Songs full of sunshine

12th August 2005 at 01:00
On the first morning of the school holidays, I went to the dentist because I know how to enjoy myself. Afterwards, my restorative shot of caffeine in a nearby cafe was interrupted when a family of three pupils entered, accompanied by dad. They threw me a collective glance and passed by in silence. So I returned the compliment and ignored them. However, I didn't lose interest and conducted occasional observations from behind the newspaper.

The school uniforms of 24 hours before had been exchanged for T-shirts and shorts. Obviously this was a start-of-holidays celebration with dad.

Perhaps it is a family tradition, a ritual marking the end of school and an overture to the summer. In years to come, this day will be the stuff of memory, possibly accompanied by music.

My memorable summers come with their own music tracks. The sunshine glow is a self-made myth but, in hindsight, it seems that the sun and the music diminished the closer I came to settling on a career in teaching. A worrying thought.

In the summer before the Beatles, Rod Laver won Wimbledon with his wooden racquet and Frank Ifield yodelled "I Remember You" in our high street.

Records were sold in electric stores, in small departments behind the Ecko televisions, the occasional piano and rolls of Kodak film. You exchanged 58d for your 45rpm disc after listening to it in a tiny doorless booth with pegboard walls. To advertise their wares, the stores broadcast Hit Parade "platters" to the street, through doorway speakers. Great entertainment, especially if your Radio Luxembourg reception was poor.

And so it went on. Nat King Cole accompanied the family holiday in Scarborough with "Let There Be Love" and Englebert Humperdinck sang "The Last Waltz" when I worked as a bingo cashier at Butlins in Ayr. The summer I spent with successive groups of orphans on their seaside holidays to St Andrew's was "All You Need Is Love". A somewhat incongruous choice, since some of the nuns who were in charge have recently been accused of abuse by children of the time. To be fair, I don't remember anything out of place.

By the time "If You're Going to San Francisco" came out and the grainy pictures of Neil Armstrong on the moon appeared, my interests were moving towards teaching and were boosted by the summers spent in an approved school for teenage boys. As a member of staff, of course, although a very inexperienced one.

I loved the work, although everyone younger wanted to run away and, occasionally, some succeeded. Absconding was countered by well-rehearsed procedures to recover the escapees. Breakouts were not of The Great Escape quality. The first check was on the main road, where there was always the chance of hitching a lift. Inevitably, boys made for home and usually their trail was picked up before they arrived. But some reached their destination, so I gained a familiarity with the closes and back courts of certain areas of Glasgow and Paisley, usually in the speed of a chase.

Absconding was never planned, just a bolt for freedom when an opportunity presented itself. Like the day when I left my four-strong gardening squad working near the estate entrance while I made a phone call. On my return, I found tools strewn across the ground and no boys. Yet I was genuinely surprised. How naive was that?

I was not the only person to demonstrate low intelligence. Even the absconders could trip up. Accepting a lift from a passing police car was not bright, nor was wandering around the perimeter of the school on a wet July afternoon because it was not obvious how to reach the main road.

The approved school summers had their music too - John Bunyan's long-runner, "To Be A Pilgrim", lustily sung at morning assemblies around the snooker table. We sang about seeking God's love before boys were berated or physically punished for misdemeanours. It was all part of a normal day.

My most disturbing day had special music - the music of a haunting silence.

A social worker and I drove for hours, transporting a 14-year-old with a long history of absconding to Scotland's only "closed" school. The boy and I sat in the back of the car, his right wrist handcuffed to my left. When we arrived at the school with its 30 teenage inmates, the air was soundless. No shouting, laughing or running. Only the jangle of keys locking one door and opening another. Released from the handcuffs, the boy walked into the cell and the door was locked behind him. The unnatural silence stayed with us on our journey home.

I hope my cafe children had a good holiday and collected many happy memories. Perhaps their brains have stored away some music which will always say, "Summer of 2005". Let's just hope it's not Crazy Frog.

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