SO LONG AND SO FAR AWAY
OR, ‘THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE THUGLY’
THE JOURNAL OF FUN LOVING BOY
I attended Xaverian from September 1957 until June 1964. This document presents my perceptions of the school at that time, based on my experiences there. The perceptions of some teachers are different to those of other contributors, probably because we had different experiences of them.
My overall opinion of these experiences is mixed, some good, some poor to the point of being appalling. The pleasant memories are based mainly on the friendships made and the escapades these friendships engendered. I also have some good memories of a number of dedicated teachers who made lasting contributions to my academic development.
Unfortunately, this is offset by the indifference and disregard for pupils displayed by others. Many of these were dotty and manic and included nutters, thugs and abusers.
Because the quality of teaching was thus piecemeal, I am somewhat surprised by the success of many old Xaverians in their chosen fields. I attribute many of these successes being in spite of and not because of the school. As my old mate Tom McGrath has commented, despite the bad teachers we somehow got through the hoops of exams.
About twenty years ago I met an old Xaverian teacher from my time there. We bumped into each other in a pub in Hale Barns.I found him warm and personable and he impressively remembered me,despite only teaching me for a year. He was one of those teachers that I gratefully remember for the contribution he made to my education.
In our conversation I mentioned my concerns about the teaching ability of many staff. He replied that there was a view prevalent among some staff at the time that if pupils wanted to learn they could and if not, then that was their issue. I said that this appalled me and added that the school and those teachers did not have the right to make that decision, as it was wasteful on pupils and inhibited their opportunities. It was the responsibility of the school to do what it reasonably could for each pupil.
He did add that Brother Cyril recognized this failure and subsequent improvements were made. I only had a brief experience of Brother Cyril as he was appointed when I was in the 6th form but I have noted that many subsequent pupils speak warmly about him.
My first day at Xaverian was 9th September 1957. I was filled with excitement. My reluctant escort was Tom Rawlins who was in the Upper 4th. We got the 45 bus from Broadoak Road to Princess Road and then the legendary 53 from Raby Street to Wilmslow Road. Over the next few years this became a well worn route. At Wilmslow Road, Tom quickly departed into the Manchester drizzle. After all, which self respecting old hand wanted to be seen with a sprog whose blazer was too big, whose short trousers were too long and even wore a school cap into which his head had to grow.
I wandered up Dagenham Road to Ward Hall, at one point on the grass, passing a pile of deflated white balloons . In my youthful naivety I presumed a party had taken place. A more worldly pupil told me they were the residue from a lady’s emporium for male relief. They were there, afresh, each morning for the next twelve months.
I made my way to the imposing Ward Hall where I teamed up with Tom McGrath, Ian Ramsay and Harry Lowe, who had all been at St. John’s, Benchill with me. I was nervous but excited at the prospect of the great adventure before me. Tom and I had been mates since 1952 from our time at ‘Johnnies’ and still are. Along with two other Xavs.’ lads, Pete Booth and Danny McIlwaine and our respective wives we each do a friends’ meal each year, the Quadannual. The four mates also have an annual game of bowls at Mottram St. Andrew and a game of snooker at Tom’s gentleman’s club in Chorlton. It is remarkable to retain such friendships for so long and we do value them. I did make many friendships at Xaverian, but sadly, once I had left the school, these other friendships evaporated.
Of the other two St. John’s boys who started at the school with me, Ian sadly died three years ago and Harry emigrated to Australia.
It is an interesting statistic, that out of the 1957 intake of ninety pupils, fifteen of them came from Wythenshawe Catholic primary schools. This trend continued at the school whilst I was there and was not universally celebrated by all staff. One staff member, I think it was Brother Albert, commented that, “Too many boys are now coming to the school from that rough council estate in the south of the city.”
My first year at Xaverian was the most enjoyable I had there. There was a positive atmosphere and those teachers who taught me gave out a feeling of wanting to positively initiate you into the school and ensure that you achieved. I loved and thrived on the experience and did very well academically that year. I never had a similar experience of learning pleasure until I was in the 6th Form.
