Having stumbled upon Malcolms fascinating web site while searching for
something quite different, I felt I had to offer some memories of my own. Ill
start with a little personal history, not for reasons of self-importance but to
give any reader a clue as to the boy I was at the time. It may also help in the
understanding of my particular point of view. Incidentally, my name at school
became altered to Johnny soon after I arrived.
My parents lived in Napoleon Avenue for all their married life. There were two reasons why this was important for my time at F.G.S. – firstly, it enabled me to go home for lunch so missing the delights of school dinners except on a very few occasions. Secondly no, youll have to wait till later to find out.
For some silly reason I was entered for the Eleven-Plus a year early, leading to my arrival at school in the September of 1954, three months short of my eleventh birthday. Besides being well below the average age of the class (2A), I was small, rather sickly and decidedly timid. Imagine the terror I felt when I first entered the school gates to behold all those High School girls waiting for their bus. It didnt take me long to realise that I could avoid this embarrassment by slipping in the back way past the bicycle sheds. My first year went less well than expected and next Autumn saw me in 3B. My career path went as follows: 2A, 3B, 4S, L5S, 5S, L6S, U6S, VI-3, final departure being in 1962. The transition from L5S to 5S took place in 1958, the year that the most junior classes were renumbered 1 something-or-other. I never did find out why the forms had originally been numbered from 2 upwards.
Being small and apparently feeble, I was subjected to some bullying in the early days. To cope with this, I developed two strategies. I learned not to upset anyone I couldnt tackle, slowly becoming a minor clown in the process. If, on the other hand, someone did attack, Id wade in all fists flying in an attempt to make sure they didnt try it again. It was at just such a time as this that Jonah, the biology master, caught me in the process. He had a reputation for having a short fuse and a loud bark. I got both barrels at point-blank range. Sadly for me he hadnt seen the start of the fracas so I was entirely to blame. A lesson in the unfairness of life.
Which leads me on to memories of some of our masters, some well-beloved and others distinctly otherwise. The following is just a random selection, not intended to be exhaustive
WALTER COTGREAVE: had worked with my father at the RAE during the war so I was regarded favourably. He may have been a little inquisitive but I think that his interest was genuine and that he was a decent man.
LITTLE RICHARD: poor chap. He lived nearer the top of Napoleon Avenue than myself. I couldnt bring myself to join in the mayhem of his RK lessons.
BEEFY BULLOCK: a mostly quiet and gentle soul whose maths lessons I looked forward to. Most of the knowledge has slipped away but what remains is partly thanks to him.
TOM PASCOE: built a house three doors up from my parents. I believe he bought the plot while living in Empress Avenue: I know his new house took some years to complete. Ive always admired his habit of calling everyone George, it must have saved a lot of effort trying to remember pupils names. His manner could be a little gruff, perhaps, but his heart was definitely in the right place.
JO THOMAS: moved in next door to us, whether just before or just after I started at the Grammar School, I no longer remember. It amused me immensely that my parents called him by his first name – it was always sir for me, of course. This familiarity, if we can call it that, gave me a certain immunity from his wilder behaviour but I was very careful not to overstep some tacit boundary. If, however, I was caught up in a group that incurred his displeasure then my fragile individual protection was to no avail whatever.
Ive read the comments made by others and cannot disagree with them; he certainly was what we nowadays call a control freak and had a decided tendency to sadism. But there was another side to the man that I was in a unique position to appreciate. His wife, a gentle and far less sturdy person than her husband, suffered from a back problem that left her less and less capable of doing much. My mother, not one to waste sympathy on anyone outside the family, thought her to be malingering. Mr. T, on the other hand, gradually took over the running of the household. While this may have suited his controlling nature, he eventually did shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry with never a word of complaint. He always spoke of his wife (was her name Jean?) with kindness and affection. Its odd that some people can have such a mixture of traits but were all paradoxes to an extent.
Colin Widdison, F.G.S. 1949-1956, has reported that Joe Thomas had been a WWII fighter pilot. Why did he keep that information under his beret?
