Last updated: 12 May 02
The Seven Year Itch
An essay I wrote, aged 18, upon leaving WBHS in July 1970, intended for publication in the 1970 school magazine, as I left the school. Sadly it was never finished (and not published).
It happens to all of us at some time in our life – usually after seven years of blissful marriage – but my turn has come already: it is time to move on to another way of life after seven of the most eventful years of my life. I felt that I must share with you all some of the experiences of the past before I go, from the first morning in September 1963 when I was one of a trembling, apprehensive group of fags milling around the huts, right up to the freedom of the U6.
Tuesday 3rd September 1973 was the beginning of a new era, a transition from being a big fish in a little pond to being small fish in a very large ocean. We had collected together outside the huts from our junior schools, looking as if we had recently stripped Horne’s of its stock of uniforms (I hasten to add that this was the first and last occasion that we all wore caps!) when a shrill tintinnabulation heralded the arrival of our form masters, Messrs Taylor and Clifford. We all eyed the ferocious looking, plump, bespectacled Mr Taylor (later to be affectionately christened, Tats) hoping that he was the other form’s form-master. Fortunately he was – 1 Alpha had Mr Clifford, who patiently enumerated all the rights and wrongs of our new school – a labyrinthine establishment with powerful prefects (who were slightly reminiscent of the Great Men of the Sixth from Billy Bunter’s seat of learning, Greyfriars), and strange, unfamiliar staff, most of whom wore gowns.
Mr ‘Happy’ Anderton, the benevolent, sagacious deputy head, distributed the copies of the school hymn in our first assembly, this being admirably performed on a strange-looking piano with two rows of keys by Mr Richard ‘Dicky’ Watt-Boyd – our music master. (Get it? … Music master … Dicky?Boid..?) The first morning consisted of a kindly pep talk from the Head who further drove home what we could and could not do, at the same time painting a very uncharitable picture of school life in general. Some of us fell into wicked ways as early as dinner-time – r Clifford’s first moan at registration was that little urchins had been observed playing in hallowed ground – he front of the school.
Very hazy recollections of the rest of the day consist of a lecture from Mr Bradley on what not to do with a chisel in the woodwork room, …, phonetic pronunciation in French with Eli .. (he never did succeed in getting us to say “ew” as in la rue … some of us can’t even do it now) … and getting lost regularly. Our homework for the first day was to cover with brown paper the mountain of text books we had collected during the day -that was letting us off lightly.
We soon discovered the best way to annoy teachers – by staring fixedly at the steam trains passing the huts, we could send them into tantrums – especially Eli and Jonah. Jonah took History and Geography. He was Welsh, and was always chiding a colleague of mine for letting down the good name of Jones. He had a novel way of dealing with anyone he caught eating in class – he would say, “You eatin’ ? … Gimme one!” I recall Mr Legge’s severe reprimands for upsetting water over someone’s painting and dreading doing it myself – but I did, and received the rough edge of his tongue.
The most dreaded times of the week were Wednesday morning’s cross-country run and Friday’s visit to the baths, your truly successfully skiving off both as often as possible (that was one thing that did not change from 1st to 5th form) as do a large number of our present 4th formers … (Pause for blushes.) General Science was always fun with Tats – he was the only person I know to cause an explosion during the preparation of oxygen by setting fire to the cork.
The end of term was received with apprehension because of our first exams since the 11+, but most of us escaped unscathed at the end of them. At the end of the summer term was the much talked about and long-awaited 6th form revue in which members of the school could apparently poke fun at the staff and get away with it.
It was in this that we first encountered the sneezing that was to remain a joke right up to the L6 when Gammy’s unfortunate serious illness took him from us. We didn’t understand this for a couple of years until we started doing Chemistry. Then he started, at least a dozen one after another which were counted as we had been taught to by these 6th form revues. I must say he took it in very good part.
Feb 64 saw the performance of the school play, Macbeth, in which Bums undertook the mammoth role of Macbeth, and Speed took Macduff – he lent an unexpected touch of humour to Shakespeare’s work – in a serious sword fight he bent his sword and spent the next couple of minutes trying to straighten it without attracting attention, the audience practically rolling in the aisles by this time.
March saw the Head going into hospital for an operation, while Happy took over. I well remember the cheering in assembly when he made popular announcements – he seemed to enjoy it himself and invited this after a week by the way he gave out the notices.
The 2nd form brought a number of changes, the most notable of which was the appearance of Latin in the timetable. Dear old Camel. He was known for addressing everyone as “You silly ass … you must be feebleminded”, and for probing his olfactory organ, moulding its contents into small spheres and putting them into orbit around the room! Smic also made his mark on us this year – his dreaded dictee, theme and detentions for the smallest sin kept us all on our toes. I recall the time he gave the whole form 4 sides for not having the windows open as he had instructed us. His red cushion was a source of merriment for many months. Among its many fates, it was hung from window poles, suspended from the enquiries sign outside room 4 and planted in the staff desk more times that I care to remember, and dear old Smic endured this all like a longsuffering parent.
Dec 64 saw the excellent performance of Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, expertly accompanied by Sam at the pianoforte. (Sam deserves a paragraph to himself later on … ) The 2nd form was a year when artists prospered, as both Buz and Ben gave marks for the best drawing (History and General Science respectively) though Buz did sometimes count the pages as well! I awaited the annual Arts Festival with abject terror as I had been forced into doing a French recitation, Le Laboureur and ses enfants. I clearly remember the whole poem. Needless to say, I won … there were no other entrants.
The end of the 2nd form saw the first retirement of a member of staff – Camel. I inaugurated our own collection – just 2 Alpha – and we bought him a chess set and board upon which I was privileged to have the maiden voyage, amid whispers “Let him win!”. I didn’t have to – he floored me.
I have resisted the strong temptation to correct and elaborate upon this as I typed it. What a pity I didn’t finish it while the memories were still clear. Perhaps when I retire, I shall have time to fill in the gaps!
Pictures of the webmaster in his school uniform for the first time
A post O-level outing , June 1968
Michael Smith, Rod Corfield, and Dave Coles at Jodrell Bank
Dave Coles at Manchester Airport – didn’t quite work, did it?!