More than 49 years have passed since I started as a pupil at what was then Craigroyston Secondary School (Craigie), yet I felt a strong tug on the heartstrings reading of Hugh MacKenzie's
recent death. I started at Craigie in the spring of 1971, a time when secondary schools had two intakes per year – one after Easter and the other in August – under the old regime with Dr George Bowden as headmaster. Dr Bowden's management style was all about what wasn't allowed: 'We won't have that in my school' was his mantra.
When Hugh MacKenzie started as head in 1972, it was with a complete change of style and outlook. It was a new school. Overnight. The place was transformed; everything was about possibility and opportunity with the Ancien Regime's policies of education prevention and containment swept away. Even as a second year student (we were students now, not pupils) I could feel the energy imbued by Hugh. He had a strong cohort of young, committed teachers with him to shake the school out of its torpor.
Alongside the young teachers was a stratum of older teachers who (mostly) shared his vision. I think they gave a sense of gravitas and solidity through their considerable experience. Hugh managed to create a truly comprehensive school, with academic, practical, performing arts and music all encouraged. As a student, if you had an idea for an activity, you could make a pitch to Hugh. He was very approachable and always listened to your idea. If he liked it, he would provide some resources and a lot of encouragement. If he didn't, he would suggest some ideas for an another try later.
His approachable, accessible air endeared him to many students. The fact that you could talk to him openly and honestly was a breath of fresh air. He listened too, rare for a man in his position. The atmosphere in the school was greatly improved when Hugh's ban on corporal punishment came to pass. Another of his innovations was the School House, literally one of the houses in a nearby housing estate, where students who would otherwise be excluded could be taught in very small classes sometimes one-to-one.
I had a strong interest in stage lighting. This was encouraged at the school. The school had recently acquired a drama studio, kitted out with some 1970's cutting edge technology, including a (black and white) video camera and recorder. This augmented the assembly hall, the principal venue for school performances. Alex Wood mentions the school staff pantomime. During the very first production, I was the only student backstage during the show, doing the tricky things with light and electricity. I saw and heard things then that I cannot speak of, even now. The lighting board was on a perch in the wings and I expect people forgot I was there.
Some years after leaving Craigie (first to university, then to work in stage and tv lighting), I was in the Cafe Royal in Edinburgh with a friend. We were waiting for friend's sister to join us. A crowd came in through the revolving door, with Hugh MacKenzie among them. He saw me and waved, then headed through the early evening throng to shake my hand and have a chat. We had a drink (I paid) and after he went back to his group, my friend could not believe the charismatic man she had just met was my former headmaster.
It certainly went better than my previous meeting with Hugh in a pub. About 10 years previously, a fellow Craigie student and I decided to go for a drink. It was a warm early evening in May, so friend and I went to the Raeburn House Hotel in Edinburgh's Stockbridge. At the time, this was one of the very few licensed premises in the city where one could drink outside, in the back garden. What I didn't know at the time was that Stockbridge was a Craigie teachers' colony. There was a sudden influx of people into the garden, teachers all and the first was Hugh.
Just too late – friend and I had escaped through the hedge into the cricket field behind the hotel. The next day, our year group had a chat from Hugh, about under-age drinking and its attendant perils. True to his philosophy, no names mentioned and no pack drill. Job done.
That I speak fondly even now of school is down to Hugh and his talented teachers. When my sons went to secondary school in London, they attended Morpeth School in Tower Hamlets, one of London's more deprived boroughs. At the first parents' evening I met the head teacher, a charismatic Scot called Alasdair McDonald. He had a team of highly talented and committed young teachers. He had a strong educational philosophy. I felt sure my children would do well there. Craigie had been transplanted to the East End.
Is anyone else finding disturbing echoes of Orwell in the recent Cummings and Goings of this circus masquerading as semi-competent government? The whole farrago begins to remind me of Animal Farm
. Boris believes that his chief adviser acted 'responsibly, legally and with integrity'. He may have a point if you accept that the lockdown rules 'evolve' in the same way as the animals' Seven Commandments, which also mysteriously and subtly change to accommodate the behaviour of the pigs.
