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Colin Jackson

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Posted on Wednesday, June 12, 2002 - 05:23 am:   

I was a pupil at Mundella from 1957 to 1964 and, after gaining a Pure Science degree and Dip. Ed. at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, took up, in 1968, an offer, from the late Mr Moody, of a teaching post at my old school. I spent two years working with many of the staff who had taught me, before moving to an 11-18 Comprehensive School in Carlton where I spent the next 26 years i/c Biology. Concurrently, I worked for various Examining Bodies, setting and marking examination papers, both from home and overseas centres. That was some rut, eh? Since 1996 I have been enjoying semi-retirement, returning to the classroom only intermittently to cover maternity leaves and other staff absences in various Nottinghamshire schools. I married Elizabeth Millar when we were both still students in Newcastle in 1967 and we have two daughters, Catriona (31) and Alison (28).

I happened across this site by following a link from www.schoolfriendsunited.com and have been most interested to read reminiscences of contemporaries, some of whom I remember well, even after all these years. Other names and memories are vague. I must be getting old!
My first memory was of the initial meeting attended with parent(s) held in the Upper (or was it Lower) Hall for new entrants who had passed the 11+. Mr Calder, who was leaving to be succeeded by Mr Stephens, called a roll and when he came to the name 'Savage' commented, "We've had a lot of savages in this school"…..a line which much amused my father at the time. Strangely, I don't remember anyone called Savage in my year.

There were four forms of entry, M S G & F and I was placed in 1F along with 28 other pupils. Mr Baggott was both my form teacher and Maths teacher. I remember him telling of a pupil who, when asked to calculate the length of a pencil, came up with the answer 5 miles. Obviously, this was prior to metrication. This adage was to encourage one to always ask oneself whether the answer you come up with is a sensible answer and I've never forgotten it. Stan Baggott was still teaching at the School when I joined the staff. I liked and respected him although he was by that time a golden age theorist who told me that the rot set in after the war with advertisements imploring parents to "Give that banana to your child". He thought from that moment children became more important than was good for them. He also held the view that the only post war improvement was that in the quality of sound reproduction and that, of course, was before CDs and digital recording came on the scene.

As in most grammar schools, internal examinations were inflicted every year and streaming was the order of the day. I went through Mundella during the era of the "express stream", when early specialisation into either Arts or Science subjects was in vogue. I ended up (but only just) in that express stream on the science side, sitting a mere six academic O'levels at the end of the fourth year, having dropped all the craft and humanities subjects lower down the school. In those days, science students had to do a language at O'level (obligatory for university entry) and, in my case, this was French. Initially, I was taught by Mr Wathey, who so terrified me, I very nearly ran away from home. He was succeeded by "Teddy Boy" Taylor (Elaine Daley's heart throb). He despaired of my foreign language skills and totally gave up on me, evidenced by the fact that during round the class questions, he just skipped past me when it got to my turn, not that I complained at the time. I did go on a school trip to Paris. I think we stayed at a hotel with a quaint old lift in Montmartre and visited Notre Dam, the gardens of Versailles and Sacre Couer but it didn't really help with the acquisition of the language. I think Sue Brummitt, one of Mr Hunter's colleagues, was one of those who accompanied the party. I particularly remember the female teacher i/c, when she observed one or other of the boys combing their hair (OK it was me), saying "Gentleman don't, others shouldn't". Standards, eh? I wonder what she thought when the Fonze came along? Another example of the staff's endeavour to maintain standards was Mrs Houseman's drive to ensure girls wore white bras under their white blouses. Do you remember that, Kay? Not surprisingly, I failed French, not only once but several times. I ended up going to evening classes at Peoples' College, taken by Bert Holbrook. This class was full of other failures and no-hopers and I recollect him relating stories about immoral ladies in Marseilles in order to pass the time. My saviour was Mr Moody, the Headteacher who succeeded Mr Stephens. When I was in the Upper VI he gave me a few after school French lessons and set exercises for me to do by the following morning without fail. This resulted in my attaining a very respectable (for me) Grade 3 in French.

Later, I was taught Maths by Miss "Dolly" Onions, who also became our Form mistress in the Fourth Year. She was appalled by my lack of mathematical style and I think because of her insistence on a proper standard of presentation, I did become better organised and can now be quite pedantic myself! I recall the disrespectful rhyme "Dolly Onions sells fish, three ha'pence a dish. Don't buy them, don't buy them, they stink when you fry them" but cannot remember the context. I also remember her, in Geometry, drawing freehand a circle on the blackboard and saying to a class of predominantly boys in 6L, "I know my figure isn't very good" and her wondering why they were all tittering.

