Farnborough Grammar School

Prospect Avenue, Farnborough, Hampshire

Telephone : Farnborough 539
Colin Widdison (Memories) - 1949 to 1956

My memories were stirred when I saw reference to the ‘specials’ that used to bring and take some of the pupils and staff to and from school.

Mr. Cotgrieve was one of my three favorite maths teachers; the others were Mr. Morgan (who lifted the scales from my eyes so that I could see geometry) and;Mrs. Hann at RAE Tech (differential equations).

There was an occasion when Walt was called out of class (UVI) to see the Jab, (Prod, Prick etc.) so he left us working on sums.
There was a length of rope in the room of exactly the right length to tie the door handle to the hot water radiator, which activity was rapidly accomplished with a division of labour such that no individual would carry total blame.
When Walt returned after about 20 minutes he was unable to open the door.
All his knocking and shouting went unheeded as everyone was engrossed in the comnpleting assigned sums.

Eventually, his energetic assault on the door handle resulted in a loosening of the radiator’s attachment to the wall. This allowed him to open the door sufficiently wide to make himself heard by the occupants and he ordered one of them to open the door, which they did.
On entering the room we could see he was more than a little miffed and he began his inquisition immediately.

Walt : “Who tied that rope to the door?”
Class : No answer.
Walt : Various threats and admonishments.
Class : No answer.
Walt : “Didn’t you hear me trying to get into the room?”
Rope untier : “Yes sir, that’s why I untied the rope.”
Walt : “No. I mean before that?”
Class : “No sir.”
Walt : “Alright” addressing each member of the class by name “Did you tie the door to the radiator?”
Each class member in turn : “No sir.”
Walt : “Alright” addressing each member of the class by name “Do you know anything about it?”
Each class member in turn : “No sir.”
Walt : “Very well, we will stay in this room until somebody owns up to this childish prank. The guilty person may stand up as soon as he is ready.”
Long silent pause.
Eventually one of the rope tiers cracked; he slowly rose to his feet.
Seeing this the other miscreant started to stand only a split second later.
After a short pause another stood. Then a couple more.

At last, the whole class, even the swots, were standing. One or two giggled, Walt cracked a smile and the whole room erupted in laughter.
A short lecture about setting a good example for the younger boys took us through to the lunchtime bell.

I may have been in 3B (round 1950-51) at the time when Bubba (Early nickname for the JAB. M.K.) instituted a weekly rotating roster designed to ensure that each traveller on the bus had a turn at being on first, second, etc. At the time it was forbidden to use the public service buses that stopped on Farnborough Road near the intersection with Prospect Avenue.

Banned or not, the public bus was frequently patronised by boys who were assigned to ‘last bus’ but were not obliged by after school activity, detention, etc to remain at school. One incentive for this was the presence of girls from Farnborough Hill (The Convent) who were released from school at about the same time as the boys of F.G.S..

One day, I was incentivised to break the ban and along with several other petty criminals arrived at the bus stop on Farnborough Road to find a couple of Prefects who were taking names.

The following morning at assembly the Head read out a list of names (yes, the very same ones that were collected on the previous evening) and ordered those named to report to Mr. B. Thomas (the Assistant Head at the time) at the Staff Room immediately following assembly.

Arriving at the vestibule I joined a crowd of boys all polishing the finest excuses they could dig up to justify their use of the public bus service. I went to see the Convent girls but I did not think that that excuse would carry much weight, but nothing convincing came to mind.

When the last cup of tea and the last cigarette were dealt with Mr. Thomas invited us all into the Staff Room and demanded that we form a straight line in alphabetical order. He immediately began an inquisition starting at the ‘A’ end of the line…
“Why were you using the public bus service, boy?”
“Had to take the dog to the vet, sir.”
“Dental appointment, sir.”
“Had to get my mother’s medicine from the chemist’s, sir.”
Having just heard all these justifications being manufactured, all I could think of was : “You lying toads. I may not have an excuse, but I’ll at least be honest.”

Well, I had plenty of time to think being at the back end of the line, but nothing occurred to me – except to tell the truth.

Unfortunately, when Mr. Thomas got to me he asked the wrong question : “You, boy, what were you doing at the bus stop?”

The response came to my lips without any further thought, the plain unvarnished truth. Unfortunately, before the first syllable was even audible, I realised that the truth probably was not what was called for under the circumstances and, to my mind, at least, was laughable – so much so that I could not stifle the laugh that exploded out of me along with the words: “Waiting for the bus, sir.”

Mr. Thomas, it appears, was somewhat intolerant of what he considered to be insolence. Although close to retirement, he was a man of substantial build and produced a left that staggered the whole line of miscreants, some of whom shared my innocent amusement despite the tumble to the staff room floor.

The upshot was a week of detention – and guaranteed travel by fifth bus.

Other masters had more unusual and perverse punishment techniques…

Boris : One (or maximum two) strokes on the palm by Horace, the blackboard ruler.
Doc : Blows to the head and/or body by hand or any object that was in the hand at the time - and you couldn’t dodge when seated in those library chairs.
Tommy Junior : Lifting by the short hairs above your ears.
Charlie Sweet was a dead shot with the blackboard duster.

I think the rest of them were non-violent, although Jonah’s towering rages were scary. But they all ended up with “well, dash it all chaps…”

Doc. claimed to have been introduced to a survivor of The Charge of the Light Brigade (probably at a tender age).

Joe Thomas was a WWII fighter pilot. That has to count for something. My contemporary, Tim Carbury, became friends with J.T. a few years ago and found him to be a reasonable and cordial acquaintance. My opinion of him was slightly mollified when I learned that when Tim raised my name J.T. had responded with “Yes, I remember him - a bright boy, but very cheeky.”; Flattery, indeed.

On the other hand, I still hold memories of pain and humiliation inflicted in P.T. and History. It took me many many years to recover from my hatred of History, especially 1486-1715 (or was it 1815?). And I still can’t stand on my head.

Colin Widdison

By the time I had to use a bus to school (November 1958) the pass was usable on any suitable route, weekends too. Maybe that was because I was in Fleet, well, just over the border in Church Crookham to be pedantic and there was no morning bus direct to school and only a single inadequate direct service home.

It’s always good to have older recollections than most that appear on F.G.S. as you get subtle changes to nicknames etc. Colin has given me a list which I shall place on the site very soon. Colin’s email address looks ‘American’ to me but he hasn’t mentioned that in his messages.

Malcolm Knight

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