After my mother got over the delight of my going to Roundhay School, there was a hiatus where life returned to normality and Mr Kelly, at Harehills County Primary, continued in his usual form. When he became frustrated out came his, ‘Angels and Ministers of Grace Defend Us!’, call to divine intervention to help the children under his charge. Funnily, that was as aggressive as I remember him being, but I believe that he was prone to using corporal punishment with the slipper. I do remember some of us questioning him once about why he had brown stains on his fingers and he told us that it was from peeling a lot of apples. Even in our innocence, we didn’t believe that one.
The rest of the year seemed more relaxed and we saw the introduction of ballpoint pens and the removal of the dip pens, blotting paper and inkwells. I think this was the final year, but it could have been the one before. Anyway, there was some excitement at having the coloured pens, shaped very much like an ink pen, stubby at the point and tapering to a thin end. The ritual filling of inkwells, asking for blotting paper and occasional replacement nibs, disappeared overnight. I missed the ability to flick pellets of ink soaked blotting paper at girls sitting in the rows in front and using the pens as darts and throwing them into the bare floorboards where a good shot would have it stuck in the wood, swaying from side to side. Of course, that would never be done when Mr Kelly was in the room.
Times were very different in 1960s and along with the disappearance of the ink pens a whole new world was opening up. Cliff Richard had appeared in the film, Summer Holiday, in 1963 which starts in black and white, but once the bus reaches Europe it changes to full colour. It was another film I saw with my grandma in the Dominion in Chapel Allerton. The change of colour in the film is like the change that occurred in my life at this time. The old was black and white and the new was bright and colourful. The pens were vivid red, bright green or yellow and the new desks that arrived, weren’t double desks with iron frames. There was a general sense of optimism that hadn’t been there before. There was to be a brave new world and we were to experience it head-on. I even remember one Friday afternoon a couple, man and woman, arriving at the classroom and they wanted our opinions on a number of chocolate bars. Now I am sure this wouldn’t be permissible nowadays, but for some reason it was ok then. The bars were all unwrapped and we were given no indication what any of them were called. We were handed some to try and we had to give them scores for our preferences. One was very much like a Milky Way and another like a Mars Bar. It is possible it was the prototype Aztec Bar that was Cadbury’s answer to the Mars Bar. The Aztec was launched for the Mexico Olympics in 1968 so it is possible. Anyway, that was a memorable day and but unfortunately one that was never repeated.
As summer approached the school selected a cricket team. Now I don’t remember many opportunities for inter-school sports, but I think a new keen male teacher organised one. We had trials and some practices on a Saturday morning on the Soldiers’ Field at Oakwood. We weren’t up to much and the equipment was basic. The pads were old, torn and heavy, and we found them difficult to run in, but wearing them made you feel special. The bats were old, fairly battered and smelt of linseed oil. I loved the smell and just writing this the odour is filling my mind. We used to play cricket at lunch and break times on the tarmac yard at Harehills, using tennis balls, with wickets that were painted on the caretaker’s house wall. There was a slope down to the wicket and some kids could build up a real pace. I was just ok at batting and bowling and I turned up for the selection practice, which I seem to remember happened after school in the yard. Joy above joy, I was selected and turned up on Saturday for a proper practice with anticipation and pride. I batted and scored about seven runs, which I was quite pleased with. I think we were limited to only batting a couple of overs. The first game with another school came along and I have no idea if we won, but I scored twelve runs, so I was delighted. I think we only had one or two more matches, but I do remember my dad turning up to watch one that was after school. I think it was somewhere near Crossgates and this was on a proper cricket pitch. The time came for me to bat and I strode out, knowing that my dad was watching. I was nervous, but it was one of those days where everything worked out. I seemed to see the ball more easier and I scored twenty, with one four. I was over the moon and my dad seemed quite impressed. I went home with him in his car rather than on the bus and I think it was the only time he ever saw me play in a match. It still means a lot.
