I heard a jolting, funny answering machine message today. Do listen to it. It was prepared by frustrated schoold teachers at a school in Australia. I have a lot of admiration for school teachers – I was a part-time teacher for a while. And for 13 years I was a pupil,; perhaps as you were, too? But, were you mischievous, like the Little Horrors of Form 1D?
My short career of impish scholastic mischief started in 1959 in Form 1D- Miss Edwards’ home class. Form 1D was the rump of the First Years at Southall Grammar School, in Southall, Middlesex, in western London. (First Years are the starting grade at Secondary schools in the UK.) The other forms in the First year intake in 1959 at Southall Grammar were 1A, 1B, 1C. Form 1D may well have been the bottom of the pile academically – certainly, the 1A kids seemed very sharp, very well-behaved. There was one other classs: Form 1G (for German) or 1L (for Latin) but anyway, as a Form removed, if not a breed apart, this was the “Remove” form, the class that contained the brightest kids, who got to learn German or Latin or some other smartypants subject which the rest of us less-gifted kids could not, at least for a few years more. So those Remove kids were a bit exclusive. But they actually did not stay exclusive: one of them dated me a few years later; and another – a good friend – knocked up his girlfriend, and had to leave school at 17 to marry her. His son bears his middle name, Edmund, after me.
We kids were generally from working class and lower middle-class families; a few were rich kids. But we all looked the same in our Southall Grammar School school uniforms. Boys had to wear black shoes, grey knee length socks, grey short pants, a grey flannel shirt, a blazer with the school badge, a striped red and black school tie and a cap. Socks never stayed up, ties were ripped awry; caps got snatched and tossed around by Big Boys.
The girls had Winter and Summer uniforms. The Winter clothing was a lot like that of the boys except they wore gray skirts and and had different hats; the Summer uniform was blue/white and pink/white striped dresses with low cut lapels and broad white collars. The white collars often became smirched with scuff marks from the grimy hands of little boys trying to cop feels from those girls blessed/cursed with early development. . . . Many of we urchins acted like we had never spent company with girls before – which was largely true given that Primary Schools we had attended were often segregated all-boys and all-girls schools.
Before going to Southall Grammar I was a well-behaved kid; rather shy, very much a book-worm. But within a few weeks of starting at Southall Grammar I had turned into a mischievousness boy, goaded in particular by two mentors – Form 1D class mates, Paul J~ and Janek M~. We three traveled many miles by London Transport 607 trolleys and 207 buses back and forth to school and it was the long journeys that contributed to my moral decay. Paul, Janek and I traveled together, especially in the afternoon on the way home, and passing through the Ealing Broadway shopping district, we would get off the bus to make trouble.
My life-long love of adventure began in Ealing Broadway with my Form 1D classmates. We three had gone into Lyons (one of a chain of popular tea houses) on Ealing Broadway, where pastries and cakes and tea was sold from a counter. Paul told me to ask the lady behind the counter to marry her. I was aghast. I could not do such a bad thing! But, scorned by both Paul and Janek, I took the dare, stammering and blushing. And I made the lady laugh. It was not the most witty pick-up line, but it is for me one of the most the memorable. From then on I was one of the lads and the dares and tricks escalated to the point that Paul was pulled from Southall Grammar by his parents after a year, and went to a stricter all-boys private school closer to home. He is now a well-known TV Executive, successful in what the Brits call “Light Entertainment”.
Form 1D was based in an old Army hut. The school was over-crowded and around the edges of the soccer field were many overflow buildings. They were heated by a stove in one corner, which yielded little warmth. Jim B~, an imaginative, but dotty child, christened the stove Ram Sham Boo, a diety which we worshipped. Silly, saucy school boy songs, daring swearing and minor sacrifices and dares were demanded by the stove. It was a feat of great daring and strength, to traverse the length of class room like a monkey, hooting and hollering, swinging from the the horizontal cross-bars of the trusses supporting the roof of the hut. It was especially daring to do this stunt during class. And the easiest class to get away with this and other silliness was in English, which taught by our Form Teacher, Miss Edwards.
Miss Edwards was likely just into her 20’s, and her position at our school was her first after leaving Teachers Training College. I recall her as being pretty, slender, sweet, innocent and too prone to crying. Miss Edwards tried hard to control us but after a while we just ignored her. It was mostly the boys who did the yelling and swinging and daring, but it was the girls we were trying to impress. (I so impressed my next-seat neighbor, Beryl, that 50 years on we are still close friends). Miss Edwards often broke down in tears of frustration which of course egged us devils on even more. Eventually one of the other teachers from another hut – perhaps the teacher for the mature 1A, or angelic kids in IG – would stride in to quieten us. A few teachers had the knack of shutting us up immediately they stepped through the door: “Trog” (Mr Green, the Math teacher- a large man we named after a troglodyte caveman), or “Dolly” Brooks, the stern Head Teacher; or “Bette” Davis, the fierce Geography teacher. Sometimes one of us would have to visit Mr. Vernon, the Headmaster – that was a terrifying experience. Not because he was cruel, but because he was the Headmaster of a school of 1000 children so had great gravitas and authority. So seeing him meant you were in Big Trouble.
My mischief-making coincided with lots of distress at home. My mother became ill and was committed to a mental hospital for a while. I recall that the other kids teased me a lot about that, in the cruel way that kids have. I suppose I was trying to regain some control. But the effect was to lower my marks, and win the attention of the teachers. They were guardians in some way – which became apparent when I had to return one of my end-of-term report cards back to my teacher with a written demand from my father that “…this boy should be thrashed”. So, I think now that Form ID and later Forms 2C and 3B were safe havens from the increasingly stormy life I lived at home until I father escaped “the house of Satan”, my family, when I was about 13. And, there was little that Ram Sham Boo could do to help.