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Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Even More School Memories

Not only did we have those trips to London to see those shows I mentioned in the last post, but I seem to remember being taken on several other trips. One being to St Alban's, to view the Roman remains. Why we went there specifically I have no idea as we weren't studying the Romans during history lessons. In fact, I don't remember ever studying that period in all my school career. As it was a Saturday, the teacher who took us must have given up his own time to take us. We used to have school on Saturday mornings, for a few hours. As Rushmoor had boarders I suppose it made some sort of sense to have classes if there were pupils already there. I was threatened with being boarded out by my mother, but it never happened. It would have seemed a bit pointless when you think we lived only five or so miles out of Bedford. We used to be taken to school in the morning in a sort of system set up between my mother, the family who lived next door to us in Cardington, the Porters, and my aunty Chris who lived in Ickwell, a village around ten miles towards Biggleswade. Ann and Alec Papworth  went to schools in Bedford, Ann to St Andrews, which I've mentioned being virtually opposite Walmsley House School in Kimbolton Road, and Alec to Bedford School. Some days we were collected by one or other of the team, Uncle Ralph Porter (not actually an uncle, but you always seemed to call people 'Uncle' or 'Aunty' out of respect.) Nancy Porter went to the Bedford Girls High School in Bromham Road and Charles to Bedford School. The Porters had a farm in Cople, the next village to Cardington, but lived at Pleasant Place, a large house next door to Malting Farm. Some days we were taken by Geoff, their pig man, in an ancient car which always seemed to smell of gone-off milk, no doubt because they used to carry vast quantities of milk to various places and some would no doubt spill, hence the unpleasant milky smell. Then Aunty Chris would come and collect us in her ancient Morris Minor estate. I can always remember we used to eat imperial mint sweets in that car as there was always a bag of these in the front glove compartment and we ate them on the journey home. The sound of a Morris Minor is quite distinctive. I doubt that you can get even old models now as they must have gone out of production years ago, but this model was the one with the wooden panels on the side.

When my father was detailed to collect me on a Saturday morning there was always the chance that he would actually forget to come and collect me. He did this on several occasions, and I would be left standing outside the school for an hour or two, no doubt because he had stopped off on the way to have a chat with one of his friends and had just forgotten to come and collect me. It's not like today when we have mobile phones and you can just phone up whoever and they come and collect you. I think on this particular day it rained and I must have got soaked to the skin.

Later on, I got the bus home and the first time I was helped by Nancy Porter who was going home from school at the same time as me on the bus from Bedford Bus Station. It was quite a long walk down Warwick Avenue and into Bromham Road and the bus I caught went from bay 8 and the cost of the journey was around 3 old pence. Amazing how you remember all these tiny little details. I imagine that this was the only time I ever caught a bus as I don't ever remember going anywhere with my mother or father on a bus. I just don't think busses were ever considered an option when I was growing up, as my parents had cars and it was probably simpler to get in and out of Bedford by car. Not like today when there is so much being talked on such subjects as 'The Environment', 'Sustainability', and no such thing as 'Park and Ride' etc.

Those were the days when there was a fairly strict form of discipline in place. I don't exactly support any form of punishment, but if you did anything wrong at school you knew that if you were caught you would get caned. I never got to being caned. I was a bit of a goody goody I suppose. There was one incident I remember when I was a Rushmoor. In one of the classrooms, there was a large cupboard which contained all the art materials. Somebody had been found to have meddled with the lock and put a screw in the keyhole and this prevented anyone opening it with a key. The teacher, Mr Crutchley I believe, wanted the culprit to come forward, but nobody did. So he made the whole class stay in after school (it may have been during school time. It was a long time ago, so I can't remember the exact details.) As nobody was brave enough to come forward we all got punished, each of us going forward to the front of the class and being hit on our open palms with a ruler. If you flinched he did it again. It really hurt and even thinking about it now, it brings back the memory and I can almost feel the sting that was left after he hit our hands. I don't suppose you would dare do that sort of thing today. It would be in contravention of your 'Human Rights' or something, but as any form of corporal punishment in schools has been outlawed you certainly wouldn't get away with it.  Well, whether it was right or wrong you did, at least, know what would happen if you did something wrong. I think today children appear to have no boundaries (perhaps most do, but when there is a behaviour problem it is usually because the parents give their children any boundaries.) When I was about eleven or twelve I was supposed to be in and getting ready for bed. We didn't have all the gadgetry that we have today such as mobile phones, the internet, gaming consoles and all the other electrical gadgetry you can get. I can't say I'm any the worse for not having all those things. If we had a mobile phone I'm sure we wouldn't have been able to take it to school with us as they do over at the Milton Keynes Academy. I think people spoke to one another more in those days. You see people walking about with iPods plugged into their ears, so they can't hear what's going on around them. Rather dangerous if you can't hear traffic that is coming when you cross the road. Or else have you face permanently turned towards a mobile and texting all the time. It's a wonder some people don't get killed because they walk out in front of a moving car because they're concentrating on texting someone instead of taking notice of the traffic.

