A return to memories of boarding

In earlier ramblings I mentioned that I worked in two boarding schools and looking back from the 21st century, it is hard to believe some of the accepted norms back then.

Before starting at the LV in Slough I had never conceived that there might be such a thing as a mixed boarding school, and indeed, having applied for the post and been offered an interview, I rang the headmaster (from a red telephone box), just to check. He seemed surprised that I should ask! When I arrived for interview I was met by what to all intents and purposed was the headmaster’s manservant, short, white jacket et al. A far cry from my urban grammar school on Tyneside.

As I probably said elsewhere, my time there was probably among the most pleasant I have spent anywhere, with London on the doorstep, a new flat, a swimming pool, tennis courts on site, resident sixth-form babysitters and staff, many of a similar age to myself. There were of course the usual ‘odd bods’ found in schools like this, some of them seemed older than the place itself, but then people seemed older then.

The routine of a boarding school is important as out of lesson time, the boarders are supervised, by perhaps only one member of staff (or two in a mixed school) , hence the need for prefects. Rising times, bed times, meal times, times for prep and sport are all fixed so there is no reason why any boarder should be in a place other than expected. It all seems like a prison, but pupils seldom tried to ‘escape’ to their home, although one enterprising lad managed to get to Plymouth from Slough and was promptly returned by his father the next day. New pupils were sometimes homesick, briefly, but most got over it once the parents left and were not there to play up to.

Boarders were usually kept busy in their free time with sport and clubs, but both schools had a Saturday night film. Television was available, but children’s programmes were limited then, so each Saturday, all the boarders gathered in the main hall to watch a film, hired in by someone (I never found out who was responsible). You can imagine the smell of a room full of boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 18 on a warm summer evening with the curtains and doors closed. It was no wonder that while this was happening the staff chose to have their evening meal. I really have little recollection of meals at Slough, but staff supper in Devon followed immediately after the pupil’s meal. However it was usually preceded by ‘sherry’ in one or other of the senior resident’s flat. The senior, senior resident would ring a bell for the kitchen staff to the small staff dining room and woe betide anyone attempting to serve themselves.

Most of the mischief I was aware of took place in Shebbear, perhaps because I was there longer or more likely because it was originally boys only. From time to time we would find ‘smoking-dens’, strangely not out in the extensive grounds, but in a loft above a dormitory in a wooden building where a fire would have been a disaster. I ran a photographic club with a darkroom in the science block. Two of the senior boys seemed to spend a lot of time there and being suspicious I barged in one evening and was surprised to find that they had quite an extensive home brewery running in the loft above.

The night before Leavers’ Day was a main cause for concern although initially it was usually good humoured. The farmers’ sons who ‘boarded’, on one occasion dismantled a tractor and reassembled it in the quad via very narrow entrances and at another time managed to get an old Austin 7 car on to the roof. That car, used to learn motor skills, was eventually  buried in a ‘tip’ near the house where I lived and will be there still. It was not until staff cars began moving mysteriously during the night, that staff night patrols were found-necessary.



34. It’snow better than it ought to be.*

It’s been snowing here on Tyneside, in February 2018, like nothing I have seen since I lived on the fringes of Dartmoor. True it was worse there in 1979, but that was exceptional even for Dartmoor.

People of my age seemed to think it was much worse in ‘the old days’. “It snowed every winter and was much deeper then”. But was it?

When I was at ‘junior’ school (they call them ‘primary’ now) we had an excursion to Alnwick Castle in Northumberland (scene of Harry Potter films). I distinctly remember entering via a huge ‘armoury’ where pikes, spears and guns of all shapes and sizes had been artfully arranged in ‘fans’ and circles all over the walls.

Many years later I visited as a ‘grown-up’ and was so disappointed by the small size, not only of the display, but also of the room itself. Indeed I asked the custodian whether I was in the right place; he assured me that I was.

It got me thinking how many things seem smaller than they were. I’m not thinking here of Mars Bars or the clothes in my wardrobe, but buildings and streets and parks visited when I (and you dear reader) were smaller.

Did it snow every year? Probably not.  I made reference to first-footing in the snow in article#26, but I doubt it snowed every year. I do remember  sledging on Tynemouth Golf Course, as they did this week, but I only remember doing it a couple of times. Dads made wooden sledges with metal runners for their sons! Girls didn’t sledge back then (or play football) BTW where did all those plastic sledges spring from last week?

Was the snow deeper? I doubt it. True it came over my wellies, but then they were little wellies. Perhaps, because there were fewer cars, the snow lay piled up on the side of the road for much longer and it just seemed worse than it was.

