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Memoirs - Scotland (1988)

Today I continue posting memoirs (see here for more), little tidbits of my life experience.


Since the first grade I’ve been a student at Willowdale Christian School and I’ve come to enjoy the place as much as a boy can ever enjoy his school. But here, just a few weeks into seventh grade, I am saying goodbye to my classmates. My father has decided to spend a few years studying in the Free Church of Scotland seminary in Edinburgh and, of course, the rest of the family will be going along for the adventure. Already mom and dad have taken the long flight to Scotland and have found us an apartment to live in until we can find a house of our own. My classmates present me with a big coffee table book about my city, the city of Toronto. They all write their names in the front cover, along with inscriptions that must seem awfully witty to adolescents. I don’t cry as I walk out of that school for the last time.

The next day we are off, boarding a British Airways 747 that will take us to Heathrow Airport; there we will need to catch a 757 for the short hop to Edinburgh. Many hours and many time zones later, we touch down in our new city and load all of our bags into a cab. Our furniture and other possessions will follow in a shipping container. The cab takes us almost to the downtown core and drops us outside a nice little apartment block that we will call home for several weeks. I crawl into bed and do not awaken until mid-afternoon the next day. Very quickly I discover a nearby bakery that serves the most delicious cream buns. We explore the city, slowly finding what there is to see and do. We particularly enjoy the Edinburgh Zoo with its daily penguin parade where the ridiculous creatures march in a line along the pathways outside their enclosure. We explore Edinburgh Castle and visit many sites of great importance to church history. In the evenings we sit and watch as the crowds from the nearby football stadium march through the streets, drunk and obnoxious as they make their ways home to sleep off the gallons of beer they’ve consumed.

Eventually my parents find us a house in the suburb of Davidson’s Mains. Though the bakery is too far away now, I do find a wonderful fish and chips shop and a world-class candy shop that sells what must be the world’s best wine gums (still and always about the best candy a person can buy). I find that I am to begin school at the local public school. After visiting a clothing shop, where I get outfitted with dress pants, blazers, vests, crests, ties and shoes, I face my first day at the new school. Though shy and reserved, I eventually make a couple of friends and sometimes invite them to my home to play Subbuteo.

But the school is now what I am accustomed to. I fear violence in the school and often witness fights. I am told that carrying a backpack with the wrong team logo on it is sufficient to bring about a beating. Anti-Americanism is rife in the school and many people aren’t able or willing to distinguish between Canada and the U.S.. Ironically, even while anti-Americanism is a strong force in the school and in the country, American television and movies are widely admired and the boys in school even trade NFL trading cards. My parents learn of The American School of Edinburgh, a school for Americans working abroad, and enroll me there for my second term. As it is a much smaller school, I feel far more comfortable there. It helps that immediately across from the school is a restaurant that serves amazing baked potatoes with the topping of your choice.

It is at this school that I meet Bryan, an American boy from Alaska who is just about my age and whose father is an executive with an oil company. They are in Scotland for a few years and the company pays each of them—even the kids—a handsome allowance. Bryan and I become good friends and his constant wealth provides well for both of us. He and I often venture into the nearby areas, exploring as boys do. We venture off to Cramond Island, an island separated from the mainland by a causeway that is exposed only during low tide. Those who remain too long on the island will find themselves trapped there until evening. We spend one enjoyable day there though we make the mistake of shedding our jackets and leaving them in what we are convinced is a safe place. When we return to gather them, after exploring the Second World War-era gun emplacements left on the island, they are gone. We search far and wide and cannot find them. Eventually we are forced to hurry home through the rising tide lest we find ourselves stuck on the island.

We have difficulty finding a solid church here in the land of Presbyterianism. After some searching we do find one all the way across the city—a Free Church of Scotland. Because we do not have a car, we catch a series of buses early on Sunday morning and worship far from home. The church is very traditional and when visiting with members of the congregation we are required to treat the Sabbath entirely different from every other day. We may not talk about “secular” enjoyments on that day; we may go walking but we must not play; we spend much of the day talking about Scripture and studying the Catechism. Some mornings, when weather or other factors keep us from traveling across the city, we attend a nearby Church of Scotland. However, when we attend a Christmas service and are forced to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus, I decide never to return and face such humiliation.

As the school year draws to a close, my father realizes that there is a seminary in Canada that might better suit his needs. He and the rest of the family will spend most of the summer in Scotland before heading home just on time to begin the new school year in Canada. Thoroughly fed up with my Scottish experience, I ask my parents if they will send me home early. And so I find myself flying home alone to spend the summer with my good friend Paul. Though I miss my family, from whom I’ve never been separated for so long, Paul and I pass a long and joyous summer as brothers, or nearly brothers, doing what boys do.