‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A Bit of Biffo! Playground fights, Cock of the School and Some Scary, Boy Things that Happened at Roundhay School and Lidgett Lane Youth Club!

I was thinking about this subject for a while, as here in Australia the status of women is a hot topic, but the way that boys deal with boys is what I want to focus on. Being from a family of three sons and having four sons of my own, I can’t give any insight into the female mind, but I feel qualified to explain some of the behaviours that boys and men face. One element of male behaviour is aggression, and certainly in my experience at primary and secondary school I came across the ways that this was displayed by boys and staff.

At Harehills County Primary there were occasional playground fights. I don’t remember many of these, but there were certainly some. They usually erupted over some form of competition, or perceived foul play. Soccer was always a good source of argument and sometimes a fight. The main catalyst was tripping. As Harehills C P playground was tarmac, any trip was particularly painful. Most times it was accidental and both players would end up scuffing their knees, elbows, hands and occasionally face. Skin would be removed and a small amount of blood let, but usually this was seen as a mark of intense play and a bit of a badge of honour. Going in hard to the tackle was fully expected and respected, but just hooking the feet from under someone was not viewed the same way and when the victim got back to their feet, a fist might fly and then there would be a flurry of arms, little contact, but a great deal of excitement. The cry of, ‘Fight!’ would move through the playground like a wave, and in answer, everyone would rush to witness a bit of biffo. I don’t remember anyone or anything but pride being hurt, but maybe it did. Teachers would arrive to sort it out and depending on the teacher and their interpretation of the event, punishment dished out, or the two miscreants sent to Mr Wilson, Mr Woods or worse, Mr Kelly. At this time, it appeared to only be a male phenomenon, but I suspect those times have changed.

When we moved into high school, again things were different. For a start, Roundhay School was single-sex, the girls’ school being next door. The staff was predominantly male, apart from two teachers, Sweaty Betty and the young, new, and very popular music teacher, and as such, the school was built on predominantly male values. Issues were often resolved through physical means. Corporal punishment was casually handed out by some staff in a way that was abusive, and never used by some. Some teachers were respected and their disappointment in your action would have far more impact than being slippered, or worse caned. In fairness though, whatever the punishment, as soon as the beating was over, the incident was over and there didn’t appear to be any long-lived animosity. It had that, face your punishment and then move on, attitude.

I can’t say that the same attitude was always shown by prefects and some really were bullies, who picked on some children mercilessly. I don’t think that I was a bully, as such, but I was involved in several fights. The bullying that took place was just considered friendly banter, but looking back, it was not something we should be proud of. Nick-names were often cruel and someone’s physical problems gave intelligent boys an excuse to come up with suitable names. Of course, teachers were fair game, as was Fingers (Glover) the headmaster. He used to march around in his leather trench coat like some member of the Gestapo. I don’t think that he ever spoke to me directly in all the years I was there.

Soccer was the source of much of the agro, as it was at primary school, but this time the tackles were much harder, even if we fell onto turf. The other contributing factor was that we were going through puberty and testosterone was pulsing though our bodies, making our moods swing and our fight or flight reflexes close to the surface. I remember having fights, some quite brutal, with some of my friends, and after a day of cooling off, or maybe just ten minutes, we were back as best buddies. Up to about Year Four, it was fairly tame stuff, but when you are suddenly taller, not in my case, heavier and stronger, punches become a much more serious thing. Boys developed reputations and somehow the whole school was aware of them. The older boys that you looked up to, maybe idolised, were the ones that were good at sport, had armfuls of young girlfriends, were in bands, were good at acting, and very bright, but probably most importantly, were tough. They were the ones with real kudos. Why wouldn’t you want to be one of these alpha males? Maybe it was only those of us who aspired to be an alpha male who took notice or cared, but I knew I wanted to be known and respected, if not liked. I don’t ever remember the older boys fighting. Why would they? The pecking order was well and truly established by then. It was in Years Four and Five, that the quest for ‘Cock of the School’ was the goal. As we were all still changing, this order was not set, but dynamic, ever changing, and as a new year started the jostling for the new positions started again. The arrival of new boys to the school added to the mix. I remember John P joining the class and I was asked to help him settle. It was clear after a few minutes that he was another alpha wannabe. He was good looking, sporty and amiable, and a threat to some of us in the class. I must say, he was a great lad and joined in the class A-list very quickly and with no tension.