The teachers were, collectively, the best group I experienced at the school.
Brother Gerald was our form master teaching RE and English. I found his English teaching good and he introduced me to much good literature. He was also pastorally very good.
Miss Eaton taught maths efficiently and again I made good progress. For some reason her teaching of LCM and HCF has stuck in my mind. Jock Burns taught Science and I remember him introducing me to interesting scientific concepts, my interest in astronomy emanates from this time. Sadly, I never again. enjoyed Science as much.
Kevin McEvoy taught French and I found his methods to be interesting and innovative. I loved the subject for that one year and much of my current French speaking derives from that year. He also arranged for us to have a French penfriend, mine being Jean- Luc from Calais. I do not know what he and his family made of my pigeon French. I certainly had a chuckle or two at his pigeon English.
Mr Archdeacon, “Archie”, taught History and I found his teaching of early civilisations interesting. He also encouraged individual research and during one half term I researched the ‘Romans in Manchester’, by going to the Local History section of Central Library. Archie was well impressed and asked me to teach the lesson to the class. This did wonders for my self esteem and I became the first pupil in the school to receive house points under the new system introduced. I liked ‘Archie’ but boys in other classes remarked on the fierce temper he sometimes displayed.
Mr ‘Chuck’ Sellars taught music. I found him to be loud and stern, but a wonderful teacher. I learnt how to compose and read music and after an audition for the school choir, Chuck complimented me on the quality of my singing. At the time I was beginning to learn how to play the violin at a venue near home. I proudly told Chuck about this and he asked me to audition for the school orchestra. I scraped and scrawped after which Chuck invited me to play In the school orchestra at the Free Trade Hall. He did add, “Make sure you put plenty of soap on your bow and strings before you come.” I thought this was technical advice and duly obliged. It was years later that I realized the advice was given so that no sound emerged from my twelve inch long violin. However , what a great example of teacher encouragement to a child!
With regards to my violin playing my father had it succinctly expressed. He invited family members to come and” listen to our Paul playing the catzholium!”
Brother ‘Jack’ Adrian taught PE. He was a chain smoking taciturn individual but I enjoyed the variety of his lessons, particularly the end of term game of ‘Pirates.’
Mr. ‘Rufus’ ‘Fungus Face’ Curtis taught art and I enjoyed the sessions in the art room. He was by turns fierce and sensitive to his pupils . He once punched me in the kidneys for talking. I milked this by groaning and whimpering like Fred and Fernandes at Old Trafford.He became concerned and asked how I was feeling. I told him that I had recently had an appendix operation where he had hit me. (I hadn’t). Rufus became remorseful and fed me orange juice and biscuits, which I gratefully received.
The next week he had second thoughts about my ‘surgery’ and asked to see my scars. He said “There’s nothing there boy.” “ No sir, I had invisible mending!”
Another punch ensued but without the complimentary orange juice!
Geography was taught by Bernard Crotty who always wore his trilby. He was an appalling teacher and, unfortunately, I had him for the next four years. Strangely, I never finished lower than second in the end of term geography exams. This confirms my theory that Xaverian pupils could do well in spite of the teachers.
For the first year only we did woodwork in a room near the cricket pavilion. After the first year nobody in our year chose woodwork as an option. The reason was the teacher, a Mr. Porter. He spent every Friday lunchtime in the Clarence pub on Wilmslow Road and we had him first lesson on Friday afternoon. His mood was always foul and he was not beyond throwing tools at pupils, including wood chisels. You can always tell a Xavs.’ lad from this time. If you mention woodwork such lads always instinctively duck! Dominic Sankey endured the brunt of this brutal behaviour from Porter. Dominic was a sound lad, but to Porter he was Indian and this disqualified him from decent treatment in Porter’s eyes!!!
The Munich Air Disaster in February 1958 had a huge effect on the school and I never knew it to be so subdued. The day after the plane crash, a Friday, everybody shuffled round the yard, football and shouting forgotten. The staff were also sensitive to the mood and lessons were muted. In the Ward Hall dining room at lunchtime the usual boisterous hour was suspended. A radio system had been set up and we listened in silence to the latest reports. Everybody, fans and non football fans were affected by the disaster, and even devout City fans, like myself, admired the Babes. To Mancunians they were ‘ours’.
