St Mary’s College, Blackburn.
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..
Where the guy is swimming marks the spot Fr Kevin parted company with his specs…deep and treacherous…
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!
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.
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.
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….
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!!!