Perhaps because it happens less often, we, the news hungry TV viewers, make such a fuss. Schools never closed; councils coped with snow ploughs attached to their lorries, even in side-streets. Gritters were open lorries manned by men with shovels casting salt on a rapidly spinning ‘fan-blade’. Eat your heart out health and safety.

Everything now has to have a ‘title’. This was The Beast from The East because it originated in Siberia. Windy days have names like Henry or Gladys. Why? Weather forecasts have improved beyond measure because of satellites and computers so why weren’t we better prepared when we knew so far in advance?

* The title is a quote from Nora Batty in Last of The Summer Wine (BBC TV) about someone who is “No better than she ought to be”. Which I don’t understand, but strangely I know what it means.


32. “Mine’s a pint.”

I developed a taste for beer; way back in 1957, when beer was 1/- (5p) a pint.  Then the weekly wage was ~ £8 which equates to 160 pints. With the current wage at ~£500 a week and the price locally at ~£3.30, it is almost exactly the same.

I was well under age, but nobody bothered much back then. I said ‘developed a taste’, as I have never met anyone who enjoyed their first taste of beer and admitted to it. Still, we all persisted and became experts, or pretended to be. Back then many people drank ‘halfs’ and often in a dimpled glass mug with a handle.

Most local pubs served ‘keg’ bitter, which is pasteurised to keep longer and propelled to the tap using carbon dioxide under pressure. The resultant product was rather flat and any ‘head’ soon disappeared, but we knew no better. My experience of ‘real hand-pulled ale’ came much later, although it must have been around at the time. Competition between breweries was fierce: local brands included McEwan’s Scotch and Best Scotch,  and Newcastle Exhibition (stronger and dearer),  but  national brands such as Whitbread Tankard and Trophy, Watney’s Red Barrel, Ind Coope  and others came and went. Serious drinkers drank the stronger, bottled, Newcastle Brown Ale, known variously as ‘Dog’, ‘Newky Broon’ and ‘Jorny inti Space’ among others. There was also a weaker, lighter, companion call Amber Ale along with many of the bottled brands still on sale today. There was also a period when breweries brought the draught beer to the pub in tankers and pumped it directly into storage tanks in the cellar.

Pubs were different places in many ways. They were primarily the haunt of men. All pubs had a men-only bar, although often not labelled as such, it was understood. I was told that this was so that men could go directly from work in their working clothes without worrying about dirtying the furniture, but I suspect it was really a place to escape from wives and screaming children. You should remember that at that time wives were treated in much the same way as they are now in the Middle East and probably would only be taken to the pub at the weekend after cooking the meal , doing the washing-up, putting the offspring to bed and in the charge of grandma.

There was usually a lounge-bar  where women could be taken (women seldom drank alone).The drinks in the lounge were 1d or 2d dearer, even though they were served by the same staff and often from the same pump/bottle. This was a significant price difference when considering the price at the time. Some pubs had a small room (the snug) and often a ‘bottle and jug’ which was only accessed from the outside; where beer could be purchased in your own jug without entering the main building.

Although I am told that pubs near the shipyards opened early in the morning to fortify the workers, it was before my time and although it was a long time ago, I remember licencing hours being from around noon to 2.30 pm (2 pm on Sunday) and then from perhaps 6.30 until 10 or 10.30. It varied a little from one local authority to another, but only by half an hour or so. Hours on Sunday and Good Friday were shorter and still are, if the licensee chooses. Now, of course, licensees can apply for longer hours or close whenever they choose, whereas the old hours were strict, both on the customer and the landlord.

Spirits at one time in history were very cheap, but in my time were traditionally expensive. A single whisky was dearer than a pint of bitter until quite recently, whether because of changes in measure size or tax, but when offered a drink people used to say “do you mind if I have a short?” or even offer to pay the difference.

Drinking in company can be a very odd ritual of ‘buying a round’, something I was warned against while still at school. If you drink this way, in a group, then each person buys drinks (a round) for all the others in the group. This is fine in a small group, but can lead to over-indulgence by trying to keep up with the fastest drinker or losing friends by not paying when it is your turn.

Beer and spirits were just about the only drinks on offer in pubs at one time: even early ‘temperance’ hotels sold beer, to keep people off gin. However, when wages improved and people took package holidays, then Lager and Sherry appeared with all manner of small drinks and mixers to attract the ladies.

Now pubs are centres of entertainment and providers of food, with singers and musicians, piped music, fruit machines and menus to compete with restaurants, unless you know where to look to get a decent pint in peace!

At one time the nearest a pub came to food was a bag of crisps or a curling cheese sandwich in a glass case on the bar. Entertainment was strictly in-house with darts, dominoes, cards, bar-billiards and even shove-halfpenny and skittles, further south. Juke-boxes put an end to peace and quiet and even then you had to pay to hear your favourite hit record. Pool tables appeared in the late ‘7os, but are seldom seen since the millennium.

