Warning. Early 1970’s sexism, and graphic scenes of violence which those of a nervous disposition may find distressing.
May contain nuts.
l have said before that my schooldays were a kind of ‘Kes’ in real time. Examination of Ken Loach’s treatment of former teacher Barry Hines’ book ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ reveals a cast of teachers and pupils captured with just the right amount of lunacy and pathos. A snapshot of life in all its absurdities, which mirrored our experience with uncanny accuracy.
Among the psychopaths, nutters and loonies at my school I was fortunate enough to find two sane lads who were into the same things as me, and who just happened to be the funniest people I’d ever met: namely Baz and Teck. Like me, a fan of Milligan, Baz is possessed of lazer-like wit, with which he is quite able to reduce his audience to pulp with his no-nonsense view of the world and razor sharp comments. Teck is far more lugubrious. His speciality is ‘The Rant’ along with silly words, sound affects and accents.
Thanks to the Interwebthingumybob we are still in contact today. Apart from maintaining our friendship the beauty of this is that we are sometimes able to remember events jointly as they actually happened, and even describe what took place from a different viewpoint or perspective.
When looking back and all your instincts tell you ‘That can’t be true … I must have made it up …’ all it takes is a quick Facebook message.
Let me give you an example. I remembered a comical (well not so much for the girl involved) incident from 1972. We were in the second year ( Year 8 ). The bell had gone for the end of break and we were all milling about in the Languages corridor. In theory we were lining up outside our respective classrooms, when in fact it looked more like a scrummage, complete with Scrum Half about to feed the ball (somone’s school bag) Through this melee of bodies walked Sarah one of the prettiest girls in the year with a group of freinds. In what must have been a catastrophic rush of blood to the head, because it was so out of character, a class-mate by the name of George, casually put out his hand and as Sarah and her friends passed, he cupped her left breast.
A horrified silence descended on the corridor, the two packs disengaged and looked on. You could hear a pin drop. Calmly and without breaking her step Sarah wound her arm back and with a confidence that suggested she was more than a dab hand at unarmed combat adminstered the mother of all slaps to George’s chops. It sounded like hitting a pound and a half of liver wth a cricket bat. The corridor was in uproar again until our French teacher Russell O’ Callaghan arrived on the scene and sorted us out.
Some 40 years later Baz,Teck and me are discussing the the incident in The Regal Moon pub and it transpired we had each been in the corridor, but in different places. Yet on inpection, our accounts of what happened matched perfectly.
And the thing that we each remember most?
I bet on a quiet day if you listen carefully down at the bottom of St. Wilfred’s Drive, the estate of new houses built on the old school site, you can still hear the echoes of Sarah’s Super Slap today.
40 years on L-R Self, Kath, Angela, Teck. Baz, Mike
Recognise this place?. Unfair question I know. Doubtless you all grew up near one, whether or not you recognise this specific example is more of a test.
That’s right, It is a public baths.
Indeed it is Rochdale Public Baths.This was where we could be found when we weren’t playing Walley, 36-a-side football or swailing.
Or at least it was.The baths are no longer there. They were pulled down in 2012.
Built of Accrington Brick and York stone at a cost of £67,131 this Art Deco building opened its doors in 1937 offering Turkish and Russian baths plus the Crush Hall, cafe and spectator areas. The two pools, large and small, were both built wth underwater lighting, and in a bit of forward thinking the building was originally heated by waste burned in the Cleansing Department’s nearby refuse incinerator.
It must have looked a swell joint in its day.
With our trunks rolled up inside our towels, We’d hop on the bus into town and spend the afternoon running, bombing and petting (petting?) until our eyes were blood red from the chlorine and our foreheads an angry mauve, having been slapped so many times as we dived from the high boards.
Self: top left C 1970
Self: third from left C 1970
And when our afternoon was over, having got changed, we gave in to the fuzzy warm feeling ovecoming us and made our way to the cafe for a cup of the nicest tomato soup with toast you have ever tasted.
Almost certainly Norse in origin. (Icelandic: Svaela meaning heat with thick, dark smoke). Swailing describes the age-old art of managing overgrown heathland and clearing the ground of dead vegetation so that new growth can appear, by means of prescribed burning.
Or as we knew it in Rochdale, where I was brought up, the simple union of Pennine breeze, dried grasses, moss and Swan Vestas. Swailing was treated by us kids as a perfectly acceptable robust outdoor activity during the summer months. Indeed, it sat quite comfortably alongside other healthy practices such as nesting, breaking into disused industrial buildings, walking up reservoir overflow pipes, testing out old mine workings, getting underneath old chimney stacks, swimming wherever we could and playing day-long games of ‘Walley’
I can’t believe that my former self engaged in such wifull acts of vandalism. All I can say in my defence is that we never left a fire burning out of control … and it was the 70’s. We must have been a dead giveaway to our parents; returning home, at the end of the day, stinking of smoke, grey, sooty faces with white eyes and black moustaches showing where we had rubbed under our noses.
