30 July 2017

Fight

Back in 1965, the Eleven Plus examination was well-established in English primary schools. It was a general examination that claimed to assess latent intelligence, problem solving skills, numeracy and literacy. Every springtime, eleven year old kids all across the country sat the test, perhaps not realising that the results achieved would significantly influence their future lives.

Quite simply, if you passed the test you would go to a grammar school the following September and if you failed it you would go to a secondary modern school. Grammar schools were meant to cater for clever youngsters while secondary moderns catered for the intellectually challenged and those who would go on to become manual workers or tradespeople - hairdressers, plumbers, shop workers, farm labourers and so on.

I attended a village primary school and I was the only boy in my Junior 4 class who managed to pass the Eleven Plus. In fact my score in the exam was so good that I was offered a free scholarship to Hull's premier boys' school. Most of the lads there came from wealthy homes and their parents paid hefty school fees but a small proportion of  each cohort were scholarship boys. This was probably a requirement so that the school could receive a chunk of local authority funding.

I looked so smart in my new school uniform. I would be travelling thirteen miles into Hull every morning while the boys and girls I had grown up with would be travelling six miles east to the secondary modern school in Hornsea. Looking back it was a cruel separation. Things were never quite the same after that.

That first morning in the posh school in Hull, I met my classmates and very quickly I was struck by their manner of speech. While I communicated in a broad East Yorkshire accent, these lads spoke in a style that was much closer to the language of the BBC - received pronunciation. Until that morning, I had not realised that my manner of speaking might be deemed risible by anyone.

We met our form master - Mr Gale in his black academic gown and we were assigned desks with lids. They must have dated back to the 1890's when the school was built. Those desktops had been polished by hundreds of elbows and there were initials scratched into the surfaces with ink stains too.

After lunch we queued  up outside our form room again and one of the posh boys started to make fun of me. He was tall with a shock of blonde hair and like the others he had progressed to the senior school from its attached junior school so he was well-known and clearly popular. He was mimicking my East Yorkshire accent and the others were in fits of laughter.

He came up to me in the line, laughing in my face, taunting me and pushing my shoulder. How did he expect me to react? I dropped my new leather satchel and squared up to him. I punched him right on the nose and then pushed him to the floor where I proceeded to give him a beating. We rolled over a few times with fists flailing. I remember he was crying and there was  blood coming from his nose.

A circle of boys formed round us and some were chanting and spurring us on. I sat astride his head with knees over his shoulders and punched him at will. Then Mr Gale arrived, pushing through the crowd. To my partial relief he separated us and to be truthful I don't really remember what happened after that but I do remember that the fight won me much esteem. 

Nobody mimicked my East Yorkshire accent again after that and oddly I became best friends with my tormentor. For a long while, other boys were wary of me. On my very first day, I had found a place in school legend. And they say that fighting doesn't solve anything...

32 comments:

  1. I've often thought how much easier it seems to be for young boys to resolve issues than for girls. One physical fight, and everything was resolved for you. You even because friends with the bully afterwards! Had you been a girl, you might have been tormented psychologically for years.

    I've often said that nothing on earth is meaner than a pack of young girls can be!

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    1. It sounds like you know what you are talking about Jennifer. My mother always said that girls can be very bitchy.

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  2. That is a wonderful story!

    Do you think your grammar school education was a good thing? Might you have done just as well at the local school? Did you hate the travelling? Did you develop more of a BBC accent?

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    1. I went to a selective school and I don't think my sister (who didn't) has forgiven me yet!

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    2. At sixteen I transferred to a regular grammar school in nearby Beverley. I was very happy there and wished I had been there for my first five years of secondary education. These experiences affect us for life.

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    1. That certainly was a long distance travelled to and fro each day.

      Bullies need standing up to; not backed away from - whether they be male or female.

      In saying that, I'm not an advocate of physical violence...it's best kept within the confines of a controlled arena e.g. a boxing ring - but when push comes to shove, and there is only one way out...good on you for standing up for yourself and coming out the winner.

      A valuable life lesson learned by both parties...and for those watching from the sidelines.

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    2. I remember it like it happened yesterday. Expressions from the audience. The smell of Mr Gale's jacket. Disliking the sense of dominance as I sat astride the lad's head. Fighting isn't a nice thing but sometimes it has to be done.

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  4. I was forever getting picked on at school by teachers and pupils alike. The woodwork master used to lift me up by my hair till I was on my tip toes. I finally told my Father who reported him to the headmaster - it was never done to me again. The last school boy who fought me went home and committed suicide he was 14 and I never retaliated with my fists ever again.

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    1. I had a fight when I was at university but haven't had another physical fight in the past forty two years. However there have been several times when I would have loved to throw a few punches... such as whenever David Cameron appeared on TV.

      Very sad tale about the fourteen year old boy and a terrible thing for you to have to live with Heron. Thanks for sharing this.

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  5. Conversely I was taunted for my 'posh' southern accent when I found myself at a co-ed grammar school in the Yorkshire Dales. I didn't throw any punches though.

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    1. On behalf of Yorkshire folk everywhere, I hereby apologise for the unpleasant treatment you received in your Yorkshire Dales grammar school.

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  6. i had a dreadful time at a posh girls grammar , , i was the only child in the school whos parents were divorced and they taunted me all the time . im afraid my senior school days were terrible and i became a very angry child who received no benefit from being sent there . All it has meant is that i dont fit anywhere , to educated to fit in with the working class and always labelled as to posh , but without the superior attitude that my rich privileged classmates have used to their advantage . ho hum as you get older it matters less and less

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    1. It may matter less and less Kate but peel back the layers and the legacy is still there. These things never entirely leave us do they?

