We sat there and we listened in awe to our new form master Mr Summers or “Arnie” as he became known to us. Alan was his correct christian name and as he’d write his initials “AS” on every piece of work he marked he quickly became associated with Arnie Sachnusum the hero of the Jules Verne book “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” who would also write the initials “AS” on cave walls so that he knew where he’d been.
Arnie wasn’t as strict as any of the Masters that we would shortly be introduced to, Masters like Sinbad Simpson, Head of sports, or Pansy Smith the French Master with the disturbing gait, or worst of all the Master who had no nickname simply because his surname struck fear into every bone in your body – Weber the music Master.
The first day was taken up with rule instruction, a guided tour of the school and timetable preparation and with it the suprising revelation that we would be expected to move from classroom to classroom for each and every lesson rather than stay in “our” room and be taught by the same Master all day as had happened at Primary school.
We were informed that a bell would ring at the end of each lesson at which point we were to sit absolutely still at our desks until the Master dismissed us to the next lesson whereupon we would have to make our way quickly to the next class. This came as something as a shock to most of us and we all wished at that point that we’d paid more attention during the guided tour of the school as we were finally warned that we only had a couple of minutes from the end of the previous lesson bell until the Master turned up for the next lesson, and it was strictly prohibited to be still wandering the corridors keeping your next Master waiting, in fact it was punishable by “sides” at least, and by flogging at worst.
Which is not actually true, punishment by flogging had been eliminated by the current head when he had taken up his post 140 years previously. Cheesy Holland was a small man with a bald head and fluffs of grey hair sticking out above each ear, always clad in his Masters gown with a grey three piece suit underneath, I never saw him without a wad of papers or books clasped in one arm whilst striding purposefully up and down the corridors. He taught Latin for a few classes a week but mainly spent most of his day striding up and down corridors commanding respect and silence when he passed and as he passed down a busy corridor the throng of boys would open up a few yards in front of him to give him clear passage, whilst a few yards further to the front of him the hastily whispered warning “Cheesy” would herald his progress, boys would have died if they’d stood in his way.
The new punishment regime consisted of “sides” which were dished out without remorse by all of the masters and prefects. A “side” was one side of a foolscap sheet of closely lined paper upon which the hapless boy had to write a mind-numbingly boring and difficult to spell phrase of the Master or Prefects choice. Punishment by “sides” was normally dished out in multiples of two, and two or four sides was quite normal for innocuous things like chewing gum on school premises (even outdoors), whistling an annoying tune, or allowing your hair to grow lower than your ear level which was one rule that was slowly relaxed during my time at Leeds Modern as the outside hippy influence finally permeated the four square walls of Alma Mater.
When “sides” were issued you would be expected to return them promptly the next morning, if you failed in this task then the Master could double the punishment, or if the issuer was a Prefect then he would quite legally cuff you around the head as hard as he liked and at the same time kick you extremely hard up the backside, Cheesy’s “no corporal punishment” regime didn’t extend as far as the sixth form Prefects who were given free rein to control the five years below them at break times.
All of this information was presented to us on our first day and we sat there in awe wondering how we would ever learn all this stuff, fortunately I had no parental expectations resting on my shoulders but the sons of doctors, lawyers and senior civil servants who were expected to “do well” and go on into the sixth form and eventually University must have absolutely shat themselves with worry that they would not cope with the regime and eventually be cast out from the family as a total failure.
Over the next few days we would be introduced to the masters that would be shaping our education over the next five years, and a weird and wonderful bunch they were. They could easily be divided into two factions, the “Old School” who had been teaching since Victoria was on the throne and who sincerely believed that all of us should be beaten into submission every morning before lessons began, and the “New School” of young trendy teachers who were pushing back the boundary’s of the schools traditions by wearing sports jackets and non-matching ties, they let their hair grown over their collars and spoke to us if not as equals then with a little more respect that the Old School did. We seemed to have an awful lot of New School teachers that year at Leeds Modern and looking back I often wonder if the school had had a wholesale clearout of the Old School variety immediately prior to my joining.