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When I started school, in 1947, the statutory school leaving age was 14 and the village school catered for boys and girls from 5 to 14. There were about 60 of us, housed in two rooms. A small room to the rear of the building catered to children up to 8, the large main hall was divided by a heavy blue curtain into classes for 8-11 and 12-14. When the leaving age increased to 15 in 1948, a bright new prefabricatred glass and aluminium building was erected behind the school. This then became the infants (5-7) class and the small room that had been the infants class now became the home of 8-11 year olds. This meant that I and all the children my age remained in the same room for 4 years, although we had a change of teaher half way through the period. Morning assemblies and prayers for everyone took place in the large room.
The building also included the head teacher’s home and a kitchen – we were provided with a hot meal at 1pm every day. All of this meant that the school timetable was the same for everyone: 9am to 3pm with a break of 15 minutes at 11am and an hour for lunch between 1 and 2pm.
A large house at the edge of the village had been taken over by the government during the war to provide offices for some department or other. Now it was given to the Education Authority in order to create a Secondary Modern school serving the wider area. All children over 11 who had not passed the entrance exam for the High School in Hereford would in future attend this school.
I did pass the entrance exam but travel to Hereford presented a problem and my mother set about investigating alternatives.
Meanwhile life at home continued to be more or less idyllic for my sister and I. There were exceptions. I remember, when I was about 6 and my sister a toddler, how I almost blinded her. Between our coal heap and the hen house there was a clump of nettles. One day I decided that I was going to chop these weeds down. I had seen adults wielding a sickle – an implement called a “bill hook” in that time and place – to undertake such tasks. No such article being available I took what to me was the next best thing which also happened to be nearby – the small tin shovel we used to shovel coal from the pile into a galvanised bucket to take indoors. Swinging the shovel at the nettles with wild abandon I was unaware that my sister’s curiosity had caused her to come close behind me. So it was that the sharp corner of the shovel came into violent contact with the corner of her right eye.
There followed several moments of uproar during which my mother sought both to calm my distraught sister and treat her injury whilst berating me for my stupidity and thoughtlessness.
I was guilty of another display of the same stupidity on my mother’s 32 nd birthday, a July day in 1949. Because it was her birthday I thought it would be a good idea to rise early and bring her a cup of tea in bed. And, because it was her birthday, I should make it in her best china teapot. At 7 years old, I knew how to set about making tea – I’d probably done it once or twice before.
A concrete apron at the front of the house was separated from the cobbled yard by a concreted shallow channel that allowed rain water to escape to a drain near the gable end of the house. When making tea it was routine to warm the pot by pouring a small quantity of hot water into it, swirling this around, then throwing the hot water into the channel. Imagine my horror when, whilst performing this operation, my mother’s best china teapot, much heavier than the small brown one I was used to, slipped from my hands and shattered on the concrete.
You must imagine, too, as to my shame I never did until recently, my mother awaking on her 32nd birthday. She has lived in this rural slum of a cottage for more than 7 years now. Her mother has been dead for more than a year. She is alone, her friends and relations all many miles away and mostly unconcerned for her plight, stuck here, miles from any source of solace such as a cinema or a shop where she might purchase something other than the bare essentials for living.
There is only the wireless and her library books for company. She has responsibility for two small children and little money. How has she come to this pass? More to the point, how can she find a way to escape from it? She is 32, half her life is over and there is nothing to look forward to with anything like hopeful anticipation. And then that stupid boy smashes one of her few treasured posessions, a teapot handed down from her grandmother. (Actually, I am being fancifull here – I have no idea of the provenance of the teapot.)
She came for me, still in her nightgown, wielding a stick. I ran. Now imagine my own grief on realising that an attempt to do something good, kind and well meaning had ended in this way. I was destraught.
Meanwhile, there was an election due in May of 1987 for Cleethorpes Borough Council, in all probability followed soon after by a Genereal Election. We had found a replacement for Gavin, a young man who gave up his job in financial services and bought a house in the constituency in order to work full time, unpaid, for the party.
