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 minds 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.
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 its
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
moods 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)
We reach our desks in room 5 and
somebody immediately lays a fart; its
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. Hes 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.
Nyer, Read on Strettle.
Its Sam Strettles turn to read, and
those who understand look around the room to
catch a mates 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,
NYou stupid little boy! Its
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. NYou 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)
Its hard to be objective about
a subject when the only exposure youve 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, theres
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 neednt have worried because within
seconds his voice had returned to its previous
pitch and tenor.
Then followed Beaks 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 was, in fact, a parent whose son was about
three years above me at the school. I strongly
believed, however, that Sparky couldnt
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, yeve forgotten
yer homework, again, have you?
Oh . . . , I see. But yeve definitely
done it, have you?
I see. And where exactly is it?
I KNOW its at home, Holt, WHERE,
Front room, Sir
Oh, yes, I see. Sparkys Hands
began to wring themselves and his head slowly
rocked in time.
Is anyone at home, now, Holt?
Yessir, my granddad
Ohhhh . . . , yer granddads at home,
Oh . . yes . .I see. And do you have a
telephone at home?
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.)
WHY NOT, Holt (Wring, wring, wring .
Hes deaf, Sir!
(Very short pause) GET TO THE HEADMASTER,