One of the most striking things about starting Roundhay was how grown up the boys in the Sixth Form were. There weren’t boys, they were men. Many had dark stubble on their chins and some were even going bald. Now looking back, they would probably strike me as being just the usual teenagers, but having moved from a small primary school, Harehills, where I had been one of the top dogs, the most senior group, to suddenly finding myself at the very bottom of the pile, it came as somewhat of a shock. These great hulking near-men were far more scary in the imagination than they were in real life. Unfortunately I couldn’t say the same about some of the teachers.
There were those who could strike terror into a Year One class just by looking in your direction. Mr. Lansborough and Mr. Hall would be examples. There were unfortunately those who were quite unpleasant and cruel, and there were those who failed miserably to control the classes of unruly, intelligent, boys whose sole purpose in life was to drive these teachers mad and we showed them little respect. I am afraid to say that as I established myself in the school, I was one of those very unpleasant pupils who did taunt some teachers, but I learned the skill to pick and choose the time and the place. Some of my classmates failed to develop the ability to read the situation and suffered as a consequence. I will return with some of the more memorable incidents in another tale.
The first week was mainly an orientation time at the school. We had quite complex timetables, or at least compared to primary where the only change of rooms came for PE, singing and games. It was expected that you would be at the room for your lesson, on time and with the correct equipment. Now, in these enlightened times, text books were borrowed from the school. You were issued a book, had to add your name to a sheet that was stuck inside the cover and the issuing teacher made a note of the number of the book you were allocated. You also had to cover each book in brown paper to help protect it. At the end of the year you had to return it in a decent condition, or you would have to pay a fine. Ridout was the staple English textbook, Whitmarsh for French, but I can’t remember the others for maths etc. (Would appreciate some assistance here.) Exercise books were provided for every subject by the school, but you had to produce the old books for replacements. The full books were checked and, woe betide you, if pages were missing. Any major discrepancies of thickness with the new book would result in your being asked to pay for the new issue.
A school meal was provided for most of the boys at 1 shilling a day. The school dining rooms were in what must have been the walled garden to the Mansion and I remember two modern single storey buildings. We had to line up at the set time, and there was more than one sitting. If we were on the second, the first sitting boys would leave through the back and we would enter through the front. We rushed to get a table. Some had a teacher sat at the head, others had a sixth former and many had whoever was lucky enough to get there. The risk with being head of the table was that a teacher could rock up and they would turf you off and take your place. The benefit of being head of the table was that you had to share out the food and this had some real advantages. It was your role to cut it into eight pieces and put it on each member of the table’s plate. If it was something you liked, quiche for example (We called it cheese pie) then It was surprising how one eighth could end up being much larger than the others and that piece just happened to be served last onto your plate.
As new boys, we didn’t get these roles easily and we were just happy to get a place and eat. Before anyone could start there was always grace and the most common was, “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful!” There would be a clatter then as every child started eating. Speed was an important skill, for two reasons. Firstly, if you enjoyed whatever was being served that day, then there was a chance of seconds. The teacher supervising the dining room would ask if anyone wanted more and there was a swarm of hands waving from those who did. Of course you had to have finished and there would be checking and some chastisement and disappointment, but if you were lucky, a second serving was provided. The second reason was that when you had finished and the table was cleared then you could be let out for what was left of dinner time. Of course, missing out on a second helping was required to get extra play time. This rush did nothing for your appreciation of food, nor your digestive system and my wife still sees this as one of the reasons I wolf down my food and don’t really savour it. The other is having two brothers.
Now school dinners were a hot meal that was provided for children after the Second World War and, on the whole, I loved them. The meals varied, but they always had a pudding. What was there not to love about Spotted Dick, Jam Roll, Treacle Pudding and all served with custard? Sometimes it would be vanilla custard, sometimes chocolate or pink. I can’t say I was ever sure what flavour the pink was supposed to be. Another delight was Manchester Tart and I am sure I have missed other culinary delights. One long term result of these dinners is probably a high incidence of heart disease amongst the old boys. Later in life we have to look after ourselves, but I don’t half miss the puddings and custard. Whilst waiting to go in we queued underneath two very large pear trees and when they fruited the pears would fall from the trees and often they had wasps in them, but many were ripe and whole and they were delicious, if you got them at the right time.
Lunch times were soccer time and games filled the playing fields. Jumpers and jackets were placed on the turf, more often mud, and highly competitive games ensued. I can’t say I had any real talent for soccer, but I made up for it with enthusiasm. Break times and some lunches were taken up with a game called ‘Wall Ball’. A tennis ball was all that was needed and one boy would kick it against the wall and the next had to return it. This went on with varying angles and further distances until someone missed. It could also be played, like tennis, by hitting the ball with the flat of the hand. All areas of brick or stone wall had people playing and one of the best was just above the steps down to the bottom yard. A good angled hit or kick could send it down the steps and make it almost unplayable. Mind you, I have seen some brilliant shots from boys leaping down the steps and making an almost impossible return. Due to the need to fit in a number of lunch sittings, the day at Roundhay was long and so was the dinner break. The school day was 8.40am until 4.00pm and I seem to remember that school detention was on a Saturday morning when I first started.
It was a tumultuous time for us new boys and I assume similar for the girls next door, but it was exciting and I really felt quite grown up. Looking back, it seems so old fashioned, but at the time it was the 1960s and anything was possible as the world was changing at pace.
Come take a walk with me through Gipton Wood and listen to the birdsong and the glory of nature.