Sunday, 27 February 2011

School Life Unmasked

Following my recent blog on Personal Sporting Reflections, I was inundated with a phone call (Note: this is an attempt at humour, rather than an example of my poor grasp of language) which resulted in me exploring my much forgotten youth. The trouble with looking back 50 years is that you're not always sure that your memories are facts. However, I will do my best with what is available to me.

The first thing to note is that I failed my eleven plus examination, so had to attend the nearest Secondary School in Rhosllanerchrugog, which was about three miles away. Then it was called, Grango County Secondary School, but now it is known as Ysgol y Grango (Grango School).

Ysgol y Grango as it is today
The school was established in 1906, and its motto is "A fo Pen, bid Pont". This translates as, "If you want to be a leader, be a bridge". This is taken to mean that to be a leader, you must help others achieve their aims. I have mixed feelings about my time in secondary school from 1959 - 1963. In 2006, the school held centenary celebrations, and I have looked at the many comments from former pupils who by and large eulogised about the school and the time that they spent there. I have no such rose tinted spectacles, for my memory is of being emotionally bullied for at least half my time in the school. This was the result of me being small for my age; I was brought up on a farm; I was part of a one-parent family (my Father had recently died), and I was keen to study. How ridiculous and varied are the reasons for bullying. This was sufficient for the socially, and mentally deficient bullying cowards, who worked in packs, rather than as individuals. The only good thing to come out of it all was that it made me determined that when I left school, I would never allow others to bully me again. To the best of my knowledge, I have kept to that.

My experience was 50 years ago, and I would be at peace about it if bullying was a thing of the past. I know that this is a diversion from the subject of my blog, but I'm so angry about it, that I just have to say something.

When the Coalition government came into power last year, the Department for Children, Schools and Families made it clear that no form of bullying should be tolerated. But anti-bullying policies have been required in all schools since 1999, and it is still going on. In a survey conducted by the British Council, 46% of secondary school pupils think that bullying is a problem in their school. The survey concluded that bullying in secondary schools in the UK is worse than in the rest of Europe.

The Office of National Statistics recorded a horrific 176 cases of suicides of 10 - 14 year olds between 2000 and 2008. The national charity, Beatbullying researched these figures, and thinks that up to 78 (44%) of the total could have been related to bullying. To be honest, I am in despair, and if I don't change the subject, I am likely to explode. So on to happier matters.

Liverpool Daily Post 10th August 1963
There were many pointless subjects at school, and I'm ashamed to say, being born and bred in Wales, that Welsh was one of them. We studied it every week for four years, and I think that it would be true to say that few of us in the class were any the more knowledgeable at the end than we were at the beginning.

However, at the end of my final year I achieved eleven Denbighshire Certificates of Education (DCE's), as shown by the school successes printed in the paper opposite (that's me underlined, even though it's hard to read). Over the years, these proved useless as indicators of academic ability, as most prospective employers had never heard of them, or if they had, dismissed them. I though will not lightly dismiss them, as basically they're nearly all I have. So, sit back and bask in my glorious academic achievements, such as,

English Language, English Literature, Religious Education, History, Geography, Mathematics, Arithmetic, Gardening, Art, Metalwork and Technical Drawing.

The only other painful memory of school life was the constant desire by teachers to get me to hold a pen correctly. "Hold the pen properly boy", could be heard throughout my first two years, and accompanied by the grabbing of my side burns. (Let's not get started on the physicality of teachers in the past). You see, I used to hold my pen between two middle fingers, rather than finger and thumb, and in spite of the crusade to change me, I still hold a pen in the same way today.

I enjoyed sports at school, joining the football team in my third year, and running in the annual sports day.

Selected pages from School Magazine
The only school magazine I have in my possession is one where the pages above highlight my athletic achievements during that year. Join me in savouring that day, where the magazine sets the scene,
"After the preparation of the field the heats for the events took place, and here we found competition very keen. One event in particular was the 100 yards for junior boys, where the number of competitors was nearing the sixty. At last the great day dawned and all was ready; competitors, judges, timekeepers, stewards, recorders, and the weather. Such a glorious day did it turn out that an Ice Cream vendor was called in to pacify a sun-drenched school".

I love that last sentence. Did we have to pay for the ice cream, or was it a gift from the school? I just can't remember. So, I take my place with hundreds of others on the school playing field. No doubt some were dreading the day, and hated every moment of this activity. They would be in sympathy with Stephen Fry, where in his first autobiography, 'Moab is My Washpot' he describes his hatred of school sports;

"Yeugh! The squeak of rubber soles on sports hall floors, the rank stench of newly leaking testosterone, the crunch of cinder racing tracks, the ugly, dead thump of a rugger ball taking a second later than the ugly, dead sight of it hitting the hard mud as you sullenly watched the match, the clatter of hockey sticks, the scrape of studded boots on pavilion floors, the puke-sweet smell of linseed oil, 'Litesome' jock-straps, shin-guards, disgusting leather caps worn in scrums, boots, shorts, socks, laces, the hiss and steam of the showers".

But for me it was a day to savour. I was obviously no good at throwing things, and jumping on or over things. My throwing the cricket ball, javelin, shot and discuss held no fear for my competitors. Doing the long jump, high jump and hop, skip and jump only brought giggles to those around me. But get me running, and I was a force to be reckoned with.

The school magazine records what I had long forgotten (thank you Mother for keeping so much paraphernalia). That day I ran in four races, with the following results;

  • 100 yards - came 4th
  • 220 yards - came joint 2nd
  • 440 yards - came 2nd
  • 880 yards - came 1st

Twenty years later, and no doubt inspired by my achievement, Sebastian Coe ran the 800 metres in a world record time of 1:41.73. I have no details of my time that school sports day, but it may have taken me a bit longer, though I use the excuse of a hot, long day for possibly a slow time - but I was first.

Though as excuses go, it is hard to beat the report in the school magazine on why the football team failed to be top of the league that year (they came second, and I hadn't joined the team yet). It says, "We were also unfortunate at Acrefair where altitude and weather conditions were against us from the start". Only those who know the respective geographical locations of Rhosllanerchrugog and Acrefair, can fully appreciate the hilarious comment about altitude being an excuse.

So there we are family, friends and fellow bloggers. The final comment on school life, as there really is nothing else to say that is remotely of any interest. Did school play any part in moulding me into the person I became? I guess in part yes, but what is of greater importance is how we deal with everything that comes our way, every day of our lives.

Or you may wish to be humorous.
"Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyways".

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