Now Roundhay School did have a number of organised events for the boys and I know that the Girls’ School had many as well. Some were less educational than others and included skiing trips, French exchanges and an educational cruise on SS Uganda. A number of my friends went on these, but unfortunately I never did as they were too expensive for our family. This was never a real disappointment as I just accepted the reality of the situation. What I did go on though were the lower key educational Geography field trips. There were two climbing weekends, one in Snowdonia and another in the Lake District, but the first of these was to Cromer in Norfolk.
I think that we were about thirteen at the time and I believe the field trip was for two nights. Letters for those interested were issued by the Geography teachers and I took mine home, got my parents to sign it and return with the modest fee. This was quite exciting as it was one of my first trips away from home without parents, or relatives. I know that I was very excited when the time came. Most of my friends were attending and we had plotted how we would have fun. Contraband had been purchased and hidden within our luggage, and we also had a small amount of cash.
Now as a long serving teacher I have been on many school camps and excursions, and I take my hat off to the brave teachers who took a coach full of early teenage boys on a trip to Norfolk. The one thing I can say about the Roundhay field trip was that the agenda was not one that would wind up the boys to a state of frenzied excitement. Dour, is the word I would use to describe the programme. The well-meaning teachers intended for us to learn a great deal about the features of this part of the United Kingdom and I am sure that they planned the trip to meet their own interests and aims. The shame was that they were not the interests and aims of the boys at this stage of their lives. I suppose that I can’t speak for all the boys and to do so would be unfair, but I can speak for my circle of mates. We were interested in girls, smoking, drinking and music and probably in that order. As Roundhay was a boys’ school at that point in time, the first item was not really an option unless there were some local talent just waiting for some spotty oiks from the big city. This item was crossed off our mental list, at least until we saw what Cromer’s nightlife might be like, but were nothing if not hopeful.
The morning of the trip we arrived at school together with our luggage and I don’t think we had to wear school uniform, which was an added bonus. Mr Templeton and the other teachers were already organising the luggage near the bins under the coach and we deposited ours and climbed on board and took seats near the back with our mates. The back row was the prime location and any nerdy child would quickly be shown the error of their ways, if they had taken the seat of any more alpha male. A quick slap around the ear would demonstrate the child’s folly and they would quickly escape to a seat nearer the front and the teachers. Of course, most would have been aware of this and learnt to avoid the punishment, but some were poor learners and some were wanting to raise their status by challenging the pecking order. They knew they may not be successful, but they wanted to put themselves forward as future stags and a little sparring was part of the game.
Eventually the seating was sorted and order restored. This process did tend to happen on any outing and was even more interesting when new boys had joined the school, or when someone had had a particularly impressing growth spurt. It could be quite brutal, particularly on rugby away games, where various year groups were transported together. I do remember at least one occasion when a boy’s underpants were forcefully removed and thrown out of the window as a lesson for impudence towards older boys. The amazing thing was that this occurred without the teachers at the front being either aware of what was happening, or not willing to intervene. Pastoral care of students was not really in the teachers’ handbook at this time in the 1960s. ‘Toughen up laddie!’ was more the attitude and it was survival of the fittest.
Anyway, on this occasion the order was settled, roll call was taken and off we went. Sweets were stuffed into faces and within a relatively short time, one or two required the sick bucket. No sympathy was shown and an attitude of ‘You’ll learn!’ was prevalent. The journey was long, the coach driver had warned us what would happen to us if we messed up his bus. I can’t remember his name, but from my experience they always seem to be called Barry. He actually seemed a decent sort and when requested he put on the air conditioning which came through vents above each seat when you pulled down what looked like a thermos flask top. The air did help alleviate the travel sickness and no one dared not ask for, or miss the bucket, as they knew that to do so meant they would have to clean up the bus later.
The roads at this time were not built for speed and there were always hold ups at various bottlenecks, but eventually we started driving through quite a different landscape. For a start it was flat, not a hill in sight. As we entered Norfolk the teachers started to give us a running commentary on the geographical features we were passing through. They explained how the land was drained and reclaimed, but prone to flooding. I can see that you are impressed that I have retained some of the knowledge. In fact I loved Geography and in particular physical geography that explained why the land looked like it did. We made a stop at a small hill. Hill you may ask, in Norfolk? And the teachers did ask, and I seem to remember it was the mound of an early Norman Castle. A quick walk up and down and we were starting to flag. Back on the bus and we were heading for the place we were staying.