DR. J.A.BOURNE: Or Jab or Prod. Such a pity he wasnt called Prick until after my time. Again he probably had some redeeming features but I sincerely loathed him. I had two run-ins (runs-in if you must be pedantic) with him. The first concerned the sixth from social. We must have been newly in the sixth and nobody had yet applied for any tickets. The Doctor swished in to a lesson in the science lab in his pompous way, gown flying, and demanded to know why wed shown no interest. In the same breath he asked if anyone actually didnt want to go. Well, you know whats coming, dont you? I was sitting near the front as was Anthony Fish (more about him later). Our hands went up simultaneously. As we looked around we realised our plight no other hands were raised. The class then had a lecture about the School not caring deeply for boys who didnt care deeply about the School. Such boys would never be made prefects. Hooray for that: I get on well with most folks but Ive never been a team player nor was I ever made a prefect.
The second time I upset Himself was when I was in the Third Year Sixth. Id brought in a small radio for the common room but it had the wrong type of plug. So I took the plug off and wedged the wires in the socket with matchsticks (Ive been in Electronics most of my life, believe it or not). Prod walked in and erupted. This must stop immediately, it was totally unsafe and must be removed straight away. He did have a point but irritation got the better of my discretion. I said Its perfectly safe as long as no-one interferes with it. He was so enraged he couldnt speak so flounced out in a major huff.
MR. WILSON: we didnt hit it off. Frankly, we detested one another. For what reason I doubt if either of us could have said, probably some fundamental personality thing. Mind you, I did give him reason later on – see below under my CCF memories.
DR. J.S.N.SEWELL: Ive just read Phil Fouracres piece on Dr. Sewell which helped bring him to mind. He had apparently once taught my mother, where or why I cant imagine, so that gave me (once again) a slight but undeserved measure of respect. I never had any trouble with him but he certainly was not an easy character. During one lesson we were apparently misbehaving so he said, more or less, Gentlemen, unless you apologise, I shall not return and stalked off. We didnt so he didnt. Nice free period.
Some years after leaving school, I had sight of a book called The Straight Left which must be the one Phil referred to. Advice was given on how to deal with unseemly things. Along the lines of if youre lying in bed in the dorm and tempting thoughts arise, give them the Straight Left. Ever so well meant, Im sure.
THE BEEB: This is another of those amazing coincidences Mr. Barrett had at one time lodged with my Grandmother, who lived in Pierrefondes Avenue. She never took in lodgers so how he got there is a mystery. She regarded him as odd (if only she knew) and the association was short-lived. I have little to add to the remarks of others apart from one incident I heard about but I cant vouch for the truth thereof. When up to his old fondling trick, either Letford or Roberts stabbed his hand with a compass point. Ah, so were trying to be funny was uttered as the wandering hand dripped blood.
NORMAN STYLES: another nice bloke who didnt really deserve to be played up by ourselves. The incident with the chair was dramatic, to say the least, who could ever forget it? Thank goodness it turned out well. If he ever wants to sue, I could name one or two of the culprits.
BORIS: aka Mr. Rogers. Does anyone remember the incident of the telescope? The story went like this: along the length of Prospect Avenue lived a number of attractive girls, most of whom I eventually got to know socially (my shyness took some years to fully dissipate but it was on the way out by the Sixth). One of these lived opposite the new science block. Apparently she was in the habit of stripping off after her school day in the front upstairs bedroom of her house. She was a little precocious. Boris caught the male lab assistant watching the strip-show through a telescope. There was a bit of a rumpus. Can anyone confirm this story?
NUNCS: held in affection by one and all but I was only allowed one year of Latin (fortunately). I well remember the non-musical chairs of desk shuffling which certainly livened the lessons up. My customary place was last but one with only Timbrell (spelling?) behind me. On one magic occasion a question was asked which passed all the way through the superior scholars to reach me. In apposition I proudly answered – more about grammar than about the language (of which Id picked up very little), youll notice. So up to the top of the class. My knowledge ran out after that and with each question I descended through the ranks until in no time at all I was back in my usual place.
DOC NAISH: another great character who always made anyone with a love of reading welcome. I note that someone else remembers working their way through the shelf of Biggles books. Just William was another favourite in those golden days.
JACK: not a teacher but does anyone else suspect that the caretaker of Hogwarts was a relation of his?
