ADVENTURES AT SCHOOL & COLLEGE
Primary School – SS Peter & Paul (1969–Easter 1973)
All of us children attended St Peter and Paul’s RC Primary School in Mitcham, (headmistress Miss V M Begley) just next to the cricket green. To get there, we would walk down Norbury Cross, turn left into Northborough Road, and turn right at the traffic lights into Rowan Road, altogether a distance of half a mile. About 200 yards along Rowan Road, we would wait by the bus stop for the ‘red’ coach to arrive (there was also a ‘blue’ coach). Once or twice, my sister Gill and I were lucky enough to be given a lift by Veronica Quaintance (years before her brother Vernon’s indiscretions came to light) from the very climbable lamppost opposite the bottom of Norbury Court Road as far as the traffic lights at Rowan Road.
Several classmates got on the coach at the same stop, notably Desmond Kelly and later, John Joseph Kelly (not related to each other), however I don’t remember too many others. The coach would follow a roundabout route via Wide Way, Chestnut Grove, Dahlia Gardens, Sherwood Park Road, Tamworth Lane, Tamworth Park, Commonside West, Cedars Avenue, Madeira Road and Bramcote Avenue stopping at various points to pick up more pupils, before pulling up outside the school entrance in a residential road called Mitcham Park.
All of the old school buildings of SS Peter & Paul have been knocked down now, and what is left looks ridiculously small. Miss Hanger was my first teacher, in Class 12 (also known as Infant 1a). The building that she taught us in (facing onto the road Mitcham Park) is just unbelievably tiny. I remember that one day we came into our classroom on the ground floor (the left hand one if you’re looking through the school gates) to find a big coloured-in picture of Humpty Dumpty chalked on the blackboard – I thought it must have taken her ages to draw.
Each morning, we were entitled to “free school milk” which was served in 1/3 pint bottles with a straw. However, in 1971, then-Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher ended this practice for children over the age of seven.
Miss Hanger’s report on my progress in July 1970, aged five, reads, ”Michael has worked well this term & has matured very quickly. He is no longer shy and doesn’t upset so easily when reprimanded. Very artistic”. On Reading & English, she comments, “V. Good progress with his reading especially reading words phonetically”. And finally on Mathematics, she says, “V. Good number work. Has shown promise with written work”. Conduct, attendance and punctuality are all marked as ‘Good’. Surprising how some of these comments were mirrored by my eldest’s report for his first year at school. More surprising though is that whereas my first report amounted to about eight lines, Jamie’s first report covers about five A4 pages (presumably computer-generated via tick boxes?).
I don’t know on what basis, progression through the classes was decided. I guess that Classes 12 and 11 were the reception classes and from then on, whether one was in an odd or even numbered class depended on merit, odd being for the more advanced pupils. Therefore the second year would have consisted of Classes 10 and 9, the third year of Classes 8 and 7 and so on until the sixth year of Classes 2 and 1. I presume this was why the members of my class changed slightly from year to year, as some children moved up into the top set or down into the bottom set at the end of each year.
From Class 12, I progressed to Class 9 (Miss Fowler). For some reason, this was not a good year for me at school and I do remember crying having been told off by her, something to do with not putting away some toys into the toy cupboard. I do recall doing something on the subject of dinosaurs on continuous green-and-white-striped computer paper. All young boys of course are fascinated by dinosaurs. At the end of the school year, Class 9 became Class 7. I guess Miss Fowler stayed with us for another year as I cannot remember any other teacher taking her place.
Class 5 under Miss Burke’s tutelage, in one of the prefab buildings overlooking the orchard, is where I remember first advancing significantly ahead of others at Mathematics. I could perform addition and subtraction with three and then four columns while many of the other children were still struggling with one or two columns. I could also perform more complex multiplication and long division sums than others in my class – no calculators of course in those days. I was aware of how impressively swiftly Dad could add up a column of figures, and hoped that I would one day be able to do the same.
There were several different games that could be played at school breaktimes. One popular game involved flicking ones football cards as close to a wall as possible - nearest would win all of the cards flicked. ‘He’ was another popular game (also known as British Bulldog), in our school it was called ‘Long Ways He’ - you had to run the length of a marked court in the playground without being ‘had’ i.e. tagged by someone who was already ‘it’!. Prior to the game starting, it was a frequent sight to see two or three children marching about the playground, arms around each others’ shoulders, chanting, “Who Wants To Play – Long Ways He? – Who Wants To Play – Long Ways He?”, while anyone who wanted to play would join the chain. Sooner or later, what had started out as a small chain would turn into a large snake of perhaps twelve to fifteen children ready to play. A similar game was ‘Kiss Chase’, basically ‘He’ with girls. Either the boys would have to catch the girls and kiss them, or the girls would try and catch the boys and kiss them. Also popular was football, but because balls of any kind were not allowed in the playground, we used to kick a stone around - very dangerous. I remember that one day, someone kicked a stone which hit Stephen McGinn on the forehead just above the eye, which resulted in the banning of using stones as footballs (not that their use would ever have been authorised). Stephen’s main claim to fame in our class though was that he could hit the ceiling of the outside toilets when having a wee.
