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Backwords: Fifty Years On - And Still Bored

Mike Shaw remembers the small purgatory that was his annual school speech day.

School speech days aren’t what they used to be. Thank goodness.

As a schoolboy, I always found the annual ritual bewildering and boring. And as a grown-up, I certainly didn’t change my mind.

Words, words and more words was the order of the day as hundreds of restless kids, and an even bigger contingent of mums and dads, were expected to sit through the endless spiel.

Glued to our seats we were. But only because we were sweating so much under the spotlights in Huddersfield Town Hall.

Those tiered platform benches were certainly not made for comfort. And it was just too bad if you felt a call of nature. Once in position you were not expected to budge for the next couple of hours.

The one Town Hall rehearsal for the great event of the year was usually chaotic. But at least it enabled us to escape lessons for a morning.

As we arrived for the real thing we had to line up for a full-scale inspection to make sure we were fit to be seen.

The pupils weren’t the only ones dressed up like a dog’s dinner. You could almost smell the mothballs as teachers swept past wearing ancient gowns that hadn’t been out of the wardrobe since last year’s annual airing.

Preliminary inspections were carried out by the staff equivalents of corporals and sergeant. They didn’t use any barrack room language, but some of them were not short of parade ground authority.

Keenest of all was probably the chemistry teacher, he of the eagle eye and caustic tongue.

Acid spewed from both his lips and his pen with a bite that matched anything in his laboratory.

He it was who summed up my total inability to understand the basics of chemistry with a devastatingly succinct verdict,

“Incredibly incompetent” said it all. Even my intensely loyal parents acknowledged what I had been telling them for years. It was time to forsake the test-tubes and Bunsen burners for a crash course in economic history.

After the NCO’s once-over on speech nights came the real moment of truth. We always got advance warning that the CO -- otherwise known as the headmaster -- was approaching because he had an artificial leg that squeaked like a demented mouse as he walked.

In school the trouble was that the row created by a class of noisy, unsupervised brats often drowned the menacing squeak. But speech days were different and we were usually on our best behaviour by the time he limped on the scene.

His report on the year’s activities ran to foolscap page after foolscap page. And he read out every word. When he finished the audience seemed so taken aback that it took them several seconds to start their applause.

Then came the interminable business of dishing out all the certificates and trophies. Followed by a lengthy introduction of the guest speaker and an even lengthier dissertation by the chose one which usually consisted of advice to all and sundry.

Blessed relief came as we unglued ourselves from our seats to end the marathon by singing the school song.

“Forty years on, growing older and older….” rang out from the ranks of weary youngsters.

Funny, but I remember thinking I’d never by around 50 years on.

If just goes to show how wrong you can be.


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