Go to Chapters ...
A Room with a View
The Face of an Angel
An Inconvenient Truth
Man of the People
One for the Ladies
The Grapes

Art is often a rich man's pleasure.
The working classes rarely have the leisure or money.
That does not mean that the poor lack an appreciation of beauty.
Forget the mansions of the mighty,
or the salons of the rich.


A Room With a View

Up till now, I've written about the staff, and students, of the Lower Methil Annexe of East Fife Technical College. Their achievements and their failures. True, I have concentrated on the 'characters', and neglected the hard working, competent, and successful few who went on to greater things. It is a sad fact that history tends to record the great and mighty (especially if they can pay for their own personal historian), the villains, or the stunningly incompetent failures. The people who make the world work, are only extras on the stage.

On that note, let me introduce you to one of the all-time great Annexians. Not a teacher nor a student. Not one of the supporting staff. But someone who played a seminal part in the foundation of the Annexe. I give you ...
Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson - Architect, Artist, and Master of the Cinema.
The man who designed the building that was Methil Mining College - later to become the Lower Methil Annexe of East Fife Technical College. A brilliant blend of of Scottish Baronial on the outside, with Hollywood-tinged Art Nouveau on the inside. If there had been the opportunity to furnish the College with red plush seats, as befitting its cinematographic allusions, then I am certain that Randolph Simpson would have provided them.
As it turned out, his sponsors - the local Coalmining Magnates - insisted on something more proletariat. And cheaper ...

When I first started as a Laboratory Technician at the Lower Methil Annexe, I was only vaguely aware of Randolph Simpson. I did know that he was the architect who drew up the plans for the building, and that he was mildly famous as a designer of picture houses. By the time that I became a regular film goer, all the local picture houses were on a slow, relentless descent into oblivion. Television was the coming 'thing', and the cinema (a term we knew, but never used - it was always 'the pictures') was fading.
Years of neglect, erratic maintenance, and a quick fix of neon lighting had obscured the art of the designer and cheapened the decor. The red plush was moth-eaten, the audiences reputedly flea-bitten, and sales of choc ices, tubs of vanilla ice-cream and Kia-Ora slumped, year by year.

Oddly enough, the best preserved work of Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson, was the Lower Methil Annexe. Over the years, the other fruits of his architectural genius fell from the tree, and lay, neglected and forgotten.
The Annexe was spared any modernisation, expansion or drastic re-novation. Not through any intent to save this work of art, but through the financial decision from the main college in Kirkcaldy, that a decennial application of paint (where absolutely necessary) would suffice. Good enough for Oberammergau, good enough for Methil, but never good enough for royalty or visiting VIPs. If Lower Methil ever featured on their maps, it would only have been as a place to avoid.
A certain Royal Consort did visit the town, many years ago. His comments on Methil became part of the Methil legend. 'Rusting','Dirty' and 'Dump' being a fair summation. He was only there to stock up on coal ... and there was a war on!

I remember the first time that I entered the Annexe. A smooth cement ramp, embedded with shiny pea-gravel, focussed my attention on the entrance. Two full-width steps led up to the varnished oak doors, liberally adorned with gleaming brass push-plates and long, elegant handles.
Not one door, not two, but four doors allowed me the opportunity to enter. Through the diamond-edge glazing on the doors, I caught a tantalising glimpse of the promise awaiting inside. The powerful sprung hinges held me back momentarily, told me that this was an occasion, then graciously allowed me entry.
The foyer was floored with what had been the finest inlaid linoleum from Barry, Ostler and Shepherd of Kirkcaldy. A little battered and slightly worn, it may have been, but it still proclaimed 'Quality' after many years of hard service. A 'carpet' of red linoleum, bordered with a gold geometric border, led straight to the College Registrar's office. Vistors would experience Rico Napier (and his cigarette) as the First Contact with the Lower Methil Annexe. Those who strayed from the straight and narrow, as pertaining to the College Rules, would also find themselves at Rico Napier's door.
Above Rico's door, the intricate scrolls and flourishes of the coving, culminated in a graceful plaster Angel. Wings outspread, flowing hair, and naked. Not, I must state, in any way obscene or of dubious pose, but kneeling, demure and innocent, before the flock of students. It was a work of art and a wonder. In one of Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson's many picture houses, it would have been a statement of style. In the Lower Methil Annexe, it was a momentary distraction for the new student, the cause of the occasional ribald joke, then forgotten in the press of greater concerns.
The students called the Angel 'Betty'. None could explain why. It was a name that passed from generation to generation, its origin lost, only a tradition. A minor mystery.

Turning to the right, would lead you to the Student's Common Room and Gentleman's Toilets. Regardless of the inapt name, the Students made use of the convenient facilities offered. A corridor between the two led to the Motor Vehicle Department.
To the left, you would find the Staffroom, and a strangely large storeroom. A corridor between the two led to the General Teaching rooms. The sense of symmetry was preserved.
To the right, and also to the left, majestic staircases ascended to the upper levels of College. To the Radio, TV and Electronics Department. The staircases combined to form a mezzanine area, with entrance to the upstairs classrooms. To the right was a door to the Colour TV room. To the left was the Laboratory Technician's Room. My place of work, and my second home for many years.
From my doorway, I could look down on the foyer and the front doors. Watching the student throng come and go, provided much insight - and entertainment - during my College years. I studied Electronics, and people, and anything else of interest. With no official teaching duties, and as long as I kept ahead on any required projects or support to the teaching staff, I was free to investigate any other matters that arose from the workings of a busy College.

One quiet day, well ahead on my work schedule and slightly bored, I decided to investigate that strangely large storeroom.
I could have enlisted the aid of a couple of students to help clear years of clutter and piles of abandoned obsolescence, but there was no pressing need to clear the storeroom, I was bored, and industrial archeology can be quite fascinating. I knew that my presence would not be required until night school, that night, and I had equipped myself for the task to come: two pies from Lightbody's Bakery, a bottle of Barr's excellent Pineappleade, and a full pack of cigarettes.
Onward to beautiful things!

The first priority, of course, was to light up a cigarette and contemplate the task. Then, flick the switch, and check that the light worked.
Light OK. Check. Ventilation OK - there was a draught from somewhere. Check. Pull a somewhat bedraggled chair from the junk that filled most of the room from floor to ceiling. Close storeroom door from inside. Sit down. Comfy. Check.
Cigarette in hand, air slowly turning blue, I scanned the room, looking for a place to start.

I found a place immediately. Jammed in against the wall, partially obscured by an old Singer sewing machine and a one-legged cine projector screen, I could see a sign. When on a quest, always look out for signs! It was black, with raised gold lettering. I popped off my comfy perch, crossed over to the sign, and pulled it out to read the writing.
It was heavy! Black laquered, the raised lettering was brass - not gold - and a coat of clear varnish had protected the brass from verdigris. I turned the sign to the light, and easily read the single word cast on the sign.
That was it. Nothing else, apart from four countersunk screwholes.
Now, why on earth would there be a sign saying "LADIES". This was the Annexe, formerly the Methil Mining College, and the last place that I would have expected to see a sign like this. Coal mining is an exclusively male profession - women are forbidden, by law, to work underground - and though we were well into the second half of the 20th Century, we had yet to see a female apprentice or Radio & TV engineer. The main college in Kirkcaldy had women, but we had none of the courses that would attract female interest. Perhaps one day ...
... but not then.

And yet, a dawning realisation. The countersunk screwholes. I started to wonder ...
I was in a large storeroom with a light, and a door handle on the inside. Not your average broom cupboard. If this sign meant what I think it did, then there should be ...
I opened the storeroom door, releasing some of the accumulating blue fug, out into the foyer. I stepped outside, still clutching the brass sign. A close inspection of the outside of the door, confirmed my new-found theory. Under the layers of varnish (only four since 1928), I could easily discern four screw holes in the door. A perfect match for the sign. I could even make out the outline of a rectangle on the door. At face height. Again, a perfect match.
There was one more piece of corroborating evidence available. I strode across the foyer, passed under the Angel, and looked at the door marked 'GENTLEMEN'. I had crossed that threshold on inumerable occasions, yet never looked closely at the sign.
Under the same four layers of varnish, heedless of the original artistic merit, the sign for 'GENTLEMEN' was obviously a metal casting, with raised letters. The style was the same as the sign in my hand. There was no doubt in my mind. If I was to chip off the brown varnish overcoat with my pocket screwdriver, I would see that the sign was black laquered, with raised brass lettering. I left the 'LADIES' for a moment, and addressed the 'GENTLEMEN'.
Chip! Chip! Scrape! The gleam of brass revealed against the contrasting black laquer. All confirmed. I had just spent the last ten minutes, sitting in the Ladies' toilets, smoking a cigarette. Luckily, I was the only one who knew. I picked up the 'LADIES' sign, tucked it under my arm, and retired to the storeroom to smoke another cigarette, and contemplate the works of Randoph 'Hughie' Simpson.

