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School Days And Puberty – Grahame May (25th)

On recently being “under orders” to clear some space in the loft I came across an old rolled up panoramic photo of the whole of Rosebank High School dated October 1951,in which I looked rather unkempt and a little lost. I also found an old dusty album headed School Memories April

1952 which showed me in the Fourth Form, the School Football Team and the School Cricket Team and in every one I looked quite perky and cheerful.

It was my dear mother who had decreed that I should have a private education as my brother, who was considerably older than me, had struggled through Grammar School and, as he had designs on being a teacher, had to sit a series of exams on his way to University. ( I believe it.was called Matriculation.)  I do not recall having shown any such ambition,as my future was ·quite clear – I was going to emulate my hero,Dennis Compton, and play football and cricket for England. Naturally I would play First Division football in the winter and First Class cricket in the summer but, at that stage, I did not envisage any great problems,except that heading a wet, heavy football sometimes caused nasty headaches.

When I unrolled the panoramic school photo, a bevy of faces and memories leapt out at me. The Senior Prefect who looked and acted just like a mini Hitler. He relished catching those who strayed onto the sacred area of lawn in front of the school,on which only prefects and sixth formers were allowed to congregate. Then there was the Headmaster , who could sometimes be a bit eccentric. One morning he marched into our classroom and announced that he was going to take over the Roll Call,omit Christian names and just use abbreviated surnames to save time. (What he did not know was that we had two boys called Bolsover and Dickinson!).   He did not even react to our muffled hysteria! Then I spied the elderly Master who made Latin and Scripture lessons even more boring because of his gloomy personality. Next to him was the sometimes over excitable Chemistry

Master, who revelled in combustible experiments, none of which seemed to have any great purpose. Much further along,was the demure, curvy blonde, who’s desk was always in my eye line. I used to moon over her for ages but I always became horribly tongue tied when it mattered.

In the centre row was the formidable figure of the Senior Mistress,  the very epitome of Hattie Jacques in “Carry On Matron”.  She disciplined both girls and boys without fear or favour and ensured  that our school uniforms were all in order by having regular inspections and the occasional purge.  She really was the “power behind the throne.”     There were several others,such as  the characters who fancied themselves as the three musketeers. ( I thought they were more like the three stooges!).  Near the back was the buxom wench, who once pranced scantily clad into our changing room after PT and announced that she was ” up for it first come first serve”.  I recall we just sat there opened mouthed until she went away laughing.  Later we found out that it was only done for a  bet, but one of the “musketeers” claimed that he took her up on the offer after school. We ignored him as usual.

At the end of the front row sat our Sports Master, a retired ex RAF PTI. He was well like and very approachable. Not only did he get the best out of us in the gym and on the sports field, but he would encourage and even coach us, if necessary.  I finally found John Bird – (“Dickey” Bird of course) – fairly tall and lanky with a dry sense of humour. He was a very effective centre half and could also be a fearsome fast bowler on his day. We knocked about for quite a number of terms and competed in as many events as possible every School Sports Day. It was he who suggested that we could enter every Track and Field event, if we planned it right, but when we put it to the Sports Master, he said we hadn’t a hope in hell. ( Some events overlap and you have to really compete, not just tootle around or hadn’t you two clowns realised all this?”) We had, but still reckoned it could be done if some of the event timings could be changed to our advantage. We did not anticipate his colourful reply! I recall that we did give it a go but ran out of steam towards the end. We managed to share the spoils in the track events and the high jump but were then unable to finish the long jump and shot putt. Looking back,the whole thing was not really feasible, but our exploits were later  mentioned in the school magazine; together with photos!

Despite early promise, my ambition to emulate Dennis Compton never really got off the ground. I was put forward for a Football Town Trial and turned up at the municipal playing fields with a posse of likely lads from various schools in the area. We were given coloured armbands, sorted into teams and played thirty minutes each way. I was chuffed to be called back for a second trial playing for the possibles verses the probables. but on a muddy, rain sodden pitch I was “worked over” by a hard case of a full back who revelled in the sliding tackle. ( I also missed an open goal by my reluctance to head the heavy ball).

My Cricket trial for Durham Colts, played in front of a fair sized crowd, was no better. I was pushed down the batting order to number eight and only scored two runs before the innings finished. I never had a chance to bowl and spent most of the time fielding on the boundary.

However, I was later called back for a Second trial but this time, in front of an even larger crowd, I failed miserably with both bat and ball. The Sports Master consoled me and suggested I should try goalkeeping, if heading a football caused recurring headaches. (“what you lack in height you can overcome with your agility, and as regards cricket maybe you just don’t have the big match temperament.“) It was straight from the shoulder stuff but it was just what I needed!  Realising the inevitable, I decided I would, instead, offer my services to the Royal Air Force, train as a pilot via Cranwell and fly the latest jet fighters. (Well,we all know how that panned out don’t we?)

I cannot remember exactly when it started ,but I know my school studies suddenly went downhill. could not concentrate, I became clumsy and awkward, my voice went from high to low and I intended to forget the simplest things. Then one morning,after a lack lustre PT session, the Sports Master came into the changing room and announced that it was high time that some of us started  wearing some kind of jockstrap, not just for PT, but all games and sports in general.  He also said that from now on the girls would be at the back for PT, and not in front of the boys, as was the current set up.

I know presume that all this was something to do with puberty but of course, at the time, it was just another reason for jocularity and speculation .