At the end of the first year we all had to make a subject choice from Art, Music and Woodwork. I do not know of any boy about who chose Woodwork. I was mortified and I thought it was an appalling choice to make. Not only did I love both Art and Music it meant that my cultural education was sadly diminished. I did choose Art and never again received the learning pleasure of being taught by ‘Chuck’ Sellars. I am sure the choice emanated from a logistical staffing decision but I’m still appalled by it.
Boys in my class whom I remember from this time include: Harry Lowe; Peter Cookson ( excellent at Maths and a great cricketer); John Toft ( Very good at French); Thaddeus Kondracowicz, (very quiet, studious and able); Geoff Morris ( a very personable lad and the best footballer I saw at Xaverian); Dominic Sankey ( A very likeable and gregarious boy); Michael Doherty ( he always came top of the class); Michael Hewitson ( easy going and a good right winger) and his mate from Bishop Bilsborrow, John Bradley; and Lawrence Carmody and Thomas(?) Poole, neither of whom returned for the second year.
To offset this great group of lads was a boy in the parallel class, 3.3. I vaguely remember his name being Traynor and within the first two weeks had established himself as the ‘Flashman’ of Ward Hall. He bizarrely espoused himself to be an admirer of Hitler! He gathered around a group of, mainly big boys who set about unmercifully making the lives of other boys a misery.
These other boys were mainly quiet, inoffensive and shy and I do remember Dominic Sankey,Thaddeus Kondratowicz and Michael Congdon being in tears. This group of thugs always referred to their victims as being “evil”, an horrendous and humiliating jibe.
About half way through the year an incident occurred which thankfully diminished the power of this group, whose hold was similar to the ‘tribe,in “Lord of the Flies”, with Traynor taking the “Jack” role.
Thaddeus was being bullied again when Geoff Morris intervened on his friend’s behalf. They had both been at St. Joseph’s, Longsight and were good mates. Geoff challenged Traynor to stop. The whole yard watched. Although the smaller of the two and despite his customary geniality,there was an edge to Geoff. This was recognised by Traynor and he backed off and with it the group’s hold faded away.
Well done Geoff, you were always a good officer!
If Traynor is still around and would like to discuss the old days with me, I now live at no abode, in Tristan da Cunha.
The next year I moved into the main school in the Lower Fourth. Although I still did well academically that year, it is from this time that my overall results , performance and motivation diminished. This was emphasised by my yearly exam results which over a three year period went steadily downhill. I refer to this period as ‘the lost years’ of my education This was mainly due the general poor teaching by some (but not all) disinterested, diffident and incompetent teachers who saw their job to dryly present information that was largely not understood. There was little, if any attempt to inspire or check for understanding, but punishment was inflicted for not knowing.
Mr. Gleason was new to the school and was a chain smoking, beer drinking Geordie. I found him pleasant and certainly in English he was able to motivate me to maintain my previous good standards. He also encouraged and directed us to several good writers which was something I appreciated. As a beer drinker he once informed us that we could obtain most of our nourishment from beer. I informed my mother of this who replied,”That may be well and good for him, you are having a casserole!” It was several years before I could put his theory to the test!
He also taught the new subject of Latin with which I initially coped reasonably well.I suspect that this subject had been imposed on Mr Gleason for he gave the impression that he was only a page or two in front of the class. His teaching of Latin did not measure up to his teaching of English and I soon lost interest.
The Latin primer we had was a dull book entitled, ‘Civis Romanus’. To amuse myself and my mate Tex Burke,I inscribed in the inside cover, “A soul, searing, saga of life in Imperial Rome.” Unfortunately I was sent to be caned for “defacing school property.”
From this I gave up on Latin and concluded that I wanted nothing more to do with the Romans and their language, both being without humour!
