A Memory of my Last Day at Watson’s, July 1961
My last day at Watson’s in July 1961 began in an unexpected and unusual way. It was unexpected because Meadows Boarding House was not in the habit of receiving telephone calls well before breakfast from the School Janitor, Bill. It was unusual because of the nature of his request. Would the House please send four, sixth year boys to tidy-up the Galleon above the main entrance to the School.
During the night, some miscreants had ‘decorated’ the ship with planks of wood and other bits and pieces. It was probably an inside job because getting out onto the roof would have required a plan of the building. This being Prize-Giving Day, with distinguished guests from the Merchant Company attending the ceremony, there would be considerable embarrassment for the School were the ‘decorations’ to remain in place.
The task facing the ‘cleaners’ is clear from the photograph that I took that morning. Unfortunately, I did not take a posed photograph of the clean-up crew which, with hindsight, was an oversight. Instead, the photograph is of the crew at work. The cleaners from right to left, from memory, were Lindsay Sawyer, George Pearson (School Captain) and Ian Fraser. My apologies to anyone whom I have misidentified. After careful removal of the various items of debris and without damage to the ship, we made it back at the Boarding House in time for breakfast.
Looking at the photograph from the perspective of 2020, it is very noticeable that we used no health and safety equipment. There are no hard hats, safety goggles and, especially, no safety harness. Viewed from the increasingly distant past of 1961, we were just getting the job done with a minimum of fuss and with no mishaps. I don’t think it entered our minds that what we were doing was dangerous; it was all a bit of an end-of-school adventure.
I would have forgotten this incident had it not been for the invitation to contribute to the WatsoniansLinked initiative. Leaving school on that day marked the end of a chapter. The chapters that followed included studying at Aberdeen University, getting married in 1966 to Eileen, a mathematics graduate of the University, gaining a PhD at Cornell University in 1970, and returning to a lecturing position at Aberdeen. Two sons were born during this period in Aberdeen, one is now the CEO of a law firm in Melbourne and the other is Director of an ICU at the National University Hospital in Singapore. Each has provided us with three grandchildren. Another, and very different, chapter opened in 1988 when I took up a position at the University of Melbourne. I retired from full-time work there in 2012 and retired completely in December last year from the position of Honorary Professorial Fellow in the Department of Economics, thus closing the chapter on my academic career. This closure has allowed the opening of a new chapter, one in which Eileen and I are now able to enjoy retirement and to travel. Over the past decade we have spent some very enjoyable weeks in Scotland. On one visit we enjoyed a guided tour of the School and found that there have been so many changes made since that dramatic morning in July 1961.
It would be interesting to hear from those in the photograph and to learn what they have been doing during the intervening six decades.
Donald MacLaren, (Class of 1961)
(Secretary, Victorian Branch of the Watsonian Club 2016 - )