I had always assumed that ‘Swailing’ was local dialect, which described a perculiarly ‘Rochdalian’ thing to do, but in fact it is in general circulation and used to describe this ancient process throughout the country..
Warning. May not be suitable for people of a nervous disposition. This post is issued with an 18 certificate. Features football violence and lots of bloody swearing.
Manchester United did their promotion hopes no harm at all after running out clear victors over a lacklustre Blackpool side at Bloomfield Road this afternoon; Forsyth, Macari, and Mc Calliog all getting onto the scoresheet. The event was marred by some crowd trouble ouside the ground when groups of United fans ran amok along the seafront and Pleasure Beach. Police said they made three arrrests. Blackpool nil Manchester United three.
21 OCTOBER 1974
A Monday morning on the furthest muddy reaches of the school grounds. Marked by a saggy chain link fence. Most of the pupils keep to the path as they walk towards the school gates. A small group of lads, however use the sag in the fence to climb through. They gather by a mature sycamore tree and some bushes, which gives them cover from the main gates. Their breath condenses in the chilly autumn air.
‘Come on, spark up’. Says one. He is wearing a feather-style haircut, parallels, black zip up platform shoes. His school blazer is done up with the middle button . Its badge bears the legend ‘Caritas’. His tie is tied in a ludicrous huge flapping knot.
Yeah C’mon we ‘aven’t got much time. Says another, wearing a cheap black crombie coat over his blazer. Brogues and red socks on his feet.
They all get out their fags, Feather cut takes out a zippo lighter and each in turn light their cigarettes. ‘Ahhhhhh….’ They let out a collective gasp of relief.
‘Did you see it then?’
‘What? I went out Sat’day night,’
‘It were fuckin’ hilarious’
‘Finny. Din’t you see ‘im?’
‘No, what happened?’
‘Well, he went to Blackpool wi’ United and you know there was bit of a tear up with the cops? Well Finny was right at the front. So I’m watchin telly Sat’day night waiting for Match of the Day and on’t News, you know how they have a picture about each news story? Y’know? Behind Reginald fuckin’ Bosanquet. They only had a massive picture of Finny … leading the fuckin’ troops.I nearly fuckin’ pissed meself’.
‘Ey here he is now’. Finny skips over the fence. Hair like an explosion in a Ginger Nut factory. They all pretend to bow and scrape before him
‘We’re not worthy’ they cry.
‘All right stop all the bollocks you set of cunts. Who’s got a spare fag ? ‘
He takes a cigarrete and Feather cut lights it for him.
‘So, have you had any offers?’ Feather asks Finny.
‘What offers? What the fuck are you on about?’
‘Offers, You know, Hollywood? TV and that. I’d have thought that the producers of Starsky and Hutch would have on the phone after your appearance on Sat’day night TV’. They all burst out laughing. Finny attempts a half hearted kick, but Feather is too fast.
‘What did your Old Man say about it?’
‘He never saw it did he, he was in the pub. Fucking good photo though. Mind you the cops gave us a right kicking. I were black and blue Sunday morning’
Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough … Look at the flares!
‘Oh shite, look out it’s Harris!’ A teacher strides purposefully across the playing field, he has spotted them: too late, they try and dock their fags and pocket them.
‘You boys! Stay where you are.’ Mr. Harris affectionately known as ‘Bummer Harris’ is Head of PE and likes to throw his weight around a lot. ‘I thought it might be you lot. Have you any idea what it looks like from the staff car park? It’s as if the tree was on fire, clouds of smoke billowing out of it. Let’s have them’ He looks at Finny.
‘I haven’t got any Sir, honest’
Harris pats Finny down – as roughly as possible
‘How about you Kinsella?’ Reluctantly the boy puts his hand into his blazer pocket and takes out his packet of ten.
‘Sovreign? Quick Burns?’ Harris says, turning his not insubstantial nose up at them.
‘Owyahh!’ shouts Feather, his half smoked cigarette is smouldering in his trouser pocket and has just worked its way through the lining.
‘You Goon!’ Yells Harris as Feather tries to get the offending article out of his trousers. (If you see what I mean) Harris adresses them all ‘ Mr. Baldwin’s’s office, line up outside, NOW!’
‘Not you Finnerty’. He grabs the boy’s shirt collar and backs him against the tree. Speaking close to the his face So that Finny is able to smell the stale tobacco on the teacher’s breath.