All I could think of at the time was this ...
As a designer of predominantly Picture Houses, Randolph Simpson had automatically placed the Ladies' Powder Room on the left, and the Gents on the right. Like every other picture house I had ever visited. Unfortunately, having such a facility in the Methil Mining College would have been as useful as the goalkeeper with the local football team - necessary, by the formal rules, but utterly useless in practice, as their Second Division placing indicated.
I could well see the Mining Industry Committee for Education contemplate the surprise feature in their new College.
Of M.I.C.E. and MEN - Yes! For Ladies - No! Take down the sign and make it a storeroom.

I was well pleased with myself. Fifteen minutes into the game and I had solved a mystery. A minor one, perhaps, but still a mystery.
I really had no idea. I had barely scratched the varnish off the surface. Of signs and portents, this had only been the first. There were many more to come ...

With an expert eye (only recently self-promoted), I sat on my bedraggled chair, and scrutinized the dusty stacks of unwanted items. Objects not worth keeping around, but too precious to leave out for the bucket men.
A roll of linoleum, red, presumably retained to provide repair material for the foyer, but never used due to the everlasting qualities of the original.
A stuffed bird in a glass case. No idea! Possibly from the reign of a previous Registrar?
An ancient pair of football boots. The ones with studs formed from layers of leather. Nailed to the soles of the boots, and as the leather wore down, inexorably nailed to the soles of the foot. Painful memories of school sports.
A wall Atlas. Unrolled, it revealed a world before the Winds of Change blew through Africa. Two thirds of the world was red.

Item after item ...
Some beautiful. Works of craftsmanship.
I found some small, flat leather-bound boxes. As each was opened, a treasure was revealed. Mining anemometers, snugly fitted into green felt-covered compartments. Six inch machined brass rings, coated with an oil-black matte, enclosing alumininium vanes mounted on slim brass spines. The vanes rotated at the slightest hint of breath. In the centre, a cluster of dials measuring air-flow in feet. I held each up and blew as vigorously as my tobacco breath allowed. As the blue air streamed past, the fans whirred away, and the dials measured the flow of my breath. I would consider it an honour if my final breath was captured by such a beautiful object.
I was tempted to 'acquire' these anemometers, not for their value, but for their precision and quality of craft. I regret to say that I never did.
Once uncovered, they were destined for the Pawn Shop and a wee drink for the Jannie.

Other discoveries were lower on the treasure hoard scale ...
A half-full bag of cat litter. The cat had vanished long since, looking for better prospects.
A bicycle frame. Complete with handlebars but missing seat and wheels. The securing chain wrapped around the rear forks, showed obvious signs of bolt-cutting activity.
A pair of bolt cutters. Used.
A set of three brown-glazed bowls. Originally intended for breakfast porridge. Now doing duty as stand-by ashtrays. Neither emptied nor cleaned since last use.

Surely there must be something more than low grade scrap and forgotten Mining equipment? I stubbed out my cigarette in one of the porridge bowls, and started to delve into the deeper layers ...
It soon became evident that my exertions could result in myself becoming another forgotten item in a strangely large storeroom. Moving the front junk around, began to block the doorway and generate disturbing creaks and grumbles in the increasingly unstable contents of the room. An avalanche seemed likely.

I needed help ...

The Face of An Angel

Further exploration of the Room (now spoken in my thoughts with a capital letter) would require two things. First, some willing labourers to do the heavy lifting, and second, some means of disposing of the ample quantities of rubbish that the Room contained.
The first part was easy. I press-ganged the first two students that ventured out from the 'Gentlemen' room. Felt rather appropriate, somehow. I knew the pair of them quite well.
Campbell Too Hot Hutcheson. Now there was person of vast experience when it came to disposing of 'unwanted' items.
And his hulking lieutenant, Peter Podge Cunningham. Another definition of vast. Once rumoured to have stolen a Triumph Bonneville motorbike by the simple expedient of carrying it home from Kirkcaldy. To Leven. Over ten miles. Completely out of petrol, and unable to persuade the gearbox to find neutral, thus unable to push it, he had carried it in those gorilla-like arms, all the way along the coast road. He had attempted to board the Leven bus in Coaltown of Wemyss, but the conductress had refused to have a motorbike in the luggage rack. Understandable.
An apprentice 'fence' and a human(?) bulldozer. Perfect!

I explained the situation to Hutcheson and Cunningham.
"I want the junk in this room disposed off."
I could see the protests forming.
"Exactly how you achieve this, doesn't matter."
Little lights came on in Campbell Hutcheson's eyes.
"But before you start ..."
The lights flickered. "You only shift what I tell you."
A frown.
I opened the storeroom door. Too Hot Hutcheson gave the interior a sharp 'once over'.
"Diz that include they bolt cutters?"
Podge opened up for the first time.
"Can ah have that bike?"
I nodded.
Hutcheson casually picked up the leather bound boxes.
"What's in them, then?"
Before he could flip open the catches, I retrieved them from his grasp.
"They're mine. You only shift what I say."
"Aw Surr! You're a bigger crook than I am!"
Hutcheson's conspiratorial leer was a joy to behold. He should have been in pantomime, giving children the opportunity to heckle the outrageous villain of the piece.
"No denying it, Hutcheson. And I know where the bodies are buried."
A jest, of course.
Was that a flicker of fear, of guilt, in Hutcheson's eyes? Was it my imagination, or should I watch Too Hot Hutcheson more closely in future?
Podge Cunningham brought us back to earth.
"Yiz did say that ah can h've the bike, Surr?"
What was it with Cunningham and bicycles?
"Yes. As long as you pair do as I say."
With the weight of Podge on my side, Too Hot Hutcheson was under my command.
"Right! this is what I want shifted ..."

The second part of the disposal plan, would naturally follow. Anything that Too Hot Hutcheson and Podge Cunningham didn't steal outright, would be stacked up in the yard around the rear of the Annexe. Such enticing and irresistable bait would attract the Jannie, and all would disappear faster than spit on a pot-bellied stove.

I'll give the two of them, credit. Within five minutes of starting the clearout, Hutcheson had his van parked at the rear of the Annexe, and Cunningham was shifting the junk at a prodigeous rate. I checked each item carefully, before it was swept up into those massive arms. After all, it was Too Hot Hutcheson and his 'Enforcer' with whom I was dealing. 'Nothing too hot nor too heavy' being their personal creed. I didn't worry overmuch. As long as they were making on the deal, they would not cause problems.
Anything that could not be classified immediately as worthless (in my opinion) was put to the one side. That amounted to the leather-bound cases and a few cardboard boxes. Judging by the contented smile on Podge Cunningham's face, his value set was much lower than mine. He even found another bicycle. Too Hot Hutcheson had the bolt cutters - the desirable gift for men in his occupation - and a stack of dubious magazines, confiscated from the students over the years. After a quick glance, he was welcome to them. Many were a foreign language, but I'm sure that he could manage with the pictures.

I sensed a figure quietly slipping around the edge of the room. Furtively heading in towards the door. Podge had been left to do the heavy lifting. Anything that Too Hot Hutcheson was carrying - well, that had to be valuable.
"Hutcheson! Whatever you've got, leave it! It stays!"
He was carrying a red leather covered box. Hutcheson's idea of 'casual' lay somewhere to the left of Captain Hook in a pantomime.
"Aw Surr! You said tae tak the junk awa! It wiz there, in the rubbish. Ah wiz just tryin to get rid of it."
"Not that case, Hutcheson. Just put it down here."
With a closer look, I could see that the red box was some kind of case. The top was hinged, held closed by two metal clasps. There was a pull-down flap at the front. Under the black handle, I could see the strangest of keyholes.
No! Not a keyhole, more like a place where you could insert some kind of shaft. Like a winding key for a clockwork toy. Beneath the handle, there was another flap, held closed by press studs.
Huthcheson turned away from the box with a sigh.
"Aw Surr! There's nothin gaun tae get by you, is there?"
"Believe it, Mister Hutcheson, believe it."
With nothing else to acquire, Hutcheson slipped out of the room. No gain - no exertion. For the moment, I placed the case on the floor. It could wait. There was work to do.

Soon, I had a storeroom that contained a delapidated chair, some small leather-bound cases, one large leather-bound case, some cardboard boxes ... and me.
I thanked Hutcheson and Cunningham for their efforts, and they left. From the gleeful looks, and the backward glances, I was sure that they felt 'one-up' on some simpleton. Namely me.
The pair stopped.
"Iz there a problem, Surr?"
Hutcheson's innocent appearance really needed some work. It still felt like Panto time.
"The sign, Cunningham!"
"What sign would that be Surr?"
Cunningham had lesser talents when it came to larceny. He blushed.
"The brass sign that you've got stuffed inside your jacket."
"But Surr ..."
"But nothing. Hutcheson! Tell Cunningham to bring it back."
At a reluctant nod from Hutcheson, the Ambling Alp pulled the 'LADIES' sign from out of his jacket, and handed it back.
"You must have X-Ray vision, Surr. Spottin that in there."
" No! Just the square bulge in your jacket that spelled out 'LADIES'. Just the bulge, Podge
"Izzat right! Still amazin e'en you got there Surr."
I hoped that Hutcheson took good care of his sidekick, in the years to come. A solo career in crime for 'Podge' Cunningham looked like it would be a very short one.

