I started at Price’s in September 1964. I was in Form 1A, and our Form Room was at the top of the stairs at the end nearest to the assembly hall on the northern side of the 2 storey buildings around the Quadrangle. It was next to the Biology lab. Our Form Master was Mr Alderson, if I remember correctly. I think the room was used as an Art room, and there was a pottery wheel in there, a treadle operated device which somebody discovered would make a piercing screeching noise if it was treadled furiously and the side of the hand pressed against the wheel. How and when this was discovered is lost in the mists of time, but it was responsible for much merriment at the time.
There were about 30 or more of us, amongst whom was a small bespectacled boy who looked pretty innocuous at face value. I know his name, but I’ll just call him B. Anyway, one day, at about going-home-time, I remember Mr Alderson standing on the path leading towards our Form Room, saying something to me as I approached, a warning to stay back it turned out. To my amazement, he said our friend B was up in the Form Room smashing up chairs and throwing them out of the window. Call me wet behind the ears, but in those days I had absolutely no idea anybody dared to behave like that. At some other time, I can’t say whether it was before or after the chair-throwing, I came upon B and another lad both with completely blue faces, having engaged in an ink fight. For those of more tender years, this sort of ink fight involved the use of fountain pens, flicking ink out of them at each other. I can’t remember what eventually became of B, but perhaps he came right in the end, or perhaps they locked him up.
One thing that struck me early on was the apparently huge size of sixth-formers compared with us first years. One of these older chaps had a disfigurement. He had scarring on his face around one of his eyes, and I believe he had lost that eye. This had occurred as result of a tragic accident. I was told that he’d pinched some conc. sulphuric from the Chemy lab, and had it in a beaker in one of the small rooms at the top of the old School House. It was said that one of his friends thought it was just water, and threw it over him as a joke....
There was an apposite little rhyme that warned of the dangers of that very acid.
Alas poor Joe is dead
We see his face no more
For what he thought was H2O
Actually, as one or two of you may recall, I was no stranger to dangerous occurrences myself, but more of that later.
I think it was a great shame that the old building was destroyed. I think most would agree that it had infinitely more charm than the glass box that took its place. Another thing that disappeared then was the sittings system for lunch at appointed tables. In my opinion, this was and is a far superior system to the seemingly universal canteen arrangement that my children have had to endure.
To put some perspective on how different a world it was then, I can clearly remember sitting in the Chemy lab and hearing the chuffing of steam locos as they pulled out of Fareham railway station.
Speaking of the Chemy Lab, and the rows of little reagent bottles down the middle of the benches, the oft-played prank was to remove the stopper from the Ammonium Sulphide bottle, whereupon the stench of rotten eggs would gradually pervade the entire lab and beyond. Later, I recall experiments we did producing esters. These are pleasant fruity-smelling compounds produced from an alcohol and a sometimes foul-smelling organic acid. This time we made ethyl butyrate, which smells delightfully of pineapple, whereas the butyric acid used to make it smells like vomit. Someone (not me, I hasten to add) thought it was a jolly jape to fill ‘Molly’ Malone’s blazer pocket with the acid. Boys can be so cruel.
The Tale of the Browndown Hero
One CCF Tuesday, we set off to the Browndown ranges. We were taken there in the back of canvas covered Army three-tonners. The first part of the day was prone-position target shooting with bolt-action Lee Enfield 303s on the ranges. These rifles were fearsomely heavy, certainly for me, anyway. I wasn’t very big in those days, and quite bony. The rifle stock had nothing but an unyielding brass plate on the butt end, and the recoil of a 303 is fairly powerful, to say the least. This proved to be very painful on my poor little adolescent shoulder and I had to tuck my folded-up beret between butt and shoulder to attempt to cushion the kick. Not only that, I found the weight of the gun almost impossible to hold steady, so I slid back down the sloping firing point so that I could rest the barrel on the ground whilst shooting. This sort of thing does nothing for accuracy, and I don’t think I hit the targets at all. Worse, though, was the effect on the chap shooting next to me. He was a keen CCFer, an NCO I think, Balchin, maybe?, and he was firing in what you might call an ‘exhibition’ pose, now ahead of me, because as I said, I’d slid backwards down the slope. Every time I fired, he’d look round scowling, muttering something I couldn’t hear. I just nodded politely and carried on. Of course, he was catching the muzzle blast of my rifle directly in his right ear. I do apologise.
Well, that was the least of the excitement that day. After the live firing, and we’d had our turn in the butts, working the targets for the others, we were each given a rifle and ten blank rounds. The NCOs had gone off ahead, and I suppose our job was to attack and capture their positions. So, upon the signal, as a baying mob, we set off in pursuit. There were explosions in the distance as they let off thunderflashes, and eventually we caught up with them, holed-up in a concrete pill box on a rise ahead of us. There was a fair bit of shooting going on, and I was creeping round the side towards a steel door when it was suddenly flung open and out charged an enraged and blood-flecked Gatland. He grabbed me by the lapels, shouting “was that you?” My puzzled response of Urrgh? seemed to convince him that it wasn’t, and he threw me aside and rushed off elsewhere. I later found out that the cause of his intense discomfiture was that one of our intrepid band of brothers, an apparently meek and mild chap named C_____ had mounted an heroic one-man frontal assault on the said pill box. He’d run up the hill, no doubt under ‘withering fire’, shoved his rifle into the observation slit and given them what-for from the hip. Gatland had looked out of the slit just in time to receive C’s contribution point-blank in the moosh, which undoubtedly put a damper on the rest of his day, and I imagine required a change of underwear all round for the others in there with him. Fortunately, I believe pride was the only serious casualty in the event.
