Posts filed under ‘School’

Sandwiches Can Kill


Jamie Oliver tried to improve the standard of school lunches (or “dinners” as they were back in the day) and got abused by parents – at least the fat ones. Now it looks as if Gordon’s Nanny State might be poised to have a go at our kids’ packed lunches following research that declared 99% of packed lunches were unhealthy – read about it here.

Oh come on. Is it really all that bad?

I recognise that school lunches need to be cheap and healthy and provided free to those who need them to be. Often, in the more dysfunctional families, the school lunch is often the only proper meal a child may have in a day. It was always so.

But, do we really need sandwich police? Do we need to search kids as they enter school and to score their lunch boxes, removing deadly confectionery and sinful sugary sweets? Perhaps we could at least check them for booze, fags, drugs and weapons at the same time. At least it would be educational. It will prepare them for grown up life and the abuse of stop and search and anti-terror laws.

I am sure that kids today still do what they always have done – whatever they damn well want! Put an apple in their box and they’ll throw it away. Put a low-fat cheese spread on their focaccia and they’ll try and swap it or sell it or throw it away. The Mars Bar won’t kill them any quicker than the rays from their mobile phones and it will, at least, have the benefit of helping them concentrate by helping them get over their drug-related munchies. It will help to line their stomach somewhat before the two litres of strong cider they’ll be knocking back at first break with their Marlboroughs. We should really try to stop kids playing with matches by the way – they can be dangerous in the wrong hands!

If we want our kids to be healthier make them run around more. Bring back the cross-country run and competitive, full-contact sport!

Indeed, when I was a child (many moons ago) I used to be given dinner money to have a cooked lunch at school. Instead, I used to go to the local sweet shop and stock up on coconut ice, sherbert dips, and lemon bon bons – none of which counted towards my five a day I am sure. Occasionally, if I was hungry, I’d have a bag of chips – and this was the days when the oil was not polly-un-anything. At least newspaper had been phased out as the wrapping of choice – we weren’t uncivilised you know.

In my teens I did progress to taking sandwiches. It worked out cheaper than paying the dinner money I so abused. Mayonnaise had not been invented yet. At least not in the Midlands. My sandwiches consisted of margarine, meat spreads, strong cheddar and lashings (not sure if that is the same measure as for ginger beer) of piccalilli, Branston pickle, or mustard…..on sliced white bread – which as we know is more deadly than Saddam’s mythical WMD).

clubMy lunch box always included a biscuit with a “chocolate flavoured coating”, a packet of Walkers, again before they “improved” the fat and imposed their draconian salt laws. In our day a single packet of cheese and onion contained enough salt to clear a car park of snow and ice. And yet, I am told that my generation is still healthier than youngsters today….

Related Post:

Food Memories


January 13, 2010 at 1:46 pm 1 comment

Middle-Aged Spread


Middle Aged Spread

I am feeling much better about myself today. Recently I have been a little perturbed about the onset of “middle-aged spread”. Love handles. My wife tells me that I am doing very well for my age. But, we are soon to embark on a holiday to Thailand, which will require me to expose my pink and less-than-perfectly toned body to the scrutiny of fellow globe trotters. To be honest, I could do with losing a pound or two. Or three. Or four.But, thankfully, on the way into work yesterday morning, while I was sat frustrated in a queue of traffic for fifty minutes due to the failure of traffic lights at roadworks, I was listening to an illuminating report on the Radio 5 Today Programme. It was discussing the link between obesity and exercise. Or more accurately, the link between obesity and the lack of exercise. And, do you know what? There isn’t one!

That’s great news. It makes me feel far less guilty about my current lack of exercise. According to some recent scientific study the amount of exercise that children undertake is genetically set. It has nothing to do with access to sports facilities. The implication is that your body knows how much exercise you need. It is self-regulating. Yeah right….

All I know is that kids today get less exercise than kids twenty years ago. Is that evolution? I suspect not.

I used to walk to Infant and Junior School. A four-mile round trip. I used to walk to the bus stop en route to Grammar School. A mile or so. I played football, or cricket, or murder ball, or had a fight, every school break. We had two hour-long PE sessions each week. We had an afternoon of Games (football, cricket, athletics, or cross-country depending upon the season and the weather). And these were competitive games! It was never just good enough “to take part” for my generation. I played football and cricket for the school, and competed in athletics, gymnastics, basketball and table tennis in House Competitions. I played in the national schoolboy’s cricket final (and lost) at the age of 16. I played badminton and lifted weights in lunchtimes.

