1963-1970 reminiscences by Alan Kershaw
|First day: ritual attempt by older boys to get us to turn the wrong way at the entrance, into their clutches and a fate worse than death: spotting this just in time: sitting cross legged on the floor in the old hall for an age, waiting for not very much to happen and trying to work out which of the masters at the front were likely to be the real sadists|
|Farmer Giles, our first form master, a viscious fast bowler with an unerring aim for lobbing a piece of chalk into your mouth into your mouth if he caught you yawning: teachers attempting that now have their careers ended abruptly|
|Dr Simpson rising to high pitched outrage in assembly as he weighed in against a boy he had seen arriving that morning "mounted upon a bi-cycle, wearing brown socks!"|
|His way of referring to all schools apart from HCBS as the Others the only man I ever met who could pronounce a capital O|
|An American maths teacher called Stoddard who filled in when Farmer Giles was ill, whose response if you said you had hiccups was "put your head in a bag": we discovered this early on, provoking endless try-ons. We had been solemnly warned by the Head of Maths that the American teaching style was to stand at the front and carry on regardless, the pupils being left to decide whether they wanted to learn or not: our response was inevitable and we learned nothing for a term except how to take up the parquet flooring at the back of the room|
|Maths being my lowest O level grade (see previous note)|
|Endless rounds of a mindless card game we called Clagg, played illicitly in the Band (?banned) Room whenever we could slope off and leave the impression we were doing private study somewhere: four of you started off with one card each and worked up through the rounds to 13 then back again: can anyone remember the rest of the rules?|
|The sense of liberation when about three quarters of us in 3A, put in detention after school by John Bunting for horsing around more than usual during the morning register, stormed out and went home as soon as he was out of sight, leaving half a dozen or so to sit there trying to look like four people each and face him when he returned: having to write him a letter of apology the following day: having to write a letter of apology for that when my original letter was deemed cynical ("I dont like the tone of this letter, Kershaw", said in an insulting way in front of a queue of sniggering first formers by the classroom door): dining out on this for years|
|The notorious spoons incident when Roy Avery was inveighing in assembly against the fashionable practice of stealing spoons from the canteen, taking them to the metalwork room, flattening them out in vices and reintroducing them, useless, into the canteen: his carefully rehearsed dramatic silence was broken by the sound of several (flattened) spoons being dropped to the floor somewhere near the back of the hall, followed by chaos|
|Hopeless pursuit of various HCGS girls, totally unrewarded: I was a reasonably late developer and didnt really know what to do: learning to make up for this later|
|Gerry Lafferty telling us hed be happy if we remembered just two of the things he taught us: Dont mix the grape and the grain and his grannys saying Little bairnies must agree, like twa birdies in a tree: well, I did remember them, and a few other things too, though probably not much: he wrote on the bottom of my essay on Antony and Cleopatra: I think you have completely misinterpreted the play: see me|
|Not seeing him and getting an A in English A level, but accepting later that I probably had completely misinterpreted the play|
|Pirates in the gym (now the canteen) on Friday afternoons, occasionally, at the end of term: a much prized event, especially for one whose best PE report ever read Average but very keen this from Vivian Edwards|
|Elasticated bootees, very real, Hot Pig, handshakes and Sir Peter Medawar: why ever did they abandon school assemblies?|
|School journeys to Ireland in 1964 and 1965 led by Arthur Haley (it cost £14.12.6d: see the 1965 programme on the website): the taste of cheese and onion crisps brings it back unmistakeably, that being the only flavour they seemed to sell in Ireland: winning limited street cred for being one of the few who actually finished the free half pint we got issued with after the tour of the Guinness factory: of course I hated it but was determined to show off and only learned to love it years later|
|Seeing Manchester United (yes, with Best, Law and Charlton) in a friendly against Shamrock Rovers on one of those trips one of the few times in my life Ive been able to see my beloved team (which isnt Shamrock Rovers)|
|Inventing Mike Robinsons nickname of Boris just trying to be clever I think but it stuck and hes been condemned to it ever since|
|A chemistry master called Bodiam, who used to show us proudly the dent in the front bench hed once made with his cane, and who insisted on calling me, not the biggest in the class, Muscles|
|The look on Bernie Marchants face when he discovered I was hoping to give up Greek after the second year and pay more attention to science, and the look on mine when hed finished with me|
|Wondering what George Cowan meant when, teaching us Juvenal, he said "I dont want to stifle individualism, but we must have a common approach"|
|Or what Hugh Skillen meant when he explained "ritorner does not mean to return, it means to go back to where you came from"|
