It being the start of summer and all that, it is, I am reliably informed, the start of the University Summer Ball Season, no I have no experience of a University Summer Ball either being that University was not an institution that held out its welcoming embrace to me in the summer of ’73 and Kitson College of Technology certainly DID NOT have a summer ball for its attendees, and even if it did it would have been in The Cobourg, so not at all posh then.
There is a story doing the rounds of an Oxford University College Ball which recently charged its 1000 attendees “up to” £150 each, EACH, for an end of term ball that ended in complete chaos and disaster when entertainers failed to show, the shark that they had booked ( yes, a shark, a real shark) couldn’t make it to the gig, the food ran out before everyone had been served and the alcohol ran out several hours before the scheduled end, and some guests got burned, yes, really burned, from standing too close to the hog roast, well they were students after all.
As I read that story I kept going back to the maths and even though I never went to University for they would not have me, even though that was the case, I am eminently capable through use of impressive brain capacity to calculate that by selling tickets at £150 each the organisers of this particular end of term University Ball would have raised £150,000.
Lets just pause there.
What sort of party could you organise with £150,000 to spend ?
A pretty good one I suspect, and lets not forget that the venue is already sorted, its not like you have to go out and spend two thirds of that money on hiring the O2 arena or anything, its a University Ball, its at the University, they have their own facilities, their own bars, their own means of food production, they cater for far more than 1000 people every working day of their lives – so thats the venue, the bars, and the food sorted – all you need now are some twinkly lights and some music, and a reliable shark of course.
Of course I have some experience in this matter.
Indeed I have vast experience in this matter of organising end of term University Balls, ok not University because of course they would not have me remember, but end of term school disco’s, if its an end of term school disco that your after then you’ve already found your man, you’re reading him right here.
In 1972 something unthinkable happened at Leeds Modern all-boys Grammar School – the school was amalgamated with the Lawnswood all-girls Grammar School next door, heaven forfend, and for the first time in a hundred years or so our school corridors echoed to the high pitched yelps of girls removing chewing gum from their hair rather than the high pitched yelps of the first form boys being relentlessly bullied.
I have to say here and now and with the benefit of 40 years worth of hindsight, the merging of the two schools was a grand coup d’etat by the Girls School, rather like on of those company mergers that you read about in the newspaper where two megalith corporations combine their operations and the following day one of the megalith corporations disappears from public view and all of its employees are dismissed, the signs taken down and their former head office goes up for sale – well thats what Lawnswood School did to Leeds Modern School.
For starters the school would be renamed “Lawnswood School”, so not quite a “merger” there then, and as the two schools only required one headteacher when they became one school then the headmistress of the former Lawnswood School became the headteacher of the new Lawnswood School, poor old Jerry Owen our diminutive head of only a couple of years standing (despite appearing as though he was sitting down most of the time) was parceled up and posted off to the Home for Usurped Headteachers, in Southport, or similar.
But one of the better ideals that were foisted upon us boys of the old Leeds Modern School was the daring suggestion from the female side of the equation that we should partake in a “School Council”.
This was brave stuff, this was almost communism, for five years we’d been beaten with blackboard rubbers every time we dare suggest that “Sir, maybe something should be done about this…” or “Sir, would it be possible to change the way that we do this…” indeed I recount the story told to me by pupils just two years ahead of us of how one boy was caned by Cheesy Holland for having the temerity to ask for additional after-school Maths tuition, such a request being an implied criticism of one of his Maths tutors, “We teach very good Maths here boy, if you can’t learn Maths here then you are a buffoon, now hold your hand out while I select a suitable cane with which to punish you…”
And so it came to pass that one day our form master Bernard Phillips, the man who taught me how to draw, announced that each class would forthwith be required to nominate two representatives for the newly formed School Council and it would be their responsibility to meet once a month with the Head of House and all of the other pupil representatives to discuss stuff.
