Could there be any more inviting sight than the gangway at Wemyss Bay station, leading down to the Rothesay ferry? I was crossing the short stretch of sea to the Isle of Bute to spend a day at Rothesay Academy, and, by a well-known meterological rule, just as the school term was beginning and everyone was obliged to stay indoors, the weather had become absolutely gorgeous.
This school however is not a bad place in which to be indoors, a relaxed new building (2007) sharing a spacious campus with the primary school and Argyll College, surely a very advantageous and convenient setup. Music teacher Susan Weir, no relation, had managed to corral a 20-strong group of composition-curious students from several different year groups for my visit. (Such a mass absence from a whole day’s normal classes would, I fear, hardly be possible in the English school system any more.)
A whole school day spent on composition – in this case, the creation of a theme and variations, working in small groups of 2 or 3 – meant six hours of intense focus. I was greatly impressed by the good humour and willingness of the Rothesay students, several of whom were coming to composition for the first time. I’m not sure I would have been capable of this when I was their age, and indeed my own composing at home nowadays seems to happen in ever shorter bursts of concentration.
Whilst in Rothesay we became aware of Bute’s Syrian community; originally ten families (and now at least 50 children) who came to the island as refugees from 2015 on, and already make a big contribution to island life in shops and businesses. A nice BBC Scotland film follows some of this group; from 17’30” you can even visit Susan Weir in her classroom, with Syrian rapper and Academy student Ali.