Born: July 20, 1948;

Died: June 13, 2021.

BACK in the 1970s there were numerous exotic plants sprouting from the pathways of the West Lothian town of Livingston. On closer inspection they turned out not to be plants at all, but outlandish, oversized public works of art. Each sculpture ditzy as a Dali clock.

These hallucinatory visions of weirdness were awarded mocking titles by the local kids who clambered up and down them. One twisty-turny concrete curio was named the Curly Wurly, while a series of rock-studded monstrosities of faintly sinister shape were dubbed the Daleks.

The residents of Livingston, which was still a very new town back then, were every bit as idiosyncratic as their civic artworks.

Escaping the musty old conurbations of Glasgow and Edinburgh, Livi locals were pioneer people, much like those hardy folk from old cowboy flicks who moseyed on West in covered wagons.

Having been raised in Livingston myself, I can testify to its off-kilter otherness. In the council-house street where I grew up there lived a reformed robber. (Not reformed enough, as it happens. He was soon attempting to break into the house of his next door neighbour.) A military chap and his regimented wife and offspring. A millionaire who had lost his millions. A go-go dancer. The bloke responsible for popularising skateboarding in Scotland. A journalist who once met Omar Sharif. A single mum working as a cleaner. Plus many, many rough-and-tumble kids, revelling in their rough-and-tumbleness.

To be the headmaster – or heidie – of a school in Livingston, you had to be a little bit unusual. A wee bit special. David Lewis Thomson – Lewis to his friends, Mr Thomson to his students – was such a man.

In the late 1970s and early 80s I was one of his pupils at Almondbank Primary in Craigshill Livingston. I recall Thomson as a kindly, engaged, sympathetic educator, with more than a passing resemblance to Clark Kent.

He may not have had a Superman alter ego (as far as I know) though there was a colourful and adventurous side to him, triumphantly revealed whenever he wrestled with the bagpipes.

‘Wrestling’ is actually the wrong word as there was no struggle involved. He was a talented musician who was asked to perform at numerous weddings, and was at one time a member of both the Perth and District and Pumpherston Pipe Bands. In 1982 he competed in a piping competition in Brittany.

Thomson’s bagpipes became part of the warp and weft of Almondbank Primary life, with the headteacher regularly playing them at school discos and theatrical productions.

He also encouraged youngsters in his charge, perhaps in vain, to take up the instrument.

Music was not his only creative outlet. He enjoyed literature and at one time wrote a children’s novel. Sadly it remained in a drawer and was never published. He did, however, create, along with two colleagues, a series of primary school textbooks and tapes, published by Heinemann.

While developing them he would test-run the separate chapters on Almondbank classes. Each section revolved round a fictional story, specially written for the educational materials. These were interactive tales, with questions for pupils to answer. I recall that we had to guess how each adventure would end.

One particular yarn involved a boy in a jam who has to prevent a gang of robbers nabbing some loot. The only weapon at his disposal is bubble-gum.

What will the boy do? Mr Thomson asked my class.

“Blow the bubble-gum up until it’s a hot-air balloon!” we suggested. “Splurge it into a shotgun-shape then blast the bad guys to smithereens!”

The actual answer was slightly more prosaic, though a lot more believable. The kid squished the bubble-gum into the gap in a door-lock, thus preventing the thieves gaining access to the treasure-packed room.

Some of those details I may have got wrong. Even so, it’s one of the few fictional stories from childhood of which I have strong recollections. And it was written by my headmaster.

As I mentioned, Livingston was a hardscrabble place back then, and Almondbank pupils were council-house scrappers, often short of ready cash and lofty aspirations.

Many kids used disposable plastic shopping bags for school satchels, and in the summer I don’t remember any of my friends jetting abroad for glamorous vacations. Instead, you would find us in the surrounding fields, building maze-like houses out of freshly mown grass. (Cheap entertainment, though a tad precarious for anyone suffering from hay fever.)

Thomson didn’t just want his charges to learn to read, write, add and subtract. He wanted them to believe in a better future. For example, he had a passion for outdoor pursuits, and planned to take pupils skiing, though, of course, Almondbank kids were unlikely to own outfits for such a swish pastime.

He managed to obtain, free of charge, some rather hideous looking green Gore-Tex material from a nearby factory. Local mums stitched jackets, trousers and gloves from these offcuts.

And so the pupils learned to ski. They also learned that nothing was beyond them, as long as you had a little perseverance and a lot of imagination.

Thomson himself came from a relatively humble background, growing up the youngest of three children in Newport-on-Tay, where his father, also David, was a Co-Op grocer, and his mother, Isa, a florist.

He did a general studies degree at St Andrews University, where he studied Scottish History, German, Russian and Philosophy.

At university he met his wife-to-be Maureen, who became a French and German teacher. Together they had three children, Joanne, Robin and Gavin.

After working in a few schools, Thomson was made headmaster of Almondbank Primary, where he thrived.

Unfortunately, after 25 years of his stewardship, the council closed the school. Thomson led an unsuccessful campaign to keep it open, and was bitterly disappointed when its doors shut for good, despite community wishes.

Thereafter Thomson worked as a temporary headmaster in various schools, eventually becoming a lecturer in childcare at West Lothian College, retiring in 2006.

In 2007 he and Maureen moved from Murieston in Livingston to Kincraig, Speyside. Sadly, the next year Maureen died of cancer, leaving her husband bereft. But he chose to stay in Speyside and, using that Livingston pioneer spirit, courageously forged a fresh future for himself as a DJ with Aviemore-based radio station Speysound FM.

The bagpipes weren’t his only musical passion. He also had an eclectic taste in modern material, enjoying Hendrix, the Stones, Roxy Music and Queen. On his radio show he played many of his favourite bands and also promoted up-and-coming local groups.

Starting by presenting one radio show, he eventually juggled three, including his ‘Star Maker’ extravaganza, which celebrated the best of the new, raw talent from the area. Kept busy, and by now something of a Speyside celebrity, he still had time to volunteer with the local transport scheme helping elderly, isolated people get their shopping.

Various debilitating illnesses, including a stroke, eventually meant he could no longer help others and was admitted to Ivy Bank Care Home in Polmont, where he passed away. He is survived by his brother Ritchie, children Joanne, Robin and Gavin, and grandchildren Katie and Mairi.

Speaking personally, I have to admit that the time when Thomson was headmaster of Almondbank Primary School now seems long ago and out of reach. The Livingston world he presided over is scattered and lost, like a house made of grass giving way to the winds.

But I do know that youngsters are like bubble-gum. Benefiting from a headmaster’s care and a headmaster’s encouragement they can splurge and squish, stretch and expand. Take on fantastic shapes and be the heart of their own adventure.

I learned that story as a child. It was David Lewis Thomson who taught it to me.