06 February 2008

page 9

page 9

All the teachers went around in gowns and mortar boards but consisted largely of men brought out of retirement or women who would not otherwise have taught at an all-boys school. This is not to denigrate them, many of whom were very, very capable. However my first maths mistress had no control whatsoever over her class with the result that I lost a valuable year in which I should have catapulted from just doing sums, at junior school to the individual mysteries of algebra geometry and trigonometry. My second year of maths was not significantly better when Mr. 'Beaky' Bishop, who had been salvaged from a very long standing retirement, battled for our attentive interest. His favourite saying was 'Yip, right. Now watch the board while I run through it.' This always raised subdued amusement as we tried to imagine him vanishing into the square on the hypotenuse which he had drawn. He was in fact a lovely old man who knew his subject all right but had just lost touch with irreverent boys.

Our French master, whom I only had to suffer for two years, was a sadist ‑ Mr.Barratt  whom we called Vichy. He lodged at the home of one of the other scholarship boys in my form and we all thought how awful this must be for our classmate who also dropped French as soon as he could! He found every opportunity to use his cane which all other teachers, apart from the headmaster, declined to use. The very least you could expect to get from one of Vichy's lessons was a detention. Only the prefects were more prolific in their use of the cane. They were also adept at handing out detentions but generally preferred to give us the cosh ‑ as we called it ‑ which was delivered in their own room with a maximum audience of other prefects.

Miss Pugh was our German teacher. She was haughty, very good looking and had TOTAL control over all in her class. She always wore nylons ‑ a rarity in those days and usually attributable to friendship with an American serviceman. we all fancied her a bit and did anything she demanded of us. Most importantly her lessons really were learnt and I owe much to her for my subsequent use of the language.

Whilst these reminiscences of teachers has little to do with the war other than to portray the reliance the school had then to make on stop-gap staff, I may perhaps be excused for recalling the odd humour which has lodged in my memory. All the classrooms at Peter Symonds were named. Two of them, which were accessed from the central ball, could be converted into one large room by means of a folding partition. I never saw it thus converted but there was a door in the partitioning which made it possible to go from one room to the other without first going outside. One of the classrooms was named Nicholas and the other Bigg. A school joke concerned Miss Pugh who, in the company of a perversely identified paramour, fancifully I went in Nicholas (knickerless) and came out Bigg!!  Nuff said, I think.

Before leaving the long‑suffering (although I'm sure she loved it) Miss Pugh ‑ and it must by now be obvious she made no small impact on my teenage life ‑ I have one more anecdote. Our school desks were old, made of heavy wood and carved to the point where I doubt there was a surface on which it was possible to write without substantial backing in the whole school. Most of them had sunken inkwells and a deep groove for pens. Every so often somebody would be given the job of mixing fresh ink from the powder supplied. Miss Pugh spoke in German most of the time and moved continuously up and down the corridors between the ranks of desks (we were usually fairly big classes, in excess of forty pupils). As she passed we would drop our pens immediately behind her and bend low to retrieve them. We would kid ourselves we had


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