‘So, I saw you made the news on Saturday night’
‘Well, didn’t you lad?’
‘Go on. Mr. Baldwin’s office with the rest of those idiots AND think yourself lucky that Mr. Baldwin was at a Parents and Teachers’ Association Treasure Hunt on Saturday night. And unless you want me to tell him how you’ve dragged the school’s reputation through the mud, you’d better keep your nose clean. Do I make myself clear?’
As he trudged to the Headmaster’s Office Finny couldn’t help but wonder about what he was sensing from Harris. Something other than all the play acting about the fags.
It is a matter of great regret that I never said a proper ‘Thank You’ to Peter Hill.
It was he, bless his large, round glasses who was responsible for the singlemost brilliant piece of teaching of my whole school career.
A bit of background: This happened in Rochdale, Lancashire.
Ah! Rochdale.If you’ve never been there, it’s a bit like … how can I describe it? … Imagine the Cotswolds and an artist’s watercolour pallette, full of greens in all their subtleties, an embarrassment of hues and tones: fresh, fragrant and soothing. Alongside it, the artist’s page and a peaceful, landscape, lovingly depicted but which is steadily succumbing to the leaking black which is seeping into it, courtesy of the artist’s son. Who, fancying a crack at a bit of painting of his own is happily grinding the brush into the disintegrating picture. He then paints his own fingers, the lamp black mixing nicely with the remnants of a peanut butter sandwich, which then also becomes incorporated into the pastoral scene… That’s what Rochdale is like.
Or at least it was in the ‘70s when I lived there and when Peter Hill, teacher and actor, cut a dash (as still does I am lead to believe) impeccably dressed as always, through the cobblestoned streets of nearby Whitworth.
I knew a bit about Peter Hill before I went to St. Wilfred’s Catholic Middle School where he taught. There were tales that went around about this mad English teacher who wildly over-pronounced certain vowels and consonants and had a ready willingness to threaten and use corporal punishment. My Dad (also a teacher, but not at the same school) had a few stories about him too, but advised me to tread with caution. He thought Mr. Hill an experienced and wily campaigner who could be a hard taskmaster and yet inspired great loyalty.
‘Trilly’ as he was affectionately known (Mr. Hill – Mister Hill – Mister ‘ill – Mistrill – Trilly: See?) was a regular cast member of the Whitworth Amateur and Musical Dramatic Society and a brilliant comic actor (something which he brought into his teaching incidentally) I still have very clear memories of him singing “I am the very model of a modern major general” and, it may have been the same production, an occasion when his false moustache and beard began to slip. With a series of matchless ad-libs he used it to great comic effect.
I adored him though, of course I didn’t tell a soul in school, particularly once I had reached St. Wilfred’s myself, and where, during my first year, for no apparent reason (I think I just got off on the ‘wrong foot’ with the place) I was a complete arse. He taught me Latin that year, but I just messed about. I didn’t give him a chance. I came bottom in the exam.
The following year, he taught me English. I was in one of his lessons, doodling away, as I often did, on the inside cover of my exercise book at a cartoon figure. I didn’t realise as I struggled with the hands of this wretched creature I was drawing that he was standing right behind me: ‘So THIS is what we do in our English lessons is it?’ He made me come out to the front. I was mortified. Ashen – faced, which you couldn’t see because I was blushing so much, I watched, eyes prickling with the hot tears welling up, but which I wouldn’t allow to fall, as he tore a page from my book, wrote something on it, folded it in half, and told me to go with it to the Library. I assumed I’d be met there by one of the senior staff to be given a serious punishment…I mean…getting sent out of a lesson.
‘Can I help you?’ The Librarian was a nun with a profile like an eagle. I dithered and looked around
‘Yes?…’ She was impatient. I thrust the piece of paper at her. She read it then told me to sit down.
After a few minutes, she returned with a book, set it on the table before me, opened it and laid the note alongside. This is what I saw…
Underneath his written instruction to the Librarian it said:
“If you are going to draw hands in my lesson, you might at least get them right. Stay here and draw these until you know them back to front. Don’t move till I come to collect you.”
I never did get them right. But I’ve had a blast trying. So Peter, please accept my belated apologies.
…… Oh, and Thank You.
Some four years after this was written I got a message which said that a relative of Mr Hill had stumbled across ‘Sitting Comfortably’ and had shown him this piece.
He was very keen to contact me and so I passed on my phone number. Sure enough about a week later I got a call one saturday morning. It was Peter Hill. We had a lovely conversation in which we remembered old times.
So I did get to thank him after all.
Peter Hill: Actor and Teacher 29.09.30 – 07.08.15 Requiescat In Pace
School PE: Football, Cross Country, Rugby, Tennis, Athletics, Basketball … So where did the Ballroom Dancing fit in?
