Saturday 4 January 2014

Fw: Old Wyves Tales 81 January 2014




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FROM J ROBERT CLIFFORD  1950-57   (Continuing Robert's school memoirs - Ed)   Physics and Mr Philips.  Like many of his colleagues, Mr Philips taught his subject far beyond the minimum requirements.  His lessons on optics, X-rays, spectometry and diffractometry - amongst many others - turned out to be invaluable in resolving technical problems with equipment at a number of American universities.  There, professors of departments assumed, incorrectly, that I was fully qualified in their specialities.
Mr Franey, Macbeth and The Play.  I remember similiar experiences described by others concerning the line-by-line nitpicking of English classics.  However, one hot lunchtime the sixth were anticipating another mind-numbing session of Macbeth, under the direction of Mr Franey.  Amidst the groans someone said, Whoever gets the roles let's ham it up in the Richard Burton/Lawrence Olivier style.  Those who don't have a part can do the noises off.  And so it was decided.  Mr Franey allocated the parts, named the scene and told us to begin.  We launched the play as planned, and a few moments later noticed Mr Franey look up to see who was taking the mickey.  But the class had Macbeth by the horns, and in that and subsequent lessons there was no further analysis and we, as a class, gained a great deal more from EngLit.
During my time at CBS the Little Theatre was hired, along with costumes from Stratford, for a few nights each year for the school play.  It seemed an ambitious project, but the execution bordered on the professional.  For some reason I vividly remember the production of Macbeth, but less so King Lear.  However the blinding of Gloucester stays in my mind; the throwing of two grapes to the floor and stamping on them, whilst very dramatic, provoked considerable discomfort in the audience.
But back to Macbeth.  Having a very poor memory for lines I was recruited to man the spotlight at one side of the balcony.  On the first night, as Macbeth was delivering the line If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly (referring to the murder of Duncan) a burst of laughter from Bob Roberts in the audience caused a disruption.  Mr Franey was furious, and asked him later what was so funny.  Bob explained that as the line was delivered extras were seen carrying mockups of haunches of meat in preparation for a banquet at the back of the stage, and he had associated the words with beef.  The next night the sequence was changed.  Later the lad playing MacDuff blanked his next line, and the prompt gave it to him as What?  All my chitty dickens in one swell foop  which was delivered as prompted - no one seemed to notice.  The following day I was approached by a third former who said, My mum was at the play last night, she thought it was a bit off that you were reading a book through the whole performance.    In fact it was my copy of the play, with my hand-written directions for manipulating the spot!
Sport.  Jock Gilman and Hoppy Bufton.  I can confirm that Jock was a partner in his brother's second-hand car business, on Humberstone Gate near The Fountain pub.  As I waited for theNo 37 bus at lunchtimes I would see him manning the stock.
I don't suppose the records mention the strike, or mutiny, which took place at Grace Road during 1956/7.  It came to pass that on an extremely unpleasant day, when games would normally have been cancelled, that the sixth were loaded onto two corporation double-deckers and taken to the sports ground.  The heavy sleet was driven by a cruel wind, and the glum silence was broken by the comment This is madness.  At Grace Road Hoppy, in his ringing Welsh tones, said, Alright, boys, upstairs and changed as quick as you can, and we noted the sleet was worse than ever with a heavy mist descending.  We trooped up to the changing rooms and someone said, What have we done to deserve this.  We'll be lucky if we only die of pneumonia  (Hypothermia had not been invented at that time)  Contemplating sitting in the sleet on soaking benches , while the captains made their choice of teams, someone said, I'm not getting changed.  The hell with it, and there was immediate unanimous agreement.  We sat there, and when the Welsh voice said, come on, boys, and did not receive a response Mr Bufton came upstairs to find a strike, but from the other side of the fence to those he had seen in his formative years in the Welsh coalfields.  Right, everyone back on the buses, followed by his most bloodcurdling retribution, We'll go back and do mathematics.  We remained impassive at this good news, and returned to school.  Next morning Mr Bell asked the sixth to stay behind after assembly, and referring to an incident yesterday went on to tell us how fortunate we were to have the sports facility etc etc.  His words failed to impress, and we recalled how the staff had kept on their duffel coats, scarves, gloves and hats.  Our guarded e_xpressions did not entirely conceal our contempt, his voice tailed off and we were dismissed.
