Full time education is a full time job.
And that doesn't leave much time for recreation,
be it sport or hobbies.
So you just have to manage the best you can ...
You can tell a lot about somebody by the way they play


How people treat life varies. Some devote everything to the job they hold - it's their life, their everything. Some grudge the time wasted, just walking from the Dole to the nearest pub, after signing on for their money.
I think it is fair to say that the teaching staff at the Lower Methil Annexe were mainly on the 'dedicated' side of work and life. They worked hard. Put the time in. Believed that they had something worthwhile to pass on. Usually in front of a sceptical (in some cases, hostile and determinedly indolent) student audience. If only they were handing out Oscars for great teaching performances, there would be many a cluttered mantelpiece in Methil

Don't get me wrong! Just because they worked long hours - day school, night school, and the time in-between writing reports, marking exam papers, preparing courses, copying hand-outs - did not mean that there was no time for personal pursuits.
On the contrary! If anything, the Annexe staff worked even harder on their hobbies and sporting ambitions. After a day, facing the lions (and the jackals!) in the arena, sanity demands an outlet.
I read a lot. Mainly Science Fiction (SF please! Never Sci-Fi!). I had, at that time, only once been to London - but I had walked the sands of Mars a dozen times, and watched the double suns dance brightly over distant worlds.
Sam Leckie repaired old cars in his spare time - OK, he taught Motor Vehicle Mechanics, but Sam LIKED fixing cars.
Jimmy Baxter and Reggie Fairfull, from the Radio & TV Department, played golf. Any time. Any where. Unbelievably, they had some of those bright orange golf balls, so that they could play when there were several inches of snow on the fairway.
It seemed that the harder it is to indulge in a relaxing pastime, the more effort and ingenuity people put in to it.

Reading was easy. I carried around enough SF paperbacks to start a small Library. If the books were read out, then any kind of paper, with text or illustrations, would do - from train timetables to the tatty copies of whatever magazines that our Janitor had nicked from the local Doctor's surgery.
And yes, I have read an Izal toilet roll!

Cars, in those days, always needed working on. Sam never had to look far for suitable material to practice on.
Jimmy and Reggie had a problem. Despite the incredible number of golf courses in Fife, Methil itself lacked the necessary. The nearest patch of green was the local bowling club, and golf practice on that green would be grounds for justifiable homicide! It would appear that golf swings need constant attention and adjustment. Regular maintenance was required. The pair needed somewhere to practice.
The 'somewhere' that they 'found' was the Colour Television Room.

I need to explain a few relevant facts.
I am writing this, many years after the fact. Almost everybody has a colour television. Many have one in each room. If you don't have a colour television, you are regarded as being 'slightly weird' and the TV Licence demands will still flutter through your letterbox.
Colour televisions, these days, are usually flat, have huge screens, don't take up much room and don't weigh much. Anything with a cathode-ray tube probably has instructions in Latin.
Forty years ago, televisions were mainly black-and-white (like a Hollywood flash-back). Colour televisions were new, hugely expensive, and just plain huge. The Annexe had one (Yes! Just one!) colour television.
It was all the College could afford. It was a monster of a set. A Rank-Bush-Murphy (Honest! That was the manufacturer's name!).Dual-standard, so you could watch the old 405-line black-and-white transmissions AND receive the new 625-line COLOUR transmissions on BBC2. Stuffed full of valves (vacuum tubes for USA readers) and set in an enormous wooden cabinet. It had the weight of a battleship, and we used a periscope to see the screen while we fiddled with its vitals around the back.
With 30,000 Volts sputtering around the cathode-ray tube, it had the potential to make viewing a hair-raising experience. So we kept our only colour television in its own Colour Television Room. Locked. Partly for safety reasons - a nudge or distraction was undesirable when you were only an inch from becoming a lightning conductor. Partly to dissuade some of our more 'troublesome' students from stealing expensive parts from it for their own financial advantage.
I must confess. I had my own key to the room. A new series called Star Trek had arrived from the USA, and being a SF fan, I just had to see it in colour.

As part of the 'safety precautions', Jimmy Baxter had acquired a large coir 'Welcome' mat. We reckoned that it would be an excellent insulator in the event of inadvertant contact with the high voltages in the back of the television. After all, one television engineer being electrocuted was a 'hazard of the trade', but frying an entire Radio, TV and Electronics Senior Class would be considered 'regrettable' by the College Principal.
And the paperwork would be incredibly time-consuming.

