I was pondering the other day, as I do, whether it would have made any difference if I’d actually listened at school. Not that I would want things to have been different – I am having a wonderful life full of variable ups, downs, laughs, tears, but very few regrets. Pondering these thoughts gnawed on my mind to such an extent that I decided to rescue my school reports from their hiding place and study if anything could have been changed and equally remind myself if I was justified in disliking my teachers the way I did.
A surprisingly high achiever …
I have now studied my four Golcar C of E Junior School reports from 1955 to 1958, and the booklet itemising my 11 Colne Valley High School term reports from 1958 to 1962. I have to say I’m a little disappointed and confused. Apart from the autumn of 1958, where I was placed 36th out of 36, and as a consequence demoted to the happy bewildered class for the following term, nearly all of the other reports were relatively complimentary.
In fact, I came first in a couple of subjects – admittedly they were practical or art subjects – but I was placed eighth overall in two terms and sixth in another. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed this before and I even had to look at the front cover to see if it was actually my report and not Moi’s.
Strangely enough, and possibly why I have such a negative attitude to my school days, the terms I did best in coincided mostly with how well I got on with the teacher.
… with the right teacher
The last two teachers at junior school were Miss Sinclair in 1957 and Miss Wilkinson in 1958. They were both horrible, not in a violent way (that came later) but both could and did belittle a child psychologically to a degree that I for one became so frustrated with their mean-spirited nasty ways that I could so easily have torn my papers up and stormed out of the room on several occasions. The headmaster Mr Hardwick was painted with the same brush.
My introduction to violent teaching came in the first terms at Colne Valley High School. Mr McConnell didn’t shy away from whacking unruly kids. In his comments after my first term in his class of 1C he wrote, probably justifiably, “Most unsatisfactory. Peter has not tried, and worse still, I feel, will not care that he is bottom”.
Unfortunately, my drop to the happy bewildered put me in the clutches of Mr Barker in 1K. He was also very violent but when he left, Miss Iredale took over the 2K form and I began to appreciate teachers that possessed a little humility. For the next 18 months I gained the giddy heights of joint sixth place in the September exam. Her comments were “Peter’s work is generally pleasing. He must however take more care with his writing as this has an effect on all subjects. He is always keen and helpful in class”.
Teachers with the human touch
Miss Iredale emigrated to New Zealand at the end of that term, she gave everyone in the class a handkerchief as a goodbye present, each one with their individual initial. I’m sure she was trying to tell us something. I still have mine. I had to dig deep into my memorabilia box but there it was crying out for a wash and iron, which it may get while I have it out.
The headmaster Mr Butcher even made a comment on that term’s report page. It was short and sweet – “Quite pleasing” – good enough for the likes of me though.
The final two terms of 1962 put me in Mr Robinson’s 4N class. I continued to appreciate being treated like a human, and as with Miss Iredale, I liked Mr Robinson. He was always firm but fair and to my knowledge never violent. In fact, he would sometimes play chess with us at lunchtimes.
I can’t remember my first teacher at Clough Head School on Bolster Moor. This is my first school photo: I’m the scruffy oik back row second from left. We were all scruffy oiks at that end; the smart kids with ties and hankies were next to Miss Walker, who claimed to remember “all her children”. She lived on Bolster Moor right up to her death when she was about 140, I think, still claiming to remember everybody. She developed this convincing patter that led us to believe that she really did remember.
A re-evaluation of school days
Searching through my records has been surprising and confusing in equal measures. Four of the teachers at my junior school and later at high school were nasty, vindictive, cruel and violent. One headmaster – Mr Hardwick, mentioned above – and another teacher at high school, Mr Marsland, were to be avoided at all costs. All this has obviously coloured my recollection of my school days to a degree and left me with an impression that I was a fundamentally poor reader and writer and a low achiever. But, looked at overall, my reports seem to suggest a definite link between being taught by these horrible people and my unimpressive results at the time.
During my final two years at school from 1960 to 1962 I began to trust and even like my form teachers; even the head teacher, Mr Butcher, was a pleasant chap. In my final report in the summer of 1962, Mr Robinson wrote “Peter is now much more self-assured. There has been an improvement nearly everywhere, and an increasing awareness of his personal responsibilities towards work and – more important – the results of his work”. Even Mr Butcher seems to have felt obliged to write a gushing postscript, this time three words: “A pleasing report.”
Good teachers, good results and girls: school not so bad after all!
Another thing I noticed in that final term report was that I had an A in religious education and mathematics, and a B in art; all the others were C. Also, this was the first term at school where I didn’t have any days off absent. The reason for this could have been that I liked going to school because I was getting on much better with the teachers. But another reason may have something to do with puberty – there were girls around every corner, more than one could throw a stick at, and many seemed to want to throw the stick back.
Some of my earlier ramblings (episodes 4 and 5, plus the one on puberty) may throw some more light on my education or lack thereof. Even when I was showing some progress, it was only in comparison with my fellow classmates of the happy bewildered. But take praise when you can I always say; there are too many people ready to be negative about everything.
Time for a smile
A careful Yorkshireman from Huddersfield and his wife needed to get to London for an unexpected family occasion. He contemplated driving his 25-year-old Ford Cortina but after carefully calculating the mileage, he decided that the petrol was going to be far too expensive. So, he went first to the coach ticket office and got into a heated conversation about the price and got himself thrown out. The very same thing happened at the rail ticket office.
His only option was then to visit the small Huddersfield international airfield at Crossland Moor. They have only one runway and it has a significant slope; they take off down the slope and land up it. Everything’s got a slope on it around here – even the sheep are born with longer legs on one side to accommodate the slope.
Getting back to the careful Yorkshireman, he collared one of the pilots to see if he could fly them down to London. His argument was that there was only him and his missus and it was only a tiddly little plane anyway. This conversation was quickly heading in the same direction as the coach and train booking offices, when the pilot came up with a bright idea.
He said “I will fly you and your wife to London for nothing if you don’t say a word all the way down. But just one peep and I’ll charge you double”. The careful Yorkshireman readily agreed, knowing that all he had to do was keep quiet.
Off they went and immediately the pilot took the aircraft into loops, barrel rolls, dives and spins, on and on this went all the way down to London. When they eventually landed at London City Airport, the pilot turned to the careful Yorkshireman and said, “Well, as you didn’t make a sound all the way here, this flight is free”.
The careful Yorkshireman replied, “Ee I’m fair glad abaht that lad. It were a close thing, though tha’nose, when the wife fell out the door a little while back”.