David Wybrow is pleased to present his "Disjointed Schoolboy Ramblings"
Price’s was the first ‘real’ school I attended. I was at private schools before that but, fortunately, ‘passed’ the eleven-plus and joined the real world at Price’s. Incidentally, I remember at my interview for the eleven-plus being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. Had never thought about it, so I said the first thing that occurred to me: ‘a painter’. Totally at cross-purposes, they asked me what medium I painted in. Had no idea what that meant, as I don’t think I’d ever painted anything in any medium, so they asked whether I wanted to paint battleships or people. Painting people seemed a strange pursuit, so I said ‘battleships’. It was only later I realised they imagined me as an artist. I meant I wanted to slap paint on the sides of battleships! Anyway, that answer got me into Price’s.
For reasons never explained, in those days the new intake joined in the second form – there was no first form. We were divided alphabetically into 2A and 2B, so I was in 2B. I had done fairly well at my previous school – won a prize ‘for general excellence’ in my final year, but that probably says more about the other pupils than about me! Never really had any competition until I went to Price’s, where I sank, almost without trace. I had been considered ‘bright’, but suddenly everyone around me was ‘bright’ too. Went from 2B to 3C, which seemed alright to me, although my mother wasn’t happy. Then to 3A. So I spent two years in the second year and was now in the ‘A-stream’: intelligent, but retarded! It worked out though – I moved on to another school at the age of fourteen, when my family moved to Reading, and later missed out the fifth year altogether, jumping from 4A to 6L, catching up with the kids my age and ending up with a bunch of ‘A-Levels’.
Price’s was different from anything I had known before and it took me a while to settle in. What it says about me, I’m not quite sure, but I remember the break times and outside activities much better than the interludes of boredom in between.
We were very lucky to have a large playing field adjacent to the school and my favourite times were during the lunch break when, as if on a signal, the whole school (or so it seemed) would join in one huge game of ‘Chain-he’, or a variation played with a tennis ball, called ‘King’.
Morning break was notable for the ‘tuck shop’, which in my day was just one of the ground floor windows in the main school. The only item sold was sticky buns and the maximum ration was six. When the window opened, it was a free-for-all crush, and those who had sixpence to their name would buy the maximum. Once the tray was empty, that was it, so you had to be both fast and ruthless if you didn’t want to go hungry. Invariably, the bell went for lessons just as you got your six, causing a dilemma: even a 12-year-old schoolboy couldn’t eat six buns in the time available, and you couldn’t just walk into class with them all. The solution was to flatten all six into a solid lump an inch thick and surreptitiously peel off and eat a strip at a time through the next class.
School milk was a necessary evil. It came in crates, of course, which the unfortunate milk monitors had to lug to the classrooms for the morning break. In the summer, the milk was warm and horrible. It came in short, wide-necked bottles with a waxed cardboard top. In the winter, it froze, and a column of ice would force the top off and protrude from the bottle. When it had thawed just enough to drink, the cold milk still gave you a headache.
School dinners were a shock. There were two sittings and everyone was keen to be on first sitting, so they were fed earlier and had the rest of the long break to themselves. The older boys sat at the head of the table with the younger kids at the other end. At the signal, the youngest kids would collect the dishes of food, to be doled out by the older boys, who naturally kept most for themselves.
I made the big mistake of telling my mum that I didn’t get much to eat and – absolute horror – she rang the headmaster to complain. I was summoned to his study before lunch. He seemed a very old man and, for reasons I never understood, we called him ‘Belch’. Ended most of his sentences with "what?….what?" He marched me into the dining room to absolute silence and roared ‘This boy is to get his fair share!’ Just imagine how I felt. I never told my mum ANYTHING after that!
In my day, we had school on Saturday mornings. Scripture with ‘Duck’ Mollard. Poor man: no-one was much interested at the best of times but, on a Saturday morning, he stood no chance.