I also remember being taught by Mr Bob Gibbs (Woodwork) who usually had a fresh-cut flower in his button-hole. Miss Barlow taught Art, which my wife now tells me I was trying to do with the wrong side of my brain so no wonder I found it hard! Mr Sweetland (Latin) and Mr Mitchell (RE) whose premature greyness, rumour had it, happened during a coma caused by a rugby accident. I often see him when I drive past his house in Mapperley but have never had the guts to stop and say, "Remember me and, by the way, how come you went grey at such a very young age"? There was Barton Hart (Music) who played the piano in Upper Hall whilst we awaited the Headmaster and sometimes he played on, seemingly oblivious of the Head's arrival and then ended the piece with a rather grand flourish. Barton Hart, though, had no time for people like me who are tone-dumb! Who could forget the terrifying Mr Daniels (Physics). He was not averse to pinning miscreants against the darkroom door and shouting up their nostrils. He also carried a length of Bunsen tubing, which he brought down on the back of any hand caught touching a gas tap or similarly straying. Who was the boy with the winkle-pickers whose toes were G-clamped to the Physics Lab. bench by an irate Mr Daniels? Oh yes, and do you remember Sam, the Senior Technician and how carefully one had to tread in his presence - especially in the chemical balance room or when reporting a breakage or asking for more of a reagent?

I read with interest David Cooke's contributions to the Guest Diary. I remember "Cookey" well. His memories of making nitrogen tri-iodide reminded me of the times we experimented with explosives and rocket propellants in his garden shed in Broxtowe. I recall casually lobbing ink bottles containing home-made gunpowder with a saltpetre fuse into the Trent. The trick was to time it so that they exploded under the water to create a plume effect. I also recall the resonating effect of introducing a stick of Sodium into a drain in Bakersfield, near to where Tony Hurst lived. For me, the real fascination was with remote detonation and we experienced some success with this when we blew up Peter Campbell's Gran's dustbin, much to the annoyance of one of her neighbours. As I recall, David Cooke worked for a time for the Forensic Science Service dealing, amongst other things, with explosives. What are the chances of that happening? Notwithstanding the fluorescein in the river, didn't we also cause some consternation amongst passers-by by putting calcium carbide into Highfields Lake and setting light to the gas evolved?

The most memorable of my English teachers was "Daddy" Dakin. At the very first parents' evening he told my parents that I wasn't to be allowed to have 'The Beano' and 'The Dandy' anymore….and I wasn't! Imagine teachers having that sort of power today. Another educational concern at that time, resulting presumably from the early specialisation in Arts or Science, was that scientists should be literate and arts students numerate. I recall Mr Dakin giving "Use of English" lessons to groups of Sixth Form scientists. I don't know whether I showed it at the time but I had a lot of respect for "Daddy" Dakin. One teacher for whom I showed little respect and I apologise now (too late I know) was Miss Greenwood. I once wolf-whistled in her Geography lesson when she showed holiday slides featuring her and (I think) twin sister in bathing costumes. I seem to recall that she told my parents that I was precocious and my Dad asked me what it meant! I also got into hot water when Miss Greenwood drew an inverted triangle on the blackboard, which we had to copy, and then dictated the following note. (Remember all those dictated notes?) The above roughly represents South America and I called out, "Underline the word roughly" resulting in my being sent to R.R. Stephens, Headmaster. Bending his cane dramatically over head, he gave me the choice of demotion into a lower group or corporal punishment….."But don't tell me now Jackson. Come back at 4 p.m. and tell me your decision". He knew how to make you sweat! Happy Days!

