Everyone has a talent.
No matter how high (or low!) someone is on the social scale, they have something of worth, something unique.
It matters not that ability was the result of nature or nurture, all that is required for that talent to blossom is opportunity ...
... and a little encouragement.


Let me tell you about Wee Wullie.
William Cameron was proof that no system is perfect. No matter how hard the educational system tries to teach, there are some people seemingly impervious to learning, the 'exceptions' to the 'rule'. Wee Wullie being one of them.
I'm sure that many teachers - some less than able, perhaps, some talented and dedicated to their cause - had tried their best to instil knowledge into William Cameron, or perhaps find that elusive talent - surely present in every child - and nurture it.
Alas, William Cameron shrugged off all efforts, and remained Wee Wullie. Not quite literate, not quite numerate, and never likely to see his name on any kind of Certificate of Education. Nature or nurture? Both shook their heads when Wee Wullie shuffled by.

Wullie was 'wee'. Only an optimist would call him 'over 5 foot tall'. In the smallest pair of overalls we could find, Wullie looked like a half-full sack of potatoes. The collar stuck up half-way over his ears, possibly a blessing when you saw the ears.
A cheery little face helped, but the knitted blue woollen toorie, tatty and oil stained, that Wullie always wore, only reinforced a striking resemblance to one of the Seven Dwarves. The bonnet was never removed, as Wullie suffered from alopecia. Without his hat, Wullie could pass as a cue ball in billiards.
Wullie accepted this ...
"It saves on haircuts, so it diz!"
... and to the eternal credit of the students at the Annexe, I never heard even one cruel remark about his baldness. Wullie was 'wan o' the boys'. Any stranger outside the Annexe making such an unwise remark, would be walking home with his teeth in his pocket. Assuming he was able to walk ...

Wullie, at the Secondary School, was the kind of pupil who lowered the average pass rate. Teacher after teacher gave up on the notion of Wullie and success. And so, rather than having a failure, it was easier to arrange a non-attendance at an exam, or simply never put his name forward at all. When the opportunity finally came to offload all the duffers on to School's Day Release, Wullie was sent to us.
After all, Technical Colleges were for the 'non-Academic', the spanner benders and the ditch diggers. Wullie became one of 'ours'.

We tried. We did try.
We showed Wullie the wonders of Car mechanics, but the first car he worked on, never ran again. We scrapped it. No-one dared to even use it as a source of spare parts. Not after Wullie ...
We thought about sending him to the main College in Kirkcaldy, but this would be an admission of failure. And anyway, the Principal would just have sent him back!
We thought about teaching him Woodworking, but the prospect of Wullie and sharp, powered tools was terrible to contemplate. Same with Electrical. Someone decided to send him to the Radio & TV classes. After all, what damage can you do with a radio? (This pre-dated the 'Ghetto Blaster')
And so we had a year of Wee Wullie in the Annexe. Jimmy Baxter taught his heart out for Wullie. And Wullie responded. His little face shone as he electrocuted himself, time after time. You could see the joy in his eyes as the simple task of chemically etching copper for printed circuit boards turned into a hissing green monster of dark alien froth and disintegrating metal chassis plates.
"Heh Sur! That chemical stuff disnae half eat ally, a LOT faster than yon copper! Magic, innit?"
Jimmy Baxter despaired.

The incentive to educate (or, at least, train Wullie) was overwhelming. If Wullie couldn't find a job when he left school, we would undoubtedly have him back next year on a pre-Apprentice Course.
I may have told you about the pre-Apprentice Course. After a year of School's Day Release, those who left school and failed to get work, were sent back to the College full-time. On a Pre-Apprentice Course. The idea being to make them more attractive to employers. Somehow, the attempt to make Wullie 'more attractive' seemed likely to induce facial tics and alcohol-induced tremors in the teaching staff designated for the task.
We tried not to think about it.

The next year came ...
... and so did Wee Wullie!

Don't get me wrong. Nobody disliked Wullie. He was friendly, likeable, always eager to lend a helping hand. The hard part was trying to turn down the offer (and inevitable catastrophe!) without making Wullie feel rejected. We sacrificed quite a lot of College stock, that year. It was hard, knowing that we, the Educators, were failing totally when it came to 'Educating' Wullie. The worst part was the possibility that Wullie would re-appear as a National Coal Board Apprentice. A four year apprenticeship. Four more terrifying years of Wee Wullie.
Could the Lower Methil Annexe of East Fife Technical College survive four more years of Wullie, Doom, and Disaster?
Could we ...?

