Friday, 5 December 2014

One Day in School

Drifting Beneath the "Red Duster” | Biography
by Neil J. Morton

Our new headmaster a Welshman, Mr Morris by name, had tipped the old curriculum on its head. In 1953 his predecessor, a man firmly entrenched in pre-war methods, retired. He took with him the shiny black jacket and pinstripe trousers that he habitually wore, with a stiff wing collar and a cravat fastened by a gold pin and all the other out-dated teaching methods and Edwardian stuffiness. Now we had more sports, even the assembly hall was turned into a gymnasium. We were given status as members of a house, and became proud of our athletic and sports ability. The houses were named Garth, Kings, Staines, and Keyes, and the house emblems became part of our new school badge, quartered on a blue and gold shield. Even the name of this red brick pile changed for the better. We became Garth Secondary College. In later years Surrey County Council embraced co-education and my sister followed in my footsteps.
Students were allowed to play with balls in the playground at recess; never allowed under the previous regime. The new man loved boxing and choir singing and I qualified to a minor degree, in both disciplines. A wonderful South African music master, a smiling coloured man, tried to teach us, unsuccessfully, to read music, and played jazz and boogie woogie in the last minutes of the class provided we had been good boys. Soon with more emphasis on the Arts in general our minds began to flower, and a complete change took place: students whom as a matter of course “wagged it” as often as possible showed interest in the new curriculum.
In my case it was the written word and I received a great deal of encouragement, both at home, and in class. I read, (devoured), books from Biggles at age ten, then through the classics, plus de Maupassant and Kafka, the risqué D.H. Lawrence; in later years I even had a shot at the philosophers. My other great love was geography, and would pore over an atlas for hours. I had a cousin whom as a steward in the Merchant Navy travelled far and wide; he enthralled me with his tales of New York, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean. I longed to see these exotic shores for myself.
One day, without warning the students of the senior class aged fourteen, had to go before the “head” for career planning. I awaited my turn knowing one thing for certain; there was no way that I would submit to the drab cycle of nine to five in factory or office commuting through all weathers like my mother, whom travelled for over an hour by bus and underground from Mitcham to the Aldwych five days a week to work as a telephonist at the Temple Bar exchange. My father had “shot through” soon after the war ended and my mother’s country education and fine speaking voice had sustained us ever since.
In the headmaster’s study the interview went something like this. ‘Right Morton, I have your records before me and they provide a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses. You know them as well as I do so we won’t linger on math, wood and metal work, nature study, religious instruction, etc., and so it is sports, English, geography, and history that you prefer and are good at. Your voice has broken and you croak like a frog, so you are no longer in the choir and a crooner you’ll never be! An apprenticeship as a tradesman, which is where most of my boys go is out, and definitely not a chorister. (He had a wicked sense of humour). What is it you would like to become when you leave us next year?’
‘Well to be honest sir, my mother wants me to be a motor mechanic, but the idea of getting covered in grease and oil everyday does not appeal.’
‘Your mother is a clever woman, there’s a big future in the motor vehicle industry boy.’
Up until this moment only the vaguest idea of what I wanted to do with my life has struggled to the surface of my brain. Like most fourteen year olds, girls, clothes, football, girls, cricket, movies, girls, rock and roll and school holidays filled my waking hours. Miraculously, words from somewhere down in the depths of my subconscious came tumbling out;
‘I want to join the Merchant Navy sir.’
‘What,’ the good man cried, ‘that is the waste of a good brain, you don’t have the math for navigation and you said yourself engineering is too messy so what is left?’
‘Steward Sir, just like my cousin Terry.’
The silence was deafening.

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