Tuesday 26 February 2013

More academia

 After Kingsley School I went the Alton County Secondary School from the age of eleven until leaving at fifteen. Not the happiest period in my life, the time spent in this school felt more like a prison sentence and for the most part, a serious waste of time. I was put into the B stream, which, I suppose, wasn’t that bad in the scheme of things but the system and the teachers failed to inspire me. My thoughts remained firmly upon what was going on outside and how long it was until going home time.

 A number of the teachers remain etched upon the mind and for the most part for all of the wrong reasons, Mr Barnes the science master, a man of very little tolerance with a very short fuse. Prone to outbursts of temper and use of the cane. He spent a lot of time teaching us how to cook things with a Bunsen Burner and playing with liquid mercury. It’s a wonder any of us survived. Barnes was the subject of a number of complaints for walloping his charges. Mad Elliot was Welsh and the religious studies master. This mad man was clearly a square peg in a round hole. One would have hoped that a religious studies teacher would have practiced a little of what he preached. The religious studies, you understand, were all of a Christian nature. We did not explore other faiths. Many of the good words issuing forth from Mr. Elliot; do as you would be done by, love thy neighbour, treat everyone as equals etc., seem to have been completely lost on the teacher himself. The smallest indiscretion, the merest hint of inattention would invariably result in Elliot throwing the blackboard rubber in the direction of the offender and raving like something possessed. The blackboard rubber was constructed of a wooden handle unto which was stuck several different coloured layers of a heavy grade felt material. It was about six inches long by roughly two and a half inches deep. This missile, when in flight, was a serious weapon. The chips in the rooms plaster and woodwork bore testimony to the ferocity with which it had been thrown. I don’t recall the rubber actually hitting one of us, which I suppose is just as well really. For the most part it put the fear of God into us all…(no pun intended)! Most of the class took the view that this was most un-Christian like behavior and viewed the said Elliot as a dangerous lunatic to be avoided at every opportunity.

 Then there was the young music mistress who’s name I have forgotten. Her claim to fame, as far as we were concerned, was she was prone to bursting into tears and running out of the classroom. I am sorry to say that this became something of a sport for a few of the braver boys who took it in turns to see how long it would take to achieve her departure. Her departure invariably resulted in a visit from the Headmaster Mr. Luke or one of the senior masters. Punishments were various but failed to curb this popular sport.

 Mr. Webb was the maths master and was a little white haired, elderly man. A man of quiet disposition whom most of us liked very much. The problem was we didn’t much care for his subject. But, he was pleasant and generally considered a good sort.

 Mr. Finn was our English master. He was short and dapper, well groomed, very smartly dressed always in sharp grey suits. In fact he was just grey. His fingers were carefully manicured and his grey Hitler like moustache was perfectly trimmed. Also a thick amount of grey hair which was carefully slicked back. A little man he strutted about like a bantam cock. He was a heavy smoker and smelled of tobacco. It was obvious that Mr. Finn liked his female colleagues and was at his most charming when a lady was within range. I saw him as the complete popinjay. He strutted up and down the classroom, peering through or over his gold rimmed spectacles which often rested towards the end of his nose. If all of the above was not enough, "Finney" had the most awful habit of sucking his front teeth. Curling his tongue to the right or left and pushing it up beneath his top lip, he would then proceed to suck. This often resulted in squeaking or whistling noises. Not a pleasant sight or sound.