RE and Mr Holman.  I seem to remember he was referred to as the Rev Holman, but he was one member of staff who did not prosper in teaching the fifth year.  In his teaching of Comparative Religion we had been outraged at his denigration and superficial treatment of the subject.  We were so incensed that, in our own time, we undertook to investigate more thoroughly.  One of our number was already very interested in Egyptology and hieroglyphics, others looked into Buddhism, Islam, Taoism etc.  So when Mr Holman said he wanted us to write an essay on Why I Am A Christian this arrogant assumption and intrusion into our private beliefs caused an explosion of anger of which he was totally unaware until he read the essays.  Mr Holman was shaken to the core, for regardless of our own beliefs we had all agreed to write as though we were anything but.  He was visibly shaken at the next RE lesson, and told us he was appalled and would only return our excercise books after he had received individual apologies.  We never saw the books again.
FROM ANDREW TEAR 1960-67   I was at City Boys from 1960 to 1967 and went from 1B to 3 Alpha and then 4 Alpha and then 5S (Science) I had gone to a primary/junior school in the county called Revenhurst Road, as my parents lived just outside the city boundary. But we moved in September/October 1960 to inside the city boundary.
So I had passed the 11plus at junior school, and I guess my mother put me down for a city grammar school. It was to be City Boys and Form 1B, and on top of that I was in De Montfort House which I was quickly told was the worst of the four (This might, or might not, have been correct?)  I was terribly unhappy, as I knew no one and seemed to be at the bottom of the pile. However there were exams at the end of the first year (and by the way I had been coming near the top of 1B) my memory is that the same exam was sat by all 3 forms. I assumed the top 30 went to 3 Alpha, the next 30 went to 2A and the the last 30 to 2B. so yes we did  'O' levels in 4 years instead of 5 years. I heard it was scrapped a few years later,  Educationalists thought that the lack of vocabulary and general immaturity of 15-year-old boys did not substantially improve their 'O' level results. I never found out if this was true or not.  It did mean that  we were, by the 5th year, a mixture of 15 and 16 year olds.
On into the 6th form, and it meant that those with aspirations for Oxbridge (entrance exams held in December) were able to get their 'A' levels BEFORE they did those entrance exams. It probably helped indicate who had a realistic chance by what 'A' levels they achieved. and it meant there was a focus from September to December just on those Oxbridge entrance exams. I didn't focus enough, or was not good enough, as I didn't even get called for interview!!
But the question asked of what happened in the 3rd year 6th as it was called, was partly that, Oxbridge entrance. I did some innovative organic chemistry with molecular models with Doc Burrows that I found useful for my future biochemistry course at London. And I played a lot of tennis and other sports that did not help any Wimbledon career at all. Some boys in the 3rd year 6th thought it pointless and got a job, which Clanger Bell frowned on. In fact I was offered a job at Bostik in Leicester, and when I told Mr Bell I wanted to leave he put pressure on me to stay and phoned my parents!!  I stayed, a bit poorer, and did all that sport and chemistry. Head Boy Paul Warburton, a surprise choice at the time (beginning in September  66) defied the Head and went ahead either at Easter, or was it Christmas, and took employment. It felt like a minor scandal,  as the Head had to appoint a new Head Boy (I forget who!).
My own sons went through high school and on to university without any express stream, and I did not think it affected them either positively or negatively. My memory is that for me it was a bit of a privileged time, I learned a bit of independence that in the 60s was probably a good thing (my two sons had a similar level of independence, it could be argued, at age 10!!! - maybe not.) I didn't feel I was immature to do my 'O' levels at 15 - you just did what others were doing and it felt normal.  Interestingly, nowadays nearly 50% of young people go to university, whereas in the mid/late 60s it was under 10% - someone said even under 5%.
OBITUARIES   (The following was received from Dr Arnold Burrows - Ed)    Yesterday (November 30th) I received the December edition of the RSC News and , as always , turned first to the Obituary page.   There I found  the announcement of the death of Dr Neil Anthony Bailey  MRSC , retired Senior Lecturer (Chemistry) at the University of Sheffield      
 I  remember Neil very well for two reasons; firstly because he was the  first lower Sixth Former at CBS to whom I taught Chemistry  (1957) – and he was top of the class!  Secondly he was the Captain of Swimming.   I recall very clearly being told off by EJWB because I had not influenced him to try for Cambridge or Oxford  (both EJWB and I had London degrees!) and he went to University College London for his degree; I believe he did well there, but  I then lost touch with him until this Obit.  I am surprised that he did not stay in the University of London; I am sure it would have been to his benefit.   No dates were mentioned, but from the above I deduce that at the time of his death he was 73-74 years of age; it makes me feel older than ever!
