These are glimpses only; my memory will not extend any further. The first one is of us junior school boys watching a cricket match. Dan Hagen had a pet magpie as you can see, which he had raised from a chick or even, perhaps, from an egg. A day boy, Dan Hagen was in Crossways, and his companion, looking on in an amused manner was in Kenwyn. What became of Dan I cannot be sure, but occasionally I come across references to a Daniel Hagen in the local paper. He seems to be deeply involved in the country sport of shooting, which is the sort of thing I would associate with the farmer’s boy I used to know. I suppose it is him. With Dan is a boy called Aitken-Quack; his name was properly pronounced Aitken-Quock, although we said quack, like a duck, as anybody would. This is an unusual name, and the director of a hedge fund who lives in Wiltshire is also called Aitken-Quack (as I discover on that invaluable resource, the internet). He is the right age, and so it is unlikely to be anybody else.
Another memory of 1961 concerns my time in Middle Second aged 12. We had a French teacher (whom I will not name), a young man who did not last long at the school and with good reason. He was popular enough with most of the boys, although not with me. This was mainly because he had hurled a board rubber at my head for some imagined misdemeanor. There would have been nothing wrong with that if it had not had metal backing; luckily I ducked just before it would have hit me, but it left savage dent in the wall behind. That was a bad experience for me, but what was bad for everybody was his attitude to French, his supposed special subject. He would get about halfway through the period and then say “You don’t want to do anymore French, do you?” to which the answer was predictably a resounding “NO”. He would then take out Lord of the Rings and read to us from it. I wasn’t too keen on this – for a start I alone among my colleagues had already read Lord of the Rings. I was also pretty sure that I was meant to be learning French during lesson time, however unattractive the prospect was. As I say, he didn’t last long; not long enough to finish even the first volume of Tolkein’s trilogy.
We played a lot of games besides the official ones of Rugby, Hockey and Cricket. One popular game involving all two dozen of us boarders was playing ‘It’ or ‘British Bulldog’ on Crossways ‘Beach’. (This paddock of grass had nothing to do with the seaside, but I have since become convinced it was a corruption of ‘Bleach’, a name commonly given to an area of grass in the grounds of a manor house where laundry was bleached in the sun.) I don’t remember the difference, but both It a British Bulldog involved running across from side to side of the Beach while trying to avoid the bulldog. Every time the bulldog caught someone they joined hands with him until you were all running round, a large but unwieldy chain of boys trying to catch the last free one. He became “it” (or maybe the “bulldog”) for the next game. The rules of the two games were slightly different but do not expect me to remember exactly what they were. Apparently British Bulldog has been banned from many schools as being too violent. I sometimes wonder if these politically correct authorities have ever experienced what real violence is like.
Another popular pastime was dirt track racing on a cycle track. This involved quite a lot of digging because the circuit had banked corners; a kind of primitive Velodrome. This was built at the far end of the Beach, beyond the row of apple trees which you can see on the above picture. The trees had seen better days and only provided us with a few, scabby and small fruits, but they were sweet and tasty, at least to us hungry boys. We had a few old wrecks of bikes to use on the dirt track/Velodrome; you wouldn’t want to use your good bike on it. One old bike I remember had a fixed hub i.e. no free wheel. If you wanted to stop you just stood on the pedals, the wheel stopped dead and you rapidly skidded to halt.
Riding a bicycle was a new experience for me; I had arrived in 1959 unable to ride, and remedied this shortcoming by a crash course (literally) in the summer of 1960. This was mainly done on the old narrow gauge railway track across Southwold Common, during our summer holiday. My sister Margaret (Tiggie was the name she acquired a year or two later from her nephews’ pronunciation of Margaret) did her usual sterling work in teaching me. My life opened up when I returned for my second year at school in September. I could now go with my friends to play on the Holt Lowes without running all the way, and I could cycle further afield too, which was quite impossible on foot.
Sunday afternoons were the normal time for expeditions such as a visit to Holt Lowes; Sunday mornings were of course reserved for Chapel. The rest of the week was kept pretty full of activity from the early morning bell at five past seven to bed time after ‘prep’ ended about 8 o’clock. In between were meals, periods (as we called our lessons) and games. There were two hours a week when we were allowed into Holt to go shopping (“twelve to one” on Tuesdays and Fridays) but we had to get a chit signed before we were allowed to go. Any money we required moreover had to be withdrawn from the housemaster’s safekeeping, together with an explanation of what we wanted to spend it on, how much and why. If you were lucky you started term with a pound, but it had to last you all term. If you bought sweets these were kept locked in a tin safe in the playroom, and you could have one by asking the prefect after lunch when the safe was unlocked. Understandably, overweight was a rare condition.
These are only glimpses, and they are of over 50 years ago. If I am repeating myself you must forgive me.