As I watched Methil's answer to Fagin and Bill Sykes vanish to cash in on the well-gotten gains, I thought it might be best to check on 'Pipe Major' McCrae, and the rest of the junk. We hadn't informed him concerning the cache now residing at the rear of the Annexe, but I was certain that a man who had more pawns than a chess tournament, would have sniffed out such a prize.
Sure enough. There he was, rooting amongst the leavings.
"Good afternoon, Mister McRae!"
I waited the usual two seconds before the startled reply.
"Oh ... er ... aye ... er ... it's you!" An accurate reply, true!
"Ah wiz jist ... er ... checkin this stuff tae ... er ... see if it wiz safe."
Having successfully devised a plausible reason for his presence in the midden, the Jannie confidently enlarged on that theme.
"Ye never can tell. There might be ... er ... rats or somethin, runnin aroond!"
"It's OK, Mr. McCrae, the rats have abandoned the ship."
The puzzled look on the janitorial face told me that I was being over-subtle with the humour.
"I asked Hutcheson and Cunningham to dump this stuff here. It is from the storeroom. I wonder if you would kindly arrange for its disposal?"
As I watched the Jannie's mental cash register slowly ring up the total cash benefit from the hoard, my own brain completed a question that had been overlong in the asking.
"Why had the storeroom lain untouched over the years, in a College that specialised in accomodating the larcenous riff-raff of Methil?"
And even more improbable ...
"How had any of it survived the predations, over the years, of Archibald McCrae, widely believed to be worshipped as a god by the Locust People of the Sudan? A man who's grandmother had to be driven to the Post Office to collect her Pension after Archie pawned her wheelchair."
(Tiring of transporting Grannie McCrae around, Rico Napier redeemed said wheelchair, and reminded Archie that his remaining as a janitor, was contingent on his grandmother's mobility being maintained.)

"Archie? Why was all this stuff sitting in the storeroom, untouched, all these years?"
I had time to light up another cigarette as the question downloaded into the unused part of Archie's brain. The non-monetary lobe.
"Eh, how d'ye mean? How d'ye mean ..."
"All this valuable stuff, just sitting there in the storeroom. All those years. The door wasn't even locked."
"Ah couldnae go in there. Ah couldnae ..."
Archie's face twisted as some inner turmoil contorted his features. I was fascinated. What mental conflicts were running amok in that slicked-down head?
"Why could you not go in there, Archie?"
I had to know the answer.
"Cause it's the ... er ... its the Ladies' Toilets. Ah couldnae go in there ..."
Embarassment rouged his sweating face, at odds with the desperate need burning in his eyes. Archie, always in need of a drink, and always prepared to sell his grannie for the money (or, pawn her wheelchair at least!) must have walked past that storeroom a dozen times a day, yet had never gone in to see what was pillage-able.
"How on Earth did you know that room was once the 'LADIES'? We are talking the 1920s here. You could not have been here, in those days. Certainly, not as the Janitor."
The drink had aged Archie - but not that much.
"Wiz mah dad. He wiz the Jannie then."
The McCrae dynasty, I presumed.
Once the confession began, Archie rushed to purge his soul.
"Ah wiz just a bairn. Honest ... Mah dad wiz showin us all aroond the College, and ah wiz desperate ... Ah needed tae go ... Ah didnae ken ... honest ... ah just pushed the door, an' went in.
There wiz this women there! It wiz her ... it wiz her ... "
Archie's grimy neck twisted round in his boilersuit, his bleary eyes flicking upwards as if to spot some swooping hawk, whilst remaining still enough to avoid detection.
"She screamed at me, grabbed me, an' shoved me oot the door. Ah didnae ken it wiz the 'LADIES'. Then mah dad grabbed me tae, an' walloped my lugs. Ah didnae ken ... Honest."
My God, what childhood trauma had I stumbled upon? How many years had Archibald McCrae worked in the Annexe, blanking that room from his mind? The childhood scar blinding him, protecting the room and its contents from Archie, the pawn shop and the pubs. I felt shame, yet compassion, that Archie had suffered all those years with this dreadful, unhealed mental wound.
"She's there ... she's always there ... watchin me. Makin sure that ah never go in ... She had the face o' an Angel. Ayewiz watchin ... "
"Archie. Archie!"
I reached out and held him by the shoulder. Let him know, man to man, that I understood.
"It's OK, Archie."
The confused child in his eye was too much to bear.
"You go get yourself a cup of tea, or ... "
I pulled my last remaining pound note from my pocket, and pushed it, reluctantly, into the top pocket of his grease-laden boilersuit.
" ... or get yourself a wee drink."
Archie pulled himself a little straighter - he had his dignity - turned, and walked away. With my pound.

Ah! I had nearly forgotten that large red case! If I didn't take it with me, then it would surely be gone. With Hutcheson, McCrae, Ali Baba and at least Forty Thieves - in the Annexe, if it wasn't nailed down, it would walk!
The door was unlocked. I picked up the case, and smiled at Hutcheson's disappointed face as he watched me from the other side of the foyer. I locked the store-room door behind me, confident that crossing a locked threshold in the Annexe would be too hot for Mister Hutcheson. If not, I knew where to find him. The red case came up the stairs, with me, to the Lab Technician's Room. It had been quite a day, and the red box could wait. I knew what it was.
After a day of revelations, I decided that the final chapter in the quest - the examination of the cardboard boxes - could wait until the next day. I trudged up the stairs to the Lab Technician's Room, brass sign in one hand, red leather-bound case in the other. It would be secure in my room, away from Too Hot Hutcheson and Podge Cunningham. In my Kingdom, I was King.
I had to get ready for night school. Somehow, the excitement of night school was missing, but work was work.

By the next day, the 'King' realised that he had very little control over those parts not of his Kingdom. With a muttered "Oh shit!", I grabbed the brass sign from my desk - my remaining golden treasure - and headed downstairs. A quick sprint past curious students, and a dramatic entrance into the storeroom, revealed my Royal Folly. Only the storeroom door, swinging shut on that persistent draught that passed through the room, prevented the students from hearing my next few Kingly pronouncements.

I could only hope that this moment of revelation, this catharsis, had cleansed Archibald McCrae of his childhood burden. I'm told that bringing out the moment of pain can be a life-changing experience. It must have been, because the next day, Archibald McCrae - Janitor, and Holder of the Annexe Keys - entered the 'LADIES' for the second time in his life ...
They were gone. The mining anemometers. Gone! I had a chair, a brown porridge bowl (once one of a set), some cardboard boxes full of non-pawn-able detritus, and a blank wall to look at, as I sat down, tightly clutching the sign, and lit a cigarette. I was grateful for the chair. Misery needs company.

McCrae had been, and my treasure was gone.
A King taken by a Pawn.

An Inconvenient Truth

If you sit, staring at a blank space, the emptiness seems to draw out patterns from the mind. Clouds that look like Elvis, Marmite sandwiches that look like Gandhi, the faces of Angels ...
Angels! That was what the Jannie had said.
"She had the face of an Angel."
Would it be too much a stretch of imagination to suppose that Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson had created his Angelic masterpiece in the likeness of a real person? Had some model posed for the work of art, forever poised in humility, on her platform above Rico Napier's door? Surely this model, with the Face of an Angel, would be invited to the College by Randolph. To achieve so prominent a position, she must have impressed him greatly, and in doing, achieved immortality.
Thinking further on the matter, it must have been the inauguration, because it would be the only time that the Methil Mining College posessed the facility for Ladies. So soon afterward, it would be the empty room that I was sitting in. No wonder Archibald McCrae could never bring himself to enter this room ( until today, I sourly thought! ). His traumatic encounter in the wrong convenience, would be reinforced, every day since, by the face of the woman he had startled, all those years ago.
It's not always nice, having an Angel watching over you.

The cigarette smoke swirled in the draught. My thoughts wandered around in some possible past event. Lack of detail merged with whimsy. And, eventually I was back, looking at a blank wall. In a room with a closed door. No windows, no ventilator, just a draught that whispered by, and took away the tobacco smoke.
To where ... ?

The inquisitive mind was back!
I have always had a talent for putting a successful conclusion together, based on the sparsest information and seeming unconnected facts. I never read detective novels - I always know who did what to whom, and where, by the end of the first chapter. No surprises. Never been misled by a red herring or mis-informative witness.
So where was the cigarette smoke going ...