There were quite a few quite strict school rules you were expected to keep to. You were supposed to wear your school uniform at all times in school. None of the modern 'thing' about wearing your 'everyday clothes.' The uniform consisted of grey flannel trousers, grey shirt and blazer in dark blue with a cap, both of which had a badge of a red 'R' in a sort of shield. The cap was the same colour as the blazer and had a red section in the top. You were supposed to wear this at all times outside the school, or if you were in school uniform. I think there was also a tie which was striped red and dark blue, again to match the rest of the uniform. You also had to wear black shoes, which were expected to be cleaned for daily use. There was a winter and summer version of the uniform. The summer one I think had a light short-sleeved shirt (I think the brand was Airtex, but I'm not sure.) For games, we had to wear light brown shoes with a crepe sole for cricket and the usual football strip for games and no doubt shorts and t-shirt for gym. As I detested games anyway, any excuse to get out of it and into 'normal' clothes meant I was never in games clothing for long.

There were other rules, one being you weren't supposed to go to the cinema during term-time. I don't think this was adhered to very much as I remember going to the Granada cinema in St Peter's Street in Bedford to see the Disney animated film "Jungle Book" with one of my brothers, no doubt Sandy, as he went to Bedford School, and their rules about where you could or couldn't go during term-time were even stricter than Rushmoor's. We were also not supposed to go into what were called 'chain-stores.' To this day, I don't know why. I think this referred to such stores as Marks and Spencer and Woolworth's, but I cannot think of a good reason why this was so. I don't know what would have happened if you were caught in Woolworths or wherever, or in a cinema. Were you taken out and shot at dawn?  Taken out and caned in public? To this day, I don't know and know of no one who ever fell foul of this school rule. Oh well, as I say, rules are to be broken and it all remains a complete mystery.

Seems amazing that you always referred to everyone as 'Murdoch', 'Smith' or whatever a pupil's surname was. It seems amazing that you never got to know anyone's Christian name. What was the point? I can't think of any situation where you would be known by your surname alone. You never work anywhere (at least I haven't.) where you would be referred to by just your surname.I just hope if I was they would, at least, call me 'Mr.' Otherwise, it sounds so deferential and out of date, rather stuck in the Victorian or Edwardian period.

I remember when I first went to Rushmoor I was intrigued by several things. What was all that mesh, netting and suchlike over the windows? Was it to keep the pupils in, or prevent them getting out? The fact is, it looked quite sinister. Thinking about it now, as a 9 or 10-year-old at the time, it must have made the place seem like a prison or a zoo. Even at Whipsnade Zoo, today they don't have so many cages and enclosures for the animals that have old fashioned bars or cages with netting, or else they use some modern alternative to keep the animals in. I expect this netting and chicken wire was to prevent balls from breaking the windows. I was further intrigued by the green corrugated construction in one of the playgrounds. It resembled a somewhat ramshackle chicken house, made to seem more so bay the fact that it had chicken wire over the windows. I may have confused if for a chicken house because there was a similar construction on my grandfather's farm. Whether that was to house chickens I rather doubt, but the two constructions were very similar. Anyway, I soon found out that the one at Rushmoor was used as a gymnasium and also used for school assemblies which we had each morning. It smelt horribly of sweat and horrible rubber shoes, the type we wore for games and P.E. i think there was a cupboard in there which contained a load of such shoes, and you have an idea perhaps that the pong came from sweaty, unwashed feet that lingered in these disgusting old shoes. Not pleasant. Also, the smell of that chalky stuff they use in gymnasiums, the stuff ballet dancers use, is it rosin or something?

One incident comes into my mind. We used to go into that tin shack (for want of a better way to describe that shed or  gym.) and have morning assembly. The owner of the school, Mrs Richardson (I believe she owned the school when I was there.) a strict woman of indeterminate age, used to come in and play the piano for hymns. The words of the hymns were put up on a sort of song-sheet arrangement, rather like a massive book, perhaps six feet by four, which was suspended by a length of sash cord that was hauled up and then tied off on a cleat (all this quite familiar to me now, having worked in stage management, with song sheets used in pantomime and cleats and ropes on a fly floor. I have operated many in my time so a cleat is very familiar and I know very well how to use them.) Anyway, I digress. One morning someone hadn't cleated off the hymn sheet or else the sash cord was wearing dangerously thin, because on this particular morning, as Mrs Richardson was plonking and plunking on the piano, a rendition of something like "We Plough The Fields and Scatter" or some other hymn, and we were in fine, full voice, the whole contraption came crashing down, causing the assembled masses to laugh out loud. Whether we were supposed to or not, I don't know, but it certainly caused a great deal of amusement.