(The following was received from Brian Screaton - Ed)  I recently attended the funeral of old Wyvernian Michael Hutchings (1943-48), who died on the 11th October. He was 81. Mike was always an enthusiastic supporter of the reunions, and this was mentioned by his brother Roy Hutchings in his tribute to Mike at the service. Roy is also an old Wyvernian (1949-56) and he recounted that both he and Mike had Basher Brewin as their maths teacher in their first years Basher was still setting the same homework in 1949 as he had in 1943, so Roy resourcefully found his brother's old maths books and simply copied out the answers. By this ruse he came top in maths, but his true abilities were unfortunately revealed in the second year when Nobby Clarke took over maths duties, and Roy was relegated to a much lower place in the rankings! One of the hymns was one of the school assembly favourites, To be a Pilgrim which was particularly appropriate. If any one would like to make a donation in memory of Mike, the chosen charity is Crossroads Care (East Midlands), 19 Pelham Road, Sherwood, Nottingham, NG15 1AP. A donation has been sent from Wyvernian funds.

(The following was also sent in by Brian Screaton - Ed)  My brother noticed an obituary in The Guardian for an ex-City Boy called Tony King.  He was 72, and at some point moved to Norwich and then Ipswich.  According to the index cards he was Reginald Tony King, and attended the school 1952-58 .  The address given is Glendower Close, off Averil Road.    His brother, Dave, was at CBS 1958-65 and was, I think, in the band formed by Brian Stevenson.
Also, Graham Wilford, 1932-37, passed away November 27th 2013
FROM TONY 'FRED' INGHAM  1953-58   I have read OWT for years and contributed a couple of times, but the gang of young people I ran around with in my youth never seemed to contribute. I often wondered if they had ever been aware of it, because being one of those who moved from Leicester at the age of 19, and never lived there again, my attention was only drawn to it by an Old Wyggestonian of all people! I thought that perhaps a lot of them were like me and just lost touch. I did travel to Leicester to attend two reunions and once met a couple of classmates from the fifth year, and we actually had our photographs taken and compared, in print, to a class photograph from that old photograph year and they were put onto the School DVD.  People I spent years with, playing very poor-quality guitars (I made my own, and what a thing that turned out to be) and zooming from the Melton Road side of the City in fleets (flocks? What is the collective noun for a large crowd of teenage boys on fixed-wheel racing bikes travelling to a city-centre school, at speed, and back every day?) . Well reading OWT80 caught my attention because there was Chub Chambers who, although I do not remember him as a regular member of that cycling crowd, was certainly a friend for years whilst at City Boys' and who I thought was lost for ever in obscurity.
I last saw Dave when I was in my twenties and my family and I popped in to see him and his family in Nottingham, when we were living in Worcestershire, so we must still have been in touch then. He was always a zealous Elvis fan (sorry Dave, no secret is safe) and I remember his brother Gwynne too as we all shared a common occupation at that time. I was in touch with Roger Marston in Hastings for years, and last saw him when I spent an intoxicated day with him there on the day of Prince Charles's first marriage, and Ken Kelham and I still exchange news by e-mail, he has been in Canada since his twenties. He met Bruce Wood once when visiting Leicester, and Paul Putnam lived in the East Goscote area and I did bump into him several times years ago. The group of boys that Dave and I were part of were largely good, decent people and thinking back most of them must have been slightly shocked at some of the things a couple of us  (not including Dave) got up to. The fact that we were not totally ostracised is pleasing in retrospect, and they must have been better friends than we deserved at that time. My life was back to front because I stupidly did things in the wrong order –  family very young, struggled for years in a poorly paid profession, then rapid promotion in middle life alongside years of catching up on education to MA standard and then old age and increasing infirmity (and moderate affluence thank goodness). Being away from Leicester since the age of 19, and moving around a great deal through my occupation, I couldn't put my son through any City Boys link but at least everywhere I went in those days he was able to transfer to a good grammar school and then went to university in Birmingham in his mid-twenties, thus bettering my back-to-front system of university late in life. AND the icing on the cake is that his eldest son is doing a four-year Physics Masters at Hertford College, Oxford right now, straight from school.