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  7. I wonder how a school would react to your fight today. I think they're much less tolerant of kids being kids and sorting out their social order. I think it's good that they clamp down on outright bullying but I also think that kids need to set their own boundaries, like you did. What do you think?

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    1. Nowadays a fight like that would result in suspensions. Back then you were likely to be caned but you must understand that this happened on my very first day. The boundaries were pretty clear in that school. Later, I got caned for a) having long hair and b) refusing to wear my school cap. You raise an interesting question.

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  8. It always annoys me that people should be made fun of because of their accents whether they be northern OR "posh" southern. You cannot help where you are brought up or how you sound, but the bullies feed on that. Fortunately my grammar school days were fairly non-eventful. I was neither bullied or a bully.

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    1. Misprint..... should read "NOR a bully".... else what was the point of a grammar school education - haha.

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    2. I suspect that you were a goody-goody at school ADDY. You were probably The Head Girl or at least a prefect!

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  9. 'Intellectually challenged!?!' Well it's good to know the mere minions went on to fulfill the manual and unskilled roles 'and so on!' leaving the way clear for those on a higher intellectual plane, or is it plain? Mr YP will correct me I'm sure! Good to know intellectual snobbery is alive and well in Sheffield. Timothy White's oop North have obviously run out of your modesty pills...

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    1. Dear Lettice,
      The portrait I painted of the 11+ scenario was not my own. As the sheep and the goats were duly separated, that is how politicians, certain educationists and indeed society at large viewed the division. I was just explaining how things were seen back then.

      In fact I will ask you to understand this. The number one reason I became a secondary school teacher was because of the 11+ system. I knew that there had been so much wasted talent and I believed that every child should have the opportunity to blossom - irrespective of his or her family background. I was 100% against the 11+ and relished the opportunity to teach in tough comprehensive schools. I wanted to do my bit to help all children to reach their potential.

      One of my own brothers failed the 11+ and it marked him for life as I am sure this "failure" marked so many people. It was wrong and as I say a waste of talent. To label children at the age of eleven was cruel and ignorant. Many middle class children had private tutors to help them pass the 11+.

      Accusing me of intellectual snobbery and a lack of modesty reveals such misunderstanding that I am quite flabbergasted. I gave most of my working life to kids who would in the majority have failed the 11+ if it had still been in existence in this city. Those countless hours, the blood, the sweat and the tears - I gave it all. Absolutely no snobbery and no lack of modesty.
      Yours sincerely,
      Neil

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    2. Having been hugely entertained by your blog over the years I must say I was hopping mad to read what I thought was your interpretation,of the 11+. I even read it through a couple of times and came to the same conclusion. My man has always said be careful what you write, you know what you mean, however the reader may get the wrong end of the stick. I do have previous for shooting from the lip and on this occasion my anger fuelled my robust reply... Sorry!

      From all of this you may conclude I failed the 11+ and am still one of the walking-wounded. I have however had a hugely enjoyable and fulfilling life 11+ notwithstanding.

      Hope we are still chums Neil?

      Lettice

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    3. Yes we are still chums Lettice and when I read back over what I wrote in the second paragraph of this post I can see how it might have been mis-interpreted so I am sorry for raising your hackles. With hindsight I can see that it was partly my fault. I could have spelt it out more clearly.

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  10. Similar story to my education YP but mine was in 1942. I l was the first person to pass what was then the scholarship for twenty years in our village school. My grammar school had was fee paying but they took a certain number of scholarship pupils. I don't remember any discrimination - it was really only I left that I looked back and thought that perhaps there had been.

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    1. Was your grammar school in Lincoln?

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  11. The school system left a lot to be desired. Age eleven is far to early to have separate lines if it ever is a system that works. The micro manager failed her whatevers in England . At age 15 she came to Canada an completed high school with the top marks in her school. She went into nursing and had the highest makes in her year. Who says 11 plus works?

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  12. I only knew about this separation or streaming of levels because my mom has several friends who lived in the UK in their younger years, and they have told her stories and she in turn has told me.

    Now here is the other side of the coin. In Canada there is a great emphasis in most schools on "going to university" regardless of one's interests or aptitudes or struggles with the curriculum. It causes far too much heartache, feelings of failure, and expense for those who don't need a university education to follow their area of interest or ability. The result is that we have many university dropouts who feel like they have failed, a huge surplus of kids with university degrees who are flipping hamburgers and working in retail, and a huge dearth of electricians, plumbers, personal care workers, and so on.

    Somehow there has to be a middle ground, so that children can realize their potential without being made to feel that they must achieve society's expectation. Or maybe it's just that society's expectation must change.

    I think the thing about this that bothers me the most is that universities claim that an undergraduate degree will benefit "everyone" because it "broadens their thinking and their horizons" but pretty much all the universities are worried about is making money from the students to whom they are feeding this nonsense. Follow the money, as they say ...

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    1. I share your concern about university education. It's the same in Britain. Far too many people are getting university degrees these days and accruing massive debts. I also know graduates in humdrum jobs they could have easily tackled without degrees.

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  13. i really likes your blog and You have shared the whole concept really well. and Very beautifully soulful read! thanks for sharing.
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  14. Well, I don't know what to say. I was thick or intellectually challenged a you politely classify folk inferior to yourself but then with the help of ignorant secondary modern staff passed the fourteen plus. I struggled with O Levels but sneaked into the sixth form where I diligently arsed around playing rugby, running, climbing and getting a B in physics and a couple of Cs in pure maths and applied maths. It was great as I had lots of time off to do exciting things like farming, building and sweeping up in a machine shop.
    I didn't go to university as I was buggered if I was going to spend three years in Aston when I had my heart set on Loughborough or MIT. I was too thick for either.
    Looking forward to a few more IT tutorials.

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