Now that I was technically out of work, I agreed to work alongside him doing all we could to promote the Party’s message, finding and helping candidates for the Borough Council. Our constituency chair person, a lecturer at Leeds University, ran a series of training days at her home. A few days after I left my job a by-election was called for the port town of Immingham, which was a part of Cleethorpes Borough. We threw a good deal of hard work into that by-election, building a team around the candidate, and secured the seat.
For the first four months of 1987 we continued to work hard. As agent for about 40 candidates, including myself, it was my job to ensure that the rules about spending and publicity were properly adhered to. The spreadsheet programme proved very handy for the task, and the Word Processor (“Locoscript”) was good for producing leaflets on the Amstrad’s tiny 9pin dot matrix printer. We used it to produce masters which were then taken to an offset litho printing company to be reproduced.
The end result was that we increased our representation on the council, becoming the largest party. With support from the handful of Independent members we could have taken charge. The Independents, however, refused that support, allowing Conservative and Labour members combine to deny us the opportunity. They had all been in office for many years and, I suppose, were not prepared to have a bunch of new-comers with radical ideas break up their cosy arrangement.
I was now a member of two councils. Would there be a General Election? Given the success of Alliance candidates across the country, which matched similar results a year earlier, and several Parliamentary by-elections, I doubted it. I booked us a holiday for a week in Jersey to coincide with Freda’s birthday at the beginning of the second week in June. Margaret Thatcher had other ideas, however, and called the election for the Thursday of the following week. We postponed the holiday until afterwards and redoubled our efforts at promoting our candidate.
Two issues dominated the election locally and I had some degree of involvement with both. A few years before there had been a proposal that low level Nuclear Waste could be stored on a site belonging to the national power generation company, CEGB. There was a campaign against the proposal locally. I was one of several hundred people who took part in a protest march and demonstration.
That scheme was quietly shelved but there were now rumours that the site might be used for the construction of a nuclear power station. On one of our trips to Germany I had taken a photograph of a nuclear power station we passed on the banks of the Rhine. Now, for one of two tabloid newspapers we produced during the election, I superimposed that photograph on one of the CEGB site. Remember, this was done with actual cut and paste – no photoshop or any of the other software we are used to today.
The other issue concerned education. Before I and my 3 Liberal colleagues were elected to the council, a plan had been devised by the council, and approved by the government’s Department of Education, to reorganise the school system in Hull. Liberals in Hull had opposed it, arguing that staff and parents had not been adequately consulted. We wanted to have the plan re-examined but were unable to do so because the DoE would not agree to re-open it. When plans to reorganise Grimsby and Ceethorpes schools were under consideration we determined that there would be full consultation and local views would be listened to.
The background to this was two fold. Across most of England at that time – and still today to the best of my knowledge – schools are in two phases, primary for 5 to 11 year olds, and secondary for 11 to 16 and 18 year olds. When Humberside was created, by the merger of several other councils, the arrangements in Hull and in Grimsby (though not in Cleethorpes) consisted of infants for 5 to 8 year olds, junior, or middle, for 9 to 13 year olds, and senior for 13 to 16 & 18 year olds. The plan in both cases was to close all these schools and replace them with new primary and secondary schools and a sixth form college.
The other problem this plan was intended to solve was the reduction in school age population as the 60s “baby boom” worked its way through the system. The authority was under pressure from the government to remove so called “surplus places” in order to make the system more efficient, reducing the cost per pupil of running the service.
Following the extensive consultation process (a source of many of the additional meetings I was having to attend) the draft plan had been published. The only controversial aspect was a proposal to close the smallest of the secondary schools in Cleethorpes Borough. We opposed this although, hitherto, both Labour and Conservatives on the council were in favour. Labour selected, as their candidate for the election, the Chairman of the council. He did not take long to state that Labour would now oppose the plan to close that school.
Not withstanding a hard fought campaign, the conservative candidate was re-elected with roughly the same majority as previously, our candidate coming second. This pattern was followed across the country and the Thatcher government was returned with a marginally reduced majority in Parliament.
A few days ago Stevie Turner posted on this subject, taking her cue from an earlier post by Colline Kook-Chun. It inspired me to think about some of the events that influenced the direction my life has taken.