Away from school, I roamed my ‘hood on my bike. I would cycle for miles. My cousin, Vince and I would cycle from Birmingham to Warrington to visit a great aunt, at least once a year. We went to the park. We played ball. We walked everywhere. And, when it rained we ran.

It doesn’t seem to be the same today. Kids are delivered to and collected from the school gate by parents in Chelsea Tractors. F*ck the environment! Convenience rules. Me, me, me. Kids are not allowed to play out due to concerns about their personal security, or, to stop them getting access to drink, drugs or sex. School games are largely no longer competitive. Schools are paranoid about getting sued if a child is injured or as a result of the psychological trauma of being labelled a failure. Whatever happened to fun? Whatever happened to winning?

To be honest, I have let my fitness regime slip since school. I did play football at University. I rowed, and I played the occasional game of squash. But, to be honest, my recreation time at Oxford did become more sedentary – croquet, darts, and drinking! After Uni, I played an occasional game of squash and for a couple of years, I played five-a-side football and participated in an indoor cricket league. But, I also discovered, whisky, red wine, and my sofa.

There have been only sporadic attempts at a fitness regime in recent years. I frequently hide behind the fact that most of my sporting prowess of yester-years was in the field of team sports. Occasionally, however, I have been cajoled into the odd game of squash, the odd mile or two of running (I don’t jog! I used to do cross-country at school after all), and even Tai Chi. The Tai Chi lasted only the one week actually. It was something that C and I were trying out as a common interest but the timing was inconvenient, the venue less than salubrious and the rest of the group looked as if they had just come straight from A&E or the geriatric ward. So now, my athletic life consists of one regular weekend of torture/hiking with the lads from Oxford and, more typically, a regular weekly forced march across Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam!

My best mates and C pooled together last year to buy me a bike for my 40th birthday. My mates all have young families which keep them fit. I think they were worried about me. I will dig it out of the garage after I get back from my hols. The annual Lads Walk is planned at the end of April, so I’ll have to get some miles in.

In the meantime, it’s lunchtime!



October 31, 2007 at 12:43 pm 6 comments

The History Boys


I watched the film “the History Boys” one weekend recently. It was a birthday present from J, a colleague who is a fellow Oxbridge history graduate, although 20 years my junior and a graduate of the “other place”. Cambridge. She got a first. But we all know that degrees are not what they used to be, and I reckon my twenty year old 2:1 is worth at least a First at the “other place”. The rivalry is alive and kicking.

The film is set in a northern all-boys Grammar School in 1983. It follows a bunch of bright lads who are attempting to get into Oxbridge to study history. Sound familiar? This was the year that I won my place at Oxford. 1983! Twenty years ago. Most students today would consider that to count as history in itself.

Maslow, our furball baby cat, did his level best to disrupt proceedings. He must have found a nest of field mice. He brought two in, on separate occasions, until we decided to close his cat flap and lock him indoors. He was playing with them under the dining room table. Fortunately he hadn’t killed or punctured them. He brings them to us as gifts, apparently. So you have to praise them. After all, they are only doing what comes naturally. And, to be frank, he needs the exercise even more than I do. Luckily I was able to grab both of the poor squeaking, terrified baby mices and to liberate them through the dining room window. Maslow hadn’t spotted me do this so proceeded to sniff round every corner and piece of furniture looking for his erstwhile prey while C and I finished watching the DVD.

I enjoyed the film. It reminded me a little of the Dead Poets Society. You could tell that it was based upon a theatre play but it translated to film pretty well. And it dragged me right back to 1983, when I was aged 17 and in the first year of Sixth Form at Handsworth Grammar School in Birmingham.

There were a number of similarities between the film and my own experience. To start with, the school architecture and style was very reminiscent of my own Victorian educational edifice. My Grammar School in Handsworth, Birmingham. The boys wore similar uniforms. But their hairstyles were certainly much trendier than I remember in my own day. Mind you, I was in Birmingham.

I could see bits of some of my teachers in the actors, especially Mr Robins who taught me French, and Frau Walker who beat German into me. Literally. And, they got the look of the entrance exam papers right. A5 pamphlets, most unlike the A4 booklets of “O” and “A” Levels. Attention to detail.But, it was the differences between real life and the film that struck me most. All these boys were doing a crammer or seventh term. This means that they had already had their “A” Level results and had returned to their school for an extra term, aged 18, to prepare for their entrance exam. I didn’t do it that way. We didn’t have the option at my school. I took the entrance exam and had my interview the year before taking my “A” levels. I knew I had a place at Oxford before I took my “A” Levels. Well, as long as I achieved two grade “Es” that is. I did. Four “A stars” in fact. Swot!