The locked room, and the coir mat, together, produced a desirable bonus as far as our golfing fraternity were concerned ...
You could practice (and hopefully, improve) your golf swing on the mat, in private. No sniggering students to offer 'suggestions'. A few lightweight plastic balls and a handful of tees were kept in a convenient drawer in the room's tool cupboard. It became a common sight, seeing Jimmy or Reggie entering the Colour Television Room with only a 2-iron or a sand-wedge for company. Such behaviour was, of course, noted by our students but eccentric ways were considered normal in College teaching. Five minutes with Rico Napier was proof of that.

That, as far as the Lower Methil Annexe was concerned, was the end of the matter.
A brief, unthinking, attempt at a practice swing, using a proper golf ball, resulted only in a few dimpled bruise marks, some similar indentations around the ceiling and walls of the Colour Television Room, and the furtive purchase of a replacement PL509 Line-Output valve from one of the senior students. And a sheepish look on Reggie Fairfull's face.
To match the bruises.
To the greater world outside, the golf practice sessions had a greater significance. The echoes are still reverberating. Until you hear the rest of the story, I believe that I am the only person, still around, who knows the whole story.

Golf, like all major religions, requires its participants to be believers. Anyone who wants to knock a small white (or orange!) ball around in all weathers, has to be a fanatic. The cost of the equipment is high. The use of the land is ridiculously expensive. Club fees are unbelievable (or reasonable, in the mind of the true follower). Family relationships are emperilled. And the number of golfers who end up in the rough with a heart attack are legion.
"No! You can't land that thumping great Emergency Helicopter here! Don't y'know there's a tournament here. I know old Simpkins is lying, gasping on the 9th green, but the Rulebook says to treat him as an obstruction, and play around."
The damned require the company of the damned, and golfers are always keen to draw outsiders to the Cause.

Which brings us to 'Cocoa' Rintoul.
His parents had named him Colin, but everybody called him Cocoa. Not because he was black, coloured or anything darker than sun-burnt. I don't think that Cocoa ever wanted to be a Colin, not even to please his parents. In fact, it was difficult to say that Cocoa ever wanted to be anything. A lad, more lacking in ambition, would be hard to find. Hard working, a pleasant nature, and always attentive. But even the most dedicated teacher eventually despaired of ever finding the spark that would ignite Cocoa.
Even the words, as I write them, sound ridiculous and futile. Unil I remember my Coal Board days. And the dangers of explosions. Dust explosions. Coal dust in my time, but equally applicable to sugar, flour, even cocoa powder. But that was much later in life.
In the Annexe, Cocoa was pleasant, but dull. Like the bed-time drink.

Then came that Wednesday. A not very special day in a not very wonderful week. It was late in the year - late October or early November - and the nicest thing about the weather was the fact that it was cold and damp, rather than cold, wet and miserable. Pretty much Methil in outlook. Jimmy Baxter was 'inbetween classes' or, to be precise, practicing with an old (wooden shafted!) putter in the Colour Television Room.
I was 'assisting'. This involved sitting in front of our mammoth colour television, checking that Star Trek was still in 'Color' and wondering why Mister Spock had a pink complexion when his blood was supposed to be green.
Serious question, that!

Snick! Whirr! Plonk!
Jimmy was putting across the linoleum covered, wooden floor into a tumbler, lying on its side. The floor was old, and warped. The linoleum ancient. The marks and scores of many generations had given it a surface that would defy Nostradamus to predict the path of the golf ball.
And yet, every time - Snick! Whirr! Plonk! - Jimmy had the ball in the cup ... well, tumbler ... every time. Without fail. If the greens at St Andrews or Gleneagles had been laid with old, distressed linoleum, Jimmy Baxter would have been Open Champion. Instead, with limited imagination, the Golfing Authorities had insisted on grass. And Jimmy remained at Methil, teaching Radio and Television to students who considered the free use of a van to be the most important aspect of TV Servicing.

A knock on the room door, and a between-putts "Hello", brought Cocoa Rintoul into the room. No-one in the room tried to look busy, or pretend that they were actually fixing anything TV related. In the main college in Kirkcaldy, perhaps they might have. In the Methil Annexe, everyone knew the score. (We always had a good crowd in for the football matches).