Maths was taught by Mr. ‘Pop’ Eaton who was the school bursar and taught maths like he was addressing a ledger. His teaching(?) of algebra bamboozled me. It consisted of writing some hieroglyphs on the board and directing us to do “page 87”. I was lost because this teaching(?) seemed to consist of the presentation of a number of magic rules and if you did not understand magic rule 1 you could not do magic rule 2 because this depended on understanding magic rule 1. ‘Pop’s’ methodology(?) consisted of “I have told you, now do it.” No thought was given to the concept of assisting those who struggled with magic rules. I found his teaching of geometry perplexing, and one one occasion, I could not answer his question and he ordered me to, “Stand in the corner.” To my frustration I did not know where this was!! I suffered this mathematical morass for three years until I was taught by Tom Arklass.
Science was taught by Mr. ‘Percy’ Whelan. He was a good man but the teaching methodology was mainly chalk and talk with little practical work and the ‘magic rules’ syndrome set in. The school science block did not appear until several years later.
I had the misfortune to be taught by Bernard Crotty again, and for the following two years. He had little interest or motivation to teach and the lessons degenerated onto class cabaret sessions , where we all just messed and disrupted, continually interrupting his important ‘Times’ reading. I always did well in the end of term exams. However one year, my end of term report ( which I still have), informed me that I had come first with 74%. It also stated, “Bernard has not worked nor made an impression this year.” My mother demanded to know who Bernard was. It could not have been Bernard Hill because he came third. My only conclusion was that it was a self appraisal by Dotty Crotty.
After enjoying French with Kev McEvoy,I next encountered Mr. ‘Larry’ Halstead. There could not have been a more marked contrast. His whole approach was didactically regurgitating French grammar. There was no spoken French or the other interesting methods utilised by Mr. McEvoy. Mr. Halstead also had an abusive and brutal punishment regime. If you could not answer a question he pulled your sideburns hard, often bringing tears to the eyes. If you chatted or played about, he would place his left hand on the right side of your face and then forcibly slap the other side of the face, leaving a prominent red weal. Definitely not a nice person!
I had first hand (sic.) experience of Halstead’s ritualistic brutality. He called me out to the board and asked me to write out the past pluperfect of four French verbs. He knew I could not do it. I scratched a few marks on the board accompanied by Halstead’s sarcasm. “ Come on Jackson, you can do it” and “We are with him so far boys aren’t we!” The inevitable came and I received the ceremonial face slap which stung for the rest of the day. There were a few sniggers from some in the class. I suspect they were sniggers of relief that they were not the victim. My humiliation was complete and it was akin to hearing a grandchild heckled at the Nativity play.
Another old boy account has described how somebody fired an air rifle at Halstead. The story I heard concerned a 6th Former called Kelly who was a bodybuilder and had an impressive physique. One day after school, Kelly waited for Mr. Halstead, grabbed him and took him into Sunbury where he locked him in a cupboard. He then waited for the caretaker to lock up and left Halstead for the night. Kelly then walked out of the school gates, down Thurloe Street and never returned.
My fervent wish is that teachers like him have received their just desserts!
My History teacher for three years was Dan Mallon, a Canadian, of whom, the school legend stated that he was a black belt in karate. As most of us did not have such a belt of any kind, even in origami, we never tested Mr.Mallon with our behaviour. I remember him as being very pleasant, but his History teaching was somewhat unorthodox. It consisted of him drawing elegant diagrams on the board, mainly of past battles, usually between the French and the Prussians. To demonstrate the climax of these battles he would bang his hand fiercely on the blackboard. I never knew whether this was for emphasis or karate practice.
A new PE teacher came at the start of our second year. His name was Mr. ‘Harry’ Newton. He was a pleasant, generally easy going man, who looked smart in his Loughborough College blazer with a badge. He was not the most dynamic PE teacher, particularly in the summer, when the sun was out. He would take us on the field wearing his tee shirt and shorts. Groups of six were sorted and various pieces of athletics equipment distributed among the groups. We were to have a session with each piece of equipment and move around at the sound of Mr. Newton’s whistle.This was fine, except that Mr. Newton removed his tee shirt and lay down on the grass to absorb some much needed vitamin D. From this supine position and with his eyes closed he would periodically blow his whistle and we would move round. We never learnt anything but we were occupied. The only cautious note was being aware of Bernard Hill, who was a very good javelin thrower, but dangerous!
