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2004 – “Bo’ness? Where’s That?” Mrs K Murray

Until June, 1969, I had never heard of Bo’ness. During that month, I travelled frequently from my home in Burntisland to visit my father in an Edinburgh hospital. One day, while waiting at a bus stop in St. Andrews Square, I spied a bus going to a place called Bo’ness. “Where’s that?” I wondered idly. Little did I know that within five months I would be living there!

I was soon to discover that quite a few people from my childhood home in Tayport, Fife and in the Dundee area had family connections with Bo’nessians. The whaling boats called in at the ports on the Rivers Forth and Tay, the local talent was spotted, wooed and won and the connections were made.

My first visit to Bo’ness was made on a dreich October Saturday afternoon when we travelled to view our new house on Kinneil Estate and to explore the town itself. I was not at all happy about the move as I had spent five very happy years in Burntisland. Besides, being told that my father’s illness was terminal, made moving father away from my family somewhat worrying. In Bo’ness, the rain was coming down in torrents and everywhere looked dismal. To add insult to injury, most of the shops were SHUT! We made our way up to Kinneil to find that our new house was floundering in a sea of mud. I vowed to myself, “I’m not staying here very long!” However, thanks to the friendliness and helpfulness of the Bo’ness people, we have spent thirty-four very happy years in their midst and look forward to many more.

Deanburn School entered my life – or, as my husband would say, took over our lives in August, 1971. By that time we had achieved the doubtful claim to fame of producing Kinneil Estate’s first new baby and I was perfectly happy just being Mum to three small children with no thoughts of returning to work. My friends, however, had different ideas! In the spring of 1971, the school was closed because of staff illness with no supply teachers available. Here on their doorstep was a teacher who could have saved the day! My excuses of having nobody to look after the children didn’t wash. My two elder children would be starting school and nursery school in August and a motherly friend couldn’t wait to fill her empty nest with the eighteen month old baby. I gave in!

The Headmaster, Jim Vallance, was delighted. I warned him that I had been somewhat pressurised by parents and that I wanted to be used only in extreme emergencies. The first emergency arose on the first day of the new season!

Unfortunately, my friend was on holiday so I had to refuse. “No problem, bring the baby with you,” was the reply. And so began the first of many happy years and many challenges and Deanburn.

Deanburn has always had a pleasant, happy and relaxed atmosphere, noticed and commented on by many parents and friends over the years. Jim Vallance, the longest serving head Teacher, was a lovely person and one of nature’s gentlemen. Greatly missed when he retired, he has left behind many happy memories. He fostered a love of animals in his pupils through the keeping and rearing of small creatures. I wonder how many former pupils reading this article remember the fluffy yellow chickens, the guinea pigs, hamster’s gerbils, Jacko the mynah bird, who’s piercing whistle competed with the television I the top work area, Candy the Cockatoo and the geese and hens in the playground. Unfortunately, the outdoor animals were removed to a safer home when Nellie our noisy goose was stolen and killed for someone’s Christmas dinner.

Over the years, I have made many friends amongst colleagues, parents and the children themselves. These friendships give me endless pleasure. I nearly felt my age recently when a former colleague, whom I remember as a young lass, wrote to tell me she had recently celebrated her fiftieth birthday!

I have had many challenges at Deanburn. During a visit to London, I was evacuated safely with forty children from a park adjoining the Iranian Embassy during the siege, only to risk being mown down by mounted police riding colossal horses – on the pavement. Scary! I have dragged children up the Cairngorm Mountains, abseiled, ridden a flying fox over a gorge and walked on Hallowe’en in a dark, creepy forest. I have fallen in a waterfall with them and, soaking wet, shared a wonderful experience of drinking hot tea out of a billy-can.

However, my biggest challenge was the aftermath of the Deanburn fire. The evacuation itself was straight forward. We teachers often independently practised evacuating the children to make sure that they knew what to do in a variety of situations. However, watching the building burst into flames and realising how fortunate we were to have evacuated everyone safely was a harrowing and surreal experience. I can still see the scene in my mind’s eye and feel the horror I felt then. To see the parents rushing in to find their children safe was very emotional. As the fire took an even greater hold, we were all moved out to the side of the school where we stood in the wind and rain, shivering with cold and shock. After all the children had been collected, we were so grateful to the people in the school’s neighbourhood who plied us with hot tea and coffee. After that, we just stood and watched as the firemen fought and lost the battle to save the school. It was so sad seeing such a huge part of my life going up in flames. To this day, I find it difficult to talk about the fire without feeling emotional.

The Bo’ness people and schools were wonderful at that time. Help arrived in all shapes and forms and from all over. Greatly touched, there were tears when an elderly couple paid for our lunch in a local hotel. Thank you, everyone!

Now. In 2004, it is exciting to see the new building rising out of the ashes of the old one. However, sadly, by the time it has been completed, I shall have retired. Although I coped extremely well with the fire and it’s aftermath at the time, the many challenges and changes of the last two years have taken their toll. I love teaching and shall miss the children enormously by am no longer excited by the overwhelming and never-ending changes in education.

One cannot spend thirty-three years in a Bo’ness primary school without experiencing the Bo’ness Fair. Since I taught Primary Seven for many years, I have been involved in the preparations. I was amazed at the enormity of the school’s input into this huge event. It is an enormous task for the Primary Seven teachers who have to balance completing the curriculum with training the retinue to the required high standard.

Many years ago, as rather disgruntled perennial steward at the Fair, I used to express a wish to go to Edinburgh on the Fair day when I retired, but somehow the Bo’ness Fair has woven it’s own magic round me and I find myself not only want to give Edinburgh a miss but also wondering how I am going to enjoy the Festal Day without walking round with the children! I wonder if Mrs Whittington will need an extra steward next year.


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