Fruit machines of the one-armed-bandit variety appeared, but their pay-out was strictly limited unless it was in a working men’s club (note the ‘men’). They, of course, might even have snooker tables, a function-room for parties and, best of all, cheap beer and longer hours. See more here

In the ‘60s there was a spate of building new pubs. Home entertainment was mainly through a small black and white television with only a few channels on offer. Now pubs are closing unless they can offer what people want and even then they tend only to be profitably busy at weekends even though the weekly cash pay-packet is long gone. See my closed pubs page


30. Is it a record?

Back along when the world was in black and white, ‘records’ were thin discs of black shellac (the resin of a female beetle, believe it or not). They were 10 inches (254 mm) in diameter with a hole in the middle. A spiral groove ran from the rim to the centre on which were ‘indentations’ which carried analogue sounds. The sound was re-created by placing a needle in the groove and rotating the turntable, which carried the record, at 78 rpm. The record player was called a gramophone. The turntable was powered by a spring which was wound with a handle and the tiny movement of the steel needle was amplified by a mica disc to some form of cavity e.g. a horn which amplified further. The record usually had another recording on the reverse side and labels on each side to identify the music.

Such then was the home sound system of my childhood, but in a technological explosion in the 1950s records became discs, shellac was replaced by polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and the power was electricity for both the motor and the amplification through loudspeakers. With such advances, it became possible to have discs of differing sizes 7, 10 , and 12 inches; then they mucked about with the speed 16, 33, 45 and 78 rpm. This was an attempt to a) get more information on a disc, b) make the disc more portable and c) to improve the quality of the sound. This sound quality became known as high-fidelity and hi-fi was the holy grail of what we now call the nerds of the period. Large sums of money was spent by people, who could afford it, to achieve perfection by controlling the speed of rotation to the nth degree and the weight applied to the sapphire or diamond stylus, which had replaced the steel needle. When stereophonic sound came along then the grounds for acoustic pretension knew no bounds, even if it meant sitting at the apex of a triangle subtended by two sets of speakers called woofers and tweeters and which cost a fortune.

The standard LP (long playing record) was the 12 inch version which carried several tracks on both sides and was later called an album. Single songs were on 7 inch discs and the standard optimum speed was set at 33 rpm LP and 45 rpm otherwise. It should be noted that one of the selling points of LPs was the design of the sleeve or cardboard jacket that it came in. These were the very early days of TV and few people had their own means of recording from radio or TV so the purchase of recordings was the only way most people could listen to their favourite star when ever they wanted to. This resulted in the rise of the pop-star, groups, recording studios, TV programmes like Top Of The Pops, and the hit parade.  The Top 20 was an eagerly anticipated 1 to 20 chart of the best selling records, usually broadcast on a Sunday night on radio, when the Saturday sales had been tallied. This was also boosted by cafes (and later, pubs) which had record-playing machines called juke-boxes which played singles for anyone prepared to pay. At home the gramophone became a record-player, which might play a stack of discs, one after the other. These were often portable and could be played in your own room while parents might boast a radiogram, which combined radio with record player in one polished item of furniture.

For a short time cassette recording was king. You could buy your album on a pocket size cassette tape and play it on smaller and smaller portable machines. It was no good for single recordings, but you could record directly from the radio and make your own album. In the world of the pretentious the car version took over, and things like 8-track stereo with 10 inch speakers in the back would make your ears bleed. It was always a joy when their cassette player ‘ate the tape’.

It wasn’t until 1982 that the CD (compact disc) was born. Now an ubiquitous part of our computer storage, the retail CD was an audio device which gradually replaced the disc album. The cost of the player and its unsuitability for singles, meant that it never vanquished the record player entirely. Since then it has matured into storage of data and a reincarnation in 1995 to DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) which like its older sibling can be recorded over more than once. Of course there are the born-again record listeners who claim that the CD does not have the ambience of a record and this has resulted in sales of turntable record players.

I seldom hear of the discos of my children’s youth. Record shops where teenagers used to listen, in a booth, to the latest hit with their friends, or pore for hours over which album to choose are gone. I hope the music channels I see while idly browsing through my digital TV are an adequate substitute for the young nearly-adult and not just enjoyed in private.

As I write type this in to my desktop computer (although I could have dictated it directly), I am listening through my old hi-fi speakers, to a track,  that I have downloaded from the web, to the same pc. I have it saved on my hard-drive along with thousands of others and I can cast it to my tablet or phone, should I choose to. If I use them then I would use headphones or earwigs so that I do not intrude on others, but I fear that the world would cease to intrude on me and that would be sad.

