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Bilborough Grammar School
One scholar's recollection

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The Gang
The guys I hung around with were Robert Hallam (aka. Bob) (1st Form), John Bignall (aka. Biggles), John Perkins & Martin Caulfield (2nd Form), Graham Stocker (aka. Lofty) (2nd or 3rd Form), Michael Dennis (aka. Dick), John Morley (aka. Mitzi), David Johnson (aka. Johnno, the Johnno formation is pure Nottingham), Tim Wallace (aka. Wal). My own aka. was Big Joe Mumblefuzz, or just Joe. Collectively, Bob, Lofty, Dick, Mitzi, Johnno, Wal and I were The Morons.

The girls we hung round with were Elaine Straw, Hazel Burton, Leslie Taylor, Brenda Thompson, Maggie (whose surname I forget), and several others who drifted in and out of the circle.

Famous bike accidents
Bob ran into the back of a parked car in thick fog on Brindley Road while I was telling him to be careful because I remembered seeing one around there that morning.

Four of us fell off, one by one, with almost military precision on Bilborough Road, south of Cockington Road, riding home on fresh snow. The other three were, I think, Bob, Mitzi and Johnno. We ended up in the snow writhing in laughter. The big green City of Nottingham double-decker bus that started the whole thing lumbered past without stopping.

Bob and I carried our love of bike accidents into our university days. We were working at the Boots plant in Beeston one summer. Riding home together at the end of the day, we found ourselves traversing the parking lot of The Priory from opposite ends. It seemed natural to assume mock-jousting attitudes with mock-jousting poles. We were both unseated and Bob's mount had to be put down. OK, his front wheel was buckled beyond riding and I believe beyond repair. No beer was involved.

Teachers
The conservative Mr Bartlett, music teacher, and the radical Mr what-his-name [Pither], with the wild wavy dark hair brushed back who introduced us to John Cage's 4' 3".

Assembly always closed with classical music. Thank you Mr Bartlett (or Mr Williams) for bending my ears at such a tender age. That and my mum's preference for BBC Radio 4 at home led me on, once I could afford it, to become an avid symphony and chamber music concert-goer.

Miss Loach. Miss Loach taught tennis to the girls in the last two periods of the afternoon. Miss Loach taught us French in the first period of the afternoon in her tennis gear. Fortunately she also taught us French during other periods in regular clothes or we may never have learned anything - the boys I mean. Miss Loach was gorgeous. Rob and I both had a huge crush on her. One time she found us out of bounds and grabbed us both by the scruff of the neck. Neither neck got washed for several days. She married Mr Sullivan to our disgust.

Mr Kirton. Mr Kirton introduced us to the wines of France in the sophisticated ambience of the Metalwork Shop. Thank you. I'd never tasted wine. My mum's family abstained except for a small bottle of brandy that came out for upset stomachs or toothaches. My other grandfather liked port, perhaps a little bit too much. The two rules I remember: when the sommelier pours you a sample he is simply asking you to check that the wine is still good - a brief sniff is all that is required to tell whether it has turned to vinegar - this isn't an opportunity to reconsider your choice on the grounds of taste; and the second rule was be prepared to break the rules.

Mr Yarnell. Wal liked to turn his pronouncements into The Sayings of Yarnellfucius. The only one I remember had to do with the fact that the load presented by an electric motor was not resistive: "Thou shallt not boil water on an electric motor."

At the time, Mr Yarnell drove an Austin A40 Somerset, circa 1952-54, a vehicle for which I had enormous affection because my dad had two in succession and the last one became mine for a couple of years. We took great delight in speculating that Mr Yarnell's instrumentation would be accurately calibrated in gram-centimetre-second units. Thus the speedometer would be in centimetres per second, the odometer in centimetres, the fuel gauge in cubic centimetres, the ammeter in ampéres, the oil pressure in dynes per square centimetre, and the water temperature in degrees Kelvin. If there'd been a fuel consumption gauge it would have been calibrated in square centimetres.

Our fearless physics master dumped his luminous watch when the lab geiger counter went off-scale.

Mr Sturman and Elaine Straw marching around the entrance hall learning vectors experientially.

Mr Bristow in his little Wolseley hammering along Cockington Road before or after school, his head barely visible over the steering wheel.

Mr Bristow was always the lead in the numerous Gilbert & Sullivan productions that the school mounted. My first ever visit to the school was to see The Mikado in 1961. It may have been The Pirates of Penzance.

