• Amy McLean

By Wisdom and Honesty: An Extended Epitaph to My School and My Saviour

Updated: Mar 13

The following piece was intended for a publication that never came into fruition, but as another part of my heart shatters with each day that drags us closer to the final day my alma mater Torry Academy closes its doors for the final time...well, I knew I couldn't abandon this. As such, I've decided to share it here, perhaps for you pleasure but mostly for mine.

I was a student at Torry Academy in Aberdeen from 2004-2009. The following words barely scratch the surface of my eternal gratitude - the whole school, and particularly the English department - but it is a start.

By Wisdom and Honesty, with these memories I love thee; in my heart evermore will be Torry Academy.

More images below. I wanted to start with this one because a) I loved doing Anne in 2006 and b) it took me twelve years to realise I'd flashed the audience.

An Extended Epitaph to My School and My Saviour

'If I don't write to empty my mind,' begins Lord Byron in a letter to Thomas Moore while in Italy in 1821, 'I go mad.'

Those words were penned when the poet, of Aberdonian heritage, was just shy of completing his thirty-third year. He continues his scribe to Moore with, 'As to that regular, uninterrupted love of writing […] I do not understand it. I feel it as a torture, which I must get rid of, but never as a pleasure. On the contrary, I think composition a great pain.'

That torture of which Byron speaks is not a sparse phenomenon. The dichotomy of liberal creation and mental captivity has been greatly observed in artists across time: the laden troubles of Vincent Van Gogh; the recurring turmoil of Beethoven; the suicide that crippled the souls of such figures as Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf; and Lord Byron's own acknowledged manic depression.

It can be argued that Byron turned to writing, by default if not by choice, as an escape from his own self. Whatever the reason for his unquenching penmanship, his juvenilia can be traced back to his early years where he grew up on Broad Street, and before that Queen Street, with his mother in Aberdeen. Although riddled with mischief and spoilt as the only child of Catherine Gordon, Byron's muse broke free in his youth as he scribbled early stanzas about relatives beloved and lampooned. However, it is not so certain how much his years spent at the Aberdeen Grammar School impacted on his ability to merge quill and ink.

Some two miles south of that school though, across the bridge and over to the other side of the Dee, there stands a school in its ninetieth, and final, year. It is a school wherein opportunities are developed, passions are evolved, and, in at least one certified case, one's dependence on the written word is discovered, nurtured, and propelled.

Torry Academy, quaint in design and ever adaptive, stands presently as the hub of the community. The labyrinthine structure encourages the weaving in and out of educational discoveries: to start at the top, a rainbow of colours and textures reminiscent of those early memories of which Mrs Tilcher is so cooingly fond; spiralling down a flight of stairs to the realm of politics and volcanoes and modern technology, a space wherein Mrs Pankhurst is brought to life und sprechen sie Deutch oder Französisch.

A further descent, and along a corridor, a fraction of the journey but with scope for growth more infinite than Pi. Leaving the numbers, and heading into the lower stretch of the building, where the Bunsens burn, the woodlice hide, and theories are philosophised.

A brief jog to where heartbeats are raised, where balls are bouncing, trainers squeaking, and showers dripping with the unformidable threat of post-workout chill.

Onto the final stretch of the journey, the remaining corridor is flooded with the ambient spills of clattering beaters and banging drums; this is the corner where restrictions are limited, where confidences can be stretched and thespians can explore.

Beside it, plays blend into prose, the discourse in fiction projected in the voices of poetry. Proud walls display posters of narrative structure and vocabularic expansion, juxtaposing splashes of onomatopoeia with harrowing highlights of the hyperbolic.

Nestled in the safety of each room, language is ignited and stories are spurred, presenting the allure of the alliterative and the rhythm of rhyme. Vast worlds are discovered in weighty tomes, stacked high with the promise of adventures,

An unlocking of

Creative minds, whether through

Haiku or the Bard.

But is this a dagger which I see before me? Nay, it is a pen, a mightier weapon that the sword. A lesson in soliloquies manifests not simply as a humble introduction to the monologue, but as the beginning of one's monopoly on the self. It entices control over self-exploration, of a discovery of true passions, where neither education nor leisure become a monotonous trek through a monosyllabic world of the drab, the dull, and the dreach.

For some, as here, it is within those walls of unrivalled literary exploration that the true journey into the future begins. It is where a devotion to the written word is discovered, and that discovery is then nurtured, its fibres teased away from its core until they become something more prominent, more paramount.

More permanent.

Such a chapter is introduced with a voyage through youth as the narrator fondly recounts tales of Boyish adventures. We progress to the Turbulent Term as endured by Tyke Tiler, and onto the Private and Peaceful emotive voice of Michael Morpurgo. There's the dramatic personas from Arthur Miller, a brief glimpse at Winona Ryder in the cinematic Crucible, before a pitstop into the dreamy DreamWorks world of Shrek for an analytical discovery of character and structure.

Onto the allegory of Snowball and the apples and milk of the Russian Revolution, before brushing against Carol Ann Duffy and onwards to the balcony to gaze upon the teenage maiden of the House of Capulet.

For Juliet, the journey ended in tragedy, but for the student and scholar, the reader, the writer, the gadabout artist, there is only pleasure in the future. It is a beautiful joy with roots planted in the mound 'neath the school, never supplanted by constraints of a suppressive society.

A discovery of writing is an understanding of the self, and for a school, presented as a journey beyond bricks and mortar, to instigate such a reward must not go unnoticed. Through turbulent times and ill-fitted challenges, there is a tickling of insanity threatening to bind the soul; but equipped with the pen, a gift bestowed by the school, I am saved from myself, and in turn canst see naught black of soul.

'Ere the school shuts its doors for one final time, I pledge the part of me that learned to love the word and the world eternally to those corridors where stories came to life, and in turn to those educators who brought about that light.

By Wisdom and Honesty, with these memories I love thee; in my heart evermore will be Torry Academy.

Amy x

G-Nation Challenge, 2008

In London for the G-Nation Challenge, 2008

Halloween party in the hall, 2009

Halloween 2009 with the people who kept me (in)sane

Year 5/6 Youth Philanthropy Initiative, 2009

Devils' Cauldron, 2008/9

Campaigns Group, 2008

I may not look ecstatic, but I probably was.

#TorryAcademy #LochsideAcademy #AmyMcLean #Aberdeen

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