If you enjoy my tales then you might like a collection of the tales up to the end of my time at Harehills County Primary. It is available in ebook, paperback and hardback.

I had a reputation as a bit of a tough nut in the early years, due to my size, physical approach to rugby and occasional red moment, but by Year Four and Five, I was playing in a band and was less interested in toughness. This was the late 1960s and a new age of compassion, peace and love was still around. I was told that one of the boys in the year, Andy, felt he was top-dog and wanted to fight me to settle who ‘Cock of the School’ was. Rumour had it that Andy carried a knife. Now this was quite different to me, as my involvement in fights had been heat of the moment conflicts, not planned fights, in the form of a duel. Not sure that I would be victorious, I avoided Andy for a day or two until we bumped into each other. He looked almost as stressed as me. I said I didn’t want to challenge him and that I was happy to admit he was tougher than me. He just smiled, put his arm around me, and we forgot all about it. It seems that his mates had been arguing about who was tougher and wanted us to settle it for them. Anyway, it was over and we both forgot about it. In fact, we played a few times together in the band. He bought an organ and it was brought along to a practice at a girlfriend’s house, but he didn’t stay for long beyond that.

Teenage Me

When I was in the Fifth Form we used to go into the mansion toilet, at school, to have a fag at breaks. There was the undercover walkway between the mansion and the woodwork, art and biology block and whenever the door opened, a thick cloud of smoke billowed out like some sort of horror movie. The teachers were fully aware of this, but chose not to notice and did nothing. You didn’t need to be a smoker, just walking into the densely crowded facility was enough to knock years off your life. On this specific occasion, a few of us walked in and for some reason that I can’t remember, an older boy decided to have a fight with me. There was no room, but it was entertainment for those who were there. He was much taller than me, but by that time, most boys were. I don’t think any blows were struck and due to the lack of space and overcrowding it was more of a sweaty wrestle, apart from the fact I remember my head being rammed into the heavy wooden toilet cubicle frame. I think there were about three or four heavy blows, but luckily I am of Scottish descent and I had a good thick skull. As it happened, Les Lees was walking past, recognised the commotion being more than just the smokers melee and he ventured in, gown flapping like a raven. He had an impact that no amount of brutality could achieve. He had respect! He looked at the throng. “Is it all sorted, boys?” Somebody mumbled something, probably me and my partner in crime. “Probably, sir.” “No! It is all over!” “Yes, sir!” And that was it. There was a certain readjusting of shirt, tie and tucking into trouser, a sweaty body, numbed head and then I was on my way to the next lesson.

Roundhay School

In a previous blog, I discussed some fights that took place on a youth club day trip to Blackpool, and it was at youth clubs that more aggro happened. The reason for the fights was territorial. Rivalry between Roundhay and Allerton Grange was a real thing and one evening at Lidget Methodist Church Youth Club a large group of boys from Allerton Grange turned up and they were clearly looking for a fight of some sort. I just happened to walk outside when they arrived, and a tall boy shouted to me, “Do you wanna fight?” Now this seemed a rather strange request, but I replied, “If you insist!” Looking back, I think he was trying to impress and I was trying not to lose any status amongst my friends. Like gentlemen duellers, I began to take off my jacket, but he stopped removing his coat and launched an attack. Rather unsporting, I thought, and only had time to dodge a blow and grab him around the waist. Now, there was method in my madness, as he had a much longer reach, and kick, than me and so it was the only chance I had to avoid humiliation, (the first thought I had) and second, a sound beating. I just held on and we wrestled a bit. He couldn’t put any power into the blows, but they were coming, so I did what any self-respecting street-fighter would do and I grabbed hold of something soft. I had the theory at the time that I might not win a fight, but I could make sure the opponent knew they had been in one.  I held on, and squeezed! I didn’t seem to get any response from the other lad, but the fight was in a stalemate. I wasn’t letting go, and he couldn’t break away. This went on for quite a long time and I increased the pressure just to see what would happen, but the experiment was cut short when three or four youth club members who wore leather and owned motor bikes arrived. They had no idea what was going on, but the group that my assailant was part of hated greasers more than Roundhay boys. The cry, “Rockers!” went up, and they ran after the new arrivals. Even without their motor bikes, they knew how to accelerate and they vanished, running down the road, followed by the group of thugs. My assailant let go. “Call it quits?” He didn’t wait for a reply and followed after his mates. I was none the worse for wear and just dusted myself down and went back inside the club.