Do you remember football at break and lunchtimes on the tennis courts? Heading a tennis ball onto the bike shed roof? Melting protractors, set squares and what have you on the pot belly stoves in the huts? Playing poker dice in the Library and shove ha'penny on bench and table tops? Drinking numerous extra little bottles of unclaimed milk? The awful outdoor loos and the absolutely ghastly school meals? I switched to sandwiches at the first opportunity, eating them on the embankment steps, in the Memo. Gardens and sometimes whilst watching the cricket at Notts C.C.C. Who was the PE teacher who coached our rowers during the lunchtime? He skilfully cycled one-handed along the embankment steps, watching the boat's progress and calling instructions to the crew through a megaphone held to his mouth. Did he ever end up in the drink? I know some of us hoped he would! Then there were the vicious snowball fights with neighbouring Trent Bridge School and going home early when we had those real pea-soup fogs that bought the Corporation transport to a virtual standstill. Of course, Wilford Power Station was still going strong in those days and sometimes you could see black smuts in the air and on folk's washing. Do you recall the noisy disruption to your education caused by the demolition of the old air raid shelters and the incessant banging of the pile drivers sinking the foundations for the new Hall and Science Block? Clearly, many of you remember the neotonous salamanders (axolotls to you) and the Houdini-like Xenopus toads in the Blodge Lab. Who remembers the bread van arriving at break and the scramble for iced buns and, of course, the corner shop? Was it Mrs Jolly (or something like that) with a sign that said, "If we rest, we rust. If we trust, we bust. No Rest - No rust. No Trust - No Bust". Were you in the Chess Club? I was Captain for a time. For some it gave a bona-fide reason to get in out of the cold but some of us took the game quite seriously. Do you recollect ducking down in the ditch on the far bank of the Trent (on the right after crossing the suspension bridge) in order to avoid having to run the entire cross-country circuit? Games was my pet hate- certainly in those early years - in fact, it wasn't until we were allowed to play tennis or go to the ice stadium on Wednesday afternoons that I undertook physical exercise willingly. George Hunter's idea of hanging from wall bars, somersaulting on rubber mats, vaulting over wooden horses and doing dangerous manoeuvres on parallel bars was not my scene. I remember one teacher, a Welshman who maybe taught Latin (not Mr Sweetland) as well as some Games lessons, wearing an overcoat and scarf as he made us line up on the frozen pitch in our House team. I was in Hardwick House. This sadistic man, with gloved hands, lifted each of our yellow shirts in turn to ensure that we hadn't kept a vest on underneath our house shirt. Who was that man? It was incidents such as this that made me and other like-minded individuals skive off games to play Cliff Richard records on Pete Shelton's dansette or sometimes Peter Campbell's Mum provided a safe haven!

Of course, my early Science education at Mundella took place in the labs, which, together with Barton Hart's Music Room, were located on the top floor. I seem to remember two fires up there. One was due to arson and, according to the story I heard, involved an accelerant being applied to Barton Hart's gowns, a collection of which, some exceedingly tatty, used to hang on the back of the Music Room door. The other fire was rumoured to have been caused by a piece of sodium or potassium or some such being dropped accidentally down a crack in the floorboards and then spontaneously igniting. Did that really happen or have I dreamt it? A science teacher's worse nightmare perhaps? My main science teachers were "Chalky" Wight, Geoff Howe, "Ratty" Reynolds and Bob Hawkesworth. All of these teachers seemed to have a very laid back approach in those days. We would enter the Chemistry Lab, sit down at a bench, open our jotters and await Mr Reynold's voice booming out from the Prep Room (where he invariably watched the cricket during the season), "Number One" and ten not so simple questions would follow. Even though the teacher wasn't actually in the room during this, nobody dared cheat (not me anyway) or mess with the reagent bottles, all permanently arrayed on little shelves on the bench itself. I cannot see that happening in schools today. Mr Wight had his small office at the rear of the downstairs lab in the new block where he sat writing one of his books during our practical sessions. I think Chris Morley (an Art student) did some of the illustrations for him. Wasn't Chris Morley also the recipient of some kind of Russian style hat made from the furs from rabbits we dissected in zoology practical? And was it one of Chris Morley's pictures that we hung unofficially amongst those of the Bonnington collection in Nottingham Castle Museum? My memory on this is hazey. A much sharper recollection is Chalky Wight's insistence that we draw with H or 2H pencils sharpened enough to draw blood when dropped onto the back of the hand from a height of half a metre. In zoo pract. Geoff Howe asked a boy (name escapes me) how his sister was getting on. The reply was that she was painting nudes on a houseboat somewhere or other to which Geoff Howe responded in his rather high-pitched voice, "Oh, what's she painting newts for"? Bob Hawkesworth is remembered by me, not only for his performance in the Gilbert & Sullivan operas but also for his very logical step by step presentation of Organic Chemistry at A'level, for which I am very grateful. I met up with Bob later when, following a stint at Carlton-le-Willows School, he became my line manager as Director of Science in the school to which I was appointed Head of Biology.