25. The ever-changing face of education

The changing face of education 11 to 16

It seems hard to believe, looking back, that in 1944 at the height of the Second War an Education Act was implemented that was to change education in this country for ever.

Education was made free and compulsory up to the age of 15 (later 16). Secondary schools were to be in three main forms: grammar schools, secondary technical schools and secondary modern schools. There were also church schools, direct grant and independent (fee paying) schools, but these were fewer and ran on similar lines.

Entry to the state secondary schools took place at around the age of 11 years and was decided by a group of examinations called the ‘eleven plus’ (11+) and this, along with grammar schools, still exists in some local authorities.

11+ was a set of tests taken within the primary schools; maths, English and verbal-reasoning were the usual. The examinations themselves were very good at doing what they wanted to do, but whether a child’s future should be settles at age 11 became a bone of contention.

On the result of the score achieved in these examinations the children were filtered into the secondary system: high scorers to the grammar schools, then the technical and finally to the secondary modern. My local authority called it ‘the grading exam’ which seems quite sensible.

Simple? Not really. Some authorities had a second chance for borderline candidates (including yours truly) and some had a 13+ examination for candidates who seemed to have been misplaced. Additionally, some authorities had more grammar school places by virtue of having boys-grammar, girls-grammar and mixed-grammar or even all three. The result was, that while one authority had 5% grammar school selection, an adjacent one could have 40%.

Concerned parents who cared or who could afford the fees either bought copies of old papers or sent their children to tutors to be ‘coached’, and there is no doubt that this can work for some children. Indeed ‘crammers’ still exist for those taking GCSE and A-levels.

It should be remembered at that time the country was recovering from wartime conditions and adults were glad of any work they could find and were used to doing what they were told. The job market grew and my friends who left school at 15 were seldom unemployed so the system seemed to be working.

As the 60s began, employment levels began to fall and parents began to question the limits placed on their children, by a system where there were no qualifications at the end of it. O-levels were not generally taken in secondary modern schools. The idea had been that practical education, unconstrained by examinations, would be better for those ‘less gifted academically’.

A new examination was born: the CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education). This began in secondary moderns, but filtered across the whole system, and on the borders between the types of school, both exams were taken by pupils who might fail one or pass the other.

Now it really got complicated. The ‘stigma’ of the secondary modern produced a school of thought that suggested that there should be a new type of school with a ‘comprehensive’ system with no entry examination, no streaming by ability, more subject choice and a ‘brave new world’. The government of the time embraced the idea with open arms and the authorities with enough money built enormous ‘comprehensive schools’ housing thousands of children in purpose built campus sites. The authorities with less money had to cobble together plans involving existing buildings and so in some areas there were middle schools, junior-highs, senior-highs, sixth-form colleges and so on.

Children in the very large schools could easily become isolated as some year-groups were as large as whole schools used to be. Of course it worked well if the head and staff managed it, but some disasters occurred before it settled down. Later in some areas the junior/middle schools re-merged with their older pupils as new buildings replaced the old to become manageable size comprehensives.

During all this change teachers were supposed to manage the two-examination CSE/GCE system and it really wasn’t working well, as a grade-1 CSE was never meant to be equivalent to a ‘C’ grade GCE, but that was how it was perceived by parents and employers. The solution, if such it was, was to combine the exams into a grand cover-all examination the GCSE. The idea daft from the outset was to have single examination to try to avoid the image of failure. Grades were to go from A to G and everybody should fit in there somewhere. “How can we tell who is any good” cried the employers, parents, teachers and universities. “Well we shall call Grade C the borderline” said the powers that be. “Just like it was before you combined the two exams” said the cynics. “Oh goodness no” said the educational idealists “G-grade is still a pass!”

Needless to say the teachers just had to get on with it. The entries are split into ‘levels’ with different papers for different levels and the often forlorn hope that parents can be persuaded that ‘Johnny’ should be entered for Foundation-level making an A-grade unachievable on the grounds that if entered for the Higher-level he may get no grade at all.

That then is roughly how it stands. The government of the day cannot, however, help tampering with the system. The National Curriculum was introduced, where all pupils are obliged to study English maths and science to GCSE level; a worthy idea to bolster these subjects, but in reality it hampered the teaching of the individual sciences in favour of ‘science for all’ type courses.

A return to the pre-1944 School Certificate (continental Baccalaureate) system where a group of subjects must be achieved at one sitting has hovered in the wings for some time, but has never been enforced for fear of reaction from the ‘all men are created equal’ lobby.

Coursework carried-out at home held sway for a time, but the influence of the home situation and the rise of the home computer made this inherently unfair to some pupils and I hope and believe that any course work carried out is monitored carefully within the school environment.