One of the most hated aspects of the P.E. curriculum at St. Wilfrid’s my middle school, was the dancing. Learning, with a partner of the opposite sex to do the ‘Gay Gordons’ or a ‘Dashing Sargeant’
In the winter; possibly because it was too wet and cold to do anything else or posssibly just because sadistic PE staff wanted to embarrass the fuck out of us, we had to do so many lessons of Ballroom Dancing
Now before you get all dewy-eyed with mental pictures of Artem, Flavia and Aliona, beautiful costumes, sequins and the wigs of TVs ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ We are in a totally different situation:
Imagine the humiliation.
Boys and girls, as if it were not enough to be thrown headlong into the maelstrom of adolescence, already (with the exception of a lucky few) despairing of their body image, being forced to dance with each other, in the smelly school hall! The boys in their house rugby tops/shorts (Southworth, Arrowsmith, Rigby and Dumbledore) Clothing, that in most cases had lain undisturbed at the bottom of their bag since the previous week, if not the start of term. They line up to be paired off with the girls, God love ‘em who were forced to wear their leotards.
I can’t imagine a more sphincter–clenching embarrassment. Boys in my year ranged from 6 footers, with such dark 5 0’ clock shadows they had to shave twice a day, smoked twenty fags a day, had gruff, deep voices and probably joined their Dads down at the Club of an evening for a few pints – to those who looked like they would be much more at home, playing with lego and the Hornby train set. As for the girls… well, I can’t think of a more cruel exposure of one’s pysical attributes than a black nylon leotard. It was perfectly obvious to one and all who’s ‘equipment had arrived’ and who was still deperately waiting to take delivery. Mind you, with or without ‘equipment’ it was a complete mystery to me how girls at around this time went from being uncomplicated friends, our best winger out on the playground, to wearing blue eyeshadow and eyeliner that appeared to have been applied by an epileptic monkey, writing ‘David Cassidy’ on every object they owned and becoming a Mormons because they ‘liked Donny Osmond’.
Still, it was the ‘70s and this is what was presented to us as our PE experience for this particular series of lessons. God knows why. Perhaps it was thought we ought to be prepared should someone out of the blue ask you to do a Gay Gordon with them. (With the benefit of hindsight that’s one club I would be wanting to make a very hasty exit from)
So! the first dance. Girls chattering nervously or standing mute in terror, the purple veins on their legs looking like maps of Britain’s inland waterways. The boys behaving like idiots; the more aware hoping that they get someone who has had a visit from UPS and that they can avoid the one with the impetigo and warts.
There is nothing quite like wrapping your hand around clammy fingers which feel like they are covered in Rice Krispies, still a vivid indigo from the wart stuff the nurse puts on them, the white ‘burnt’ bits showing round the edges. The leotard has a stiff sandpapery feel as you gingerly place your hand on the small of your partner’s back.
And we are off.
This it wasn’t
“Not-Like-That-Daly, Get hold of her Lad. You some sort of Puff or what?” shouts our PE teacher who to save his blushes, (for I gather he still roams the streets of Whitworth, Rochdale minus the ‘70s sideburns I hope) I shall simply refer to as ‘Sir’ Whereupon, he snatches the poor girl out of my hand and wheels around the floor with her, feet off the floor, her head bobbing from side to side like a rag doll. Meanwhile, Sir’s nylon tracksuit bottoms and money belt threaten to fall down at any moment.
“That’s how you do it” he laughs as the poor girl is unceremoniously dumped back in front of me.
Can you imagine this happening in school these days?
For those of you who may be interested. This is how the ‘Gay Gordons’ goes.
Right hands joined over lady’s shoulder (man’s arm behind her back) and left hands joined in front, walk forward for four steps, starting on the right foot.
Still moving in the same direction, and without letting go, pivot on the spot (so left hand is behind lady and right hand is in front) and take four steps backwards.
Repeat in the opposite direction.
Drop left hands, raise right hands above lady’s head. Lady pivots on the spot. (The man may set).
Joining hands in ballroom hold, polka round the room
17 Ad Lib (Ad Lib?)
Dreadful, dahling, just dreadful …
Affectionately dedicated to all my dance partners over the years.
I suppose you might be thinking coal, asbestos, or brick dust, fair enough. But stardust?
Yet, for a while in the ’70s there was a significant scattering of Stardust in Rochdale, the old mill town in Lancashire where I grew up.
I should explain. The stardust in question was not sprinkly sparkly stuff, but plain old Bernard Jewry, otherwise known as Shane Fenton, otherwise known as Alvin Stardust; a corny, would-be glam pop singer.