"Ah! Colin. Good. I wonder if you could do me a wee favour?" said Jimmy, squaring up for the next, inevitable putt. "I wonder if you could distribute all the new timetables to the classes on the nightschool. They're in the Staff Room."
"Aye. Nae tother a'baw, Surr!" replied Cocoa."Ah'll get richt oan tae it!"
"No rush." returned Jimmy. "Nightschool doesn't start for over half an hour."
Cocoa lingered in the doorway, watching Jimmy.
Snick! Whirr! Plonk!
Snick! Whirr! Plonk!
Never a miss.

"Izzat no hard, Surr?" asked Cocoa.
I just happened to look away from the Starship Enterprise. Lieutenant Uhura must've had that week off, and it wasn't one of the better plot lines. I could see Cocoa's eyes as they followed the ball.
Snick! Whirr! Plonk!
He appeared to be interested. No, I would say, he was fascinated by Jimmy and that relentless, unfailing procession of putting.
Snick! Whirr! Plonk!
"Hoo d'ye dae that? That's magic, so that is!"
Snick! Whirr! Plonk!
Jimmy uttered the words that unknowingly changed worlds ...
"Colin. You can do anything if you put your mind to it."
"Izzat right, Surr. Izzat right?"

At the time, I had no idea why that moment stuck in my mind, but somehow, it felt that the world had hit an unsuspected bump on the green, and we were all headed straight for the pin. A birdie, rather than settling for a par. I settled back to watching the crew of the Starship Enterprise. Jimmy carried on with the putting.
Snick! Whirr! Plonk!
And a fascinated Cocoa watched from the doorway.

In the final months of his TV Servicing course, Cocoa Rintoul worked hard. He asked questions. Meaningful questions. He seemed to sparkle. Looked interested. You could say inspired. No-one else said anything. Perhaps it was only myself that noticed. When you are marked as 'dull', that is that. The box has been ticked. You have been classified. Nothing more to report.
Even when he passed the City and Guilds Final Examination with 'Distinction', and left, so we thought, to be a TV mechanic, it was with a congratulatory handshake and a 'wish you well in your future career'.
Nothing more. We all got ready for the next year's classes.
And we all forgot about Cocoa. Dull, unexciting Cocoa Rintoul.

A few years later, the postcards started to arrive. From around the world. With a little handwritten "Hello" from Cocoa Rintoul. Not your standard Scenes from Somewhere Exotic, or scantily clad beauties. Just a simple photograph on the front. A picture of Cocoa Rintoul and one or two other people. Apart from the postmark and the stamp, they might have originated anywhere. Who the people were? At the time, I had no idea. Nobody that I have heard of. Just Cocoa and friends. I put them into my desk drawer, and forgot about them. Until the next card arrived. Then I would pull them out and look at them all again. All the same. Just Cocoa and friends.

If it had not been for a growing interest in Formula 1 Motor Racing, I might never have noticed. I reckoned that I could spot a winner before anyone else. Find the Champion. I really should have put bets on. Jim Clark. Jackie Stewart. Alan Jones. Ayrton Senna. I followed them from the start in Formula 1. There were other winners and champions. But I only followed the ones that had class. No matter what the commentators and pundits said, I followed them first.
Especially Michael Schumacher.
More titles than anyone. And somehow familiar ...

Cocoa's next postcard brought out the set. And there, years before, was Cocoa Rintoul and a young Racing Kart Driver. A very youthful Michael Schumacher. Postmarked in Germany.
Amazingly, Cocoa Rintoul had known Michael Schumacher!
And also in the pile of cards, another, now, familiar face. Postmarked Brazil. Ayrton Senna. I could hardly believe it. All those years before, Cocoa Rintoul had known TWO World Champions.
The rest of the cards were scanned. Far more thoroughly than before. Who else?
It took a bit of research in the local library, but I matched up another face or two. A very young Tiger Woods - the golfer. Jimmy Baxter would be proud. I thought that I could spot a winner, but Cocoa had been there years before me.
I still have a lot of faces to match up, and I'm not saying who I've spotted. But one card really shook me. That one featured Barack Obama. Fifteen years before he became President. It looked like Cocoa Rintoul was saying something to Barack. I have no way of knowing what was said, but I think that I might just have a memory.
All those years ago in the Lower Methil Annexe.
Jimmy Baxter.
Cocoa Rintoul.

"Colin. You can do anything if you put your mind to it."

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