I will never change.

My first memories as a child are rarely positive ones, or even happy ones, in the main. I remember the taste and feel of bitten off paint fragments as I gnawed with bright fresh front teeth on the edge of my cot as a very young child. Also I recall, again during babyhood, a vivid memory of noticing how the pointed hat of my clown dolly had changed to a round shape over night. It seems I used to suck the pointy titfer and make it soggy so my mother changed the clown’s hat shape and probably ruined my favourite comforter. I’m aware these are quite vivid recollections for one so young….perhaps not yet two years old….but they are deep memories! Baby blue cot paint and a red, blue and yellow clown.

Other memories are still with me from my childhood as I grew and an outstanding feature of many of them, has to be, I must say, a feeling of insecurity, fright and, sadly, unhappiness. The rowing and squabbling. Listening intently, with heart thumping, over the bannister rail, at unpleasant and harsh words.

As a young teenager I was given the attic as my own room. Great eh! Well during the day it was fine and I could spend many an hour doing sweet fek all with very little apart from paper, pencil and imagination. Yes, I had my vivid imagination to fill up time. Remember, it was 1960, well before toys and things had become more affordable and more readily available.

During the long nights though, eery shadows crept around my attic room of seeming solitary confinement. These spectral shadows were cast by the night time moon whose dim light ventured through the frosted glass of the tiny rooflight. These innocent and harmless shadows plagued this youngster’s vivid, childish and furtive thoughts.

Knowing that a previous occupant of the house, a sad recluse who had kept chickens in the loft space and who had hanged himself over the actual stairwell to my attic, using the very bannister rails at the foot of my bed, only gave me cause to fear the night. I saw ghosts, heard ghosts, felt ghosts and sweated night after night, sometimes waking from a nightmare, terrified and calling out for my parents to save me. The drip, drip, drip of the condensation from the pushup rod for the rooflight sounded like footsteps. I imagined those footsteps to be creeping around my room. I felt the icy hanging fingers of the cadaverous recluse reach into the freezing corners of my army blanketed and cotton sheeted creaky bed.

These regular and nightly experiences contributed highly, via a regularly disturbed sleep pattern, to my constant lethargy, unhappiness and only limited success at the grammar school.

Other vivid memories of childhood include the lack of love shown by my parents to each other and also to me. My four years younger sister got plenty of attention from my father. My mother used me as a weapon against my father (she used to claim that I was her favourite, seemingly to encourage him to compensate for my sister’s lack of maternal affection) Truth is however, that I do not recall an instance, ever, of my mother’s love; no hugs, kisses, cuddles or even kindly words. None. None at all. As for paternal affection, there was more chance of the ethereal spooks in the attic showering me with signs of love and affection. He managed to find a son he could adore once my brother, 11 years my younger, was born. I came in useful, for a while, as a baby minder, at that time, I seem to recall!

I recognise clearly that that need for warmth and love and affection has taken its toll on me as a young child, as an adolescent and, actually, throughout my life.

I think I’ve always had demons to conquer and I’ve known fears that ought not to have sat on young and formative shoulders.

I hated my parents rowing and bickering. I hated the atmosphere at home and I hated the feelings of unhappiness and despair that characterised my young years up until I was 18 and escaped to Teacher Training College in Twickenham, London, some 200 miles away from Colne in Lancashire.

So to now. Well, I’m still me. And I’m still here, some 68 years further on. I’ve a wonderful wife and four successful and accomplished children. I’ve had a fruitful and rewarding career in Education and I’ve hobbies a-plenty to amuse me in my retirement.

I did my utmost to ensure that my children lived in a loving home. I tried to give them security, love, affection and guidance as they grew up. No, I wasn’t always successful but I gave it my best. I believe that my kids know I loved them. I’m happy with that.

My childhood ghosties and ghoulies are long gone now but the unpleasant memories of my childhood unhappiness linger on. I suppose I’ll never get over them. I suppose you can’t, ever, get over a father who encouraged an 11 years younger brother to “find someone better to play with” rather than to play with me, or the thrashing I got from my mother, with a bamboo cane, for being home late from school as a 6 year old.

I learned from those years. They helped me become who I am. I can still get fearful. I still find my own adult demons to conquer and, worst of all, I still over-seek approval at home at times, rather than trust an unspoken acceptance of what I have done. I remember that I sought approval from my father and it never came. I still miss the father I never had.

I am still thrilled by and grateful for, the successes I’ve had as a Headteacher within my career and I still remain devastated when a lack of success over something or other looms on the horizon.

No. I’ll never change. And nor would I want to. We are the sum of our parts, both physical and emotional. We’re a product of our experiences. I have a myriad of experiences, gained throughout my lifetime, that I can recall now; mostly positive and some less so. 

 There ain’t no going back in life and truly, as it’s said, you really can choose your friends but you surely can’t choose your parents! 

ME 

Just as I was 

Is what I was 

And so may it just be 

Now what I am 

Is what I am 

And long still may it be 

What I will be 

Well who can see 

I just still hope I see it’s me

(April 2017)

Don’t let me get lost….

 

……Mosquitoes finally put the tin lid on the whole sorry experience as we

arrived in Corfu full of kids, creams and luggage planned to last for a fortnight. And they did. Corfu lasted, I understand it’s still there but I don’t intend to go back to check.