During the summer, we would be allowed to spend our lunchtime playing on the grass on the cricket green opposite one of the entrances to the school.
Naturally, children fall out from time to time, usually over extremely petty squabbles, these would often be sorted out by clasping each others little fingers in a sort of mini-handshake, and chanting to each other, “Make up friends - Make up friends - Never gonna break up, make up friends”.
All sorts of things went on in the school hall. I remember that originally there were four ‘houses’ named after famous martyrs - Fisher, Campion, Becket and More – each pupil would be assigned to one of the houses and earn points for the house throughout the year, though I think this practice was becoming obsolete while I was there. Assembly was held in the hall, usually starting and ending with a hymn – occasionally we were asked to put our hands up if we wanted a particular hymn or song to be sung - I remember that my choice, ‘Hands To Work And Feet To Run’, a hymn obviously written for children to sing, was not too popular - I don’t know why not. Other popular choices were ‘Lord Of The Dance’ and ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’.
Apart from being our regular lunchtime venue, and the scene of at least one play – Pinocchio, in which each of the characters names had to be sung – the hall was also the scene of a television programme. Some of us were selected to read a self-written story on camera while standing on the stage. For some reason, though I stood on the stage amongst all of the other readers for an hour or so, my story was not chosen. Penny Fielding, who had also been selected to read, laughingly told me later that I was just “standing dumb!”
Jennifer Whitehorn and Penelope ‘Penny’ Fielding (who arrived later) were my ‘girlfriends’ at primary school, though I think Penny liked me more than I liked her. My sister Liz has a photograph of Penny and me taken at our first holy communion, with me wearing impossibly short shorts and she and I allegedly holding hands, though I haven’t seen the picture for some years so cannot fully vouch for this.
Other memories of my first school include: the wendy house that was on a shelf of concrete next to the small playground at the Mitcham Park entrance to the school; having our photographs taken in the small library; shoebags; a drawing pin on the teacher’s seat; the prefab buildings; generally white shirts though sometimes during winter, I would be allowed to wear a slightly thicker and warmer grey shirt, the sports day long jump (I could jump 9 feet at quite a young age) and the orchard - poor old Cecilia Ward, who touched some fungus on a tree and was told she would go mouldy and die - the funny thing is, I think most of us believed that it would happen. In a cruel twist of fate, Cecilia actually did end up committing suicide by jumping on the tracks at Tooting Broadway underground station.
TV formed an occasional weekly diversion from the humdrum routine of schoolwork, where we would perhaps watch “Picture Box” presented by former Coronation Street star, Alan Rothwell who would narrate over a film about penguins or balloons or something.
One outing that stands out from this time is a visit to the Rainbow Theatre in North London to see a musical play about energy. A car called Stanley was no longer able to run as there was no more oil or petrol, prompting a song which ran “So sorry Stanley, What shall we do?, We will just have to live our lives without you”. However, Stanley is converted to become an electric car and no longer needs to drain the planet of essential natural resources. It clearly left a deep impression as I can still remember that song over thirty years later. All very hippy and ‘Right On’, I’m sure.
Miss Nethercott’s Class 3 was to be my final year at SS Peter & Paul, though I didn’t know it at the beginning of the year. My 1973 Easter term report by Miss Nethercott, reads, “Michael is a very able child, and a most industrious worker. He has a very good imagination, and produces lively creative writing and art. Michael has a very good grasp of mathematics, and enjoys his work. He contributes well to the life of the class, and is a popular member”.
However, greater machinations had been afoot. As the Eleven Plus exam was to be discontinued in Merton before I had the opportunity to take it, I could not now benefit from ‘selection’. That is, whether coming from a rich or poor background, if I had been able to do well at this exam, I would have been eligible to attend a grammar school. It is generally agreed that grammar schools offer a better standard of education and therefore greater opportunity when progressing into the big wide world.
Rather than be assigned to any old comprehensive in the Borough of Merton, Mum and Dad wanted to ensure that Gill and I both continued to benefit from a Catholic education. And so, I never did make it into Mr ‘Tetley’ Teevan’s Class 1. At the end of the Easter Term in 1973, Gill and I left SS Peter & Paul for St Joseph’s Primary in the Borough of Croydon, a feeder school for the Catholic St Joseph’s College.
My best friend for most of my time at SS Peter & Paul was Daryl Sullivan, a brown-haired boy with a mole on his top lip. His sidekick and consequently another friend of mine was dark-haired Harold Sweeney – known to us as Skinny Bum, I recall going to Harold’s birthday party in Crusoe Road off Figgs Marsh. Desmond Kelly, with whom I travelled to and from school each day on the coach comes in third – Des would become the most famous member of that class of schoolchildren, growing up to be a sports journalist and one-time deputy editor of the Daily Mirror. He also appears on the television programme ‘Inside Sport’ alongside Gabby Logan, but most memorably, he is well known as maths wizardress Carol Vorderman’s longterm beau. Imagine that, my mate from primary school scoring with TV’s best known mathematician.