Later in life, I fell in love with a young woman who had a dog called Sullivan, a hamster called Gilbert, and a dad who sang in the local operetta society.

Getting used to calling our teacher by their first names in the 6th and 7th Forms.

Feared teachers
Mr Downing. Miss Betts. Mr Jacobs (who was actually a really nice guy when you got to know him). Mr Willoughby (who threw chalk and the occasional board rubber at chatterers and sleepers, and once asked Widerson, with Widerson's earlobe firmly between his thumb and forefinger, "Widerson, why are you standing up?"). The mixed blessing of being taught special maths by Dr Peake (who turned out be not only a good maths teacher but also a really interesting guy).

Exams
The Great Apollonius Theorem Scam. I sidetracked myself revising for O-level math and learned Apollonius' Theorem. I remember bugging people about it as we lined up for the exam. When I read the paper, there it was. Not by name and not quite as directly. But knowing that theorem helped enormously just at the level of confidence. I think I kept my mouth shut about it afterwards.

My A-level Qualitative Chemistry Practical. Wandering up to the front of the lab for a particular reagent and obtaining the most glorious yellow precipitate. Mr Robinson's silent grin was almost as glorious. I returned it, also in silence.

Academics
Coming first in physics.

A break-through in obtaining the roots of factored polynomials when I approached the teacher after class and told him I just didn't get it. Without his patient explanation I may have hit the wall. (With the explanation I went on and didn't finally hit the wall until Green's Functions in Mathematics for Physicists at Imperial.)

Being told we could not use W5 (which was what was wanted) at the end of geometry proofs instead of QED (quod erat demonstrandum) by Mr Willoughby in the 1st Form. Nobody had heard of W5 before, let alone been tempted to use it.

Earning the comment "very elegant solution" for a problem in trigonometric identities from Miss Lowden [Conway] in the 6th Form. Dutifully QED'd I'm sure.

Wearing down Mr Newcomb's patience with some German grammar exercises. He'd kept a bunch of us behind after school. I was the last one there and still messing up. Eventually he sent me home with the advice to take a cold bath. Maybe he was aware of something in my condition that I wasn't. Our German class certainly had a fair share of feminine distractions: Carol, Jane, Alwen to name the ones I can name, with apologies to the ones I didn't.

Dinitrogen tetroxide. Dry ice. Nuptials.

Coming second last in History.

Coming last in Music.

Religion
The school was homogenous. There were a couple of Jewish kids who sat out the religious component of assembly. That component was Christian but sufficiently non-denominational that I never noticed anything unusual. I was brought up Methodist and the antics of Anglicans and Catholics as I began to discover them, first at a service for those of us leaving the school in '68 at Saint John's, Bilborough, and then at various friends' weddings, bothered me a little. I'm used to it now having become an Anglican by marriage.

Smoking
Caulfield and Perkins got me into it when I was thirteen. I eventually quit at twenty-six. Dr Peake waged a long and formidable campaign against smoking. Most of use were too dense to listen. Smoking was the major bond between The Morons. We even founded The Norom Tobacco Company. I believe that with one possible exception, and another who smokes occasionally and claims there is no health risk, we've all quit.

Drinking
It took me a long time to get used to drinking beer. Unfortunately the alternatives I tried - cider, draft sherry (from the off-license, bring your own bottle), scotch-and-cola - were worse. I did my share of throwing up.

The Broad Oak, with its accessibility problem for the constabulary in whose jurisdiction it fell, was a favourite of Faculty and 6th Form alike, who by tacit agreement ignored each other's presence.

Girls
It took me a long time to figure out that girls might actually find me attractive. Even when there were indications that they did, I had difficulty accepting it and in any case had no idea what to do. So apologies to at least a couple of women-scorned. I attribute this in part to growing up without sisters and having a dad who, though women found him attractive, was not sophisticated in the ways of the world - when he was drafted at the beginning of WW II, he was the only one in his platoon to faint when, during basic training, they showed a film on venereal diseases. Losing my virginity post-dated my Bilborough career by a long interval.

There were goddesses at Bilborough, entirely beyond reach: the Dix sisters, Elizabeth and Dorothy; the gorgeous Christine who was head girl a year or two ahead of us. Occasionally as we walked down the long cloakroom corridor we would spot them adjusting a suspender. I now realize they were just teasing the mortals. And nobody wears suspenders anymore!

