Bill would eventually stop playing the piano, but shout at us to continue our 'singing '. He would pick up a heavy book in his right hand, and descend from his podium into our midst. We were divided down the middle of the class by a central gangway, along which he would ponderously wander, ears cocked for wrong notes. Miraculously, those nearest to him would seem to be able to pick up the proper tune again for a time. The epicentre of the cacophony of whining, wailing, groaning and bellowing shifted with an alacrity in direct proportion with Bill's attempts to get closer to his tormentors. Nevertheless his progress caused among us a concerted swaying away from the aisle, evocative of the description of the parting of the Red Sea as given in the Old Testament. Bill would lash about with his book (rumour was he had secreted a housebrick between the covers) in a wild and random manner, his targets being boys'- any boys' heads. Sometimes he connected. I fancy I can feel it even now...
I have been trying to find a way to relate one of my indiscretions without bringing down upon myself the full wrath of Mr Brushe who, I understand, receives copies of Old Wyves' Tales. My wrongdoing was of a similar type to that of McQuaid and Johnson, as admitted by McQuaid himself (and therefore I am not snitching, Sir). Neither was it habitual, as was the case with Duggan (again he has proclaimed his error many times over, so as to purge his soul) so naturally I feel quite free to refer to it and in doing so give that boy some relief from what must have been for him for many years' grievous inner torment.
All I can do is to plead that it was a minor, isolated lapse of judgement committed at a time when I may have been of unsound mind, although that may not necessarily have been the case. Who am I to judge?. On the day of the Annual Swimming Sports at Spence Street Baths it may have been when I was in 4 Alpha or 5L I had a previous engagement and was anxious to keep that rather than attend the Swimming Sports. Former participants may remember the event took place on a weekday evening, and on the same day we were given an afternoon off whether we were to be swimming or not. That may have been so that we could prepare ourselves mentally and physically for the forthcoming arduous trial of trudging up and down our aquatic environment for hours on end, or sitting by idly while others performed. However, I think not. It seems to me that our masters realised the injustice of calling us in to work in the evening and could only salve their consciences and avert an industrial dispute by letting us have the afternoon off. At lunch-time on the day in question I approached Mr Brushe, apprised him of my dilemma and invited him to sanction my absence from the Swimming Sports. Quite rightly, not to say reasonably, he enquired as to the nature of my alternative engagement. I should have said that my Grandmother's dog had died, but unaccountably I found the truth slipping out. I informed him that I had arranged to attend a Beetle Drive at a local Church School Rooms. The proposed event was in no way connected either with Volkswagens or motoring. The idea was for boys and girls to attend the said Church School Rooms, form teams and, with the aid of dice, pencils and paper bearing several spaces for ellipses in representations of beetles' bodies, (for which you had to throw a six to start), to complete drawings of such insects before the other teams could do so. Five for a head and so on down the scale to a one for each eye. The bodies were not divided into thorax and abdomen.
Flo Willan would have gone mad! Now I couldn't have cared less about the entomological aspect of the exercise, but I did enjoy chatting up maturing Sunday School girls, so I was more than keen to put in an appearance. Mr Brushe did not see it my way at all. The milk of human kindness, for which he was much noted, evaporated. He became utterly and completely unreasonable, to the point of actually turning down my plea out-of-hand. I even volunteered to attend school for the afternoon, although quite what I thought I could achieve in an empty classroom I did not know, and had to admit it. Probably just as much as I usually achieved in a full classroom, come to think of it, although I did not venture to say so at the time. I realised it was neither the right time nor the right place for me to risk any unpleasantness by introducing further contestable argument and thus ramp up the potentially volatile nature of the meeting. He gave me somewhat of a sharp look and I gathered that it was beneath his dignity to continue further to discuss the matter, so I indicated, with as much aplomb as I was able to muster, that I was willing to concede victory to him. However, the matter festered away in my mind all afternoon. I considered appealing to the Director of Education, but thought that possibly there may have been an outside chance of his ruling in favour of Authority, as vested in our Mr Brushe. Eventually I decided that my best course of action would be simply to bunk off. A spectacularly cunning plan, was it not?
Prior to my turning up at the Church School Rooms, I cycled to Spence Street in order to investigate as to whether Mr Brushe was outside, machete in hand, looking for me. There was no sign of him, so I just turned around and cycled back to Birstall. The girls must have been well impressed by my perspiring presence when I turned up at the Beetle Drive but, girls being their usual cool and aloof selves, they did not show it. There were no repercussions at all. The matter was not even referred to. I rather wish it had come out into the open and that it had been summarily dealt with at the time, for I have now had to bear in silence this heavy burden of guilt for something approaching 60 years. Perhaps that was the fitting retribution that Mr Brushe had planned for me all along. If so, it worked. I am relieved that I have now summoned the courage to grasp the nettle and admit all.