Being only eight years old when I left S S Peter & Paul, and with my new school miles away in a completely different town, there were few opportunities to stay in contact with any of them after I left, and with my attention diverted by a new set of classmates, I lost touch with them all.
A list of SS Peter & Paul classmates that I can remember follows:
- Helen Atkins – Fair haired. Her father died during my time at this school.
- Joanne Bateman – cute and dark-haired.
- Mary Battle – Redheaded, befreckled bright spark who I believe was only in the same class as me for one year.
- Jacqueline Chapman – wavy dark hair and glasses.
- Nadia Duffy – Dark haired. Not always in the same class together. Now called Nadia Whelan, I caught up with her again via the Friends Reunited website. Having lived in Mitcham and then Croydon, she now resides in Eastbourne with her young daughter.
- Penelope Fielding – Known as ‘Penny’, she joined the class later. Small and cute, she turned my head from Jennifer Whitehorn.
- Desmond Kelly – One of my best friends at this school. Dark-haired with sticky-out-ears, Desmond grew up to become one-time deputy editor of the Daily Mirror, though he is better known as a sports journalist and beau of Carol Vorderman.
- John Bernard Kelly – Dark-haired. Originally just John Kelly, but teacher used middle name to distinguish him from John Joseph Kelly who joined the school later on.
- John Joseph Kelly – Joined the school a little later on. Distinguished from John Bernard Kelly by using their middle names. Travelled from the same coach stop. Seemed always to have a scab underneath his nose.
- Michael Maunsell – Had the same birthday (30th September) as my brother Nick.
- Stephen McGinn – impressed us all by hitting the toilet ceiling when having a widdle.
- Steven McGorry - a tall lad with bright blond hair.
- Simon Nassan - had two sisters, Bridget and Josephine, who all lived somewhere in the region of Windermere Road or Brockenhurst Way?
- Catriona Paccheti – Dark-haired, round-faced and perhaps a little plump girl of possibly Italian parentage?
- Daryl Sullivan – my best friend at this school.
- Harold Sweeney – my second best friend at this school.
- Michael Tuohy – A later addition to our class, a tallish lad with short dark spikey hair. I got on well with him.
- Cecilia Ward – dark haired girl remembered by me solely for touching the mould on one of the orchard trees and being teased that she would go mouldy herself and die. According to Nadia Duffy (now Whelan), Cecilia later committed suicide at Tooting Broadway station.
- Jennifer Whitehorn – Long brown ringletted hair. Looked a lot like her older sister Veronica. In my opinion at the time, she was the prettiest girl in the class, though later my allegiance would be shared between her and Penny Fielding.
- Jan Wocsnika – Joined the school later on and travelled to school on the same coach. Lived opposite Lawtons on Northborough Road
- Claudia – Can’t remember her surname. She travelled to school on the same coach – I think she got on at the Chestnut Grove stop.
- Colin – Can’t remember his surname. The smallest boy in the class who always seemed to have a chill and always wanted to go to the toilet.
Junior School – St Joseph’s Primary (Easter 1973-July 1976)
At my new school, St Joseph’s RC Primary, Woodend, Upper Norwood, life was considerably different. The rules concerning choice of school having changed due to the imminent demise of the eleven-plus test saw Mum and Dad move Gill and me to a junior school in the Borough of Croydon to guarantee that we would be able to go to a Catholic senior school. We joined our new school for the final term of the school year. I was in Miss Morrison’s second year juniors class, while Gill joined Miss Denman’s first year juniors class.
One immediate difference was that rather than catch the dependable red coach to and from school, we now had to catch two buses in each direction. There were several different combinations of buses that we could take - either the 109 from Norbury High Street to Streatham Common and then the 249 to Beulah Hill, or the 118 or 130 from Rowan Road (in the opposite direction to Norbury High Street) to Streatham Common, and again the 249. The advantage of the 109 was that it cost only twopence, while the 118 and 130 cost threepence. However, it was further and uphill walking to the 109 bus stop whereas it was gently downhill for the 118/130. When Mum or Dad had first taken us to our new school along this new route, I’m sure that when changing buses at Streatham Bus Garage that they would have made us walk along to the pedestrian crossing to ensure that we crossed the road safely. However, many is the time that the bus would arrive at Streatham Bus Garage just as a 249 was stopping at the crowded bus stop on the opposite side of the A23, which often meant Gill and I scurrying across the busy road, rather than hang around cooling our heels at the bus stop for fifteen minutes waiting for the next 249 to materialise.
