Saturday, 23 October 2010

Memories of Sixth Form Days

It was 1970. The old Heywood Grammar School had been closed down and transferred along with most of the staff and with Colonel John Farish, Tommy and Daisy still as Headmaster and Deputies, to a new complex at Siddal as the Heywood Senior High School.

This occurred as we entered our 4th year and we took our 2-year courses for GCE O Level exams, of which I passed 5, mostly at Grade C. The photo is of me aged 16.

"Who's that jammy bugger?!?" exclaimed Pilky, the physics teacher, jabbing a finger at the results. "4 Cs and a D? I told you, you should have done some work...!"

The overall behaviour standards had "slipped" somewhat as the school went Comprehensive. We became used to fire alarms being set off - and worse...
"I've never seen anything as depraved and vile as this!" Farish raged at one morning assembly, "Not even in the back streets of Cairo!"
"I wonder what he got upto in the back streets of Cairo?" Alex mused when we were back in the Lower 6th Form Common Room.

A levels were a two-year course so there was the Lower 6th Form and the Higher 6th Form. Each had their own Common Rooms, because part of the curriculum was supposed to be self-study so we had plenty of free periods. We spent these laughing, joking, smoking, snogging occasionally, but mostly just talking and wasting time. Every now and then books would come out - homework got done in the Common Rooms, but quite often it was too noisy anyway. We were allowed a record player in there and the room normally echoed to Led Zeppelin II, Full House by Fairport Convention, or Deep Purple in Rock.

We formed a close group of almost inseperable friends. The core of it was myself and Alex Dyson (pictured), Janet Dover, Bev Hughes and Jackie Wood. On the outer core were Brigid Irwin-Carruthers, Bill Lloyd, Sheila Ratton, Colin (Ernie) Wise, and Colin (Spike) Wycherly.

At school we were almost always together as a group. Out of school the core group met up often and we would meet the others to go to the cinema or to fairs and such. Jan's house was the most common meeting place. We would all congregate in the front room and listen to Simon & Garfunkel, or a folk group called Magna Carta.

Gallons of cider were quaffed during those days... And apart from Jan, Brigid, Bill and the two Colins, we all smoked.

Players No.6 were the favourite, though one or two were swayed when the gold-packeted Benson & Hedges came out. They always tasted chocolatey to me! As far as I know though, none of the group ever tried drugs. Jackie got a taste for menthol cigarettes for a while. As far as I was concerned they neither cleared your nose, nor satisfied any craving!

Alex came up with another memory of 6th form days which I remembered immediately on reading it: "I remember one afternoon when everyone had run out of fags, two or three of us collected all the dog ends and tried to make a new ciggy using a page out of somebody's French dictionary. Bloody Hell, it tasted VILE!" That's an understatement - it was stronger than a Park Drive untipped!

Bill and I started playing folk music together. I still had the old accoustic that had been rescued from someone's coal bunker in 1965 - it had a two pence piece under the bridge to level it up... Without it the bridge had a habit of slipping and putting the guitar out of tune, or falling out altogether which definitely didn't do much for the sound! Bill had a nylon-strung guitar and the two together gave us the chance to play little twiddly bits of lead with two different sounds.

We were known as The Heywood Senior High School Folk Group - a snappy title! Gerald Fish had taken over from David Miller as music teacher and he encouraged us no end. The school choir came to an end - that wasn't Gerald's interest. But the school started to acquire musical instruments. He had some of the girls from the year below us sing a few songs with us.

I'm seen above with two of them - a man totally into his music to the extent of ignoring some splendidly short mini skirts! The wet-look t-shirt was a favourite, though every time I went into someone's house their mum would always ask if it was raining...

Here I'm with Bill, playing at the Ronald Gorton Centre in Rochdale. We used to do some traditional folk, some Dylan, and a few songs of Magna Carta, a contemporary folk group who I thought were brilliant.

A lad called Barry Lord joined us also and we were round at Gerald Fish's house one day trying to come up with a name for the group. Gerald found a reference to an ancient Greek philosopher called Anacreon who had choked to death on a fruit stone - that was good enough for us! We became Anacreon, and we played a number of gigs at the school and around the district.

I suppose one of the best gigs must have been a variety show of acts from lots of different schools which was held at a high school in Milnrow. We came on with the girls and accompanied them as they sang I Don't Know How To Love Him from Jesus Christ, Superstar. Then we went through our usual set as a trio. We brought the house down and the local paper that week carried a report that specifically mentioned us and with the quote "There was some superb guitar work from this group." Wow! Fame!

Girls from the 4th year collared me walking through the assembly hall one Christmas, with a bunch of mistletoe and took it in turns to appeal to my better nature... Jackie had been walking through the hall with me. She waited patiently whilst they all finished and said "Hmmm - do you mind if I borrow that mistletoe?"

Whilst never boyfriend and girlfriend we still seemed to spent a lot of time together and had the sort of easy affectionate uncomplicated relationship that is still there 40 (gasp!) years later. Jackie remembers:

"I remember one summer's day - it was like in one of those slushy American Walton type films. We were just lying on a grass bank looking up at the sunshine, the blue skies, white clouds and the leaves in the trees above, and it was a really neat poetic kind of day. To me that day symbolises youth and summer and optimism and innocence, so no poetic license or editorial add-ons there, matey!"

Sheesh - me??? Whatever happened to that trust thing I've just been going on about???

