Back to Schooldays

I don’t remember what my parents wanted for me. I know the ‘system’ wanted me to go to Goffs but I was only ever interested in going to St Mary’s where my big sister had been for the past four years. I don’t recall any issues from my mum – my dad would have totally left the decision making to her – but I suppose having both of us at the same school made a lot of sense.

I recall my first day. Arriving in that new and pristine uniform and sitting on the dusty assembly hall floor. Teaming up with the others who had come from Goffs Oak JMI. Andi, Simon, Phil, Peter et al. Some I knew well (Simon and I had been friends for a while) others like Andi were from a different class and we just knew them from playtime and the sports field.

Then, like a dull and lifeless sorting hat, strange teachers split us into classes and soon, quite magically new friends are made. And what friends. When I review my current friendship circle it can be simply divided into three almost equal parts. Friends I have made in recent years since moving to Norfolk, Toc H friends, and school friends. Loads of them. We don’t see that much of each other these days but the bonds are strong and when we do catch up it’s as if we haven’t been apart.

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If you look back on the poetry I wrote between 1974 and 1981 you might think I hated my school days. Certainly I went through a long and probing questioning of life, the universe and everything. However, despite the angst and stress, those really were some of the best days of my life. This post is just a fleeting glimpse at some of the highlights of my time at St Mary’s. Some will be revisited I’m sure; other memories, currently suppressed, will doubtless be suddenly restored and shared.

And it seems I’ll skip year one, our time as 1T in the science block with Mr Tait as our form master. I suppose that was our bedding in year. It was year two, under the newly arrived Miss Britton, that my memories come to life. We were in a room on the second floor of the old block – Lordship wasn’t it – above the library. The desks were those classic wooden ones with a lifting lid, a ridge for pens, and a little ink-well. Here Alphaball was born. We were 2 Alpha (They changed the system from teacher’s initial to Alpha/A, Beta/B, Gamma/C that year) hence the name of this new sport. I think Richard Davies, also newly arrived at the school, was central to its creation, and perhaps Paul Webb? In simple terms you sat with two of these wooden desks back to back. One player let a marble roll down his lifted lid, the opposing player allowed it to roll along his before lifting his own lid and returning it. Points were scored by getting the marble to settle in your opponent’s pen ridge, or even better to fall into their ink well. However, the fun came from the ability to maximise your score by using your lid to fire the marble at your opponent or over his head. Spectators and Passers-by were thus drawn into the game through being struck by a glass marble moving at 40mph. Did anyone lose an eye? I think not.

That same year – and how it haunts me today – we debated whether the UK should remain in the EEC which it had joined just a few years earlier. I’m pretty sure I debated the same when then as I do today but my memory is cloudy on the details. I’m sure Tony was one of the strong voices though I don’t remember which way then.

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Speaking of new arrivals at the school, at some point (Perhaps when we were in the fourth year?), a new physics teacher arrived in the shape of Mr Samuels. Our relationship with him was struck at our first meeting when – having been introduced by Mr Tait – he set us some work and then announced he was going into the staff room behind the physics lab to “have a ferret in the cupboard”. He was never allowed to forget that poor choice of phrase. A couple of years later he very nearly made me the first sixth former to ever be put in detention. Having nipped over the Green Dragon on a snowy winter lunchtime, Tony and I were coming into the physics class with a couple of concealed snowballs. Tony sent his flying towards Mr Samuel and it smashed against the blackboard startling the teacher so he started to turn meaning my lobbed ball of squeezed mush caught him right on his earole. I was instantly thrown in detention and had to beg for most of the lesson to prevent it happening.

Physics clearly features heavily in my memories because I am reminded of trip to the Science Museum when we were in the 4th, 5th and 6th form. I think we must have gone several times because it became a progressive event. The first trips were quite standard where we trooped off the coach out front of the museum and respectably paraded around the exhibits, usually the basement where all the active, participatory displays were. Later, I recall we trooped off the coach through the front door of the museum and immediately decanted through a side door to the Toy and Hoop where we played pool for a couple of hours before we reversed our path and climbed back on the coach cramming our mouths with Polo mints.

Posted on St Mary's facebook group by Andrew White

Another trip, not physics but basketball, organised by the delightful Kim, a games teacher fresh out of college and not much older than us. Having helped us establish or develop basketball in the school (It still wasn’t that common back in 1979/80) took us to see the Harlem Globetrotters at Wembley Arena. Her boyfriend Dave – a policeman I believe – came along to help and bless his heart, took us directly to the bar on arrival at the Arena. l I don’t think Kim was too happy with him that night!

Basketball was also at the heart of some fab memories a couple of years running when Helen Morgan and I started the 24 hour basketball marathons at St Mary’s to raise money for charity. We got loads of help from the usual suspects and raised a fair old whack but had a lot of fun doing it too. What pleased me most is that those marathons carried on for years afterwards.

So there you go, a few fleeting memories of seven years of my life amongst some of the loveliest people in the world. If you are reading this and you are one of those people, I love you loads!

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