People like me (the cocky, obnoxious, immature ones) used to “take the Michael” out of those who had resorted to a crammer. The extra term. Sorry Nye. But, it was not unusual. Some of my mates even deferred entry for a whole year. This was, however, most untypical in working class backgrounds.

My preparation was nowhere near as flamboyant, detailed, disciplined, extensive or all-encompassing as in the History Boys. True, the Headmaster coached us a little in Classical Studies and we brushed up a little on our Latin – for the entrance exam you were required to do one translation from a dead language such as Latin or Greek. This was a bit of a stretch for yours truly as I had only had one year’s study for both Latin and Classics, both of which I had dropped at the age of 12. Amo, amas, amat, amamas, amatis, amant. Hey, I’ve still got it!

Also, we learnt a few more complicated verb conjugations for the French paper. You had to do a translation in a modern language such as French, German, Spanish or Russian (for the wannabe spies / double agents). But, this was all done during the lunchtime break. We did go into our “A” level history course in significantly more detail though. And I learnt all of the history questions in Trivial Pursuit off by heart on my own time.

There was certainly no standing at the piano performing Noel Coward or Gilbert and Sullivan though. Nor were there any art history trips. We did go for a visit to Oxford, but this was more of a pub crawl than an educational experience. Literally. And, there was certainly no having your balls fondled by the homosexual history teacher!

In my recollection they were kept in the closet back in 1983 Birmingham. Homosexuals. Either that or I was totally naive. I suspect the latter. Or both. In the film two of the male teachers and two of the boys were gay or bi-sexual at least. I wasn’t aware of meeting an openly gay boy or man in person until I went to Oxford. Oh, except for the music teacher. But you never took any notice of him as everyone dropped music after the age of 12, and, your average 11 year old could have taken him in a fight.

I remember going up to Oxford for the entrance interview. This followed the written entrance exam. Incidentally, you (well “one” I suppose) go up to Oxford irrespective of which point of the compass you started from. It is one of those snobbish things – a reference to reaching, supposedly, the height of academic achievement.

I remember it was cold. December. And, it was dark. I was summoned into an ancient dusty, smoky, dark, oak-panelled room at the top of a cold, open stairway. I sat in a squeaky leather chair in front of a roaring log fire as my interviewing panel of three history dons sat snuggled on an antique sofa opposite. They offered me a glass of sweet sherry and interrogated me on my personal background, the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, and the empire building of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. Not my favourite way of passing the time.

It was a bit like the scene in Shallow Grave when they are interviewing for a new flatmate. Except there was no one beaten up in the gents afterwards. At least not as far as I know. And the fact that the dons were all caricatures: Mr B an effeminate Mr Bean look-alike and an expert in Anglo Saxon English history; Mr P, a specialist in the Second World War, who was the spit of the Cambridge don described in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adam, which is a book I would recommend.

I was offered a scholarship. Clearly, I was offered a scholarship because of my in-depth knowledge of Latin, Classics and complicated French verb conjugations. Not! Actually, I reckon it was because they got grants to attract people from non-public schools, the fact that I could hold my sherry, and, because, amazingly, I knew more about twelfth century Swedish imperialism than a tutor in Anglo Saxon history………What a surprise.

Related Posts:

The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to Oxford

Handsworth Grammar School

October 22, 2007 at 12:06 pm 1 comment

The Times They Are A Changin Part 1



 I’ve been having a contemplative morning. The wood-smoke scent of last night’s real fire gently pervades the lounge. The dishwasher quietly murmurs in the kitchen beyond. Maslow (our cat and furball baby) is noisily preening himself in a sunspot on the sofa beside me. Radio 5 is entertaining itself in the background, playing through the Freeview digital-TV.

Yesterday’s newspaper (the Times), multiple magazines, and other supplements are gently gathering dust on the coffee table. I admit I do tend to lose interest a little bit after I have completed the Killer Su Doku and the Times 2 Crossword, but there is something quite satisfying about the weekly visit to the recycling bins at Waitrose. If you ignore the fact that so many trees were felled to make the stuff in the first place, and, so much CO2 was spewed into the atmosphere while transporting the stuff around the globe, it makes me feel as if I am doing my little bit for the planet and the next generation. And, so I do. Ignore the fact that is.