I was off my perch, and following the trail. It was easy. They probably teach this part in Archeology Pre-Apprenticeship Courses. And I was an ex-Coal Board Apprentice. Worked down the pit as an electrician. Knowing where the air comes from or goes to, becomes an instinct if you are a miner. And this particular smoke-laden air was disappearing into the left rear corner of the room. A corner that was a sharp join between two flat surfaces, rather than the neatly plastered right rear corner.
Then there was the skirting board. A finely moulded skirting board completed the bottom part of each wall in the room. The same quality skirting board that Randolph Simpson had specified for every room in the Mining College. Though this one had an imperfection. About six foot in from the left, there was a join. Not too conspicuous, but I was starting to appreciate Randolph Simpson's craftmanship, and he would never have accepted a bodge, no matter how slight. Or the join that was becoming apparent in the wall above the joined skirting board. You can do a great job of plastering, but you can never quite blend two flat surfaces together if they had not been completed at the same time. To me, it was now obvious. That six foot section of wall had been added at a later date.
It would have been even more obvious if my detective skills had realised that a Ladies' Powder Room would have all the facilities. Sinks, mirrors, toilet bowls, who knows what else. Taking all them out would leave more than a joined skirting board, a slightly skewed wall, and a draught. No coat of paint could ever hide that!
My excitement soared. A false panel. A hidden chamber. Who knew what lay behind this wall that had been buried behind forty years of accumulated debris. This was strangely large storeroom, but it was still considerably smaller than its mirror image on the GENTLEMEN's side! In fact, the wall before me could only be the modesty wall, there to protect the patrons from inadvertent view when the main door was opened.
Could Howard Carter and the Earl of Carnarvon have felt this much excitement before they broke through into Tutankhamun's magnificent burial chamber?

Before I rushed off to find a crowbar or a sledgehammer, commonsense asserted itself. Disposal of the accumulated rubbish cluttering up the Annexe was one thing, but breaking in to the Royal Tomb ...
I was starting to sound ridiculous! I did say 'commonsense', did I not?
... breaking in to the LADIES' toilets was probably beyond my remit as a Laboratory Technician. I would need some fellow conspirators!
The obvious choice to enlist in the conspiracy was Jimmy Baxter. Anyone who liked to read spooky stories, must surely have the mind set for tomb raiding. All I needed was the right approach. Get him interested.
The best way was to lure him into the room, then expose him to the mystery. This method was always popular in the 'Invaders from Outer Space' type of story that featured in my personal Science Fiction collection. Then ask for his expert opinion. Better than bribery, more subtle than flattery, calling people 'experts' is the finest persuader I know.

Within ten minutes, Jimmy Baxter was studying the wall.
"What do you think, Jimmy?"
Never fails!
"Mmmm. I wonder if this wall is hollow?"
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tonk!
"Yes! Thought so!"
I could see Jimmy's lips purse, as his curiosity began to grow.
"I ask you this, Jimmy. If this is all the room there is, and this was the LADIES ... "
I pointed to the brass sign propped against the wall.
"... then where did all the plumbing go? The LADIES must have had plumbing."
I thought about my statement for a moment.
"For the sinks, and that. You know what I mean!"
Fortunately, Jimmy was ignoring my waffling, as he pondered the problem.
"I wonder where we could find a crowbar?"
A conspiracy of two!

As Jimmy and I considered on where we could obtain a suitable crowbar, the storeroom door swung open, and Reggie Fairfull wandered into the room.
"I wondered where you two had vanished off to!"
His keen golfer's eye surveyed the room.
"I thought that this place was stowed out with rubbish. Where did it all go?"
Reggie picked up the sign.
"LADIES? Didn't know we had any."
"This used to be the LADIES' toilets, Reggie."
I thought it advisable to bring Reggie up to speed. He might know where we could obtain a crowbar. His keen golfer's eye gave the room a more detailed examination. Some cardboard boxes, the brass sign and a dilapidated chair.
"Bit primitive, is it not! I would have expected more in the way of ... you know ... er ... plumbing. Er ... "
"Sinks and that, Reggie?"
Always helpful to the teaching staff, that's me!
"Of course! Thank you. Sinks and ... that!"
That is always the thing with men of the world. They'll descend into a live volcano, or fly a balloon to the edge of space, but they'll always be out of their depths in a Ladies' toilet.
"What's with the wall?"
Reggie noticed Jimmy tapping away at far wall.
"We reckon that it's a false wall. Listen ..."
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tonk!
Reggie moved closer, to evaluate this intriguing idea.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tonk!
"Fascinating! I wonder if we can find out what is behind it?"
Reggie pushed his glasses up on to his forehead, the better to scrutinise the wall.
"I think we might need a crowbar!" Jimmy suggested.
"I wonder where we could find one?" Reggie replied.
A conspiracy of three.

There's something about a small crowd ...
... it can rapidly become a big crowd!

Within ten minutes of Reggie's arrival, the 'strangely large Room' was starting to feel like a very small 'room'. Jimmy Baxter and Reggie Fairfull were at the front, next to the mystery wall.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tonk!
"See, Reggie, the old wall stops here and the new partition doesn't quite line up ..."
Tap. Tonk. Tap. Tonk.
"Ah, but, Jimmy! You'll notice that there's probably a batten, just here, acting as a support. That means ..."
Backing up Jimmy and Reggie, was a trio of technical advisors. Eddie Sparks, the Welding Instructor, offered his own, unique, suggestions on how to proceed ...
"If you take a burning torch to the middle of that wall, you could ..."
Rico Napier was the voice of reason ...
"Don't be bloody stupid, Eddie! You'll burn the place down!"
Davie Ward, the Electrical Fitting Instructor, supplied his own expertise ...
"If we run a cable into here, and wire up a socket and a couple of lights, we'd be able to see what we were doing ..."
Specialists all. Not a tomb robber amongst them

Filling up the rest of the room, and doing a fair representation of a 'cast of thousands', was a job lot of students from all the classes left unattended by the lack of teaching staff. Audience participation was an extremely popular recreation with the majority of Lower Methil Annexe inmates. Those that hadn't nipped away home early, or weren't participating in a little larceny while the rule of law was absent, were jammed into the storeroom. In the absence of facts, theories were exchanged like bubblegum cards.
"Ah reckon that the College is goin in for one o' thae competitions where ye see how mony folk ye can squeeze into a room."
Wrong. but more sensible than some.
"Wee Wullie's trapped ahent that wall, and he's runnin' oot o' fags!"
Didn't quite get that one.
"Are we all hidin in here fae the Tally man? That's what mah mum says when we're hidin doon ahent the couch."
A Methil expert on the subject of hire purchase and payment schemes.
"It's one o' thae Russian Walls! Ye open up wan wall, and inside, ye find anither wall."
My personal favourite!
"Does anyone know where we can find a crowbar?"

Going by the size of the crowd, this was the best show in town. They say that 'There is no show without Punch'. Well, that was me! Stuck at the back, perched on my dilapidated chair, clutching a brass sign.
Well, enough was enough! If I waited for any kind of consensus on how to proceed, we'd all be here for at least the week. The likeliest outcome would be mass asphyxiation due to the increasingly tobacco-contaminated atmosphere. I'd started this quest, and I was going to finish it! I wriggled down from my back seat position, and, using feet and elbows to ruthlessly force my way, till I stood in front of the crowd.
"Right! Everybody stand back, less you want to lose chunks of your face!"
My exasperation must have been evident, because the mob shrank away from the wall. Even the experts hesitated to speak. Time to test MY theory!

I drew back the heavy brass sign, narrowly missing Reggie Fairfull's ear, wound up all the available muscles, then struck with all my might at the centre of the suspect partition. The blow achieved all I could wish for! The crowd shut up, silenced by the impact. The plasterboard disintegrated, and the battens ripped from their fixings. With a shuddering screech, the partition leaned away from. Slowly at first, then accelerating to crash onto the floor. Dust and chunks of plaster flew everywhere.
"Now, that's the way to do it!"
Indeed! No show without Punch!
For a long drawn-out heartbeat, Rico' Napier stood there, his imperturbable face illuminated by the erratic flares of igniting plaster dust in his cigarette. He casually removed the sparking cigarette from his mouth, tapped it with his index finger and watched the ash flutter to the floor.
"Let's not bother about the crowbar, then."
Another long heartbeat ... then all the students cheered. I have to admit. It was a great moment. The crowd surged forward, into the swirling dust.
Where were the glittering prizes?

The world held its breath; more the plaster dust than a moment in history. No longer restricted by the partition, the mysterious breeze grew in strength, and revealed its source to be a partly open window to the side of the main chamber. The gypsum fog rapidly gave way to a tantalising glimpse of vague white shapes in the gloom.
"We could dae with a light in here!"
Jimmy Baxter.
"Ah could run in a cable, an' wire something up!"
Davie Ward.
"We could set light to something flammable!"
Eddie Sparks. I always wondered about Eddie.
"There's a light switch over here!"
A student on the periphery.
"Well, switch the bluidy thing on, then!"
Possibly me.