Those of us going through the express stream system embarked upon A'levels a year younger than the norm. I had a disastrous Lower VI and ended up dropping Pure & Applied Maths and repeating a year doing Bot, Zoo & Chem. This meant I spent three years in the Sixth Form. One highlight was the trip to the Russian Exhibition at Earls Court. The sixth formers organised for themselves most of the extra-curricular activities in those days. Some of you may recall the "night-club"; one year called The Blue Rondo and another The Piccadilly Club. The venue was an upstairs room in a pub somewhere near Bulwell, I think. A clever boy called Kirk (went to Imperial College I think) had something to do with the venue. I recall having some input in the selection of music on those evenings. I had a fair sized reel to reel tape recorder and was in to compiling tapes of popular music at the time. My introduction to illicit under-age drinking in its mildest form, however, was during visits to a pub in Cropwell Bishop (or was it Cropwell Butler) where we daringly bought the odd half pint and played darts and dominoes. Access to this country pub was courtesy of Ray, a friend of Terry Harrison, who owned an Austin Cambridge. Ray subsequently attempted to teach me to drive and I ended up crashing his car somewhere just over Clifton Bridge. I'm sorry, Ray. Alcohol did not play any part in this accident. Indeed, neither alcohol nor drugs featured much in the lives of my circle of friends at that age. It was the era of the coffee bar and Strand cigarettes. A group of us spent many hours in 'The Bohemian', near 'The Three Tuns' in town, drinking coffee and coca-cola.

What other memories can I drag up? I have a vague recollection of go-karting once with Elaine Daley, a friend of Kay Smith. I also recall being introduced to .22 rifle and pistol shooting at a range somewhere near Castle Boulevard by Ann Lazard (?) I remember Keith Littlewood who had a little sideline selling cuff-links and tie-pins to his peers. I think it was Keith who was gazing out of an upstairs window across the quad during a private study period who announced that he could see Ratty Reynolds taking a girls clothes off in the lab. opposite. Nothing salacious, of course, but a potentially serious accident with sulphuric acid, as I recall. We saw the charred maroon jumper afterwards. I don't remember who the victim was though. There was my mate Pete Shelton whose one-time girlfriend, Beryl, was a window-dresser at C&A by day and an usherette at the Odeon by night. She occasionally got us complimentary cinema tickets. I remember seeing 'West Side Story' courtesy of Beryl. There was Andrew Wilson who, like Dave Cooke, was into Peter Sellers and the Goons. There was Richard Young whose younger sister, Lesley, is a close friend of my sister to this very day. There was David Foster who got into martial arts as I recall. I remember him using the 8mm Eumig projector I owned at that time to show a karate film somewhere or other. Dave Cooke has just responded to the email I sent to him, after reading his reminiscences posted on the Mundella site. In this he reminded me of Chalky Wight's somewhat disparaging comment on learning that I had a cine camera. It was, "Up a tree, down a tree along a bit, up a tree, down a tree etc." Then there was Gerald Spalton who I lost contact with in the late 60s after we moved from a rented flat in The Park Estate. Other names that spring to mind are Sylvia Brown, Anthony Hurst, Robert Hardcastle and Penny and Erica Ritter who introduced me to 'The Free Family'. The Ritters emigrated to Perth, W.A. in 1965. I have kept in touch intermittently with Erica over the years and met up with her and members of her family when they visited the UK last year. It's strange meeting up again with someone you knew very well and haven't seen for more than thirty-five years.

When I returned in 1968 to Mundella as one of two new science teachers (The other was Mr "Nutty" Slack), I did so with some trepidation, as you might imagine. I need not have worried. The entire staff, especially those teachers who had taught me, was most welcoming. Naturally, during my four years in Higher Education some members of staff had moved on. I asked C.W. what had happened to Mr Hunter who I had tried so very hard to avoid on so many of my schoolboy days. I think I detected a little envy in his voice when he told me that George Hunter had left teaching to become Director of a Ski Centre. I thought I then heard him mutter under his breath, " and he's never been on a ski in his life". At that time, there were still separate staff rooms for male and female members of staff, as well as a common room. I preferred the atmosphere of the men's staff room although few of the younger teachers frequented it. There was usually a game of bridge going on, with retirees, including Mr Holbrook I think, returning for a card game on certain days of the week. Quite a few of the staff were masons, some of them holding, at one time or another, high office in their Lodge. When I was working at Mundella, my wife taught full-time as well. Initially, she was at Alderman Derbyshire Bilateral School in Bulwell and then moved to be Head of Science at Brincliffe Girls Grammar School in Nottingham. As NQTs, we had little time then for socialising with colleagues. We were both busy with lesson preparation, marking and report writing. Together though we organised, along with Geographers Val & John Stout, a joint Geog/Biol A'level Field Trip to Devon, travelling by hired coach and staying at Maypool Youth Hostel. I wonder if any old Mundellans remember teaming up with Brincliffe girls on that expedition about 1969.

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