As a lab technician, it was not my responsibility to ensure that Wullie received an education. My job required that I assist the teaching staff in any way possible, but not be directly involved in teaching. This gave me a detached, and indirect viewpoint. Very useful in our quest. To find whatever talent Wullie had, no matter how obscure or bizarre, to somehow educate him, and help him find a place in the world. A course in psychotherapy and stress management might also have been useful ...

One day, I believe I found that talent! Something that Wee Wullie was really good at. Something unique, and very useful. And something that we could not be taught by us, nor ever needed to be. For, in his own little niche, Wullie was a Master. I wish that he could have taught us.
On that day, Wullie was busy being Wullie. That afternoon, in the Electronics Practical class, Wullie had managed to electrocute himself for the third time, before finally blowing the Mains Supply fuse and removing all power from the Annexe. The printed circuit board etching chemicals had been locked in the Registrar's safe, and Rico Napier utterly refused to release the key as long as Wullie was in the neighbourhood. A brief attempt at making sheet metal chassis parts was abandoned before Wullie amputated a finger with the tin-snips.
Someone else's finger, I might add ...

Left to his own devices, Wullie puttered around on his workbench. Bending bits with his pliers, accompanied by the characteristic Wullie running commentary.
"Wha's stolen mah screwdriver?" bawled out to the entire classroom.
"Beside yer haund, Wullie."
"Oh! Aye! So it iz."
Bend. Bash. Twist.
"Aw c'maun! Wha's got mah pliers noo?"
Another strident demand.
"In yer other haund, Wullie."
"Right enough."
A re-assured Wullie.
"Aw! It's brokin' noo!"

"OK, everybody. Seeing as the power is off ..."
All eyes on Wullie.
"Whaaat??" queried Wullie.
" ... and it'll be gettin dark soon, you all might as well pack up and go home."
"H'rreh!" cheered Wullie. Jimmy Baxter's facial tic fluttered for an instant.
"Hopefully, it'll be back on come tomorrow."
Students need no prompting. The entire class was up and out the door in seconds. With luck, they could catch the early bus, at the stop outside the College front door. Jimmy just slumped back against the wall.
"Why me?"
It was only a whisper, but I'm certain that was what I heard.
"Why me?"

The road outside the Annexe was a busy one. Traffic would come revving up the brae from Lower Methil - a steep hill, so foot to the floor - and you had to watch out before crossing over to the bus stop. I strolled over to the classroom window, curious to see if the students would get to the stop before the early bus. Being in an upstairs room, I had an eagle's eye view of the road below. A cluster of students filled the bus shelter. The bus hadn't arrived yet, so they would all get home early. I couldn't see that disreputable blue toorie in the crowd, but assumed that Wullie must be in there, somewhere.

Just as a hard-driven Humber Sceptre came rushing up the hill, I caught the blur of baggy overalls, topped by a knitted blue bonnet. Wullie, presumably fresh from the Annexe toilets and still struggling with his overall buttons, dashed straight into the path of the speeding car.
The driver had no chance. Neither did Wullie.
Wullie crunched into the car radiator grille - I could hear the impact up in the classroom - flipped up onto the bonnet, slammed into the windscreen, before somersaulting over the roof, to land on the road behind the car. The impact was so severe that the car was jerked to a halt, just in front of the stunned students at the bus stop.

I whispered in the voice that forms with utter disbelief.
"I think that Wee Wullie just got killed by a car."
Jimmy rushed to the window. The incredible is often unbelievable until you check for yourself. What he saw was scrum of students surrounding a car. It was impossible to see any details. That was enough to start us running for the stairs. I tried to convey to Jimmy, what had happened, but it was pointless. We could do nothing till we got to the scene of the accident.

