My Schooldays

Part 1

As one of the first intake to Augustine’s in 1965, as a second year student, I thought perhaps something should be said, first of all, about that year in limbo that many of us spent as ‘first years’, at what became known as St Gregory’s Annexe. (I shall get on to life at Sharston Mount later on).

It is interesting to see that the chronology of our school history year by year, uses not only memorable news events to give us a sense of context, but also the music we were listening to in those years.

For myself, nothing else serves as a better reminder or memory jogger than hearing a particular piece of music and as I suspect this is true for many people I have used them liberally in the following recollections.

St Augustine’s came about because of the need to provide extra school places for the post war baby boom. For us baby boomers who had taken our eleven plus exam’ early in 1964 and passed for a Grammar/Technical place, there was an acute shortage of Grammar school places. The new schools being built to overcome this shortage (St Augutine’s and St Ambrose’s) would not be available for another year. St Bede’s and Xavarian college took their pick of the best, so I guess we were the leftovers!

St Gregory’s Ardwick Green was a Technical School (in between Secondary Modern and Grammar) and so it fell to it to take the overflow until the new schools were ready. In fact St Augustine’s was originally classed as a Grammar/Technical, though this was later changed to just Grammar (much to Spike’s satisfaction I would think).

It was September 1964, The Beatle’s film and album of ‘A Hard Days Night’ had been released during that summer and they dominated the national newspapers and television. This included our own local programmes like Granada’s ‘Scene at Six Thirty’, on which we had followed their progress from their early days of fame in Liverpool. Exciting times for an eleven year old!

In any event many of us found ourselves during that first year of secondary education at St Greg’s Annexe, Plymouth Grove. Some were familiar faces from St Anthony’s my old Primary school in Wythenshawe ( David Bloor, Paul Murphy, John McKeown, Tex Flinders, Michael Boczeck and the infamous Connolly twins Peter and Paul etc.). Some were from St Peter and Paul’s Wythenshawe, which incidentally was only across the road from where we lived and to which my two sisters and youngest brother went. These would also become new friends and acquaintances in the ensuing years – John Taylor, Chris Fewtrell, David Jamieson, Hugh O’Donoghue. A number would eventually go to St Gregory’s main school and St Ambrose’s (I think) but the majority of us would be future Augustinians.

The old Annexe building was quite a contrast to the brand new Augustine’s that we would all come to know and love the following year. The main part of the school was one of those typical three storey school buildings, probably built around the early part of that century, complete with separate entrances marked ‘Girls’ and ‘Boys’. There were some other prefab buildings in a section of playground separated from the main area by a large brick wall with a single arched entrance. A typical Manchester inner city school environment I suppose.

Together with the top floor of the main building, these comprised our classrooms and playground area. The whole of this school complex sat amongst houses and shops etc. that had been there as long, if not longer, than the school itself. Add to this the sometimes wet, grey, smoggy weather of a pre-smokeless zone Manchester and you will probably get the sense of how it felt to a young kid used to the green fields and open spaces of Wythenshawe (remember the M56 didn’t exist yet and Ringway was still a small airport with only four foot wire fences between you and the aircraft).

We shared the main building with the local junior school, our classrooms being on the top floor. There was a science lab’ with the novelty of gas taps (for Bunsen burners), which were abused at every unsupervised opportunity. As is the wont of young boys everywhere, experiments with matches and gas jets usually resulted in skin or uniform getting singed, but amazingly nothing more serious happened. Although I do remember one incident in there, when we were left to our own devices and various objects were being thrown at one another. Someone got hit on the forehead by (I think) one of those rubber bungs used in the lab and a huge bump appeared immediately on his forehead – just like in a cartoon. First time I had seen that happen and it caused great amusement to the class despite the obvious discomfort of the recipient.

As the new school year progressed The Beatles were at number one in the charts with ‘I Feel Fine’ and Roy Orbison’s ‘Pretty Woman’ figured heavily in the musical backdrop of our lives. I have to admit that during that winter of 64/65 St Greg’s could be quite a depressing place (or was it just the often foggy, rainy, grey Manchester weather). Whenever I hear Petula Clarke’s song ‘Downtown’ I am immediately taken back to that winter and those same feelings.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Sometimes we would use our MCTD school bus passes to go in to the town centre after school. This was not our ‘official’ route home, so part of the fun was seeing if you could manage to convince the bus conductor it was OK. Occasionally you would get chucked off the bus and have to try another one, but most of the time the conductor gave the pass a cursory glance and you were safe. Manchester town centre was not that far anyway, so there was time to have a mooch around the shops. Lewis’s or Woolworth’s toy departments were favourite haunts – train sets, toy soldiers, Scalextric and giant Meccanno sets. Plenty for young schoolboys to drool over and hope that Santa would be good to you.

For our games periods we had to make the journey to Hough End Playing Fields on Princess Road and for some of us at least this was back in the right direction for home. The school journey from Wythenshawe meant two busses, the 102 then the 85 from Wilbraham Road where it crossed Princess Road. The 85 took us past the BBC TV studios on Dickenson Road where of course a little bit of pop music history was being made with the weekly recording of Top of the Pops. I always remember that journey for the time someone had a transistor radio on the top deck of the bus and it was playing Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons singing ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ (remembered probably because the lyric and its delivery was so distinctive on first hearing).