In the gym Mr. Newton had an innovative punishment sanction. Boys who had earned his displeasure had to remove their vests and hang from the wall bars. If they could do this for three minutes they had endured their punishment. If not they were hit on the buttocks with ‘Harry’s’ plimsoll or his plimsoll line as we called it.
In the Lower Fourth the RE teacher was Brother Albert, a serious man who was never seen to smile. He presented an RE challenge research project. As I enjoyed such ways of working I entered this. One day he came into class and said, “Jackson come with me.” I was worried and wondered which of my misdemeanours he had found out. I followed him into the next classroom where his form was seated. Without a word he held out his hand and presented me with a book, a Knox Bible. He then turned to his class and unceremoniously berated them for not entering the RE challenge. Without a word he beckoned me away. It was good to see that my work had been so graciously recognised by him!
In this three year period before the Upper Fifth, I became increasingly disenchanted with the quality of the teaching I was receiving. I view it as the forgotten period, as little learning substance took place. It led to me seeking an alternative form of motivation and I became the class joker constantly looking for new ways to mess about and disrupt lessons. I still feel strongly about the bullying and abuse from some teachers. We had no redress as we were expected to conform, no matter what. It was, unfortunately, endemic of the age. I sometimes think some staff behaved in the ways they did because they thought it was character building for us.
I did have one positive channel of fun, which was through the innovative debates initiated by Mr. Gleason. We all enjoyed these and they gave scope to some excellently prepared and well delivered speeches by my classmates. I always volunteered to speak and saw myself as the entertainment officer in these providing light relief in serious debates. I had an introduction which never varied and began, “Gentlemen,we are gathered today in this melancholy classroom————“. After time the class knew what was coming and joined in with me in the Xaverian version of plain chant!
Mr. Gleason said after one, “ Very entertaining Jackson but you have not once made reference to the subject matter.” I was delighted with this feedback. He also referred to me as “Joker Jackson” but I had to correct him, “ Jokeson sir”. My future was now mapped out before me, I would become a nationally renowned stand up comic. The Glasgow Empire beckoned ( but not on a Saturday when both Celtic and Rangers had lost).
I can recollect a number of incidents from this period. One involved a Brother David, the Headteacher. Bro. Dave was going bald and like Bobby Charlton he refused to accept it . What he had, he let grow long and arranged it like a cinnamon whirl around his head. Unfortunately for him,when he took morning prayers in the yard, especially when a north or south wind was blowing, it blew his coiffure sideways. It was surreal to see him, eyes closed, hands joined in reverence, with a metre of grey hair blowing out sideways.
‘Rufus’ Curtis took his turn on the rota at gathering the school together at the end of lunchtime. We were expected to line up in our classes, with the youngest pupils at the front. The expectation was there would be four groups of three lines ready to go to class. Then the pantomime would start. The three Fifth Year classes would form one line which snaked away across the yard, through the gate and down Thurloe Street. Rufus would chase after them and bring them all back into form three lines.in the meantime everybody else went back to playing football etc. Order was then restored and we lined up again. Except that the Fourth Years now snaked away down Thurloe Street etc. ad infinitum. In the meantime, the rest of the teaching staff watched from the first floor windows, not one offering to come to the aid of Rufus, who was so red in the face, looked as though his head was about to explode!
One incident I remember from this time involved myself, Bernard Hill and Denis McKay. It was after school and for whatever reason we were on the top floor of the main school building. There was a teacher, whose name I do not know, walking across the yard. I think he taught Science in the 6th Form and he bore a remarkable resemblance to Hitler,without the moustache. I could not resist it, and stepping back from the window with Bernard and Dennis I yelled, “ Adolph!”.
