The Prescotian Webzine

My First Day at Prescot Boys Grammar School [Martin Riley, PGS, 1974-81]
My first day at Prescot Boys Grammar was a memorable one but for all the wrong reasons.

First I need to set the scene, I went to Our Lady’s & St Josephs Junior School just opposite the old Boys Grammar School site. Only a handful of kids from our school passed the 11 + exam. I now live “down south” in an area which still retains its grammar schools and were 1-2-1 private coaching to pass the grammar test is the norm. In Prescot in 1974 in my primary school we did not even sit any practice tests let alone get coached (the school plan was simple Eddie Arrowsmith for most and West Park or Notre Dame for the handful who managed to fluke the 11+ exam). Anyway what I am trying to get across was that passing the 11+ was a big deal not only in our junior school but also in my family, although a second cousin of mine had already got into the PGS 2 years before. So I fully expected to receive a suitably extravagant present for passing the exam either: a Magna Doodle, a year’s subscription to the Commando comics, a Mastermind board game or a pristine copy of Playboy magazine (we can all dream). Therefore you can imagine my bitter disappointment when I opened the packaging and discovered to my horror I had been given a humongous Joe 90 style shiny black plastic briefcase with a metallic trim. Apart from the total inappropriateness of this present for any 11 year old (or indeed anyone under the age of 43) it was also inordinately heavy, even an adult who regularly pumped weights would have found it a struggle, let alone for a kid, who put the weak into weakling.

Furthermore my mum insisted that this would now be my new school bag. I knew from this moment I was stuffed. I was quite shy, on my own at a new school (only one other person from my old school was going to PGS and he hated me) and the sheer terror felt by most kids when starting a new school was multiplied by a factor of ten by the thought of how the other kids would react to my briefcase. During the summer I fretted more and more about this issue, and this came to a crescendo after I had stayed up late one night and caught a furtive glimpse of the film “The Wicker Man”, to be fair I originally watched the film not for its gruesome portrayal of satanic rituals in a remote island community nor to see Edward Woodward’s understated but compelling performance as the tortured innocent but rather to have a quick peek at Britt Ekland’s boobs. In my febrile imagination l imagined turning up at PGS on the first day with the briefcase in hand, and this would inevitably lead to a re-enactment of the climatic final scene from the “The Wicker Man”, with me being ritually sacrificed in front of the whole school tied down by prefects ably supported by the teaching staff (hopefully with the possibility of a quick fondle with Britt before getting my comeuppance).
I spent the next 2 months trying to persuade my mum that this decision to send me into school with this briefcase amounted to a form of child abuse – all to no avail. The more I complained the more she dug her heels in. In the end I complained so much with so little result that I knew that whatever I did it had to result in the bag disappearing for good (and most importantly for it not to be replaced) and I also knew that any action I took must not incriminate me. I began to think about what I could do and over the course of time I discounted various options: a) staging a fake burglary (as I would have cracked the moment a copper asked me any questions – the bag would also still be replaced by household insurance); b) dropping something on the briefcase (as all my pocket money would be stopped for 12 years and the bag would still be replaced); c) starting a fire to destroy the bag (knowing my luck the fire would spread to the flat, all my worldly possessions would be destroyed, my kid sister killed in the conflagration, I would do life in a secure unit at Rainhill Hospital and the bag would still be replaced by household insurance). After watching the Colditz TV series I realised that what I needed was a plan (but I further discounted the option of tunnelling to Cronton or building a glider out of paper mache in our loft) and that this plan mustn’t involve either my death or my incarceration indefinitely at Her Majesty pleasure.  

It took time but I finally I hatched such a plan? The first stage would be me dumping the bag on the way to school, the second stage would be for me to say I was jumped on by a bunch of kids (not wearing blazers or ties) who had taken the bag and run off with it – that way the bag would be totally gone, my mum and the school would feel sorry for me (maybe I would get some extra time off to recuperate) and she would not insist on a like-for-like replacement which placed her only son in mortal danger. It was a high risk strategy as the whole plan was predicated on a number of implicit assumptions: a) that I walked to school that day; b) that if I disposed on the bag my mum would not go out and buy a replacement bag immediately therefore automatically putting me back in mortal danger. This was by no means certain, as she had once barred me from our caravan at Rhyl until I had played cricket with a West Indian family in the caravan next door, the dad of the family turned out to be a professional fast bowler in the Birmingham League and the eldest lad was a junior fast bowler on Warwickshire CC books, furthermore they were all very competitive and insisted on playing with a real cricket ball on an uneven cow field – quite frankly it I would have been safer shining cats eyes with my forehead during the rush hour on the M56 whilst blindfolded; c) because the briefcase was so large and would not fit into any standard corporation dustbin (I did a dry run) I would have to find a suitable place to dispose of it; d) clearly I would not be actually jumped on by ruffians and I had no witnesses to this effect so I had to make it look like I had been jumped (so I basically needed to duff myself up – a bit like Jim Carrey in the film “Liar, Liar”) and not be seen undertaking this bizarre act; e) that I develop a compelling but vague enough cover story so that I did not inadvertently implicate any lads who would then be blamed for something they did not do and then take out their anger on my sorry ass.

