An Inconvenient Thinker?

I’ve been called most things in my career but a new one came my way last week when I was described as an “inconvenient thinker”. 

Not sure if was meant to be an insult or a compliment?

On reflection I’m probably quite chuffed that someone took the trouble to come up with such an inventive epithet……………………..I think.

It reminded me of the time when David Cameron (no not that one) called me a “radical traditionalist” – now that really did confuse me.

Coldingham: surf’s up

Popped down to St Abbs for lunch today (Saturday).  Temperature wasn’t much above 1 degree C.  An army of surfers were enjoying the waves at Coldingham beach – looked great fun but boy was it cold!

St Abbs is a beautiful place at the best of times but it took my breath way this morning.

On yer bike!

Over the last few weeks I’ve been keeping myself fit/sane by taking up cycling.  The last time I had a racing bike I was 14 – so it wasn’t yesterday.

 I was prompted to take it up again after my visit to Provence and seeing so many people of all ages out on the roads. It’s been great fun getting out on the bike at weekends.

Next goal – cycling up Mont Ventoux.  Now that really would be an achievement!

Mont Ventoux

Barrie Ledingham 1930 – 2009

Mum by you.

We held a wonderful thanksgiving service today for my mother Barrie Ledingham who died on the 8th February 2009. I gave this eulogy.

Barrie was named after her father’s favourite writer J. M Barrie who wrote Peter Pan, sometimes known as “The boy who never grew up”.

In a peculiar way mum lived up to her namesake’s central character, as she always managed to maintain a wide eyed wonder of the world and saw it afresh every day. It was this innocence and openness that made her such an attractive character and one who made lifetime friends with such remarkable frequency.

Her character was undoubtedly shaped by her experiences in Malaya before the war. Living an isolated and colonial existence on a rubber plantation deep in the Cameron Highlands she depended upon her lively imagination to create friends and play worlds. Her parents were both in their forties when she was born yet she cherished this time with them both and the enforced separation from them when she returned to Scotland was only endured through her capacity to always see the best.

When Singapore fell and her father was taken prisoner the family went two years without knowing if he was alive. Barrie worshipped her father and used to tell the story of of him eventually returning to Scotland and getting off the train – 8 years after she had last seen him and 8 stones lighter.

Mum’s personality which could best be described as fun loving, warm and exceptionally generous. These qualities were underpinned by her less obvious, but no less strong, gifts of an incredible inner fortitude, a sense of duty. and self sacrifice to others needs.

Her early life both abroad and in Scotland followed by qualifying as a midwife, her achieving rank of Lieutenant in Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps, her time in Germany all prepared her for her her greatest achievement.

Mum and dad had fallen in love at first sight in Alford, Aberdeenshire. That love had endured and grown throughout their training and separation due to national service, through to their marriage in 1957.

And so they were ready for their ultimate challenge – something that both of them had unknowingly been working towards throughout their lives up to that point. When they bought 26 Duddingston Crescent, Edinburgh and dad put his plate up on the wall it needed two exceptional people to make it a success – and a success it was. In a time now when doctor’s practices are governed by strict working hours and appointment systems – we were brought up in an environment where duty and service to the community came first, last and always.

Mum’s inner strength and ability to sacrifice her own needs ensured that the community and her family were well served – all done with an amazing sense of fun. Yet for all the hard work that this was mum could still look back on this time as one of the happiest in her life.

As a mother mum sacrificed her own needs. She always attended everyone’s parents’ evenings,watched us play rugby and hockey. She was our greatest supporter – regardless of how poor we might have been. I think I speak on behalf of all of us when I say we owe her so much. Yet it wasn’t all plain sailing. If you can imagine her trying to keep three teenage boys in line – never mind a wayward daughter brought it’s own difficulties. One day over dinner she was berating all of us with equal venom – when my brothers and I decided we’d had enough. So we picked her up and sat her on top of our old style American fridge. There she sat helplessly shouting at us as we went about eating our tea.