- My father’s death in action in 1943. Had he survived the war, who knows what my life would have been like? I would probably have been brought up as a Londoner, since both parents were from there. I certainly would not have gone, at age 10¾ to a boarding school established for boys who had lost one or both parents. The school still exists, although the majority of pupils these days pay expensive fees. I shall be back there later this year celebrating 60 years since I left. Thanks to modern technology, many of my contemporaries communicate regularly with each other despite being scattered in different parts of the world.
- Meeting my wife in the summer of 1961. I was 19, she 16. I proposed in the early hours of December 27th, as I walked her home from the Boxing Night dance. We kept our engagement secret until her 17th birthday in June 1962 and were married in September 1963.
- Discovering, in the spring of 1965 as we moved into our first new house, that she was pregnant. We had not planned to start a family quite so soon but our son brought a new phase in our lives as a family unit and, as you will discover below, led to us coming to live in Ireland.
- Joining the staff at the Engineering HQ of a large corporation in the summer of 1968. That took me to South Africa and eventually to East Lincolnshire. Altogether I worked for over 18 years for that corporation and the pension I paid into now provides about 1/3rd of my annual income. It also led to:
- Being elected to Humberside County Council in May 1985. I was one of 4 Liberals elected that year. The other two parties had 35 and 36 members so we held the ‘balance of power’, able to veto any proposal from either of the other parties. I like to think we used this power wisely. It was certainly extremely time consuming because, in order to do the job, we had to be represented on every committee, sub-committee and working party.
My employer was extraordinarily generous with allowing me time off to do this, but after a year and a half I was offered the choice: cut down on your council activities or take redundancy. The redundancy offer was generous and I accepted, having visions of a new career as a writer and politician. After working, unpaid, for the party in the run-up to the 1987 General Election I needed to find some alternative source of income which takes us to:
- Our shop. We decided that, since Freda had worked all of her life in shops, latterly as manager of a charity shop, we should set up our own shop. I would look after the administration whilst she worked ‘front of house’. I researched the market and decided that Cleeethorpes could benefit from having a quality glass, china and giftware outlet. A unit was available in a building belonging to a kitchen design specialist who had his show-room upstairs. This seemed like an excellent fit. I talked to potential suppliers, put together a business plan and everything looked promising until the building went on sale. The owner’s plan to increase his income by creating and letting units had not worked out. Any thought that the new owner might still be interested in having us as a tenant was dashed when planning permission to open a fast food outlet was applied for.
The next premises we looked at meant a complete change of plan. It was a moderately successful food retailer. The owner, a chef, prepared a range of chilled ready-meals in a kitchen at the back which he sold in the shop, alongside the usual deli-type goods and speciality foods. His recipes had been so successful that he had taken a small factory unit in Grimsby and wanted someone to take on the retail business, with him continuing to supply the popular ready meals. We opened in September and did great business in the run up to Christmas. Then the chef lost a big contract and had to close the unit so we lost our main supplier. We struggled on for the next few months but the risk involved in food retailing is enormous and we just could not compete with the supermarkets who were starting to develop their own deli counters and chilled ready meals.
I got a part-time job writing business profiles for a regional business magazine but in the May 1989 election I lost my council seat and returned to my original career as an Engineer.
- Our son’s marriage in 1993. His wife is Irish and in due course they moved to Dublin with their daughter. So, when considering retirement options in 2006, moving to Ireland to be near them was a ‘no brainer’. More than eleven years on we are still here, enjoying life in a small Irish country town where we have met many new friends, some through the writing group to which I belong, and some through the support centre for people touched by cancer where we both volunteer.
At the end of Stevie’s post are two questions, originally posed by Colline. Here they are, with my answers:
- Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s… a Ryanair jet bringing home the owner of the Grand National winning horse and offering free drinks to all the passengers
- What music do you like: Jazz, Folk, Rock, Blues, Broadway/West End Musical scores.
Thanks, Colline and Stevie, for the inspiration. I wonder how many of my followers will be tempted to follow suit?
