Sunday, May 04, 2014

Early School Memories

I would have gone on from Walmsley House to Bedford School, no doubt because my two eldest brothers went there. But because of my problems with maths I failed the entrance exam. As a result I ended up going to Rushmoor School. A preparatory school in Shakespeare Road, Bedford. It's still there to this day, and every time I drive past (but not for quite a few years, I have to say.) I get a sort of chill down my back. To be honest, I hated it. I can't for the life of me think what persuaded my parents to send me there.  A waste of money if you ask me. The headmaster at my time there was Mr Appleton, a large very avuncular gentleman with grey hair and beard and a very jolly sense of humour. I remember being taken for an interview to go to this school and him making some joke which was a reference to the poem Lochinvar, but don't ask me what or why it came into the conversation. I think something to do with him riding in with his vest on. Supposed to be funny, but please tell me why or how a child of that age, perhaps seven or eight, was supposed to see what was amusing about a poem by Sir Walter Scott is beyond me.

One thing used to intrigue me about Rushmoor when I first went there: why was there chicken wire over almost all the windows? I imagine it was to prevent them being broken by flying cricket balls or pupils flinging stones in a rage (I jest, of course, about the raging pupils, but who knows?) Then there was the weird green tin shed which could have been some sort of chicken house. It also had it's fair share of chicken wire over it's windows.  I think it was the chicken wire that made me think it must be a chicken house. But thinking about it now, why on earth would a school have a chicken house, let alone a green corrugated tin one? It really didn't make sense. It turned out to be the gymnasium, and doubled up as assembly hall for hymn singing first-thing in the morning. The piano was played by the lady who owned the school, Mrs Richardson. She was a relatively old lady and lived in a house next door to the school. The words of the hymns were put up on a huge sort of song sheet, an enormous book with pages around four foot wide and five or six foot high which had the words of the hymns printed on in really large lettering which could be turned over to the relevant hymn for the morning's singing. One day something went disastrously wrong. This song-sheet book, or whatever you want to call it, had to be hauled up on a length of sash cord and then tied off on a cleat at the bottom, but this day, whoever had done this job, hadn't fastened it off securely, or else the sash cord got very frayed, because part-way through this particular day's hymn the whole hymn book/song book/song sheet collapsed, causing Mrs Richardson to abruptly stop playing the piano and the whole assembled school burst out laughing! Not something you forget in a hurry and no doubt was the talk of the whole school for the rest of the day. The weight of that song sheet must have been quite a lot, and when it crashed down when it did it was just as well it didn't land on somebody as they would have received quite a nasty injury.

We had our weekly session of gym in that weird green box. The building smelt of stale sweat and the horrible rubbery smell you get from ancient gym shoes. I leant to climb a rope and vault over horses (not real ones. Those odd wooden boxes, reminiscent of the one used in the film "The Wooden Horse" which is about an escape from a concentration camp somewhere in Germany during World War 2.) Also, swinging on parallel bars and other odd things. These lessons were lead by a man whose name I forget, but who was very short and had a bull neck and had an almost sado-masochistic streak. Don't all gym and games teachers have a tendency towards sado machochism? I'm put in mind of the Roald Dahl story, called I believe 'Galloping Foxley' which is about a young man who meets his former gym teacher on a train, and what befalls him as revenge for what he did to him when he was at school, as I bumped into this man on a train in a similar fashion. He obviously didn't recognise me, but I remember how we were treated quite badly by this man so I can see how Dahl could write a story about that former schoolboy getting his revenge. I think the retired teacher got thrown off the moving train, but I'm not sure. I remember it being adapted as part of the "Tales of the Unexpected" but have not read it. I will have to get the collected Dahl stories and give it a read.

Rushmoor School, as perhaps many schools at the time would have also done, was very much 'in' to sports. Cricket and football in particular. Also, gymnastics and country running. I didn't mind the gym sessions so much, but football and cricket, even to this day, leave me cold. I think, as I've discussed in an earlier post on this blog, my problem was to do with being vaguely dyslexic, and having problems with left and right. I think I was supposed to be left-handed, but I was made to write with my right hand. I think in those days if you were left-handed you must have been considered a bit of a misfit, so you were forced to write with your right hand. So, thinking about it, the very idea of being made to play cricket, throwing a ball, or batting, was made more difficult by the fact that I made such a pigs ear out of hitting the ball with a bat or bowling or kicking a football. I think I mentioned somewhere in an earlier post that my one and only attempt or even success at scoring a goal in a game of football was in the wrong goal. Nobody had the sense to explain to me the wretched rules of the game, the fact that you scored a goal in the OPPOSITE net. The same goes for the rules of cricket or even tennis. If someone had sat me down and gone through all the rules of these sports I might have understood and been more inclined to participate. But because I wasn't any good I was never chosen for a team and always got to be at the back of the queue and fielding away from all the excitement and action of a game of cricket, no doubt in the long grass away from sight and sound of the game and lost beyond recall, probably dozing in the shade of some tree or other.

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