Yet mum was no softy when direct action was required. As a sneak thief learned one day to his cost when he tried to creep through an open window. Mum – at that time in her 60’s – took immediate action and grabbed him by the leg. So there they were, a stalemate – with him half way out the window and wee old woman determinedly attached to his leg. He shouted and swore but he really should have known better – mum’s never let go of anything in her life. Eventually he wriggled free leaving behind his shoe – which mum kept as memento of her struggle

To have the security provided by mum and dad was a fantastic. They were a truly remarkable pair who depended upon each other fulfil their own dreams and ambitions. Yet on dad’s death mum set about making her own life. She always saw everyone else’s problem as being so much greater than her own. In fact she always talked about how lucky she was – when in so many cases – particularly about her own health – she was so unlucky. But that was mum for you. Her sense of duty saw her go out to complete her voluntary service work at times when she should have stayed at home.

As a grandmother and mother-in-law she extended her family and embraced everyone as an individual. There were no favourites in mother’s heart – there was more than enough space for everyone.

Yet it was her capacity to make instant positive contact with people that probably marked her out so much. There was something about her that people warmed to. Perhaps it was because she had an aura of honesty – she didn’t know how to tell a lie? Perhaps it was because she always expressed such interest in other people’s lives and didn’t start every sentence about herself? Of perhaps it was because she had retained her child like love of the world.? Not for her any world weary cynicism or natural distrust. Perhaps her father did provide her with her greatest legacy when he named after the creator of Peter Pan? For she only ever saw the world through the eye’s of an optimist – someone for whom things would always get better. Even in her darkest days – she only saw the light.




Surfing down under

Lewi – our youngest boy – is settling into life in Christchurch, New Zealand.  He sent me this photo of him posing in his surfing gear (he’s on the right). The hospitality and welcome he has received from the local people has been amazing.

It’s only been two weeks but I can already see him benefiting from the experience.  He certainly wasn’t ready to go to university straight from school.

I am becoming more and more convinced that young people need some space between school and higher education.  What happens in that space is a matter of personal choice but I think schools need to take a more active role in promoting that option.


New Zealand – an ambition fulfilled

P1020749 by you.

Ever since our youngest son Lewis was ten years old he’s been telling people that he would go out New Zealand to play rugby when he left school.

In the intervening eight years we’ve humoured him with the good old Scottish double positive “aye right”.

Well the boy has proved us all wrong as he sets out for eight months in Christchurch, NZ at the end of this month to work and play rugby with Christchurch Old Boys. Following on from his brother’s example he’s organised the entire thing himself and the hospitality and support shown by the people out there has been nothing short of remarkable.

I suppose we shouldn’t really be surprised as he has an amazing ability to focus on his goals.  If his experience is as successful as his brother’s then my support for gap years – particularly for boys – will be stronger than ever.

We’re really going to miss him but I’m hoping that we can get out there next summer.  Anybody looking for a speaker on Scottish education?

Taking off into the unknown…..

Our eldest  boy (he’s the one launching himself into the darkness!!) returned from Australia on Friday.  I know this sounds like a terrible cliche but he did leave as a boy and has returned a man.

I’m now more convinced than ever of the value of a gap year experience – or at least something before university life – especially for boys.  His brother has followed his lead and deferred entry until 2009.

The warning sign to the right of the picture was not lost on his mother.  But sometimes they just need to do their own thing…. 

Aussie Rules!!


Our son – Doug – is currently out in Australia playing rugby and generally having a tremendous time (I’m not really envious!). In the past week he’s been staying with Mark Walker’s  family in Melbourne.

I met Mark out in Harvard last summer and we struck up a great rapport.  He’s doing some very innovative work at Elsterwick Primary School where he is living out his professional life a reflective professional dedicated to improving the quality of learning and teaching in his school – whilst still retaining his innate sense of fun.

I enjoy reading Mark’s blog and realising that the challenges we face in Scotland are not as unique as we might think. I can’t really thank Mark and his family enough for showing such exceptional hospitality to our son.   

Perhaps Doug summed it up in one of his texts home when he said “They are great people”.

Rugby in paradise

 Our eldest son is out in Australia playing rugby for Nelson Bay – which is just North of Sydney – and is having a great time.  

He has received an incredible welcome and Nelson Bay seems to be a beautiful place.

We are sorely tempted to try to get out to visit him during the summer but it might cramp his style.