Actually there were only one or two serious pairings in the group yet we all enjoyed a close relationship with each other that would extend to a guilt-free kiss. It was the time of free love after all. Alex and I wondered where all that free loving was going at times but hey - it was a great time!

After the rather troublesome 3-wheelers I bought a Hillman Minx for 40 quid and we all charged off here there and everywhere at weekends. We had one brilliant day in the Lake District that I remember particularly. Six of us were in the car; Alex, Bill and I and Jan, Jackie and Sheila. We stopped at beautiful trails, with gurgling streams and waterfalls and Bill and I had taken the guitars up. We just enjoyed each other's company, sun and gentle music.

Sheila, Brigid and Janet.

There were the usual teenage parties - one of the outer circle fancied a girl called Jayne and invited her to a party at Jan's house. She told me she only agreed because she wanted to go to a party... But one memory is of him sitting on the top of the stairs shouting plaintfully, "Ja-a-a-ayne!" until he made his mind up she wasn't for him and settled for vodka in a pint pot instead... I met her again a couple of years ago and I think I'm safe in saying you could still class her easily as beautiful!

By then the Hillman had gone and I had a MkIII Zephyr 4 - a beautiful car - if rather heavy on petrol! I stayed sober that party and was to ferry everyone home as many of the partygoers lived in Heywood. When we got outside though, there was thick fog. It took hours of driving very slowly but I got everyone home! Or nearly everyone - Alex: "I remember after Jan's 18th. after ferrying a paralytic Spike Wycherley home to Darnhill, Colin who only lived round the corner, came back with us and kipped at my house. God only knows why, perhaps he was pissed and thought he might get a bollocking if he went home!"

Jan introduced me to her cousin, Helen, who was visiting from her home near Northampton. We went to Blackpool for the day, Jan, Alex, Helen and I. She became my first serious girlfriend and we had a 3-year relationship, which was made a little difficult because of the distance, but was always fun.

Barry Lord became a close friend too for quite a while. He was one of those who could fit into any of the cliques in the 6th form common room. He was hugely likeable, witty and funny and was very easy going. We spent many a night playing darts at his local, The Harrows, where the landlord would call time by shouting "Come on, you rhinos!"

We used to drink Bass Charrington's Best Mild. Almost as dark as Guinness, it was smooth, creamy and wonderful. It disappeared totally not long afterwards after which the staple became Watney's Red. A startlingly red-coloured beer, it too had a flavour all of its own. It too disappeared totally by the end of the 1970s.

I went on holiday one year to Blackpool with Alex and Colin Wise. We scored all too easily with a trio of girls from Glasgow... "Do you like feeling tummies?" the one that paired off with me said out of the blue - not long after the initial "Hello". "I do..." A hand crept up my t-shirt and another guided mine up hers... We decided they were a bit too easy in the end and in best Sunday newspaper journalist fashion, made our excuses! I seem to remember that, after the holiday, when we got back to the rest of the group, the girls found this episode hilarious...

The following year there was a problem... Alex Dyson: "The week in Blackpool was in the summer of '71, in the Hillman, and then when the '72 hols came round, I was going to go, but ended up with some stomach problem and cried off, so Barry went instead, perhaps in the Skoda?"

We scoured the best spots of Margate but failed to pull any girls... Barry and I both got sunstroke and staggered round the following day feeling like death warmed up.

A Level exams came. We swotted a bit and messed about a lot and I found I had managed to fail every one of them... It was a disappointment but not exactly a crushing blow at the time. The Careers Service though I found totally useless. "Shopwork or Industry" were the choices they gave but without any explanation of what sorts of openings might be appropriate or available. It was just one or the other.

Because I wasn't able to make a decision within the 5 minute slot I was allocated their recommendation was that I go to teacher training college and become a teacher. Quite a few took that route. Jan did and Bill and Barry did. Alex went off to do accountancy. Jacquie, Bev and Brigid went off to Liverpool University. Sheila went to Manchester I think. It was the beginning of the end for the close group of friends.

Alex Dyson: "At the time, all my friends were as dear to me as family, and I thought that it would never end. Two years later, we were scattered to the four winds and I never saw any of you again for thirty years - how did that happen?"

In 1976 I married and Fran and I moved to Blackpool and the final time any of us got together was for Jan's wedding to Graham, someone she had met at college. Besides myself, only Bev was there from the 6th Form. I ran into Bev in the early 1990s at an educational conference and one by one I started to get emails from people, once my web page started in 1996. Alex came to my 50th birthday party and we've remained in email contact since. We met up with fellow 6th former, Maggie Pratt - now Maggie Yuill, who was visiting from her home in Australia.

Then we had a mini reunion in March at a Creeping Bentgrass gig. The photo shows Alex, Jackie, myself and Jan.

Jackie has a business called Memory Catchers helping people to write their life stories. And so the idea for this set of pages turned from being a vague idea into something that got going as Jackie and I bounced a few ideas off each other and she gave me enough of a prodding to get started! If anyone is looking for ways to get going writing their own memories down I can recommend Jackie's resources. You don't have to create web pages or even write them down for anyone but yourself. But I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of dredging up all these memories.

So it's fitting that the last memory should belong to Jackie. She, Alex and I have met up every year in August for several years and it is always a hilarious day.

On this occasion though we met in Liverpool where my band were playing and she came complete with old school tie, beret, ... and a french dictionary with a missing page...

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