On the way home, the 137 (also threepence) was a further option, though this would run from closer to the school than the twopence 249. However, it would go further out of our way than the 249, taking us to Streatham Hill where still either the 109 or 118 could be caught (the 130 only ran between New Addington and Streatham Garage), though the cost for either bus from here would be threepence. Whichever combination of buses we took, the palms of my hands would frequently end up with a smelly greenish tinge, from clutching those copper coins for extended periods.
For some reason I remember two particular things about the 118. Firstly, one of the bus conductors looked particularly oriental, with impossibly red cheeks as if he were wearing rouge, fixed smile and slicked down hair, rather like the balloon-headed entertainer from Timperley, Frank Sidebottom in human form. The second memory is of another conductor who would occasionally holler, “Only going to the Horse And Groom. Only going to the Horse And Groom” when the bus was due to terminate just before the end of Manor Road, in a voice not unentirely like the Pennsylvanian drawl of the thirties actor W C Fields.
Initially, Philip Buckley, the son of a friend of Mum’s, would after school each day, see that Gill and I got safely onto the 137 at the stop on Crown Dale. Soon enough though, we were allowed to make my own way home. From the 137 bus stop, we could see all the way to the top of Central Hill, a considerable distance away, so would have plenty of advance warning when the bus hoved into view (In later years, when Gill and I would cycle to all sorts of different places on our bicycles, we would occasionally freewheel down Central Hill, picking up tremendous speed and be halfway up Crown Dale on the other side of the dip before having to pedal again).
Memorably on one occasion, the 137 turned up at the bus stop narrowly missing a man crossing the road, who muttered something under his breath. Next thing we knew, the driver had launched himself from his cab and in front of us impressionable youngsters was confronting the man with the memorable “Who are you calling a fat f*cker?” Well, it wasn’t hard to guess. The driver was a certainly a big chap…..
Occasionally, if the bus was slow to turn up, we would walk from bus stop to bus stop, occasionally making it all of the way down Streatham Common (saving the threepence) to the point where we changed buses. Mum would always supply both Gill and I with enough money to take the twopence option each way, and while I think Mum would have wanted the money back if she knew that we had walked, we considered any savings were a bonus for us.
After a year or two, Mum and Dad came to an arrangement with the Storace-Rutters who lived at 46 Norbury Court Road. Mr Storace-Rutter whose first name was Wilf, would take Gill and I to school with their daughters in his car, an orange Fiat 127, registration number OMU872K. The Storace-Rutters were both church-goers, with Mrs S-R singing in the St Bartholomew’s choir, and had three children, Paul who was a few years older than us, Alison who was Gill’s age, and Giselle who was a few years younger.
Of Maltese extraction, dark-haired Mrs S-R came across somewhat as one who had ideas above her station and perhaps thought herself better than others, while bespectacled, bearded and moustachioed Wilf was much more down to earth. Paul, who had been in the Scouts at St Bartholomews Church, but who was several years older than Alison would end up dying at the age of nineteen in a motorcycle accident, a tragedy that really knocked the family for six. My God, how do parents ever come to terms with the death of their beloved first-born at such a young age? Alison had inherited much of her mother’s look and had dark eyes and hair, while Giselle was small and skinny, with a shock of curly mousey-coloured hair.
So, each morning, Gill and I would troop round to their house and Wilf would drive the two girls, Gill and me to school. Occasionally, he would pick us up in the afternoon too (What did he do all day?), and sometimes stop on the way back at the aquarium shop on the A23 next to the entrance to Pollards Hill South, to buy some more fish for his aquarium. “Chintzy” describes the interior of chez Storace-Rutter, and Gill and I would often wait in the lounge/front room or the kitchen while the girls finished getting ready. We were made to feel very welcome and were invited to firework parties in their garden where tasty buttered jacket potatoes were served alongside lukewarm mugs of revolting Ovaltine – yuck!
During the school holidays, they continued to be our occasional playmates, even one day being invited next door to number 48 and putting on a bit of a show for the old people who lived there – I knew a few card tricks, and we might sing a few songs learnt at school such as “I wear a red sombrero” or read a verse or two (with accompanying but now long-forgotten hand actions) such as:
“Look at the school of porpoises slithering over the feathery foam
Sporting and cavorting, possibly courting it may be
What could be the purposes of hundreds of heavenly porpoises
Slithering over the feathery foam and slithering out to sea?”
On moving up to senior school, I lost touch with Alison and Giselle, though I did see Alison some years later working at Normans The Newsagents where I had been a paper boy. It was reported that at some time she went out with Austin Breen (who lived down our road at number 36, went to our church and to St Joseph’s College and worked at Sainsburys too). Later still, around 2002, I rediscovered Alison via the Friends Reunited website, now in her late thirties, working as an estate agent in Streatham. We swapped a few emails and pictures at the time, lost touch once more, before crossing paths once again in 2008. Alison is now married, surname Campbell, and living in Carshalton, Surrey.
