Living in Lytham with strict Roman Catholic parents, I was pleased at first to pass my 11-plus and my mother was very proud of me. But I was soon faced with a dreadful dilemma: either commute to Preston to be educated by Jesuits (sometimes likened to the Gestapo for their cruelty) or travel each day to Blackpool to learn at the hands of the Christian Brothers (more like the SS, so less sadistic - but only slightly). Blackpool was a bit nearer, so St Joseph's it was. Travel was initially by steam train to and from Blackpool Central, then the No.14 bus - always a streamlined centre-door Blackpool-built Burlingham.

Our memories often cast a discreet veil over the unhappy times and many of my recollections were deleted over the years, but my main experience was one of boredom most of the time. I was very shy but I quickly learnt how to deal with bullies: if they picked on me I'd immediately burst-out crying and through surprise or embarrassment they soon stopped and didn't bother me again.

A few incidents stand out which encapsulate the attitude of the Brothers and the often damaging treatment of the boys, some of them emotionally vulnerable or from difficult backgrounds.

One winter's day after a morning's snowfall, at lunch-break there was a lot of snowball-throwing in the yard in front of the school. The headmaster emerged and blew a whistle. He called for all boys to drop their snowballs and form lines (like the roll-calls in concentration camps). One lad who might have had hearing difficulties clearly missed the instruction and still had a snowball in his hand. The headmaster spotted this then ran forward and punched him in the face. The boy fell down in the snow. When he stood up his trouser-legs were steaming from the damp. Nobody intervened and nobody reported this brutal attack, through fear of corporal punishment or even expulsion. This was over fifty years ago but I will never forget that image of the steaming trousers, a metaphor for the ruthlessness of the Brothers. I can't remember the boy's name but he was one of the two motorcyclists from Fleetwood.

St Joseph's was adjacent the all-girls Collegiate School, separated by a tall fence. On either side were the respective Sixth-Form Common-Rooms between which there was a gate in the fence, always firmly locked. Some boys had suggested asking for the gate to be opened at lunchtime so that Sixth-Formers from both sides could meet and mingle, but nobody had the courage to put this idea to the headmaster. Through bravado or naivety, I volunteered to seek his views. I remember his exact words when I visited his office with my innocent suggestion. Shocked by my temerity, he shouted "Are you some kind of sex-maniac, Doran?" He couldn't understand why any 16-year-old boy would want to talk to girls. Needless to say the gate remained permanently bolted shut (if so, what was it for in the first place?)

After St Joseph's I went to Salford University where the gender ratio was 11-1 against. At freshers' week all the new girls were quickly snapped-up by second-year boys. So for years at an awkward age I was deprived of the confidence to initiate friendships with girls. I was 27 before I finally began what should have been so easy ten years earlier and it was largely the Brothers who held me back. It all worked-out in the end thankfully and I'm now a happy family man with two lovely children.

In retrospect, to put the education of impressionable adolescents in the hands of a bunch of often violent, frustrated middle-aged men who had committed to a life of strict celibacy was at best naive, but at worse criminally damaging.

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