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A Shout From The Attic: Out Of The Depths

A teacher’s animated forefinger dismisses Ronnie Bray from the school choir when his voice breaks.

To read more of Ronnie’s autobiography please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page.

We had heard about a condition known as ‘voice breaking’ and a few of us fourteen-year-olds developed severe cases of the disease during singing time. Not being sure what it was, or what caused the phenomenon, we did our best. Our symptoms were deep groaning noises during the singing. This attracted the attention of the teacher who approached us with all the tender grace of a cinema usherette with toothache and earache and bid us with an animated forefinger to leave the choir.

We were put below the choir in a storeroom full of old documents. These we stuffed into sacks amidst guffaws, weak jokes about breaking wind that we referred to as ‘trumping’ and sometimes we groaned in sympathy with those singing over our heads. This was our employment during singing time for the remainder of our school days.

There was some kind of function at school, I don’t remember exactly what. As part of the proceedings I was engaged in a short question and answer thing with Mr Riley at the bottom of the staired rising gallery - a beautiful architectural feature of the school. All my answers had to be cheeky and ended with him apparently propelling me down the last few stairs onto the floor of the hall in exasperation. He asked me afterwards if I had been hurt. Of course, I had not. Our timing was perfect.

Then no one considered child abuse in schools. I never saw any example of it even by bullies. In fact, I never saw any bullies as such. Some lads would occasionally feel their muscles but we had no institutional bullies such as are spoken of everywhere in schools today.

Fights at school were few and short-lived. The only weapons permitted were fists. Kicking or other vicious behaviour was deprecated as uncivilised and I had been left school a couple of years before I even heard of anyone being kicked. The spirit of fair play had not been subordinated to the vicious will to win at any cost.


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