Portlaoise College is a dual purpose establishment, both a secondary school and a further education college. Back in 2007 I attended evening classes in painting there. At that time it was the newest of Portlaoise’s education campuses, having been constructed the previous year. More recently all of Portlaoise’s secondary schools have been housed in new buildings on a campus on the other side of town. This post is about the activities of a group of students and teachers from Portlaoise college’s secondary school facility and draws on a story from one of the town’s weekly newspapers.
Secondary Education in Ireland ends with two certificates: the Junior Certificate of Education, examined at age 16, and a two year Leaving Certificate curriculum examined at 18 or 19. These school certificates are roughly equivalent to the UK’s General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) and ‘A’ levels. Between completing Junior Cert and embarking upon Leaving Cert studies students in Ireland have the opportunity to undertake a Transition Year (TY). This combines continuing study of core subjects with a variety of extra-curricular activities designed to act as a bridge between the two academic programmes.
At Portlaoise college the TY programme has, over the last few years, included a field trip to the Gambia where students and their teachers carry out work improving the facilities at a community school. This year they also provided a vital piece of equipment for a hospital in the same locality.
The list of students participating in this project is indicative of the diverse nature of the population of Portlaoise. Five of the sixteen students who participated have names suggesting their parents originated from Eastern Europe.
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When I last tackled this subject I was focusing on the narrowing gap between earnings and pensions in the UK. I concluded that it was not something to get over excited about. There are, however, other more serious forms of generational theft, as one of my commenters on that post reminded me. Two of them came to attention this week.
My generation and that of my son have, by our excess consumption, created a world in which our grand children and their children will be faced by enormous difficulties. Resource and commodity shortages are already responsible for wars which will inevitably continue and become more widespread as time goes on. Whilst many of our rivers are less polluted than they were a generation ago, this is largely down to the demise of mining and heavy industries in Western Europe and North America. The imposition of levies on the sale of plastic bags and exhortations to recycle paper, plastic and metal have yet to have a significant impact on the tonnage of such waste cluttering our seas.
Driving around the Irish countryside over the past few days is to see monster machines engaged in the harvesting of grass for silage and the subsequent spreading of slurry on the fields. The unsavoury odours that greet you as you encounter such activities are evidence of agriculture’s contribution to global warming gases. The potential for pollution of water courses by the application of fertilisers is supposedly limited by strict controls on the timing of such applications. Controls which, incidentally, will no longer apply in the UK once her exit from the EU is achieved, one of many rules and regulations which will need to be re-incorporated into UK laws if the farming lobby can be placated.
Which brings me to Donald Trump’s unsurprising decision to withdraw the USA from the Paris Agreement. This is surely a measure aimed at an older generation of US citizens nostalgic for the return of mining and heavy industry. Of course, those jobs are unlikely to return. But we will see an increase in the highly polluting activity of fracking and a continuation of the long distance transport of oil with the concomitant dangers of pipeline leakage, rail car derailments and sea borne tanker groundings.
The second example of inter-generational conflict was exemplified by a programme on the BBC earlier in the week, in which two groups of people were brought together to discuss issues pertinent to the UK general election. One group consisted of under 30s, the other of over 60s. One contribution in particular caught my attention. An elderly gentleman in the audience pointed out that not only did he have free university tuition but he also received a maintenance grant. Once his education was completed he was able to purchase a house costing around three times his salary. Today’s UK graduates not only leave university burdened with debt, they will be lucky to find a house costing less than ten times what they are able to earn.
It struck me that no-one mentioned the fact that the elderly gent was one of fewer than 10% of youngsters who went to university in those days, whilst the majority learned on the job and studied for a professional qualification in their ‘spare’ time. Now we push close to 50% into academia.
I couldn’t help wondering if policy makers had focused more on building homes and less on university campuses might we be less likely to be facing a housing shortage? If the same policy makers had encouraged practical skills instead of academic achievement might we be less reliant on immigrant labour? And if parents had been left to get on with the business of raising children instead of packing them off to be cared for by people with sociology degrees so that both parents could go out to work, might we have fewer disaffected young people?
I’ve known for a long time that my generation, the one that reached adulthood in the sixties, was the lucky generation. I am now coming to realise that we and our children are guilty of taking far too many of the planet’s resources and putting back little of real value.