Sorry, Mr Brushe. I shan't do it again. In time for the next reunion, which is due to take place on 13th March 2013, I shall have completed in my best handwriting, 50 lines (I would have offered more than that statutory minimum, but times are hard ). I shall aver that : 'I must take more care to accept and obey regulations and orders lawfully given by my superiors and to understand they are so given for my benefit in particular and that of mankind in general'.
Should you wish to know more about Adrian's demise, please don't hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wyvernians were promised an invitation to the grand opening. Jenny Sterland, School Business Manager, described the evening as a roaring success, and certainly there was an amazing buzz and atmosphere which only ended when the fire bell sounded around 8.45pm and the buildings were slowly vacated. For us the time flew by, with people of all ages showing a great interest in our display and asking many questions. Frank and I were both hoarse by the end of the evening. It was a very worthwhile exercise, which raised our profile and further improved our already excellent relationship with the current school. Lots of photos to be seen on our Facebook page.
FROM ANDY BOURNE 1965-70 Re. Visit to Downing Drive on 26th June 2013. I visited the school along with two other former pupils, Dave Wigley and Phil Wain. It was a worthwhile evening attended by what must have numbered thousands of former pupils of both City Boys and Spencefield and of course the combined comprehensive they became. I think the organisers were surprised at the success of the evening, and it's a shame the event couldn't have been held over three nights and separated into age groups. There were simply too many people to have a chance of recognising anyone, particularly when they must look a little older than they did 43 years ago!
Some of the photos on the Wyvernian's stand were interesting, and I'm sure if they could be scanned into the website a lot of people could add names to faces. I bought the book and my wife thinks that if I'd spent as much time studying as I have reading it I might have done better at school. If only we had our time again, I know I'd make the same mistakes.
The school itself was a mess, and I can see why it's got to be demolished. A typical example of the poor design and even poorer build quality of the 1960's. It also seemed to have shrunk since we were there, how did we all fit in?
I had the honour of being the first boy to attend Downing Drive. I ignored the letter that everyone received, which advised of what must have been a Teacher Day, and arrived a day too soon. I was greeted at the front gate by Wally Wardle, hand to his brow, eyes closed. 'Go home boy, read your letter, come back tomorrow.' A wonderful start!
An oft told story in the pub, and best told with the lisp and a_ctions, concerns Flo Willan. My trip around the school and the visit to the biology lab brought it back. Flo has his back to the class, and as always is drawing on the board and expects us to copy it in our books. This time it's the reproductory organs of a rabbit, which apparently resemble the human (Lisp now) 'My penis reaches the top of the board, yours should reach the top of the page.' Another tale he told was of the chickens he used to keep, and in particular a cock that accompanied him in his Land Rover. Apparently he had the most travelled cock in the country. As we assumed Flo had no sense of humour, we also assumed these were inadvertent and excellent faux pas. No doubt, in reality, they were well thought-out jokes that he used to entertain himself and generations of pupils.
FROM ANDY MARLOW 1969-73 Having left the school prematurely, and in less than ideal circumstances, in 1973, I viewed the chance to take a final look round the old building with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. What impact would it have on me after all these years?
Together with Chris Jinks from the 1967 intake (who was a mine of information) we joined the queue for one of the organised(?) tours of what is now known as the Wyvern Building. As we walked across the yard of the old Spencefield School down the path that links the two buildings (in my day there was a wire fence separating the two playing fields, and no contact was possible) my sense of anticipation rose as we headed into the science block. Viewing the junior and senior chemistry, physics and biology labs, gazing at the tables with their enclosed sinks, and the apparatus standing forlornly alongside, conjured up quite a ghostly feeling - you could almost see Flo Willan standing there drawing his anatomy pictures on the blackboard.
After that we were taken to the library, probably my favourite place when I was at school. I often spent lunchtime in there, browsing through the books. Alas it is a library no more. Gone are the shelves of books, now only tables filled with computers remain. Exiting through the library (a practice previously allowed only for teachers to take a short cut between buildings, the pupils having to go the long way round) the rest of the building was inspected. The geography, English and history rooms were viewed, the latter two being of particular interest as they were my favourite subjects then and now. The memories came flooding back - waiting in line outside the classroom for the teacher before being allowed to enter, seeing the board where the detention list was displayed - yes, I was on it frequently for my almost-daily late attendance.
Then on to the rest of the school. The Headmaster's study, now the Deputy Head's room, which was opposite the secretary's office, and just across to the right stood the dining hall and kitchen. I have never had a school dinner in my life, but back in the day tales of their quality - or lack of it - had reached my attention. Now I was greeted by a menu attached to the door, and FREE cups of tea or coffee were available during a brief refreshment stop. The square tables, usually with a Prefect to keep order, had been replaced by small circular ones. Another sign of the changing times were notices offering halal meat. I didn't have a drink so, still the rebel, I compensated by taking two biscuits on the way out.
