It was when I was about thirteen that my interest in girls and adolescent activities appeared. It was probably that Roundhay Girls’ School was so near and yet so far away that actually encouraged thoughts of the ‘fair sex’. It was almost cruel to adolescent boys and girls to dangle them tantalisingly on the other side of a few bushes that separated the two schools’ playing fields. At primary school, Harehills County Primary, we were only separated during playtimes and even then I seem to remember that changed as we got older. The division was more about the different activities we had, but of course, nowadays girls can do whatever they want, and I guess that is alright, but then most didn’t want to play soccer with us, or maybe they did and we just didn’t know. Anyway, the primary years were blissfully ignorant of the differences. I think I have mentioned it before, but one boy, Neil Solomon, came to school in Mr Kelly’s Year 4 class and told us his mother had told him the facts of life and he recounted the basics to us. Most of us were shocked. I told him he was wrong and that you had babies by kissing. The class had an impromptu vox pole and my side won overwhelmingly. It is a clear indication that I know very little, but that I was quite good at arguing a case, even if I was wrong.
By the end of primary school things were changing and birthday parties started to have games such as ‘Postman’s Knock’ and ‘Spin the Bottle’, when parents weren’t supervising too closely, but a quick peck of a kiss was the total limit. At High School, things were changing. Hormones, I guess, were being produced and by the second year boys were starting to become pimply, smelly and hair began to appear. I really can’t understand what nice sensible girls could possibly find attractive in the spotty, silly oiks that teenage boys become, but I suppose it is good for the continuation of the species that there is something. At Roundhay small groups of girls would loiter on their side of the impenetrable barrier and it was surprising how often a soccer ball would end up in the bushes, thus allowing one lucky boy to be able to go and retrieve it. It often took a little longer than expected to find it and a short conversation might take place and an occasional note or message might be passed. It was all very much in the manner of the Colditz escape committee. Of course there were also the camp warders, or in this case teachers, who occasionally would take their lunchtime supervision seriously and pounce on any unfortunate lad, or girl who was the wrong side of the barrier. I am sure they laughed about it when they returned to the dense, smoke filled staffroom and reported to their comrades. Detentions, lines or other forms of torture might result and if you were truly unlucky it might be a prefect who caught you.
Prefects seemed to be of two sorts. One type was decent, understanding and had a sense of humour. The other type was vicious, power crazed sadists who delighted in catching anyone and handed out pages of lines and prefect detentions like it was their birthday. I think it was this illustration of what power can do to the human spirit that made me sure that I would never take any position of power lightly. As a Head Teacher for many years (Principal in Australia) I have always liked my students and staff and I hope that I have never abused my position. I suppose that is something for others to judge.
In the 1960s I can’t say that there was a lot of education preparing boys for growing up. Biology was the nearest we ever got to sex education and that was purely functional and mechanical. I can’t imagine it was easy for ‘Sweaty Betty’ or Mr Hyman to deal with an unruly group of adolescent boys who thought they knew everything, but in reality knew next to nothing, but would never let on to anyone. I am not sure if we covered reproduction in the Fifth or the Sixth Form. Someone will know!
The other potential source of information was from your parents. Now it is one thing listening to a teacher, but quite another having a talk about the facts of life with your parents. The nearest I ever got was my Mum, I think, saying, ‘You’ve covered sex at school, haven’t you?’ and her looking mighty relieved when I mumbled back, whilst turning red, that we had. It was a close call, but I managed to escape that ordeal and I am sure that she felt very much the same. As a result, Neil Solomon was the total source of my knowledge up to that point.
We weren’t to be put off and there was an irresistible urge to meet girls and we didn’t seem sure how. My older brother, Andrew, came to the rescue, but he probably never realised. He had started going to Saint Wilfrid’s church at the back of Harehills/Gipton. (I am not sure and some people do get a bit upset if places are attributed to the wrong area. Feel free to inform me of my ignorance.) He also started attending the youth club there and for some reason, he invited me to come along. I can’t ever remember having the urge to take my younger brother along when I started going. It was held in what was then a new church hall. There was a reasonably large group of youths, boys and girls, a record player, table tennis and soft drinks on sale. I was younger than most there and didn’t know anyone, but my brother allowed me to tag along. He was four years older and I can only think that my presence was like having a dog. People will stop and talk to you if you have a dog. I became a bit of a focus and I quite enjoyed myself. Everyone seemed so grown up and yet they were only in their middle teens. Nothing of note really happened, but it was good to watch the girls and see how the boys behaved. There was a lot of preening, but for most of the time the boys would sit in groups on one side and the girls would dance in circles around their handbags.
After my first experience I wanted more and even started to attend church, joined the choir and was confirmed. See what you will do for a way to meet girls!
Of course there were youth clubs around Roundhay School and I was invited to join a group that was going to St. Edmund’s youth club. I seem to remember it was a Tuesday night. This was going to be it. I had no idea if I was an attractive youth, but I wanted more than anything to be one. I didn’t have a lot of clothes apart from school uniform, but luckily my older brother did. I managed to sneak something a little bit trendier than a school jumper and shirt from his wardrobe and I think I had about half a crown in cash. I can’t remember where we met up, maybe at Roundhay Park gates, near the tennis courts, but a small group of us headed to St Edmunds. The church was familiar to us as we held the school Carol Services there, but the hall was large, dark stone and imposing. The group of us approached, walked past the public telephone box on the corner and followed the one boy who had been before, into the hall.
There were small groups standing around outside and lights and noise of music coming from within the hall. The door was manned by leaders and we lined up, paid the fee and entered what, for a few years, was to be the centre of our social world.