And then, there was light. And porcelain. And chrome. It was a wash-room. With sinks, and taps, and mirrors. A grimy crowd reflected in grimy mirrors. Most of the male population of the Lower Methil Annexe in the one place where (most) of them had never dared to go.
The Ladies!
There were, of course, a row of cubicles, each one fitted with a throne that neither Cleopatra or Nefertiti had ever adorned. No one dared to venture near the cubicles. Gentlemen or Ladies - a toilet cubicle left unattended for decades, was not a place for the faint of heart. Better an Egyptian tomb.
For a moment, the crowd held back. Confused, and a little disappointed. A toilet - Ladies or otherwise - is hardly the culmination of a great adventure. Then, gradually, the students began to swirl around, much like like the dust that had lately filled the room. The easily bored began to slip away. A toilet was, when you take it to basics, simply a toilet. And, unless you have a pressing digestive problem, rarely a place of excitement.
Some played with the taps on the sinks. After an initial stiffness, the result of years of disuse, the application of greater force brought forth a bronchial cough and gurgle, like a resurrected smoker on the Day of Judgement, and a stream of rusty brown water splashing into the sink, and on to the unfortunate bystanders. A few muttered threats, and the application of more force, turned the taps off again.
Rico and Jimmy organised a work party to remove the debris from the partition demolition. The quick witted vanished into the corridor at the mere hint of work. The hesitant, and the fetchers of rusty water became the hewers of wood and the carriers of lumber.
"Take all this wood to the Jannie. He can burn it in the furnace."
"Aw Surr ."
"Surr, nothing. Do as you're told."

Rico Napier addressed the work-force.
"OK everybody, if I can have your attention for a moment. I believe that the Annexe has just acquired, or should that be re-acquired, a Ladies Toilet. With what I can see for the future, and the growing possibilities for women in the workplace, the time could not have been better. Next term, we will have our first female students in the Annexe, and they will need someplace to go."
The roll-up twitched slightly. The ash never moved.
"Once the place has been cleaned out, and the sign replaced on the door, the Lower Methil Annexe of the East Fife Technical College will be ready for a new age."
There was even a brief round of applause, before everyone headed out into the hallway and back to the normal business of a technical college.
I lingered to the last, taking one more look at what would soon be forbidden territory. The cubicles, the sinks. Nothing special about that. The splashback on the sinks was formed by featureless ceramic tiles, painted in that horrid pale green that educational establishments purchase by the gallon. The colour didn't match with the rest of the room, but then, that green would never match with any colour scheme, anywhere.

Then, it was back to work. Excitement over. Mysteries solved. A little disappointing, perhaps, but consider this ...
The Annexe had been restored to its former glory. A Gents and a Ladies. All the fine works of Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson revealed. An master of the opulent.
A man of taste.

I tried to concentrate on my preparations for night school, but my focus drifted. Something niggled at me. Everything else in the Annexe was to Randolph Simpson's exacting standards. Why would the man who had captured the Face of an Angel, allow anyone to paint any part of his creation with that vile green paint?

And who would paint over ceramic tiles?

Man of the People

Come four o'clock, the day classes finished at the Annexe. At the sound of the bell, the majority of students pour out into the streets. The wealthier students drove away, the less wealthy waited for a bus and the impoverished simply walked. The exception being those enrolled in night school. They usually hung around in the Student's Common Room, where the rolling card game provided opportunities for the 'less wealthy' to become 'more wealthy' (or usually 'impoverished'!). In order to ascend in the 'wealth' rankings, I normally worked at the night school. Extra money is always useful.
Until the night school commenced at six o'clock, I was free to do whatever I wished. Two hours to read, doze, travel the path of enlightenment, or watch Star Trek in the Colour Television Room. This evening was different. Up in the Lab Technician's Room, I had a red leather case to play with, and a cardboard box full of dusty old documents, letters, newspapers and the occasional dead bluebottle.

The red case was no mystery. I had seen something similar many years before. I popped the two latches at the front, and opened the lid. Yes, my guess was spot on. It was a gramophone. An old, wind-up portable gramophone. Clipped to the inside of the case was a metal crank handle. The turntable was covered with red felt. Everything matched. The tone box puzzled me a little. The old gramophones that I had previously seen, had a tone box where the sound generating diaphragm was vertical, but on this one, the diaphragm was turned over and facing the turntable. Perhaps it had been twisted somehow. A quick un-twist failed to set it upright, and further examination proved that it was set as the manufacturer had intended. The metal label on the inside of the lid informed me that I was the possessor of 'The 'Wonder' Portable Brunswick Cliftophone'
Naturally, I had to see if I had a working 'Cliftophone'. I tried moving the little levers inside the case, but the only result was the odd scrape of old metal linkages, and a faint groan. Of course! It was a clockwork gramophone, and you have to wind them up! Silly me. I knew this! I unclipped the crank handle, slid the end into the hole beneath the handle, then turned it until the mechanism engaged. I turned the crank a few times - not too much, it was an old gramophone after all - then retracted the handle. Time to try the levers again.
For a moment, the turntable trembled, then began to spin. After several reluctant revolutions, the turntable steadied up and began to revolve smoothly. Not too bad for a clockwork motor that had sat, unmoving, for over a quarter of a century. I sat back and admired the craftsmanship. The 'Cliftophone'purred, and the dust from the red felt spiralled up into the air. All I needed now, was a record.

I checked the lid first, but there was no way that you could keep a record in the lid without it falling on to the turntable. The old shellac 78s were far too brittle for that sort of abuse. I know - as a child, I had treated quite a few old records as 'flying saucers'. They flew well, but had limited playability after touch down. I know that he was a local man, but Jimmy Shand and his Band were never really on the list of childhood favourites.
Next, the flap under the handle. Two pop-studs and down. Paydirt! It even had the original record tray in there. A gentle tug, and out it slid. Music from the thirties, possibly earlier. Hidden for forty years. Waiting for the next play.
I lifted out the records, one by one, and read the labels .

Stars and Stripes March - Sousa's Band.
Real handy for when the Yanks actually came.
Liberty Bell March - HM Coldstream Guards.
More familiar now, due to Monty Python and his Flying Circus.
Looking on the Bright Side - Gracie Fields.
Good old wartime 'cheer 'em up!'
Constantinople Fox Trot - Jack Hylton and his Orchestra.
Definitely one for the 'LADIES'.
Say a Little Prayer for Me - Jack Payne and Dance Orchestra.
Now, there's a song that really lasts.
Svetlana McCrory - Campaign Song.
Never heard of her - or the song. Ah well, not every tune becomes a classic.

Being a Monty Python fan, the first choice just had to be the 'Liberty Bell March'. Switch off turntable. Carefully place record. Switch on. Then lift the arm across to the start groove, and lower gently ...
"Taa-rump po-po-papa pom-pa-pom ."
Lower front flap to adjust volume.
A little background crackle - but not too bad. Forty years between performances hadn't dulled its edge. It was still a catchy little tune.

Leaving the Coldstream Guards playing away in the background, I pulled towards me, the cardboard box retrieved from the Store Room junk pile. Nothing of value to the Janitor (you can't pawn paper) and worthless to the Annexe wide-boys, but nevertheless, of interest to me. You never can tell what you might find.
Like a 1928 copy of the Leven Mail. Very much like the current newspaper. Same familiar names (being newsworthy must be an inherited trait), doing very much the same little sins and standing in the same dock at the Sheriff Court. The adverts for Barr's Irn Bru were incredibly cosmopolitan by today's standards, and would undoubtedly end up in the same dustbin (marked racist) as the very popular figure that advertised Robinson's Jam. The actual quality of the paper was terrible, the printing was crude, but it was much better for wrapping a fish supper than modern newsprint.
One article that caught my attention, was the list of candidates for the local council elections. Someone had kindly circled the item with ink.

Randolph Hugh Buckley Simpson. Architect.

The man who had created nearly half of all the cinemas in East Fife. The architect who had drawn out the very room that I sat in. The man who had set out an Angel to watch over us. Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson. In politics? I had never met the man, but I had admired his work. Somehow, I just could not see his place in politics. Politics is the art of compromise. Architecture is the art of being true to a belief. No compromise. What had prompted Randolph Simpson to run for office? And who had won that particular contest?
The answer lay at my fingertips. In a copy of the Leven Mail dated a few weeks later, came the result. Also outlined in ink, but scored into the paper till it tore, was Randolph's political fate. Sixth out of six, with number five being the local Sanitary Inspector. No position of power (no matter how puny) for Randolph Simpson. What had prompted him to try?

The Coldstream Guards unwound the last few tolls of the Liberty Bell, as the gramophone spring faltered, then stopped. In with the handle. More vigorous cranking, this time, and up with the tone arm. Who would perform, this time. Foxtrot or Gracie Fields? Or perhaps the mysterious Svetlana McCrory? Perhaps her 'Campaign Song' would be more fitting, with regard to Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson's foray into local politics.
I set Svetlana McCrory upon the sound stage, and lowered the tone arm.

Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson is your man!
He's doing the best, as best he can.
Vote for him, Lads and Lasses
He defends the Working Classes.
Yes! Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson is your man!

I must have sat there during the entire performance with my mouth open. Gobsmacked - the only appropriate word. It was a 'Campaign Song' indeed. It was Randolph Simpson's musical encouragement to the masses. "He defends the Working Classes"? With a middle class sounding name like Randolph Hugh Buckley Simpson? Working class families never had the money to pay for teaching their sons to be Architects. This made little sense to me. What had driven Randolph Simpson to appeal to the proletariat?

I dug deeper into the contents of this cardboard box of history. Like coal-mining, it took a lot of pick and shovel work to cut my way through the hard rock and useless waste, before I came to the seam. And such a rich seam, it was.
An old foolscap manila envelope, worn at the corners, with the adhesive cracked and flaking. It had that soft, furry feel of an envelope whose contents had been pulled out countless times, read and re-read, organised and added-to. Then stuffed back into the envelope, corners catching and bending over, the occasional inadvertent tear, and the odd grubby fingermark added to previous generations.
No address. Only a name.


I pulled out the contents, and spread them across my desk. Some were lined sheets from a jotter, neat handwriting and precise margins. The signature at the bottom was 'Randolph H. B. Simpson FRIAS' (I looked this up at a later date. Our Hughie was no garden-shed builder. A Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, no less!) Others were type-written on official notepaper. Burgh of Buckhaven and Methil. The signatures varied - some unreadable, some with scratchy italics 'ppp Ramsay Tarvit Esq. There were some with a logo that resembled nothing so much as a rat with a shovel and a Davy Lamp, and the words 'Mining Industry Committee for Education'. M.I.C.E. Ah! That explains the rat!
No order was immediately apparent, so I selected the top sheet, and began to read. Page by page, the story began to assemble in my brain. And the history of the Methil Mining College opened up in my mind. All around me, the Lower Methil Annexe faded. When all the staff and students finished for the evening, I read on. Mr. McCrae, the Janitor, having exchanged his pawn shop revenues for his usual night-time beverage, swung by the College on his befuddled journey home, and locked the front door without checking for light or human presence. I was alone, lost in the past.

Methil Mining College was built under the auspices of the Mining Industry Committee for Education, a group set up to gather the proceeds from the local public houses, and put them to a more productive use. The Committee consisted of 2 representatives from Mine owners, 2 representatives from their increasingly powerful rivals, the Mine Worker's Union, and 3 Councillors from the Burgh of Buckhaven & Methil. The Chairman was always a Councillor, and the Council held the balance of power, keeping the mining members from each other's throats and resolving potential deadlocks.
And what could be better than an educational edifice that would make the other local Burghs grind their teeth in envy. Educate the local sons of local miners, and improve their lot by breeding a better worker. A showplace to put Methil on the Burgh map, and designed by an architect (suitably qualified) who would create a masterpiece of style and modernity. The epitome of pomp and circumstance was the local cinema - familiar to all, and a dream of attainment - so when Randolph Simpson, fresh in triumph from the acclaimed Electric Picture House in St. Andrews, became available, the Committee put out the invitation.
'Build us a College that Methil can be proud of!'
Knowing nothing of architecture, but knowing 'what we like', the Committee left the details entirely in Randolph Simpson's hands. Who could resist such a commission?

Finished late in 1927, the Methil Mining College held its Grand Inauguration on St Andrews Day. The entire Committee turned up for the event. The Mine Owner's representatives wore Top Hats and Tails, the Councillors were immaculately turned in Bowler Hat and Waistcoat with Fob Watch, and the Union representatives appeared in Sunday Suits, freshly pressed from the local Pawn shop, Flat Caps, and a hint of Mothballs. This was their very first visit to the College. They knew that you never second-guess an expert, or joggle the hand of a genius.
The building was everything they imagined, and more .

The Art Deco was rightly applauded as a masterpiece. Building on the theme of his previous commissions, Randolph Simpson surpassed himself! Fluted plaster columns, scroll work, curlicues and cherubim. Randolph "Hughie" Simpson had the lot! The Committee noted the shining brass and the diamond-cut windows on the front doors. The linoleum was commented on - 'sensible yet luxurious', the staircases - 'majestic!', and the Angel drew awe and fascination - 'Aye, that's a sturdy lass!'. According to the reporter from the local paper, the classrooms were 'Temples of Education', the decor 'reminiscent of the Rome of Cecil B. DeMille'. The 'facilities' received no public exposition - they were never a subject of polite discussion - but a firmly worded report to the Committee raised the concerns that personal inspection had failed to produce.

Towards the Concerns of the Honourable Members
The Mining Industry Committee for Education

It has been brought to my attention that the Methil Mining College has been over-supplied with facilities of a personal nature. Whilst it has been deemed necessary to provide a means of ablution for the students, as a necessary preparation to education, and other needs of a personal nature, I am disconcerted to find that similar provision has been made for those of a more genteel persuasion. It was my believe that Methil Mining College was constructed for the education of the sons of residents of Buckhaven and Methil, and had no place envisaged for the daughters of aforesaid. Lest you think me biased, let me be the first to state that I have nothing but admiration for the hard-working women of the Burgh. They have proven their worth on the sorting tables of the collieries, the fish-filleting processes at the fishing ports along the coast, and as mothers, they are second to none. But we are talking about an Educational Establishment here, and I am sure that you will concur with my believe that education and women are a volatile and dangerous mixture. Heaven only knows what what perils will ensue with the implementation of the 'Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act of 1928'.

In summary, I must ask this question, and please forgive the bluntness of the query -
Why has Methil Mining College been provided with a 'Ladies' as well as a 'Gentlemen'? Surely, no one is planning to employ female staff in a totally male establishment, and - heaven forbid! - we are not planning, at some far distant point in the future, to be providing 'educational classes for women'.

Your most obedient servant (indecipherable squiggle)

It would seem that the Vote might be coming, but prejudice and ignorance intended to hang around in the corners, for some time to come. The response to the report was a note in the M.I.C.E. minutes that an inspection of the 'facilities' would be an urgent priority for the Committee. In view of the 'delicate' nature of the problem, the newly appointed Janitor, a Mr. Montgomery McCrae, was ordered to be present at the College, the following morning, in case any kind of 'personal' inspection was required.
Also requested to attend, was Randolph Hugh Buckley Simpson FRIAS, to provide an explanation for the anomaly.

One for the Ladies

I do not know what actual words passed between Randolph Simpson and the members of the Mining Industry Committee for Education, during the inspection of the additional 'facilities' at the Methil Mining College, but the minutes of the subsequent Committee meeting make it clear that all was not well with the Man and the M.I.C.E. I trawled through the over-formal text, and the indifferent handwriting (presumably, Mr. Squiggle kept the record), and put together my own picture of events. I always did claim a talent for figuring out mysteries when presented with sparse data and ambiguous 'facts'. Oh! To have been there to witness events.

At 9 o'clock, all were assembled in the foyer of the Methil Mining college. The Committee was headed by Councillor Ramsay Tarvit, a staunch supporter of the local Church and a regular attender of any Council function that involved food and drink. Known locally as 'Red Ramsay' - not for his political convictions but for his florid complexion - he was also renowned for his ability to use words in a manner unsuspected by their actual meaning.
Mr Montgomery McCrae, the Janitor and father of the current incumbent Archibald McCrae was present to do the bidding of the Committee. Committees discuss, then pronounce. Janitors carry out said pronunciations.
Randolph Simpson was present to be convinced upon, should he fail to convince the Committee.

