The Prescotian Webzine

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For a while, now, I have been enjoying the website and contributions from some of my former school and classmates. Particularly enjoyable were the sixth form photos sent in by Terry (Tex) McDonnell, one of my old mates. Maybe at some future date (Futuram Civitatem Inquirimus!) some scientist will invent a brain probe which can produce good quality pictures from our thoughts. It is frustrating not to be able to make into something tangible, the vivid pictures I can still see in my mind’s eye from years at the school. Unfortunately, all I can do is share my memories with you, as best I can, in rather poor prose. If any of these scenes strike a chord, perhaps your own recollections will help to compensate for the inadequacies of my descriptions.

Morning Assembly

The morning trek to “assembly” in the Spencer Briggs Hall, my grey, battered hymn book in hand, “Hymns of Praise”, I think. I emerge from the corridor at the end of the old wooden buildings and head out under the covered walkway that leads to the hall. Turn to the right and then it’s all push-and-shove into the main hall. On the back wall, the dominating oil-painting of the old man himself, Spencer Briggs. Survey the rows of chatting pupils sitting on those tubular steel and canvas stackable chairs. Find a mate, quickly, and sit next to him - just made it. The Head sweeps up the half-dozen steps onto the stage with his black gown billowing behind him. Everyone stands and scrutinises his face. What mood’s he in? What are we in store for? After a grim look with pursed lips, “Johnny” Weeks gestures us to sit again. Assembly begins. I suppose it must have been the same in most schools up and down the land. After prayers, a hymn and a passage from the New Testament, we get the news. Then its time to disperse, collect satchel or case and books from desk or locker and head for first lesson.

English with CE (Charlie) Middlehurst.

We reach our desks in room 5 and somebody immediately lays a fart; it’s silent but extremely deadly. Commotion follows. Rob Capper tries frantically to open a window with right hand, whilst clutching his nose with the left. Uproar! Enter Charles Middlehurst Esq. Some of us spot him and go quiet. He’s a rather aloof character and somewhat inscrutable. He has rolled his top lip inwards and upwards to reveal his top teeth, a habit he has. His hands are behind his back grasping the handle of his small, battered, brown case, recently repaired for the umpteenth time by the woodwork class. His hair is grey, slicked with brilliantine, brushed backwards from his forehead. His eyes dart around, taking in the scene.
“Nyowthen, little boys . . . settle down”, he commands in sneering tones. We do.
We pick up the book the class is reading, “A Ring of Bright Water”, by Gavin Maxwell. “N’yer, Read on – Strettle”. It’s Sam Strettle’s turn to read, and those who understand look around the room to catch a mate’s eye. We KNOW this is going to be worth listening to!
Sam begins. In a faltering voice, he reads us a scene about a small sailboat on a lake. But, being Sam, he mispronounces “Dinghy” as “Dingy”. Charlie interrupts, chiding, “N’You stupid little boy! It’s Dinghy, Dinghy!” “Yes, sir”, says Sam, flustered, and carries on. The next slip-up occurs in a passage about a deer-like creature. Sam pronounces “Hind” as if it rhymes with “Wind”. “N’You Stupid Boy! Its ‘HIND’, ‘HIND’!” “Yes, sir”, says Sam and then carries on pronouncing it as he had originally. Collapse of the entire class!

History with Mike Harvey (Beak)

It’s hard to be objective about a subject when the only exposure you’ve had to it has made it appear the most boring, dreary and awful thing in the world. That was my view of History as taught by one “Beak”. Of course, even if you are bored stiff, there’s no escape and you know that the devil makes work for idle hands!
“Beak” used to wear a faded light grey or green-brown checked sports jacket and ‘V’ neck jumper. He often appeared distracted but not unkindly, unless something had upset him and then his cheeks burned with a fierce redness and his voice would rise a couple of keys. In class he used slowly to pace up and down the aisle between the desks, intoning historical facts as a monotonous, unhappy soliloquy. At the same time, he would rub his right index finger up and down the sides of his nose and his cheeks, smearing chalk as it went. From time to time he would pause in front of a desk. Then, shifting from one foot to the other, his voice would suddenly rise in pitch and volume. Some of us would wake up in alarm at this! We needn’t have worried because within seconds his voice had returned to its previous pitch and tenor.
Then followed Beak’s “tactile” phase. His fingers, as if having a life of their own, would seek out, from the nearest desk, something to play with. A pencil or a pen would do, but a ruler was best! Head inclined forwards, with unseeing eyes, he would take one end of the ruler, slide it through his fingers to the other end and then start again! All the time, he would continue the soliloquy in a monotonous mumble.
Most of us had fountain pens, so ink was always to hand; what would be the result if we dabbed our rulers with it? It became a sort of game that most lads participated in. We had to guess the likely stopping-point and make sure the booby-trap was ready. Poor old Beak, he never seemed to catch on. Eventually, he would replace the ruler on the desk and then the habitual nose-rubbing would start again, this time smearing the ink picked up from the ruler. Glancing round the classroom one could not help but be impressed by the ranks of innocent, angelic faces displaying nothing but the most concentrated interest in James I.

Chemistry with “Sparky” Watts

Sparky Watts was, in fact, a parent whose son was about three years above me at the school. I strongly believed, however, that Sparky couldn’t possibly have known his own father! A rather small, sneering and sarcastic man, he stood in front of the class constantly wringing his hands, as if he despaired of any of us. He seemed particularly to despair of me.
“So”, he began one afternoon in the ‘Chemi-Lab’, “ye’ve forgotten yer homework, again, have you?”
“Yessir”
“Oh . . . , I see. But ye’ve definitely done it, have you?”
“Yessir”
“I see. And where exactly is it?”
“At home”
“I KNOW its at home, Holt, WHERE, exactly?”
“Front room, Sir”
“Oh, yes, I see.” Sparky’s Hands began to wring themselves and his head slowly rocked in time.
“Is anyone at home, now, Holt?”
“Yessir, my granddad”
“Ohhhh . . . , yer granddad’s at home, is he?”
“Yessir”
“Oh . . yes . .I see. And do you have a telephone at home?
“Yessir”
“So . .” (Hands now wringing at a frantic pace, anticipating a sure victory) “If I telephone your home and ask your granddad to get your homework from the front room and then ask him read it to me, what will he say?” (He has paused his hand-wringing for effect and looks at the class smugly, through his thick glasses. One or two sycophants return nervous titters of encouragement.)
“Nothing, Sir”
“WHY NOT, Holt” (Wring, wring, wring . . )
“He’s deaf, Sir!”
(Very short pause) “GET TO THE HEADMASTER, AT ONCE!”


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