After receiving notification that I was to attend Roundhay School for my secondary education, there was a period where nothing really happened. Summer was approaching and, from memory, it was one of those real summers when the weather was hot and rain was infrequent. This was the summer of 1966 and I remember my parents receiving a package of information regarding my attendance at Roundhay School. There was a list of uniform that was required and it named the shops in Leeds that could provide it. There were two main ones: Rawcliffe’s (corner of Duncan Street) and I can’t remember the name of the other. (I am sure someone will enlighten me)
This was an exciting time for me. Harehills CP School had no uniform apart from a choir one, and so I was intrigued about what I needed. The letter informed me that I was allocated to Kelvin House. Again, Harehills only had colours and a house with a name was something new. With this letter came the first real recognition that my life was to change. It is true that I had already changed from Stainbeck Preparatory School to Harehills, but I was only seven and it happened with almost no warning. Attending High School was very different. For one thing, there was a whole range of new subjects that were studied: science, in proper laboratories, woodwork and metal work, foreign languages. This was real learning, or so I thought. There was also sport. Harehills, like most primary schools, dabbled in sport and science. There were nature tables and in most cases science was at the whim and interest of the teachers. Mr Kelly was quite keen and so we had seen eyeball dissections and other attempts to extend our experiences. Sport was again more a token as it needed playing fields and meant a bus ride to the Soldiers’ Fields. We did have gym lessons, under the building near the caretaker’s house, but all I can really remember is lining up and trying to vault over the horse or box. Mr Kelly would assist, but he made his feelings very clear if you couldn’t do it, and he always blamed lack of effort rather than natural aptitude. I also remember the green gym mats. They were heavy, required at least two to drag them out so that we could practise forward rolls, headstands and handstands. Mr Kelly’s wit and sarcasm appeared to be kept for the plumper boys and girls. Luckily I wasn’t in that category, but I was in those without natural ability and we would receive occasional jibes.
Anyway, I digress, real sport was something I longed for. Cross country, rugby, cricket and athletics were on the list and I hoped I would be good at something. The uniform list showed that I required a blue (house colour) rugby shirt with a white band sewn on the inside. This caused my mother no end of stress as she wasn’t handy with the sewing needle.
The day arrived when we went shopping at Rawcliffe’s in Leeds. I seem to remember that we had to go upstairs into a large room where a man assisted. He checked the list and started to collect the things required. He measured me up with an experienced eye and reappeared with the standard tie. He pulled out a tape measure, encircled my head and returned with the green and black cap, six and seven eighths. It was placed on my head and it felt strange. I was impressed that it had a shiny enamelled badge with the words Virtutem Petamus. A matching cloth badge followed, that much to my mother’s horror, she had to sew onto the blazer. The blazer then appeared and I slipped my arms into it. The salesman encouraged my mother to get one at least a size or two bigger. “It will last longer and allow him to grow into it,” he told her. My mother didn’t need much encouraging as money was quite tight. So it was that I was provided with a blazer that would probably still be too large for me now, but I was overcome by all the fuss that was happening around me and more and more items were gathering on the counter. I was to wear grey shorts and so I avoided the need for any inside leg measurement, which was a relief to me and possibly a disappointment for the assistant, but I needed knee length socks with coloured stripes where they turned down at the top. Rugby also required special striped socks and black shorts. Very dashing! The final items were a gabardine raincoat and a leather satchel. My satchel was fairly basic, unlike some boys who had very flash ones with their initials in gold lettering.
“Now remember that every item has to be named,” the man told my mother, “We have a service to make name labels. Would you like to order some?” I think my mother was getting overcome with the whole process at this point so she readily agreed. I am not sure that this would have been the case if she had understood that she had to sew each label into each item of uniform.
The labels had to be collected later, but we left the store with quite a collection and headed home on the bus. I became quite nervous at this point. This was the moment I realised that it was for real. There were only a few weeks to go before the next chapter of my life and growing up. Looking back, this was probably the first time I suffered anxiety. It is only recently that I have become aware I am a sufferer and probably most people who know me have never suspected. Within the school information were the dates for the next school year, the times of the day and information on corporal punishment and detentions. The school had Saturday morning detentions at this time and there were also prefect detentions. This struck me as barbaric and went against my sense of fair play. If I was getting stressed this was nothing in comparison to my mother. She was struggling to sew the badge neatly onto the blazer and had several attempts to get it straight and the stitches neat and invisible. I discovered later that the other store, more expensive, had the badges already sewn on. I think my mum would have paid any price if she had known.
A week or two later the labels arrived and further anguish for my mother followed. Each label had to be sewn into socks, shirts, blazer, sports equipment and she tormented herself as she completed the task. She couldn’t be seen as the one mother in the school who failed getting the labels neat and level. Finally I was just about kitted out. The remaining items were a fountain pen, medium nib, bottle of blue-black Quink Ink and a geometry set. Now we had done a bit of technical drawing with Mr Kelly so I was used to compasses, but there were other items, set squares, dividers and protractors, that were a mystery to me.
It was with pride that I was told to don my uniform for a photograph. Out into the garden I went and a photo was taken in blazer and cap and then another in rugby shirt etc. I think I still have them and will try and locate them for historical accuracy. What a splendid sight.! My mother was ecstatic that the sewing was completed and that her number two son would not be let down on his first day. It was the only time that the uniform would look pristine as first day was ‘open season’ on new boys’ uniforms. This was a tradition that the older boys took to with a passion!
Filmed on my first full day on holiday back in Yorkshire. Music written for the video.