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Smallville: The Good Old Days

This full-blooded slice of nostalgia by Peter B Farrell raises the question: were the good old days all that good?

“Why are all these groups of schoolchildren thronging the shops? They should be at school. They can’t all be studying practical Commerce and Economics.” Lament from old woman last week

Mr Evans the headmaster was a strict disciplinarian who would accept no excuse for any breach of school rules. I once forgot my dinner money - two shillings - and consequently joined the queue outside his office for the cane. Three stinging cuts across the palm. I never forgot the dinner money again.

The School song was performed daily with gusto at morning assembly.

“…And his captains hand on his shoulder smote
Play up, play up and play the game”

Assembly finished with a hymn, each new boy taking his turn to sing alternate verses, solo while standing on a dais in front of the whole school. A terrifying experience.

The teachers all insisted on neatness in schoolwork and dress, school uniform at all times. Miss Fleisch’s speciality for retribution was the flat stick, a hefty whack across the knuckles. ‘Buller’ Madden was frighteningly large and imposing, a look was enough.

Any misdemeanours, especially on public transport, would be reported back to the school in question, easily identified by the school uniform. The Head had an unerring way of finding out who caught the 21C bus that particular morning.

Occasionally boys would disappear and surface again some time later, shaven headed after a term in Approved school.

There was a House system, it being regarded a great honour to represent the House at football, cricket or swimming on Saturday mornings. Each year the school would go on holiday and stay at Youth Hostels in Northumberland, meeting up with a selected girls school from Gateshead. We would take part in organised sports, games and learned to dance. Socialising with the opposite sex was a new experience.

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Escape 2005, Las Vegas, Timbuktu, Legoland, Disneyland - Kids Go Free Travel brochure falling on doormat.

Being a member of the Scouts and Cubs qualified for a week under canvas. It usually poured with rain just when we attempted to light a fire with two matches in order to qualify for our woodcraft badge.
The only other holidays we had were with aunts and uncles.

Staying with a branch of the family in London for a week was the most exciting time of my young life. I remember the American Roller Derby and Ice Hockey at Wembley arena and seeing India play the M.C.C. in a Test match at Lords Cricket ground.

We often cycled ten miles to a small seaside town where our Uncle ’Tacker’ had a boarding house. He would charge us one penny each when we left our bikes in his alleyway.

* * *

“What’s a Multiplex Cinema and why should it have ten screens? Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, what’s all that about?” Latest whinge from old man

The cinema was popular; American ‘B’ films with Charlie Chan the Chinese detective, Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon, and the Bowery boys. When Up in Arms was showing - starring Danny Kay - a gang of us went to the Saturday afternoon matinee, staying for three performances and emerging at 10 pm. Our parents never seemed to mind. Safety in numbers I suppose.

A ruse was to wait in the toilets until the coast was clear and then open the fire doors to let a few more of the gang in. Eviction followed if the usherette became suspicious and caught anyone without a ticket stub.

I can remember another occasion with the same gang when, during a screening of The Outlaw, Jane Russell’s plunging décolletage was ignored as we watched the grown-up at the end of the row eating an apple. It being commonplace in those days to ask for the apple core, we were always hungry. American Serviceman would be accosted with “Got any gum chum?”

* * *

Exclusion zones should be set around schools to prevent vans selling junk food to pupils. Local Education Authority, April 2005

School dinners to me were uneatable. All that boiled fish. However‘Puddy’Johnson, a friend of my brothers, could polish off everyone’s fish skins with ease.

Mother’s Yorkshire puddings and Grandma’s renowned bread cakes, baked in her coal oven and left to cool on the window ledge were treats not to be missed. Food was rationed and bread smeared with dripping - rendered down animal fat - supplemented our diet.

I can picture the scene to this very day when my mother discovered Spam, imported from the USA. Eating winkles with a pin was a novelty. The most envied of our friends were the Nimmo twins whose parents ran the local fish and chip shop, which was well patronised.

* * *

Mapaphone is a groundbreaking mobile locating system and gives parents peace of mind knowing where their children are without disturbing them. mapminder.co.uk

Once, after a visit from the school dentist, I was sent home ill from the effect of being gassed. Staggering homewards, ashen faced, I was apprehended a number of times and questioned as to why I was not attending school.

My father’s verdict towards us was simple. “That’s what they are there for.”

One of my duties at home was to stand in the cellar when coal was delivered and count the number of bags being deposited as it came tumbling down the chute from the pavement. I would emerge covered in coal dust and my father would confirm that the numbers tallied with the coal bill.

My brother regularly risked his young life when he had to stand next to the radio - or wireless as it was known then - with his fingers stuck in the back. This novel but risky method of getting a good earth contact improved reception enabling my father to hear the football results more clearly.

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A survey of 1200 School nurses in the UK showed 90% gave sex advice. The Royal College of Nursing, 2005

The Air Raid shelter in our street…


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