One Saturday, ‘Duck’ was late and I got into a fight with Keith Wareham. Wareham was a year older than most in the class and therefore commanded some respect. He had a racing bike, coveted by many, and had run into the back of a truck, breaking his nose, which elevated his stature even more. We went through the usual schoolboy ritual, punching each other on the upper arm and snarling "Yeah?" then suddenly, the fight escalated to ‘the real thing’, desks and chairs flying everywhere. I was taller, but Keith was older and stronger. Fortunately, ‘Duck’ threw the door open in time to save me from my ultimate fate. No comment made, just ‘pick up that desk, boy!’ To his credit, Wareham didn’t ‘get’ me later, or even threaten to do so.
Hated sport in those days, and we were supposed to play on Saturday afternoons. I learned that, if I sloped off at lunchtime, I was put in detention the following Wednesday afternoon, when everyone else had to play sport again. I was forced to sit in the warm library, reading, while the others wallowed in the cold mud outside. It worked several times before they were on to me.
I didn’t like to admit that I’d never played cricket and, in a house competition, was sent out to bat against Rankin, the demon bowler. I was terrified and, when they gave me a ‘box’ to wear, and told me what it was for, that made it worse! He ran up to the crease and I never even saw the ball, just raised the bat in a pathetic attempt to protect my vital organs. By some coincidence, the ball hit the bat and there was no-one to stop it. I was an instant hero, hitting Rankin for four off my first stroke. Never improved on that. In fact, I don’t think I ever batted again.
Got to join the CCF (Combined Cadet Force) in my second year. The uniform always seemed highly impractical. Used to spend the whole weekend trying to press it – two parallel lines across the back of the battledress blouse and down the arms (who knows why) and knife-edge creases in the trousers. Problem was, it either rained on the way to school or it was hot and you sweated in the uniform – either way, it had turned into khaki sacks by the Monday afternoon parade, no matter how hard you tried. So trouble over that. And I made a great job of blancoing the webbing and cleaning the brasses, but I never perfected the technique of getting the brasses back on without making marks on the webbing. And the boots! Steel studs all over the bottoms, so they sounded impressive, but were hard to walk in. I was told to rub the toecaps with the back of a hot spoon to make them extra shiny. Never worked for me.
Those boots could be a liability. The bus stop on the main road was some way beyond the end of Park Lane. To avoid having to walk back, the ‘smart’ thing to do was to hang off the platform at the back of the bus then, as it began to slow, drop off, running a few places to decelerate. Natural rivalry caused people to jump earlier and earlier, when the bus was still moving quite quickly. One Monday, a boy who was wearing his steel-studded boots skidded and fell spectacularly, lucky not to be wiped out by the following car. On another day, one of the older boys, long practised in the art, with negligent ease, elegantly dropped from the bus and ran straight into the lamp-post at the end of Park Lane.
As I was about the tallest on the CCF parade, I was often the ‘right marker’. A dubious distinction, except that I was often the only one in line. My father was a senior NCO in the RN and had been in the guard of honour at the coronation and often when a member of the Royal Family or other dignitary came to town, so family expectations were high but, alas, not to be fulfilled through me.
Two things the CCF did for me that were of lasting benefit were (1) to help narrow down the range of available careers – under no circumstances would I ever consider joining HM Forces – and (2) to teach me to tell my right hand from my left, something I had never previously been sure of.
Having said that, one of the high spots for me at Price’s was being invited to join the CCF band. They needed a tall guy for the bass drum, and I was it. No musical prowess required, just march in step and hit the thing. It was great – we got out of all the other stuff the CCF had to do and just practised our drill – I can still slow march and about turn: "check, T, L, I, right".
We marched through the back lanes of Fareham with bugles blasting and drums rattling – the horses and cattle would run across the fields to see what was going on. Occasionally, we got to lead a local carnival parade and do a display of drill – I imagined all the girls were watching me, but, if there were any girls, which I doubt, they probably had their eyes fixed on the drum major – was that Ivor Noot?
Sports day was a great annual event at Price’s. The Rev Royds-Jones (I think he taught maths and physics) would mark out the running track with white lines on the grass weeks before.
