After spending all my adult life in teaching I find it hard to fathom some of the things that we did to some of the teachers at Roundhay School. I am sure that many of you naughty boys and girls would have similar experiences at whichever school you attended. Roundhay probably had some of the most challenging pupils for a number of reasons. That there were only boys didn’t help as there was little to curb our waywardness and the fact that you had a bright cohort who could think of ingenious and not so ingenious ways of making teachers lives a misery the way that some of the teachers did to us. After saying this, there were some wonderful, inspiring teachers at the school, but there were also the opposite, the dull, the uninspiring and the vindictive and sadistic.
There was a sense of warfare between the boys and masters and a lot of ingenuity went into some of our pranks. Roundhay didn’t have blackboards; they had green-boards made of ground glass. There was the suggestion that this was because green was more restful on the eye, but green was also Roundhay’s colour. The board rubbers were wooden with a series of felt vertically arranged pads. Some rubbers were left with the boards, but some teachers carried theirs hidden in their academic gowns. The classrooms had bare rough floor boards and the teachers’ desks were raised on a dais about eighteen inches above floor level. This enabled the teachers to look down on the boys, both physically and metaphorically and any miscreant could find a well aimed board rubber hurtle from the dais and strike them, or anyone nearby. I don’t recall serious injury, but I would not recommend new teachers following this example nowadays. If you were lucky it was just the chalk that hit you, if not, a serious lump or bruise could result. We would never tell our parents if we received such injuries as we would most likely get into more trouble from home. One little wheeze I saw put into action was the placing of match ends between the felt pads of the rubber left near the board. The unsuspecting teacher, Mr Jefferies (Maths), a kindly soul and patient teacher, then started to rub out the writing on the board when the rubber suddenly burst into flames. This has stuck with me all these years and I included a similar incident in my first novel, Wickergate. This was really fairly tame and was not recommended to be tried with most teachers.
One teacher we made suffer was nicknamed Gobbler. He was an English teacher, studied at Oxford, new to the profession and easy prey for our vindictiveness. He was known as Gobbler as when he lost his temper, which was almost every lesson, his face would turn bright red and his Adam’s apple would bob up and down and reminded us of a turkey. We were really merciless on the poor man. It became the norm to imitate him and we would hold our noses, wobble our throats with the other hand and copy his voice in a turkey style. Now you would think this was bad enough, but we were just getting started. His lessons became a shambles. He would arrive and walk up to the dais and take his seat and all the time pieces of chalk from the box at the front rained down on him and bounce off his head. He tried to ignore it, but we would even get out of our seats and gather the chalk up, return and continue with the barrage. We were horrible! We could see that the poor man was almost in tears and I can only imagine how he dreaded our lessons. I know from experience the feeling of having a very hard class and the dread that built up the hours and days beforehand, but I never experienced anything like him. When he finally lost his temper most of the class would start their turkey impersonation and the desperate man would shout, “Who did it? Who threw it?” and the rest of the class would shout back, “It was Ruben, Sir!” “Right then, get out, Ruben! I’ll deal with you later!”
The poor boy was probably the only one of us who hadn’t taken part, but he would shuffle miserably out of the room and the chaos continued. Gobbler persevered and I had him for English in the sixth form. He was actually a lovely man, which has added to my guilt. He invited the group to his flat where his wife had recently had a baby. He was very keen on book binding and explained a lot about it and he was the teacher that played Bridge Over Troubled Water when it came out to try and win us over. I hope that he developed into a good teacher, or at least found a position where he didn’t have to struggle with the likes of us.
I have mentioned poor Mr Haigh, the chemistry teacher whom we tormented in an equally terrible manner, so check one of my earlier tales if you are interested. The aggression wasn’t all one-sided and a maths teacher thumped me in the face as he said I had copied someone’s homework, which actually I had. Thanks, Dick Rodley, it didn’t really work out and it was the only time I ever tried it. Apparently the teacher didn’t like the look on my face and I know that there were probably many who shared that view.
We became quite troubled and troublesome teenagers, but I am sure each generation can claim this. We would smoke in the boiler room under Mr Pulham’s classroom, sometimes in Mr Haigh’s chemistry lessons, in the mansion toilets, on the way home and even in the coaches coming back from rugby matches. Mind you, most of the staff smoked at that time, probably as a result of the stress we put them under, and the staffroom was just a cloud of smoke when the door opened.
My first time flying a drone.
As teenagers there was a feeling of rebellion, this was the late sixties/early seventies and the country was struggling under social unrest. Oil shortages and strikes saw a change from the positivity of the sixties to a turbulent period during the seventies that saw the three day week and later the winter of discontent. I am not sure how aware we all were of this, but we did know that we didn’t want to grow up like our parents.
The funny thing was that we had a real sense of fair play, and despite this not stretching to the welfare of inexperienced teachers, we did demonstrate it on one occasion when a friend in our year was being bullied. An older boy, at least two years older and much bigger, pushed one of our friends down the stairs as there was the usual rush for morning break. Now this wasn’t the first time it had happened to him and it was the same older boy each time. The last time he was quite badly hurt and a group of us decided that we would put a stop to this. Five or six of us waited at the bottom of the staircase the next day and when we were sure it was the right lad we gathered around him, took hold of his arms and escorted him into an empty classroom. Being outnumbered and outmuscled he could not resist and no one else seemed to take any notice. In the classroom we shut the door and held him against the wall we lifted him off the ground by his arms and a group sense of purpose. Whilst he was dangling we quietly, but firmly explained what would happen to him if he ever touched our friend again. He was clearly ruffled and quite scared. The classroom door was suddenly opened and a teacher’s head poked around. “Is everything alright, lads?” “Yes, sir!” we replied. “Good!” he said and shut the door and went on his business. We gave the older lad the final warning and lowered him to the ground. Ruffled, unkempt, scared, but unharmed he walked out of the room followed by final warnings of dire consequences. That was the end of it. He never said anything, never approached our friend and looked very sheepish when he saw any of us in the corridors.
Probably a symbol of the revolutionary feeling was when one morning we arrived at school to find that there was graffiti all over the building and it was linked to the Oz Magazine, Schoolkids’ Oz version. There was a court case in 1971 in relation to the publication of the 1970 magazine where 20 school kids acted as editors. I saw the magazine for the first time that day and it was quite challenging then, but viewing some of the pages whilst writing this, it is even more shocking now as social mores have changed considerably over the intervening years. The police were called in at Roundhay and other schools I believe and likely perpetrators questioned, but I don’t think the school or police ever discovered the culprits.
This was probably a pivotal moment in the school and the evolution from the old grammar school was cemented by the change to a comprehensive the year I entered the upper sixth in 1972. The writing was on the wall and I am sure a number of the older staff sought retirement prior to this or shortly afterwards. For me the melding of the girls’ and boys’ schools had a mellowing effect on our behaviour and the way we were treated. I am sure that a number of teachers were pleased with this change. The upper six was quite relaxed. We had our own common room in the temporary building in the girls’ school playground, we could make tea and coffee, play cards, listen to music, relax and chill out. If not for the A levels, it would have been heaven.