So there we all were in assembly one morning, stood at the back of the hall as is your right when you are the oldest in the school, we were eleven years of age, in our last year at Cookridge County Primary School, we’d just taken our eleven plus exam, the exam that was a crossroads in our live although at the time we did not fully comprehend this.
In days of yore there existed a two tier education system, The Grammar School was the upper tier for it was at Grammar School where you learned of valuable academic stuff, stuff that would lead to O levels at sixteen and then white collar jobs in offices with graduated pensions, a vauxhall viva, a house in a new suburb and a smiling wife and obedient kids…
Where did I go wrong then – I went to Grammar School and thats where that paragraph stops for me.
The lower tier was the Secondary Modern School, if you failed your eleven plus exam in your last year of Primary School then you were cast into the bottomless pit of underachievement known as the Secondary Modern School, you took CSE exams at sixteen at your Secondary Modern School and when you went for job interviews they asked if you had any O levels and when you said “No but I have three CSE’s” then they laughed as hard as the laughing policeman while showing you the door.
Our Ned went to Secondary Modern School, I need say no more.
So there we all were in the last few weeks of the summer term, ready to quit this Junior School and yet still not knowing whether our fate would be the Grammar School or the Secondary Modern School, and Holmesey stood up at the front, hang on, I lied yesterday, Thirsky wasn’t the only male teacher in the school, there was Holmesey too, he was easy to forget though, think John Major without a personality.
So Holmesey had an important announcement, “This year children” he started, “the teacher training college at Becketts Park has organised an International Kids Summer Camp and we are very lucky to have been chosen to host some of these foreign children in our school, AND YOU’D BETTER BE ON YOUR BEST BEHAVIOUR” he finished with a glare that caused some of the five year olds sitting on the floor at the front to involuntarily wet their pants.
We were told to come to school the next day in our best school clothes, not get dirty at dinnertime, for the kids from the International Kids Summer Camp were all eleven years of age just like us and we’d be grouped together into pairs and be expected to look after two foreign kids for the afternoon, and then sometime at three pm-ish we had to take them into the hall where we’d all be served a cup of tea, strawberry’s and a cake.
Yes, as if that really happened every day.
You know its hardly surprising that the rest of the world think that every factory, every office, every household in England stops at three pm for tea and cake, for when we entertain foreign people we invariably do just that very thing, even though we don’t EVER do it when they are not there. The hotel that I used to work at in Barbados always served tea and cake to the English guests at three pm simply because thats what they thought we do, and when the English holidaymakers all said to the waiters “ooh this is nice, tea and cake, do you always do this here ?” they’d stare back at them with a puzzled look and say “No, actually we don’t, we only do this because its what you English people do” and the English people would stare back also puzzled and say, “Erm, no we don’t actually”.
So me and Chris Rhodes, yes THAT Chris Rhodes, the one who did you-know-what in the swimming cubicle one day, me and him were a pair and Holmesey took us both to one side and staring at Chris Rhodes with a very stern eye he told us that we were to be paired up with two German boys and that under no circumstances were we to draw small truncated moustaches on each other, do a stiff arm salute, or goosestep across the playground, for this was 1966 and the war was over these past 20 years and I looked at Chris Rhodes and I knew what he was thinking – “We’ve got the German kids, oh tidings of great joy”.
The International Kids Summer Camp thing still happens I believe when young kids from all over Europe get invited to stay in Leeds for a couple of weeks in the summer, like its a special treat or something, that afternoon at our school we had kids from all over Europe in our hall eating our cake and drinking our tea in a “This really does happen all over England at three pm” sort of way, and most of those kids came from countries that just twenty years earlier had been occupied by the German kids parents – you could say that the atmosphere was awkward, made all the more so by Holmesey catching our eye every five minutes and hissing in our ears “Don’t mention the war”.
We organised a big football match, the rest of Europe versus Cookridge Country Primary School and as described yesterday Thirsky had a problem in raising a team given that most of us didn’t understand the basic concept of football but the European kids did, in the event Thirsky played some girls in our team and then at half time when we were losing by 50-nil he had a brainwave and swapped all the teams around, mixing them up, just ensuring that the Poles weren’t on the same team as our German pair, Chris Rhodes and I shadowed our two guests, smiled nicely, bit our tongues and tried ever so hard not to mention the war, although miming the machine gunning down of the pair when their backs were turned brought great hilarity from most of the other foreign kids, and they all did it at every opportunity, which didn’t go down well with Holmesey.
And then it was time to troop into the hall for our strawberries and cream and we sat at a large round table with a dinner lady and two other sets of English/European pairs, and thats when we realised that none of these foreign kids could understand a word of English.
Our two Germans really were tall and blond, the very trademark of Hitler-esque breeding…
“Where, do, you, live ?” asked the dinner lady, slowly, to our Aryan brotherhood
They looked at each other, one nodded to the other, “Dortmund” he replied
“Oh, thats, nice” said the dinner lady, then nudged me and Chris Rhodes and prompted us to say something
“Did it get bombed in the war ?” asked Chris Rhodes
“aaaaaaaaaaahh” screamed the dinner lady, maybe out of shock, maybe to distract the Germans
“Yah” replied one of our little Hitler youths
“Good” said Chris Rhodes
Nothing more was said all afternoon and when they got back on their bus they didn’t even wave.