A great idea for the unskilled majority, like myself, was to introduce events like ‘throwing the cricket ball’ and ‘the 880 yards handicap’. The latter was intended to catch everyone who had not entered any other event. The handicapping was worked out so even the kids with a weight problem had a chance, with maybe 440 yards start. I developed a severe limp in the days before sports day, but no-one believed it and I was started from scratch. Didn’t have spikes, so fell flat on my face at the start on the slippery grass track, much to the amusement of nearby spectators, who were treated to some very unschoolboy-like language, but my chance of athletics glory was gone for another year.
The Rev Royds-Jones was unusual, to say the least. On a hot day in summer, ‘Wick’ would take off his jacket to reveal that his clerical collar and dark shirt-front were just a ‘dickie’, held on by elastic, worn over an ancient striped shirt with the sleeves torn off and frayed at the ends. In one class, he whispered in my ear that I had better start shaving, or I’d be mistaken for a member of staff. Afterwards, I looked in the mirror – at age thirteen, for the first time consciously – and decided he was exaggerating just a little. Nevertheless, I nicked my dad’s razor that evening and came to school the next day ‘clean-shaven’ but covered in cuts. No-one noticed.
I recall ‘Ada’ Alderson as a nice man. Taught French. I was quite good, as I’d done French at my previous school. I usually came top in his weekly tests and was scornfully accused by the others of doing my ‘prep’, even though I swore I hadn’t. I couldn’t help it if I just knew the answers! I eventually got ‘A-Level’ French, but at another school, so he never knew.
One of the older lads had an artificial hand – a hook, actually, that opened if he moved his arm away from his body and closed to a vice-like grip if he pulled his arm in. It was said that he had blown his hand off with gunpowder nicked from the CCF armoury, but I don’t know how true that was. The hand was readily detachable and, occasionally, someone would snatch it from him and it would be thrown from one kid to another in the playground, while he tried desperately to get it back. He had a spare hand with a glove on it that he used for cycling. He would park his bike outside the local shop and go inside, leaving the hand still attached to the handlebars, to the consternation of passers-by.
That local shop must have made a fortune in term-time. Strategically placed in Park Lane, mid-way between the school and the town. Everyone used it. They sold homemade ice-lollies, a penny each. One good suck and all the flavouring was gone, leaving a lump of pure ice on the stick, to be discarded in the gutter.
One tradition I didn’t like at all was ‘the bumps’: if the boys got to know it was your birthday, you’d be grabbed and, with several people holding each limb, bumped on the ground the appropriate number of times, finally being thrown in the air to land in a heap. When my turn came (my fourteenth birthday) I wasn’t having any. Kicked, punched, elbowed and fought until the enthusiasm of the group waned and they gave up. Later, John Peck, who’d been behind me, showed me the wheals on his shins caused by my steel-tipped heels. He couldn’t get out of the way because of the crush. I wasn’t very sympathetic at the time. Sorry, John, if you ever get to read this. Hope you haven’t still got the scars!
The skills learned then stood me in good stead. Some years later, at my next school, the captain’s critique of my first season in 1st XV Rugby said "Wybrow: young and inexperienced, but lethal in the loose". I enjoyed that.
If I had to be in class, woodwork was best. A double period once a week, spoiling bits of timber in the woodwork shed with Cyril Briscoe, everyone’s uncle. Still remember the terrible smell of the glue-pot (reputed to be distilled essence of horse), always bubbling away but never seeming to be used. Learned the mysteries of the tenon saw and the spokeshave – much more use in later life than Latin! Spent a whole term making a bookrack that I think I’ve still got, if my wife hasn’t quietly thrown it out.
Art was OK too. But I wasn’t much good, despite my eleven-plus interview claims. The best thing was that the art-room was right at the top of the main school building, with commanding views of the Fareham countryside. And special desktops that propped up to make an easel you could hide behind.
I forget the name of the first-year Latin teacher (did we call him ‘Louis’?) We had Latin on a Monday, which was CCF day, and he always wore his RAF uniform on Mondays, so I associated Latin with something vaguely military.