The kids lasted, in fact they’re all now in their 20s.

The creams, for tanning, stopping tanning, making pale, making better, and for soothing arse, all fulfilled their duties.

The luggage lasted too…Matalan’s best…

My skin didn’t last. Heat, humidity, horror and holes left it in sorry shreds.

Sophie, aka Double Dawkins, Soph and sometimes Chick, just about survived.

To Sophie first… I think it was the fault of Hercules. Yeah, actual Hercules. Herakles if you want to muscle in and get shirty.

It began in his shop on an old Corfu street, packed with tourists all offloading sweat and drachma like toy money for readily forgotten mementos.

Our Gipper was browsing shelves. I was watching our flock. And also watching Hercules.

He was the antithesis of Hercules. He was a caricature of a Hero and clearly named before either his body or sexuality had formed or his larynx had uttered a squeak.

He was short.

He was thin.

He was wiry.

He made Quentin Crisp look butch.

He made Julian Clary sound macho.

He featured in his own Greek Comedy.

He had spectacles, made a spectacle and I was fascinated.

The shelves had been gippered. Nowt had been bought and we meandered off out into the crowd.

Not having an abacus handy, I started counting kids. 1,2,3….one missing.

The Greek Comedy turned into a Tragedy, as, “Where is Soph?”, rang out in the Corfu midday heat.

I spied a Greek approaching. He was bearing  gifts, and, “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentis”, sprang into mind.

“I fear Greeks, especially when bearing gifts”, my old classics teacher, Eddie Bell, used to say proudly proclaiming that, “especially”, rather than “even”, was a preferred translation for “et”.

I digress.

Hercules, the Hero, was mincing jauntily and gaily down the street hand-in-hand with little Sophie!

He returned my Double Dawkins to the fold and we returned thanks to him and heaped lashings of recriminatory vacatory verbiage for our mishap onto each other.

Sophie blamed me and aimed an accurate right sandal at my shin and shouted, “Why did you let me get lost?”

It was a fair question tbh and I didn’t fancy saying it was because I had been mesmerised by a fruit called Hercules, especially since he had saved the day. Hercules the Fekin Hero.

The day we arrived in this Greek anti-Paradise of sahara, the largest organ on my body (don’t be silly, or smutty) entered a period of decline and disaster. Like I said, heat, humidity, horror and holes….

An ancient Euboean Spangoramménos (Scrooge), masquerading as an Apartment Owner, rudely greeted us and informed us that we had an apartment for 4.

4 knives. 4 forks. 4 spoons. 4 towels. 4 beds. 4 two weeks….4 crying out loud….(there were 6 of us)

Ya got the picture? He said that if we complained he’d call the Police. Probably a 4some of 4uzz….

We got on with enjoying the blistering heat often finding toilets that advertised, “Pee pees only, no shits”. I did wonder if that sign was intended for all or just the Tory Brits.

Anyway, what he didn’t grunt at us was that we had, “4 hours”, of evening electricity. He turned the power off at midnight. No insectocutors….

Cos of Spangoramménos my legs were eaten alive and converted into colanders: the holes.

The Heat was unbearable.

The dearth of non-too-tardis apartment was too much.

Almost losing Soph was heartstopping but  it was the….

Is it me? 

June 1949

Am I the one,

So small and young

Listening in

And feeling scared?

Raised voices

Empty looks

Toilet paper books

Jelly for sweets but money for beer

School for learning but only rote

Home for loving but only cold

Am I the one,

Bossed and told

Half empty

Hey, you!

No, you can’t

Am I the one,

Sunk in school

Counting trains

Watching stones

Feeling cold

Off to bed

Attic dark

Right at the top

Up the stairs and round the bend

Noises.

Quiet.

Beating heart.

Time for up

No sleep

Then on the train

Strap again. 3s again. Laughs again

Not with me but aimed at me.

Time to leave and growing up

My life

This is it

Different views and different moves

Different eyes and different folks

Different sights and thoughts

Me.

Ours.

Mine.

Theirs.

Share.

Different times.

They never knew

They never could

They never will

And nor will I

In times to come

Past and now is what I know

Future times will not be mine

Future times will not be me

Now is where I am

This is me.

June 2016

Thank you Pesky for the illustrations! 

The Hospice

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Thoughts after a Hospice visit

Who is this place for?
So warm and clean and ever just so.
For the person dying?
At the end.

Or for the living?
For the Volunteers
Doing their bit?
For free.

For the visitors,
For the family,
For friends?
Saying bye.

For the Padre/Vicar/Priest/Rabbi
Easing a journey over?
A trip to…
God knows where.

It’s not for me.
Keep me out.
Keep me away.
May I die in my own bed.

No onlookers.
No quieted room.
No disinfectant.
No Bible verses.

Just my thoughts.
Just my loved ones.
Just those.
Just
The End

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My Pill Boxes; Eight Years Gone and One Day Left

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                There’s One Day Left!!

