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love to make a documentary” by Michael Hughes
(Footnote: Michael was bold enough to be a Big Brother contestant in 2008)
I certainly don't think I would be described as one of the better behaved pupils, especially in my first two years. Having said that, I did stay on to sixth year and managed not to get suspended during my entire time, although having my mum working in the school office definitely helped me out of tricky situations, but was also a source of embarrassment. Mrs Penno, the Home Economics teacher, would regularly be heard shouting, “Michael, if you don't stop that I'll go down to the office and get your mum” – at which all my classmates would laugh.
Miss McCourt was probably the biggest factor in saving me from constant suspen-sions and bad marks. After second year, she moved me from my class full of bad influences into the more sedate class of 302. Another factor that made me settle down was the problem with my eyes. I had lost the sight in my left eye when I was 8 and, in fourth year, had to have a four hour operation to save the sight in my right eye. Thankfully the operation was a success and I was able to return to school after a month or two off.
I had this wild dream of becoming an artist and studied higher art, but needless to say I did not get into art school. Instead with 3 Highers at grade C, I enrolled onto a degree course in Quality Management at Paisley University. I remember coming home and telling my mum. “Quality Management, what's that?” she exclaimed. I did not really know myself, but I did know that it was a new emerging discipline and that there would be loads of jobs.
Sure enough my suspicions were right and I managed to get a one year paid work placement in Denmark as part of the course. It was a long way from my crazy days at St Michael’s, although in the Danish halls of residence there certainly were some wild times.
My spell in Denmark made me even more determined not to ruin my final year at Paisley University and I wondered why I was not allowed to sit next to Michael Porter on graduation day, a fellow St Michael's pupil who had done the same course as me. It turned out that I was first in line as I had graduated top of my class with a BSc with Distinction.
My new qualification enabled me to get a job as a Research Associate at the University of Portsmouth connected to a project they were working on with Procter and Gamble. They even threw in a free MPhil, although I certainly had to work hard on the thesis.
I stayed in Portsmouth for 16 months, but missed home and came back after my contract ran out. Always a dreamer, I wanted to go to film school and become a film director and make a movie based on my wild times in Denmark, but my mum, always the voice of reason, asked me why I would want to throw away all that work I had done in Quality Management. Something truly life changing was soon to happen, that would throw my existence into a totally new era.
The operation to save the sight in my right eye had led to a cataract developing and I decided to have the cataract removed in April 1998. When I woke up from the operation I could not see anything at all. My eye had haemorrhaged. As I had no sight in my left eye, it meant I was now totally blind. It was all made worse by the fact that I had to finish my MPhil. There were a few problems with the grammar in my work, but Mrs Mitchell in the English Dept kindly helped to sort that out and my mum acted as a typist whilst I dictated my thoughts on quality improvement. I was also enrolled on a 3 month residential rehabilitation course for blind people where I learned how to touch type and use a computer programme which enabled me to write my MPhil myself and access internet.
Despite my new skills being extremely valuable, I was not impressed by some of the attitudes of the staff at the centre as it was like walking back into the 1950's. Although I was totally blind, I was now even more determined to become a film maker. I started to write a script based on my experiences of the centre and decided to make a film which showed my life in Denmark and then becoming blind. Although losing my sight was very traumatic, it did give me the opportunity to start my life again and I managed to get a job at BBC Radio Scotland as a researcher on the Good Morning Scotland news programme. I now work as a radio producer at a new radio station for blind and partially sighted people called VIP on Air.
Hardly a day goes by when images of my time at St Michael's don't pop into my head, the steep embankments that I used to slide down on a chair from the sixth year common room, the assembly hall where many a school disco was held, the corridor next to the new gym where we used to queue for our lunch, switch out the lights, bang on the walls and windows and sing inappropriate songs. And how could I forget the wee nooks and crannies where the smokers and gamblers used to stand. When a place that I have once seen disappears, although I could not lose any more of my sight, it feels like my sighted days have been taken away again. Sure I still have the memories, but sometimes that is not always enough. My times at St Michael's are sometimes featured in stand-up comedy nights that I perform and I would love to make a documentary about the school before it closes as a lasting testament to the people and the building that have shaped my life.
Michael Hughes (pupil 1986-92)
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