The news is much, much more accessible these days. This might explain why there is also a growing pile of CDs tottering on the coffee table. CDs which, not unlike my free copy of the Harvard Business Review, are likely to remain unopened, never to see a PC disk drive, or CD player, or the light of day. Give-away CDs from papers or received unsolicited through the mail: “Paul McKenna’s Deep Relaxation: Programme Your Mind to Feel Good”, “Charlotte’s Web: Help is Coming from Above” – an audio CD, “Full Circle: Alaska and Russia – The Michael Palin Collection”, “Coast: Exmouth to Bristol”, “Teach Yourself Mandarin Chinese Conversation”, (I joke not !!), and, “Make a Contribution to a Cleaner World” – an educative missive from our supplier of home heating oil, trying to justify why they are five pence per litre more expensive than their nearest rivals……. There’s probably a degree in social studies in the making right there on our coffee table. In fact I am sure there is. Especially if you add in the other reading materials which are to be found there. “The Dangerous Book for Boys”, “Mr Jones’ Rules”, “The Rough Guide to Thailand”, the Laura Ashley catalogue, and the “Radio Times”.

The Dangerous Book for Boys

The Dangerous Book for Boys (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These days you can learn everything you ever wanted or needed to know about the world without even leaving your bedroom, visiting a museum, stepping into a library, trekking across the Sahara, or undertaking a balloon safari in deepest, darkest Africa. We have News 24, broadband and Wikipedia. delivers. Wine Direct delivers. Tesco Direct delivers. The local Indian takeaway delivers. I am seriously considering becoming a recluse. But a recluse who is well-fed, well-informed and worldly-wise.

The recent snowfall that paralysed much of the Midlands, Wales and the London Tube (Southern Jessies!) in March, closing all of the schools, reminded me of an incident from my own childhood. It made me think about how technology has changed. How our experience of the world has been altered, and, how the online, virtual nature of communication tools today have coloured our response to incidents such as a snow storm.

When I was about 11 or 12, at Grammar School, it snowed one day. This was proper snow, mind you. Not like the stuff you get these days – the wrong kind of snow. This was heavy snow. A blizzard. Drifting snow. Dickensian winter snow. It had started in the morning after lessons had already started. We watched it eagerly through Victorian windows, pleased to see that it was settling and anticipating break time and the snowball fights that would inevitably follow. Frozen balls of ice would be sculpted and thrown. Knitted mittens and gloves would soon be sodden. Little hands would freeze, and turn blue, to be thawed in excruciating, delightful agony on the old iron radiators, accompanied by the smell of burning flesh and scolding woollens. By first break there was a good couple of inches. By lunchtime there must have been a foot or so. It was a veritable blizzard. The gritters had failed. Snow-ploughs were nowhere to be seen. The roads were becoming blocked, even in the city centre. And, then all public transport (it sounds very grand doesn’t it – I mean the buses) was brought to a halt or returned to the depot on safety grounds. And so, at lunchtime, school was declared closed. School was closed, and all the little tykes like me were abandoned, thrown out into the streets to fend for ourselves and find our own ways home. Without a shovel, spade, or snow-shoe between us.

Home seemed a long way away that day. It was six and a half miles away. Six and a half miles around the Birmingham Outer Circle number eleven bus route. And, as there were no buses. Six and a half miles, on foot, in about a foot of snow, in the middle of a blizzard. So off I set. I set off with no idea how long a walk such as this would take. I was alone. I was small. I was very cold. I had no way of letting mom and dad know of my plight. Even if I had had the two pence for a call home (which I didn’t) the phone boxes around Handsworth were generally vandalised and rendered inoperative. Even if I had found a phone box which was working, we didn’t have a phone at home… But I did know a neighbours number, just for emergencies. But, even if I had been able to phone, I knew it would have gone unanswered. Everyone I knew would be at work. Out. These were the days before voicemail and answer-machines. I was small, cold, and alone, and without the means to tell my mom. She would be worried. I was frightened. I cried.

I walked all the way home. My feet were frozen. My tears were frozen. Everything I was wearing was soaking. It took me hours. But, I made it. And, I soon found myself slowly thawing in front of the bar heater, with a cup of hot milk simmering in the pan. Heaven.


How different the events of this week seemed to be by contrast. First of all, the met office seemed to have got its act together. In my childhood, the weather forecast, if you were lucky, would tell you how the weather had been today, rather than what it was going to be like tomorrow. Nowadays, you can get a pretty good idea how it is going to be over the next five days, anywhere in the world, or, just for your post code (or zip code). And so, this week, the schools in Birmingham knew what the weather was going to do. They were able to predict the chaos that would ensue. And, so, they were able to take the decision to close the schools even before the weather broke. What is more, they were able to communicate that decision, so that parents would be able to keep their kids at home, and plan for their care. Bulletins were sent out 24/7 via radio, TV, and the web. No doubt headmasters and headmistresses and their staff across the region were able to contact parents by phone at home, by mobile, leaving voicemails or text messages where necessary. No doubt, news of the decision was also sent out by email and received on many a parental desktop, laptop, palm held, or blackberry.

