Rebel

By Hannah Bateman

Margaret was a tall, dark, attractive girl. We became friends in the last year of primary school. She had a sense of adventure and a rebellious streak meaning she didn't always obey authority. Our teacher, Mrs Irvine, often produced the tawse and punished you, even for as little as not knowing an answer. I was intimidated by the belt and very seldom found myself in the humiliating position of standing in front of the class to be belted. But Margaret didn't give a toss if she was given the belt. She thought it was one huge joke.


I remember when Mrs Irvine left the class for ten minutes. She would warn us not to make a noise while she was gone and that even speaking to each other would be reason enough for her to get the belt out. Margaret always liked to stand out on the floor so she could ask the class a question. I always would answer. When Mrs Irvine returned somebody told her that I had been speaking. I then had to join the queue, alongside Margaret, to be belted.


One October Greenhill School was short of tattie howkers. The howkers were usually selected from the senior school but they made up the numbers by taking a handful of pupils from the highest primary class. When my mother heard this, she wrote a letter asking if I could be selected. So I joined the “Potato Pickers” with Margaret as my partner. I was petrified when the farmer came round in his tractor after the first stent. Suddenly he bellowed out: “Lift that bloody potato!” I immediately jumped into action to retrieve a huge potato we had missed. I had visions of being sent home without pay but Margaret just laughed and said we should report the farmer for swearing at us. She laughed so much she had to steady herself against a sack full of gathered potatoes, spilling the contents over on to the ground. I had to repack the potatoes and make sure our stent was clear before the tractor came round again. We finished the week without any further mishap and mother was delighted with my payment of 18 shillings and sixpence.


Margaret had a brand new red bicycle and she suggested I could meet her halfway at Dalnair Road end and we could go for a picnic in the countryside. She would cycle from her home in Seabegs and I, being bike-less, had to walk from my home in Allandale. I told my mother of our wild plan and she allowed me to go despite the hard frost on the ground.


I approached Dalnair and saw Margaret cycling towards me. She gave me a shot on her bike to climb the hill into the farmlands beyond. In hindsight I think she always rode downhill or on an even bit of the road – there was method in her madness! When we had reached a secluded patch fringed with trees, Margaret suggested we picnic there. I watched Margaret collecting a tea-can from her cycle bag at the back of her bike-seat. Passing me the can she told me to go down to a nearby hen farm and ask if the farmer would boil the water in the can. “Tell him we're Girl Guides camping over the hill.” Off I went, swinging my can, to tell the farmer my unlikely story. Despite his disbelief he made our tea and I walked back carefully to our picnic spot to enjoy my tea and some biscuits that Margaret had also brought.


The way home was easier going as it was all downhill but when we reached the last steep hill Margaret decided to give me a “backie”. My added weight made the bicycle fly down the steep slope. What if we couldn't take the sharp turn at the foot of the brae? I had wild thoughts of my being catapulted from the bike on to the busy railway. Luckily there was a short incline before we reached the railway wall and Margaret managed to control the bike and bring us to a halt just in time. I was a nervous wreck but Margaret quickly recovered and laughed at our narrow escape.


We parted ways at the end of that summer because Margaret was starting secondary school in Falkirk and I had big adventures waiting for me at Denny High!


I often wonder what became of my rebel pal. Almost fifty years later a mutual school friend told me she married a man from Bo'ness and on the eve of her wedding she left an out of character note for her astonished long-suffering mother bearing the words “thank you for the years you gave me”.


friendship, rebel pal, school rebellion