Haircuts
It was the sixties. Lofty was a frequent target of Mr Williams's hair inspections. One time, he was ordered to get a haircut during the lunch hour. Instead, he came over to my place and slathered his head with Vitalis. This was sufficient for him to pass the follow-up.

My own dad had a barber near his office with the result that my mum always took Nick and me to Mrs Fletcher's. Only John Sporton of all my school friends, was also subject to this ignominy. Lofty and I eventually got into the habit of getting our infrequent haircuts at a barber shop beneath a tobacconists on Queen Street in Nottingham. This also gave us an opportunity to explore brands other than the No.6 or Buckinghams we normally favoured - like Gauloise, Sobrani Black Russians, and Kent.

Canasta
I think it was Mitzi who got us interested in Canasta. We decided to play a game to a million points and faithfully kept the score on a roll of toilet paper which in those days held up under a ball-point pen. Most of the sessions took place at my house around our dining room table after school until about 6, the room becoming impenetrably smoky by the time we rolled up the venerable roll. We got beyond 100,000 points before I became fed-up with first, the futility of the exercise, and second the unwavering assumption on the part of my friends that BumfCan is what we'd play and Joe's was where we'd play it. I canceled the assumed invitation, was briefly ejected from The Morons, and BumfCan ended for ever. Mitzi still had the score roll in 1992.

General idiocy
Leading up to Guy Fawkes Night we'd horse around with penny, two-penny and six-penny bangers. Two incidents came out of this. In one, Lofty tossed a banger at Elaine. It wasn't supposed to but it lodged in the hood of her duffel-coat. It went off giving her a small bald patch behind the ear and some hearing loss. Both came back eventually. A day or so later, Lofty was cycling home from school when he was spotted by the small but fiery Mrs Straw who chased him on foot for a respectable distance, all the while cursing him and letting him know in no uncertain terms what she was going to do to him.

The other incident was in our front room, newly redecorated with plain white textured wallpaper. Somebody had the idea of tossing a banger out of the window. Somebody went and made window-opening motions and noises, but didn't actually complete the task. Lofty lit the banger, panicked, and made it half-way back to the fireplace before it went off. We blamed the marks on the wall on Lofty's pipe.

Epic adventures
The Great Skeggie Run. Mitzi, Bob, Johnno and I cycled to Sutton-on-Sea via Skegness, and back via Mablethorpe one weekend "for fun". Most of the cycling was overnight. On the return journey, I have memories of trying to sleep briefly in a telephone booth. We survived but it exhausted us.

The Great Ambergate Route March. Somebody fell in the Derwent.

The Great Beeley Moor Adventure. Bob, Johnno, Dick and I set off for a weekend's camping on Froggatt Edge, in Derbyshire. For reasons I don't remember we ended up on Beeley Moor. At one point, someone I'm guessing may have been one of the Duke of Devonshire's gamekeepers stopped by to tell us we shouldn't be there. Again, I'm guessing at the burden of his message because his accent was impenetrable. We were left with a vague impression that if we remained, the grommies would get us. We did, and they didn't. I still have an old horse-shoe I found on that trip.

Industrial archeology after A-levels.

The Moorgreen Colliery visit.

Sports
Playing field hockey in the tennis courts one time. Gooey Sissons took a ball between the legs. The ever sympathetic Mr Robinson shouted, "Don't rub 'em, boy. Count 'em!" Gooey brought his name with him from his previous school. I don't know how he came by it, and I don't remember his real first name.


Where they are now

Bob
living in beautiful surroundings in a remote area of Cheshire, England
Dick
last heard of being thrown out of Communist Russia by the KGB - possibly I'm not supposed to mention this
Joe
living in Richmond Hill (north of Toronto), Canada, working for multi-national as a computer guy -- mug shot
Johnno
living and teaching in Nottingham, England
Lofty
living and fishing in Norfolk, England
Mitzi
living in London, England, practicing alternative medicine from an address on Harley Street
Wal
senior lecturer, the Department of Chemistry, Salford University, England
Elaine
living and teaching in Nottingham, England
The young woman with the dog called Sullivan ...
happily divorced in Hampshire, England, singing with the Winchester Choral Society. It turns out she and Mr Ian Bartlett, my early teacher of music, were both at Goldsmith's College, London, in 1970 -- she as a student, he as Senior Lecturer in Music.

Parts of the above were published in Bilborough 1957-2000, Portrait of a College, edited by Dr. Michael T Robinson.

Mike's blurb is here and an order form is here.


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John Martin
April 2, 2000