School Years#3/2

In all the time I attended that school my mother gave me the bus fare to get there and back. It was probably a couple of pence per journey but I always walked, whatever the weather, there and back. It was probably a couple of miles each way down the steep hill of Quarry Hill Road, along Roundhay Road and up Harehills Road.

The saved bus fare paid for one of the few pleasures;  at morning break time we would stampede down the stairs to a neighbouring bakers shop where we would rush to get an early place in the queue for penny “breadies”. Freshly baked and warm they were round and flattish and enjoyed with our pre-Thatcher gill of milk – a gill being a third of a pint.

It’s hard to believe that all school children were supplied with a daily gill until sometime in the 1970’s but it happened, presumably introduced after the second world war as part of other measures to improve the health of children.

Apart from rushing to buy penny “breadies” break times would see a sort of market place in the lower playground. Boys were swapping and selling comics, marbles and other things. This was an activity that I was very much involved in and I was particularly interested in the American imported Dell comics; Superman, Bugs Bunny etc. I bought, sold and swapped them for a unique currency in the Autumn. Living in the leafy area of Gledhow I had access to conkers and used to hawk them and swop them for other commodities including pennies so I was never short of cash.

At one point I was buying balsa wood and churning out chuck gliders the plans for which were published in the R.A.F. Flying Review – a magazine I bought every month as I was very interested in aircraft of the day. These I sold in the school yard for a few pence at a time. All these activities occurred in the first two or three years at the school.

My main hobby at that time was chemistry and I had my own laboratory in a shed (which I purchased at a cost of £10) at the bottom of the garden so the pennies  accumulated to pounds and I was able to purchase chemicals and equipment in town. I even purchased Calor Gas for lighting a Bunsen burner.  More about that in the hobby section.

I continued to save the pennies from my unused bus fares but it was a relief on some Wednesday afternoons (when school sports did not take place) to find my father waiting outside in his car to give me a ride home. As he was in the grocery business Wednesdays were half days – something that has gone out of fashion now.

Because we were designated to be artisans we had three practical lessons that my friend Tony Broadbent did not have in the grammar school. They were woodwork, metalwork and geometrical and engineering drawing. I didn’t get on well with woodwork and I still don’t. Metalwork is another matter. Throughout my life I have been better at metalwork – teaching myself to weld with both a stick welder and a mig welder and to use a lathe.

As for engineering drawing I could do that ok but as for art I would even now draw a cat or a horse in the same way as when I was a junior. In other words during early art classes we were never taught anything. Seems that you either already had a talent as with sports and swimming or that was it, end of! Perhaps if we were given simple lessons we could have been taught to draw a horse or cat etc and developed an interest but no it was a case of fast track to unskilled work in factories or elsewhere.

As I remember, once I was  upgraded to the top group only the subjects that were taught as GCE subjects were now on the curriculum. Engineering drawing was on but metalwork and woodwork were dropped as was art and history. That meant only English, maths, geography, general science and geometrical and engineering drawing  and French for some.

The fact that I was upgraded meant that I was now competing with more able boys but I still managed to stay with the top boys in the class.

Despite the learning, time was found to go on a school trip to Switzerland in 1954/55. The cost was a princely £25 which I suppose was more than one week’s wages in those days. We travelled by train to Dover – itself quite a journey from Leeds- and across France by train in the dark. We arrived in Switzerland at daybreak and changed trains at Basle for Wildersville near Interlaken. Quite a journey. The stay was at a hotel where three meals a day were provided with a packed lunch when on away trips such as to Lucerne.

It must have been quite a task for the teachers keeping twenty or so boys in order but they did and an enjoyable time was had with no reported incidents.

The time was approaching for life changing exams in the next few months but my parents managed to fuck my education up big time as if the first time was not enough. My father was offered some sort of promotion that involved moving south to the London area. And so it was in January 1956 – the year of my GCE’s, in May, June – that they sold the house in Lambert Avenue, Gledhow and moved south. I was packed off to live with my Gran who lived in Hunslet, a slum area of Leeds. Now it was a bus journey to school and back.

I was not happy, how could I be? From the leafy suburbs to a back to back terrace house right in the middle of the smoky satanic mills. Sharing a toilet four doors away down the street with four other families did not appeal. No bathroom or hot water just one room downstairs with a scruffy kitchen. Upstairs I did have a small bedroom however.

I was very, very pissed off. Nowhere to go, nowhere – no garden – to step into, my life was turned upside down. Gran didn’t have a television so that small pleasure was snatched away. It must have been quite an intrusion into her life as well but she never said and I did not blame her for anything. When the Easter holidays arrived they sent my train fare to visit in London. They were temporarily  renting a first floor maisonette in West Ealing and I enjoyed the London transport system to visit the major attractions. Starting with the little push ‘n pull steam train from Castlebar Halt to Ealing Broadway I traversed London utilising the tube system.

However all good things come to an end and I reluctantly got the train from Kings Cross to Leeds City Station hauled usually by the streamliner siblings of Mallard the famous locomotive that held the world steam speed record of 125.88mph that was never beaten right until the present day from 1936.

There was one more trip and that was at Whitsun and after that the GCE exams. Now because there was no one to ask questions – Gran certainly didn’t – about my exams, which was next, when, what time, I got in a muddle and turned up for the English exam just as the rest of the class were coming out. That was an exam I would have passed. As I remember now I failed general science by one percentage point at 49% – another one I should have passed easily.

I don’t remember the results of the others apart from geometrical and engineering drawing which is the only GCE I passed. I am sure that if I they hadn’t chosen that time to move south the results would have been different. I cannot conceive of any circumstances where my wife and I would have pulled that sort of stunt on our children. My father should have spent the week in London in lodgings whilst the rest of the family stayed in Leeds for those crucial six months. It’s a no brainer for any family.

I left that school sometime in July and caught the train for the last time. They were on the brink of moving to Old Windsor having purchased a very nice detached house. From there my one GCE got me my first job – in a drawing office.


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