One last note on the Storace-Rutters, is that they lived opposite a pair of twins, Dominic and Dominique Ambler with whom we would all occasionally play. While Dominic was a bit of a square, I would meet the soon-to-be-foxy Dominique again some years later, while working at Sainsburys.
* * * * * * * *
Like SS Peter & Paul, the old part of St Joseph’s Primary no longer exists and has been replaced by new buildings. My first class was in the old part of the school with Miss Morrison, a young, long-haired, pleasant Scottish brunette. I was introduced to the class by the headmaster Mr Kelly (tall, grey suit, dark but greying wavy hair, wonky face), who on entering the classroom was greeted by the whole class standing up and intoning as one, “Good Morning Mr Kelly”. This new regime was going to take some getting used to. I was seated with Pat Slater, Ken McCulloch, Tim Weir, Angus Macdonald and Finbarr McNulty.
At SS Peter & Paul, when the teacher asked a question, hands would be raised politely and silently by pupils who could offer an answer. At St Joseph’s Primary, when Miss Morrison asked a question, hands would shoot up into the air accompanied by a multitude of pupils earnestly and urgently hissing ‘Missssss’, ‘Missssss’, each trying to raise their hand higher than all the others, some even lifting their bottom off their seat to be chosen to answer the question. It was an entirely different approach and quite a cultural shock to get used to this new way of attracting the teacher’s attention. Whilst one could not assume that the teacher would be anything other than fair in choosing who should answer the question, one felt that one had to be heard above the others to stand a chance. Very much a case of “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. Comically, on one occasion, Miss Morrison condemned us by calling us “a bunch of hissing snakes”, after which we were somewhat less serpentine in proffering our answers to her questions.
On one occasion, Miss Morrison was teaching us about height and weight and had brought in a set of weighing scales. She was amazed to note that I weighed just 3st 13lbs (clothed) at the age of nine – indeed at the time, although I had a very healthy appetite and could eat pretty much whatever I liked, I was slow to put any weight on.
At the time, I was very interested in aviation and envisaged that one day I would become an airline pilot or an astronaut - that is of course when I wasn’t planning to be a professional footballer or a pop star. Each member of the class was encouraged to do a project on a favourite subject. I recall that Miss Morrison helped me to send a letter to Heathrow Airport who very kindly sent back a box, what might now be termed as a press pack, full of interesting aeroplaney-type things such as pencils, literature, postcards and posters with which I was able to put together a project about what happens at the airport. This included a survey asking each classmate what their favourite type of plane was, from a list of six or seven. Unsurprisingly, Concorde came out on top of the survey and the ugly freight carrier, the Super Guppy (Boeing 377-SG/SGT) finished at the bottom.
We were also tasked with writing to another schoolchild, in Jersey – my penfriend was called Annabel and we probably exchanged three or four not-very-exciting monthly letters at the behest of our teachers. I was probably yet to learn that getting people to tell you about themselves is a great way to make friends.
One of the scariest teachers ever in the history of the universe was a wizened old hag called Miss Evans - dreaded by all of the children because she was always wailing like a banshee and telling us off for making too much noise, hitting the classroom windows with our tennis balls etc. The quieter, but similarly aged piano-playing Mrs Stiert was much more amenable and well-liked.
Lunchtimes were very popular at St Joseph’s, particularly due to the fact that one of the dinner ladies would regularly announce that ‘seconds’ or even ‘thirds’ were available. Finbarr (aka Fatbarr) was always first up there with his plate.
TV again played an important role. One show that we all looked forward to was Joe And The Sheep Rustlers (written by Leonard Kingston as part of the ‘Look and Read’ series), which would be followed by a comprehension exercise. As well as having a memorable song which would get regular airings throughout the series, the most impressive moment of the show for me, was when Joe and his friends stop the Beasleys’ van in the almost certain knowledge that Ted Beasley has just rustled some sheep. The back of the van is thrown open to reveal nothing.
Popular breaktime games included ‘Bunging’ - throwing a tennis ball across the playground into a doorway or a section of the wall that was guarded by several of the opposing team. Nigel Norris was extremely good at this; he had a very strong throwing arm and could regularly throw the ball as high as the roof of the dinner hall opposite. Football (played with a tennis ball at this school rather than a stone) was also popular, though as one of the goals was a doorway, it was often a matter of luck rather than judgement not to hit anybody who was going through the doorway at the time.
After a year in the older buildings, we had moved up the hill and across the playing field into the newly-built modern redbrick buildings, which consisted of several classrooms around a large open area containing a small library, coat hooks and plenty of tables which could be used at breaktime or dinnertime. Down some steep stairs and across a small open paved area, stood the dinnerhall-cum-gym-cum-assembly hall. A couple of times, we were given the chance to practise our hands at cooking in the area just next to the small library. Just the usual stuff that school children cook, fairy cakes and the like. At the time, Home Economics was available as a subject for children (usually girls, as until the late 1960s, women were still predominantly seen as homemakers rather than hunter-gatherers) at which they could learn the rudiments of preparing a three course meal on a budget. It certainly sounded a lot easier than Geography or Physics.