There was an enquiry at school about it all, which is where the facts came out, and the ‘culprit’ was identified. I understand that C was given a ticking off, but it occurs to me that if he’d done the same in a war he’d have probably got the VC.
The Curious Case of the Bloody Hand-Print
One particular weekend, for no particular reason, I decided to create a tubular construction for igniting red-headed matches by percussion, in such a way that the products of the combustion would be issued from the opposing termination of the tubular construction in a pleasing and inspiring manner. Undoubtedly, you’ve all done the same. Or perhaps not.
The said ‘tubular construction’ consisted of various bits of brass and a spring, screwed and soldered together, including a large brass dished washer from the head of large decorative carpet nail. It worked on the principle used in those little match-stick-firing Dinky Toy field guns, and the idea was to put a red match-head or two in the back of the brass dished washer, pull the trigger, and it would make a crack and emit smoke from the end of the tube. And so it did. Harmless enough, and it attracted quite a throng on its inaugural appearance, one break-time, round the front of the old cricket pavilion.
I demonstrated it a few times. Actually, it was all rather tame. That is, until a young lad named San**** arrived on the scene with a transparent plastic box full of what he said was weedkiller and sugar. It was then that events now took a more, shall we say, exciting turn. It was a short step to load some of this compound into the barrel (brass tube) and, with the idea that the match-head would ignite it, to operate the trigger. Just for good measure, we put a pencil in the barrel as a potential projectile. The trigger was duly operated, and a satisfying spurt of flame issued from the barrel, gently expelling the pencil as it did so. By this time. the crowd had greatly increased, and a replay was demanded. The apparatus was recharged and the trigger pulled. Almost instantly, absolutely nothing happened. At that point, I remember looking down and reaching to re-load it. Then I seemed to be vaguely aware that something had changed, but I didn’t really know what.
What had actually changed was that after obviously weighing up the options for a few seconds, the thing had made up its mind to violently explode in my hand and face. For some reason, I reached for my forehead, and brought my hand away covered in blood and I realized that I couldn’t see out of my left eye. All I could see was light, just a white featureless mist. First thoughts were ‘Oh dear, not good’, or words to that effect. I dropped the device and sped through the now-recoiling crowd to the bogs in the new block to see what the damage was. There was a glass door at the entrance to the new block, and I pushed it open with my bloodied palm. They tell me that this blood hand-print remained on the door for days afterwards, I can only assume as a macabre warning to others who might be contemplating similar feats of self-destruction. Anyway, I went into the toilets and gingerly looked at my reflection. I was greatly relieved to see that my eye wasn’t hanging out on a stalk, and in fact looked quite normal, except for a sizeable gash on my brow above it. After that, it was a case of sitting in Eric’s office, bemoaning my misfortune and waiting for someone to turn up. It may have been an ambulance, or my Mum who arrived first, I can’t now recall, but eventually we got to a clinic where a tall Indian doctor asked me about the gash on my brow. I knew what he was getting at – whether it had been caused by impact or penetration, but I said that I’d dropped the gadget and would need to see what remained of it to be able to say. I had a large swelling on my forehead above the wound and he decided to poke about with a pair of tweezers. I was lying on his couch whilst he poked about in the gash (as it were) and he suddenly announced “I think I’ve got something”. I said “Well, quick, pull it out” and he replied “Well, it might be part of your skull!” I can still see him now, wiggling the tweezers as he pulled the thing out, and as soon as I saw it with my good eye, I realized it was The Large Brass Washer.
Evidently, this had been blown off the back of the barrel in the explosion, and had hit my forehead, and possibly grazed my eye on the way up. Fortunately it penetrated up my forehead rather than into my eye socket, and all I ended up with was a hyphema (bleeding inside the eyeball), plus the forehead gash and some painful powder burns to my face and especially to my fingers holding the gadget. Lucky me.
After about 3 days rest in the eye hospital, my vision thankfully returned. I was soon back at school and I was reunited with the remains of the device which I still have, together with the brass washer wrapped in a piece of padded gauze by that doctor. It’s missing one part though, and that is the majority of the brass tube barrel. This was blown off in the explosion, and apparently landed at the feet of fellow-pupil Kill, with the pencil still in it, or so I was told.
Given the ferocity of the detonation of a relatively small fraction of what was in San****’s plastic box, it would have certainly livened up the average Latin lesson if the whole lot had unexpectedly gone off in his pocket.
And Jon Fay later noted that the speed of my self-evacuation from the scene immediately following the explosion was so rapid that it had led to speculation that I had been blown skywards, and was still coming down. Very droll, I’m sure.
That wasn’t quite the end of the story though. Only some few weeks later, I was on a cross-country run, on the track where we used to turn right off the Wickham road. There was some larking about by some lads behind us (they’ll know who they are!) and a shout which caused me to look round, just in time to receive a decent-sized stone missile to my right temple and eye. Hyphema No 2, other eye this time, and back in the eye hospital. You again?! was the Matron’s only comment.
Well, that’s all for now. Does anybody out there remember any of these events? It would be great to hear from you, or indeed your own reminiscences of what were great times, when school boys were trusted to blow themselves up, buy sheath-knives, fireworks and airgun pellets, and beer and fags for Dad. Oh, and for those like me who had no sisters, girls were definitely a different species, and a much sought-after one at that.