Even if a rogue child had slipped through the net (how apt) and made their way to school only to find it closed, it would not have been a problem. There are not many 11 or 12 year olds these days who are not fully equipped with mobile phones. No doubt they would have been able to contact their parents, and entertained themselves with IPOD, MP3 or GameBoy, until mom or dad or the nanny arrived in their air-conditioned 4WD to usher them home………to the central heating, a microwaved latte, and, a multi-media heaven of their own.

Oh, and the snow only lasted 24 hours. 

July 12, 2007 at 8:28 am 5 comments

Fighting Part 3


Handsworth To Oxford

 Handsworth was a dangerous place in general in the 80s. There were race riots in 1981 and again in 1985. In the latter, an Asian family lost their lives. They were burnt alive above the Post Office they managed.

During the first race riot, I had to be “evacuated” from school. It was a Sunday and we had been playing cricket and had just returned to school in the mini-bus. Normally I would have made my way home by bus. But, on this hot, Sunday evening the riot was kicking off, prompted by the arrest of a local drug dealer. The school, being predominantly white, became a target. We had to be escorted out of school under police guard. It was quite exciting. It was quite frightening.

When we returned to school on Monday, Handsworth was a mess. The Soho and Lozells roads were littered with burnt out cars. School had most of its windows smashed. It was quite exciting swapping stories with the other kids, especially those who lived in the area. The Weir twins had been arrested and subsequently released. They claimed they had just gone to watch but got caught up in a police baton charge. They got a beating, but not from the police. They got their beating from their mom – five foot nothing of old-fashioned Jamaican maternal discipline. They were good lads and should have known better than to get involved.

Things were always a bit more tense in the area after that. I remember once bunking off with a mate and going to the local snooker club. It smelled of weed. Dope. Ganja. We were in there for just 30 seconds. We were the only white faces. Everything stopped. It was like a movie. It was like the pub scene in American Werewolf (Jenny Agutter. Since the Railway Children, I’ve never seen a film where she kept her clothes on. And, I’m not sure I want to. Sigh….). Nothing was said, but the look in their collective eyes shouted. We were not welcome there. We went back to school.image

Suffice to say that at Grammar School I learnt to fight. I learnt to stand my ground. Actually, by building a certain reputation and by developing a certain stern look I managed, mostly, to avoid an actual fight. Normally the other guy would back down. Indeed I can still conjure that “stern look” today. I t is very effective when dealing with noisy teenagers in cinemas, or, when kids try to push into queues.

Fortunately, there has not been much cause for fighting since Handsworth. True my nickname at Oxford, at least within the public school circles of the “Iffley Yahs” was “The Inner City Lad”. It could have been worse though. They referred to one of my best mates from Birmingham as the “Neanderthal” (but if you had met him then you would have understood why)……I did get a bit “feisty” when captaining the so-called “Animals” football team. And, there was a time when I did terrorise one of the “Iffley Yahs” by pinning him against the college wall by the throat. Sorry Simon. I hope this does not explain your absence from the Friendsreunited website.Otherwise, Oxford was pretty fight free. One of my duties as Social Secretary seemed to be to “intimidate” certain rowdy types to leave the Beer Cellar on “Sweaty Bop” disco nights. It was my experience that your average Oxford student was pretty easily intimidated. Your public school types are not so streetwise and tend to rely on their wits more than their fists. And, they are generally lacking in wits. Certain more direct pressure was brought to bear on one MD when he refused to leave my girlfriend alone.

Indeed, I only have few recollections of real violence while at Oxford. One was when I was back at college a year after leaving. We were there as part of the Old Members Football team playing the annual fixture against the current college team. I had to intervene between my mate (the Neanderthal) and a “Townie” who had insulted his fiancée. My mate knocked the “Townie” clean into the middle of the street (and next week) even though the “Townie” was wearing a motorcycle helmet. I stepped in, with the two other mates we were with, when he came back with a tyre lever. It was the night that Frank Bruno was fighting (and losing) against Mike Tyson in the World Heavyweight Championship. …Frank lost. The “Town v Gown” fight had been much more impressive. 