In 2007 I was diagnosed with the dreaded *Trigeminal Neuralgia*,
also called *Tic Douloureux*, *Fothergill’s Disease*, *Prosopalgia* and, by some, *The Suicide Disease*

Demyelination of the sensory fibres, a wear fault, on the outer covering of the trigeminal nerve deep within the nerve ganglion at the base of the brain was causing intolerable pain and reducing ordinary human contact and indeed quality of life, to a minimum.
No wonder they call it The Suicide Disease!

Anyway, by May 2008 the wonderful Neuroscience Team led by Mr A T King at The Salford Royal Hospital had carried out a microvascular decompression procedure. Miraculously, by surrounding the damaged nerve in my head with shredded Teflon and by removing an excess of veins from around the damaged nerve they eliminated the pain sensations of the Trigeminal Neuralgia.
Life thankfully resumed!

The results of a follow-up MRI Scan a few months later gave my wife and I a serious but short-lived temporary scare. The outcome of further exploration was favourable, thank goodness, and the years since have passed slowly and steadily, pain-free and, happily, right up to this almost 8th anniversary of the onslaught of that drastic and debilitating disease.

Every day since the op I dutifully and regularly take my various and varying medications. I rarely, if ever, forget.
Each weekend sees Fill-Up Time for both my pill dispensers. Each month sees a regular visit to the doctor’s surgery for repeat prescriptions. And I think nothing of it.

Filling the dispensers is just a chore. Visiting the surgery and then the wait in the Dickensian, Bleak House equivalent of pharmacies, is just a regular monthly bind.

Well it was until this weekend.
As I went to refill the dispensers (blue for Morning and yellow for Evening) I realised there was…
….One Day Left

For 8 years I’d refilled away and taken tomorrow for granted. I’d presumed that time would tick and tock on!
This refill session was different. I sensed something new. I realised that a new awareness had arrived. I had a new outlook on life.

There was indeed but *One Day Left*…. and, thank goodness, it was the quantity of tablets that could, on this occasion, be described as being just One Day Left! It wasn’t my Time or a remnant of my Lifespan that could be deemed to be just a Single Day Left.

I will never refill those dispensers again without recalling that sensation of the fleeting nature of Time. I now count my blessings that I appear, apparently, to have plenty of time left for ordering, collecting and dutifully remembering to take said tablets. I appreciate everything that I have and everyone that I know.

Yet I’m also aware that Old Father Time, the gatherer of moments, is peeping patiently from around the corner and that one day, hopefully not too soon, I will, indeed have just the
                    One Day Left.

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And who, really, knows when that might be…..
Keep taking the tablets eh!

Thoughts on Friends, Time And People Passing and….Then There Were Three

With apologies for the selectively quoted, but deeply admired, extracts from Bob Dylan’s *Dream* (1963) and *My Back Pages* (1964)

It’s hard to describe what it was like to be 18 years old. To be free of that unhappy and frequently negative family life. To be free of the oppression of the Marists. To be free to express myself without being ridiculed, called *half empty* or even *stupid* by my father. The essence of my rejection of this unpleasantness was expressed and advertised within my determination to reject the name *Teddy* and my rejection of it as being their choice not mine. I didn’t like it. It contained so many references to the unhappiness I had felt within my younger years.

Mum and Dad didn’t like each other or their individual lots in life with each other.

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Mum and Dad 1949/50

Mum used me as a weapon against my Dad. He appeared (to me) to resent my presence as an unwanted first offspring, seemingly tying him to my mother who, I was only too aware, he despised for having, somehow, lured him away from his beloved South Africa. Apartheid South Africa, that delightful place where he could exercise and improve his command of foul and demeaning racist references to undeserving of abuse, black people.

He in turn early on rejected me as a no-hoper mummy’s boy (which I truly never was). He devoted himself partly to my non-weaponised younger sister and mainly to my 11 years younger brother.
Did I care? Never. Not for a moment. They all became irrelevant to me and were rejected years ago by me.
I wanted out of it all and to be myself, to find my way in the world as Eddie, non-Catholic, non-oppressed by the Pater, know-it-all, Familias and not to be consumed by ideas of failure, of not being good enough, where I had just my attic bedroom in which to seek respite from it all. It was the physical escape from the lot of them that mattered.

Now let’s jump ahead to the times I enjoyed in The Fox, in Twickenham, as a fresh young student only 18 years old. Our bunch, The Squad, used to gather around a table in The Fox and put the world to rights whilst supping dubious Mann’s or Youngs’ beers. They were marvellous, innocent, harmless times. Times spent finding out how to express ideas and how to take a view on life.

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The Squad in 1968
Top, in black,  Ged. Paul. Jim. Little Barry.
Bottom, Alan and me..
Ray hated football and had *done one*….

The Fox was indeed a homely, peaceful place,

*Where we longed for nothin’ and were quite satisfied
Talkin’ and a-jokin’ about the world outside* (Bob Dylan 1963)

My pal Ray, with whom I shared a flat in Manchester for a couple of years as we began our careers in Teaching, introduced me to the music of Bob Dylan in 1967. I’m grateful to Ray for ever for that.

The Squad’s time together, 3 years, in London, seemed endless; yet in reality it just flew. We promised to keep in touch. We promised to visit each other…

*We never thought we could ever get old
We thought we could sit forever in fun
But our chances really was a million to one* (Bob Dylan 1963)

There were seven of us empty-head callow youths in The Squad in 1967. One pal, Jim, a poor, in monetary terms, lad from Coventry, didn’t even see Final Exams. A car crash in 1970 wiped him out.