One day on a gable end in Heywood near Rochdale, Alvin Stardust’s face appeared painted larger than life with a jigsaw pattern backgound. Why Alvin Stardust? Well why not? Local legend has it that it was intended to be Elvis, but the artist – who I later was to learn was Walter Kershaw – didn’t have a suitable picture!
Alvin Stardust by Walter Kershaw
Walter remembers going to the house and asking the owner whether he would mind if he used the side wall as his canvas. He said yes. This phenomenon of ‘Street Art’ (which pre-dates the ‘Cable Street Mural’ by at least four or five years ‘Art Graffiti’ by ten and Banksy by decades) began in 1973 with ‘The Pansies’. Often paintings were on properties that were due for demolition. I remember as a kid: dying to see what was going to appear next, and where.
Although I think I am right in saying that Walter never got into any trouble over his work, the Council certainly didn’t approve, which of course made it all the more exciting. I thought he was brilliant. A sort of guerrilla artist, bringing art out of the gallery into a public space.
The Inside Out House
My little story came about at the saturday morning art class which was held at Rochdale Art College. I loved it there. I did a basic drawing/painting class for a couple of years, then an excellent life drawing class for a couple more. I remember the white-painted studio walls, paint-caked floors and the smell of turpentine, oil paint and stale fixative; something which, although I have all but lost my sense of smell, I can still conjure up.
I must have been about thirteen. On this particular morning I was drawing an imaginary scene – a lunar space space station, when the tutor announced a visitor. It was Walter Kershaw, and he was keen to see what we were doing. I remember him going around, spending a little time with each of us; making suggestions about how we could improve our work. Finally, he came to me. I was in awe. For me it was like George Best suddenly coming up to you in the park and showing you how to improve your dribbling skills.
I remember exactly what he taught me, because I still have the picture. I had put in some rather half-baked lettering What he did was to rub this out and show me using faint ruler-drawn parallel lines, how to make ‘guides’ which would ensure you got letter shapes the same height. Something which in later life as an Art and Design teacher I did for my own students countless thousands of times.
Mmmmm. That Hubble telescope is not what it’s cracked up to be
In fact, at about this time, Rochdale had quite an alternative scene going on. So alongside Walter’s subversive murals, there was the Rochdale Alternative Press (RAP) – one of the highest circulation alternative magazines in Europe, The Rochdale Art Festival, The M6 theatre company (whose cast included Sue Johnston – later Brookside and Royal Family), The Deeply Vale free music festivals which played a significant part in the early careers of amongst others; Joy Division, The Fall, Mick Hucknall, plus Cargo studios on Kenyon Street where artists such as The Fall, Joy Division, Gang of Four, Not Sensibles, A Certain Ratio, Nico, Teardrop Explodes, Icicle Works, The Chameleons, Echo and the Bunnymen, Durutti Column etc. recorded.
In 1977 I moved away from Rochdale, but I never forgot Walter Kershaw’s work, nor his ‘down to earth’ approach to art. He was one of the reasons I went to study Art in Newcastle, as he studied there too (when it was still King’s College, Durham.) I began painting murals myself: at the Sixth Form college I went to and later, when I took up teaching, with groups of students in my own and local schools. In addition, mindful of how much of an impression it made on me to see an artist make a living from his work, and furthermore, share it with his community, in the last school I taught at we initiated an Artist in School programme that lasted over ten years, in which we had an annual residency or artist’s workshops, the aim being to reach as many children as possible.
Walter Kershaw. One of the TraffordPark mural panels
Walter still lives in Rochdale and works out of his studio in Littleborough and as well as his mural painting, which has taken him all over the world, he has work in a number of public collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Arts Council and the Gulbenkian Foundation.
I wonder what the founding fathers of Cheadle Hulme School, Manchester, England, would have made of this. They adopted in loco parentis as the school’s motto in 1855. Latin for “in the place of a parent”, it refers to the legal responsibility of a person or organization to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent. Originally derived from English common law, it allows institutions such as colleges and schools to act in the best interests of the students as they see fit.
I don’t wish to to labour the point, and I promise not to reinforce it with yet another clip from the film ‘Kes’ but here is another example of the kind of every day lunacy which was typical of my secondary schooldays.
First day at our new secondary school, St. Wilfrid’s. New stiff uniforms, new classes with lots of new faces. Eagerness, trepidation. All our eyes are fixed on our new form teacher Mr. Bradley as he takes the register for the first time.
“William …. William Walsh?”
“I like to be called Billy, Sir.”
Bradley stares at him and begins to froth at the mouth.
“Do you now? Well, I’d like to be called George Best and have all the money and birds he has, but I can’t can I, lad?”
