Sunday, 25 September 2011


When I was seven, my parents packed me off to Shuggie McDuff's Caledonian Academy for Pale Youths, widely known at the time as an expensive private boys' school and much favoured among gentlemen looking for a guaranteed source of expensive private boys. The school itself was a curious place - McDuff himself was the Laird of Annan but had fallen on hard times after ill-advised speculation in a company making steam-powered personal grooming devices. On setting up as a dominy, he had wanted the school building to bear his family crest of the Annan Eagle, but unfortunately gave the instruction verbally to a stonemason who was somewhat hard of hearing and so the school ended up with a bust of Anna Neagle, which in shame he shrouded with a cloth of McDuff tartan (except on founder's day, when it was the focus of a local variant on the Eton wall game, played with a well-oiled haggis by well-oiled masters).

The aim of the academy was to produce decent chaps, pure of unnecessary book-learning and inured to hardship, and thus ready to take up the White Man's Burden wherever it had been carelessly left lying around. The day commenced at 6am with a cross-country run and a swim in the frigid waters of Loch Enlode, followed by a breakfast of salty porridge. The rest of the syllabus consisted of outdoor team games, survival training, parade-ground drill, the history and geography of the Empire and shooting, and Oriental and African languages - a McDuff boy should be able to order pink gin, shout commands to a company of native troops and requisition daughters in fourteen different tongues; or fifteen, if you count English.

Bonds of friendship that would last a lifetime were forged at that school, except of course in the case of The Hon. Rufus "Sausage" Rolles, whom we cooked and ate during a particulary hard winter. Among fellow pupils who would feature in my later career were young Scott "Scottie" Scott, a boy with a mechanical bent of mind and an unhealthy interest in mauve daguerrotypes, and A.U. "Get Off" McLeod, who courted popularity by setting up an illicit still under his bed. Scott was later to join - and be dishonourably discharged from - the Royal African Engineers a record 17 times. McLeod - to everyone's surprise, including his own - joined the Church of Scotland by mistake and ended up as garrison chaplain in Tanjung Kot in the Federated Malay States.

When I was 13, the academy shut its doors for the final time after McDuff - a man long given to marinading himself from the inside with sherry - was found in his bed, gibbering softly, and having smothered himself with custard. A local doctor was summoned, who diagnosed him as "a trifle mad", shortly before being struck off by the British Medical Association's Punchline Committee.

Happy days.


  1. School, eh? Always had you down for a milksop, if you don't mind my saying, Marmo. Not as if the Scotch have anything to teach us about edjucation anyway.

    I was taught my books by a roomful of pandits, whom Pater chose for their novel wens and buboes. These we would lance - with lances - as an introduction to mammalian biology and first aid once the damned fakirs had imparted all the learning they could and grown too slow to be worth the shooting.

    As a result I'm fluent in Sanskrit and have long been a member of the Bengal Association of Unlicenced Apothecaries. This has seen me in good stead through decades of service to King-Emperor and Country in three world wars, one of them on my own.

    Hope you kept your own brood in England for their schooling, old man. Their intent on rowing their away in their own cromlechs or whatever up there nowadays, like the bally Welch.


  2. Think you'll find, Dacca, that the things rowed across - or more usually to the bottom of - lochs were brochs rather than cromlechs. They were at McDuffs, anyway.

  3. Hollowed-out badgers?! What serves as as Scotchman's boat graces the dinner table of only the most well-appointed Welchman!