The long school summer holidays stretched out ahead of us and we put the thought of the grammer school to the back of our minds as we mucked about all day in what remained of Moseley Wood, built tree houses, fell out of tree houses, accidentally nailed our clothes and ourselves to trees while building tree houses, damned streams, fell in streams, skinned our knees nearly every day, stole apples from gardens, stole a cat from a garden once, threw stones at angry dogs to make them even angrier, and worst of all played football at the cricket pitch which totally buggered up the square but the men who ran the cricket club were at work during the day and could do nothing to stop us, all in all we were a gang of normal 11 year old boys, until it was time to go to the grammer school.
I still remember my first day, I remember getting out of bed, I remember dressing in my new school uniform, putting on the hard white shirt with its hard white collar, it would take much washing to make it soft and in those days you wore clothes for several days, our mum only washed clothes on a Monday.
I remember picking up two of my friends in my dads car and then dropping off my brother at the primary school that we had left just six weeks ago – the primary school kids all looked so small now, we’d moved on, we were going to our grammer school in our smart new uniforms, we were too good for this little school, we were among the elite now although my brother didn’t seem to think so as he got out of the car and stuck two fingers up at us in the classic anglo saxon way of telling someone to go forth and multiply – we hated each other as young kids and he knew even then that he would never sit in our dads car in a stripy grammer school blazer, it was the austere black blazer of a secondary modern school that awaited him at the end of his primary school career.
We were dropped off outside our new school and full of anguish and trepidation we made our way across the busy Otley Road with the school crossing patrol man, a miserable old bastard who never spoke to anyone, completely in contradiction with the archetypical jolly “lollipop man”, and as we approached the school gates we removed our school caps (thanks to Nigger Browns warning message) and put them away in our haversacks – that was the last time I would ever take my cap to school.
At the gates we were greeted by a large crowd of second year boys – rule number one at grammer school was that first year baiting was the exclusive quarter of the second year boys, this particularly cruel regime meant that those who had suffered last year still had the worst memories of their induction into grammer school and would be the ones to inflict the identical torment on the new boys.
The first greeting that we were welcomed with came from a second year boy who actually looked younger than me and who, if I’d been so inclined, I could have punched quite firmly on the nose without any compunction, this little toerag asked me if I had my pen licence with me.
Never having heard of, let alone owned a pen licence I of course replied in the negative, at which point he asked me if I wanted to buy one for a shilling. This seemed a little on the expensive side for something that I suspected was unnecessary and so I just smiled and kept on walking with my two friends.
The toerag would not accept this as an answer however and took from his pocket a small piece of paper which he had obviously just torn out of an exercise book and upon which he’d written in very untidy handwriting, “pen licence”, as if to prove that indeed it was illegal to possess an unlicensed pen within the boundaries of Leeds Modern School, he hovered and skipped just in front of us as we tried to walk away from him demanding to know my name so that he could write it on my new pen licence which he thought I was just about to purchase from him.
I was saved by another second year tormentor who then appeared dancing alongside the first, demanding to know what the first one had wanted to charge for the pen licence, we told him that pen licences were apparently a shilling at which the second one laughed and said that his pen licences were just sixpence.
This interloper obviously upset the first con artist who shoved him out of the way, telling him to bugger off and find his own first years, fortunately the second tormentor took exception to being shoved around and shoved back, the last that we saw of the pen licence con artists was them both shoving each other around arguing as to what the standard valuation of a pen licence should be.
Perhaps at this point I should explain the layout of Leeds Modern School – from an aerial view you would see that the school was a long figure eight, two storeys in height on the North Drive, three storeys from the lower South Drive, corridors and classroom surrounding two central open courtyards, both of which were out of bounds and had not seen human life within them for several decades. The school stood alongside the Leeds outer ring road which ran parallel to one of the long sides of the figure eight, this side of the school was the north side and the wide path which followed alongside the ring road inside the school boundary was the North Drive. The North Drive was only open to pupils at the start and end of the school day, the school had lots of rules most of which, like this one, were inexplicable, the North Drive rule forbade pupils from using it during school hours, we spent most of our time to the south side of the school, on the appropriately named South Drive which stood ‘twixt the southern side of the figure eight and the very large playing field.
There is one other thing to mention about Leeds Modern School – it was only half of the school on that site, if you walked far enough along either the North or South Drive then you would eventually walk right past Leeds Modern, past the new dining hall block which followed and would then come across an identical school beyond that – this was Lawnswood High school for girls, or so we were told, but as we were strictly forbidden from fraternising with the inhabitants of the school beyond ours then it remained a rumour for many years that girls actually attended there.
We had entered via one of two gates available off the Otley Road, this one leading onto the North Drive, and having run the gauntlet of pen licence vendors we found ourselves walking along the North Drive towards the far end of the school and the new dining room block, our eventual destination being the junior yard which lay between the school and the dining room block.
We had a pleasant enough walk, due to the general ban on the North Drive pupils did not congregate here but hurried along it to get to the junior yard, we therefore were not pestered again until we turned the corner off the North Drive into the junior yard.
We were met with an amazing sight, the yard was intended for use by the first and second year pupils and here on their first day is where the new first year’s were fed as Christians to the lions of the second year pupils. As soon as we turned the corner we were accosted by a group of much bigger boys who demanded to see our cap licences.
Replying that we didn’t have caps, (remember they were hidden deep within our haversacks, thanks to Nigger Browns warning message) this particular group shoved us out of the way and moved on to another small group of new starters in search of the elusive prize of the school cap. It was soon evident what entertainment they were seeking as the next group of small boys that they accosted revealed two brand new school caps, the owners of whom had been sent to school with strict instructions by their proud mothers to wear their caps at all times.
Their caps lasted only for a few more seconds as the second year boys demanded to see the owners cap licences, and when none was forthcoming the caps were snatched from their heads and flung, spinning up into the air to land on the toilet block roof.
From where we stood we could see that dozens of caps, so beloved of mothers, had been liberated from their owners and flung upon the toilet block roof, and as we observed from our end of the yard, the sport was in full flow with caps flying, spinning towards the toilet block roof as their former owners dashed from tormentor to tormentor trying to regain their stripy headgear, a writhing, squirming cacophony of 120 boys in each year, half of whom were inventing more and more cunning ways in which to torment the other half on this one day in the school calendar when a blind eye was turned to bullying, it being the traditional way to welcome new starters to the school.
The second year boys were having some fine fun with us fresh faced grammer school beginners, several school bags were now disappearing up onto the toilet block roof and each new addition to the roof would be greeted with cheers and applause from the older boys whilst another young first year would stand there, mouth agape wondering how the hell they were going to get their cap/bag/shoes down from the roof – the answer to that question would come much later as Harry the caretaker was introduced to us, but more of that to come.
Just when it was looking like it would only be a matter of minutes before one of the smaller boys would find himself spinning through the air up onto the lavatories, a bell sounded and the fun stopped with 120 second year boys groaning in unison.