In a strange sort of way, I owe Mr. Finn quite a lot although it wasn’t until many years later that I began to realize it
 The circumstances surround a particular English lesson which was designed to take the class through the range of daily newspapers that were then on sale. Mr. Finn began by asking all of those present to tell him which newspapers their parents read at home. For the most part the answers were The Daily Sketch and The Daily Mirror with the Sunday equivalents at weekends. To this, and to the horror and disbelief of the class, Finney proclaimed,  "well your parents are all lazy". This from a man who worked in the warm and dry, five days a week and with long holidays. One whom never got his hands dirty and had never known the hard labour experienced by most rural workers at that time. Most of our parents worked pretty much from dawn till dusk in all conditions and for six days a week with minimal holidays. I well remember the outrage expressed by the whole class when we had our next break. What was this unspeakable little twerp talking about. His theory, that in order to broaden the mind, we should all read the quality press. This would provide better coverage, more reliable reporting, better grammar etc.etc.. As previously mentioned, my brush with Academia and the education process in general was undistinguished to say the least. My dislike of Mr. Finn was almost total but as a result of that one lesson and despite the then outrage, I subsequently went on to do as he had suggested. Being a great reader I got much pleasure and satisfaction from the broadsheets and often had cause to reflect on that lesson so long ago. It is probably true to say that I learned more by reading, newspapers included, after leaving school than I ever did whilst I was there.

 Mr. Sutcliffe, rural studies master, was quite my favourite teacher. His classroom was one of the biggest in the school and contained within it all that I held dear. Tanks of fish, British wild fish, not tropical, Vivariums for lizards and snakes. Plant life of all sorts growing from all manner of pots, tubs and bowls. Butterflies and moths and their caterpillars in all the various stages of metamorphosis were to be found within this classroom heaven. The man himself was short and large. Large in the very fat rotund sense, I doubt if he could see his toes, his great belly obscuring the view. He had a huge round head and his face was a most striking red. He wore tiny metal framed glasses and he perspired profusely. Rural studies included the study of all things wildlife, gardening, plants, insects etc. There was a thriving school garden in which we were taught to grow things. The girls did cookery when the boys went gardening. No political correctness then. In fact, I seem to remember, the girls did domestic studies, which included dress making and sewing when the boys went to rural studies.

 Largely due to the fact that I was able to provide Mr. Sutcliffe with most of the creatures he required for his lessons, he wrote me the most complimentary report I managed to achieve during my whole school imprisonment. He wrote, "the best boy I have ever taught", probably a bit over the top but I remember being quite pleased at the time. Mr. Sutcliffe was instigatory in the caning I received at the hands of Mr.Luke the Headmaster. It was normal practice for me to bring in my surplus rabbits for sale in Alton’s, then thriving, Tuesday market. I had permission from Mr. Sutcliffe to lodge the rabbits in his classroom before transferring them for sale later in the day, around lunch time. Due to a spate of bad behavior in the town at lunch times and the subsequent complaints to the school, Mr. Luke issued a directive that going down to the town during lunch periods would be banned. This, as will be seen, was a major inconvenience to my commercial activities. Mr. Sutcliffe assured me I would be okay and gave the go ahead for my next sales trip. Well, all was not okay, some rotten cad saw me and reported the fact. I was summoned to the Heads study at noon the next day where I suffered the indignity of having to wait the mandatory fifteen minutes before being ushered into the great mans presence.I was found guilty as charged and without further ado caned. I didn’t snitch on Mr. Sutcliffe and the matter was never mentioned again. Minor adjustments were achieved and my rabbit sales continued largely unhindered. No thanks to Mr. Luke.

 As the Headmaster, one would be forgiven for thinking, the individual holding that office would have been keen and enthusiastic in promoting the aspirations of his students. Well, one would be wrong for so assuming. Probably, the only occasion I had an ounce of desire towards learning, and goodness knows why, I suggested that I might like to do some home work in the evenings. This was brought up by my mother on the next parents evening and she was told by jolly old Luke that it would be a waste of time. Most disappointing, he could have damaged me for life!! Mind you, this didn’t stop the old bounder bringing his Insurance Salesman son to the house shortly after I left school for the purposes of plying his trade. I imagine he went to every school leaver in turn. Nice little earner, and Mr. Luke a Justice of the Peace what a scoundrel.

 I finally made my escape from this state imposed imprisonment and at the age of fifteen was released into the real world. I have never looked back with any degree of longing.

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