July 9, 2007 at 3:08 pm 12 comments

Early Education Part 5


The Teenage Years

Handsworth Grammar School for Boys was a very different world from that of Yenton Junior School. Apart from one or two of the teachers and staff it was a male dominated environment. A world of boys and of men. Situated between Birmingham’s Asian quarter of Soho and the West Indian quarter of Handsworth, the school was still strangely dominated by a white, middle-class teaching and pupil population. But for sure, black and Asian kids were a lot more prevalent than they had been back in Erdington.

Handsworth Grammar School was a world of strict discipline, rules, detentions, being sent to the Headmaster, the cane, and of Prefects. In the ranking of punishments, Prefects were the most feared and second only to being expelled.

Handsworth Grammar was a world of sports and of academic excellence, good manners, and of tradition. It was a time of selection and streaming (putting the brightest kids in the best classes). It was a time of school uniform and of standing when a teacher entered the room and of placing chairs on top of desks at the end of the day. Handsworth Grammar was a world which displayed prefect stripes, and coloured sporting badges. A world with a House System, school colours, bullying, fighting, and testosterone. It was a world where boys were men, or, they were failures and victims. Like the public schools of old, it was a place which produced leaders (of industry at least). Many a Middle Manager came from its ranks.

Testosterone. Fill a school with 700 boys aged between 11 and 18 and you get a heady mix of flatulence, pimples, acne and hormones. There was just a handful of female teachers, the school secretary, and one lab assistant, the occasional student teacher (usually French!). Some of these were past it or downright ugly. The others were the subject of many a hormonal schoolboy’s infatuation and frantic masturbation at some point. And, do you know, I suspect they knew it…..and, some of them probably enjoyed that knowledge.

basicA number of these “femmes fatales” had a distinct sexual mythology built or constructed around them. Take Miss M, the art mistress. Many would have like to. She was pretty, with a good figure, and a wardrobe full of tight-fitting and short outfits. There was a rumour that she never wore any knickers and would lure young boys into her storeroom cupboard. I spent many an art lesson with my eyes locked on Miss M’s crossed legs, hoping for an uncrossing of Kenny Everett or Basic Instinct proportions. None ever came. On one occasion she did actually call me into the storeroom. I was very excited. I was 11 (or 12, or 13) and I was terrified. I was in Miss M’s infamous storeroom. Gulp.

She stood on a chair and leaned up somewhere high to pass something down to me. She did this in a “suggestive” manner. She had really great legs and a good body. It did cross my mind that this might be a come on and that I was supposed to slide my hand up that leg and touch a trembling thigh. But I didn’t, thankfully. I was all too aware of the growing erection in my trousers. Trousers which all too soon would have to return to the classroom and the attentive eyes of boys who knew the goings-on in Miss M’s storeroom.

Another probable urban myth about Miss M involved a homework which she set to “draw your favourite teacher”. The story goes that one boy submitted a headless cut-out torso of a topless page-3 model onto which he had sketched a passing resemblance of Miss M’s head and for which he receive a mark of 10 out of 10……and what else we wondered. Another Miss M myth involved sightings of Miss M in a lesbian clinch with Ms T (note the “Ms”!). This took place during a sports day. They were sat together in Ms T’s mini-cooper. But, I must admit I do have a recollection of seeing this with my own eyes. I am not sure if the memory is real, but it remains a memory nonetheless. Happy days…happy thoughts…..happy nights.

Ms T taught biology. She was one of the younger teachers. She was blonde, buxom, very buxom, with a tendency towards erectile nipples that would protrude through button-stretching tight tops, and skirts that would ride up sufficiently to expose a firm, shapely thigh when seated. She was sexy! I used to sit front right whenever I could in biology, being at the best angle to admire a thigh and catch a glimpse of bra, always hopeful that an over-worked button would succumb, pop, and yield even more treasures. It never did, unfortunately. Sigh.

Testosterone. Christ, I even used to think Frau W, veritable witch, teacher of German and my fifth form mistress, had great legs, and she must have been 50 if she was a day. Maybe it was the way she insisted we called her “Frau” with its clearly sadomasochistic undertones. More likely it something to do with the fact that double German last thing on a Friday afternoon usually involved the secret passing around of pocket-sized porno books and not much German reading……….although some were in German. Actually, it was as simple as being 16, sex-obsessed, she was female, there……and she did have good legs.