Alan died at the turn of the century, 2000. I’d never once reunited with him.

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Alan and I 1968

Ged, just a thin and wasted version of what he had been in his young years, died alone in his house in Manchester some five years ago.
He, so gentle, friendly and kind, had become a recluse. He’d had a tough life. He hid from his dark places in The Demon Drink.

We’d kept in touch, off and on,  ever since graduation but in later years he deteriorated fast. I miss him. RIP Ged!

https://youtu.be/xV8gf-r9VOk

*A Reason For It All*

Above is a beautiful song by Eric Bogle, based around the discovery of a woman, Clare Campbell, dead for about a year before being found. It’s painful to think of Ged, also, being alone when he died and of him being dead for months before anyone found him.

It appears that Barry has died; I’ve tried to get in touch,  with no success. I should try harder.

Ray could well still be alive. He chooses, however, not to communicate.

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Ray and I, Canterbury, 1970, desperately trying to impress two American girls we’d met. We failed.

Paul, I must find a way to contact. He is alive, in Bristol and retired five or so years ago.

We knew it all then! Life stretched out endlessly in front of us. Nothing was in our way…

*As easy it was to tell black from white
It was all that easy to tell wrong from right
And our choices were few and the thought never hit
That the one road we traveled would ever shatter and split* (Bob Dylan 1963)

Bloody Hell that verse was true! Mr Zimmerman, Bob the Genius!

We sat like old timers in The Fox. Yeah, knowing it all. Grown ups already!
And now, almost 50 years down the line, I recall this final quotation, from Bob’s *My Back Pages*, unbelievably written when he was of a comparable age to my own in the 60s:

*Ah but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now* (Bob Dylan 1964)

How in hell, in his early 20s, did Bob know that, eh? How?

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Bob, 1960 or thereabouts.

Thanks Ray. Wish you’d get in touch.

*The Grammar School, Corporal Punishment and Chaff* (Me and Learning, Part 3b)

St Mary’s College, Blackburn.

continued

Fr Kevin O’Neill was frankly, my saviour at the Grammar School. At the same time a growing love of Latin and an admiration for the skills of our Classics teacher, Mr Eddie Bell, kept me plodding on. It was a crying shame that I was considered incapable of learning Ancient Greek. I longed to join that class but it never happened.

Fr Kevin was interested in me. He was bothered about my learning and gave me time.
He actually befriended me and my family. He used to visit us Sundays on the occasions he would be saying Mass at our local RC Church, Sacred Heart, as a locum. He would have Sunday lunch with us and… on one glorious summer day, he came picnicking and canoeing with us to Bolton Abbey. He joined us just the once…

The River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey…peaceful, tranquil..

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Where the guy is swimming marks the spot Fr Kevin parted company with his specs…deep and treacherous…

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Kev canoed.
We tipped.
He lost his bottlebottom specs.
He cussed in a non-priestly Mephistophelian fashion.
My mother said a prayer.
My father saw the worst in him (no change there)
I was freakin amazed that my hero, An English Teacher, could SWEAR!!
Jeesa swept, he went up in my estimation but I don’t believe he was overthrilled at the sound of my side-splitting guffaws following the quantum leap of his viewing tackle and the shedding of his halo….

Fr Kevin, Rev Kev to so many, became Headmaster at St Mary’s, years after I had left. I imagine he was a marvelous Head and responsible for ushering in Education fit for the 20th Century.

He was a lovely man who also looked after me when my Uncle paid for me to go on a School Trip in the 6th Form to the island of Rab in what was then Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia in Summer? Yeah!
Red Hot.
My clothes?
Khaki shorts, canvas, 2 pairs,
Nylon shirts, stifling, 2 of.
Outcome? Mucho hotto.
Fr O’Neill arranged for the other kids to lend me stuff less injurious to health and less likely to induce dehydration.
Gawd alone knows what he and Fr Arkwright thought of my holiday gear…

Fr FitzSimon, Irish, a chubby, Friar Tuck type of psychopathic, Cato-like assailant. masquerading as an Educator, gloried in his opportunities to bully, threaten, frighten and thrash his young charges at any and every meeting. The Pink Panther and The Marquis de Sade could have learned from him.
This is an example of his MO:
Friday morning, 1st Lesson, RE.
He would terrify us and ruin the day by issuing these threats:
*Thomas, O’Hare, Osborne, McCall and Davis… You can expect punishment for poor homework this afternoon in my Geography Lesson. Don’t be late.*

I would shake in fear all day of him. The lesson before his Geography thumbscrew session was Games, The Dreaded Games, ie freezing outside with additional shivering and/or kicks during football, ploughing through mud or avoiding cricket balls or javelins imposed during any season at the teacher’s whim….or…. stay inside for boxing.
When the world’s weather systems had conspired to hurl sleet, snow, hail and rain, accompanied by a hurricane, over Blackburn, I would choose Boxing.
At least the few minutes or so of being pounded by Meeks were, though painful, brief and administered within the shelter of the Pavilion.