Boys wore shorts at primary school and, in fact, well into high school. I was no exception and I had a rather baggy pair of grey school shorts. We didn’t have many clothes and we wore them until they became threadbare and patched. I often remember hand-me-downs from my brother or neighbours. Washing was something that was done once a week and not daily as is now the case. I think I used to wear my school shirt all week. Anyway, I didn’t own a pair of long trousers at the time and this was to prove interesting. My mother received some complimentary tickets for the Silver Blades ice skating rink on Kirkstall Road, near the Yorkshire Television buildings. Now my mother could have won them. She was keen on entering competitions and she was quite successful. I remember one year she won a year’s free dry cleaning at Martins the Cleaners at Harehills. She had a book of vouchers and I don’t think we ever looked so clean as we did that year. Never having been ice skating it was an exciting opportunity and my mum, my older brother and I were dropped off by dad and we went in and exchanged our shoes for some very uncomfortable ice skating boots.
They laced up to above the ankle and the rink was a hive of activity. The cold hit you and the air had a vibrancy that gave sounds a higher tone that shocked the senses. It was nigh on impossible to walk in the skates. My legs splayed out like a baby giraffe taking its first steps. I staggered to the nearest entrance onto the ice and, holding onto the rail, stepped out. Now the rink was full of capable skaters of all ages. They flashed by with unimaginable ease and grace. There were those who showed off by skating backwards, dodging between the laggards, impressing everyone and particular the opposite sex. It was just like the men on the waltzers at the fairground. Music blared, and in the centre of the revolving masses a girl, clearly a figure skater, demonstrated what we could all aspire to. I wanted to be like them. How hard could it be? It was at this point that I felt the cold air around my knees and then the horror struck me. I was the only boy in the place in short trousers. Everyone else was suitably attired in long trousers, even many of the girls. The horror of my faux pas hit me and a sudden rush of heat spread all over me, sending the chill well into retreat. I looked at my mum. How could she have done this to me? Of course she was oblivious. I stood there, horrified, but as I had no option I stepped off from the edge and attempted to emulate all the others around. I did notice that many of them were very shaky and collisions and falls were common. How hard could it be? I thought again and I set off. One push off, a wobble and then disaster. The ice was hard, cold and wet and I was splayed on my back like an overturned beetle. Getting back on my feet was easier said than done and a very ungracious crawl to the side followed. I pulled myself up and noticed that my brother seemed to be mastering the skill, even in a very basic way. I tried again and, bit by bit, I managed to get a balance and pushed and pulled myself around the edge. Finally I took courage to let go of the side and pushed off. I was skating. I shuffled myself along and over time grew in confidence and built up the speed. The problem was that no one had told me how to stop or turn. I went in a straight line across the rink, others almost diving aside to avoid me and I shot at speed, pink kneed, pink faced and out of control, until I went smack into the opposite side and hit the ice again. Having gained some confidence I continued on, noting that my older brother was annoyingly smooth and controlled. After half an hour or so I reached the stage of managing a lap. My turns, though far from elegant, were beginning to be effective and with pressure being exerted to the outer foot I could gain directional control.
There was a master of ceremonies, or disk jockey for those old enough to know what a disk is, and at times he would clear the ice for speed skating or for the machine to go out and groom the ice. This was the time I sat with my brother and mum and had a drink. After the break, me and my embarrassing pink and almost bleeding knees ventured back out. It was a bit easier this time and I felt better, until a girl fell in front of me and I had neither the ability or the knowledge of how to stop in time or swerve to avoid her. I hit her side-on and flew like a graceless dodo and landed face forward into the ice, spread-eagled like a star. This fallen star had had enough by now. The girl was getting up and so I knew I hadn’t cut her in half, like the lady in a box with a magician. The blades for beginners were fairly blunt, but I did wonder if they could cut a finger if one was skated over. I managed to get back to my feet and continued, more because I felt I had to and I didn’t want to be beaten by anything. At this point in my life I had managed to succeed to a reasonable level in everything I had done, so I wasn’t going to be defeated by this. Soon mum was indicating our time was up. We went around one more time and then managed to make the right exit, even if too fast, and smashed into the side wall. Out of breath, out of patience and knees out in the open, I was glad to get the skates off and return them and get my wonderfully comfortable shoes back. Dad was waiting as arranged and on the way home even my mum agreed I needed some long trousers.
This wasn’t my only attempt at it as we did go back at least a couple more times. The next occasion was more successful and my knees didn’t get another outing. Looking back, I am not sure if this wasn’t the first time that I had experienced real embarrassment and a sense of lack of control. There are many times since that I have experienced both, but at eleven years old I suppose your development gives you a greater anxiety regarding how you are perceived. Of course, at my current age, I have lost many of my inhibitions and often delight in being embarrassing, much to the horror of my children and long-suffering wife.