We had to push the students out of our way to reach the car.
"Get out of the way! There's been an accident!"
As if they didn't know ...
When I saw the car, I was appalled. The chrome grille was mangled, and barely recognisable. Steam swirled up from the water that gushed out from the crumpled radiator. The laminated windscreen was crazed and crumpled like a cheap cellophane box, and the bonnet was stoved in by the impact of Wullie's body, as it was flung over the car.
"Oh my God! Where's Wullie? Nobody can survive getting hit like that! Where's Wullie?"
If I sound slightly hysterical, then I was. The car was a wreck. Heaven knows what Wullie was like. I had done all the first aid courses with the National Coal Board, but that was all triangular bandages and artificial respiration - not real blood and splintered bone. Still, you've got to, haven't you? That's what the training is for. I struggled around to the rear of the car. If anyone resisted my passage, they were simply brushed aside. My mind - and my stomach - were churning. I didn't expect that my training would be of any use - not after that impact - but I could at least cover the body. I was certain that it would be the only aid that I could give to Wullie.

As I made way to assist Wullie, Jimmy Baxter was gathering up the students around the car, and shooing them back towards the bus stop. The students were merely obstructions, and Jimmy knew that he had to get to the driver of the car. The way that Wullie had shot across the road, had given the driver no chance to take avoiding action. That would mean nothing to a traumatised driver.
"Ah've killed him. Ah've killed him. Ah couldnae stop. Ah've killed him."
The driver clung rigidly to the steering wheel. Knuckles white, head bowed, unseeing. Chanting the mantra of desperation, common to all those at the heart of a tragedy. Innocent, but full of guilt. Alive when others were not.
"Ah've killed him. Ah've killed him ..."
Jimmy opened the driver's door, and put his hand on the man's shoulder. A comfort.
"Just hang in there, son. There was nothing you could do. It wasn't your fault."

At the back of the car, I was still searching for Wullie. I could not find him! I looked frantically around. Nothing! I dropped to my knees, twisted over to look under the car. Unlikely, but just in case Wullie had ended up under the wheels. Not a thing.
A gruesome thought struck me. Wullie had been flung up into the air by the impact. Perhaps his bloody corpse would be up there, hanging grotesquely from a lamp post or shop sign. No. On top of the bus shelter. No. I pulled myself back upright, the better to look around.
"Where's Wullie?"
Surely no-one could get run down by a car, then just vanish.
Anguish was rapidly turning to confusion.
"Wullie! Where the hell are you?"

I slowly made my way round to the side of the car.Jimmy still stood there, his hand still comforting the driver.
"Jimmy. It's Wullie ..."
"Is he ..?"
Jimmy was thinking, much as I had done. Believing the worst.
"I don't know, Jimmy. I don't know."
I think that Jimmy was more concerned for me, at that moment.
"I didn't reckon there was anything you could do. With a crash like this, I was sure that Wullie would be gone."
"Oh, he's gone all right. I can't find him!"
Now there were two confused people.
"What do you mean 'gone'? He has to be someplace."
The driver still sat there, the mantra slowing and becoming quieter.
"I'm telling you Jimmy. I can't find him."
"He has to be someplace."
A little insistence crept into Jimmy's voice.
"Well you find him!"
More than a little exasperation crept into mine.
We both looked.

Jimmy looked under the car. I searched the lampposts again. Then Jimmy looked up as I looked around. We wandered around in a tight little circle, at the back of the crashed car. A bus shelter, full of excited students 'rubbernecked' the crash scene. We checked the left side. We checked the right side. We looked up the brae. We looked down the brae. We scratched our heads, then repeated the process again.
No Wullie!
Eventually, we were joined by a third party. The driver. Still a little shaken and white-faced, but recovered enough to wonder what was going on.
"What are you two looking for?"
A reasonable question.
"We're looking for Wullie!"
"Who's Wullie?"
The situation was really getting to me, and I snapped back - unfairly - to the driver.
"He's the boy you hit with your car!"
The driver stumbled back as if I'd slapped him. I felt terrible.
"I'm sorry! It wasn't your fault. Honest!"
"Have I killed him?"
The driver asked. It was a question, not a demand.
"We don't know."
"You don't know if he's dead or not?"
The strain was evident on his face.
"No. We don't know where he is."
"What do you mean 'We don't know where he is.'? He has to be someplace."
The driver became the newest member of our group. Head swivelling around. Next up, then down. Gradually absorbing the sight of one thoroughly wrecked Humber Sceptre - his! - but failing, like Jimmy and myself, to spot any visible cause of the devastation. Three confused people.
"He's gone."
A brilliant observation from the driver.
"Oh, he's gone all right. We can't find him!"
An accurate, and somewhat familiar, observation from Jimmy.
"What do you mean 'gone'? He has to be someplace."
An equally familiar rejoinder from the driver.