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Then came *Geography*.
If you were late Fatso FitzSimon thrashed you. You try tying laces quickly after you’ve frozen your digits off in Antarctic Blackburn…
Then he’d read out the Martyrs To The Tawse list.
*Thomas, you wrote on the top line of the page, 5 lashes. And you were late. Five more*
The ice cold mitts were thrashed five times, on each hand, mercilessly, for WRITING ON THE TOP LINE…
Why? How did that ensure learning, or love of learning?
How did he get away with it, week after week, torturing some poor victim of Marist Education. Bastard. No more, no less.

Fr Brennan, another psychopath wandering the corridors of Bleak Fekin House, though never a direct teacher of mine, has a particular niche in my recollections of unwarranted cruelty meted out to innocent children.
He had a fetish, a penchant, a love, of ears, my ears, any ears but seemingly particularly, he was attached to my ears. It’s a wonder said auricular appendages remained attached to me and in place, either side of my fizzog.
He appeared to think it acceptable to drag youngsters round by the ears; down corridors, out of dinner queues, out of friendship groups, out of doorways, out of respect for Marists and all, I imagine, out of malice and sheer abject nastiness.
You know the score….. He was a bastard. No more. No less.

How do you piss off a violin teacher, your father, your godfather and a grumpy old Caretaker fart, allegedly deemed a *family friend*, all at one go? (in my estimation, the weirdo *family friend* was an overdressed dandy-type, spiv-moustached pretentious wielder of the brush, sweeping variety)

Easy! Trust me!
a) enrol in Violin Lessons 25 miles away from home in school, in Blackburn, with the smelliest, roll-up fag end sucking old violin teacher in musicdom.
b) receive the gift of a battered old violin from your godfather thus to enable the learning, (torture) of said instrument.
c) receive the gift of a part-completed wooden freakin galleon, *as a hobby* from dubious (dandy) family friend.
Next, in careful order:
d) decline to attend the stinky teacher, thus receiving the customary lashings from a Marist and the ubiquitous disapprobation of Pater Familias, who was likely, inwardly and secretly, planning the total World Domination Of Music by my Infantus Perfectus young baby brother.
e) break up the violin and galleon and attempt to recreate a Paul McCartney Bass guitar with my fellow empty-head pal, David Whittaker.
f) become the recipient of the collective wrath of, violin teacher, Marist Inquisitor, father, godfather and dubious (queer) family friend. All at one go. Minimum effort. Maximum effect. Lashings of lashings, slaps round the napper, clips round the ears, tongue whippings, looks of disgust from dubious (puff) family friend and an enforced confinement to one’s attic bedroom to contemplate in isolation, the old man who had hanged himself up there and then lie awake for hours dreading the next day at The Freakin Grammar School. Occasionally I pondered the relief to be gained via increasing the attic neck-stretch statistic by 100%…

Jeez, it’s hard being 13 years old. And even harder being expected to learn in such an environment, both at home and at School. The steam train ride was always a distraction and highlight.

The archetypal Smelly Violin Teacher.

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Mr Eddie Bell, Classics Teacher, was another of my few heroes. He loved his subject, respected his subjects and would no more contemplate thrashing his class than prefer Tacitus to Cicero.
Because of him I learned to love Latin. I learned Latin. I still read Latin occasionally and would not have missed that element of Grammar School Education for anything. Because of him I became a Latin teacher and also a more well-rounded student. I came to appreciate the subtleties of Silver and Gold Latin; the nuances of difference between Cicero and Caesar and Tacitus or Suetonius. I learned to love the poetic licence of Virgil.

Thomas, *Toss* Kennedy was a cracking Maths teacher. He had no degree, no coloured sash to wear at Prize Giving, no signs of cruelty and he brought humour, success and mathematical understanding to his students. I went, eventually, to the same Teachers’ Education College as he had attended. My dad went there also (probably to learn the Selective Admiration Method for the products of his sperm ejaculations), as did my godfather, the Elementary School headmaster, Eddie Bell and the first male headteacher, Joe Ridley, I worked for in Manchester. It was a great College but that tale will have to wait till Part 4.

I’m almost there; at the exit point from St Mary’s, but I have just a couple more of rather negative observations. Unfortunately, I really do have to describe Noddy Nolan again. He of the Poetry in Motion corporal punishment method. The teacher who thought nothing of a well aimed punch to the solar plexus for the purpose of…. well what could have been his purpose? I need to compare and contrast him with fellow classicist, Eddie Bell. He didn’t compare. He was a mockery of a teacher in contrast.

At age 15 I broke my right leg in four places playing rugby. Because of this I was unable to walk for some four months and missed the introductory work for Chemistry, Physics and Biology. The School did sweet fek all to help me catch up but to quote, *Sorted the wheat from the chaff*.
I was flung out of Science and though I was totally engrossed in Physics in particular, I was deprived of that experience and learning. Despicable place!

Uni interviews at age 18 drifted onto the horizon of departure from St Mary’s. I just wanted out of there and Teaching appealed to me.
Lawd Almighty, I had seen enough bad teaching to last me a lifetime and I knew I could do better; be more like Fr Kevin, Toss Kennedy and, of course, Eddie Bell.

The Great Escape Began! Ok, there was no tunnel, no rifle butts, but trust me, it was just like escaping from a Gulag or Concentration Camp. How I relished the thought of NO MORE MARIST TORQUEMADAS….

