‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Final Year at High School, Leaving Home, Going to College and Growing Older if Not Wiser.

I have spoken in a previous tale about taking A Levels and I must admit that at the time, I had no idea what I wanted to be, or do with my life, but I did know I wanted to be grown up and enjoy the privileges that came with it. I can’t say I had any idea of the responsibilities that it involved, but that didn’t matter. If I had an aim it was that I wanted to become a student and to enjoy student life. This was something that had all the positives. You were paid to study, you didn’t live at home and you had freedom to do what you wanted. The only difficulty I had was that I couldn’t see myself getting good enough grades to go to University and I certainly wasn’t going to work hard to address this problem. The obvious option was to either do a degree at a Polytechnic or go into teacher training. I did apply to do a business studies degree at a poly, but chose to do teacher training. After all, I knew something about schools, having spent the last fifteen years in three of them. I had loved primary school and thought that would be a good way to go.

My experience of student life was based on my older brother’s experience at Durham University, the Tyke magazine, Leeds University Rag Week, Leeds Poly and Leeds Uni concerts and the Skyrack and Original Oak, student pubs in Headingly. My belief was that they did little if any work, were drunk most of the time, had lots of sex and got to listen to and watch great bands. It certainly seemed to be the case for the hundreds that packed out the two pubs every night of the week. There was a heady exuberance in both places and the university/college scene in Leeds was in its hayday, and I wanted a piece of it.

Roundhay School took little notice of anyone not going to university and their star pupils were those getting places in Oxford or Cambridge. Teacher Training Colleges were never on their list. Luckily, ‘Holy Joe’ Pullen was more enlightened and ran some sessions at lunchtime for anyone considering the teaching profession. I went along. It was easier to get into, trained for a job and offered a lifetime of fourteen weeks’ of holiday and a short working day. The pay wasn’t supposed to be great, but it was clearly far more than I had ever earned before. I was sold, particularly when you only needed five or six O levels to gain entry. There was a form of clearing, but it was not like UCCA for Unis. We were given some guidance on how to find out about colleges and the process of applying and I decided on two criteria. The first was that it was not to be in Leeds. I did not want to live at home and, secondly, I wanted to apply for as good a college as possible. I looked at the lists and sent off for prospectuses from a number of colleges. I had read about PE Wing colleges and they were for elite sports people and seemed interesting, so I wrote my letters asking for them to send a prospectus and application forms.

I waited a couple of weeks and then large envelopes started to arrive and I opened them and began to study them. I must add that my mother was delighted that I wanted to become a teacher. I hadn’t the heart to explain that it was more a necessary choice rather than a burning vocational ambition. She had loved school and I am certain that she would have loved to have become a teacher herself, and I am sure she would have made a good one. The other reason that she was delighted, was that I think she had severe doubts about my aptitude for anything other than being a wild child, or maybe she just saw where my future would lie.

I received replies from several colleges and these included York, Carnegie in Leeds and Borough Road College in London. There were others, but I have cast them out of my memory. York was tempting as it was away from Leeds, but near enough to drop back home when it suited, and Carnegie I discarded for no other reason than that I wanted to move away from home in a hall of residence. Borough Road, I read, was the first teacher training college in the world. It was founded by Joseph Lancaster, who started the monitorial system of teaching. This was where there was a teacher and a large group of multi-aged children were sub-supervised by monitors and the teacher supervised the whole operation. The first college sounded great. The photos of the facilities looked good and I was impressed that most students had two A levels. The clincher was that it was in London. The big smoke was an exciting prospect and if I couldn’t have fun there, where would I?

We could apply for up to six colleges and we had to put them in order. If you were offered your first choice then that was it. As I have recounted previously, I was called for interview and, within a few days, I was offered a place based on my O levels. That was it then, decision made and future planned! There was one snag. I had had a steady girlfriend for a number of years and she was not too pleased, but the decision was made. The other tug on my heart was that I was still part of the band, Atlantis, and clearly I was going to leave. Now this really was an emotional pull, but the decision was made, and when made, leaving Leeds seemed a lifetime away, but like most things, the future comes surprisingly quickly and catches us off guard. Bold decisions have played a part in my life and this was the first major one. I discovered an older Roundhay boy was already at Borough Road and he chatted to me one evening at Roundhay Cricket Club, when he heard I was going. He was very positive, so I was set.

This out of the way, meant that I could get back to enjoying my last year at Roundhay School. In the Upper Sixth we no longer had to go to the library during free-periods. We could now spend our time in the common room, in the prefects’ common room, or on the grounds. I seem to remember that the summer of 1973 was a long one with day after day of warm sunny weather. We spent our spare time playing on the volley ball court, but kicking a soccer ball over and allowing one bounce. Heading the ball was permissible and by the end of the school year my skill level had improved considerably. The school was co-ed, at least in the upper years and we lazed around, listened to music, chatted and generally had the most relaxing of times. I did do a little work for Geography, but English was a bit of a disaster that even Les Lees couldn’t fix. In the end I got two A’levels and my future was set.