However, this plan did have some legs: 1) my mum could not drive and my dad was working in Manchester as a contracts manager so he was long gone by the time I went to school, plus he regarded providing lifts to school as tantamount to encouraging some type of deviant behaviour; 2) I had found a nearby industrial bin where I could sling the briefcase in (thank god for the BICC); 3) I had also found an alleyway near the school which would serve as the site for my fictional ambush, not overlooked by neighbours, with a patch in the alley where I could roll around to fake the aftermath of the attack and which was almost free of dog faeces and broken glass! The sheer preposterousness of this “plan” (for me a card carrying little goody –two- shoes with no previous, faking a crime and then lying through my teeth to all and sundry) never occurred to me at the time – all that mattered was the total and utter destruction of that briefcase.

Alas on the morning of my first day at PGS I awoke to find my dad unexpectantly waiting for me in the living room so he could give me a lift to school, while at the same time muttering under his breath that he did not see why he was giving me a lift, because when he was my age he had walked 5 miles to school everyday with his younger brother on his back, after carrying out a milk round, a paper round and cleaning out the pigs on the local farm blah blah (we have all been there - a sort of Prescotian equivalent of the Monty Python “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch). I was stuffed. I needed to think and think quickly, I knew what my dad thought about the briefcase i.e. that it was a pile of pretentious pseudo-middle class tosh (I am not sure he uttered these exact words, but he at least shared some of the sentiments?) and also knew he wanted to toughen me up by giving me access to some serious football boots (he had played at a decent amateur level but I never made it out of the Lambda 2nd XI in fact I would not have been picked for the Lambda 1st XI even if the whole of the 1st XI had contracted the Black Death). I felt that if I had a word with my dad man-to-man, there may be a way out, perhaps he would take pity on me, dispose of the briefcase on my behalf, even help me to fake the attack and witness it so adding to its authenticity – I was home and hosed - it could still work (notice that none of these increasingly outlandish options involved me or my dad simply standing up to my mum). After I cleaned my teeth I realised with utter horror that my mum was also tagging along in the van – something that she never ever done before – now I knew that I was totally and completely mega stuffed.

I remember every second of that fateful journey even now after 40 years – I have never before or since entered a motor vehicle wishing that I would become the victim of a serious road traffic accident – but we made it on-time and unharmed - there was no mad man on the road that day apart from me! I was dropped outside school and as I reached the main school gates I turned round and gave my parents the kind of half hearted resigned wave I now give to the secretaries when I enter my bosses office. On turning round I entered the playground and I was immediately aware of everyone’s eyes focusing on me and their sniggers. I saw my cousin in the distance look towards me (he was under instructions from his mum to greet me), he took one look at the briefcase stifled a laugh himself and then it suddenly dawned on him that if anyone realised he was related to me he was just as stuffed as I was – so he caught sight of an imaginary friend and walked in their direction away from me.

On the positive side, there was no ritual burning that day but on the negative side there was no quick fondle with Britt either and unfortunately I had also acquired a sub-zero street credibility rating of minus 1,258 (from which never quite recovered, although blaming entirely the briefcase incident for this state of affairs would be a gross over simplification).

Thankfully, there was no return on the second day for the dreaded school briefcase as I manned up - I cried all night, burst a few blood vessels in my eyes, hyperventilated, vomited all over the bathroom floor and finally psychologically broke my mum through sleep deprivation – and into the bargain confirmed my dad’s long held view I was a complete pussy!

Many years later when I was clearing out my dad’s things after he had passed away – I found the aforementioned briefcase stuffed under his bed full of insurance papers and the like. The passage of time had been a great healer and as my childhood memories came flooding back I gently dusted the briefcase and I solemnly carried it down the stairs - before I promptly setting about knocking seven bells out the case with a sledgehammer!!!

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