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Well I’d left. I’d said bye to Rev Kev, Toss and Eddie, Ding Dong, Bell. But there was no fizz to my leaving with my 6 GCE O Levels and 3 A Levels. It was not a Family Champagne Moment.
I was a continuing failure in dear Dad’s eyes, because I was going to the same College as he had done (WTF?) not University and my exam results were  (to him) all disappointing.
Anyway. I was out:
Out of St Mary’s
Out of Colne
Out of the negativity I associated with my parents and their *family life*
Out of Teddy and Ted
It was the end of the nightmare. 
I became truly *Eddie* at last.
I was Thomas, of *me* not of bloody Colne!
After a summer holiday working in a local factory, I was off. To London. By diesel train not steam loco; things had changed. British Rail and I were heading out of The Steam Era…

And guess what?
My mother said she couldn’t bear to watch me go away.
My Dad and 11 years younger brother attended the railway station while I left.
I didn’t look back. I believe I waved, without wavering, momentarily. But I didn’t look back. I shed not a tear.
Onwards and upwards Eddie, I thought.
Off to a…..

Brave New World.
Well, perhaps not brave but it would be MY World!!!

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*The Grammar School, Corporal Punishment and Chaff* (Me and Learning, Part 3a)

St Mary’s College, Blackburn.

1960 saw me transfer, via steam train, from the comfort of my cosy little Junior School, Sacred Heart, where I had been joint Top Of The Class, alongside the Amazon Pat Hothersall, to the vastness of St Mary’s College in Blackburn where I was doomed to torture and a struggle-against-impending-disaster-and-failure, around every corner, for seven long years.

I’m pleased to say that most memories of those seven years have been erased, Freudian-like, from my mind. Some things remain and I intend to expunge them from that portion of my past which, frankly, was mainly a bloody nightmare.
The things I recall are true, often unpleasant and if they offend anyone who might stumble across my blog then, tough. These memories are mine, from my own perspective and really occurred.

The Marists’ Weapon Of Choice. The leather tawse. Great for thrashing little boys who struggled with their learning.

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The Weapon Of Choice for Latin Teacher, ‘Noddy’ Nolan was, as he called it, *Poetry in Motion*. He would smack you round the head or punch you in the stomach with a large poetry book. Hence, *Poetry in Motion*…..
Callous, cruel bugger.
He taught me nothing of any import only a strong dislike for his bullying, nasty *teaching* style.
Despite him I learned to love Latin, Virgil and Tacitus, in later years, with a real Teacher, Mr Eddie Bell. Eddie loved his Latin (and his Greek) and his enthusiasm rubbed off.

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My first move, on arriving at St Mary’s, was to rename myself. Teddy and Ted were confined to the past (until I got to my oh-so supportive home) and my new moniker, *Eddie* was adopted. It didn’t make much difference really…. We were all addressed by our surnames, Bunter-esquely and so sham Public School-esquely. That tradition was 1950s and 1960s bollocks. A tradition soon to be confined to the bin of post-war stuff and nonsense.

Strange when you think of it… From birth to 4 years old I had been customarily addressed as, *You*.
From 4 till 11 years of age I had been dubbed, *Teddy* and from 11 till 18 years old I was addressed as, *Thomas*, frequently accompanied by, *Of Colne*, as an additional denominator. It’s a wonder I don’t suffer from an Identity Crisis…

As a rule of thumb and from seven years’ bitter experience, I can say that with very few exceptions, the Marist Priests and Brothers who taught me were callous to the core and oblivious to the negative impressions they were leaving on the young vulnerable minds in their care.

Fr Arkwright was a lovely man but dropped his friendliness towards me after believing some other kid that I had tipped the brat’s chair, with him in it, over. The good priest disbelieved me and preferred to put his trust in the lies of a kid who I seem to recall was a class tearaway. That rejection was worse than the Tawse.

The Incident with Mrs Burns was quite an event. Fr Green, the Headmaster, was summoned to observe the carnage I had wrought in one of the classrooms and to decide my fate. Was it to be tawse or not? Was it to be some other form of corporal punishment such as kneeling on an upturned milk crate in a corner perhaps?
And what had occasioned his ire? What had this tiny little 11 year old done to bring His Majesticness The Headmaster, with swishing of both clerical skirts and academic robes, to Mrs (We called her *Ma*) Burns’s classroom?
The only female teacher on the whole staff of that Boys’ Grammar School, Ma Burns was small, dumpy and unremarkable. She taught us Leatherwork. We were making identikit leather purses. From a pattern. From pigskin. All cloned from some oh-so-exciting master [sic] copy.
Anyway, it was the day to apply the black dye to said purses. Everyone on the same day. You can probably imagine the queues of youngsters all waiting their turn to hear Ma Burns give the, *You May Dye* order… (incidentally I had a similarly spelt feeling to that on many a day at that bloody place)
For some fatal reason she asked the tiniest person in the class (me) to reach for The Dye Bottle from a top shelf…
Aaargh… As I stretched to remove the freakin thing it sprung out of my grasp and deposited its contents of black dye in an arc of graffiti that Banksy would have been proud of. The dye missed me. It confined itself to the wall and the unsealed floorboards.
Enter Fr Fuhrer Green.
He questioned me deeply and concluded, menacingly, with specs perched on the tip of his nose, that, *Thomas of Colne*, could not be punished for being small, or for the bottle lid not being properly screwed on.
Sod Ma Burns. Because of her I was now dubbed, *Of Colne*, much to my chagrin.
This fresh appendage to my name accompanied me for seven long years.
Two things stand out in my memory of the incident:
1) it was actually verbalised that corporal punishment had been considered and
2) I don’t recall seeing much of Ma Burns after that…
I wonder if I cast the dye [sic] at the beginning of the end of her arts and crafts career at St Mary’s?