Thats most of what I remember about the staff although other memories could perhaps be dredged up. Now, if youre still with me, Ill mention a few fellow pupils. But first an observation: there seems to be a subtle but fundamental difference between boys and girls when it comes to school friends. Girls seemed always to have a best friend or maybe two whereas, with boys, the group of friends one socialised with appeared wider. True, there may have been only a small number one met regularly out of school but there were no restrictions imposed by loyalties to best mates as far as I recall. Girls often seem to retain their school friends throughout life: boys often drift apart (but can equally drift back together later).
If I enjoyed any popularity at all, maybe it was in part thanks to my physics and maths homework. Both of these were sometimes in demand for the delicate art of cribbing. Not because I excelled but they were subjects I enjoyed and more-or-less understood so put some effort into. Then again, a second opinion on any subject was welcome to all of us including myself. Anyhow, here, in alphabetical order, are some of the lads whom I classed as friends. The criterion for inclusion has mostly been whether we visited each others houses. Apologies to anyone Ive missed.
DAVID BARNARD: so the first entry doesnt actually qualify as a mutual visitor. David was in the year following mine but our fathers knew each other through working at the RAE. I felt I should include him because of a chance meeting many years after leaving school. I was called for jury service in Oxford Crown Court and in one case David was Counsel for the Defence. He recognised me and had to object so the judge politely kicked me off.
DENLEY COLE: a consistently high performer academically and also one of the Cove Green Cycle Club. This wasnt a club at all and was never actually known as such - just my name for a variable collection of likely lads that gathered on the green to lark about and indulge in harmless mischief (cf Tony Tebbutt). I remember visiting his house a few times when wed have the living room to ourselves, his parents having discreetly removed to the dining room. That was a privilege never granted in my house in the evenings – my mama was always reluctant to be parted from the tele. I dont remember his train set that gets a mention elsewhere on this site. Maybe by the time I got to know Den wed moved on to pop. And/or girls.
ANTHONY FISH: I first met Anthony in infants school (Mrs. Coxs in Reading Road) where he once was described in an end of term report thus: Anthony is a disturbing influence and a nuisance at all times. He was justifiably proud of that and Im sure he wont mind my repeating it. We were friends throughout our time at school and afterwards. In a minor way I helped him start his first business and learned a lot. Chiefly never to start my own business but to remain in the employment of others. We slowly drifted apart after I married my first wife. A typical picture of Anthony can be found playing cards in the Tregoyd Guesthouse selection.
TOM FORREST: his name wasnt Tom, of course, but I cant remember the one his parents had given him. Shy, like myself in earlier years. He introduced me to the music of Sibelius whose compositions have always been favourites ever since. Thank you, Tom.
JOHN FOURACRE: given Johns sporting prowess and my total lack of it, an unlikely friendship but we seemed to hit it off. Maybe an interest in radio as a hobby had something to do with it. He once borrowed a book called Practical Wireless Circuits from me and returned it with much embarrassment because his youngest brother (Nick) had ripped a page. But John had done an excellent repair job with Sellotape which, if a little browned, is still holding after all these years: I rather like the personalised effect.
Another link with John was a physics experiment that involved us both. I think it was Smudge
who organised it. We were both asked to run up the stairs at the back of the hall (the ones nearest the
senior quadrangle) from bottom to top against a stopwatch. John was chosen as being a sturdy sportsman
(while I was the lightweight wimp) and went charging up first. Then I had my turn and was quite pleased
to have taken no more than two or three seconds longer. After that we trooped back to the lab and the
short-term horsepower rating of each of us was calculated. John apparently scored nearly half a HP -
I think thats right - but I was somewhat miffed to be told that I, being lighter, only rated just
over a quarter. Another couple of flights and I think our scores would have been very much lower.
RAYMOND HOPKIN: Ray was another in the year below mine. We first met at the bottom end of Napoleon Avenue before Grammar School days. He was racing about on his bike wearing some kind of American Forces cap so I shouted insults at him. After a brief disagreement we became firm friends. He lived on the main Farnborough Road between the top of Empress Avenue and what became the entrance to Queen Elizabeth Park (a wilder and much more exciting place then). In our first terms at school, hed call for me in the morning and wed advance to school brandishing exotic guns made from gummed paper tape, empty matchboxes and the like. Long before Blue Peter.
