The other day I was watching one of my favourite movies from my favourite director: Woody Allen’s Radio Days. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s about Woody Allen looking back at his young self and how he lived his life through the radio shows of the day. It pretty much reminded me of myself, and how I was obsessed with TV when I was a child. Personally, I wouldn’t have said obsessed but that’s what my Mum and Dad used to say. They used to tell me I watched that much TV I would grow up with ‘square eyes’.
Anyway, that movie got me thinking about my schooldays, but as I started to put pen to paper, I remembered an essay I had written years ago about my schooldays. I scoured my notebooks and old laptop archives and finally, after a long search, here it is, suitably updated.
My first school memory is of infant school, in fact I can remember my very first day there I remember being taken there by my Mum. She stayed for a while and watched me take my first tentative steps into the classroom. Once I was happy and started playing with the other kids she then slipped discreetly away. I remember playing with these large wooden bricks, like household bricks but wooden and light. I made a car with them, or a plane; some sort of vehicle that you could actually sit in and pretend to drive or fly.
On the next day a new climbing frame arrived at the school. It was made of wood, painted blue with a sort of platform at the top if you were good enough a climber to get there. It was much better than the old climbing frame which was just a series of wooden poles interlocked together. If you got to the top you could only pop your head out and look around. I much prefered the blue one, it gave you a goal: getting to the platform at the top.
The memory of Christmas at infant school still lingers fondly. I played one of the three kings in the nativity play. I can still remember the excitement of getting changed in the makeshift dressing room, actually the headmistress’ office. The backstage nerves, most of all I recall the feeling of being part of things, not just an observer.
In junior school I was a member of the choir and there was that same excitement: The rehearsals. Missing normal lessons to be in the hall for all the rehearsals and the big one, the dress rehearsal, then the even bigger one, the real thing.
One day, while in the choir practice, the music teacher stopped in front of me. After some thought she put her ear directly to my mouth, listened intently to my singing then banished me from the choir, from backstage, from everything that mattered. My voice clearly wasn’t good enough. Then I was once again just a spectator. Not really part of anything.
One exciting part of the Christmas events was the setting up of Mr Todd’s 16 mm projector and the watching of his films in the main hall. They were mostly cartoons like Woody Woodpecker but I also remember seeing those Walt Disney true-life films. I can still hear now the clicketty-click of the projector and feel the excitement of the lights going down just as the show began. When Mr Todd retired, the projector, which must have been his personally, retired also and the film sessions went with him.
In that same hall I danced with my childhood crush, Jacqueline Stonehouse. In junior school we used to have dance lessons and she was my regular partner. One day after being off sick for a while, I returned to find she was dancing with Luke White, the class hard man. I was devastated.
When I walked home at lunchtime I used to save a biscuit from the tuck shop to give a to a dog that I had made friends with. He waited behind his gate on my way home for this usual treat. The dog was always there and always waited. One day at playtime Luke White demanded a biscuit and I refused. As I walked home he and his big brother chased me and took away my biscuit. The biscuit and Jacqueline Stonehouse. I don’t know which crime I hated him for the most.
The Christmas slide in the junior school playground is another memory; this was a dangerous slide, big and long and fast. Only for the biggest lads, only for the most skilled of sliders. You had to be skilful and quick because a split second behind you was the next man. No time for hesitancy, no time for time wasters. Go quickly, feel the ice, the slippery smoothness, the danger, keep your balance and enjoy the exhilaration of a great slide!
Then there was the Christmas party. I cannot remember enjoying any party more, even some fifty years later. Pass the parcel. Jelly and cream. Paper hats. I must have been happy all the time at junior school. I had all the important things in life; my bike, my friends and my favourite TV programmes: Star Trek, Stingray, Time Tunnel, Doctor Who and a hundred others, and not a worry in the world.
The move to ‘big’ school, comprehensive school, was a hard one. Leaving behind the familiarity and warmth of my old school and its teachers was hard. Not only that; I had been one of the big boys. I was among the oldest in the school and now I would be among the youngest again. All I had heard about the new school was how the big lads would be after us. Don’t let them get you alone in the toilets because they would grab you and push your head into the toilet bowl and flush! The fear comes back to me again, deep in the stomach along with the smell and feel of my new green blazer, my brown leather briefcase, my gym kit and my hated football boots. I remember the thrill of going to school in my new long trousers. The feel of being a grown up.
Just like young Joe, the young Woody Allen character in Radio Days who was mad about radio, I was mad about television. I loved my TV programmes then and looked forward to my regular dose of Blue Peter, How, Magpie, and Crackerjack. One firm favourite was the Magic Boomerang. It was set in the outback of Australia and was about a young boy who has, yes, a magic boomerang. Whenever he threw it, time stood still for everyone except the boy. A little bit like those quick quid adverts today!
My absolute favourites though, were the puppet shows of Gerry Anderson. Four Feather Falls was about a sheriff with magic guns set in the wild west but then came Supercar, a show set a hundred years into the future. Supercar was a small craft that could fly up into the atmosphere or under the sea and was developed by professor Popkiss, Doctor Beaker and test pilot Mike Mercury.
Supercar was followed by Fireball Xl5, the adventures of a space patrol and its crew. Then came Stingray, a submarine operated by WASP, the World Aquanaut Security Patrol with Captain Troy Tempest and Marina, the mute girl from under the sea. I always loved the opening titles for Stingray; the fabulous theme tune, the battle stations at Marineville (WASP headquarters) and finally the launch of Stingray into the ocean. The best bit was always Commander Shore speaking into the tannoy and saying ‘anything can happen in the next half hour!’
The great thing about Gerry Anderson’s work was that it all linked together and never looked down on the children who watched it. It was all serious stuff. His next show was the highly successful Thunderbirds which I have to say was never really one of my favourites. I mean come on, who serviced all those craft at the underground base on Tracy island? Brains? By himself? I don’t think so and don’t get me started on the launch of Thunderbird 3 because the round house would have been totally incinerated when Thunderbird 3 launched and as for Alan Tracy’s launch procedure, well that’s a whole other blog post!
Gerry Anderson’s futuristic world was incorporated into a comic called TV21 which I bought every week and just like the young Woody Allen character who longed for a Masked Avenger ring, I was desperate for an Identicode with which I finally sent numerous coded messages to friends.
One last school memory to finish with. As time moved on my friends and I settled into the new routine. We all seemed to grow up at pretty much the same pace and as time went on we all naturally became taller. All except for Luke White that is.
Once the class hard man, Luke had stayed pretty much the same size as he was in junior school. One day he approached myself, and some others, demanding money or sweets, I can’t remember which but I do remember hearing his voice and having to look down to see him. The others looked down on Luke like the pygmy he was and some one, I can’t remember who it was, but I heard a voice say firmly and with some disgust, ‘piss off White!’ Luke looked at us and quietly shuffled away.
His days as the class tough guy were over.
Finally, yesterday, as you read this, was my last night shift for a while as next week Liz and I are off on our travels again to France. Leaving work I pulled onto the M6 to travel home and switched on Radio 2. Chris Evans had just started his morning show and began a long monologue about the morning’s highlights. What was that playing in the background though?
Yes, I remember it well; the theme from Thunderbirds!