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A long time ago in a far off country, metalwork, woodwork engineering drawing and applied mechanics were part of the curriculum!
Over half a century ago I attended Mclaren High School in Callander, for those of you out there older than me you will remember the town as the home of Dr Finlay’s Case book, Tannochbrae.
At the time my mum and dad worked for Edinburgh University Outward Bound Centre at Firbush Point, nr Killin in Perthshire. The distance to the school from home meant that I had to board in.
The upside was that the school was newly built and fantastically resourced. We had a wood working workshop equipped with lathes, a metalworking workshop again equipped with lathes and a forge and real, full sized drawing boards for engineering drawing. On top of that we had teachers who knew, understood and were enthusiastic about there subjects. Sadly I don’t remember their names to give them a deserved namecheck.
Well, unfortunately at 14 I had to specialise for my SCE O Grades and, because I was destined to be Dux Accessit (google it!) I had to go down the academic study pattern and inevitably woodwork, metalwork and applied mechanics had to be dropped.
My dad was nominally “handyman” at the outward-bound centre but before WW2 was an apprentice cabinet maker and ended up in the Fleet Air Arm as a result (most of the aircraft carrier borne aircraft had wooden frames). As with many of his contemporary’s dad acquired new skills and knowledge as he progressed through different jobs doing his level best to feed clothe and house the family of seven. Consequently, things got made and repaired in our house, additionally if you asked How, Why, etc you got detailed answers and explanations. If and when a question was asked, with no known answer to him, then a trip to the library ensued to get the answers. All of this filled me with a desire to learn AND a desire to make.
It became clear at an early stage I was no joiner/carpenter but I loved wood and electronics. On my arrival at Mclaren High School my eyes almost popped out of my head when I saw the workshops.
In 1st year (year 7 in modern money) we were ONLY allowed to use saw, chisel and plane and had to construct mortise and tenons, dovetails and stuff like that, all of which I wasn’t very good at. At the same time we were learning the basics of engineering drawing, which fascinated me.
At the start of 2nd year we were shown the lathes, both for metal work and wood work. My life changed. I love symmetry and what could be better for this than turning.
Around this time schools were moving from oak hinged lid desks with metal frames to the table arrangements we are all familiar with now. Our woodworking teacher had acquired a host of these desk lids for use in woodwork.
At the start of 3rd year I had to undertake a project in woodwork/metalwork. I decided to turn a standard lamp for my mum who knitted a lot (balaclavas, tank tops, mitts and socks all the sort of stuff a 14yr old REALLY LOVED) but she didn’t have a good light for knitting by in the long dark nights of northern latitudes.
I turned a desk lid into a large base, I then turned part of another lid into bobbin feet. A section of lid was then cut and spindle turned to take the overall height up to about 20”. I then burnished some steel in the lathe then turned a brass screw fitting to accept a lampholder and brazed the metal parts together and the standard lamp was born. My mum used that to knit and read by for getting on for forty years!
The week after proudly taking the lamp home I was told that I no longer would be doing woodwork, metalwork or applied mechanics but taking Maths, Arithmetic, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, French English and History.
I promised myself then that I would get my own lathe!
Next time, if I am allowed a next episode, the last 7 years!