"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man
in possession of good memories of school must be in want of
(With apologies to Jane Austen).
My time at Lymm Grammar School was limited to the three years
1951-54, and the memories are all good ones. However, if the
words "enchantment", "distance" and "lending"
are forming a sentence in your mind, bear with me, because
the corresponding recollections of my primary school are far
less pleasant. The latter was an establishment that pushed
us hard academically; with good results in the 11-plus exam,
but which left little time for any fun that I can recall.
Oughtrington Hall was the base for the 1951 intake of pupils,
with frequent treks over the Field Path for laboratory work,
games and gym classes. The school dinners were a revelation
- we were even known to ask for seconds! At the aforementioned
primary, they were appalling; delivered in chums from kitchens
in Warrington. It was decades before I could face any meal
involving mincemeat or mashed swedes again, and we had an
official Slug Box into which we put the extra, unwelcome,
protein frequently found in our salads. I know meat was rationed,
but there are limits.
From a distance of 48 years, the staff member who looms largest
in the memory is Mr Hunnam (the Teacher formally known as
Gus). This is due to a combination of his personality, and
the fact that he was our first form teacher. A humorous man,
despite the occasional day when his mood was black, and it
was safer to keep your head down. My mother had a theory that
these days were a function of sleepless nights with his young
family - the voice of experience there. As an example of his
character, one day when in Grumpy mode he took exception to
one of us (are you there Alan McAlpine?) speaking to a girl
who came in to deliver a message from another teacher. There
was a big eruption of Mount Gus, followed by the imposition
of 100 lines. No big deal there you might think, but the line
"Whenever someone comes into the classroom in order
to speak to the teacher, I must not be so impertinent as to
think J may speak to him or her".
One hundred times! - we all thought the whack would have
been better than that. The poor lad had done them by the following
morning, by which time Gus's mood was much sunnier. He was
big enough to admit an over-reaction on his part and said
that Alan was 100 lines in credit for the next time he transgressed.
In 1954 the Kelly family moved to Essex and I to Southend
High School for Boys. Lymm pupils were reckoned to speak reasonably
posh (in front of adults anyway), but the Southendians found
me comically broad - in the Ecky-thump category by their standards.
Not that their Estuary English is anything to brag about.
Although academically similar to Lymm, the all-male aspect
at the new school meant life had a significantly rougher edge
to it. Two events which occurred during my time there serve
to illustrate this and to compare and contrast life in the
The first concerns school photographs, which at Lymm in 1953
went off without any fuss that I can recall. The Southend
one was chaotic, with some likely lads thinking it a spiffing
wheeze to display a furtive V-sign (not the Churchillian variety).
This was at a time when the gesture was absolutely taboo -
much more so than now. How they hoped to escape retribution
escapes me, with the evidence preserved for posterity. The
offending fingers disappeared by retouching in the darkroom,
while the pants of the offenders disappeared in clouds of
dust raised by the Head and his Persuader. Later generations
must have wondered about the apparent manual deformities of
some boys on that photograph. Could it be a result of the
A-bomb tests then common? No! Just an early example of digital
The second instance revolved around our relationship with
the school caretaker. At Oughtrington, Cyril Woods was regarded
with genuine affection and respect, but the incumbent at Southend
was out of Billy Connolly's Janitor sketch. He loathed us,
and things came to the boil in the Sixth Form when we smuggled
a TV into school (rebellious stuff in 1958) to watch a Test
Match in the lunch hour. He shopped us to the Head, and strangely
enough, later that week, his garden, adjacent to the school,
was laid waste by a nocturnal application of a powerful weedkiller.
Conspiracy theories were rife. Were the fatal pellets fired
from the book depository or from the grassy knoll by his picket
fence? Nothing was ever proved.
I could also go on to relate the story of the disgrace of
the Head of Maths at Southend in tragi-comic circumstances,
but the details are too risque for this
forum. They are however rather amusing, so if we ever meet,
dear reader, and you wish to know more
. Suffice to say
that I find it impossible to imagine Dicky Lame in the same
By leaving Lymm in 1954, I was not around to observe the
impact of the teenage/rock'n'roll culture which emerged a
year or so later. In Southend, the effects were dramatic;
sartorially, tonsorially, and musically. Trousers narrowed
to the point of causing emasculation. Haircuts boosted the
sales of Brylcreem to hold quiffs and DA's in place. And the
music!, oh the music! After years of anodyne confection about
doggies for sale in shop windows, Bill Haley and Co. went
straight to the adrenaline button. The passing years have
broadened my tastes, but the old favourites remain and I am
consequently now just as likely to listen to "Das Lied
van der Erde" as to "A wop bop a loobop a wop bam
boom". Phonetically similar don't you think? The Southend
school had no riots as in "Blackboard Jungle", but
we did see some damage to desks during high spirits after
the 0-levels were finished. Perhaps someone from that era
at Lymm has a tale to tell of those days? Were there battles
with authority over skirt lengths and drainpipe trousers?
Anyway, if you ever wondered what happened to all the old
Teddy Boys, yours truly is what happened to one of them.
The thought does occur from time to time as to whether my
academic direction was altered by the change of school. What
did happen was a specialisation in science, leading to a physics
degree and 40 years working for the UKAEA and Shell Research.
However, at Lymm, my best subject by far was English, particularly
under the influence of the delectable Miss Smith. Any teacher
who made Pride and Prejudice and The Merchant of Venice acceptable
to a 13-year-old whose head was full of cricket, jet planes
and the Goon Show deserves an accolade. So if I'd carried
on at Lymm, who knows - 40 years among the luvvies, rather
than the boffins? By such quirks of fate are our destinies
PS. If by any chance one of my old English teachers happens
to see this example of my humble best, I hope to have observed
all your rules. May your infinitives survive unsplit, may
your prepositions always find sanctuary before the end of
the sentence, and may you be spared exposure to the Greengrocer's
apostrophe, now sadly rampant across the land.