Arguably, the notion that life is a straight journey from A to B is illusory. As we live, our thoughts wander this way and that. We spend a vast amount of thinking time processing past events and reflecting upon our journeys. In the nineteen sixties, a documentary film was made about Bob Dylan's 1965 tour of England It was called, "Don't Look Back" but in reality we all "look back". It happens every day.
The preamble above simply foreshadows the main content of this blogpost - a memory. I picked it from the shelves of my personal library of memories that is of course embedded in my temporal lobe.
It is one morning in September 1965 and I am riding on a double decker bus from my East Yorkshire village to the great metropolis of Kingston-upon-Hull. I am excited and not a little nervous because this is going to be the first day of my secondary education.
Back in April of that year, I had passed the critical "eleven plus" examination with flying colours. My score had been so high that I had won a free scholarship to Hull's most prestigious secondary school - Hymers College. Most boys' families paid handsomely for their elitist education at Hymers but each year a few boys, like me, received the same service free of charge.
I was wearing a grey suit with shorts rather than long trousers. There was a red and black cap on my head and knee stockings on my feet. I had a brand new leather satchel containing such things as a pencil case and a dictionary, leaving plenty of space for the text and exercise books that would soon fill it.
It was thirteen miles into the city and when I left the bus at Paragon Station, I had to sprint for a corporation bus that would take me the extra mile down Spring Bank to Hymers. I felt very much alone and did not know one other boy in the school.
I was placed in a form group called Lower 3A. Our form teacher was Mr Gale, nicknamed Windy Gale for obvious reasons. He sucked menthol sweets and wore a black academic gown. He taught Latin.
That morning my mind was in a whirl as we followed the timetable. Most of the other boys knew each other well for they had attended the school's junior section together from the age of five. I kind of linked up with a pale lad called Andrew Wallis or simply "Wallis" as he was always known in classrooms. He was also a scholarship boy and he lived close to Craven Park which was the former home ground of Hull Kingston Rovers rugby league club.
After lunch, Wallis and I were queuing up with the others outside our form room waiting for Windy to arrive. The fee-paying boys tended not to speak like proper Yorkshire lads. That was one discovery I had made that morning. Previously, I had imagined that I spoke English properly having never before been exposed to received pronunciation or Queen's English accents in real life. To my posh classmates, I probably sounded like a farm yokel.
Ahead of me in the queue, a tall blonde lad was imitating my accent as his willing audience laughed uproariously. He turned to me with mockery in his eyes, still putting on a broad East Yorkshire accent. I was silent but boiling up inside with a rage I did not recognise. Then he started to push my shoulder with his audience still guffawing.
It was at that moment that I exploded. I punched him as hard as I could in the face and he staggered back somehow falling over in the process. And then I was upon him, my fists flailing. He had been the toughest nut in the junior school but he was at my mercy.
Then someone said, "Mr Gale's coming!" so we jumped up, our uniforms dishevelled and the tall boy now blubbering with tears. As he took the register, Windy never twigged that there had just been a fight. After it, none of my classmates ever mimicked my accent again . I think they were slightly in awe of me. Later, the big blonde lad and I became the best of friends. He was called Foster though he did have a first name too. It was Andrew - just like my very first secondary school chum - Wallis.
Lots of things get forgotten and never reach the library of memories but after fifty six years I remember the events I have just related very vividly indeed. For various reasons, it was a seminal moment in my life, a turning point and somehow the end of innocence. Nothing was ever quite the same after that.
What a great story. I bet Foster has never forgotten that either and maybe that was the turning point in him ceasing to be an idiot.ReplyDelete
A couple of years later I remember him getting sent off in a rugby match with another school. He had quite a temper and in a way we were both outsiders. We bonded like brothers.Delete
it is strange how our mind filters memories - some seminal, other trivial - some inconsequential to others and yet holding shame or anger to us... It must be strange to be an animal with little emotional or reasoning memory - like say dogs (broadly) which live and move on to live agin in the moment not the past.ReplyDelete
You might say that humans are plagued by memory as we try to make sense of our passing lives. It seems that animals do not have to bear that particular cross.Delete
I think a lot of us get judged by our accent. People say that I sound lie a cockney, not very flattering but there's nothing I can do about it now, lolReplyDelete
I was in the GCSE classes all the way through my senior school but opted out and left at 15, I was much more interested in crafts and getting some money.
Good job I did, I met Tom at my first job after leaving school and have been with him ever since.