In my opinion, Caroline Cunningham was initially the best looking girl in my class, though in retrospect, I don’t think she was especially bright. She had straight, dark hair, brown eyes and a sweet round face. However on one occasion at the end of the Christmas term when we were allowed to wear our own clothes for the day, she tore her fingernail on my thick, royal blue jumper during some game or other and was very upset.
Between the third and fourth years, Miss Morrison married and became Mrs O’Connor - she married Mr O’Connor who was one of the year masters at St Joseph’s College up the road on Beulah Hill. Our class would go swimming at the college baths once a week (though originally we did go to the old swimming baths on Thornton Heath High Street, now replaced by a leisure centre), crocodiling up the hill and back again behind Mr Lennon. I could not swim until I was fifteen, so would stay close to the shallow end pushing across the width of the pool with one foot on the bottom, while most others got their 25 yards (one length of the pool), 50 yards (two lengths) and 100 yards (four lengths) certificates.
In the fourth year, Jane Daniels, a bright and pretty Scottish girl, joined the class immediately ousting Caroline Cunningham as my favourite. Jane’s parents were astonishingly young (late twenties) compared with mine (late forties). The crowning glory of my year long admiration of Jane was being chosen as her partner in a Scottish country dancing display at the school summer sports day (attended by Liz) to the recorded sounds of famous accordionist Jimmy Shand. All that practising and then the real thing holding her in my arms as we performed our Scottish reel along with several other pairs of children. It was almost as if fate had thrown us together (rather like young teenagers Alan and Ann in the 1982 film “P’tang Yang Kipperbang”) and it blew my mind. Sadly, though I think she really liked me too, that was as close as I ever got to her. At the same event, Finbarr told the rest of the class present that his parents liked to walk around their house nude, which shocked and surprised many of us. Given that he was a chubby, square shaped lad, I don’t suppose that even if it were true, that the sight of his naked parents would have been a thing of beauty to behold. It was later rumoured that Finbarr had “shown his willy to the girls” in the toilets next to the playground, but this was never verified.
In the fourth year, my best friend since joining St Joes, Dave Geraghty and I agreed to be blood brothers like Red Indians, though I balked at idea of actually cutting my skin to mingle my blood with his. So, in the school toilets, we just sucked blood to the surface of the skin and pressed our thumbs together!! Dave, who lived on Grecian Crescent just off Beulah Hill, went off to Ireland with his parents but came back after a year or so as his mum had pleurisy. By then, we had reached secondary school and remained friends until the completion of our schooling, though not as close as we had been in junior school as we were no longer always in the same classes. Twenty years after leaving secondary school, we got in contact via the aforementioned FriendsReunited website. David had joined the police (something he had always said he wanted to do), and after six years or so had joined the Bermuda Police Service as a detective on the Serious Fraud Squad. He didn’t marry and has had no kids (yet) and his tax free dollars have enabled him to buy a sixty foot long houseboat to live on.
I remember Tim Weir crying because he thought the way that football teams were picked at breaktime was ‘unfair’ - he always seemed to be on the losing side. Finbarr usually ended up in goal, but memorably would only dive for the ball after the ball had passed his body. There was a book in the school library called ‘Dragonfly’ which contained some steamy sex scenes - a very popular book which was kept secret from the teachers, and which several boys took home for a few days. I remember completing another project all about wheat and how it is used to produce bread and cereals. Angus Macdonald beat me in the final of the school chess competition.
The dinner hall in the new part of the school doubled up as a gymnasium with wall bars, where we would take our PE lessons and the occasional drama lesson where one might have to pretend to be a tree. At other times, it might serve as an assembly hall – all children having to sit on the floor while Mr Kelly spoke – and as a venue for the zoo man to come and give a talk every so often and show us a few unusual animals.
During this time, I attended birthday parties for Pat Slater who lived very close to the school on Bradley Road, and Ken McCulloch, a big eared lad with a large square head who lived on Beauchamp Road at South Norwood. This second occasion, dated by my diary of the time to Friday 11th June 1976 (four days before Ken’s birthday), is notorious for two reasons, one for my rendition of The Wurzels “I’ve Got A Brand New Combine Harvester” and secondly for my present to Ken. Ken had often complained that he had never been able to supply whichever tennis ball we played football with in the school playground, and so, not being very well off, I bought him a tennis ball for his birthday. It cost 19p from Normans The Newsagents on the High Street where I would later work. Well, Ken was not impressed, and his father had to tell him off for being rude about my present saying something along the lines of some people not being able to afford as much as others. I guess that most other children are helped out by their parents when buying birthday presents for their classmates. I don’t think it even crossed my parents’ minds that that was the done thing. Then again, we never held birthday parties at home to which any classmates were invited anyway so maybe they really were unaware of children’s party etiquette.
