Aileen Paterson

25th May 2012 at 01:00
A wee kindred spirit lit up the primary years for the author of the famous Maisie books

I loved school. On the first day I went to primary, my mother took me up and I was shown where to hang my coat and all the rest. She said she would be back at lunchtime, but I said: "I know where I'm going. I'm big now. I don't want you collecting me."

To me it was a wonderland, everything about it. The teacher who really stands out for me, and I still often think of her, is the teacher I had the last two years of primary, Miss Georgeson. She was fantastic and radiated enjoyment of her job.

We had two others that I recall: Miss Peattie and Miss Mackintosh. They were grim and strict and a bit bullying. When we were coming into the hall of the school in the morning, they would stand and stare down from the upstairs balcony. But we could all see their bloomers, which came down to their knees. That spoiled the scary bit of it.

Miss Georgeson didn't do that. Her whole class, all abilities, loved her. I always wonder if she was an MA. She was a very literary bird and very keen on art - of course, these are also my two things. We got the usual things like chanting out times tables, but we also used to walk up from the school for nature studies and track ferrets or stoats.

It was wartime, so that came into the life of the school. I remember us being asked when we were down at the beach to seek out anything that might have come from the German submarines that went up and down the Forth.

Miss Georgeson was a tiny wee lady, not much bigger than some of the boys in my class. She was very thin, like a wee bird, with bright eyes and glasses. She wore a flowery smock to protect her clothes from the chalk, and in the winter, when it got dark in the afternoon, she was so small she had to stand on a chair and then her tippy toes to light the gas light.

I remember knowing she liked me. One of the markers of that was that I was appointed to clean out her cupboard at the end of term. It seems a strange kind of praise for being top of the class, but I was so proud of that. My art work would go up on the wall and I would get to read out my stories. Horrible to say, but I think I was a teacher's pet. But I was not smug - I didn't really realise.

Toward the end of my time at Burntisland Primary, Miss Georgeson said: "I think I need a word with your mother." She said she thought I should train as an artist or go to St Andrews University. My father was a shipwright and my mother had been a waitress but was well read. Miss Georgeson woke me up. We did not know anybody who had been to university; I had not thought of it. As a working-class child, I had not really thought about a career at all.

I think I was very lucky in that Miss Georgeson did a lot of art with us, and then at Kirkcaldy High I got a good grounding in art. One of the teachers was Mr Thorburn. He was an ex-RAF pilot and a very dashing chap. He had a big handlebar moustache. Then there was Mary Miller, who did weaving and embroidery, and Tom Gourdie, who became a children's handwriting guru. I was an admirer of Mr Gourdie but did not change my handwriting. I must have been quite thrawn, as they say in Scotland.

One of my great regrets is not speaking to Miss Georgeson when I saw her at Burntisland station. I was an art student going back to Edinburgh. She was with three other ladies her age and they were all dressed up. That jolted me. I was just a bit too shy.

Aileen Paterson is a Scottish writer and illustrator, best known for her series of children's books about Maisie the kitten. She was talking to Emma Seith. www.scottishbooktrust.comcontacts aileen-paterson


Born: Burntisland, Fife, 1934

Education: Burntisland Primary and Kirkcaldy High, Fife; Edinburgh College of Art and Moray House College of Education, Edinburgh

Career: Potter; art teacher; children's author and illustrator, best known for her Maisie series of books.

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