The hall was next to the dining room. One thing that struck me was the classrooms seemed smaller than I remembered, but of course we saw them from the perspective of a boy. So as we have got bigger everything seems to have become smaller. I suppose it was similar with the teachers. They seemed old to us, and some were indeed ancient, but many were in their twenties and thirties, and some only a year or two older than some members of the sixth form.
The hall seemed smaller than remembered because it actually was - a dividing partition had been placed across the back of the room, and access to the balcony seems to have disappeared. The stage looked the same, the curtains looked like the ones there in my day!
Across the corridor to the changing rooms, where the strange smell remained. I was never quite sure what it consisted of. Benches and pegs seemed the same, but now with graffiti. Surely that didn't happen forty years ago, or did it? The showers looked the worse for wear, and reminded us of a dodge used by some after PE and games. If you did not want to undress and have a shower you just ran through the water to get your hair wet, then donned the uniform and disappear. The teachers didn't seem too concerned, so you invariably got away with it. The gym looked like time had stood still. Some of the ropes remained in place, amazing in these H & S-obsessed times, as did the benches round the room. Also the basketball court marked on the wooden floor with nets high on the wall.. I recall the sound of pounding feet, the noise seeming to hang endlessly in the air.
Then to the junior classrooms - third and fourth years were on the first floor. Rooms 1 to 6 also doubled as rooms for the maths department. It was hard to realise how much walking was involved as we moved from one room to another for lessons. In those days we didn't give it a thought, but next day I certainly felt the effects of the tour.
The rest of the party moved on, but John Clarke and I decided to climb a further flight of stairs to try and locate our old form room on the second floor. We debated which room was ours, Form 1B with Mr Scott. Eventually we ascertained it was Room 9, on the front right. I could not recall the number, but on looking out of the window the view over the car park, lower playground and bike sheds (the latter two now succumbed to the builders) confirmed it.
We thought of the wooden desks, with inkwells, arranged in three lots of pairs across the room. Five rows to accomodate the thirty pupils, which was actually thirty one in the first term. No idea where they put the odd one. My desk was quite near the back, by the door. Not a good idea as it turned out, but that's another story. Now there are long tables for maybe five or six pupils to sit together, much more informal.
Back on the ground floor we passed the staff room, what happened in there was always shrouded in mystery. Unfortunately it was locked, but it did remind me of the occasions you had to go there for one reason or another. You were greeted by a cloud of smoke - no smoking bans then.
Finally the art and woodwork room. The former is now a sixth form room and has been extended. The art and woodwork area is located in the newer Design Centre, which we also saw. I was reminded of woodwork teacher Bunny Hutchinson, who stood no nonsense. There were some real characters in those days, though the level of violence dished out would be unacceptable today. Mind you, it seems to sometimes be the other way round these days.
I will remember the Downing Drive evening very fondly for a long time. Thank you to everyone involved in the arrangements.
FROM MIKE WALKER 1949-56 I am quite certain that the 'unknown' boy on page 94 of the CBS history book, on the right hand side holding a cricket bat, is my good and long-time friend Geoff Morgan. Geoff and I lived in Belgrave, and attended Mellor Street Junior School. He was an excellent cricketer, particularly good with the bat. After 'A' levels in History, French and German, Geoff took a degree at Queen Mary College, London, followed by a teaching diploma and two years National Service in the Navy, stationed at Portsmouth. After a short teaching career in England he emigrated to California, where he mainly worked in the film industry. After some tumultuous years, which included being attacked and stabbed almost to death, Geoff returned to Leicester where he died aged 50. He had great potential, but sadly never came close to realising it.
AND FINALLY... The original Old Wyvernians faded away many years ago, to be replaced by the current Wyvernians in 1998. From small beginnings we have grown into a substantial organisation, and the affection for our old school is still very much in evidence. Almost by accident we began to accumulate memorabilia, and the collection is much enhanced by the recent additions from Downing Drive. Old Wyves' Tales, which was originally designed as a simple newsletter, soon expanded to include lots of stories, memories, facts and figures, and incredibly has reached seventy nine issues and still going strong.. Now we have a superb history book, produced to professional standards, which is selling very well - 250 copies the last I heard! New members continue to join Wyvernians, most via the web site, and we have arranged sixteen reunions. Despite my theory that Wyvernians must surely begin to wind down (we are a finite organisation, as membership is restricted to pre-1976 pupils) we continue to go from strength to strength. And who would have thought we would have a facebook page and an on-line shop? All this is down to the efforts of a very few committed people. They do not seek, or expect, any medals for their efforts and probably will not thank me for naming them, but they are Andy Marlow John Offord, Mike Ratcliff, Brian Screaton, Frank Smith. And let us not forget you, the readers of OWT and attenders at the reunions, without you Wyvernians would not exist. Also I must mention Stephanie, my very helpful and supportive wife of 37 years.
Between us we have built up what must surely be a unique history of an ordinary grammar school, and we should be proud of that achievement.
Dennis J Duggan
July 19th 2013