I have always bored the family stiff with how good my education was, and how much I neglected my chance badly and only appreciated it in later life. It is true and I wish I could do it again with a large slice of hindsight guiding me. Nevertheless these glimpses back give pleasure so thanks to Dave Chambers for tipping me out of my bath-chair for five minutes.

FROM J RICHARD THOMPSON  1949-56   I was puzzled by one statement in Robert Clifford's reminiscences.  Robert said that Spiv Beaumont was form master to 1 Alpha in the year 1950 to 51. However I was in 3 Alpha in that year, and Spiv was our form master then.  I well remember Mr. Bell's claim that the sky is blue because it reflects the blue sea below.  I think he made it in the RE class he took in the hall with second and third year sixth together. I think I was in the third year sixth, and Robert in the second year at that time. Several of us tried hard to explain blue skies but, as was often the case, Mr. Bell was impervious to reason.  Incidentally, I've  just remembered that OFT Roberts once referred to Bell as The Abominable Showman, alluding to Bell's love of publicity.

FROM TREVOR DIXEY  1956-61   Thank you for the latest addition of OWT80 in which you again request more material. I feel a little guilty having not contributed in recent memory, so I offer the following in an attempt to redress a little of the balance.  Robert Clifford's recollections of our headmaster rang a Bell with me, as his memories closely mirror my own. I too hated sport (as I believe did our editor) and dreaded Fridays (I think) when games afternoon came round. I probably expended more energy in devising ways of avoiding it than I would have done had I participated. This wasn't an issue with EJW he probably wasn't aware of my existence until at the age of thirteen I wished to earn a few shillings doing a paper round. At that time written permission was required from your headmaster, as well as approval from your parents. EJW gave the impression (at least to me) of an impersonal ogre, and I approached his study to request said permission with a deal of trepidation. If you weren't one of his jolly good chaps in one of the 11's you knew you were in for a rough ride.  What do you do boy, football?  No sir. Cricket?  No sir. What do you do then? Are you a cabbage?
Two weeks earlier, having retrieved a dilapidated violin from my grandfather's attic, I was under some pressure from my mother to enlist in the school orchestra. It proved a godsend.  I'm in the orchestra sir, I said brightly. He signed the form immediately.  Mission accomplished; the downside was a spell as a violinist of dubious talent under the watchful eye of the maestro, one Mr H. H. Sykes, but that is another story. 

Back to games avoidance. Although I found cricket mind-numbingly boring (and still do) summer cricket wasn't too bad for skiving opportunities. We were taken to Grace Road by bus. There were enough of us for two matches to be played, with teams chosen by lads keen to be captains, with a handful left over which almost always included me. We were sometimes allowed to simply spectate, which was fine by me, but on other occasions we were told to jog around the field perimeter which wasn't so clever. On the odd occasion I had to get involved with one of the matches, it wasn't too difficult to engineer a position of double long stop which brought me close to one of the site screens. It was quite easy to slip behind this to light up an occasional woodbine. I cannot recall ever having to retrieve a cricket ball. When it was our innings I was always close to the end of the batting order, and time ran out before I ever had chance to wield a bat.
At least it was usually warm. My recollection of school football is shivering on a foggy, frost-hardened pitch at Rushey Mead, in kit with boots two sizes too big, trying to keep as much distance between myself and the ball as I was able. It didn't help that the teacher refereeing (I think it might have been Isaac Newton) was muffled up in overcoat, scarf, gloves and hat. This cemented my hatred of football ,and I've despised it ever since.
From the fifth form onwards, we were allowed to cycle to Rushey Fields instead of using the bus. (In the sixth form I used a motorcycle I had purchased from Bunny Hutchinson). This meant I could go straight home from there without the need to return to school. We also had a choice of football or cross-country running (mercifully, rugby was never part of the curriculum) No contest! Since the latter was largely unsupervised, all manner of skives were available.  Not that I was a runner. I could manage a 100 yard sprint, but any more than a few minutes prolonged jogging and I was doubled up with an abdominal pain we used to call stitch. We were allocated both long and short cross-country courses, which both started from Rushey Fields and went along Melton Road. I believe the long course went through Thurmaston, but I never did it. A few of us soon found a shorter-than-short course. It entailed turning right immediately past the Thorn Lighting factory (recently demolished), over a stile and across the corporation landfill site (now a housing estate) dodging bulldozers and flocks of squawking gulls to reach the railway bank bordering Barkby Lane.  By the railway bridge we would have a smoke and wait until a few of the keen runners appeared down Barkby Lane, when we would join them to jog the few hundred yards back to the sports field. Why on earth we smoked Woodbines and pretended to enjoy them I don't know. They were vile. I suppose we imagined it made us look grown up and sophisticated.
