Rob Scammell - Odd Memories of Prices in the Sixties

It is funny how my recollections of Prices always seem to go back to my earlier days there around 1963 or 64. The old school building, later demolished, was a three-storey affair with a black painted fire escape down the school side. Heavy wooden (though rather narrow) stairs mostly marked its interior, and on the ground floor there was a cramped dining hall and kitchen. If you dared to venture into this kitchen during the lunch hour then you were met with a scene from Dante’s Inferno – huge quantities of steam and noise and a half a dozen gnarled dinner ladies ready to throw you out.

Classrooms above were mostly characterised by dusty floorboards and iron tie bars which ran across the ceilings to hold the place together. But the one place in the whole building that really concerned us all was the tuck shop. This consisted of a room separated off from the main corridor on the ground floor by a heavy wooden counter and partition, and situated just opposite to the kitchen adjacent to the dining hall. Every break time all hell would break lose as dozens and dozens of boys all fought to get to the counter to get spud puffs, fig rolls or individual packets of biscuits. Such was the crush that it was possible to get into the full scrum and find yourself literally carried past the counter in a solid mass of blue blazers and boys. The best idea I discovered was to fold your arms in front of you to minimise the chances of being crushed and just to dive in – or give up altogether and go out to the crates of free milk (which always seemed to be frozen or warm) and try to make that last until lunchtime.

of course came at twenty to one. For many of us school dinners in those days were in the incredibly cramped dining hall. I remember seeing Mr George with legs wide apart trying in vain to fit at the head of one of the benches (‘Look’ came a voice, ‘he’s the table’.). I actually ate in one of the terrapin huts just across from the main building – classrooms which were rapidly transformed each lunchtime into a place to eat. Each room contained perhaps four or five tables, and each table seated, I believe, seven lower school boys with a prefect from the sixth form at the end of the table to supervise (Roy King comes to mind as our prefect). Food, which was always ample and stodgy, was brought over from the kitchen on old metal trolleys. Of course there still wasn’t enough room and lunches were organised into two sittings. For some reason, those of us in second sittings had a constant dread of being ‘captured’ by the prefects who would come out from first sittings to grab boys to fill up empty places on their tables. Why we didn’t just have two dinners I can’t imagine.

In 1963 the prefects had an old green metal hut just by the 1C classroom (room 5, I think) and it was assumed that they used this as a sort of clubroom. It seemed to be the place of first years to taunt the prefects outside of this hut – but every now and then the prefects would come out, grab someone, and take him inside for a general ‘roughing up’. On one occasion Steve Redaway (who I have heard is sadly no longer with us) got such a thump that he spent the entire ensuing prize giving (that afternoon) in a complete daze, and sort of propped up between two of us.

In the 90 degree angle between the outside of the 1C classroom and the library was a drainage gutter, running along the base of the wall. Here we used to play a ball game, which we called guttersnipe. The idea was simple enough – you simply had to kick a tennis ball against the wall and get it to rebound without it ending up in the gutter. The game became incredibly popular for a while and I later discovered that the name had been lifted from an entirely different game played at one of our old public schools.

Later in my schooldays, probably around 1967 there was the School Film. My memories of this are rather vague, but I do remember that the start of the film showed Jim Smith, who was brilliant at cross-country, running along part of the school cross-country route. When the film was shown the running sequence (which I suppose was meant to show the striving of ‘Prices boy’) went on interminably, so that the whole thing became quite comical. I had a part in the film - I was shown emerging from the toilet. This was entirely appropriate because I did most of my homework in the toilet!

Too many more memories to go into here – but who cannot remember the whole school trekking down to the two grass banks on the side of Pook Lane to watch the annual cross country race. I don’t think I actually remember seeing any of the races finish because on arrival at Pook Lane I use to keep walking as fast as possible over the top of Portsdown hill to my home in Portchester – anything for a ‘skive!’ Then of course there was CCF, the shooting range, and the ghastly school swimming pool (‘non-swimmers line up with their backs to the pool – now dive in backwards’) – but somebody else must remember more of these than I do! Oh yes – and that day out at Browndown which my right ear never recovered from, and geography field trips, and Wise chasing us through the showers and……

But now I have a terrible confession to make! As anyone who was in Blackbrook house in the late 60s will remember, we were not a house of sporting geniuses. Somehow, anyone slightly good at sports (and I apologise if you were one of the one or two exceptions) seemed to end up in Cams, School or Westbury. Now one of the cups awarded on sports day would be awarded to the house that not only performed well on the day, but had accumulated points in the preceding weeks by getting members of the house to achieve sporting ‘standards’ at after school trials. As a senior member of the house (around 1969) it was my job (together with another who shall be nameless!) to supervise after school minors standards, informing a housemaster when each boy had achieved the standard. On this particular evening, Mr Smith (Smudge) was to keep score. Well, we managed to drag a dozen or so first years out on to the field and we discovered that a few of them might actually achieve long and high jump standards. A plan emerged – the supervising master did not seem to be paying that much attention on this occasion – all we had to do was cause enough confusion to get the boys who could achieve the standard to do the same standard over and over again, with the rest of the boys acting as a distraction. By the time certain boys had been through 2 or 3 times Mr Smith was becoming suspicious - and after another couple of rotations he actually started to protest! But we got the points. Even then I don’t think we won the cup.

A sexual revolution took place in the 60s and 70s, and today we take it for granted that our young people are educated, sexually sensible, and know as much as us about the ways of the world! But things were different in the early 60s, and I think we were all a bit naïve. Sex education at Prices was such that most of us left the school thinking that reproduction only happened in rats. Now it so happened that in 1963 Mr Openshaw, the 1C form master and Latin master, was away for the day, and ‘deadly’ Headley the biology teacher told us to put our Latin books away. He immediately drew a picture of two mating frogs on the board and told us he was going to do – reproduction! It was the quietest Latin lesson ever, but when the bell went Mr Headley promised he would go on from frogs to ‘higher’ creatures as soon as we had another Latin lesson cancelled – but we never did.

Things moved on, and by 2C or 3C we were all interested in what little boys are interested in! ‘Music appreciation’ was held on the stage in those days, and Mr Smith (Smudge) would get us to sit and listen to records played on the school radiogram – while the odd boy or two would find out more about the facts of life in the back row!

On one occasion Mr Smith became suspicious – he actually became annoyed! ‘Stand up that boy!’ But of course he couldn’t without showing his er.. embarrassment! Smudge got even more irate – ‘Stand up and come here!’ Fortunately for all the boy was wearing a long jumper….. You know that old radiogram was very loud –  I wonder how many of us went deaf?

Times moved on and by 4C somebody managed to acquire what we used to euphemistically call ‘a pack of three.’ Now, being young men at a boys grammar school someone did what any one of us would have done – he blew them up and let them float across a cricket house match! Shrieks of laughter when one burst around mid wicket. Of course, by then we were getting the odd biology lesson on the subject. To this day I remember Mr Parfitt (Rastus) finishing the lesson with ‘If the man and woman reach this peak together it can be very pleasurable…….or so I understand!

Thousands more memories – but come on, someone else have a go now.

Rob Scammell, Prices 1963 - 1970