As the Spanish say “Loco comó una moto” which roughly translates as “Mad as a box of frogs”
Now then, while visited by two old schoolmates recently we got to chewing the fat more than somewhat about the good old days, after which we came to the conclusion that save for some minor mental scarring our schooldays amounted to a hilarious, surreal experience – a sort of ‘Kes’ in real time. On pondering this I got a flashback the other day from my time at middle school which proves my point. I walked into the boys toilets just at the end of break to find 3 lads (for the life of me I can’t recall who they were), but of the two main protagonists One had his leg fully outstretched, shoe sole against the wall, while the other was taking short run ups and kicking the leg at a point midway between knee and ankle. The owner of the leg hadn’t done his Maths homework and wanted someone to break his leg, so he could get out of the lesson!
for children under the age of 12, unless accompanied by a parent or Guardian
Junior Science teachers ( a minimum of 2 years experience)
Science Technicians (as above, pro rata)
Once upon a time, before the invention of colour, I found myself in an English lesson. It wasn’t any old English lesson, oh no. It was my first English lesson at my new middle school: the monument to knowledge, learning and betterment of the Human Soul that was St. Wilfred’s Catholic Comprehensive Co- Educational Middle School, Rochdale. As I recall, a largely grim place which bore more than a passing resemblance to that which features in Ken Loach’s iconic 1969 film ‘Kes’. His version of the Barry Hines story ‘Kestrel for a Knave’. Honestly if you want a fairly accurate picture of what life was like in a run of the mill secondary school in the industrial North of England: all its banalities, injustices, absurdities and gallows humour, you need look no further than Casper’s school. In particular, the masterpiece that is the PE lesson and the Headmaster’s Office sequence (Go on have a look. For those of you who have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, click below for a vintage piece of social commentary in film) I can remember numerous lessons – not just PE, which were as surreal and farcical.
However, its significance was in more than just the marking of another new phase in my life. I admit, I suppose the fact that this notable lesson was being taught by a professional wrestler was something that doesn’t happen every day. (‘Taught’ insomuch as he gave us the books, set the task, remained with us the whole lesson and repeatedly told us to ‘Shut Up’) Mr. Green as I recall; though I daresay that wasn’t his ‘ring name’ I reckon it was something like ‘Greedy Guts Green: the Grappling Greaser’. He had shoulder-length lank, dark hair and great sideburns like strips of airport runway tarmac that very nearly met under his chin and a huge paunch on top of which you could comfortably park a decent sized family car. A monicker that would have been suitably in keeping with his hirsute style, far from athletic frame and the kind of bizarre, yet strangely compelling spectacle that was British ‘Professional’ wrestling in the 1970s.
No. Despite being an interesting footnote to my education in English, the lesson’s significance did not lie with Greedy Guts or plain Mr.Green nor indeed, how he chose to earn his pocket money.
It was significant because this was the first time I met Suky.
Suky was (and hopefully still is) Edmund Giddins, loveable rogue, tearaway and ne’r do well of Castleton near Rochdale. Not that I ever – not once, called him ‘Edmund’ or ‘Nez’,’ Ed’or ‘Giddy’ In fact I can recall times where I had trouble remembering exactly what his real name was. No, the strange nickname was down to elder brother Robert’s teasing, singing the nursery rhyme ‘Polly Put The Kettle On. The line ‘Suky Take It Off Again’ seemed to stick, and Suky it was.
We were pals straight away and every chance we got to sit together, we did. Suky was alright. Not least because he was PNE. That means he was a supporter of Preston North End. Living in Rochdale, that took some bottle, particularly as he was so passionate about them. It wasn’t something he hid: quite the opposite. He tattooed the back of his hands during another English lesson. I remember watching him do it, ‘convict style’ with a compass and a fountain pen ink cartridge. ‘PNE’ across his knuckles. I admired this aspect of his character. The only other PNE supporter in Rochdale I knew of was my Dad, who although he didn’t tattoo their name across his knuckles, was passionate in his own way when he talked wistfully of his times at Deepdale watching the great Tom Finney.
Suky had eight brothers: Frank, John, Robert, Chris (who I was to get to know some years later, in of all places, Newcastle upon Tyne, where he was doing teacher training) Anthony or ‘Ants’ as he was known, Michael, Richard, Patrick and three sisters: Anne, Shiela and Pauline. Chris and ‘Ants’ were the only ones I knew. My Best Mate Aky lived nearby and bunked off with ‘The Giddins’ – or at least Suky, Chris and ‘Ants’ – closest to him in age, on a fairly regular basis.
