The Prescotian Webzine

Mr. Gilbert Burrows cordially invites ....
All of us of a certain age can remember the weekly vocab test in Latin.

Gilbert Burrows would stride into the classroom and distribute vertically cut half exercise book pages to the whole form. Then came those immortal words, "Name at the top and numbers one to twenty on this side and twenty-one to forty on the other!". He would then take great delight in announcing by chalking on the board that the pass score was 32 or other. This was our target to avoid a personal invitation to one of Mr. Burrows' infamous "Tea Parties!" (More of the tea parties later).


The test would start The first twenty questions were Latin into English and then turn over for for a further twenty questions of English into Latin. "Now, pass your paper to the boy in front of you." Marking would now begin. Those who dared to argue the toss over an answer ran the risk of a penaly mark if their appeal failed. We would then count the score up and pass the paper back to its owner.. Mr. Burrows now took out his mark book and in the deathly silence we all called our score when the register reached our names.

We were all so relieved if our score was up to muster but we waited with a sense of doom if we had failed. For now the price of failure loomed large. With a barely disguised grin, Mr. Burrows would invite the failures to a "tea party". Of course as newts, we had no idea what would be waiting for us in dreary Room 4.

As a first year, I received several invitations. The victims from all year groups were mixed together. Mr. Burrows had on his desk all the failed test papers. One by one we were invited up to the desk and quizzed on all the questions we had got wrong. If you could answer enough right to take you over the pass mark, you could go home, absolved and relieved. If you could not, there was nothing but to sit back down and study your vocab book until you were called up again.

I, personally enjoyed latin and was dare I say pretty good. It was another three years before the invitation was againn extended. I was in the top fourth year Latin set, a cert for an 'O' level so it came as something as a shock to my system. In mitigation, I had been absent from school for three weeks in hospital but this did not extend to Mr. Burrows' concern.

In shame, I arrived at Room 4 to find two newts but no Mr. Burrows. So, I sat and revised. By this age, it was not single words in the vocab test but whole phrases and sentences to be mastered. I sat and I sat, when Derek McClatchey walked passed the open door in his football kit having been caught short in school team practice. Derek asked us if we were waiting for Bugsy. He then swore that he had seen Bugsy getting in his car earlier and going home. That was enough me and soon I was at Hope street waiting for the H14 bus. Oh, how foolish of me!

The next Latin lesson came around and immediately I had to stand up an explain my absence from the Tea Party. I had a real reason in my eyes and with some confidence replied, "Some lad said you'd gone home, Sir!"


"Yes sir, some lad said he'd seen you go home in your car just, so I thought I could go home!"

"But, the two first years did not leave and were waiting when I came back from the town centre where I had a little urgent shopping".

Confidence was not just evaporating, it was draining visibly in my now ashen face. A new invitation was accepted and still standing was fully aware of the schadenfreude that was delighting my class mates. The punishment went on in class where I was always addressed by the great man, from the corner of his mouth, as "Some lad!". Even in the sixth form, when Latin was off my agenda, he would pass me in the corridor with a quiet reminder, "Some lad!"

Several years later, I was walking along Castle Street with a girlfriend in Liverpool when I saw the Latin Master approaching. What should I say when we got close to each other, would he remember me. I was frozen in silence as we passed each other but just at the moment we drew level, from the side of his mouth came that sarcastic, "Some lad!" Much to the consternation of my girlfriend, was delirious with joy, he'd remembered me!

As a postscript, I was one of the privileged few who were allowed to take home a copy of a Billy Bunter comic written in Latin. Mr. Burrows had his copy as a treasured possession, and it was loaned out on trust for weekend for senior pupils ie fifth years.

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