In fact, Frau W was the closest I got to having sex with a teacher. Twice. There was one clear near miss when I must have been taken ill at school and for some reason Frau W took me home. This is probably completely against the rules of today when teachers are advised not to be alone with pupils for fear of accusations and legal cases. She had a sporty little two-seater and a short skirt and I stared at those two legs all the way home and felt much better for it. The closest was when she kissed me. I was 18. She actually kissed me. She took my head in her hands and kissed me on the lips. She did this in the middle of Quadrangle (no playground in a man’s school), in front of everyone. Yeeucchh! But this was not sex. This was a “reward” for gaining my place at Oxford…..and maybe an apology for having accused me of cheating in my German mock “O” level exam. Co-incidentally, I had used the previous year’s O-Level paper to revise for my mock exam the following Christmas. Consequently, I got a very high mark and much higher than my term work would have indicated. She accused me of having cheated. I thought I was just showing initiative. No worries. I got my A in the real thing in any case…….

Related Posts:


Infants and Juniors

Primary School

Home Education



July 6, 2007 at 12:31 pm 7 comments

Fighting Part 2

Cover of

Cover of Handsworth Revolution


Handsworth Grammar School was a violent school in a violent place at a violent time. This was a time of the Handsworth Revolution (Steel Pulse) and of race riots. Being a predominantly white school in a very black and Asian area meant that bus rides home were often “stressful” and menacing. Actually, they could often be dangerous. Handsworth Park was officially out-of-bounds. In reality though it was the place where scores were settled between rival schools. Rivalry within the school itself was handled in-house. Fights would break out most breaks. A circle would form and a fight would ensue until broken up by Prefects. Unless it was Prefects who were fighting…..

Prefects were responsible for all discipline in the school outside of the classrooms and lesson time. Prefects gave detentions, meted out litter duties, and could send boys to the Head for the cane. These were the official punishments. They were rarely carried out. More often than not Prefects preferred to administer a clip around the ear. I should know. I was a Prefect. Indeed, I was a Prefect Team Leader. Prefects, like velociraptors, preyed in packs. I had two naval-like stripes on my cuffs to show my rank. As a Prefect Leader I organised a roster of duties for the team on the days when we were “on duty”.

Duties included ensuring that the school was cleared of all boys when lessons were not taking place, unless it was raining. Before classes, after school, and at break times, the school had to be cleared. We would patrol the corridors and search the rooms. “Sneaking in” was a favourite prank. Prefects also had to ensure that boys entered the school in an orderly fashion. Upon the sounding of the school bell, boys were expected to line up in single file against the wall and were filtered through the two main entrances, one-by-one. Prefects would physically eject boys who pushed in or who were being noisy.

Rainy days were the worst because then the boys were allowed inside. But, they were expected to remain within the confines of their own class and the corridors were to be kept free. Prefects were allocated a Form. I was assigned the worst Form in the school. Fifth formers in the lowest stream. I got them because I was “hard”. They got me because I could not be intimidated. When this Form was in the fourth year they had beaten up the Head Boy. Incidentally, I had never aspired to the position of Head Boy. The Head Boy was a ceremonial role that required you to give readings and speeches during assemblies and other high-profile occasions. Not for me. Not back then.

My job during assemblies was to stand in the middle of my Form and keep order. To stop the serious crimes of giggling, key rattling, talking and making up rude words to hymns. Why the music teacher insisted on playing Bread of Heaven quite so often was beyond me. With so many Aston Villa fans in the school, it would quickly deteriorate…… The other main responsibility of the Prefects was to keep order in the Quad, and the immediate vicinity of the school and at bus stops. We had to break up all of the fights. We had to stop boys from smoking while in school uniform. To do this we raided the bogs (toilets). There were 3 main bogs – one for the juniors, one for middle school and one for seniors. Many a senior school toilet raid resulted in cubicle doors being kicked open by a Prefect to find a boy sneaking an illicit fag (which meant a cigarette in them days!). Punishment would involve a clip round the ears and confiscation of all cigarettes. It was rare to get a whole pack though as most local newsagents would, illegally, sell fags in singles. Confiscated contraband would be sold off in the Sixth Form Common Room, where smoking was allowed.

The Prefect System worked pretty well in my opinion. As Boys, all Prefects had been through the system on the receiving end. We knew all the tricks. We knew all the hiding places. We were streetwise. While Prefects never had an official sanction for meting out a “clip around the ear”, it was rare that Boys complained about it. Any complaints would most likely have resulted in the cane.

“Clips around the ear” mostly meant that bullying was rare. Young kids who were being bullied were far more likely to seek the assistance of a Prefect than go to a teacher. They got to see their bully receive his “clip around the ear”.

However, in my time as Prefect there were two occasions when the System did not work, with serious consequences.