"Mr McCrae. When you are ready.Kindly inspect the facilities!" pronounced 'Red' Ramsay.
"Eh!" replied the Janitor.
"The Ladies, Mister McCrae! The Ladies!"
The Janitor looked up at the kneeling angel, poised above the door of the Rector's office. Scratching his chin for a moment, and trying hard to see any resemblance between the angel and the homely charms of Mrs. McCrae, gave his considered opinion.
"Aye. She's a braw wee lassie, even if she's no dressed for a December morning, and ..."
"Mister McCrae!"
'Red' Ramsay spluttered.
"The facilities for the Ladies!"
The imperial fore-finger stabbed out towards the Ladies' Room.
"In there, man! In there!"
"Aye sir!"
One more brief glance at the angel, and a gentle sigh.
"The door's unlocked. In yiz go!"
Tarvit Ramsay, face reddening like a sunrise, now confirmed the other half of his reputation.
"It is NOT the place for the members to be committed! It is a place for women to unburden themselves without the presence of menfolk, and as such, it would be unfitting for this Committee to intrude upon their comfort."
"There's naebody in there. But ah'll nip in and check, if yiz like?"
A true McCrae - always up to the challenge.
The rest of the Committee swirled around the foyer. Admiring the scrollwork, and the impressive plasterwork, especially that of the angel. Somehow, none of them ever came within ten feet of the door to the Ladies. Any unintentional close approach was masked with an embarassed cough and a hasty retreat. Randolph Simpson, a man of style and ingenuity, but unversed in politics, approached Ramsay Tarvit.
"Perhaps I could answer any of your questions?"
"Questions! Questions! I would have thought that the question would be obvious. Why is it there? There being where it is. Is it not obvious?"
"Er, no." replied Randolph.
"The facility, Mr. Simpson. Why is it there?"
"It's there for the ladies when they need to ..."
"MISTER SIMPSON! This is not the place!"
"I think that you'll find that it is, Mr. Tarvit. I did include it in the plans." offered Randolph.
With his face moving from sunrise to sunset, Ramsay Tarvit proclaimed.
"Not in a Fundament of Education, no I think NOT! There is a place for everything, and this is not the place!"
Satisfied that he had laid down the Imperial Decree, Ramsey Tarvit turned back towards the Janitor.
"Mr. McCrae, if you would, in there ... and inspect! I expect a swift appraisal, and and a prompt report. Be discreet, but return with the lie of the land, and the way that the wind is blowing!"
"Get in there, man. Get in! Look around, and then report back."
"Why did yiz no say that in the first place" returned the aggrieved Janitor, as he half-opened the door and slipped inside.
"Honestly!" retorted Tarvit. "If that man had not the talent for the Pipes, there is no way that I would have found him employment, outside of the Regiment."
A momentary misting of the eye.
"Ah, Palestine!"

As the Janitor staunchly performed his duty, Ramsay Tarvit turned to Randolph and, being the politician that he was, and the master of diplomacy that he imagined, began that small talk that men employ when facing a difficult situation.
"Ah. Er. Mr Simpson. Despite the circumstantial evidence that brought us here, let me be the first to congratulate you on the epic nature of your designation of Methil Mining College."
Unversed in political smalltalk, Randolph Simpson could only wait for the verbal interference to clear, in the hope that some message might be received from the ether.
"The Angel is particularly outstanding. Did you obtain your inspiration from one of the artistic greats? Rubens? I think not. Not fulsome enough. Perhaps Botticelli? Or perhaps some bronzed Greek ... er ... goddess, I should say?"
"Well, actually, I drew the Angel from life."
"Good heavens. Life you say?"
"Yes. I had a model. You may have met her. She accompanied myself to the College Inauguration. Miss Svetlana McCrory."
Ramsay Tarvit looked at the Angel once more. His eyebrows furrowed - the outward sign of a brain straining to recollect through several food courses, a bottle of wine and an indeterminate number of glasses of sherry. With a politicians determination to return an answer to every question, regardless of knowledge, common sense or even relevance, Ramsay turned to the other Committee members.
"Do any of you remember the young lady that Randolph, here, brought to the Inauguration do?"
"Certainly!" replied one of the Union representatives.
"That would be Svetlana McCrory! Bright little thing, but her head too full of Women's Suffrage and other nonsense. She is a member of the Methil League of Socialist Women. A difficult lot, they are. The simply will not leave politics and Union business in the hands of properly concerned people. That's why we have a Union. So that we can fight for equality against the upper classes - no offence, you understand."
"None taken. Know exactly what you mean."
One of the Mine Owner's Representatives joined in the discussion.
"Always interfering, and upsetting the workers. Know her well."
A pause for leer normally associated with moustache twirling.
"Would like to really get to know her ... catch my drift?"
"Indeed. Indeed!"
Ramsay drew the group together.
"Young Randolph here says that she is the model for the Angel up there on the wall."
All eyes turned to Randolph's masterpiece.
"Gracious! I see what you mean. The likeness!"
"Done from life, he says!"
"She posed for that ...?"
"In the nude ..."
"Oh goodness me!"
"Oh Palestine!"
"Svetlana McCrory?"
"The one they call 'Sweaty Betty'?"
"Pardon ..."
"The one they call 'Swe ..."
"How dare you say that! Such rudeness!"
Randolph glared at the Committee member.
"How dare you!"
"Listen, sonny boy! I'm not the one that got a naked woman plastered!"
Buckling a little, under the practiced aggression of a long-time Union Representative, Randolph could only offer a feeble response.
"She was wearing tights. There was nothing to see!"
"There was a lot to imagine then. Wasn't there? Bet it wasn't only Betty that was swe ..."
Ramsay Tarvit intervened, with that ease that comes with long experience of separating combatants in a blood feud.
"Gentlemen! Gentleman! To the business at hand. The reason we are here. We have a Ladies present!"
"Aye, right" agreed the Union man.
"Of course."
Randolph replied in quiet relief.
"Of course."

At that, Mr. McCrae the Janitor, returned. What was, presumably, Montgomery McCrae's first visit to the Ladies, had obviously had a profound effect on him. His face was tinged with red, not as pronounced as Ramsay Tarvit's rouge-majeure, perhaps but redder than a slight exertion might allow. In a sleight-of-hand that Houdini himself would have admired, an off-white handkerchief appeared in his hand. The Janitorial brow was cleared of perspiration, then the handkerchief vanished back to its lair.
"I think ..."
Mr McCrae paused for the breath that he had previously forgotten in his turmoil.
"I think that yiz had better see this for yersel, Mr. Tarvit. This no what anybody wiz expectin!"
Ramsay edged back from the perspiring Janitor.
"You want me to go in ... there?"
"Aye! I think ye should. I really do."
Memories of Baghdad, Haifa and Cairo, stiffened Ramsay Tarvit's spine.
"Oh Palestine!"
In he went.

As the Committee milled around outside, a minute's silence became two, and then three. Herd instinct took over, and the natural instinct to avoid danger, kept the members from approaching, too closely, the door of the Ladies. Randolph Simpson too, became the 'sacrifice'. Looking more and more like the weakling of the herd, the animal most likely to succumb to a predator, Randolph simply stood with head bowed, awaiting the leap, the jaws, the darkness.

Faltering, muffled.
Now insistent.
The herd looked away, as Simpson tottered in to meet his fate. The Committee resumed grazing.

No-one knew precisely what transpired between Ramsay Tarvit and Randolph Simpson. Various Committee members offered variations on a theme, and conjectures built on supposition. Snatches of the rampage rattled past the half-open door.
"How could you?"
" Wrong! Wrong. How wrong could you get?"
"It's Art, Mr Tarvit!"
"Art! Art! The Parthenon is art. This is like a gewgaw from a Cairo bazaar!"
"It's based on work by Karl Briullov!"
"It's de-based, more like!"
"I tried to achieve beauty. I thought ..."
"Thought. I'll tell you what I think!"
"I thought that the ladies would appreciate the work."
"Work! Poppycock! Women ain't strong enough for this kind of ... it must go!"
"Mr Tarvit. Please reconsider ..."
Ramsay Tarvit stormed out of the Ladies. A face, dark enough for thunder. Randolph Simpson stumbled out after him.
"Mr. McCrae! Do we have paint?"
"Paint, Mr Tarvit? Aye, we have paint. We have some of that green stuff that we painted the boiler-house door with."
"The fetch it, Mr. McCrae. And cover up that ... that 'art' from Babylon! I want it painted, and I want it painted now!"
"Right away, Mr. Tarvit. I'll do it now!"

Within the hour, the smell of fresh paint was filling the foyer of the Methil Mining College. The brass plaque had been unscrewed from the door, and any external clue was gone. The following day, Mr. McCrae demonstrated that his talents exceeded that of a mere maintenance man. Joinery and interior decorating transformed the once, and briefly, Ladies into a more useful (and less controversial) store-room.

I found a newspaper clipping from the local paper, dated a week later.

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Councillor Ramsay Tarvit, Captain Kings TransJordan Rifles. DSO MM.
Councillor Tarvit died during the Annual Fife Mining Industry Gala Banquet. We quote a source present at the banquet -
"Ramsay was in the middle of a formal toast to the Ladies of the Mining Industry, when he suddenly stopped, looked up towards the ceiling, and exclaimed 'Oh Palestine! The Grapes! The Grapes!'. After a moment, his face turned pale, he spun half-way round on the spot, then fell over backwards, landing on the meat course. Doctor John Rannoch, also present at the time, pronounced him 'Dead as mutton!'"
We are informed that the Methil Co-operative Society, Purveyors of Beer, Wine and Spirits, refute any rumours that the wine, supplied to the Annual Fife Mining Industry Gala Banquet, was in any way responsible for the sad demise of of Councillor Tarvit. We quote Mr. James Rintoul, Assistant Alcoholic Beverage Manager of the Lower Methil Branch, in this matter.
"There have been allegations made about the quality of Co-op wines. No names have been brought forward, but if the allegators persist with their unjustified comments, we will surely bring the matter to the attention of the Police. Let no more be said!"
Councillor Tarvit left a wife and three daughters. After a simple ceremony at MethilMill Cemetery, and in consultation with her Bank manager, Mrs. Tarvit has decided to move to New York for a period of mourning. The daughters have accompanied her to the Americas, briefly stopping over in Havana for a month.
As well as being a Councillor with the Burgh of Buckhaven and Methil, Ramsay Tarvit was Chairman of M.I.C.E. - the Mining Industry Committee for Education. A date will be set in the New year for the election of his replacement on the Burgh Council.
He will be sadly missed.

