In 1966 there wasn’t much fanfare when you left school. There were no fancy balls or special ceremonies, just a clearing out of your desks, a few words from Mr Kelly and then a few goodbyes with classmates and the usual walk home. There really wasn’t much more to it than that. The summer holidays beckoned and that was more pressing than starting high school at the time. When you are eleven years old time is very much in the present, whereas now time seems to fly by quicker with each passing year. Waiting a week or two for something to arrive is no big deal, but when young the time would seem endless.
The holiday was not particularly memorable. I am sure that we would have gone on a holiday somewhere, but I can’t place which one it was. It was most likely a stay in a cottage on the East Coast, as I don’t think we went further afield to Bournemouth and Torquay until the next year or so. As September approached I did begin to focus more on my new school. I had walked through Gipton Woods and across the Soldiers’ Fields to get a good look and, I must admit, it was a very imposing building and grounds. Harehills seemed so small and insignificant in comparison. Cricket grounds stretched before the main building and there were intriguing huts to the left and set back a little. It seemed vast. Many classroom windows faced the fields and the driveway led through the low stone wall and a couple of cars were parked outside the front even though it was the holidays. I realised that the walk was about thirty minutes from my house in Gipton Wood Crescent and as walks went it was a delightful one. The wood was magnificent, ever changing with the seasons, and I knew it well from playing there many, many hours since moving to Gipton Wood Crescent. Oakwood had a lovely village feel, which it still has and it was then just a short walk to school. It was a walk that many would envy and nowadays one that not many children would make. Parents tend to take children to school and drop them off, at least in the first year or two of secondary schooling. I found the walk a good time to gather my thoughts for the new day ahead.
As time to start school approached I began to get a little anxious. I was excited, optimistic and eager, but also nervous and apprehensive. I was concerned about the rumours I had heard about older boys bullying the first years and I was concerned about prefects. Justice being handed out by older boys struck me as potentially very unfair and, through experience, still does. Some did use their status as an opportunity to make others suffer. Mind you, so did one or two teachers. The start seemed so far off and then without warning it was upon me. My mother had suffered her sewing ordeal, my satchel was packed with mathematical instruments, my shoes and my face had been scrubbed to be shiny and new, socks pulled up, blazer spotless and vivid green and, to top it off, my school cap with impressive enamelled badge. I felt sick! I walked out through the back door of our house carrying a kiss from my mum and a message of good luck. I didn’t know anyone else in the street that was going and so I headed off down the road, conspicuous in my pristine uniform. This would be the first and last time I ever looked this way. I can’t say I took much notice of the journey through the woods and past the shops of Oakwood, but I must have passed the newsagents, with the cigarette vending machine outside, Jones of Oakwood, with its electrical goods and the butchers that used to have pheasants hanging from hooks, vile piles of tripe, real lolling cows’ tongues and the occasional rabbit. I crossed the zebra crossing at the Belisha Beacons, past the opticians and crossed over to the Oakwood Clock and then up the path around the playing fields along Old Park Road to Roundhay School gates. Now, clearly by this point, I was not alone. There were large numbers of boys making their way. Some in groups, chattering like monkeys and some, like me, alone and overawed. The walk through the gates and along the drive seemed endless and the building just got bigger and bigger as I got nearer.
Now at this point things get hazy for me. I am not sure how we were sorted into our classes and then led off to our classrooms. I am not sure if it took place in the lower playground or whether we went to the hall. I suspect it was the playground and anyway I was in class 1C. Now apparently these were not ability grouped at this point, that came later, but anyway, I and my fellow class members were escorted to the room by the class teacher, Holly Joe Pullen. The form room was on the back corner of the main building just above the boiler room. What made a big impression on me was that the teachers all wore black academic gowns. I had only seen such things on television and in books such as Just William. We followed quietly along and were ushered into the room. It was the RE room and our teacher was the religious education teacher. The room had big windows on two sides and the teachers desk was a solid, heavy wooden thing, aged and impressive. It sat upon a dais, as all the teachers’ desks in the school did. Behind the desk was a large blackboard, but this one wasn’t black, but green. It was a green, ground glass board and there was discussion as to whether this was because the school colour was green or because green was more restful on the eye. I tend to doubt the latter. Each class member took a place behind one of the desks. These were old, very worn with carved graffiti of rock band names, bored holes, gouged lines and screw holes where hasps had been fitted and removed on an annual basis. Mr Pullen informed us that we should purchase hasps and padlocks so that we could fit them to the desks so that we could lock our things inside. (This was before lockers became available) Administrative issues were dealt with, the register taken, and we all listened and looked as each name was called out so we could put faces to names. Dining arrangements were explained and money collected and tickets issued, a timetable was copied onto the board and I think we had to copy it down by hand. Copying from the board became a very common part of a Roundhay education. I am sure that basic rules, such as not running inside, making sure we got to lessons on time, with the correct books, arriving at the dining rooms and lining up etc. were gone through and some of it must have sunk in.
The next course of action was being taken on a tour of the school. We were shown, the dining rooms, the sports changing rooms and gym, woodwork, metalwork and art rooms, the science labs and the music rooms, the library and then a tour of the Mansion. There were the two tarmac playgrounds, the playing fields, with instructions that we were not to cross through the bushes to Roundhay Girls’ School, next door. Fraternisation wasn’t allowed until the sixth form.
Finally, break came, the bell rang and we quietly and relatively timidly went out. This was when the fun started. We stood around in groups and made our introductions. There were some boys from Harehills. Paul Banks and Dick Rodley, I think were in my class (Not sure if John Sugden was) and we huddled in a group and chatted to some of the boys we didn’t know. I got talking with Roger Harvey and Chris Mills and I started to feel a bit better. From out of nowhere my cap was snatched off my head. An older boy ran off, made it to the corner of the building and proceeded to beat the cap and in particular the enamel badge against the brickwork. I was stunned and, before I could do anything, he ran back laughing and handed it back saying, ‘Just christened it!’ He ran off chuckling, looking for another victim.
That was the crowning part of my first day and, as I said, I never looked the shiny new boy ever again. If anyone ever took a close look at the Roundhay caps I am sure that almost every one had been welcome in the manner that mine had. Luckily, my mother didn’t notice and I certainly didn’t tell her, as her anger would have just added to my suffering.