Lancaster House, Borough Road College, Isleworth, W London
(David Attenborough’s father was a past Principal of the College)

Before one could be a student a number of formalities had to take place. Applications for a grant had to be lodged and my parents had to fill in their income details and so on. Most students didn’t get a full grant and parents had to make a contribution and I believe my parents had to give me fifty pounds a month. That was quite a lot of money at the time. The rest of the grant was provided by the Government and that covered the cost of tuition, board and accommodation, food, money to purchase equipment and to cover recreational costs. The other formality I had to do was to have a medical. I believe this was check I was physically fit enough to teach, but I didn’t give it much thought. I know that I had an appointment at Leeds Infirmary and that I had to take a urine sample. Now I was quite naive at the time and I took a Rose’s Marmalade jar with the sample. I don’t know what I thought they were going to do with it, but I had filled it to the top. I attended and was a bit nervous handing it over to the nurse. She seemed totally uninterested, or impressed, and I am sure she had seen far worse, but I could have died with embarrassment. I had to go behind a screen and take off almost all my clothes. My chest was listened to, reflexes checked and then a hand was thrust down the front of my underpants and I had to cough whilst she held me. I still have no real idea what that was about, unless it was just to see me squirm with shame. I think I was tested for colour blindness but I knew I was fine, despite the fact my father couldn’t differentiate between red and green. Next I had to get dressed and go for a chest X-ray.

Instrumental piece, filmed in my garden and in the UK 2019

I was escorted into the room and placed in front of the machine and the technicians went behind a lead screen and then they said that I had to wait on a seat in the corridor. After a few minutes they came and asked me to go back and they did it again. Afterwards I was in the corridor and once again they called me back in. Apparently, there was something wrong with the machine. I seemed to remember they tried about thirty or forty times. I can only assume it wasn’t working at all, otherwise I would have glowed in the dark by the end. Whatever the case, eventually I must have passed the test as I was allowed to go home. Several weeks later I received approval for the grant and my future at Borough Road was planned.

It was this year that I got the job at Wragg’s Motor Cycles and so I managed to save up some additional money to take with me. I also bought a copy of a Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar to accompany me to London. I have covered the drama of my work and ultimate dismissal from Wragg’s in a previous tale but, apart from that, the summer of 1973 was a glorious one. The day of the exams came and went and I was delighted to say that what I had learnt for the A level Geography came up and I  had no problems answering the paper. I believe we had to answer four out of nine questions, but a friend who sat the same paper had not read the instructions properly. I will not mention his name, but he will know if he reads this, and he answered all nine questions. I believe that the markers only marked the first four questions, regardless of whether they were his best answers and of course he was at a real disadvantage. I don’t suppose he ever made that mistake again. My English Lit exam was a bit of a disaster and a number of us failed to get what we wanted, but luckily General Studies came to the rescue. This paper suited me as it tested wider knowledge, opinions, writing and logical skills, with some political thoughts thrown in.

The Pheonix Bar, Roundhay Mansion

After the exams, we still were asked to stay at school and that was it, even greater fun and games took place. School was wonderful and a pleasure to be at. We lounged around and just basked in the sun. Even the weekends were heaven. I seem to remember spending most of the time playing casual soccer on Roundhay Park Arena, with a wild group of reprobates and then venturing down to the Lakeside Cafe, which is no longer there, having ice creams and watching the mods on their scooters lined up outside, mixing with some Rockers on their motor bikes. I believe the maze was still there and I loved that summer. We went on the boats on the big lake and frequented the Phoenix Bar, at the Roundhay Mansion,  in the evenings.

Focus were the band at the time, Crocodile Rock was a massive hit but my least favourite Elton John song. Other notable songs of 1973 were: You’re So Vain by Carly Simon, Frankenstein by the Edgar Winter Group, That Lady, the Isley Brothers, Stuck in the Middle With You, Steelers Wheel, Long Train Running, the Doobie Brothers, Daniel, Elton John, Smoke on the Water, Deep Purple, Higher Ground, Stevie Wonder, Reelin’ in the Years, Steely Dan, Angie, the Rolling Stones, Money, Pink Floyd and Space Oddity, David Bowie. What a soundtrack for a year and the start of a different life!

2 Replies to “‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Final Year at High School, Leaving Home, Going to College and Growing Older if Not Wiser.”

  1. Remember the Phoenix Bar. First place that had a colour television. Ended up training at Sunderland College of Education.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I used to walk home from the Pheonix Bar and staggered on many occasions, John. I remember the television now that you mention it.


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