A Bunch Of No-Doubt Delightful Marist Brothers and Priests, Hell Bent On Thrashing Learning Into Their Flock.

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St Mary’s College, Shear Brow, Blackburn.
My *Alma Martyr* [sic] Much more to follow in section 3b!

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Fr Kevin O’Neill. My English Teacher. My Guide and the Man who taught me to love Poetry, John Donne and was also my Friend. RIP. Much more to follow in section 3b!

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to be continued

*I’ve got a Name…. I’m still a Number…. and The Eleven fekin Plus journey to Scylla and Charybdis* (Me and Learning, part 2)

Sacred Heart Juniors.
So, as an already-immersed in RC indoctrination and gook of the gobbledy variety, youngster, after a glorious summer of watching the rain piddle down and endless sessions observing the streams of water cascading over our leaky living room window, I leapt into the Junior debacle of the 1950s *English Education System*.

I say, tongue in cheek, *System*, cos it obviously was no such thing. Those unfortunate school kids in our School, were taught, as an aim, to read (stuff), write (more stuff) and do sums. We also did pictures with crayons, made raffia *things* and learned to laugh at The Dim Kids who fell wanting of the grey cells necessary to comprehend the invariably uniform presentation of the lessons that would now, in these post-Govian days of Enlightenment, be called, *whole-class* and *rote learning*.

These were drawn up in some Certified Teacher’s mind and prescribed, en mass, for delivery to the full scrum of 48, eager to do fek all, victims of undifferentiated and religiose cum bellicose, so-called Primary Fekin Education (the adjective *Fekin* is not official. It is purely a mark of aberration within my own edjication).

It was in this context of new horizons that I became aware of a change in my circumstances, in my grip on reality, (ok, as perceived by a 7 year old…) but a change there had been.

I discover I have a Name…

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I noticed that I had a *name*, a moniker. Jeeesus, I loathed it but at least the usual appellation of *you* was being supplemented by A NAME.

Unfortunately, I was being called *Teddy* by all and sundry at school. Why so bad?
You try going round called *Teddy Thomas* and you’ll get my drift. I think being summoned as *You* was actually preferable….!
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Anyway, I drifted through J1, Miss Florey’s class, with only a few encounters of the ruler-on-hand variety of castigation for not understanding her particular barked revelations. We also had longer and harder sums plus different books to read, most of which had stickmen for pictures, spilt blue ink for adornment and the sticky fumb prints of every bloody Catholic kid in the parish who had struggled to unravel the mysteries of Roger and his Boring Red Fekin ‘At…

I survived J2 as a victim of Mr Tony Conway’s hobby of so-called teaching (ie waste of a youngster’s shoe/clog/boot/threadbare plimsolls tread)
He truly was an uneventful educational experience. I recall three things of note about him. One, he was miniscule, tiny, even the Amazon of the 8 year olds, Pat Hothersall was bigger than him.  Two, he could fold paper… And three, he had a wife called, *Gertrude*.
The hell, even in the fag end of the 50s a guy couldn’t go round with a missus called *Gertrude*.
Well he did!

J3 featured The Deputy Head, Mr Ogden. The actual brown fingers, smell of fags, taking us to football, in the cold, in the wind, with red legs and faces, and accompanying shivers, on the Rec, “Mr Ogden”.

I learned so much in his class:
I learned to hate the smell of tobacco on breath, hands and clothes; football, David Sharp, Ernest Kanalas and warm milk. Nowt else. Period. Nada.
But I did realise I was Top of The Class, alongside the Amazon, Pat Hothersall. We two got all our spellings, sums and tables tests right. The other kids, especially David Sharp and Ernest Kanalas, learned to goad and tease the alliteratively challenged Teddy Thomas. I hated it, them, school and sorry to say, myself cos of That Bloody Name.

Junior 4 saw the re-emergence of Mrs Airey.
Gawd knows how, why or for what purpose but my Infant teacher, Mrs Airey emerged in our Junior School as 11+ Teacher in Junior 4. Her companion in stuffing facts, figures and the solutions to endless verbal reasoning tests, was the School’s Headteacher, Mr Hatfield. He of the caterwauling violin, big fingers, no patience, pint-swigging association with my Dad and, rather dubiously, the onerous task of being my *God Father*.

They spent a full year demonstrating how Education has nothing to do with stuffing 11+ nonsense down *poor* (meaning unfortunate and also meaning impoverished) kids’ throats.
They succeeded in arranging for some half dozen of us to pass the 11+ and Go To The Grammar School…
Three of the bunch left the new school quickly, one of them by inconveniently dying. The other three, me included, saw it out to the Bitter End.
Would I fail there or just do badly there? Both were an option and also quite likely. The break away from my friends at home and this immersion into academic exploration left me literally marooned.