Secondary education took a lot of getting used to in those grim and grimy surroundings especially after the leafy suburbs of Wythenshawe. There was homework for a start and new teachers to get used to. I cannot remember all their names but there was Mr Machin who was the ‘head’ I suppose, Mr Connor and one we just called ‘Lurch’. He was extremely tall, very thin and completely bald and carried his leather strap slipped across his shoulder and under his suit jacket. It was he who strapped the whole of our year after some wags shouted something derogatory at him from the top floor one dinnertime (probably his nickname). He was down in the playground and so had no chance of catching the culprits. As no one would grass on them, the punishment was administered to us all as we lined up in the playground, the spectacle of which only added to our enjoyment of the episode.

Woodwork was experienced for the first time, learning the joys of mortice and tennon and trying to make a dovetail joint (Beatles lyric creeping in there). Wearing our white aprons and listening to the grumpy old woodwork teacher, we also learnt not to lean on the bench unless you enjoyed having your knuckles rapped by his ruler!

There always seemed to be crates and crates of free school milk (remember those third of a pint bottles?), stacked outside the prefab classrooms. I don’t ever remember it being officially distributed, you just helped yourself. As quite a few boys never seemed to bother, this also meant you could drink as much as you liked all day. In the winter it was gloriously cold (the best way to drink it!), but come the summer you had to get it early on in the day before it went off. Collection of the empties and the unused was a bit erratic so you had to be careful what day’s milk you were about to quaff! You couldn’t imagine this kind of thing happening at St Augustine’s, Spike would have had palpitations at the laissez faire attitude of the Annexe teaching staff. Perhaps our (and their) remoteness from the main school, together with the one year only nature of the situation, encouraged it.

At break time the lads I hung about with mostly played football, usually with a tennis ball, which did wonders for your ball control. I cannot remember there being a school canteen as we usually went round the corner to the chippy on Stockport Rd. As this was the first time I was making my own choice as to what to eat, I always remember the guilty feeling of getting steak pie, chips and gravy on a Friday (always fish on Friday in Catholic schools). Anyway we seemed to survive the devine retribution which surely should have fallen on us (especially as it was never owned up to in confession).

We were mostly unsupervised at break times, so occasionally things would deteriorate into water bomb (crisp bag + water) fights over the prefab rooftops or sometimes, due to the above mentioned milk excess, milk bomb fights.

Although the Manchester winter was as depressing as ever, come the spring and warmer weather the place didn’t seem as forbidding as it had first appeared. Maybe we had just got used to it and adapted to our surroundings (as you do eventually with most things in life) or perhaps it was that our reprieve was in sight (demob happy as the forces call it). Man Utd were the Football League champions, the Rolling Stones had a number one with the ‘The Last Time’ and the Beatles had followed likewise with ‘Ticket To Ride’.

Reports that St Augustine’s was nearing completion were always welcome. The thought of it being on the doorstep and only a short bus ride on the 102 also added to the expectancy. We would be back to the leafy suburbs and the green fields of South Manchester and away from the dark urban confines of Plymouth Grove. There was mention of a new school uniform, which would be an added expense and worry to my mum and dad, who always struggled to make ends meet with five kids to support. But what a uniform it would be – but more of that later.

My final memories of the summer term at the Annexe, are of the group of us that always went to the chippy at dinner time, for no apparent reason getting mobbed by the junior school girls (and boys occasionally!?) every time we returned from the chippy. It was like a scene from ‘A Hard Days Night’ and of course therein lies the explanation. Some of the girls had probably taken a shine to one or two of us and emulated the way their contemporaries reacted to the Beatles in the film – screaming and running after us! Paul Murphy was nicknamed ‘Long Legs’ by the girls and had to make good use of them to avoid his admirers in hot pursuit behind him. This was also great sport to us, as we had to devise different ways of getting back into school without being chased by the screaming girls and the rest of the juniors who wanted to join in the fun of the mob.

The summer holidays of ’65 were soon upon us and so we said a fond farewell to the Annexe and Plymouth Grove. Well if the truth be told, we legged it out of the gates, caught the first bus we could get and never gave the place another thought! And so just as Pope Gregory had sent St Augustine on a mission to instruct the English all those years ago (thanks George), St Gregory’s now sent forth from its temporary care, this bunch of schoolboys on a mission to be instructed at St Augustine’s, where they would try the patience of that saint (or any schoolmaster for that matter).

The Beatles were releasing their new LP ‘Help’ as well as the film of the same name and the Byrds had their single of the Bob Dylan song ‘Mister Tambourine’ man at the top of charts. During the holidays I went to see ’Help’ at the Odeon on Oxford Road in the centre of Manchester with my two sisters and our friend Sheila. I can still remember my embarrassment at my elder sister Trisha (me aged almost 13 she aged 14) when she began screaming and crying every time George appeared on screen. But apart from this social embarrassment it was great to see our idols on the big screen once again and this time in colour.

Anyway as the holidays progressed and September drew ever closer it was time to pay a visit to Nevilles on John Dalton Street and get kitted out with the new uniform. The word magenta entered into our lives. The blazer took a little getting used to, but Trisha went to Loreto Convent School and so stripes didn’t seem too bad. The colour was striking but seemed to hint at something a bit superior and certainly not run of the mill. We were obviously going to put the school on the map when those colours were seen in numbers, especially in Wythenshawe.

It was like a red (magenta?) rag to a bull at times and definitely made us stand out from our contemporaries at the other local schools (and let’s face it many of them hardly had a uniform apart from the tie or jumper). Luckily the most it attracted (in my own experience) was name calling (pyjamas) and I think gradually the novelty wore off and we became part of the South Manchester wallpaper (albeit decorated by a sixties version of Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen). Thank god though that we changed to a plain navy blue blazer in the sixth form – but more of that later. In the next installment we enter the hallowed portals of Augustine’s and meet our nemesis.

To be continued…..

John Greenwood