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Backwords: Sunday School

“With faces scrubbed, curls combed and shoes gleaming, we formed a veritable angelic host of little cherubs treading the path to goodness…’’ Mike Shaw recalls his Sunday-school-going days.

Life wouldn’t have been the same without the Sunday school when I was a youngster.

And I’m not talking just about being marched off down the road every Sunday morning.

With faces scrubbed, curls combed and shoes gleaming, we formed a veritable angelic host of little cherubs treading the path to goodness.

But, much to the disgust of our mothers, the cast of cherubs often returned home from the weekly Bible-bashing sessions looking like a bunch of urchins.

Just occasionally - and it was occasionally for fear of severe reprisals - we opted to skip Sunday school.

In our juvenile naivety we hoped to get away with it, but never did.

The trouble was our truancy tended to be spontaneous action rather than a planned strategy.

We hadn’t the gumption to organise a rota of absentees instead of staging a mass strike.

So it was hardly surprising that we were found out when the superintendent surveyed the rows of empty benches.

On the days we did attend, our suppressed energy soon found avenues of escape when closing prayers were over.

Hastily organised games of football or cricket left us with grubby faces, dishevelled hair and scuffed shoes as we arrived back on our donkey-stoned doorsteps.

Our Sunday school at Lingards Wood was one of those rare institutions - a place with no denominational ties and a multi-purpose building.

Instead of pews there were rows of long, straight-backed wooden forms on which we were jammed like sardines for special services like anniversary Sunday.

That was a day for best suits, big hats, long sermons and an atmosphere heady with the smell of mothballs and peppermints.

Some of the pudding parsons - so-called because they were unqualified preachers who were given a good feed instead of a fee - droned on and on and on,

It was almost as if they feared giving short measure from the pulpit in case their meat tea was reduced to a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Way back in the Nineteenth Century, before teetotalism was fashionable in church circles, the anniversary celebrations always included “rum in our tea, as usual.’’

But in my day there was never so much as a sniff of liquor - at the anniversary or any other time for that matter.

As a multi-purpose building, the school was put to a variety of other uses.

When he was younger, my father and his mates used to practise gymnastics there - and became so successful that they were nicknamed The Invincibles by their opponents on the beam and bar.

Some of my most vivid memories of Lingards Wood are of watching from the tiny balcony performances of plays such as J B Priestley’s When We Are Married and Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit.

In one memorable moment I was on the very brink of treading the boards when I came second at an audition for a schoolboy part in a tense drama.

Instead, I had to be content with watching father’s much-prized telescope used as a crucial prop on stage.

Some people say I have been suffering from rejection pains ever since.


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