Ray studied maths and joined Equity and Law (life insurance) where he stayed for all his working life. He introduced me to my first wife at a New Years Eve party at his house in Caversham. As time passed, we saw less and less of each other and I heard from his wife a few years ago the sad news that hed died.
XXXX JENKINS: universally known as Jenks, a larger-than-life devotee of chemistry. He lived on a farm near Crondall, or thereabouts. I cycled over to his place a couple of times – it seemed like a very long way – to admire a collection of old electronic gear and to witness the manufacture of explosives. Jenks would knock up a good quantity of gunpowder and bury it in a deserted part of the garden together with a length of fuse wire attached to a long cable. From the cover of the house, the cable would get connected to the mains and BANG! A plume of soil fifteen or twenty feet high followed immediately by a startled bunch of crows, pigeons and smaller winged creatures. All this excitement was followed by a huge farmhouse tea served by a generous mother and during which Jenks younger sister would tell interminable jokes and then all but fall off her chair laughing.
MICHAEL MACKEY: what a tragic loss. I dont remember Michael too clearly after all this time but he struck me as a kind, thoughtful person. With a number of others, I was invited to one of his birthday parties where we discovered his dad to be a great sport.
KEVIN PRESS: did we ever visit each other at home? Maybe not. But we met when he was still a student in Birmingham and Id retreated from the world of academe to work for the BBC. Id been posted to Brum for a few weeks and decided to call at the University to trace him. He invited me to a party at an RC Seminary – a strange and drunken gathering, to be sure – and afterwards gave me a lift back to my digs on the back of his scooter. My first and last ride as a pillion passenger.
BRIAN SIMMS: that story about Brian taking to the air during the screening of Dracula is so typical. Always fun. His parents phone number was Farnborough 690 isnt it strange what useless things we remember? There was a wonderful collection of Meccano in his loft and he kindly (and secretly) lent me a pre-war construction book with dozens of models to build. It never got returned, something I feel guilty about even now.
TONY TEBBUTT: another of the Cove Green Cyclists. Sometimes wed quit the green and cycle to Blackbushe or Fleet or wherever took our fancy. Returning from one of these outings, we caught up with an old gentleman riding a sit-up-and-beg roadster. With Tony in the lead and riding within inches of the old fellas rear wheel, we fell into procession behind with each tailing the other in very close formation. This went on for a furlong or two until we were detected – did someone giggle? What a torrent of ungentlemanly abuse we were treated to!
At times during the early sixties Tony and several others of us would meet in the Fox pub in, unsurprisingly, Fox Lane for a pint of mild and bitter or something equally exotic. Happy days.
School Trips and Outings
TREGOYD AND TREM ENLI:
There were two field trips to Wales that included me in the list of
participants; one was to the Black Mountains and the Tregoyd Guesthouse, the
other to Towyn where we stayed in Trem Enli on the seafront. The two are
rather confused in my mind but I found the journal of the Towyn trip tucked away
in the loft. It bears the somewhat grandiose title The Geographical Trip to
Towyn by members of the lower fifth geography class. This is useful because it
dates the trip to 1958. Furthermore the date of our departure from Farnborough
is given as May 17th.
We appear to have visited Borth, The Happy Valley, Aberystwyth, The Devils Bridge, Cader Idris, Maentwrog hydro plant, and the slate quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog. The slate quarries and Cader Idris I remember, the rest is a blur. But one incident stands out. A mixed school was booked in to the guesthouse at the same time as us. One of our more enterprising geographers arranged to meet one of the girls after hours. The intended assignation came to the attention of one of the other partys teachers who burst into the common room (as Buddy Holly was Raving On from a tatty record player, I think) and uttered a vicious rant ending in and if I catch any of you lot messing about with my girls then Ill splurge your eyes out. One cant be sure of the exact wording but splurge and eyes out were definitely part of the tirade. Obviously the other party came from an uncouth part of the country. This was confirmed when one of the boys called out from the communal showers AAAAAGH, Git orff me knob. While one might sympathise, none of our lads could ever have uttered such a cry. (As if).
Theres little in my journal of interest and the comment at the end concludes with but you have missed out many important details. 32/50. Important to whom, might I ask? I regarded the whole trip as a holiday.