|Arthur Haley fishing around inside his crumbling upright piano for a piece of wood to beat some unfortunate with and neither boy nor piano seeming much the worse for the experience|
|Ken Waller turning up unannounced in our form room within our first couple of days in the school, before anything had really got going, and taking us for a couple of Latin lessons which captured the imagination and some of us and started a ball rolling which finally came to rest with a Classics degree|
|Never singing the school song: it had been quietly mothballed just before we arrived|
|And never singing in the balcony during assembly: it just wasnt done|
|Nigel Rogers ingenious method of keeping us up to date with progress in the 1966 World Cup from the stage during successive performances of Iolanthe|
|That fantastic performance of Carmina Burana just before I left speaking noisily to adolescent hormones and dirty little teenage minds: I sang it again last year and could still remember every note and the gorgeous soprano soloist after whom I lusted hopelessly|
|Taking over the school library (amicably) from the cigar-wielding languages teacher Mr Attridge giving a few of us the privilege of getting inside the building at lunchtime in all weathers and finally gaining me my merit tie and a handshake in assembly|
|The humiliation of being handed a book prize on Speech Day by the music critic Anthony Hopkins and being unable to tell him, when asked, what on earth Id been given it for: Im still not sure and I dont suppose he knows either|
|Having a promised half holiday cancelled by Roy Avery because of our appalling behaviour during some other Speech Day|
|The ritual cap burning ceremony on the school field at the end of the fourth year and ritual snowballing of prefects in the same place if it ever snowed|
|The Naval Cadets my attempted escape route from the army section which went wrong when the uniform turned out to be impossible to maintain, exposed you to serious ridicule on the bus and led to pointless trips to Ravens Ait near Kingston-on-Thames|
|But having a hilarious day with Richard Salter and Alan Bennington repainting an ancient whaler for the cadets at the Welsh Harp we never worked out why we had to do this|
|The orchestral concerts conducted by Muir Matheson at the cinema down the road: none of us liked them much but they got you out of a couple of lessons of a Friday morning|
|Selling cash and carry sweets and refreshments at school plays, usually making a profit and having a laugh in the background|
|The Mediterranean educational cruise towards the end of 1967, Greece still reeling from the colonels takeover and the whole place crawling with police on motor bikes armed with machine guns: the 80 degree heat in Athens followed by sub-zero temperatures in Venice|
And so on. I remember leaving the building on my last day just over thirty years ago, turning round and thinking to myself that I ought to feel something on such a solemn occasion, but feeling nothing and discovering at the recent reunion that that feeling had changed.
Between us we should be able to put together an oral history of exactly what a classic English grammar school was like: the memories will die with our generation otherwise. I dont suppose Im the only one who resents having to spend sums of money to get for my children the style of education that we had for free.
I went from the school to a Classics degree at Jesus College, Cambridge, then into the civil service after changing my original plan to go into the law. After a chequered career in the Department of the Environment (planning, endangered species, local government policy, housing association grants) I saw an opportunity with the General Medical Council and went to work for them in 1983.
Starting with sick doctors (yes, I could tell you a few stories) I became involved in developing policy on standards and ethics for doctors and did some pioneering work on the ethics of handling HIV and AIDS and on removing outdated restrictions on advertising by doctors. Slowly I became responsible for all aspects of standards and education, constitutional policy and public affairs.
The way to the very top being blocked by the appointment of a Chief Executive a little older than me, I saw the need to move out. By now, professional regulation was about all I was good for. By a roundabout route I came to my present position as Chief Executive of a new Council to prepare a definitive register of competent forensic practitioners scientists, scene examiners, fingerprint examiners, pathologists, police surgeons and others. Were based at present in Burlington House, Piccadilly, London an address that sounds grander than it is but is well placed for most of the things I like and want in London. And the job is great, probably the best Ive ever had.
I live in Godalming, Surrey, with my wife Corinna whom I married in 1980, and our three children Jonah (16), Naomi (16) and Nick (13), two spaniels, a black cat and a pair of ageing gerbils. We are both on the Town Council and Corinna was Mayor last year, which taught me to walk three paces behind and speak when spoken to. At elections we wear yellow badges but the councils not a specially political place. I still do some choral singing and enjoy the music many of us discovered together at school. Which is where this note and this superb website began.