Something must have resonated with him and he immediately turned and made his way back to the main school building. We panicked and began to run downstairs.we made it to the first floor but realised there was no way out. We would be trapped. Our panic was now worse and I said to Bernard and Denis, “ The Chapel !”.
Once inside, I said to Bernard, “ Start us off on the third Glorious Mystery of the Rosary!” Bernard was brilliant, and in his best sepulchral tones, which magnificently captured the voice of Father McGuinness, parish priest of St Edward’s,and led us in the Rosary. ‘Adolph’ then rushed into the chapel and seeing three devout Catholic boys left us to finish our prayers. I take great pleasure in announcing that I was Bernard Hill’s first director, in a path which led him to Hollywood fame.
I must admit Bernard was fantastic and I can take no credit for that.
Some of my best mates at this time were, the erstwhile Tom, Tex Burke, John Challinor, Nicky Walsh, Bernard Hill and Denis McKay. Others I remember are, Roger Norman, Brian Morgan, Paul Davidson, John White, Keith Bradbury, Edmund Flood, Joe Telford, Francis Green and Leo Fewtrell. There are others I can remember but whose names escape me including a lad from Gorton, who remained in class during a fire drill to have a fag. Despite the traumas of some of the poor teaching I have fond memories of this class as being a good set of lads. One of the best motley crews I have ever known!
DID IT REALLY HAPPEN?
The Rusholme Ice Cream Wars on Thurloe Street !
The younger kid dubbed ‘Greensleeves’ because he always had a runny nose!
Kelly answering the register from a third floor ledge!
Buying a fag and a match for a penny from that kind newsagent on Wilmslow Road!
Adults were sometimes more understanding in those days!
Keith Bradbury hiding in a classroom cupboard and calling out, and Crotty’s fury because his reading of the Times was disrupted and he couldn’t find the culprit!
The whole school coughing wars when Rufus took lining up time after lunch and his resultant apoplectic fits!
Barney the ‘ King of the Toilets!’ He spent so much time there!
Brian Morgan creeping out of the toilets at the end of playtime so that he could say, “ Don’t tell anybody. I’ve just wagged break!”
Hanging swots by their hands from the underground red hot heating pipes in Sunbury. ( the year above us did this)
Mckerney (?) being sent out of class three times for the cane by Crotty because he didn’t think he had received enough strokes!
The sight we all envied of two fifth formers being brought to school in the back of a police van and delivered straight to Brother David’s office!
Michael Burke, two years above us, who left in the third year, but who was kept on the register and was hereafter named ‘Michael Burke Absent’!
Michael Kelly who left in the third year and it was conjectured that he had gone to the Hollies as he had spent so much time with Hollies’ girls! ?
Hislop who was excused from the “ Rusholme Cross Country Runs” because he told Newton he had only one lung!
Edwards’ excuse for giving Greene a black eye, “ I was aiming for his nose sir. I missed”! (?)
Plumb(?) adopting a dog off Denison Road and insisting to Gleason that he wanted it put on the register!
Those days did exist are not the result of a Malbec induced fantasy!
At the start of the Fifth Year the class groups were changed around, One of my first tasks was to see which teachers I had. I was appalled. They included, Crotty, Halstead, ‘Pop’ Eaton, Dan Mallon and ‘Pug’ Diamond. I had realized that at the end of that year we were to sit something called O Levels, which were deemed important. I had to do something about the teaching situation so I devised a cunning plan. Following the Vocations Exhibition at Belle Vue a couple of years earlier, Tex Burke and I had enjoyed holidays at a White Fathers’ seminary near Bishops Waltham in Hampshire. With this in mind I sought an interview with Brother David, the Headteacher. I explained that I was seriously considering becoming a White Father for which Latin was a pre-requisite. The class to which I had been apportioned did not do Latin, so I asked Brother David if I could be placed in the parallel class which did Latin. He listened carefully and graciously agreed to my request.
My actions may be thought devious, but I believed that my education was more important. The fact that I was useless at Latin was not even a consideration.