Now I was going to tell you about some really serious things that happened after school, but that will have to wait, but needless to say armed crimes, with knives, screwdrivers and guns are worth waiting for. After writing these accounts, I don’t want you to believe that I am condoning my behaviour or the behaviour of others, but it was, and probably still is a part of human life. Violence never solves anything, but in the adolescent psyche it has a high importance. This may be a genetic or a social programming, but it is there. Of course, in adult life most people move beyond this, but how many of our TV programmes, films, books and plays involve violence, not to mention computer games? Teenage years are difficult and in our days we were rather rudderless. Few teachers tried to guide us and parents were often embarrassed or ill-equipped to do much, other than try and model appropriate behaviour. It was a time when emotions were extreme and changed in an instant. There were some wonderful things and also some horrible ones, but most of us grew up to be decent people.

A Rock song written about an incident at the Methodist Hall in Chapel Allerton when we were playing a gig and a fight amongst the audience happened.

3 Replies to “‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A Bit of Biffo! Playground fights, Cock of the School and Some Scary, Boy Things that Happened at Roundhay School and Lidgett Lane Youth Club!”

  1. I don’t think Glover spoke to anybody – he was always a cold fish. At the time it seemed that his driving passion was for the ultimate abolishment of Roundhay’s Combined Cadet Force, and I thought that maybe he was a closet pacifist. He arrived at Roundhay while I was there – probably around 1963. One of his first tasks was to admonish the whole school for the state of the graffiti in the toilets (I always thought the state of the graffiti was pretty good actually: legible, succinct and quite amusing), so he had them all repainted. Of course it took maybe a day or so for the first witticisms to appear on those newly-painted walls: “Glover’s words have fallen in vain, the sh*t house poet’s at it again”, and in my naïve youth I never did discover who Kilroy was.

    My only direct contact – and it was contact – with Glover was when I was reprimanded for being involved in a fight in the dining room – it wasn’t much of a fight to be honest, I had just hit someone with an aluminium water jug (empty at the time, unfortunately) – and we both ended up feeling a few strokes of Glover’s cane (ending all my thoughts of him being a closet pacifist) followed by the obligatory Saturday detention (that loss of freedom hurt more than the cane).

    In general however, I never personally experienced that much bullying by peers at Roundhay – the occasional playground fights which seemed to attract a protective ring of schoolboys, and the obligatory grinding into the ground of my school cap in my first year, of course – but physical abuse by the teachers was altogether another matter. Blackboard rubbers, chalk, wooden rulers, in fact anything that would come to hand were all used as missiles by a (thankfully) small number of them to catch the unwary or inattentive in the classroom. It was just that my class seemed to have all of them. A swift slap to the back of the head was also ‘de rigeur’ – in fact my German language master used to ask which hand you wanted to be punished with!

    But, I survived….

    Cheers,

    Terry Lowe,
    Virginia, USA.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did too, Terry, so it can’t have been all that bad. Avoiding Glover was probably a good thing and I liked Doug Morris, the deputy so being sent to him was quite pleasant in comparrison. Some people seem quite cut up, about the treatment, but I don’t think it had any impact on my life. It was just the way things were in those days.

      Like

      1. I wonder if Doug Morris was the teacher and form master that I had for my sixth form years (1963 – 65), but only known to us as ‘Moggie’ Morris (I don’t know if he had a Morris Minor). He had a strong Midlands accent and taught us maths and ‘further’ maths, and I reckoned that during the school week I saw more of him than I did of my own father. He was very likeable and had some delightful turns of phrase: “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” was a particularly favourite that he used to highlight an important point.

        Cheers,

        Terry.

        Liked by 1 person

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