I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of birthday parties I was invited to while at school – Harold Sweeney at primary school, Pat and Ken as described above and maybe one or two long-forgotten others. These days, I am forever astonished at the number of parties that my children are invited to. It seems like there is a party every other week for them to attend. It really has become part of children’s life. Maybe it was there when my brothers and sisters and I were growing up too, though I don’t recall any of us attending so many.
We went on the occasional school trip to a place of interest. Mr Mann, our fourth year teacher, and Mr Lennon took us all to London Zoo, supplying us all with a wodge of prepared project sheets on which we were required to answer specific questions about the animals. I always enjoyed these days out of the school routine. This trip however, was marred by an unfortunate occurrence in the petting zoo. The goats took a shine to my sheaf of project work pulling several sheets out of my hands and devouring as much of it as they could in the shortest time possible. Whilst earning a mild rebuke from Mr Mann, who I guessed was inwardly chortling, he at least had had the foresight to bring an extra set of sheets allowing me to rewrite my answers on the coach journey back to school.
Possibly on the same trip, we ate our lunchtime sandwiches on a barge called ‘Jenny Wren’ while travelling along the part of the Regents Canal backing onto London Zoo. We travelled through at least one of the three tunnels along the canal (possibly the shortest one under Lisson Grove), singing “One Man Went To Mow” on the return trip finishing the “Twelve men….” verse just as we were docking.
Most of the boys at St Josephs’ Primary would move up to St Joseph’s College at the top of Beulah Hill. One or two of the less able mortals (ho ho) would head for Bishop Thomas Grant at the top of Streatham Common. Des Stafford who lived on Sandfield Road was one of my best friends from those years at the Primary and would also attend the College, though due to his surname beginning with ‘S’, he would end up in a different class. After changing schools, I lost touch with him somewhat, though we would always say ‘Hello’ if we passed each other in the corridor. Terence (Tel) McTiernan, a kindly portly lad who spoke very quickly, was another good mate who would graduate to the College.
During the third year at St Joseph’s Primary, Sean Gibson had joined my class from Norbury Manor. Though we did not initially get on so well, he turned out to be my best and oldest friend, as well as becoming Best Man at my first wedding.
There were many other memorable characters in my class. Michael Gilhooly was something of a hooligan (Michael Gilhooligan?) who reckoned himself a bit and got into trouble several times with the teachers. Christopher Glackin was a curly-dark haired, friendly lad, but sadly was completely stupid (think of the Viz magazine character Terry F*ckwit and you’d be pretty close), and got into lots of trouble with the teacher. Was it deliberate that Mrs O’Connor would sit these children on the same group of desks as me in some vain hope that I would be able to assist or influence them? Christopher was so stupid, he had me read The Water Babies to him – I’m not sure if he could read very well himself. The same thing happened with Anthony Winter who was at least a lot of fun and even made Mrs O’Connor laugh with his impression of a witch doctor (it loses a lot in translation).
Mark Walton was the star sportsman in our class, being good at both cricket and football, as was Nigel Kilravey-Norris (initially known to us simply as Nigel Norris) who had a particularly impressive throwing arm, though he would only join our class half-way through the third year. Des Stafford was a tall and strong, enthusiastic footballer and member of the class. John Gillespie was a friendly chubby lad who lived near Streatham Common, and occasional bullyboy Paul Willoughby hung out with the Gilhoolys and Glackins of the class. Fair-haired Sean Barrett and bespectacled Brian Fitzsimons were both products of even larger families than mine.
Special mention must be made of Marcus Nicholas and Cathal Owens, both of whom joined the school after I did, and both of whom lived in Tivoli Road, just a stone’s throw from the school. Both became my good friends, both even reaching the peak of the “best friends” mountain during our association at St Joseph’s Primary. I’m sure that both of them were of the few that moved onto Bishop Thomas Grant rather than St Joseph’s College, which probably explains why I don’t recall seeing them again.
Of the girls in the class, Helen Birt was the star, both good looking and clever. She and I were frequent picks to read out the lesson at any school church service, usually held in the chapel at Virgo Fidelis, a girl’s convent school not far away up Central Hill. Ever the location of the school’s annual Christmas carol service, one recalls Anthony Haggerty, who was in Gill’s form, reciting his poem ‘Follow That Star’ year after interminable year. The hymn ‘The Angel Gabriel’ would be sung with some of us quietly murmuring the well-known alternative words, “Most Highly Flavoured Gravy” (instead of “Most Highly Favoured Lady”). One year, Helen and I both received special book prizes from Mr Kelly for reading so well at such a service.
By contrast, Anne Coward got the fuzzy end of the lollipop. She was certainly unlucky in terms of looks, as she had a chubby, piggy face and a huge bird’s nest of dark hair, and was teased by the other girls who told her that because her hair was so untidy, she must have nits. In retrospect, one can’t help thinking, “Poor Girl”. How she must have hated school.