The move proved to be good and in the first few days I discerned that the new teachers had a brisk professionalism about them. It was their job to ensure we learnt and passed exams. I was again motivated as I had been in my first year although it took me some time to re-adjust to working and completing homework. My previous attitude of being, ‘Jack(son) the Lad diminished.
The Maths. Teacher was Mr. Tom Arklass. He was forthright and mainly traditional in his approaches but he encouraged questions and class discussions to collectively answer questions, which I found stimulating. Magic rules were carefully explained and if you were unsure and let him know, help was received. My maths improved and without Tom Arklass I doubt that I would have passed my O Level.
Mr . Clive Price taught History. He was an eminent local historian and was an enthusiast for the subject. I caught this enthusiasm and my enjoyment of History returned.
Jock Burns taught Science and his no nonsense approach ensured I made some progress with Physics and Chemistry.
The form master and teacher of RE, French and Latin was Brother Pius whom I had not met before. He was strict,with an accompanying dry sense of humour. Many in the class benefited from his teaching, particularly in French. Sadly I did not. My previous three years’ experiences of Latin had left me too far behind. The White Fathers thus missed out! Brother Pius invited pupils to come into school in the holidays for additional French lessons. I was warned off because he apparently had a ‘reputation’. I was invited to conjugate but declined!
The Geography teacher was ‘Tom’ Dooley.Almost any teacher would have been an improvement on the Crott, but Mr Dooley was a competent teacher and a really pleasant man. I had no problems maintaining, and even improving, on my previous standards in Geography. His teaching of map reading was particularly good and helpful, as the Crott had never even touched upon this.
I met Jack Connelly for the first time in the Upper Fifth and he had an important influence on my English development. He was a good teacher with a great love of the language. I had always performed well in English. in all my previous classes, but Jack’s teaching and enthusiasm, particularly for literature., led me into insights I had not met before. Thank you Sir! As I write this we are blighted by Coronavirus. It is somewhat ironic, that one of the set books in English Literature was “Journal of The Plague Year”, by Daniel Defoe. The parallels with the current situation are remarkable.
My cunning plan had paid off and I did better in my ‘O’ Levels than I would if I had remained in the original class. I entered the Sixth Form wearing my new black blazer like a winner of the ‘Masters’.
I had decided that my three A Level subjects would be English Literature, Geography and History. This was determined by my consideration that I would do better in exams in these, but also because the teachers would be those I had in the Fifth Year, Jack Connolly, Clive Price and ‘Tom’ Dooley, each of whom I had grown to respect the previous year.
We had a new Headteacher, Brother Cyril, Brother David having moved to become the Provincial Head. I had not met Cyril before and shortly after the start of term we crossed paths in the yard. He surprised me because he seemed to know me. “ Ah! Jackson”, he said, “You have a reputation!”
I didn’t know that I had and was taken aback.
“You have that lean and hungry look. Such boys can be dangerous.”
I was even more taken aback, first, by his knowing me, and then by comparing me to Cassius in ‘Julius Caesar’, which we had just studied.
I was warned!
I did not come across Brother Cyril much in the Sixth Form and I presume he was engaged with age groups lower down the school. It was with these that he would create the school he wanted. This made sense and was a good management strategy. I did meet him in school when I went to find my A Level results. He was charming and complimentary, especially as I had been rushed into hospital with a burst appendix a month before the exams. From later reports it appears that he was highly thought of by subsequent pupils.
I enjoyed my time in the 6th Form and it was interesting that, although there were greater expectations of us, we were treated better than previously. There was even a smoke room provided and to celebrate this a number of us became smokers!
A Level work had a greater emphasis on thinking rather than regurgitating, and essays had to be presented with considered arguments. Once I had assimilated this as a process I enjoyed the stimulation in researching reasons to back up my arguments. This approach was encouraged, particularly by Jack Connolly and Clive Price.
Mr. Price invited impromptu debates in class about issues and historical characters. Much good discussion arose from these.He also recommended good background reading material, to widen our understanding.