Can anyone accurately date the Black Mountain trip? Was it before or after the Towyn excursion? The trip itself is described very well elsewhere on this site so theres very little to add. I couldnt help noticing from the photo collection that the coach we travelled in was a classic Bedford OB, so beloved of the directors of mid-twentieth century period dramas. Another point – the lighting was by gas mantles fed from a methane-producing plant that used, err, shall we call it household waste. This gave rise to endless vulgar remarks concerning the performance of ones natural functions.
The long, bitterly cold walk in the hills is unforgettable. When the weather got worse, my hands were so nearly frozen it took about ten minutes to fasten the three buttons on my plastic mac. Fortunately we came through unscathed but it may have been a narrow escape. Makes a great story, though.
I believe our room slept four, Anthony Fish being one of us but who were the other two? One night Anthony woke to wonder why anyone would be mowing the lawn in the dark. Turned out it was me snoring. One evening as a result of some horseplay, I put a small hole in the side of a miserable excuse for a clothes cupboard. It wouldnt have happened if it had been made of something other than asbestos cement tacked to wooden battens and fronted by a shabby curtain. Next evening John Attree (Mister Attree to the likes of us) announced in serious tones that a wardrobe in one of our rooms had been completely ruined. I laughed and then choked, realising it was our room that was meant. Call that a wardrobe? My indignation persists to this day.
A long overnight rail trip took us across Northern Europe for a week in Switzerland but when was it? Anyone who knows please help here. It must have been after the Welsh trips. During the journey many of us moved further back along the train to find empty compartments to lie down in. At some point in the early hours we stopped for a while and a lot of clanking was heard which was determinedly ignored. Next morning it was found that all the carriages behind the one we had slept in had been disconnected. Another lucky escape.
The first evening, the weather being calm and fine, three or maybe four of us hired a boat to row over the nearby lake to the opposite shore. No problem. The wind, and with it the waves, got up on the way back, scaring us not a little. We made it. Anthony Fish was again involved in this adventure.
There was much consternation when we found the sleeping arrangements to be two boys to a double bed. Nothing untoward occurred - as far as Im concerned, anyway. But some of the younger boys took delight in asking a certain new master (about whom there lingered a small cloud of suspicion) to tuck them up at bedtime. I seem to remember a trace of a blush was seen on the cheek of Sir.
Mostly Ive forgotten about the rest of the trip except that the hotel was a temperance one and various bottles were smuggled in to be hidden under dirty laundry in the back of our wardrobes. These provided welcome comfort last thing in the evening after wed returned from the tavern.
One final thing – there was a brilliant rail trip through a sub-Alpine tunnel (the Simplon) to Northern Italy. I have to confess to feeling terribly sophisticated when I ordered spaghetti for lunch.
1) Huntley and Palmers biscuit factory in Reading. I have an idea that Smudge Smith was a group leader on this one. Train from Farnborough North at a guess. The nibbles were nice.
2) An outing to the Opera to see Tannhauser – a rather unsuitable show for impressionable adolescents. Google it if you dont believe me. All I can recall is that the brass was so loud that it hurt. Ive never liked Wagner since, the alluring subject notwithstanding.
3) A visit to the Vauxhall plant in Luton. While we were traipsing about - a little bored, perhaps – some light relief was provided by a beaten-up and filthy Morris van that was used to collect rubbish from around the factory.
The Combined Cadet Force
More than anything else, the CCF taught me the art of skiving. My family has certain military connections and I have great respect for all three services. In a minor way, Ive even done some work for the military. But I was never cut out to take orders from anyone.
So after the drudge of Cert. A part 1, I elected to take the Friday afternoon truck to the REME depot in Aldershot to study for Cert. T so that I could join the MT section. I well recall the sudden exodus over the tailboard if and when the lorry pulled up at the traffic lights in town. Sadly no use to me as a Farnborough dweller. Still, the course was interesting and often good fun. On graduating, however, a black cloud loomed
Sadly it was known that I had a practical interest in radio – that was one of the disadvantages of living next door to The Major. I was TOLD to join the signals section under Cpt. Wilson. Now at long last youll get to hear how our shaky relationship came to a head. For some reason, the way the Army went about using radios bored me silly so I did no work at all. While with the signals group, one of those field days on Army land was held. I was issued with one of those appalling 38 sets which were heavy, awkward and had a very limited range (at least the clapped-out relics we had did). Wandering off until safely unable to communicate, I found a sheltered spot in which to contemplate nature and doze for a couple of hours. No one missed me.
