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School Days

Most religious instruction lessons at school were quite dull affairs during which we had many opportunities to practice falling asleep with our eyes wide open. Mr Brearley, the teacher, did his best but even though he had an appearance and personality that consisted mainly of idiosyncrasies, he seldom managed to inject much flavour or interest into the subject. I suspect he might have found it as boring as we did.

He had a huge mole on his cheek from which sprouted a couple of long grey hairs. In moments of stress or elation he would clap one hand to his cheek and suck in a hissing breath. He had a broad Yorkshire accent.

One of the boys, Brian Teal by name, was the class clown and he could always be relied upon to add mirth to almost any situation. He was a marvellously eccentric boy. He would run home every lunchtime so that he could go to the toilet (he found the school toilets too disgusting to use). By noon each day he was generally to be found with his legs crossed, bouncing up and down in his seat. Sometimes a teacher would construe this as eagerness to answer a question. But Brian had other things on his mind and seldom obliged with anything coherent. He was a great fan of the Beach Boys and in between classes he was often to be found playing the drums on his desk top and trying very, very hard to sing four simultaneous falsetto harmonies, with mixed success.

On this particular day, in this particular religious instruction class, Mr Brearley was rambling on about Jesus’ ministry and how it might have been perceived by the society of the time. Jesus really was quite radical in his thinking, quite scandalous in his teachings.

The hand slapped the cheek, the breath was sucked in with a mighty squelch and then expelled with a sigh as Mr Brearley said:

"...and Jesus lowered himself to speak to fallen women!"

As he said that phrase, every eye in the classroom moved to Brian Teal, who was sitting at his desk behind a pillar, concealed from Mr Brearley's direct view. Brian pantomimed staring down a sheer cliff and waving hello to the people at the bottom.

The class erupted into hysterics. Mr Brearley looked puzzled for a moment and then slapped his hand back to his cheek again. The Yorkshire accent became particularly prominent as the stress got to him.

"Is it that choomp Teal, be'ind t'pillar?"


Games periods were loathed by the less sportily inclined among us. Many of us had a fundamental lack of eye-hand co-ordination skills and any excuse was taken to avoid the humiliation of being the last one chosen for a team. Peter forged a note from his mother to the games master. It read:

Please excuse Peter from games because I have a cold.

And at the bottom was the scribbled signature:

Peter’s Mum

Others were less inventive. Steven simply never turned up for games. Every games period would find him hiding in the school cellars smoking cigarettes. At the end of the year, most of us got the usual phrases written on our reports by the games master.

Could do better.

Lacks enthusiasm.

On Steven’s report the games master wrote: Who is this boy?

Some excuses were more legitimate. One term Malcolm was properly excused games and he elected to do woodwork instead.

The woodwork class was supervised by Mr Gallagher. He taught us to make mortise and tenon joints, and dovetail joints. He taught us to plane a plank of wood square. He taught us to saw in a straight line (the only one of these skills that I retain to this day). I built a small bookshelf, a stool and a coffee table in his classes. All were sturdy constructions, all were useful and all were used. This pleased Mr Gallagher.

Malcolm elected to build a coffee table. He measured and marked, cut and planed.

Mr Gallagher checked his work every so often.

"The edge is not square. Look – you can see daylight when I hold my set square against it. Plane it some more."

Malcolm planed it more.

"It still isn’t square. It has to be square. You can’t make a table if it isn’t square. Plane it some more."

Malcolm planed it more. Over the course of a ten week term, he planed and planed and planed some more. At the start of the term, the planks he was planing measured eight inches across. By the end of the term, they were two inches across, still not square, and suitable only for building furniture in a doll’s house.

The next term Malcolm voluntarily went back to playing rugby. It didn’t demand a square field or a square ball and he felt much more at home with the irregularity.


The school had its own swimming pool which was quite a novelty for those times. Most schools in the district hired out the pool in town and ferried their pupils to and from the swimming lessons in coaches. A curious construction of concrete slabs rose from the side of the pool at the deep end. From these you could dive or belly flop into the water, depending upon your skill level. Set up in one corner was a small trampoline (we called it a trampet) upon which the braver people would bounce up and down, going higher and higher with each bounce. Once the height and momentum was deemed sufficient the bouncer would alter the angle and project his body out into space, entering the water with a huge splash and a shriek of enormous triumph or, depending upon the angle of projection, enormous pain.

The boys changing rooms were on one side of the pool and the girls changing rooms were on the other side. A narrow corridor went from each changing room via a disinfectant foot bath to the pool. The sexes were strictly segregated and any lessons that involved use of the swimming pool were carefully timed so as to be exclusively mono-gendered. Mostly it worked.

After a games period, many of the boys had developed the custom of showering and then having a swim. This was particularly their practice if the games period was the last in the day for then they could take their time over their swim and just mess around in the pool for ages. Nobody ever bothered wearing swimming costumes for these impromptu events. We’d seen each other naked so often in the changing rooms over the years that nobody really cared very much at all. There was nothing worth looking at.

One Wednesday, after a particularly strenuous rugby game, the pool area was full of shrieking, naked young men racing around the pool, throwing each other in, diving from the steps, generally having a fine old time. One boy, Andrew, was bouncing up and down on the trampet, taking no part in any of the things going on around him. Bounce, bounce, bounce, lost in a trance, deep in a world of his own. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down.

Meanwhile, unbeknown to us, the girls were just coming back from a particularly strenuous game of lacrosse.

"How about a swim?" someone suggested.

"Oooh, yes!"

They all changed into their togs (‘cos that’s what girls do) and padded off to the pool where they stood open mouthed with astonishment at the sight that greeted them.

Almost without exception, the boys stared for one horrified moment at the girls who were staring at them and then, one and all, covered their groins with their hands and jumped into the concealing safety of the pool.

Only Andrew, utterly lost in his trance, failed to notice the girls arrival as he went bounce, bounce, bounce on the trampet and with each and every bounce his little willy waved hello.


Thirty five years ago I left school to go to university. I moved away from my home town and hardly ever went back again save for flying visits. I lost touch with almost everybody and school days were relegated to the dusty recesses of my memory. I had left it all behind. I moved to the other side of the world and eventually even the few friends that I had managed to keep in touch with drifted away and we stopped writing. Distance lends disenchantment.

And then the internet changed the world and somebody started a web site:

There you can register yourself under your old school. You can see lists of other people who have registered themselves. You can get in touch again.

I am currently exchanging emails with eight people that I was at school with, catching up on the gossip of decades; finding out who’s married, who’s divorced, who’s dead (sadly there are several). The memories come rushing back.

Why don’t you try it yourself?

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