He didn’t say what sort of stuff would be discussed but bear in mind here that the representatives would range in age from 11 to 16 years of age and its fair to say that as 16 year olds we weren’t attuned to having to speak on equal terms with 11 year olds, indeed if you ever met an 11 year old during the course of your school day you were permitted to trip them up and give them a good hiding just for crossing your path during the course of a school day, well at least you were in the old days of Leeds modern School, all of that changed as soon as the bloody women got involved and we became Lawnswood School – bah !
Patrick Stewart nominated he and me as our year representatives and I sat there mouth agape at him as our nomination was sealed and confirmed by Bernard Phillips and 28 other eyes of hatred stared at us from around the form room, you just didn’t volunteer for anything, that was the rule, what on earth was he thinking of.
It wasn’t the first time he’d volunteered me to do servile things in that school either for he once put his hand up and volunteered the pair of us to act as waiters to the masters dining room every day, I thought he was mad then and I’m still not so sure all of these years later, but there was method in his madness for Patrick is always on the lookout for the inside story, the “How do I take best advantage of this situation”, he was then and he still is now, he is a master of making the best of any situation, and he had a plan…
…and so it was that we found ourselves sitting in a small office one lunchtime when we should have been outside with the rest of the 1000+ pupils, bullying younger kids and suchlike, with two representatives from each of the five years within “School House” – thats another thing that has puzzled me these past forty-something years, when it comes to naming the “House” that you are to be assigned to, four “Houses” one for each of the four forms in each year group, and the other three Houses get named after old pupils or some grand Latin name, you’d think that whoever first invented the idea would think of something a bit more imaginative than “School” to describe your House wouldn’t you, its like thats the default name anyway, its like they only bothered to pick three names before they got too bored and just left our House at the default setting.
Anyway so we’re sat in this small office with kids ranging in age from 11 to 16 and we’re the 16 year olds and this WOMAN who is head of our House, Miss Rowe, with the emphasis on “Miss”, there were a lot of women imported into the merged school who referred to themselves as “Miss”, anyway, Miss Rowe is discussing how fine it is that we responsible students have stepped forward to represent each year group blah, blah, blah and I’m sitting there listening to this wondering where the angle is, what has Patrick Neddy Stewart seen that I haven’t seen and why did he volunteer us for this crap, and then Miss Rowe asks if any of the year groups have any suggestions as to how to improve the newly merged school image and some first year puts his hand up and starts to waffle on about graffiti and litter picking patrols and Patrick sits there and doesn’t say a word, probably because half the graffiti is his, and we listen to these 11 to 14 year old s waffle on for a bit and then he suddenly interrupts to declare, “School Disco”
And Miss Rowe turns to him and asks “Pardon Patrick ?”, that was another thing, these newly imported WOMEN teachers called you by your first name, no-one called you by your first name when it was Leeds Modern, I’d forgotten what my first name was by that time.
“School Disco is what this school needs” explained Patrick, “at the end of term, in the school hall, leave it to me and Kitchen, we’ve got it covered but we just need the keys to the school for one evening”
There was a stunned silence and it dawned on me that Patrick now thought he was Harvey Goldsmith (or similar) and that we’d just gone into the nightclub business, this was his angle, this was why we were here.
To our utter surprise Miss Rowe agreed with us with the exception that the WHOLE of the school council had to be involved, even the 11 year olds, and that she wouldn’t just hand out the keys to the school willy-nilly in the hope that nothing could possibly go wrong by letting two 16 year olds turn it into a nightclub for one evening, there had to be some adults, and teachers, present.
I agreed while Patrick glared at the other eight kids in the room and they were left under no misapprehension that me and him were going to organise this “do” and they’d be lucky to get invited only if they didn’t try and involve themselves in the organising.
“We need more help though” Patrick added, “its going to be a big job” and Miss Rowe agreed.
“No problem” replied Patrick, “we have the people”, he really did think he was Harvey Goldsmith now and in this manner we co-opted several of our classmates onto the school council for the job of organising our very own end of term Big Piss-up.
“Alcohol will not be permitted of course” added Miss Rowe
“We wouldn’t dream of it Miss” Patrick could sweet talk anyone, and they believed him most of the time too.