Ramsay Tarvit took the secret with him.

The Grapes

As no-one but Ramsay Tarvit, Montgomery McCrae, and, of course, Randolph Simpson ever ventured into the Ladies, no one else was ever able to say what the cover-up actually did cover up. With Ramsay Tarvit gone, and the Janitor firmly refusing to reveal any detail of the 'incident' in the Methil Mining College 'store-room', that only left Randolph Hugh Buckley Simpson with any determination to shine a light in dark and hidden places.

From the subsequent papers in front of me, I could see that Randolph tried to sway the Committee to change their minds on matters lavatorial, but with the loss of Ramsay Tarvit, the Committee was split down the middle. With no chairman to force a vote, the members were unable to reach any kind of decision. Christmas was the time to think of the children, and the Hogmanay was THE time to think wine (in view of Ramsay's fate - perhaps not!), women, and song. Especially song. Bonnie Annie Laurie would be murdered in many an off-key harmony around the coal fires of Methil.
The Committee refused to listen to any explanation from Randolph. Wait till the Council elections in the New Year, when sober minds could fully comprehend the issues of the College. For the next week, most of the Committee members would be unable to tie their own shoelaces, walk in a straight line or find the Men's toilet - never mind the Ladies.

Randolph Simpson despaired. He confided his troubles to the the original Angel of the Mining College - Svetlana McCrory. The lady whose name was cruelly corrupted to 'Sweaty Betty'. Of course! Now I knew. The insult had perpetuated itself for over half a century. I now realised why everyone referred to the Angel as 'Betty'. No-one knew why, the origin long lost - but mud sticks.
It felt a mite 'voyeuristic', reading these personal letters between two people who obviously held each other in great regard - but it was, as I have said, over forty years ago. Hughie and Svetlana were long gone (in this, I was half right), and as the night slipped over into the next day, I was fascinated by the unravelling mystery. I read on.
Svetlana, being a member of the Methil league of Socialist Women, provided the way forward for Randolph. He would stand in upcoming election for Burgh Councillor. If he won (Svetlana insisted on 'when'), he could work his way on to the Committee, and be a decision maker, not a supplicant at the door. Randolph made clear his misgivings - he was not a political animal, he was an architect. Svetlana insisted that, when it came to political animals, he might be a pussycat, she would be a tigress at his side.
Let the establishment beware!

True to her word, Svetlana organised Randolph Hugh Buckley Simpson's election campaign. She enlisted the aid of the Socialist Women. With the voting franchise in sight, they were hungry for any kind of political voice - and they made their voice heard! Any man who was hard of hearing, could be persuaded in other ways. Svetlana might have been a novice in electioneering, but she brought in ideas and concepts years before their time.
Hugh was given a comprehensive makeover. A cloth cap was procured, and perched on Randolph Simpson's head. The only way to reach the working man was to be a working man. Even architects work! The name was next to go. Randolph was a nice name, but too fancy for Methil. Hugh! Now that was better. 'Hughie' was reckoned perfect - 'Shugsie' was perhaps going too far.
Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson would appeal to the people. His cause was worthy. And his support 'vociferous'!
Svetlana and the League spent a day in Edinburgh, with an hour or two shopping at Binns Department Store, then returned with the master-stroke.

The Campaign Song!

Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson is your man!
He's doing the best, as best he can.
Vote for him, Lads and Lasses
He defends the Working Classes.
Yes! Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson is your man!

The election was duly held, and in any kind of fair world, Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson would have won with a landslide. But this was 1928, and the political world was in the process of being divided between the Socialists and the Capitalists. And no matter what side you were on, it would be Socialist or Capitalist men. The League fought their battle, but the Establishment drew together to decide for their own. The women loved 'Hughie' but until the 'Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act of 1928' became law, only the men could vote. And it would not in favour of 'Hughie'.

I raked around my desk till I found the old newspaper that I had spotted earlier. I already knew the result. Sixth out of six, with number five being the local Sanitory Inspector. Hughie's 'thank you' speech was gracious, but only Svetlana was listening. They slipped away from counting, and were gone.
And Methil Mining College became the Lower Methil Annexe of Fife Technical College, with an' unusually large storeroom'. Mr McCrae (Senior) was replaced by Mr. McCrae (Junior). And one day, a bored Laboratory Technician found work for idle hands to do.

So many questions answered. So many mysteries solved. I looked around me, and realised that it was late. Very late. I was alone in the Annexe, and if I had not the foresight to acquire an illicit key to the building, I would be here until the Jannie turned up at seven in the morning (unlikely), or Rizla Napier turned up at eight. As it was, I had five more hours, at least, to find the answer to that one remaining riddle.
What was the Horror of the Ladies? What had contributed to the untimely end of 'Red' Ramsay Tarvit, and required a tin of green paint and a partition of Palestine? Time for another visit to the Ladies!

I briefly considered looking for a torch to make my way downstairs. I did not want to attract any attention to a supposedly empty College. Then I realised that flickering torchlight would be far more suspicious than merely switching on the lights on the stair. Torchlight means an intruder - the normal lighting would only suggest a cleaner on the nightshift. Not that we had ever employed a cleaner.
Swiftly down the stairs, and up to the Ladies. I fumbled with the doorlock, my excitement made me clumsy, and I nearly dropped the key. The door swung open at a touch, as if the room were eager to confess its last secret, and receive absolution. I flicked on all the light-switches. I wanted no corner left unseen. And that alien green paint, ill fitted to the decor, drew me to the tiles above the wash-hand basins. Again I asked ...
"Why would someone paint over new ceramic tiles? And why use such obnoxious, clashing green paint. Paint, fit only for a boiler-room door.

To cover up what lay underneath. That was obvious, now! I had to know what lay underneath.

I started on the first tile on the left. Using a pallet-knife that I had borrowed from the workshop, I carefully scraped the paint from the tile. It had been there for all those years, and was dried and cracking. It came of easily. I scraped and scraped until it was gone. I stood back and admired Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson's master work. For the men, he had depicted an Angel. For the women, he had created an image far more sensitive, and sympathetic.
The tile showed the image of Bathsheba. The Biblical beauty who had bathed, in her innocence, not realising that she was been watched by King David. The original had been painted by Karl Bruillov, but 'Hughie' Simpson had added a few strategically placed bunches of grapes to add a little modesty to the view. Mr. Simpson had a wry sense of humour.
I started on the next tile, scraping off another layer of green. Once more, Bathsheba modestly bathed, just like the first tile. No, wait! Not like the first tile. There was a difference. Not so modest. Not so many grapes!
Frantically, I scraped at the next tile, then the next. Green paint chips flew everywhere. My eyes stung, my hands ached, and my mouth tasted foul from the ancient paint and its undoubted excess lead content. My face and hair, when I checked it in the mirror, made me a dead cetainty for the part of the Elf King in the Christmas pantomime. The minutes flew, then the hours, but I could not stop until every tile was once more displayed in their original, righteous glory. Did I say that 'Hughie' Simpson had a sense of humour? I underestimated the man. This was a cosmic jest beyond anything I had ever seen. The morally constipated male of the Twenties would have struggled and been overwhelmed. The women would have loved it.

Walt Disney would soon be creating the immortal 'Mickey Mouse', but Randolph Hugh Buckley Simpson was way ahead of him. The Ladies of Methil Mining College would have been treated to a series of still pictures, set up and ready for a marvellous animation. As I scanned the tiles from left to right, I could see each picture change. Bathsheba and the Grapes. Each still to the right showing less grapes, and less vine leaves than its predecessor, until the final frame showed Bathsheba in all her glory, as Karl Bruillov intended.
I was the product of a more liberal age. I laughed, I danced, my eyes devoured the view. It was magnificent.

Then, in the hour remaining to me, before the Jannie might arrive, I searched for, and found a tin of paint, and a brush. And once more, covered up 'Bathsheba and the Grapes'. Did I do this to hide her for another forty years?
No! The weekend would find me at the Hardware counter in the Wonder Store, buying some plain ceramic tiles, and tile cement. Another 'nightshift' would see an exchange of art. The Ladies in the Lower Methil Annexe of Fife Technical College would have a nice, new tiled fascia above the wash-hand basins.

And Bathsheba would be coming home with me.


Do you really wish to continue ... ?
      ... click on the tile, only if you are certain!



    Go to Chapters ...
A Room with a View
The Face of an Angel
An Inconvenient Truth
Man of the People
One for the Ladies
The Grapes

Top of the Page

tachras Home Page
Talk to tachras
Translate into English
Darwin's Mouse
The Annexe