And ‘The Giddins’ is how they were known. A collective entity. Mad on Bowie, Velvets, Lou Reed, Roxy. Not so mad on school, authority, being told what to do. There were times when they bunked so much, people thought they were on part time timetables. Suky wasn’t a bad lad. He was bright but lazy, enjoyed having a laugh, was fearless – every time some hairbrained scheme or other was hatched requiring someone with a bit of moxie to front it, Suky was there. He was always in trouble: increasingly so as he got older; but nothing major, nothing nasty. He gave the impression he just didn’t care – and he didn’t about a lot of things: but he never would have hurt anyone.
Two memorable lessons (for all the wrong reasons)
Both incidents take place at the Bishop Henshaw Memorial R C High School, Shaw Road, Rochdale. Don’t look for it, it’s no longer there. It is now St. Cuthbert’s. I attended for two years: 4th and 5th year (Years 10 and 11 in today’s money)
Anyway, it is three years later and it just so happens that me and Suky are sitting together, funnily enough, in our first Geography lesson at our new high school, the aforementioned Bishop Henshaw – or ‘Benshaws’ as it was known. Despite it being our very first lesson of the year our teacher was absent (not a good sign) and so we were being looked after by the Head of Department, the ‘hilarious’ Mr. Broadgland. He was playing the ‘Introductions’ Game. Go round the room one table at a time and get everyone to say who they are, which school they have come from, why they have chosen Geography and who they fancy for the 3:30 at Chepstow. Anyway, he finally casts his piggy little eyes in our direction. I am dreading this, but he starts with Suky – “Now, don’t tell me … You’re a Giddins aren’t you?”
“Yes Sir” says Suky
“Aaaahhhh. See? I can smell ‘em a mile off” Chortled Mr Broadgland to himself.
“Yeah, but at least I don’t smell of shit like you, you cunt” said Suky under his breath, smarting (as I did on his behalf too) at the uncalled for verbal assault by Broadgland.
“What’s that lad?”
“Oh I was just saying I hoped I’d be able to sit nearer the front Sir”
“Pleased to hear it Giddins, my lad, pleased to hear it. Next week”
“Fuck you, you knob” muttered Suky
“Sorry? …. “
“I said just the job …”
What an outrageous thing to say. Thirty five years later I can still see, as though it were yesterday, Suky colour up, bite his lip, breath quicken and blink rate increase as his eyes begin to prick and sting …. .
The second episode is – surprise, surprise! Another Geography lesson, six months down the line. It turns out that our Geography teacher, second in command in Broadgland’s little empire, is ‘up the duff’ or ‘with child’ so not only have we not seen her since we started at the school, we’ve had cover teacher after cover teacher after supply after cover teacher and its a load of crap and we’re all sick of Broadgland’s photocopied sheets. In fact, we never do see her,ever, because after giving birth, she decides to give up teaching to be a full time Mum! Excellent! Another year of photocopies we’ve actually already done and cover teachers,supply teachers, cover teachers …
… Like this one. Dr. Joy. Bastard. He was a Physics teacher of bad hair and humour. Today, he had our lesson. The inevitable photocopies came round, we said we’d already done them. He said we hadn’t, we said WE HAD: TWICE, he said there must be a good reason for us doing them again and not only that, but we would do them in SILENCE! (Shouted) – a common teacher’s trick. Lull your class into a false sense of security, with a gentle calm voice … then make them all jump when for no apparent reason, YOU SHOUT THE LAST BIT OF YOUR SENTENCE OUT AS LOUD AS YOU CAN! Great fun.
Anyway, there’s no chance me and Suky are going to pass up the opportunity of a good natter – probably about music, which by this time, we were both heavily into. Joy obviously knew we were talking, he kept looking up and giving us the ‘I know you two are talking, and so I’m going to keep doing this till I catch the pair of you’ look. Well me and Suky are quite adept thank you very much at holding surruptitious conversations. I mean, we’d had lots of chance to practice. But what this sneaky bastard does is quietly slip out of his seat, work his way around the room, coming up behind as we chunter away. He’s brought with him ‘Scrote’s Elementary Physics’ a sizeable hardbacked tome, which he brings down with full force, on first my noggin, then Suky’s. To add insult to injury, he gives us a post lesson ‘stern talking to’ and asks us each do an essay for the following morning on ‘Truth’ ‘Why it’s important not to lie’ or some bobbins like that. Bastard! …. Anyway, I thought as he sent us away, We didn’t tell any lies: we were talking; you caught us.Then you hit us over the head with the fucking Domesday Book.
