Teachers have no idea. Seventy years after he taught me English I am writing on my Jim Clark book, “To James K Scobbie.” It would probably make him uncomfortable. I sent him my 1970 Jackie Stewart book and he said I was his first former pupil to be an author. Scobbie was a big untidy man with a booming voice. He didn’t ever say I wrote well; he would only proclaim, “Find an essay subject Eric Dymock can’t bring cars into.” It was his way. It was recognition. He would never suggest I should spend my life writing.
Teachers have no idea how long their reach. I was preoccupied with cars even at 13. Scobbie had presence. He had warmth. He taught both my brothers before me, we all laughed at his dissertations on Para Handy, with authentic West Highland lilt. He introduced us to William McGonegall, Dundee poet and tragedian. His classes were a pleasure. Last week I walked past what had been his Room 21, clutching my book for the school library.
The past is a foreign country and so is your old school. It is smaller than you remember and the Greek frieze round the entrance hall is gone. It looked grand and academic even if you never understood a word. I wasn’t good at Latin either. School, I hope my reports are long shredded. Dalziel High School has more doors now. Put up to contain fires I suppose even though such a stout stone building put up during the First World War doesn’t look much like a fire risk.
There are new bits since I was there. One contains the school library. They scarcely had one then – there was a room up near the tower that had a load of books but it was not organised and nothing like the three floors and spiral staircase, with a real librarian.
Presenting an old school with books you’ve written is a bit of an affectation I suppose but Catrina Allan received us kindly, reassuring us that the other books are often read. Maybe I should fill in some gaps. I’ve got French, German, and Swedish language versions of some. I might even send the Chinese language Land Rover File as a novelty item. It is by 艾瑞克 戴莫克, which somebody who knows Chinese phonetically says is me.
So, teachers’ reputations last a long time. Words of encouragement a lifetime. Yet Mr Dalziel, science teacher, solemnly told us not to believe speculation about space flight. It was impossible. Tight-lipped, florid, fond of negatives he droned: “Noo! Noo! Noo! Anybody who thinks men will go into space is stupit.” The human frame would never withstand the enormous speeds necessary to defy gravity. In any case anyone who tried would be burned to a cinder by deadly rays that penetrate any known material. He wasn’t bad on small science lab explosions, or friction on inclined planes but he, unlike Scobbie on the other side of the school, was strictly earth-bound.