or fawn.)

Now, my memory of the actual Quali Dance is rather hazy. There must have been dancing but I’m assuming it was of the Scottish Country variety. With girls, yes. That was my life until I left secondary school and then there was a joint dance in 5th Year with the boys of George Heriot’s, but that’s a whole other story and involves Vodka in handbags. The Quali Dance was not nearly so exciting. I don’t remember teachers dancing but perhaps they did.

Nobody cried, that I know of. There was no procession with the whole school waving farewell and parents crying into their iPhones. There were no limousines – I walked over the Meadows as I did every morning and every afternoon. It was held in the gym and perhaps there were balloons but that was probably all the decoration. Most of my friends were coming to the same secondary so we knew we’d all see one another after the summer holidays, so there were no tearful separations.

And if any of my old school friends are reading this and remember it completely differently and were awash with tears then that just goes to show you what a tough nut I was in those halcyon days.

7 Up … 56 Up

There is a programme on TV just now called 56 Up. I could be taking part in it. For I too am 56 just now. (Pause to allow you all to gasp with horror… “Surely not, Ruth!”) I have followed it every seven years although I’m not sure that I did watch the very first one when I was seven. So I wondered what I would have had to say every 7 years of my life.

Age 7 – Mum, my sister and I had just moved to Valleyfield Street, Tollcross in Edinburgh and I was walking to James Gillespie’s Primary school over the Meadows by myself. I remember school milk and begging to get a letter to excuse me from it, as it was warmed by putting the crate next to the fire in the classroom. (Yes, a real fire.) If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d probably say ‘A man’. I was a tomboy who played with cars and never with a doll. Hobbies: reading Enid Blyton; collecting comics; buying jokes and disguises from joke shop.

Age 14 – Still in Valleyfield Street and still at James Gillespie’s, but this time the High School (all girls). I may have started smoking and other such rebellions (short skirt, multiple badges on blazer, etc) but boys were still a mystery. There was a school trip this year to Switzerland along with boys from Boroughmuir School and I could barely speak to them for shyness. Was feeling drawn to dentistry and medicine but as I couldn’t do science this was looking less likely. Hobbies: reading; movies; music of Marc Bolan and David Bowie.

Age 21 – Still in Valleyfield Street with a husband and two babies. Dreams of being an actress have had to be put on hold but the dream is still there. Convincing myself that having children at a young age means that I’ll still be young enough to have fun when they are grown up. Have worked in the bank and now part time Auxiliary nurse at Simpsons hospital. (As close to medicine as I ever got.) Eldest son is hyperactive and proving to be a bit of a challenge. Nobody agrees with me that it might be related to artificial colouring. Hobbies: knitting; reading.

Age 28 – Divorced and living in Brougham Street, still in Tollcross. Rebellion is my second name. Working part-time in a Cocktail Bar and having lots of fun. Dabbling in New Age spirituality and reading lots about Native Americans and Shamans. Dreams of being an actress have been shelved. Both boys are at Gillespie’s, which is now co-ed, and it is very weird being summoned to the head teacher’s room when I spent so much time outside it in my childhood. Hobbies: reading; Bach flower remedies; crystals; Shamanistic drumming; crosswords.

Age 35 – Still in Brougham Street, but have my own business making and fitting self-adhesive signs with Jenners as my biggest client. Loyal member of St Michael & All Saints across the road from my flat. Have been Confirmed and now read, do intercessions, on coffee rota and help run the Youth Group. Still trying to integrate New Age spirituality and Christianity but finding some Christians rather hostile to the notion. Against the ordination of women because ‘Father says so’ and rather a spiky Anglo-Catholic in love with ritual. Learning how to be an Altar Server – first time for women in our church. Passionate about Cursillo (renewal movement in the church). Hobbies: reading; church; cross-stitch; making jewellery.

Age 42 – Have been made homeless and am now living in a council flat in Hyvots, Edinburgh. In my second year at New College, University of Edinburgh studying Divinity and in my first year of Tisec (Theological Institute of SEC) training to be a priest. Working part time for The Rock Trust working with young homeless people. Still dream of being an actress but wondering if priesthood will fulfill at least some of those desires (standing up and showing off in front of an audience). Not able to watch anything on TV except for Casualty once a week because every night is revision night. Loving it! Hobbies: church; theology; reading fiction during holidays; exploring churches.

Age 49 – Living in Linlithgow as priest-in-charge of St Peter’s & St Columba’s Bathgate. Have been curate in Perth but glad to be nearer home to visit sick parents. Dad is in a Care Home in Edinburgh and Mum has been diagnosed with cancer. Juggling two churches is hard work (12 hours days not unusual) but loving being a parish priest. Surprised at how much I love working in a small town where everybody knows your name and stops for a blether in the High Street. St Peter’s has just been redecorated in shades of lilac. Also working as Diocesan Co-ordinator of CMD 1-3, General Synod member, on Mission and Ministry Committee and Board, and on I&C Board. Hobbies: reading; romping round churches.

