It is a truth universally
acknowledged that there is nothing so boring as other people’s school stories. However, my purpose here is enumeration
rather than entertainment and so I make no apology for documenting a second notable pipe smoker at my alma mater in addition
to “Big Ted” (the subject of a previous posting).
The pipe smoker in question
here fulfils all the stereotypical characteristics of the breed: broad shoulders, muscular tattooed forearms indicating possible
former employment in the merchant marine, a rich deep basso profundo voice, a manly dark stubble on the chin, and a massive
calabash pipe stuffed with dark shag. You will not be surprised therefore to hear that Miss Sanderson was the girls’
Her constant companion amongst
the staff was Miss Golightly the domestic science teacher, a tall thin woman devoted to the culinary skills of Auguste Escoffier
whose admonishments to the girls that “Cooking isn’t all mince and tatties !” and “Suet in the hands
indicates suet in the brains !” had passed into local common parlance. On occasions she even brought in caviar for the
girls – a fabled commodity almost impossible to source in Glasgow.
It was well-known that the
Misses Sanderson and Golightly lived together in a bungalow in Govan where they often entertained officers from the nearby
Wren’s (Women’s Royal Naval Service) base, but in those far off innocent days our schoolboy naivety didn’t
allow us to see the full implications of this - we thought simply that the two spinsters were enjoying steamy Sapphic sexual
encounters over Miss Golightly’s Coq Au Vin. The truth was somewhat more sinister than this.
One day in late
1954 (at the height of the Cold War) the local paper revealed the shocking news that the two spinsters had been arrested for
passing military secrets “and other classified data” gleaned from the Wrens to the East Germans. Oddly, it reported
that amongst the data transmitted was the entire bus timetable for Largs, which presumably in the case of a full-blown invasion
by Russia would be of little use (as indeed it was during peace time).
It seems the finger of suspicion
was first pointed at the duo when an examiner for the Scottish Higher Domestic Science exam noticed that in answer to the
question “How would one make apple pie ?” one entrant from our school had written “Apple pie, that archetypical
symbol of the running dogs of capitalism who run the so-called United States of America should be made, if at all, by purchasing
five pounds of apples from the local collective farm …” and so on in similar vein.
They were eventually
sentenced to 10 years in prison, starting at Barlinnie Women’s Correctional Facility from whence they were quickly moved
“because they were enjoying it too much” my father claimed. Later it was rumoured they were swapped with British
spies held behind the Iron Curtain.
It would be a pleasing end
to this story to say that the next time we heard of Miss Sanderson was when she won the women’s shot put event at East
German Olympic Trials but sadly I can’t claim this. In fact she came fourth.