He insisted that we sat in alphabetical order, starting on his left. The problem was, there were thirty desks and thirty-one people. As last on the register, after Wozencroft, I always got to sit on a chair at the front, with no desk. I pointed out that this was unfair, but was ignored. But I got him back! I refused to do any work, forgot what I already knew and learned no more Latin from then on. He didn’t seem to notice.
The other Latin master was ‘Jerk’ Jarvis. We cordially disliked one another, but he sometimes gave my mother a lift to work, which meant I had to sit in his car too, hunched down in the seat, hoping no-one would see me. He thought it was so funny to refer in class to the ‘ostriches’ (hostages) who always seemed to be taken or released in every Latin translation, just after the land was ‘laid waste’.
‘Taffy’ Howard Jones was a good history teacher, but he had a severe cast in one eye. Had a habit of asking a question, then nodding at the person who was to answer "You, boy!" Problem was, we didn’t know who he was looking at, which was rather embarrassing. Either no-one would answer, or two people sitting three desks apart would both answer at the same time.
Music and maths was ‘Smudge’ Smith – what a Cambridge M.A. was doing trying to teach us morons, I’ll never know. Nice man, walked with a limp. Put up with a great deal without seeming to notice, which must have been a defence mechanism. Only time I remember him getting angry was when some idiot (no, not me) created the classic classroom booby-trap, balancing a full wastepaper basket (one of those big wicker ones) on the partly-open door. Hit him on the head and shoulder. Must have hurt.
One teacher who was always angry was Mr Siney (Bill?), always shouting and slamming doors. Don’t remember what his subject was: just pleased to survive to the end of the lesson. When he was a little late one day, someone put boot polish on the outside door handle. Probably regretted doing so instantly, but it was too late. We sat in horror as Siney’s heels were heard coming down the corridor. We didn’t know what our fate would be but, at age eleven or twelve, we just knew it would be terrible. Silence in the classroom (that probably tipped him off!), footsteps paused for a second, then he came in. No boot polish. No reference was made to it. Don’t know to this day how he did it.
Bert Shaw was also slightly fearsome, probably because of his severe expression. Never knew him hit anyone, or even give a detention. Taught English. Waiting for him to arrive, someone put a drawing-pin on his chair (we never thought of anything original). We sat in terrified silence (no-one more scared than me, as I was sitting right in the front) as he came in, sat down and started the lesson. His expression never changed. Five minutes later, he put his hand down, picked up the drawing pin and put it on the desk in front of him. No comment made. It never happened again.
Biology and, I suppose it must have been Botany, were with ‘Gunger’ Garton. No-one seems to know the derivation of ‘Gunger’ or ‘Gunge’. As he had vestigial ginger hair round his bald dome, I always assumed, he was originally ‘Ginge’, but the relevance of that had faded away with his departing hair. Never seemed to have a sense of humour. Dealing with some misbehaviour, he called one of the boys out to the front and slapped him round the head, receiving a volley of punches in return. He was more surprised than hurt – the boy didn’t come up to his shoulder - and I don’t think there was any further action. He did start it, after all.
At least once each summer, we went for a nature ramble. Gunge would point out each interesting (to him) weed, give a short talk about it, pick an example and move on. Our trick was to hang back just far enough for our comments not to be heard, but we couldn’t hear him either. Back in the classroom – it was always a double period – he would brandish each plant in turn and we would have to write down its name. Needless to say, we rarely got any of them right.
We were divided into ‘sets’ for science, presumably because some pupils were observed to progress at a different rate in science from other subjects. I won the set prize in my last year at Price’s (I moved to another school at age fourteen), so that must have been a good indicator - the only subjects I failed at ‘O’ Level two years later were Physics and Chemistry! Those seemed to change as time went on from interesting subjects about people and inventions to (to me) totally incomprehensible theory.
In 1989, thirty years after I left Price’s School, by which time I was living in Western Australia, I visited the old place to show it to my wife and son. Was stunned to see it was actually being demolished – couldn’t believe it! As a tourist, I had my camera with me and took some good shots – dodging the bulldozers to get into some of the rooms I remembered, for positively the last time.