At the end of the term, or year, or whatever it was, we were told that revision for the exam would take place each lunchtime for a week. But Sir I objected, I go home to lunch and wont be able to get back in time. This evoked a very stern look from the good Captain and the threat that anyone who didnt turn up for revision wouldnt be allowed to sit the exam. I didnt take kindly to that but it gave me a great out. I didnt attend either the revision or the exam. When the inevitable inquest took place I merely said but Sir, you said if I didnt go to the revision sessions then I couldnt take the exam. He was over the proverbial barrel and hardly spoke to me from that day on. What an irritating brat I must have been but it does run in the family.
From then on I joined the MT section and got to ride the Bantam and have a crack at driving the chassis – more about that in a minute. Good old Tom Pascoe diplomatically ignored my presence and if any Top Brass appeared Id skulk round a corner and theyd pretend I was invisible.
As for that motorised chassis – what a lethal contraption it was. An open chassis from a van or small truck with some of those tubular steel and canvas chairs secured to the back for passengers. The danger was the accelerator pedal. With no floor panel, it was possible to push the throttle too far and the mechanism would go over top dead centre so to speak. If this happened the breaks wouldnt restrain the mad career so it was then necessary to slide forward in the seat to get a toe under the pedal and drag it back. It happened to me once and it was a terrifying experience, I can tell you. I saw someone else have the same trouble when hurtling round the top field. Who it was I dont know but I remember the heart-stopping vision of the full-tilt flight towards the new science block. The driver was a hero and managed to get the thing under control and halted just a few feet from disaster. Definitely not compatible with Elfin Safe Tea.
A Few More Random Recollections
THE CONVENT GIRL who joined us for applied maths must have been keen to study the subject. After the initial shock she was accepted and became part of the class but to start with she must have had ba no, I mean she must have been quite brave.
BARRY JAMES: sadly I missed the actual fall down the stairwell but arrived shortly afterwards to admire the significant dent in the handrail. How on earth did he manage to hit that rather than dropping straight down to come to grief on the solid floor beneath? He mustve grabbed at something on his way down but it was little short of miraculous.
THE UPSTAIRS LIBRARY: after the library was moved above the hall we were allowed to sit at the tables set out in the dormer-window alcoves during free periods. Supposedly we were there to study and to prepare homework. There was, however, a most amusing trick to play on the master in charge. Norman Styles in all probability. It was possible to hum at the resonant frequency of the alcove and, if three or four did it at once, a weirdly pulsating and unlocatable sound would fill the whole room. Such innocent fun. The game would finally be given away by one of the hummers yielding to a fit of the giggles so we had to stop.
AN EXPLOSION NEAR COVE GREEN: A keen junior chemist called Stephens or Stephenson, who Im told was also an enthusiastic photographer, lived on Cove Road facing the Green. You should also know that his house was next to a small police station. One day he invited a few of us into his parents kitchen to witness an interesting experiment. The experiment didnt go entirely according to plan. There was a deafening explosion and nasty bits of whatever the concoction consisted of were splattered all over the ceiling. His mother, enraged and possibly fearing a full-scale police raid, chased us all out with threats of stern retribution. We were never asked to visit again.
There are more bits and pieces I could ramble on about but I feel Ive said enough. If you managed to struggle through all the above, many thanks. I do hope you enjoyed reading it at least half as much as I enjoyed writing it. It surprised me both how much I can remember and yet how many complete blanks there are. If there are any of those gaps you can fill, please write in.
Once school days were over, I walked into the sunset never to return. Would I welcome any reunions with my contemporaries? Hard to say. Sometimes these things go badly. After ten minutes of exchanging summaries of the past fifty odd years conversation falters and dries up. Nothing in common anymore. But then again, maybe itd be fun to talk over old and so-called happy times. If you feel moved to try, let me know via Malcolm.
Ian Johnson : February 2011