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Monday, May 05, 2014

More School Memories

The Rushmoor School playing fields were on top of a hill (where now Bedford Modern School stands. It was moved there from the centre of Bedford in the 1970's. That old building was converted into the  Harpur and Howard Shopping Centre.) This didn't exactly help my interest or otherwise in cricket or football as to get there you had to trudge around two miles and then up a very muddy path and then stand around in all weathers, usually a howling gale, in rain and snow. So, you can see my dislike of the whole process which dwindled considerably as those winter afternoons dragged on and on, and then  having to drag oneself back to the school in Shakespeare Road and change back into your clothes in a crowded changing room.  I seemed to suffer really badly from the cold, not entirely helped by lashing rain and howling gales. I think the master in charge of sport seemed to relish the thought that he had some sort of control over us and to make you stand and shiver in the cold was some sort of control over us all. Probably there were those who enjoyed the torture, but it was supposedly meant to make 'men of us' but I don't for one moment think so. Why on earth they couldn't build a changing room on the side of the playing field I will never know. I think there was some sort of pavilion there, more like an over-sized garden shed, and even then it didn't contain facilities for changing or even toilets. Such are the future men of this country 'made' as they say, not on the 'playing fields of Eaton' as someone or other said, or was it, the 'battles' or something, by some brave future prime minister or some such person. Was it Churchill? I don't know whether he said that, or a variation of it, but I wasn't impressed as a child of tender years, nor now, as an adult, of far more mature years. Just cruelty to be expected to endure such cold and total unpleasantness. (The quotation  about 'the playing fields of Eaton' is actually attributed to Matthew Arnold.) It just further put me off the stupidity of kicking a leather ball in-between wooden uprights with a net slung between or to endure the hitting on some delicate part of the body by a fast-moving lump of red leather, a cricket ball, or standing aimlessly pretending to understand the stupid 'flannelled fools' playing cricket on a bright, sunny afternoon in summer. That quotation comes from a poem by Rudyard Kipling called 'The Islanders.' If I use a quotation somewhere I always want, wherever, to get the quotation and the attribution correct.

Anyway, you will have discovered by now, as you read this, that my interest in cricket and football is virtually nil.

I do remember that we had sports day on that games field in Manton Lane, Bedford. I was fairly good at running and long-jump, but never got through the heats to actually get a chance to win anything. I remember being used as a sort of runner of a different sort on the actual day of sports day, delivering messages of one sort of another. I suppose quite good training for when I eventually get into working in stage management. Also, Rushmoor put on several gym displays in a drill hall which if I remember correctly was in Ashburnham Road, Bedford. A lot of jumping over wooden horses and displays of one sort or another and set to music. One of the teachers, Mr Crutchley, got me interested in tape-recording, and I quite liked the idea of being able to use a tape recorder to read stories or to produce little dramas. I eventually bought my own Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder and recorded music and plays off the radio. Later on, when I was working in stage management my interest in tape recording and tape recorders came in handy when I worked on the sound side of various productions, having to create sound effects and then operate the sound decks on some of the productions I worked on.

Although I grew to total detest both cricket and football, I did quite enjoy swimming. We used to go to the Bedford Modern School swimming pool in Clarendon Street. I presume it was hired out to Rushmoor for a couple of mornings a week. I actually gained something as a result: learning to swim, although my memories of the lessons weren't favourable as I recall being jumped on whilst in the pool which I never liked, by some idiot child or other. Ever since I have had a dislike of having my head under water. My father, who I have mentioned elsewhere, had several boats, would not allow any of us children on these boats until we were proficient swimmers so learning at school did have it's advantages.

I met a former Rushmoor friend of mine a few years ago, name of Andrew Allen, and we were talking about our time at the school. He reminded me of the long walks we were taken on  some afternoons, and we seemed to walk for miles, usually towards the village of Clapham and along Bromham Road. Looking back I couldn't see what the purpose of all this was. Those walks, when we walked along in long crocodiles, with a couple of teachers in attendance, seemed pointless, until he pointed out that they were usually during the winter months, and were no doubt so that we were out of the building and which would mean they didn't have to put the heating on, hence, a way to save money! Seems unlikely, but no doubt true when I come to think of it.

We produced a couple of plays at Rushmoor. There was a stage, of sorts, in that tin 'chicken house' gym. It was mainly used for wood work, where there was a variety of woodworking instruments such as vices, saws, hammers and so on, but for the plays the stage was converted quite successfully. One play was an adaptation of "Oliver Twist." Being an all-boy school any female roles had to be played by us boys. I wanted to play Fagin, but didn't get cast as that. I played the matron of the workhouse (I think in the original Dickens novel she is called Widow Corney or something), but this was supposed to be set in modern times so the workhouse became a boy's school. Could it conceivably have been Rushmoor? I don't know, but we had fun putting it on. There is more on this in an earlier post. The second play was called "The Bookworm's Nightmare" and involved a plot whereby a whole host of characters from various books come alive. I played another female character called Rutabaga, and I think she was from one of the "Tales of the Thousand and One Nights" but I really can't remember much more about it as it's all so long ago it rather fades into the mists of time, unfortunately.

As a result of the production of "Oliver Twist" some of us went to London to see "Oliver!", the Lionel Bart musical. I imagine that it would have been the original stage production at the New Theatre. It must have been my first experience of a West End musical, although i think I had been to see other shows, most notably going to see "Peter Pan" when I was very young and I remember as part of the treat having tea served on a tray in the stalls. This is also mentioned in an earlier post on here. We later went to see another musical, based on another Dickens novel, "Pickwick' which starred Harry Seacombe but I don't think it was anywhere as successful as 'Oliver!'

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