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What do boys at boarding school do when they are not in lessons? In our case it was a mixture of sport and the same kinds of things that pupils at day schools will do when they get home.
Every evening there was “prep” – the equivalent of homework – in which we would undertake assigned tasks in one or two subjects from the academic curriculum. Unlike homework, this took place at a set time every weekday and was supervised. From 6:30pm until 7:30pm we would be confined to our classrooms, overseen by a senior pupil – a prefect or monitor (in effect a junior prefect).
These boys were permitted to administer corporal punishment to any boy whose behaviour threatened the discipline of the class. This usually took the form of strokes administered to the hand using a 12 inch wooden ruler. The least painful version of this punishment was inflicted on the palm of the hand with the flat of the ruler. This merely stung a little. A more severe form would be the edge of the ruler which contained the possibility of bruising to the base of the fingers or thumb. Woe betide anyone foolish enough to withdraw his hand at the last second as the ruler descended. Most of the older boys were wise to that trick and would lift the ruler up to catch the back of the victim’s hand as he stuck it out again.
And then there were “twitzers”. This required the victim to hold his hand out with finger tips together and pointing skywards. The edge of the ruler would then be brought down with some force momentarily numbing the finger tips of the victim.
For boys in first and second year, homework was followed by bedtime. We were allowed to read in bed until “lights out” at 9pm. Older boys had a later bedtime which allowed for other occupations and hobbies, including listening to music as previously described, games such as Monopoly or Mah Jong, indoor sports like squash, and model making.
I have already mentioned that we attended Church services twice on Sundays. In between, our time was mostly our own to indulge in such hobbies. My preferred activity was reading. We had access to the more upmarket of the Sunday newspapers and there were plenty of books available to borrow from the school library. On alternate Sundays the barber would come to the school and set jup in one of the classrooms. On those Sundays, queueing for a haircut occupied what seemed like far too long a part of the day. Sunday was also the day when, twice each term, we were allowed visits. This provided an opportunity to leave the school grounds and explore the nearby towns of Cobham, Esher and Kingston-upon-Thames.
Two afternoons each week were set aside for soccer or Rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer. The school fielded teams in inter-school competitions with other private schools in the county and Saturday afternoons would often require the rest of the school population to support the first fifteen from the touch line or the first eleven from the edge of the cricket field.
Some time after a new head teacher was appointed, hockey was introduced. The new Head had been a member of the England hockey team in the 1948 Olympic games and was passionate about the game.
Whenever the sports pitches were deemed unsuitable for playing, cross country runs would take place. I found that distance running was an activity I enjoyed more than any of the other sports. Every summer there was an athletics competition for which little if any proper preparation took place. Sprints, middle distance running, long and high jumps, throwing of javelin, discus and shot putt all featured on the annual sports day.
Another pastime was boy scouts for younger boys and the army cadet force for older ones. In scouts we learned different knots, fieldcraft and first aid and occasionally camped out under canvas in the school grounds. In the ACF we drilled, learned how to dismantle, clean and reassemble rifles and machine guns; had days out at the army’s firing ranges and, in the summer of 1957, a one week camp at an army base near Portsmouth during which we took part in mock battles as well as all the usual drilling and tests of marksmanship. For me one of the most memorable features of this week was a day trip across the Solent to Rhyde on the Isle of Wight and the opportunity to swim in the sea at Stokes Bay.
More about my role in Courtaulds at Grimsby and our family life in Cleethorpes.
The capital projects section carried out a range of projects from a few thousand pounds in value to several tens of thousands. The inception of a project would occur when one of the factory Engineers or Production Managers submitted a “pink form”. This would describe the proposed development, list the expected benefits including the financial savings expected to accrue. Actually, the process would have begun even before that with production teams being asked to prepare an annual “wish list” with ball park costings. From this a budget request would be submitted. The list would be pruned/prioritised to arrive at an approved budget for the year.
The pink form would be passed to one of us Project Engineers. Generally the subject would have to have been included in the approved budget, unless it was something deemed to be urgent. In that case something would need to be removed from the budget to compensate. We would then discuss it with the originator to ensure we understood exactly what was in mind. If necessary we’d then get one of the contract draughtsmen who worked for us to do a preliminary design, we’d then obtain quotations from specialist contractors and/or specialist equipment suppliers, and discuss with our small team of craftsmen the number of labour hours required to carry out the work.
With the likely cost of implementation thus arrived at, the pink form plus estimate would be submitted to the board. This was a time when interest rates were very high by present standards so the saving expected to accrue had to be sufficient to recover the cost in a pretty short time. If it failed, the pink form would be rejected. If the expected financial return was deemed satisfactory – or if the project was considered essential for health and/or safety reasons – it would be approved.
The next stage would be to work up the design and estimate in more detail and submit a “voucher” request. Once approved, the “voucher” authorised the necessary expenditure. It now became the responsibility of the Project Engineer to oversee the execution of the work – purchasing equipment and materials, authorising labour and arranging with the Production team for access to the area of plant where the work was due to take place. Usually this would mean timing the work to happen on a day when a maintenance shut down was scheduled – sometimes on more than one such occasion.
If the work ended up costing more than the estimate, the overspend had to be authorised and detailed explanations provided. The same applied to failure to meet the expected timetable. Both things meant that the expected financial return would not be realised. There was, sometimes, pressure to keep the estimate low in order to ensure approval, but that came with the risk of an over-spend.
Meanwhile Freda and Ian settled into their new environment, Ian in school and Freda with a job as manager of a charity shop. Now long since renamed “Scope”, the Spastics Society had a chain of shops around the country that took in pre-owned clothing for re-sale in order to raise funds to support people with cerebral palsy and their families. Locally donated clothing was sent to a regional sorting centre to be redistributed. In this way potential customers would be unlikely to come across a garment that had once belonged to someone they knew. Ian joined the local scout group and his mother and I resumed our activities in support of the group.
This included, in the autumn of 1980, the Lyke Wake Walk. A forty mile long trek across the North Yorkshire Moors, from the village of Osmotherly to the coast at Robin Hood Bay, this was accomplished in 20 hours, commencing at 10pm on a Friday night. The walkers, myself included, stopped for food and a rest at around 6am. This is where Freda had an important role: accompanied by a couple of other mothers she travelled by road to the camp site where they set up a field kitchen to cook a “full English” breakfast.
We walkers set off again at about 9am, reaching Robin Hoods Bay at 6pm. The first part, though mostly up hill, had been largely through woodland. After the break we were on the moors proper, an area of raised peat bog which sucked one’s boots into a substance resembling treacle, necessitating many detours onto firmer ground not previously trodden by the many walkers that accepted the challenge to complete the walk.
The “Mums” had set up camp in a field overlooking the town of Robin Hoods Bay and the North Sea where we once again enjoyed a hearty meal before a night’s sleep in tents. I’m sure there were visits to public houses at each end of the walk as well! The journey from Cleethorpes to Osmotherly on Friday, and return from Robin Hoods Bay on Sunday, was accomplished by coach.
Not long afterwards I learned about a small group of volunteers planning to start a talking newspaper for visually impaired people in the district and decided to offer my expertise gained with Coventry Community Broadcasting Service. Naturally they were in urgent need of funds so I volunteered to undertake a sponsored walk. This I did, from Immingham to Louth, a distance of some 20 miles, in the summer of 1981. By which time I was becoming increasingly involved in local politics.
Coming next week – a group of MPs resign from their party and I embark on a decade of political activism.