Of the other girls, I can remember only a few: Susan Maestranzi – a petite, friendly girl who would call me ‘Baby’ because I had ONCE stuck my thumb in my mouth; Teresa Dunne – a freckly, brown haired serious-minded girl; Ruth McCulloch – shoulder-length curly, dark hair; Theresa McElroy – a red-cheeked, fair haired, big-boned lass who joined the class some time after I did; Margaret Kenny – another freckly lass but this time with gingery swept-back hair; and Jane Frith – another chunky girl with long fair hair. Another gingertop, soft-voiced Sharon Brophy often sounded bunged up with a cold. Susan, Theresa Mc, Margaret and Jane all sat together at the same bank of tables and Teresa D sat with Helen Birt.
In the fourth and final year at St Joseph’s Primary, Helen finally had opposition as the brightest girl in the class from ash-blonded new pupil Sarah Jarman, who I recall won a globe in that year’s class Christmas raffle.
There was one more lad at St Joe’s that sticks out, a half-caste lad called Louis (not to be confused with another half-caste boy called Louis, who seemed very simple to talk to, but in fact was really rather bright), a year or two older than me, with whom I made friends early on. He called me ‘Whitey’ (a soubriquet that I thought nothing of but which in retrospect was a tad un-PC), and who would also go on to St Joseph’s College.
A list of St Joseph’s Primary classmates that I can remember follows:
- Sean Barrett – Fair haired, fast talker, from a big Catholic family. Also went to St Joseph’s College.
- Helen Birt – Rounded-faced, brightest girl in the class, until new girl Sarah Jarman challenged her supremacy.
- Sharon Brophy – Frizzy ginger haired, soft talker with a bunged up nose.
- Anne Coward – Wild-haired, piggy-faced and not very bright – poor Anne was picked on by her peers.
- Caroline Cunningham – Small, pretty, dark-haired girl, who was my favourite until usurped by Jane Daniels.
- Jane Daniels – my country-dancing partner. Bright, pretty and Scottish, and with exceedingly young parents.
- Teresa Dunne – Thin and freckly, and one of class star Helen Birt’s acolytes.
- Brian Fitzsimons – Short, fair-haired and bespectacled, Brian too cam from an enormous Catholic family.
- Jane Frith – Big boned girl who after attending Coloma, now manages International Development projects for the Charities Aid Foundation.
- David Geraghty – Also went to St Joseph’s College – see his entry there.
- Sean Gibson – Also went to St Joseph’s College – see his entry there.
- John Gillespie – Also went to St Joseph’s College – see his entry there.
- Michael Gilhooly – Naughtiest boy in the class. Tall and thin with dark hair.
- Christopher Glackin – Not very bright. Read ‘The Water Babies’ to him as he couldn’t read too well.
- Sarah Jarman – Fair-haired final year challenger for brainiest girl in the class.
- Margaret Kenny – Freckly redhead who sat with Jane Frith, Theresa McElroy and Susan Maestranzi. Went on to Bishop Thomas Grant.
- Angus Macdonald – Scottish dark-haired chess wizard. Friends with Finbarr Mc Nulty.
- Susan Maestranzi – Tiny dark-haired girl. We became quite pally towards the end of our years at St Joe’s.
- Kenneth McCulloch – Square-headed, sticky-out eared lad, who did not appreciate the birthday present that I gave him.
- Ruth McCulloch – Curly, dark-haired. Has lived in Israel and Australia, but now lives in Shrewsbury where she runs a financial advisory business with her husband. 2 kids.
- Theresa McElroy – Red-faced, fair-haired. Joined after me.
- Finbarr McNulty – Barrel-shaped boy who usually went in goal. Apparently showed his willy to the girls.
- Terence McTiernan – Fast talking funny guy who also went on to St Joseph’s College.
- Marcus Nicholas – Joined later than me. Good friends during junior school, but went on to Bishop Thomas Grant.
- Nigel Norris – Nasally, odd-faced lad with a superb throwing arm. Also went to St Joseph’s College.
- Cathal Owens – Another later-joining good mate like Marcus, who went on to Bishop Thomas Grant.
- Deo Reynolds – Large-eared and a shade slow-witted, but a nice enough lad.
- Patrick Slater – Fair-haired friendly lad on whose table I sat when I first arrived. Now married to Gillian Bowen whose sister Una was in Gill’s class.
- Desmond Stafford – Tall, strong friendly fellow, good footballer. Well liked by all.
- Yvonne Tonkin – long dark hair.
- Mark Walton – Best sportsman in the class.
- Timothy Weir – Thin weedy chap who didn’t think it was fair when he got picked for the worst team when playing football in the playground.
- Paul Willoughby – Brown-haired, occasionally naughty boy.
- Anthony Winter – Joined later. Not the brightest tool in the box, but a funny lad who could make the teacher laugh.
That makes 22 boys (including myself) and 13 girls so I guess that I may be missing a number of girls that I can’t for the life of me recall.