A HAUNTLE o weeks syne ah received a phone call frae the heidie at Cumnock Academy, Angus McVake. He speared gin ah wid like tae be the guest speiker at this year’s prizegiving oangauns at the schuil. Ah thocht, why no! Sae signed up! Oan Monday ah’d arranged tae gang doun tae ma auld schuil an wis gien the “10-guinea tour” frae ane o this year’s Dux medallists, Basilia Weir.

Cumnock Academy apened oan December 17, 1969, sae when ah stairtit attendin it in 1972 it must hae bin quite a “state-o-the-art” place. Back then the schuil wis verra much a kindae boys/girls affair, whaur a wheen o clesses an pursuits wir split accordin tae sexes. A hangower frae the Victorian era! Nane o that kindae nonsense nou!

Basilia (her first nem is o Spanish extraction) wis bricht an chirpy an gien me an insicht intil much o the schuil’s current programme an events. The layout o the building husnae chainged wan iota frae ma ain schuil days. Aa the depairtments wir in the verra same places. In ma mind’s ee ah cuid pictur the ghaists an shades o a wheen o ma auld teachers hauntin the corridors.

In the main foyer thair are models an muckle buirds kythin the plans fir the new “mega academy” atween Cumnock an Auchinleck, whaur they plan tae build a cuttin edge educational campus that wull sair baith communities. As is the norm wi sic plans there’s thaim wha are aa fir it – an thaim wha are opposed.

Ah didnae exackly shine at schuil. When Basilia innocently speirt whit university ah hud gaen tae, ah hudnae the hairt tae tell her it wis the Barony Colliery!

Tho the trainin an experiences the pits gien ah wid airgue wir as guid as a wheen o yer universities! An that thocht wis in ma heid as ah stuid up tae gie the guest speiker’s address tae a packed hall.

Ah telt the weans, an the mithers, faithers an prood graundparents, aboot ma veesit tae the schuil – an thae memories it promptit. It wis 40 year sinsyne whan ah attendit Cumnock Academy; ah spake o auld teachers, an their nick-nems – Big Whim, Big Mac, an Catweazle – hou ah wis a verra rebellious youngster at the schuil, embracin the then new phenomenon o punk rock. Ah mind takkin in the latest 45rpm record singles tae the music department: The Damned’s New Rose; The Ramones’ California Sun EP; an the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The UK’. Twa o the music teachers played the records oan ane o thae auld wuiden turntables they hud. They listent briefly tae thaim then ane o thaim turnt the speed up til 78rpm. He said it didnae mak much difference tae the sound! As ah telt the fowk this story, ah held up the actual records frae that day – still pairt o ma eclectic music collection, an still soundin as fresh as the day they wir pressed!

Appairently, e’en the day thair still a wee rebellious crowd at the schuil; a hauntle o Goths; the ubiquitous experimental smokers (anither hangower frae ma ain day!) an vapers! The sixth year common rooms nou blast oot techno an house music, an 80s remixes, instead o The Stranglers’ Rattus Norvegicus. Ah’d hae bin gey disappyntit gin the punk speerit o teenagers didnae survive in some shape or form. Eftir ma reminiscences, aa gien in guid braid Ayrshire Scots, an giein oot the buiks, prizes an glentin siller cups an tassies tae the neist generation o Ayrshire talent, ah read oot ain o ma ain poems, The Auld Toun Schuil, that gies a pensefu souch o bairntid an the past.

Ah congratulated thaim aa oan their byordnar achievements ower the past year, an spake o hou they wid be the yins tae howpfully mak oor warld a saufer an mair peacefu place. That they nou leeved in a Scotland whaur the anely chyces werenae some deid-end joab in a factory or pit an that they cuid aa fly as heich as their passion an determination tuik thaim. Ah gien thaim twa/three quotes frae that giant o humankind, Nelson Mandela: Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.

I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

Eftirhint, whan aa the weans an parents hud skaled oot an went hame, ah hud a cup o tea wi the teachers in their staff room. McVake, the heidie, hudnae bin there that evenin. It transpired that he’d taen an ill-turn whilst at the schuil the previous day an hud bin taen bi ambulance tae hospital.

Micht this be related tae the pressures o his joab? Frae whit ah cuid glean in the staff room it seems that thair a wheen o teacher shortages at Cumnock Academy an those who are there struggle tae juggle tasks an joabs. As wi a wheen o ither public services in Scotland, ah goat the feelin that education is really strugglin fir qualified staff – an that these teachers somehou wark daily miracles wi oor weans. Fir masel, ah think we need mair teachers – an fewer politicians.

It wis a guid feelin, tho, tae be amang these young fowk, aa freshly minted an fou o howp an optimism fir the future. It wis a braw antidote fir us adults wha hae bin deaved wi naethin but politics, terrorism an negativity fir months. Mibbes we shuid aa gae back tae the schuil fir a day nou an agane.