Out of my depth this week, having been asked to help out with Standard Grade History at the local High School. For my sins, I had been researching mining in our county and produced 30 minutes of “death-by-PowerPoint” of which I was quite proud, Starting with the monks of Newbattle around 1200AD and finishing with the demolition of the winding gear at Monktonhall a decade ago, I see this epic story as integral to cultural identity in the Western part of the county.
At the appointed hour, I am in the school hall and ready when eighty or so sixteen-year-olds of S4 pour in, lively as a barrel of monkeys. After they’ve been herded down to the front and brought to order, the ensuing silence is remarkable…
…and continues throughout the talk. There was no interruption, no misbehaviour. But nor was there anything out there resembling sentient life forms. It was as if all eighty just zoned out. It didn’t matter what I said about the dangers of medieval bottle mines or the perils of firedamp or the 207 men lost at Blantyre in 1877, I was not in contact. To be fair, even their parents are too young to remember pitheads at Tynemount, Limeylands, Fleets, Prestongrange or Preston Links. But I might as well have been talking Martian.
It is possible that I pitched my talk wrong but it was as good as I had in me. At the end, there was only one question: why had I researched this—did my family have mining connections? No, I said, I have a fishing background but I thought understanding others’ cultural history was cool. That seemed to stump them entirely. Rather than ask more questions, they chose punishment—sitting in silence until the end of the period.
For myself, I stopped digging the hole I was in, packed up the equipment and left quietly.