I recall a gym display was put on by pupils of Rushmoor. It wasn't put on in the 'tin shack' as I like to call it, or the so-called gymnasium. It could never be put on there as there was barely room for the 'performers' (or whatever you want to call them.) as well as the audience of parents and teachers. Instead, it was staged at the drill hall just off Ashburnham Road in Bedford. There was a great deal of showing off, jumping over wooden vaulting horses, marching around, all set to music. I can't think what the purpose of this display was about, who was supposed to be impressed, what it ever lead to. But it seemed to take up a great deal of time and effort. I don't think that drill hall is still used for such events. I'm not even sure that it's still there, but if it is I suspect it's for a different use. There used to be another similar building somewhere in Ashburnham Road, I think where now there are blocks of flats and where once the Job Centre used to be. Anyway, I can't even remember my role in this gym display, even if I was involved at all. Such are memories.

I have not made a great deal of effort to keep in contact with Rushmoor School. Well, to be honest, with my rather bad memories of the place, I didn't entirely want to. My younger brother, Andrew, spent a few years as a pupil at the school, but I'm surprised my parents sent him there after my experiences of the place. I do recall going to a sports day when he was at Rushmoor, when the sports field was somewhere along Clapham Road. I think, perhaps, on the ground where Sainsbury's now have a superstore. I can't say I remember now much about it and I don't think I met any former pupils or staff from my time at the school. As regards meeting any former pupils, I did bump into one, working in  a camera shop on Bedford Bus station when I used to use it on my way home, but that was a good 40- or more years ago. His name was Peter Sutton and I think he used to live in Sandy. Also, I had a friend called Andrew Allen who I used to have home for tea (as you did in those days.) and I think I went to his home in Biggleswade. He visited me some years ago and we had a chat about our time at Rushmoor and then I went to stay with him in Norfork when I was working on the television show "Allo, Allo."  I believe he was managing a garage or something in the Norwich area, but I'm not sure where exactly. A rather unpleasant individual, whom I recall was probably called Ward, and I believe came from around the Northampton area, who's family were in the shoe industry, used to be on holiday at the same time as we used to go to Frinton-On-Sea, was something of a nasty little pip-squeak. I used to spend a lot of time on the beach at Frinton, building really complex structures out of sand, roadways and rivers with water which rand along these dug-out channels from rock pools. He went and distroyed the hard work I had put in by jumping on it and breaking it up. Shows how spilt and unpleasant he was. I don't know where he is now, but I hope he doesn't continue with the sort of behaviour that he got away with then into his adult life.

I left Rushmoor in around 1965. You were supposed to go on to a 'big school', presumably one of the Harpur Trust schools or a grammar school. There were several in Bedford at the time. One being Pilgrim School, which is no more. It merged I believe with another, I think one at Biddenham if I'm correct. Can't be sure. The building, in Brickhill Drive, was taken over by various Bedford County Council departments in the 1970's and the Registry Office moved there and it's where you go to register a birth or get married. I did go for an interview at the old Pilgrim School, presumably to complete my education and do my G.C.E. exams, but I didn't get in. I eventually went to Abbey Secondary Modern School in Elstow and completed the final two years of my education there. I didn't actually do G.C.E.'s but instead did the then fairly new C.S.E.'s. I did five subjects, English, Biology, Art, Geography and History. The biggest culture-shock going there was that there were GIRLS! I think I actually benefitted from going there, after going to Rushmoor. Looking back  think I actually learnt far more. In fact, I don't remember actually learning much at all at Rushmoor.

From Abbey, I went to Mander College in Bedford (now Bedford College. I never knew why they changed the name.) I began an 'A' Level course, doing English and History, with the intention of eventually going to Bristol University to do a drama degree, as I had wanted to get into television production. I suppose in those days a degree in drama would have been a good path to getting into television production. As it turned out I didn't do particularly well in my mock 'As' at the end of nearly two years. I applied to several 'rep' (repertory) theatre companies to find out if I could get into stage management as I had been told by the BBC that in order to get into floor management I would need to have several years of professional stage management behind me before I could apply for any floor management jobs. I wrote to as many reps as I could find in a directory called 'Contacts' and got an interview at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham, and was interviewed by the then Artistic Director of the theatre, Michael Ashton. I had also gone for an interview at the Royal Theatre, in Northampton, which would be the closest professional theatre to Bedford, and which I knew relatively well as I'd been to see several plays there over the years. I didn't get the Northampton job, but I was accepted at Cheltenham and worked for around a year as a Student A.S.M. (Assistant Stage Manager), and it was how I learned the various functions expected of an A.S.M. I think I might have got the Northampton job, except the Cheltenham offer came up first. The job began on the 16th of February, 1969. How well that date is permanently etched on my memory!
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