At the end of my first year (1959) we had a school trip to the Isle of Wight. It was probably the first real holiday that I’d had - could hardly count Sunday school day trips to New Brighton or camping with the Guides in a sodden field in Bolton. We were accompanied by Mr & Mrs Healey and Mr Healey seemed to have as good a time as we did throwing sand on the beach; poor Mrs H. had to rein us all in. It was, I think, the first time that I got sun-burnt. Didn’t happen often in Oldham. Now I come to think about it, that holiday could have been responsible for my later attraction to sea, sun and whatever else you do in sunny climes.
One friend I remember was Hilary Schofield doing her face exercises in the mirror at night and me frightening her to death on the dodgems. Don’t think it was a very educational trip but we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Hilary left school in the second or third form as she had TB. She spent a lot of time, after, up at Strinesdale, I think. A lot of kids, then, lived in those dark, satanic places that we used to sing about.
I didn’t often get into trouble, I was probably too terrified of it getting back to my Dad. He was a policeman at work and at home. I was the first of the family to be decorated with the 11+ and go to “grammar school” and I suppose he was very proud. He liked to be seen in the street with me in my uniform . Only problem was that I didn’t like being seen walking along with a policeman.
The one time I remember being sent for by Minnie, was when someone, it might have been Miss Jones, saw Beryl Schofield and me climbing up a drainpipe and on to the roof of Mrs Hobson’s cookery room. What we were after, I don’t remember, but it must have been important for us. Boy, did Minnie chew us up and spit us out. Felt like I’d been found guilty of trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament. I wanted to crawl into a hole but Beryl just shrugged it off; then she didn’t have my Dad waiting for her at home.
I’m sure that most other girls remember how we hated showers after PE. No use forgetting your towel, because you were greeted by Mrs Healey’s reply of “hands were invented before towels” and into the steam you went. It was all a sham really as you just got round as quickly as you could and as far away from water as possible and anyway, no-one had any soap. All part of character-training. I always thought it a shame to finish my favorite lessons being devious.
I think it was in Vinnie’s story that he mentioned about reading in assembly and it reminded me of my first Christmas at HTHS. I had been plucked out of the ranks by Miss Moorehouse to read a poem at the Christmas service for the parents. She trained and trained me and did her best to clip off my long Lancashire vowels;thepoem"Love came down at Christmas; Love all lovely, love divine etc “ was a nightmare. You could either read it with your normal speaking voice which did justice to all those long “o’s” or read it like Miss Moorehouse wished. The dreaded night came and when that little first year girl got up to read there was one holy silence. I was terrified. Didn’t dare look up and see my father sitting bolt upright and proud in his seat and my mother as terrified as me. I finally got started and my “o’s” were coming out a treat. Around the middle of the second verse, I found myself with mouth open and no sound coming out at all; the whole hall drew in a short, audible, collective breath and held it until after what seemed like an eternity; I found the words, but they were drowned out by a collective, audible, breathing out. I somehow finished the wretched poem, sat down and wanted to die. At the end of the service, Miss Moorhouse came rushing down, gown flying and smiling and gave me a big hug, crushing my nose into her ample bosom. A memorable night.
In fact, my torment wasn’t over because three girls in the second year made my life a misery whenever they saw me, by throwing a “love all lovely” at me, in their poshest voices, whenever they could.
I wasn’t asked to read again for a long time after. I thought it was because I was successfully keeping out of the way of Miss Moorhouse and Mr Bell but it was more than likely that they were avoiding me. Until the 5th and 6th form, that is. Mr Bell, with his short strides and small feet, used to get down that corridor from his room to the girls’ cloakroom so quickly, that you didn’t have time to bolt into the toilets and collared you were. I always admired Susan Fletcher; she was always so unperturbed by reading on the stage.
I noticed the name of Mrs Hines in Mike Russell’s account of the staff. That reminded me that we used to give her a hard time. I think we only saw her once a week and she was a very decent person, so I don’t know why we did it; probably boredom. Once we said there was a mouse in the room and we shrieked in turn from various parts of the classroom and we had her scurrying up and down the aisles on her stiff legs and flat feet. A rotten trick to do.
Had to smile when I read about Gill Snape and the Beatles and I was reminded of a conversation with her about that time. No, perhaps I shouldn’t tell stories out of school. Perhaps she wouldn’t like me to tell the www about her fantasies. Here goes anyway. I think Gill and I must have been waiting on a netball court or a hockey field for the ball to come our way and the conversation turned to the Beatles. Her eyes had a funny way of glazing over and I was perhaps not too enthralled by the foursome anyway. “Oh,” she said, “but can’t you just imagine slipping between white satin sheets with John Lennon?” Must admit that I was surprised................. I’d never seen satin sheets.
I remember thinking that if push had come to shove, I might have hopped in with Paul but John wasn’t really my cuppa tea. Must add that it was always better to have Gill on your team as she could pop that ball in the net from anywhere even with her eyes glazed.
During one of the break times, I must have been doing a prefect’s round or something and was by the side of the science block; I saw a chap in the lane which went behind the girls’ bicycle shed and past the science block. He was wearing a raincoat and facing towards the school, me and a bunch of first or second formers. It took me a moment to realize what he was doing - he was opening wide and closing his raincoat. He didn’t appear to be dressed for winter underneath so I did the mother hen thing and rounded up the younger girls and deposited them elsewhere. Being the dutiful prefect I reported it to Miss Moorhouse who was most concerned for her girls. I didn’t bargain for what followed. She sent for the police and they arrived with arms full of mugshot books and I, being a responsible girl, was invited into Miss Moorhouses’ tiny office to go though all the pictures. Miss M was side-stepping nervously round the room, on her toes, as she did, and I went through page after page. At the end I just shook my head sadly. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I hadn’t really been focused on his face. Of course my Dad knew all about it when I got home.
A couple of days later while I was in the phone box opposite my home, it happened again but this time I kept it to myself.
Up to O-level we had Mr Healey for maths. Few of us were much at maths and lessons were hard on us and Mr Healey. One day we moved on to a new section that he called Mensuration. It was only when he got tied up with the word and became sheepish that we latched on. ‘Please sir, mens-what?” “Sir, is that a ‘t’ after the ‘s’ or a ‘u’?”. “How do you pronounce it, Mr. Healey?” And he blushed right up to his curly hair roots. We did have a soft spot for him, though, and I don’t think I ever thanked him for getting me through O-level maths on my third or fourth attempt.
That reminds me of the “how-the-female-body-works (and the male body, by extension - oopps)” sessions that we had with Miss Moorhouse and her sidekick, Mr. Vaughan behind the projector. One part I remember was about fertilizing an egg but how and why was more than vague; I had visions of my Mum rushing out of the house, shovel in hand, after the rag and bone man’s horse and cart and spreading it lovingly on her grimy roses. Thank goodness some of the girls in the class were a bit better informed than Miss M and were able to fill us in on what really happened. Pity Miss M. didn’t take a few notes too - would have been of more use to the to the following year’s girls than the scary line drawings that Mr Vaughan’s projector shot at us.
by Merry Cowley Montini