So, here in the real world, we have lockdown rules, which, according to latest guidance, cannot be broken 'without cause'. Little trips to the very scenic Barnard Castle (well worth a drive there if you are concerned about your ability to see safely enough to drive?!) are also perfectly acceptable and, therefore, not 'to excess'.
I'm therefore wondering whether Mr Cummings' rose garden audience is more akin to the 'strange incident' that occurred one moonlit night when a sudden noise brought the animals rushing outside. 'At the foot of the end wall of the big barn, where the Seven Commandments were written, there lay a ladder broken in two pieces. Squealer, temporarily stunned, was sprawling beside it, and near at hand there lay a lantern, a paintbrush, and an overturned pot of white paint.' Like the animals, we have been told there was another commandment that we 'had remembered wrong'.
I would say that you couldn't write this stuff, but Orwell has and others are following the script. And with the chaos of a Brexit trade deal about to resume, we should all remember what happened to the animals at the end of that particular fable.
There has only ever been one woman Vice President of the United States and that was Selina Meyer in Armando Iannucci's brilliant TV satire, Veep
. Joe Biden's announcement on CNN on 15 March that he intends to have a woman running mate on the ticket in November means a possible new series of Veep,
but this time acted out in real life. There are parallels here with the Labour Party choosing Keir Starmer and then Angela Raynor as Deputy.
Having a woman Labour Leader is long overdue but even the strongest advocates of that had to admit that the priority was replacing the leadership team associated with Corbyn and making Labour electable again. I would have preferred Elizabeth Warren to be the Democratic candidate but the priority is to get rid of Trump and Joe Biden is best placed to do that. Previously, two women have been US Vice Presidential candidates for the major parties. There was Geraldine Ferraro on the Democratic ticket in 1984, going down to defeat as Walter Mondale's Deputy. Then there was Republican Sarah Palin in 2008 – enough said.
We know how Biden has approached this in the past. In 2015, when he considered, then abandoned a run for President, he had talks with Elizabeth Warren, the Senator for Massachusetts, exploring the possibilities of a joint ticket. This time round, Biden has an impressive shortlist to choose from. David Weigel of the Washington Post
has set out the three tests Biden has to consider in selecting his running mate.
The excite-the-base test
Biden starts his Vice Presidential selection process with a lead in the polls. But he struggles with younger voters and Latino voters, who heavily supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries, and he was the nominee least trusted by many left-wing progressive groups. Weigel writes 'Biden performed best in the primaries with suburban whites and black voters of all kinds and has not run as strongly as Barack Obama did with the party's most liberal voters'. That's why frontrunners must be women like Senator Kamala Harris of California and Georgia's Stacey Abrams, and Senator Elizabeth Warren who is best placed to unite the left behind Biden.
The ready-to-serve test
When James Corden asked him about a running mate on The Late Late Show
, Biden said he wanted a woman 'capable of being President of the United States tomorrow'. If Biden wins in November, he will be the fifth Vice President in my lifetime to go on to become President, after Richard Nixon, Lyndon B Johnson, Gerald Ford and George H W Bush. Americans could be electing the next two Presidents when they vote in November.
The do-no-harm test
This is when it gets more complicated thanks to the vagaries of the US political system. Biden is under pressure to consider also the knock-on effect of picking a candidate whose election as Veep
would allow the Republicans to nominate a replacement or have a chance of winning any subsequent election to fill a vacancy.
Finally there is a wildcard that could still be played. A Pittsburgh TV station recently asked about Michelle Obama and Biden said he'd 'take her in a heartbeat', though the former First Lady consistently rules it out. Can Michelle Obama meet these three tests and help Biden over the line in November? 'Yes she can.' Will she? Probably not.
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