Jack Connolly provided insights into language and the nuances of literature which deepened my understanding of texts. He also challenged our thinking by asking that we give examples from the text to support our statements. All this methodology was not only helpful in the subsequent exam but also in helping my reading after I had left school.
There was an innovation in the Sixth Form that I found strange. We were all expected to study a language to O Level standard. For those who had been successful with languages, Russian was the option. For those less successful, like myself, Latin was once again on the agenda. I suppose the school must have thought it still important to support my admission to the White Fathers!!
The teacher was newly minted, very pleasant and eager to do his best for us. His name was Mr Huntingdon. It was unfair. He should never have been asked to teach a group such as ours. We were not interested in Latin, in fact, I would say we were linguistically challenged, as far as the subject went. He manfully attempted to motivate us to be interested. We were not, and indulged in constant low level disruption. His tormentors in chief were Jackson and McGrath. He was stoical in his response to us. After a while we tired of disruption and retired to the back of the class with Brian Morgan to play cards and other meaningful pursuits.On one occasion I could not believe it! I had a prile of three’s and whooped with joy. ‘Mr Teacher’, as we had named him, was not standing for this.
“Please leave the classroom Jackson and stand outside.”
I was mortified, for it was possible that never again would I hold a prile of three’s! I went downstairs to the back of Sunbury, climbed a drainpipe and tapped on the classroom window. Tom McGrath let me in and we continued our game.
After a while ‘Mr. Teacher’ noticed me.
“Jackson, did I ask you to leave?”
“ Me sir? No sir. That was yesterday sir.”
The card game then carried on without further interruption from the lesson. Tom and I both possessed” lean and hungry looks”. In a fit of nostalgia I find it sad that he will never throw me out of a class again!
Mr ‘Pug’ Diamond. It was only in later years that I realized how he had gained his nickname. It was when my niece obtained a new dog.
I had never been taught by ‘Pug’ before. I had met him four years before on a 53 bus but did not know who he was. I had lost my school cap and was wearing my dad’s cap because of the rain.
“I would recommend you cover that hat in blue paper”, said Pug.
I was nonplussed . “Cover it in blue paper and it will look like a school cap,” said Pug.
I muttered a thank you and got off a stop early as I didn’t know what else might come from Pug. At this time in my life I seemed to cop for the nutter on the bus, with a worrying frequency.
In the Sixth Form Pug took us for RE which consisted of a diet of dry Catholic theology. That and the fact that Pug had no control led to our belief that we had to have some sport and sport we did have. A favourite was to wait for Pug to turn to the board and then surreptitiously move our desks forward a tad. This was kept up until Pug was hemmed in and unable to move, being jammed against the blackboard. We waited for it, and it always came.
“You’re all scum,scum from the slums yer curs.”
We always raucously cheered at this. The contrived debate we had with him about whether Jesus arrived in town on an ass or a donkey and his fury when we concluded it was with his ass on a donkey.
My particular mates in the Sixth Form were Tom McGrath (as always), Pete Booth, Danny McIlwaine, (and both are still firm friends), Ian Ramsay, Chris Sherratt, Brian. Morgan, Chris Moynihan, John Phillips Paul Davidson and John Challinor. Others included, Michael Corrigan, Michael Kotwinski, James Hardiman, Joe Telford Bernard Adshead .
As stated above I was rushed into hospital a month before the A Level exams and my revision was interrupted. However I was reasonably pleased with the eventual results.
After the exams there was no Leavers’ Ball or any such frippery. It was a case of, “See yer.” “Yeah, tara”.
Seven years together, seven years of friendships and escapades, seven years of thick and thin. Or Crotty and Halstead as they were known. It is strange as these close friendships disappeared and I often wonder what became of a lot of my mates. What they did? What sort of people they became?
A couple of months later a few of us met up to travel to Brussels to join ‘The Bauworden (?). This was a Catholic, charitable organisation and they arranged for us to travel to Sinzig in the Rhine Valley, where we engaged in assisting in the building houses for refugees from East Germany. We had a wonderful three weeks, but sadly it was the last hurrah for our particular intake at Xaverian.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was a time like no other.
Paul Jackson March 2020