I saw Suky the following morning.“Essay? “ He looked unconcerned. “Nah, he can stick it up his arse. I’m not writing any essays. He won’t bloody check “ He didn’t, Joy never bloody did. My Dad was Head of the Sixth Form at the school, and I didn’t want tales of my misdemeanors finding their way back and embarrassing him. So my earnest, crappy little ‘essay’ was dutifully handed in at the staffroom door. It probably went straight into the bin. (As kids, staffrooms seemed to suggest a fiercely guarded garden of delights. When I became a teacher, I discovered that all that was fiercely guarded were the few minutes calm in a sea of lunacy …there was no garden of delights. Not even, despite the many plant pots and yoghurt containers anything remotely green and living – except in the fridge – the squalor! …)
The Tale of Suky and the fireproof curtains
Now then, in a grim, colourless and unstimulating environment, Science labs were an Alladin’s cave of wonders just crying out to be stolen, broken, fucked about with, and used for entirely the wrong purpose.The corridors and stairwells where we had to ‘line up’ for Science lessons had fire extiguishers at approriate intervals on their walls. It was considered highly amusing, around this time to read out to those around you for their health and safety, the instructions for operational use of these vital pieces of equipment.
Remove from the wall
Aim at the base of the fire
At which point, some unfortunate of the male persuasion and not party to what was coming next, would be the recipient of a barrage of thumps into the goolies which would serve to make his eyeballs spin, like washing machine drums in different directions, stream stinging tears and be enough to raise the pitch of his voice by two octaves. Little did we know that today they would be called into action. (And at least one of them found wanting)
Like many school Science departments, the rooms were collected around a central resource space with connecting doors to the classrooms. we entered the classroom and sat down. Suky was in the other class. After a few minutes I felt sure I heard a faint scream, from the class next door. Then lots of subdued shouts, calls and a couple of bouts of hysterical laughter. The noise was getting louder!
Suky had decided to appoint himself Chief Fire Officer for the day and number one on the list of checks he had chosen to to perform was over the effectiveness of the flame retardancy of the safety curtains. All Suky had to do was open the gas tap and torch the nearest curtain at the same time. The rest of the class, sensing something was ‘afoot’ began to sidle over to Suky’s side of the room, eyes on the curtains.
And they weren’t disappointed as much to their glee minimal contact between flame and fabric, and they went up like the Hindenberg. One of the white-coated Science technicians burst through the connecting door, into our classroom, from where, she amost bounced up to Mr. Viscsak our teacher and began whispering frantically.
A loud “Ooooooooohhhhhh!” from next door. It seems like another curtain had gone up. It was like bloody Bonfire Night!
We weren’t aware of it at the time, but it transpires that poor old Suky is in double trouble. For as we strain our necks to watch the flaming tatters of the ‘fire- proof’ curtains peel away and fall with a kind of ghostly grace, they do so onto neatly stacked piles of unmarked Science exam papers! Arkward.
“Now that’s enough!” Said Mr. Viscsak, as he strode purposefully next door to sort out the whole flaming mess. We were out of our seats peering into next door’s room for a better view. Suky was dragged off for questionning The whole school was abuzz with his exploits at lunchtime.
What’s all this about the curtains in the Science lab?
‘Fireproof, flame retardant. I think they have to have them in case of fire.’
‘Well, they had a case of fire today, and they were fucking useless’
Later that same afternoon, Suky was grilled by Headmaster, Mr. O’Riordan . His defence that he wanted to check and confirm that the curtains met minimum BS standards was found to be untenable. Suky was sent home the afternoon of his misdemeanor, to come back again the following morning, to then be taken out of his lessons all day, returned to his science classroom at the end of the school and held there for an hour’s detention. That was just for starters. I think the Science department wanted its pound of flesh for those damaged exam scripts.
With a clarity that is admirable, Suky said “This is bollocks”, went home that afternoon never to return!
Let me explain. All this nonsense took place about four weeks before the end of the summer term of Suky’s third year. the summer holidays followed, then …a new school! …. Bishop Henshaw! Suky confided in My Best Mate Aky. What was he going to do? They were going to crucify him at school. Aky put his thinking cap on. Master-tactician and strategist even at the age of 13, Aky considered the whole picture. There was a fair chance, he reasoned, that if Suky ‘laid low’ till the end of term, then a new start in a new school? who knows? It might all blow over. It was a calculated risk. But one that Suky was prepared to take. My Best Mate Aky concerned that Suky’s immediate future and peace of mind rested on his ‘long shot’ agreed to accompany him. So the two of them bunked off the whole of the following month.
And what do you think? It bloody well worked! Suky ‘re-surfaced’ anew at Bishop Henshaw, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, so to speak, having escaped the wrath of Headmaster O’ Riordan and St. Wilfred’s Science department. Now you can see why idiot Broadgland’s stupid remarks struck a raw nerve.
So there you go. That’s the story of Suky and the unsafe safety curtains. I last saw Suky in The Flying Horse 1977, before I moved away from Rochdale. But I gather that he still lives in the area with his family. Thanks Suky for a great story and just mind how you go with the barbecue.