If I have anything to say to the government of the day after 40 years teaching it is Leave It Alone!

Make sure teachers are properly trained and have an effective power to discipline children and parents alike then let them get on with it.

24. May I have this dance?

I stopped watching Strictly Come Dancing when the whole thing deteriorated into a circus by the show-off panel of judges. However it did strike me recently that they are restricted by the format to very few actual dances. Off the top of my head I can recall a dozen or more that were common in the dance-halls of my youth.

The dance-halls of my youth began in a local church hall on a Sunday evening where I was taught by girls older than myself, and girls of my age by older boys. The dance most used to begin with was the Bradford Barn Dance: this is a progressive dance where a ring of couples with boys inside and girls outside complete a sequence of steps which end up with a change of partner. It usually started the evening to break the ice and remove the excuse for ‘sitting-out’.

Another mixer dance is the Paul Jones where the type of dance changes when the music stops. You change partners with no right of refusal and may not dance with the same partner twice. The name of the dance is decided by a caller.

Most dances are for two people, but there were a few group dances I recall: the oddest was The Palais Glide where six (or more?) dancers in a line, boy-girl alternately – arms around waists – carried out a sequence of steps which ended with three or four noisy stamping steps forward; another was Strip-the-Willow, basically a Scottish country dance for four couples involving a lot of swinging round and linking arms and finally the Dashing White Sergeant another Scottish country dance, but oddly for two groups of three.

Before I move on to the dances themselves all of which can be found on You Tube, I ought to mention some etiquette of the dance hall. Entry was open to couples and to single people of both sexes, although I visited one many years ago which, some nights, had a minimum age limit (21?) for men (but not for girls). Males usually approached females and asked them: “May I have this dance?” Usually the request was granted, and after the dance the polite male escorted the female back to her seat. It was asking for trouble if a lady with her boyfriend was approached. Perhaps because the less physically attractive females might never be asked to dance, two females could dance with each other. Men would never do this!

There was one exception to the rule which was the ‘excuse-me’ dance which came in three forms gentlemen’s excuse-me, ladies’ excuse-me and general excuse-me; in each case a couple already dancing could be approached and the excused partner was expected to leave the floor or ‘excuse’ someone else.

You might have noticed that I said ‘some nights’ earlier, because in cities, one or more dance-halls were open every night, but Sunday. Smaller towns might only have one which probably was only open on a Saturday. Although village-halls might only have a gramophone or record-player, many dance-halls would have a live a three -piece band or even a full dance band or even two. Most people of my generation could dance to a greater or lesser extent.

The dances themselves divided into old-time and modern, or ‘easy’ and ‘difficult’, and there were plenty of them. The ‘easy’ dances tended to be old-time and had pre-determined steps which were repeated time and again these included: the Gay Gordons, Square Tango, St. Bernard’s Waltz, Boston two-step and Veleta. The more difficult dances were ‘free style’ where although the steps were learned you were free to move around the dance floor at will (always anti-clockwise for some unknown reason). These included: The Waltz, Foxtrot, Slow-foxtrot, Rumba, Tango, Quickstep, Samba, Viennese Waltz, Jive and Cha-Cha-Cha. If you could do most of these competently you could regard yourself as a decent dancer and people who did not have the early church-hall tuition I had, would pay for lessons rather than trample on some girls toes.

Things changed as music changed from what was known as strict-tempo into pop. You could waltz to Elvis Presley, but not to The Rolling Stones. The Dance made way for The Disco which produced dances which did not involve contact with your partner and which eventually did not involve having a partner at all. The Jive involved a lot of skill to do well, but the Twist involved none at all; the Shake involved even less as it consisted of standing still and, well, shaking with an intense look of concentration on your face. Back then there was always a chance to dance close to a partner for the Last Waltz which by this time was probably no more than a shuffle round the floor and the chance to make a new friend.

By this time the band had gone to be replaced by multiple record decks and lurid flashing lights controlled by an expert with a microphone and mixing skills.

As far as I know the disco name has gone, but the idea lives on through a sequence of (illegal) raves and other incarnations to what exists today.

23. A village changed

If you read the previous post you will know that I lived in a remote Devon village for almost 30 years. It changed a lot during that time, but it only became obvious in looking back. Let me set the scene.

The village is set in North Devon between Dartmoor and the Bristol Channel. When I arrived in 1972 about 400 people lived in-and-around the village, with as many again within the parish boundary, mainly farmers. There were four or five small shops: two general stores, a dairy/butcher’s, a sweetshop, knitting-supplies (and bookie’s runner) and a post office. Outlying farms and even the village itself were served by a mobile greengrocer, butcher and the bread-man. There were two garages, a cobbler/barber, a café, a pub, a primary school, the doctor’s surgery, the church and two chapels. On the outskirts was a Methodist boarding school which provided employment for the residents and trade for the businesses. The primary headmaster lived in the schoolhouse and the doctor in the surgery.