Other dodges included pedalling like mad to arrive well before the bus, donning kit, feigning a sweat and swearing that we'd already done the short course and could we go home sir? If Jock Gilman was in charge, he always said yes.  I remember hitching a lift (with a few others) on the back of a pickup truck on one occasion, and on another freezing cold day I completed the short course fully clothed including gloves and bearskin motorcycle coat which weighed about 3 kilos.
Very difficult to avoid was the annual cross-country run, when the whole school had to take part. The route had checkpoints manned by sadistic teachers, so short cuts were out of the question. Not even a freshly-forged note from your mum would get you out of this one, leave alone the dog-eared copy you'd had in your pocket all year. The one exception was the boy chosen to wield a camera to record the event for the school film. He shall remain nameless, but there was a fair amount of resentment that he got away with it.  It was resentment at this compulsory torture which culminated one year in a few like-minded individuals deciding to walk the entire course at an exaggerated leisurely pace, despite some encouragement from checkpoint marshals wielding knotted ropes behind us. It was almost 6pm before we got back to the sports field, only to find everyone had gone except the deputy head Mr Nosebag Remington, who had been compelled to stay to supervise our return. Suffice it to say that he wasn't best pleased!
FROM JIM JOYCE  1951-59    I remember clearly in the early day in 5S a teacher I didn't know coming  into WAG Pace's classroom and asking us all whether anyone was taking more that 8 GCE's.  Being by then generally disruptive I put up my hand, and amazed myself by announcing that I was taking history and art.  This was duly noted, and my name was put forward for these two extra subjects.  No one seemed to question my decision.  Of course, I had no lesson space available to study these two subjects.  Art was no problem, as I could creep into any art lesson and do my painting at the back.  I had an easel constantly set up, so I would creep in for the odd half hour.  I was given the text book for history and studied it by making copious notes on the floor of my mother's front room (the one that you were never allowed to use)  I had zero contact with the history teacher.  Came the time for the mocks, and suddenly the teacher remembered that I was doing the GCE.  I was called to the staff room door and informed that I would have to do the mock like everyone else.  OK I said, and proceeded to sit the mock.  You came top, a perplexed history teacher said.  I never saw him again, and sat and passed both.  So, I had minimal help in art, and no help in history, and still passed them both!  Incidentally I understand that I was the first student at the school ever to pass 10 subjects at GCE.
AND FINALLY...   Trevor Dixey's item about the horrors of sport (see above) certainly rang a bell with me.  Over the course of 80 OWT's I have oftem mentioned my aversion to sport, and the incredible lengths that Peter McDermott and myself would go to avoid as much PT, swimming, football and cricket as possible.  In fact it would have been less bother, not to say less risky, to have taken part in sports and simply accepted we were useless.  I quite liked cross-country, cricket was just about bearable.  As Trevor points out, if you were one of the last batsmen the session was invariably over before it was your turn, and I think I only had to bat once.  When fielding it was a simple matter to place oneself in such a distant position that contact with the ball was extremely unlikely.  Football was a nightmare, during one match I was briefly knocked unconscious when the heavy, wet leather ball (accidentally) connected with my head.  Nowadays the paramedics would be called, an inquiry held - and perhaps a compo claim from my parents would be considered - but after a quick once-over by the ref (Mr Sweet, I think) we just carried on!  Worst of all for me was swimming at Vestry Street.  I could not swim, and still can't, as for some reason I do not float and just sink to the bottom.  I spent my time clinging to the rail, praying for Jock's whistle to signal the end of the purgatory.  Probably my crowning glory was to forge a permanently excused note for awimming, citing asthma, which allowed me to sit on the balcony with my fellow skivers.
Boys fell into one of three categories:  those who loved sport, those who were indifferent, and those who hated it.  Personally I have never been a team player, which is why the only sport I liked was cross-country.  As regards PT, Pirates was OK because it was easy to be quickly touched by the chaser and be out, and with a bit of luck the game would go on for ages.  As I have said many times, surely there was no way that Jock Gilman was taken in by those pathetic forged notes?  Can one of our teacher readers comment?
Dennis J Duggan
January 12th 2014