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Chapter Three

Arthur's Seat

A kind of utopia

Janet sat in the office of the Headmistress, Mrs Moncrieff, with the bairns standing beside her. Through the window, despite December grey, the playing fields managed to remain green and the tiled roofs of the housing estate stretched away to the distant horizon of Arthur’s Seat. She always felt uncomfortable in the presence of educated people, especially those from a ‘better’ class and who talked differently. On the one hand, people of her class were expected to show deference to power, wealth and status, especially when it was seated behind a desk in an office. On the other hand, no matter how hard she tried, the gritty scrapper from the mean Leith streets of the 1930s, who’d made it into the 1950s, couldn’t always be kept in check. Mrs Moncrieff leaned over her desk and studied the documents in front of her. Wee Effie had already been disposed of. At the age of eleven, she would, of course, go straight into Primary Seven. Now, what about James?

“He’s seven years old is he not?” she asked in her best Morningside, staring at Janet over the frames of the gold-rimmed spectacles perched on the rim of her nose. Reading Janet’s nod as affirmation, she went on, “Then he’ll go into Primary Three.”

“Well, actually,” said Janet, summoning her best Proper Speak, “he’s already done Primary Three. Should he no (here a little slip-up) go into Primary Four? That’s where he (recovery) was, at Bonnybrig.”

“Really?” questioned Mrs Moncrieff. “How is that possible?”

“Well, he started Primary One at four-and-a-half...”

“That may well be the case,” interrupted Mrs Moncrieff, “but rules are rules. If he’s seven, he should be in Primary Three and that’s that.”

The gritty scrapper, discarding Proper Speak, surfaced.

“Oh, no it isnae,” Janet said, quietly but forcefully, leaning forward in her chair. “The laddie’s always done well at school. What’s the use o’ ’im repeatin’ the same lessons aw’ over? Ah want ’im tae get on, and Ah want ’im where ’e belongs, in Primary Four.”

Unused to being contradicted in so determined a manner in her own office, in her own school, Mrs Moncrieff sat back and, with a frisson of panic, took stock of this bothersome parent. She looked as if she could indeed cause trouble. She shifted her gaze to the boy. He was following the exchange with what Mrs Moncrieff judged to be an intelligent expression. She threw caution to the winds. Well, there was a place with Miss MacAndrew in Primary Four and, after all, it was Christmas.

“Very well, Mrs Swanston, if it means so much, Primary Four it is.”

“That’s very good of you,” said Janet, successfully bridging the Proper Speak hiatus. “Can they start today?”

Image by David Monniaux, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons