Speakers’ Corner – The Two-Bit Token

‘You’re just another back of the bus boy,’ my old housemaster, Mr Porteous, would say, admonishing me for yet another misdemeanour.  Of course, he was right. I’d position myself at the back of the bus on any trip to and from school and on rugby trips.  That’s where the action was, and unbelievably, I liked to have a smoke.  For me, that was a teenage craze which thankfully lost its appeal.  I think it’s fair to say that I tested the disciplinary imagination of my school.  Perhaps they saw something in me or were just forgiving.  But with the passage of time, it’s fair to say they might have been correct, as I settled down to study and develop a business career.  Mind you, following rules and being conservative with lifestyle choices is not what many of my old schoolmates might have thought was the direction I was heading.

            ‘Come on,’ said Simon, with the chiselled film star looks depressingly still in evidence after 43 years, ‘it’s just a little fence.’

            ‘I’ll never get over that wall,’ said Dood, our old rugby captain, holding his arthritic knee and limping as if a sniper had hit him.

            ‘I can’t believe it, Simon, suggesting we break into Stewart’s Melville College for its 50th celebrations.  In the old days, I’d shimmy the school walls to escape lessons,’ I laughed. 

We were late for the dinner because we had been talking too much at the bar and we missed our taxi. Therefore, we took a 41 bus from Randolph Place; Dood and I, using our over sixty bus cards, skipped on free, and Simon, a resident in London these days, had to pay.   This just added to our walk down memory lane.  We disembarked on Queensferry Road and faced the huge wrought iron gates firmly closed with chains. Then, that’s when that troublemaker Simon suggested we housebreak, by scaling the wall and fence. 

Somewhere in the school CCTV database, there is footage of three old codgers scrambling over the wall.  Simon had to help a disabled Dood over, and I hovered, panicking that I would arrive at the dinner with mud all over my suit or, worse still, ripped trousers.   Nonetheless, the sense of achievement once we were on ‘terra firma’, was like when we won the Goldenacre sevens in 1980.  We high-fived as we walked up the driveway past the war memorial and the parapets where Dood and Simon played a form of wall tennis ball at breaks.  I was usually ensconced behind a large tree at the back of the science lab smoking a fag.  As I said, how things change. We made our late entrance to the event, and I nervously scanned the nearby staff room, where Mr Porteus would require me to report early if I was ever late for registration.  Yes, you guessed, I spent more time reporting to school at 8.30 than I did at 8.50.  The result, I’m never late for appointments, and who said that school doesn’t give important life lessons?  

            The dinner and the speeches were excellent, and if there was a disappointment, it was that there wasn’t more old teachers and school friends in attendance.  Any apprehensions I had before I met my old classmates evaporated from the first words spoken.  I was taken aback how we reverted to friendships from 1980.  The company was superb, and the banter was good after all these years.  Sure, most of us were heavier, balder, greyer than then, but in essence, none of us had changed that much.  Success had come to all, in their own and different ways, we just had a lot of catching up to do.

            I thought that my health issues would have been the exception to the rule.  But some have had far worse health crisis.  Hearing the tales of friends who are battling MS, have had stents implanted, artificial knee and hip replacements, was revealing.   Alas, some are no longer with us.  Perhaps, the proximity to mortality allowed us to have some deep conversations about the meaning of life, and the importance of happiness here and now.  Regardless, it didn’t stop us partying, and most of us ended up in the Ratpack at the west end until the wee small hours.  Yet, all were on time for our Brunch on the Sunday in Ryan’s Bar.  Mr Porteous would have been proud of all our timekeeping. 

            The old rivalry between the two schools, Daniel Stewart’s College and Melville College did rear its head.   

‘Of course, we had to let one Stewarty in the rugby team,’ announced Dood laughing,’ you were always the token Stewarty.’

‘Look guys,’ I replied with the bravado of Muhamad Ali, ‘I carried you Mellies.  If it wasn’t for me, you would have lost matches!’

‘The ‘token’,’ said Simon.

‘A Two bit one at that!’ smiled Dood.

So, after forty-three years since I left the school, I’d finally been given a nickname, the ‘Two-bit Token’.

The truth was that I was lucky enough to play with wonderful Mellies, athletes that were not only a class above others in Edinburgh but Scotland.  David Thomson, a brilliant cricket allrounder, basketballer, any sport really, and a professional golfer.  Julian Scott, another brilliant sportsman, and Scottish Schools Captain and full Scotland rugby international, and Simon Frame, another Scottish Schools rugby player, and champion swimmer.

I really don’t mind being a ‘two-bit token’ amongst these guys – it’s quite an accolade.