The nearest towns, worth the name, were between, 9 and 22 miles away, each initially served by a bus service, once a week. Each of these towns had a hospital, but only the furthest had A & E.

There is a large village hall with its own playing field and children’s playground. It serves many functions, but becomes the main attraction for the annual Flower and Vegetable Show at the end of July. It has its own skittle alley: at its height and perhaps even still, there were 4 ladies’ and 4 men’s skittle teams competing at the highest levels of the district leagues.

The village is spread out on both sides of a winding road and the village square (which is a triangle really) is at the lower end surrounded by the church, the pub and the war-memorial. Fame, if such it be called, reaches the village ‘square’ each November 5th. On the tiny ‘green’, below an old oak tree, perhaps a survivor of an ancient oak-wood, lies ‘THE DEVIL STONE’. The stone has no real reason for being there as it is not characteristic of the geology of the area, and so the legend takes root. The stone is turned ‘To keep the devil away for another year’. The ‘turning’ is traditionally carried out by the bellringers, including myself back then, who ring the bells especially noisily before carrying out the deed using crowbars and a lot of grunting and groaning. Although the stone weighs something approaching a tonne, it would be quite easily turned if it were not for the fact that it usually rains in advance, which makes the ground slippery and the use of crowbars probably makes matters worse, but hey it’s showbiz! Although the ceremony has been highjacked by the church, it probably dates back to a time when the site was pagan, which is often the case where churches called St. Michael and All Angels were built. The legend still persists and when the men were away at war and the stone wasn’t turned, all manner of nasty things were said to happen. I recall that in my time there some lads, who had drunk more than they should, turned the stone by hand. They were made to re-turn it promptly by the locals!

It was into this that I arrived to be greeted on my first day with the words “Hello! You must be Mr. Scott – how’s your back?” There are no secrets in a village and I had ‘done my back in’ driving there! The postmaster always knew wives were pregnant before the husbands did!

In communities like this, intermarrying between families was common and probably still is, but I remember being in a party of friends where my wife and I were the only two out of the twelve who were not related to someone else.

The isolation of the village was a two-edged sword. It was a safe place to live: houses and cars could be left unlocked; children could walk to school, unaccompanied, and play in local woods undisturbed. The doctor always was his own dispensary and before the surgery was built, he used to leave your medications in a cupboard on the back of his house and you just helped yourself. Once the longed-for transport links like the M5 were in place then ‘visitors’ could arrive and leave the area before anyone knew they had been.

A car had always been essential along with the associated expense; prices in the shops were always more than a distant super-market and the choice was limited. Gradually for one reason or another, one by one the shops closed, one chapel closed, one garage closed and the bus services became fewer and fewer. Long before we left, there was only one shop/post office, the headmaster no longer lived in the village school and the pub has been close to closing.

Over the years houses have been sold to retired folk and to ‘weekenders’. This in turn made house prices so dear that the locals could not afford them. Indeed if it wasn’t for this I might still be there. Young families with children were in short supply when I left and from time to time school numbers became critical. At one time the sons of farmers expected to have a job-for-life, but what with mechanization and cost, this became less and less true so they had to ‘seek their fortune’ somewhere beyond the village.

When I was on the Parish Council, we arranged to allow some building specifically for local families. However there was no restriction who the purchasers might be after that. I know a lot of building has taken place, in the village both private and social.

Perhaps I write this through rose-tinted spectacles of a time when days were warmer and maidens tied ribbons in their hair, but I doubt it. I do hope that the picture is not as bleak as I feared it might be when I left, but I still have wonderful memories of my time there.

