Shakespeare influence evident as Irvine looks at seven ages of man

Four Score Years and Ten, by James W. Irvine. Published by A. Irvine, £11.40.

Love of words is the author’s excuse for coming with his 22nd book after promising at the end of Meandering that that would be his last. Now aged 92 years, he has a faithful readership in Shetland and beyond, and who are we to complain?

He has used an interesting device in planning the book; he follows the seven ages of man as set out by no less a person than William Shakespeare. Jeemie (if I may be so familiar – I was never a pupil of his) obviously has a high opinion of the bard’s writing and also an extensive knowledge of his various works.

Much of what is in this book is also in his previous books; but by going through the seven ages from childhood to old age he is able to pick out the highlights that have stayed most clearly in his memory and are probably most precious to him. There are also new anecdotes told and incidents described, plus the reflection which comes from maturity and age.

The first age of man is, of course, childhood; life on the family croft where his grandfather was a huge influence. The second age, schooldays at Virkie Public School then to the Anderson Educational Institute under another influential figure – A. T. Cluness.

His third age was university and college in Edinburgh where he graduated with an MA degree and began teacher training. However, this came to an end with the outbreak of World War II and he served in the army from 1940-46, finishing up as a reluctant second lieutenant. The over-riding reaction this period engendered was an absolute hatred of war, yet also admiration for the camaraderie in the serving forces and civilian population.

The fifth age saw him returning to Shetland in peacetime looking for work. The job of organiser of further education was a completely new appointment and with the enormous changes in society the time was ripe for Jeemie to give his energies and initiatives free rein. The present drama festival, music festival and junior inter-county, among others, can be traced back to this time.

With his second marriage and now a family, he moved on to class teaching and this was his sixth age. He taught in upper primary from 1951-66 and was head teacher of Lerwick primary with 840 pupils from 1966-77. His ambition was to make schooldays happy ones for his pupils and fulfilling for his capable staff. And despite classrooms in different localities in the town, this was achieved. It must have been such a relief when Bell’s Brae Primary School was finally built and they were, at last, all under one roof. Jeemie greatly regrets the demise of the education committee, and had it still been functioning we might by now have a new high school.

His seventh age is retirement, which is a bit of a misnomer, for he was busier than ever, the difference being he now had more choice. Foremost were trips to Norway and building lasting relationships there.

Four Score Years and Ten is not merely one man’s recollections of his life and career, it very much reflects a social history of our island community.

There are repetitions in the book which may be unavoidable. There are also some fine colour photos, though I am puzzled by the inclusion of septic tanks at Brae.

An engaging feature is Jeemie’s sense of gratitude to family, friends and colleagues for all their help and input to his life and achievements. I also enjoyed the whimsical tone of this book and his readiness to poke fun at himself.

His readers, myself included, must be truly sorry that failing eyesight has made him state, yet again: no more books. Personally, I hae me doots!

Alma Duncan


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