The first was quite literally because the Prefects withheld their labour. We went on strike. I cannot remember the incident that provoked such unprecedented strike action but it must have been significant for us to cross the Head and the teachers – the Establishment. In any case, we Prefects went on strike to protest against something or other. In hindsight, I hope it really was important.

 fliesThe Boys responded to the strike predictably. They acted like any hormone-filled mob might. There was a near riot. A real “Lord of the Flies” kind of rebellion and loss of control. Anarchy. Despite notice of the strike the Teachers had not assumed the day-to-day responsibilities normally carried out by the Prefects. They should have seen it coming. They didn’t. On this day when the school bell rang out at the end of break there were no neat lines of boys against the walls, filtering into the two main entrances. Instead there was a scrum, a melee. Everyone rushed to the door. Everyone pushed to get through the doors at the same time. Everyone thought it was a huge game. And then…….the front of the scrum collapsed. Some of the boys fell. Others continued to push. More boys fell. The boys that fell got trampled on. At this point the Prefects ended our industrial action. Order was quickly restored, teachers were summoned, ambulances were called for. I seem to remember that four boys went to hospital that day – a concussion, a couple of broken limbs. I also seem to remember that the incident was reported on local news. I think that this has had a long-lasting impact upon me. Strike action has consequences. People get hurt. But, it could have been a lot worse……….

The second time that the Prefect system failed it was a lot worse. It was as bad as it could ever get. As I have said, these were violent times in Handsworth. Grammar School kids were often targeted by kids form the local comprehensives. There had been a couple of instances when smaller lads had been beaten up on the way to or from school, or on the mile and a half walk from school to the playing fields for Games. Smaller boys, mostly, began to carry weapons for protection. At first these would include metal combs with sharp handles, the odd compass set, penknives and worse. In the year after I had left Grammar I heard that a “raid” on one form discovered a crossbow!

On this particular day I must not have been on Prefect duty. I was in my form room – one of the “temporary” wooden structures on the far side of the Quad away from the main school building where the Sixth formers hung out at break. A “fight” broke out outside and a kid came running in to get me. It would seem that a second-year boy had been being bullied by a third-former. This third-former was a known bully. The second-year boy had apparently brought a flick-knife to school to ward him off. Somehow the bully had run onto the blade – a single puncture wound to the stomach. A single puncture wound through the stomach. A single puncture wound through the stomach and into the heart of a 13 year old boy.

The next few seconds are just a distant, foggy blur in my memory. My mind plays back the events almost as if I were a spectator, watching from a distance. I barked at Sixth-formers to push back the growing circle of boys who had assumed another fight was taking place. I shouted for someone to call an ambulance. I screamed for someone to get a teacher. It all happened in slow motion. Excited faces turned to grimaces of fear and horror as realisation hit home. I cradled the bully in my arms and that is where he died. I had told him he was going to be OK. He was not. The situation was made worse – if such a thing could be worse – by the fact that both boys had brothers in the school in the same fourth-form class. The bully’s brother was holding his hand as he died in my arms.

A teacher arrived, and, to be honest, I do not remember much at all after that. I remember looking out of the teachers’ rest room. I must have been sent there to clean myself up. There was not a lot of blood but there must have been some. I remember peering out of the window alongside a couple of fellow Prefects. We could see the body lying across the Quad next to our form room. The body seemed to lie on the cold tarmac for an absolute age before the police finished their business, before they had drawn their chalk outline and the hearse arrived to remove the body. Small kids would later examine the spot eagerly for signs of blood.

I have a faint memory of being interviewed that afternoon while sat at a single desk set up examination style in the Main Hall. But, I could not tell you if this interview was by the police or by a counsellor. I would imagine it must have been a plain-clothed PC. These were the days before counselling, before we worried about the impact of a traumatic event upon the witness. These were days of stiff upper lips.

I think we must have been sent home early that day. But, I have no memory of it. I have no memory of it being marked as a memorable event at home. “Hi mom, a kid died in my arms today.” I have no memory of the incident being discussed at all. I remember no follow-up action with the police or other authorities. The “killer” was expelled and sent to borstal (Young Offenders’ Institute). The two brothers used to look at me a little strangely, as if I served as a constant reminder of what had happened. I don’t remember much discussion about it at school either. Except, on one occasion, when the Senior Football Team was playing in the FA Schoolboys’ Cup at West Brom’s ground. The “killer’s” brother was playing and his brother – the “killer” – was spotted in the crowd, flanked by his parents. It made me feel a little uneasy. There again, with the wisdom of hindsight, I can understand that he had been a victim too. And, so perhaps, was I.

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July 5, 2007 at 10:58 am 6 comments

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