We arrived at our accommodation and I seem to remember this quite impressive old building that was a hotel. It must have fallen on harder times for it to take school groups such as ours. We were allocated rooms with our friends and it didn’t take us long to check outside the window. Below us was the glass roof of the dining room. It was like an old conservatory with sections of reinforced glass panels. They were the type with chicken wire. We had to sort out our bags and our first concern was to hide the contraband. The most obvious place was the gutters outside the windows and as I looked out to the adjoining rooms, some boys were depositing bottles of cider, or beer there. It wasn’t a good place for cigarettes as if it rained they would get soaked. I ducked back in and searched around the room. As I have said, the building was very old and it didn’t take me and my roommates long to see that the old floorboards offered possibilities. We managed to lever one up and stashed our fags, matches, and grog. When replaced the floorboard looked just as it had. We were savvy enough to leave half a packet of Number 6 cigarettes and matches in the gutter outside the window for any checking teacher to find.
After this we were instructed to wash and to get down for the evening meal. I don’t remember much washing, but we headed down to eat. I remember the food was good and plentiful. The noise was fairly deafening, but the teachers didn’t seem to mind. I noticed a couple slipped out of the dining room and our warning antennae suspected the rooms were being raided. Within twenty minutes the teachers returned with assorted contraband. There was a stern telling off and all material was confiscated. I can only imagine the staff’s smokes and drink was supplemented by the boys.
There was a meeting where we were told about the next day’s programme. We were also set work writing up the day’s programme and what we had learnt. The work was done and then we checked our rooms. We were lucky and our floorboard stash had not been discovered, but the gutter was clear. At lights out we waited until we thought it was safe and then lifted the floorboard and proceeded to lean out of the window smoking and sharing some drink. Other windows were open and someone decided it would be a good idea to go into another room. The light was still on in the dining room below. But that was not going to stop us. I seem to believe it was Steve Lindop who was the first to traverse the glass roof to the adjoining window and room. It seemed to support him alright and someone else tried it, but this time there was a cracking noise. The boy on the glass beat a very hasty retreat and that was the end of that. Luckily there were no obvious signs of damage and further inter-room movement proceeded by creeping along the corridors. Staff did patrol and the excuse of a bathroom break seemed to convince the either gullible, or not really caring teacher that all was well. I can’t remember a lot of sleeping that first night.
After a good breakfast we were ready for our full day and it truly was a full day. We went everywhere, learnt about the coast, longshore drift, the purpose of groynes, farming in the area and some of its industrial past. We were excursioned out by the time we got back and famished.
For those who enjoy a trip to Leeds centre, Canal Gardens and Roundhay Park.
We had some work to do writing up about the day’s events and visits, but we were told that we would be able to take a trip to Cromer for part of the evening, thanks to the kindness of the coach driver. With high spirits we all boarded the coach and took our places. Unfortunately, before we could drive off there was a call from towards the back. A boy, who shall remain nameless but etched in the memory, had his finger stuck in the air vent above his head. Now when I say stuck, I mean stuck. It was lodged firmly and no amount of effort would free it. We were all getting frustrated as our visit to Cromer became delayed. We were ready to get out a pen knife and remove the offending finger, but the bus driver was a more kindly man than us. He began to dismantle the vent using a screwdriver. The design has probably been much improved on, but on this occasion the panel was the whole length of the coach and it took almost an hour to remove it and free his finger. There were calls of support from the boys, of course I am lying as we were livid, but eventually he was freed, the panel replaced and we were told we could still go, but the time would be shortened to an hour. This was better than nothing and off we went.
The bright lights of Cromer were very disappointing, or at least they were then. There was hardly anything to it apart from a bit of a pier and we wandered around aimlessly and saw no local talent that would be interested in a spotty youth. I think we got some chips. Eventually we got back of the bus and returned. That night we had some smokes and a bit of a drink, but not much.
The next day saw a morning of visits and more note taking and field drawings and then the return journey commenced. Clearly some of the geographical purpose of the trip was successful, but it was everything else about the trip to Cromer that has stuck with me all these years.
Parts 1 to 12 of the audiobook, Blaze, are availble to listen to free of charge on the Soundcloud player below.