I was born in Widnes (Lancashire then – until they disenfranchised me in the 70s boundary re-drawings, dumped my heritage and made of me a ‘Cheshire Cat’) in 1958… the year of the plane crash in which most of the Manchester United ‘Busby Babes’ bar Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes and their manager died on the way home after the European Cup semi-final… But why am I telling you all this? Because my Dad, Syd, worked on the Manchester Guardian and set the type that night on the horrific story (something which pins me to the moment) and because you need something to pin you to what I am about to write... Yes, there are people that old, you know!
Our family moved South when I was pretty young because, before the Clean Air Act, one was living and breathing serious ‘smog’ up there (the first snow I saw was black, would you believe!) and it was killing my mother – and fast. Dad was told to quit his job, pack us in the car and head South inside a week or risk losing his wife and me. He did. We bounced along the South Coast: Poole… Bournemouth … the Isle of Wight (almost – lucky escape! – with due apologies to those readers from that august island) then, for a while at least, Eastbourne. I was dreadfully unhappy in my first state school there, so my parents took the plunge and enrolled me in St Bede’s when it was just one solitary, manor-house building a stone’s throw from the cliffs.
Technically, I was a ‘Day Boy’ because I slept at home. But that was it! The ‘Older Headmaster’ (Peter Pyemont was then very much the ‘Younger Headmaster’), Mr. Lord, lived nearby and kindly picked me up at around 07.00 each day en-route to school and deposited me back home when the boarders were heading bed-wards. As there was Saturday morning school and I was always in some team or other during the afternoon, about the only time I wasn’t at St Bede’s was on Sunday or when my eyes were shut! I can see the Cash’s name tapes on my clothes, towels and sports gear even now: “A.I. JOLLEY 98”. [Only a year or so ago did I have to throw away my St Bede’s sports towel – yes, with A.I. JOLLEY 98 on it! - that had had a long-play, second life as a wrap for some of my car tools, but only because it was steadily decomposing in the boot after a lifetime of faithful service! Is this some kind of record?]
So, despite the fact that I was only at St Bede’s for a term or so, the school, its ethos and Mr. Lord’s wisdom had (and still has) a profound impact upon my life, upon how I see life & learning, and how I have been teaching throughout my own career.
Here is a story I can remember [yes, despite my date of birth, I can still remember things … my wife would probably add ‘well… occasionally at least’!]. Hope you enjoy it and that you find therein echoes of your own time at St Bede’s…
Snooker can get you Snookered (it did me)!
Apart from being asleep, I spent all my time – 12 hours a day with the Boarders: pre-school prep; classes; games; (Oh, did I fail to mention ‘Bun Time’?!!); more classes; post school prep … so I got to know a lot of the boarders as friends, but me, I was a Day Boy and I knew it – and thereby hangs this particular tale!
One of the boarders asked me to come and play snooker in the Boarders Snooker Room (does it still exist; I ask myself?). They had a superb table in there. Through the eyes of youth, it looked enormous, but it might have just been half-size upon sober, adult reflection (correct me someone if you know). So, with a little trepidation, I went upstairs with my friend and started playing. As I was lining up to pocket the Blue (and why do I remember it was the Blue?), my friend went simultaneously silent and stock-still. I nailed the blue, then allowed my eyes to de-focus from cue-tip and ball and it was then that I saw Mr. Lord. “Jolley. My office immediately after class.”. Well I could hardly escape, could I? He was my lift home! So I stewed all afternoon and figured I’d be ‘in for it’… whatever ‘it’ might be. Corporal punishment still existed at the time, remember… I knocked. I was called to enter. I was invited to advance towards the huge desk. There was a brief pause – just long enough for my ears to almost but not quite stop panic-banging with blood and fear: “Mr. Jolley. What were you doing in the Boarders’ Snooker Room?”. I hope to heaven I didn’t say: “Playing Snooker, Mr. Lord”… Perhaps I did, but I assure you, I would have done so without a hint of insult: it was a fact: nothing less and certainly nothing more! “But you are not a Boarder, Mr. Jolley, are you? You had no right to be there had you?”. I had to admit to both charges and to take whatsoever punishment there might be. So I did. “So, Mr. Jolley, you admit that you are not a Boarder and that you therefore had no right to accept an invitation to the Boarders’ Snooker Room…?”. So I admitted it (again), feeling thoroughly ashamed of myself. I had the impression that Mr. Lord had finished with me and had dismissed me, so I thanked him and headed towards the study door. I hadn’t quite got my hand on the door handle when he called me back: “Mr. Jolley….”. I thought I’d got away without punishment, but clearly now it seemed to me that I hadn’t. I headed back to Mr. Lord’s desk with magnified trepidation. With one finger he pushed across the desk and towards me a card (face down). He asked me to turn it over and read it. It was an Honorary Boarders’ Pass to their Snooker Room.
Mr. Lord told me that had I not admitted the error of my ways he would not have given me the pass … but added that he had written it out beforehand in the confidence that, knowing me, I would ‘do the right thing’…. but then he needed to see the ‘proof’ of that particular ‘pudding’! Thankfully it seemed my ‘pudding’ had passed muster.
I’m sure you have got the ‘lesson’ or the ‘moral of the story’ here… but it is one that engraved itself gently but firmly upon my life and one which makes me smile to this very day more than 50 odd years on….
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to recount this story to Mr Pyemont. I thought that Mr. Lord would have left us by then, but he hadn’t. Mr. Pyemont visited him long into his retirement and told him my little tale. The ‘younger headmaster’ took some joy in telling me thereafter that mine was just one of innumerable, similar accounts of Mr. Lord’s quietly positive influence upon a youngster’s life.
I have been teaching in English, French and German universities since 1988 and I harbour the hope that I might have had just the merest ‘slice’ of Mr. Lord’s positive impact … If I have, then so much is owing to him. Time, as they say, will tell on that score.
Thank you, Mr. Lord. Thank you St Bede’s.