Perhaps you dear reader will tell me how wrong I am. I do hope so

22. Boarding schools and me

As a former grammar school lad, the idea of boarding school, neither entered my head nor my parents’ means. Having spent time in Nottingham during my teaching year, the idea of ‘moving away’ became attractive. However when applying for my second teaching post the idea of breaking free of Tyneside could only be achieved if I could get a job with accommodation provided. Although, at that time, some local authorities reserved council houses to attract staff, I was finally attracted by a ‘mixed’ boarding school in Slough and it was to that destination that I took my wife of one year and my son of two weeks, by night-sleeper on our big adventure.
The Licensed Victuallers’ School, then in Slough, now in Ascot, was adjacent to Slough railway station where a Tesco supermarket now stands. It was built as a ‘charity’ school for the children of publicans in the licences pub trade, to get them away, from the pubs and particularly away from London.(More of ‘charity’ schools later) Slough at that time, the late 1960s, was not the urban mess I find it to be now. Windsor, Eton, Burnham Beeches, and other green oases were within a short and safe walk or bus ride. However this is not meant to be an autobiography and as the accommodation was newly built, we really enjoyed our six years there’ and the friends we made.
The school itself had moved to Slough from Vauxhall in London to the site of what once was The Royal Hotel. A small digression here: Eton College would not allow the railway too close as boys might abscond; consequently Queen Victoria had to travel by coach to Slough to board the train. Her coach was housed at the hotel along with staff and visitors I guess. Once the branch-line to Windsor was built then the hotel fell into decline and although the staff quarters became the hotel I frequented, the main building and grounds became the school.
Because it was a mixed boarding school, and always had been, the accommodation was in two separated ‘wings’ above the ground floor teaching rooms, dining hall and kitchens. The accommodation for the younger boys was separate. There were always more boys than girls, which I suppose is not surprising. It had it’s own swimming pool, sports hall, labs and workshops with playing fields two stops down the line at Taplow.
The term ‘charity school’ is a misnomer as the parents of the children of licensees paid into a kind of insurance, which in the case of death or illness preventing the parent being able to continue in the trade, the child or children would be housed, fed and clothed until they left school. It was known as the best insurance policy of its kind. There were not many such pupils in my time, although originally they were the majority. The funding for the school in my time there, came mainly from the fees paid by the other, mainly ‘day’ children and by donations from the brewing trade at large. The LV is known as a ‘minor public school’ and although I don’t know the details of many other charity schools, I do know that sound investments, endowment by various guilds and religions with the land and property they own supports most of what is not covered by the, sometimes enormous, fees.
When I was learning my trade we visited a Borstal (look it up if you are too young to know what it is), but basically it was a young offenders institution. So when I first entered a dormitory at the LV and indeed later in Devon, it came as no surprise. A ‘dorm’ was a big room with beds down both sides, sometimes double bunks, exactly like those in HM prisons as seen on TV. Each child would have a locker and perhaps a wardrobe. The floors were wood, the showers/baths limited, and lights-out depended on the age, but never later than 11 pm for the oldest. There were recreation rooms with table-tennis, pool/snooker and TV. The overall supervision came under the care of the various house-masters and their assistants, but daily routine was administered by the prefects. I, like many of you, have read Tom Brown’s Schooldays, but in my experience I have seldom encountered serious bullying by prefects on younger boys. In neither of the boarding schools have the prefects been allowed to physically punish a pupil.
As you may, or may not know, I was/am a physics teacher and whether you like it or not, it is seldom a subject enjoyed by girls, although good ones are often very good. By this time I had been teaching mixed classes for nine years and decided that teaching boys was my way forward. I moved to Devon, lock, stock and a family now grown to two, a girl actually born in LV school (I like to think in the wines and spirits section of the, now, Tesco’s, but I never went back to check.)
The school, in Devon, was boys-only and administered by The Methodist Board of Management. That didn’t bother me as I had been a C of E agnostic most of my life. The school was about as remote from civilisation as it is possible to be in England. The adjoining village housed about 400 souls, the nearest town 8 miles away, one or two buses a week, so you see what I mean. On a good day you could see Dartmoor and could understand why they built the prison there!
When I started, pupils were mainly boarders, although local farmers’ sons came daily and Devon CC paid the fees for local boys rather than ‘bus’ them elsewhere. At the start of term the Paddington – Exeter train had reserved compartment(s) for the pupils from all over the country and indeed the world. Each boy would need a ‘trunk’ as he would not be leaving for some time. Tuck boxes were deposited with house masters to be doled out at intervals, before they ran out and the village shop, and finally school tuck-shop filled the need. Initially the dormitories were still ‘Spartan’, but gradually they were, subdivided, carpeted, adequately heated until the numbers sharing got smaller as they got older.
As I said, the pupils came from all over the world. There were arrangements with missionary schools in Africa and The West Indies; the sons of some members of the armed forces stationed overseas were entitled to fully-paid boarding fees, initially even when the parents returned, but this was later withdrawn. As the forces stationed overseas diminished the income fell quite drastically.
It seems a suitable time in my ramblings to get to the point. Boys who for whatever reason live together for most of the year develop bonds which last them throughout the rest of their life, which I see in those members of ‘The Establishment’ in government or business. The ‘Old Boys’ reunions of such establishments were and to some extent still are well attended. We took over a prep school and some pupils will have lived together for up to 13 years with only the school holidays with their parents. I was housemaster to one African boy who did not go home for seven years: he stayed with guardians in holiday time as some Hong Kong Chinese did. Can I say, as you will probably be asking yourself,  in all that time, in both schools, I was never aware of any (homo)sexual relationships between boys/girls, although some masters disappeared without saying goodbye!
It was at about the time of the declining income from boarding that the increased proportion of day-pupils grew and pupils who would once have been boarders, were ‘bused’ in from surrounding towns, leading to a further decline in boarder numbers. Finances were getting desperate and we like almost every similar establishment decided to allow and encourage the entry of day-girls.
We had for many years an arrangement with a sister school a few miles away. They visited us once a week for such worthy events as debating and drama and of course an occasional ‘disco’. It became increasingly evident to me that the boys then, particularly those without sisters, were not exactly sure what a girl was; how to speak to them or to behave socially in any way. The girls were no better, and these occasions were like two groups of animals circling round unsure what to do. It was all a bit weird. Once integration in the classroom was decided upon then it all sorted itself out. The shortcomings some girls in physics was still there, but far outweighed by the ‘softening effect’ of their presence in the classroom on the behaviour of the boys.
At the start, girls were introduced year, by year until the school was fully mixed. Now of course both schools have boys and girls boarding, although still more boys than girls. Whether the changes in boarding, plays it’s part in changes in the old-boy network or the make-up of future cabinets of political parties only time will tell, but it played an interesting part in my life.