Age 56 – Now in Falkirk at Christ Church, having done nearly 5 years in Portobello, Edinburgh. Only serving on one committee now – I&C but about to serve as Diocesan Vocations Adviser. Blogging seems to keep the attention-seeking actress in me amused some of the time but I have learned that it is not always wise to blog everything. Looking forward to living on my own some time soon (one son moves in as the other moves out, and so on and so on).  Hobbies: knitting prayer shawls; reading my Kindle; blogging.

So there we have it. Looking back it seems as if there is no clue to what the next seven years will find me doing. I seem to leap from one thing to the other, changing opinions willy-nilly as I go. Ah, ever fickle and flighty. So where will I be in 7 years, I wonder?

I think I’m getting to like poetry

I’ve never been a huge poetry fan. At school it was Robert Louis Stevenson and the Lady of Shallot. Oh there was some Burns thrown in for good measure and there must have been some in Secondary school but whatever they were, they’ve long gone. I loved reading as a child but managed to get an English teacher who almost put me off for life. (Mrs Rozga, why did I end up in your class every year of secondary school?)

I think my problems with poetry stems from having to work at it. And I am at heart a lazy old sod. So I glance at some cleverly crafted words in wiggly waggly shapes and I give up almost immediately. And why do some of them not use punctuation  What’s that all about?  And then there are the poems where the line continues on the next line… why not put it all in one line? You read it as if it is, so why not write it that way? Sometimes it is just too clever for me and I can’t be bothered working it out.

I did try writing some poetry when I was much younger and full of angst. There was one called Mother’s Little Helpers, I seem to remember, and one on The Fireworks which I couldn’t attend because I didn’t have a babysitter. You’ll see there was a theme going on there.

My eldest son writes lots of poetry. Some have even been published in obscure journals. They are pretty heavy, mind you. And not really suitable for reprinting here on such a delicate blog. I feel they should come with a health warning.

However, of late I have found myself lingering on the occasional poem and sometimes even smiling. I quite like some by Liz Lochead and Carol Ann Duffy. Mrs Icarus doesn’t fail to make me grin, for example.

Today I came across this one and I rather like it. Never heard of Billy Collins, the author, but I might look for some more. I see he was an American Poet Laureate from 2001-2003.

Man in Space

All you have to do is listen to the way a man
sometimes talks to his wife at a table of people
and notice how intent he is on making his point
even though her lower lip is beginning to quiver,

and you will know why the women in science
fiction movies who inhabit a planet of their own
are not pictured making a salad or reading a magazine
when the men from earth arrive in their rocket,

why they are always standing in a semicircle
with their arms folded, their bare legs set apart,
their breasts protected by hard metal disks.

Equal opportunities for cheerleaders

Went to speak to S3 at B’gate Academy this morning. Their RE teacher is one of my little flock and had asked me to go along and talk about equality in the church.

So I spoke about the ordination of women, gender stereotypes, and whether there was equality now or not. When I asked them what they thought my job entailed I was met with a deafening silence. Not sure whether this was because they really had no idea what a priest might get up to during the day, or whether they just didn’t care. Reluctantly they did suggest I might take services and visit. I enlightened them!

We agreed that women make good priests and all jobs should be open to women or men. Except for weightlifting and cheerleading apparantly. I said I’d quite enjoy watching men leaping about in short shorts but I think I was alone. And I also offered the opinion that I wasnt keen on anybody weightlifting, but it seems that muscly men are cool. Oh well, each to their own.

I don’t seem to remember anyone giving us careers guidance on either cheerleading or weightlifting. But then again, there was no sign of the church either.

Old souls and young souls

Happy All Souls Day! I love that line from the reading today in Isaiah: “The Lord will wipe away the tears from every cheek; he will take away his people’s shame everywhere on earth, for the Lord has said so.”

Anyway, after we had kept the Feast this morning at St C’s we had a visit from Primary 4 of the local school. Over 50 seven and eight year-olds flooded into church with teachers and several bouncers to learn about the church building and why we come to church. What a racket!

We came to the conclusion that we come to church to sing, to pray, to read stories, to talk to God, to remember the Last Supper, to have communion and to say sorry. Oh, and sometimes we come to be baptised, married or to die. (On the last point, can I just say that although I have seen one or two close their eyes during my sermons, I am not aware of any actual deaths.)

We discussed the silly names the church has for things and we spotted loads of crosses all over the place. We cheered (and the boys booed) at the fact that women can be priests. And we dressed up in albs and stoles and chasubles – but nobody wanted the green set because they don’t support Hibs. (Next time we will need to borrow Kelvin’s sarum blue set as Rangers seems to be the preferred option.)

We smelled oil for anointing, and tasted wafers for communion and decided they were either like the wafers with ice-cream, cardboard or the stuff that flying saucers are made from but without the sherbet.

We all say that we would like more children in church. All I can say on that subject, is that I’m not sure that I could cope with 50 children every Sunday. I was more than a little frayed by the end, my headache was throbbing and my throat sore from raising my voice above the crescendo of little voices. The teacher apologised but said it was just because they were so excited at being in church. In that case, it was all worth while.

And let us say a prayer for all teachers. They deserve every penny they get.