As the first person to determine that Wee Wullie was 'gone', I thought it was time to broaden my focus. Jimmy and the driver were doing a great 'Laurel and Hardy' routine, and I saw no point in turning it into 'The Three Stooges Lose Wullie'. The students in the bus shelter were giving a high rating to the comedic efforts.
"Are you hiding the body?"
The driver demanded an accounting.
"Of course Ah'm no hidin the body! A'hm no Burke and ah'm no bluidy Hare!"
The careful English that Jimmy normally used in his teaching, was rapidly degenerating into the Lochgelly original.
"So, who's going to pay for the damage to my car?"
The oohs from the audience showed a keen appreciation of the rapidly escalating incident.
"Yer bluidy insurance, I trust!"
The hesitation in the reply, told the crowd that Jimmy had scored.
"Eh ... That's not the point."
"And how about your Road Tax?"
Advantage Jimmy.
"How about the flaming car?"

This looked like being a long match, but the arrival of the early bus caught the attention of the spectators. Decisions to be made. A good show, or a long walk home? No contest. Who wants to walk?
In a body, the student mass surged on to the bus, waving free bus passes, weekly tickets or simply slipping by the conductress in the throng. I stood there, watching them fight for seats, using elbows and any weight advantage they had. The smaller students used diminutive size and agility, to squirm past their slower and larger competitors. They were up the stairs, on to the upper deck, and seated, faster than a rat up a drainpipe. Most chose to sit on the side facing the wreck. With seat secured, they still wanted to catch the last act. I could see Wee Wullie's cheery face, topped by that unmistakable blue toorie. Catching the action from the balcony seats. Trust Wullie to get a good view of the calamity!

"Wait a minute ..."
I might have been a bit slow on the uptake, tragic accident and all that, but seeing Wee Wullie - one time leading man and star of the show - sitting there on the bus, made one thing clear. I don't know how - not then, not now - but Wullie had survived the accident. Whatever jungle sense had preserved him, had also driven him to seek shelter in the student crowd. Wullie was undoubtedly the sole cause of the car wreck, and an uninsured driver would be desperately searching for the guilty party to foot the bill.
That was never going to be Wullie. Wullie could survive any disaster. He'd had lots of practice.

I was finally able to extricate Jimmy from his double act. Get him to one side, before the police arrived and made life complicated. A quick whisper in the ear, a few strangled expletives, and Jimmy saw the wisdom of leaving the stage to the new star turn - untaxed and uninsured driver versus the police. I was sure that we'd be reading about it in the Fife Free Press, in the next edition.

We both had a word with Wee Wullie, the following day. Jimmy gave him a lecture on Road Safety and scaring years from the life of teaching staff. I just asked him if he was hurt in any way. Not a mark. No abrasions or contusions. Nothing. Wullie was entirely unharmed.
That was Wullie's talent. Unique. Unteachable. To use a phrase that was becoming fashionable at the time, William Cameron was a Zen Master. Of survival. He was often the cause of a disaster, but he would always survive it. If the often feared World War 3 had taken place - with, or without Wee Wullie's active participation, the radioactive wasteland that remained, would have been populated by cockroaches ...
... and Wee Wullie.

Wee Wullie never did come back to the Lower Methil Annexe, as a Coal Board Apprentice. We all breathed a sigh of relief. He joined the Army instead. Some one must have stretched their imagination, as well as Wullie's height. The Army did that sometimes.
When we found out, we really started to worry. Wee Wullie in the Army. The possibilities ...

As it turned out, we needn't have worried. The Army was the best place for Wullie. To quote an article, several years later, in the Fife Free Press ...

"Today, Lance Corporal William Cameron of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was decorated for a heroic act of gallantry.
With complete disregard for his own personal safety, Lance Corporal Cameron rescued three members of his platoon who had inadvertently strayed into a minefield. Despite triggering off several anti-personnel mines, Lance Corporal Cameron repeatedly re-entered the minefield and carried the injured platoon members back to safety and medical attention, one platoon member at a time.
His Commanding Officer described it as 'a miracle'."

What the newspaper didn't say, was that Wee Wullie went back into the minefield for a fourth time. To retrieve his toorie!

'Wee Wullie' Cameron. Natural Born Survivor.

Top of the Page

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