21. Was it something I said?

See yiz layta” the girl shouted to her departing friends in the middle of my north-east high street, to which they replied “laytaz” as they walked off ‘fag’ in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. I doubt whether I would have said that when I was her age but what would I have said? Perhaps “ta-rah” or “bye” or “bye-now”, but “later” would never have crossed my mind unless I intended seeing them the same day!

Much is talked about the misuse of language or the demise of dialect, but although it is changing, it’s alive and well and living round here. When we were young we learned to speak by listening to our parents and other people within earshot. I remember my father having one way of speaking to friends and another for talking to ‘more educated’ folk. I once queried as to why he had been speaking ‘posh‘ to someone, but I was probably  too young at that time to understand his reason, even if he knew why, or even that, he had done it. I recall having to adapt “bath” to “barth” and “glass” to “glarse” when I first moved south, and although I didn’t want-to, it made life easier.

When I had been ‘living away’ for some time, I could pin a Geordie to within a few miles of their roots; something I never thought of when I lived here. The reason I could discern the locale of a Geordie accent/dialect was really that there was no such thing. Instead there were many dialects which grew up in locations where most people worked in the same colliery, shipyard or farm and there was, of course  no radio, TV or ‘fillums’ to corrupt what was already there. A Northumbrian speaks differently from a Tynesider and a pitman from a hill-farmer. Indeed there is an area, where the majority of the coal-mines were, that spoke a dialect known locally as ‘pitmatic’ that was barely understood outside that area and modified traces of it live on.

A while ago one of my many grandchildren pointed out that “The Mailman” was here; a portent of the language of children raised by US TV I fear, but part of the language changes that have and will always happen: who knew what a pizza was, not so many years ago?

For those, like me, who confuse dialect with accent; doon and down is the same word in a different accent where ‘hoy’ and ‘chuck’ both mean throw in different dialects. I’m sure you can think of many for yourselves, but I include a link to a Geordie dictionary at the end of the blog. There are some words there that you never hear anymore and some like ‘howay’ that refuse to die. My mother used to send me out to ‘get the messages’ a term also used north of the border to mean ‘get some shopping’.

One thing that makes me uncomfortable is the public use of swearwords although I know there is no logic to this. As a child I never heard my father swear, although I’m fairly sure he must have done. An uncle of mine never swore at home, but in the public (men only) bar of his local, his language was liberally peppered with b’s and f’s. Having worked manually I know that the use of ‘bad language’ is the norm in the workplace, yet even now in my local pub anyone effin’ and blindin’ is soon told to mind their language (ladies present!) by staff and customers alike. It would be interesting to hear a true rendering of the language in the trenches of WW1 and the beaches of WW2. I doubt it would bear any relation to what we hear in the black and white films shown on TV.

Where to next? Nowhere special, I suspect, as not much has changed in my 70 odd years, although what I probably mean is that a lot has changed, but so slowly that I barely noticed. There was a threat that text-speak might do away with vowels, but social media like Facebook and Twitter does not seem to bear that out, and many children (and adults) are writing and reading more than they would have done without this. The foreign words brought back from The Empire are now part of our language as are many of the words brought in by recent immigrants.

As for ‘Geordie’ ah diven’t think or perhaps that should be “Ah dain’t think” we have much to worry about for a while yet. After all how many of you remember how many pennies made a shilling or how many chains made a furlong?

The dictionary: http://www.englandsnortheast.co.uk/GeordieDictionary.html

The translator: http://www.geordie.org.uk/