I was stuck in a place where I could either fail… to be followed by ridicule at home, or sort of fit in at the Grammar School, to be followed by….an inevitable isolation at home.
The place? A Rock and a Hard Place! I was stuck between Scylla and Charybdis.

Stuck between Scylla and Charybdis, sometimes described as between a rock and a hard place, or between the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea.

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And the 11+ Rejects? They were chaff sorted from the wheat. They were rejects and failures in their own lifetimes. Many of them set about demonstrating their 2nd rate status by…. well, second rate efforts in their approach to any further learning.
And The Dim Kids? There were plenty of jobs for them: street sweeping, gulley emptiers, coal deliverers, binmen, scrap iron dealers and many other purely manual tasks.

The Teachers treat everyone the same… I’m still just a Number… well, except for the “Dim Ones”!
…..and we all look just the same…

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The everlasting mind pictures I take from that shoddy post WW2 schooling period consist, in the main, of the poverty amongst my school pals.
Some had little clothing.
Some had little food and asked could they eat leftover apple cores.
Some had no shoes/boots/clogs, just plimsolls with holes in. Neil, someone or other, wore cut down wellies with red pressure rings around his little legs but had a harmonica that he played like a pro.

Poverty, Carl Sagan, my hero
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Kids *lakin’ art* (playing out) in the 1950s
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I learned that all kids weren’t born lucky and that some, truly, had no hope.
One of the poverty-stricken kids passed his 11+. His mum bought a blue blazer and hand sewed pale blue trim around the lapels for his Grammar School uniform.
He looked different.
His blazer shouted poverty and within months he moved from being a Junior School top dog to Grammar School bottom of the barrel dropout.
Inequality, disadvantage and disappointment are happy bedfellows.

Looking back I see that the seeds of a future belief in socialism were planted in me then. They remained dormant.

I do not believe that the pursuit of success in 11+ exams by my teachers either opened my eyes to the wonders and tragedies of the world or helped raise any new awareness in me about my fellow humans.
Sure as hell the nuns and priests didn’t! Their role was to pacify the flock, keep tabs on the faithful and convince the shoeless that a fucked-up life of poverty and drudgery while alive would be rewarded by salvation in heaven (when you’re dead) .
Where was Richard Dawkins for me to read then!

The 11+ and the wheat from the chaff are sorted.

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*Spare the rod and love the child* (Me and Learning, part 1)

At Sacred Heart Infants.
I suppose it all began in 1954 with Sister Malachy. She was a gentle old nun who had two main aims for the 4 and 5yr olds in her care: teach em to read and write and grasp an inkling of *to fear the lord*.
By the time we’d spent our baby class year with Sr Malachy we sure as day is day knew how to read and write and I’d had my first tussle with the Devil, Old Nick, himself….. I’d taken a fancy to a small inch square piece of stone from the class construction set and whisked it off home. My thoughts had turned, at the tender age of five to the prospect of some angel spy or other witnessing my larceny and seeing to it that I roasted in hellfire for my misdeeds. Jaysus I was only 5 and the fear of a vicious cruelty that could be instilled into an innocent child via so-called religion had already begun. RC indoctrination was being drip fed but I knew Sister Malachy loved her class.

Mrs Airey, in middle Infants, was a different sort of dame. She, as I remember, was more interested in adding up, taking away and rattling knuckles with her foot long ruler should there be any deviation from her rote learning regimes. The god bit didn’t figure so highly. My recollection of her contribution to the honing of my thinking tackle is rather sparse, especially compared to the experience in top Infants with Sr Kevin.

Sr Kevin was the Headmistress. She was kind. She was organised and she was thorough. I seem to remember books and books of writing, reading, sums and colouring in.
But I also remember the fun and laughter as she hitched up her long black skirts and danced on *the stage*
for us every Friday afternoon, just to finish the week off well and to enable us to remember our learning as a fun time. Well, that’s what I think now, anyway! I was given responsibility in her class for  collecting up the crayons and the pencils. I enjoyed my learning time with her and she clearly enjoyed her teaching time.

Ok, so at the age of 6yrs and enjoying school (as it turns out, a freaking one-off) my Mother had decided that I was capable of walking, at lunchtime, from one end of Colne to the other just to grab a bite to eat and then walk all the bloody way back again to school. On my own. Unaccompanied by other kids and open to any and all distractions.
One day I spied some workmen giving a hole in the ground some attention. I joined them in the examination of the hole and stood there mesmerised for ages. I stood there so long taking the scene in that when I eventually arrived home my mother was frantic with worry.

She was so frantic that she set about beating the backs of my knees, mercilessly, with a three foot long cane. The pain, I remember was awful. The hurt at the onslaught on my young person, just home and full of excitement at watching the workmen, ready to tell what they’d been doing, has never left me and I don’t think I ever forgave my mother for the callous thrashing I got. I didn’t go back to school that day. I wonder how she explained my absence…

Thus endeth Infant School memories…

Pic One: My Pram Days

Pic Two: The Ones By Whom I Was Borne [sic]

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