Biddy Magee

As I intimated earlier, my Primary 2 year is a blank in my memory, probably because it was fear-free.

Biddy Magee, the Primary 3 teacher was a different proposition.

Every West End man over the age of 60 now clearly remembers her little, long, dark-wooded punishment stick with the edge of which she would sometimes strike us children on the palms for the slightest transgression.

If she was feeling particularly vindictive she would aim for the tips of the fingers, especially on frosty mornings.  The stick was kept in a wooden cupboard out of the sight of parents, but the whole world knew of her reputation.

I have no memory of anything I learned there – but one particular memory is probably indicative of our restricted curriculum.

‘Reading Round the Class’ was a favourite of ALL the primary teachers.

On one particular morning, someone (another teacher, a secretary, caretaker – whatever) had come in and started an animated conversation with Biddy.

She, of course, wanted to demonstrate that in HER class, whatever the interruption, it was business as usual, so the ‘Reading Round the Class’ cycle continued.

Every now and again a new child’s name would be called and he/she would take over.


Having called out the name, Biddy resumed her far-more-important conversation.

I had been taking advantage of the welcome distraction to pester some of my closest neighbours in the classroom and so I didn’t know ‘the place’.

‘What page is it?’ I hissed in what I hoped was an undertone.

My recent victims were unlikely to help!


I squirmed. Recalling the last words I had half-heard I began to ‘read’ in a rush.

Fifty-five years later I remember it as if it was yesterday.

I ‘read’ the equivalent of three whole pages (all the while desperately seeking the words in the book) before I was interrupted by the teacher calling out another boy’s name. I had escaped!

One never associates rote learning with any Learn to Read method. Yet there was the evidence.

We clearly had repeated the same text endlessly to the point that I could ‘bark at print’ (or in my case, bark without print) any given three page passage from that year’s Reader without the teacher noticing anything amiss.

My classmates had proved uncooperative. It was not always so.

Sometimes in similar circumstances they would pretend to cooperate, just to throw you into even more hot water.

I had been wholly distracted again and was unaware of the question addressed to me. By the expectant hush I knew I was meant to answer some query.

‘What’s the answer?’ I hissed to the boy behind me.

‘She wants the Primary 4 teacher’s name, Sister Mac Cool Lata!’

Really she had enquired as to who was responsible for a mysterious pool of water in the corner of the room. Some one was going to be in trouble.

‘Sister Mac Cool Lata!’ I sang out eagerly.

The look of sheer horror on her face was matched only by the broad beams of mirth playing around the lips of the other children.

‘You’re telling me that the Holy Nun came into my room and wet in the corner?’ she roared in anger.

The mental image this conjured up caused even greater mirth among the other Primary 3 pupils.

I turned and looked daggers at the boy behind me.

His joy was complete!

But innocence radiated from his composed features.

 … more later …






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