Do you have an outfit covered with sequins and pearls Briony? Perhaps you could make one and while you are about it - a similar outfit for Tom. You could be The Pearly King and Queen of Brighton and Hove!Delete
As I get older I've noticed I spend more time thinking about things that have happened in the past. I was bullied until middle school, when I left my bully in the dust, metaphorically, not actually.ReplyDelete
I can't imagine you punching someone, but it did the trick.
Don't mess with me babe or I will be paying you a visit in deepest Alberta! It was not the only time I hit back.Delete
I am reminded of a fight with my younger brother where we stopped mid fight realizing that if we continued, someone would be seriously hurt. It turned out to be the last time we ever fought.ReplyDelete
Your first paragraph really strikes a chord with me. I think one of the reasons I have been blogging so long, a couple years longer than even you, is because for me blogging is a form a therapy that allows me to rid my brain from ruminations on various topics. It seems like once I get it down in type and hit that publish button, my mind is free again to wander and I have grown to love that feeling.
I entirely get what you said about the therapeutic value of blogging Ed. I aalso find that it is a kind of release valve for me.Delete
What a terrific and well painted memory. So do you now speak like a typical older Yorkie or a bit more posh?ReplyDelete
Grammatically, I speak very precisely but still in a pretty broad East Yorkshire accent. I am proud of it.Delete
To a certain extent take issue with the statement that animals have no memory. Living with a psychotic spaniel who would have a fit every now and then, probably remembering her confinement in a garden shed with two other dogs was not easy for her.ReplyDelete
Your memory of violence is well remembered, it had the right ending, I think those moments in life when we remember something dramatic scars the memory pad forever.
Okay, on reflection I accept what you say about animals. They do have an instinctive kind of memory.Delete
Well, I guess this is how boys have traditionally sorted out the pecking order of schools. I am not surprised at all that you remember this moment. It was indeed formative.ReplyDelete
Biff! Ouch! Biff! Biff! Biff! Boo Hoo! Sorted!Delete
My 7 year old daughter did something similar. A well placed punch on the nose of a much old bully made me very proud of her.ReplyDelete
And fools say that violence never solves anything!Delete
I suffered a similar experience, except I was mocked for my 'posh' accent at a school in the Yorkshire Dales. I didn't punch any noses though.ReplyDelete
Where were you at school in The Dales Sue?Delete
Yorebridge Grammar School in Askrigg. Nowadays it's a primary school.Delete
Askrigg - what a lovely place. Looking back you should have had elocution lessons beforehand - learning how to speak Yorkshire. Ee by gum lass, tha' shoulda an all!"Delete
You wrote about this memory so well that I was seeing it all in my mind's eye! Good for little Pudding, standing up to the bully and teaching him a swift lesson in how NOT to treat others. It's nice that the two of you became good friends later, too.ReplyDelete
Thanks for that nice compliment Jennifer.Delete
Hymers! Oh dear!ReplyDelete
Fortunately, I was able to transfer to Beverley Grammar School for my A levels. I was much happier there.Delete
Biffer Pudding. Such a rough lad. I bet he turns out to be a bad'un.ReplyDelete
Biffer? I like that nickname and I am proud to say that I have turned out to be a bad 'un.Delete
You stood up for yourself which takes guts. I don't know what kind of accent I have. We West Coasters don't think we have much of one besides the typical American drawl.ReplyDelete
Do you speak like a Beverly Hillbilly Margaret?Delete
I enjoy school stories like RF Delderfield's To Serve Them All My Days and a recent novel by Joanne Harris, Different Class, which is set in a grammar school like your own.ReplyDelete
All that is missing from your account is actually hearing that bully's voice mocking your East Yorkshire accent.
Any actors' agency will have a book of names and photos of teenage thespians able to play a bully.
Watch the YouTube videos of John Windsor-Cunningham, an English voice coach resident in the United States. He is terrific fun and very candid about the acting life.
The young do not understand the nature of time, and how events of 50 years ago are closer than yesterday.
There must be a German word for it, they have words for everything.
Sometimes I think I will go through a door and find myself back in 1968-69, my last year at school.
Songs like Young Girl and A Whiter Shade of Pale bring it all back.
I think all of us have had a moment where we were pushed into standing up for ourselves. I didn't punch any noses though.ReplyDelete
Hi Neil - my name is Matt Foster and I just stumbled across this post after finding a poem written by yourself that my father (Andrew Foster) sent to my mother in about 1972. My dad has recently passed away and if you have any other stories about him it would be great to hear from you. ThanksReplyDelete
I feel quite shocked to learn that your father and my old school friend Andrew has recently passed away. Thank you for sharing that awful news with me. I would love to write more to you. Would you be so kind as to leave your email address here? As soon as I have seen the email address I will delete your response. In the meantime please accept my sincere condolences.