CONTRIBUTION BY JOE ENNIS (RIP) 1952/1958
Joe wrote this in 2007. Sadly he died in January 2008.
I was at St. Joe’s from 1952 to 1958, and knew Terry McGreevey until he left to go to the American Colonies.
Our Form Master in our first two years was Bro. Duignan, alias ‘Strap-Happy’ or ‘Dracula;’ He was tall and raw-boned, and kept his Vatican-issue strap in the sash round his cassock. He was athletic, and was quite capable of leaping over a row of desks, drawing his strap in mid-air, and descending on his victim at full-wallop. He was quite a character, and played Rugby for a local team (Thornton?) under an assumed name. He was blown out when his team won some local Derby and their photograph appeared in the Evening Gazette. There he was, ‘J. Smith,’ grinning evilly on the front row. The Headmaster, Bro. Woodhouse (‘Pecker’) spotted the photo, and Duignan ceased to play Club Rugby.
‘Panker’ Le Brun was the French Master during our first couple of years. He had a long, lugubrious face, and wore an academic gown, which was vaguely green with age. At that time, all the Lay Masters wore their University gowns. Panker was an expert at the side-hair tweak, the cheek-pinch, and the slap to the base of a bevelled head. He had a distractive, and easily-imitated, mannerism of inserting a finger into his ear, turning his head on one side, and vigorously waggling the finger, presumably to clear internal wax. I remember once that he was teaching us about prepositions succeeded by ‘que,’ such as ‘après que,’ ‘aussitôt que,’ ‘dès que,’ etc. I whispered to Terry McGreevey, “Ask him what ‘pan que’ means”, and (may the gods forgive me) Terry did just that. The resulting rage, followed by the strangling of Terry in the hanging folds of Panker’s gown, was terrible to behold.
Our next French Master was Bernard Howe, who later taught German. He was an ex-Commando, and specialised in swift and breath-catching jabs to the kidneys, as well as the almost-universally employed side-hair tweak. He had, as Terry says, an unerring aim with the blackboard eraser – the old wooden-backed, multi-coloured felt variety. Personally, I liked Bernard Howe. He had a sardonic sense of the ridiculous which appealed to me. In 1955, he organised a trip to Westendorf, Austria, primarily for his German class. We all enjoyed it immensely. Between November, 1957, and February, 1958, when I was in Blackpool Victoria Hospital after a serious motor-cycle smash, he came to visit me regularly to help me to keep up with my German studies. (He lived quite near the hospital at the time). After Howe commenced teaching German, we once again fell under Panker’s aegis for French.
Latin was taught to us initially by Bro. Brennan (‘Ichabod’ or ‘Icky’). A deceptively mild-mannered man, he disdained the use of the Vatican-issue strap, and generally used a sawn-off billiard cue in lieu. His use of the strap was confined to the mass-executions in line, which followed the verbal examination of the previous evening’s allotted task of learning Latin vocabulary.
After Ichabod, Latin fell to Joss O’Leary, who was also our Form Master for a couple of years. He was a real character. He had a stoop and a double-curvature of the spine, and his moods could be unpredictable. From time to time, he would storm into the Latin class and announce, “I am having a blitz on this class. I shall give forty slaps this lesson.” Every minor peccadillo, every stumbling over a translation, was rewarded with a stroke of the strap. He made a tally on the blackboard, and frequently failed to achieve the magic figure, forty. No bother to him! Sitting together at the back of the class were Tony Boak and I, both tall for our age. Having tallied his total he would say, for example, “I have six slaps left. Ennis, Boak, the Two Colossi, you can have three each. Out you come!” When teaching the finer points of Latin style, he would write his perfect example on the board, and announce, “Me and Cicero would have put that!” Frequently, when leaving the class, he would remark, “My chariot awaits,” as he made for the door.
On one occasion, when we were, I think, in Lower V, Wally Marshall and I had a milk-drinking contest at morning break. You remember those one-third-of-a-pint bottles which were issued free to schools by an indulgent Welfare State? In the ten-minute break, Wally and I drank nine each. Neither of us was capable of taking another drop, so the contest was a draw. Unfortunately, immediately after the contest, we both rushed to the jakes, and were very sick, resulting in our being late into Joss’s class. We explained what had happened, and he addressed the class thus: “There is one bottle of milk provided for each child in this school, and these two SAVAGES have drunk eighteen between them!” Then, with a malignant grin, he sent us, unpunished, to our places.
Once we were being taught German by Bernard Howe in the Form IV Classroom; this was a large room on the 1st Floor of the old building, on the right of the entrance hall. It was divided into two classrooms by a concertina-type partition of wood and glass. Suddenly, there was an uproar from next door. The partition bulged as some heavy object was repeatedly pushed against it, accompanied by shouts and groans, and the sound of something or someone being struck by a blunt instrument, such as a crucifix. Howe stood, undecided, for a few seconds, then rushed to the connecting door between the two classes. As he entered, Joss O’Leary’s voice was heard, “It’s alright, Mister Howe; I’m just battering this boy!”
He taught us Maths for a couple of years, and taught us well. He also exhorted us to stay on after the age of 15, which was the earliest leaving age in those days, and to persevere with our GCE ‘O’ Levels, rather than being seduced by the possibility of earning wages at some dead-end job. His favourite saying was that when we went for any kind of worthwhile job or career, the interviewer would ask, “Where is your parchment.” Those without a ‘parchment’ would be cast into the outer darkness. Indeed, many of us were under the impression that, when we knocked at the Pearly Gates, Saint Peter would also demand, “Where is your parchment?” before admitting or denying us entry.
He used to smoke cigarettes, surreptitiously, near the groundsman’s shed, and if seen by a pupil, would remark, “He (meaning the Head, who at that time was Bro. Dolan, known as ‘Gandhi,’) says I’m not to smoke, but I don’t give a fig for him.” I liked the old devil. Gandhi followed Pecker as Head. He was tall and ascetic-looking, and was a buffoon.
In Lower V, we were subjected to a Brother from the American Colonies, Brother Taylor, alias ‘The Yank,’ or ‘Pippin.’ He taught Latin, and was totally daft. He called us, ‘Yahoos,’ accused us of never opening our mouths when speaking, and stated that we ‘gave him the Pip,’ hence the epithet, ‘Pippin.’ He was ever ready to attribute any of our failings to some sort of latent sexual deviance, but fortunately didn’t last long. Perhaps he was seconded to the Vatican.
Chris Hassett, a Lay Master, a pleasant little Irishman, taught English, with the aid of a steel ruler, with which he rapped us over the knuckles. He was followed, in the Fifth Form, by Brother Hooper, an Englishman. He was urbane, capable and a fine teacher. In the Sixth Form, an excellent Layman, whose name I have forgotten, performed the same task, and performed it superbly.
For a short time, however, Sixth Form English was taught (if such a term may be used) by a supply teacher, a Mr. Scholes. He was a complete alcoholic, frequently seen lurking behind some piece of furniture or corner of a corridor, slurping surreptitiously from a flask. He would stumble into class, lurch into his desk, mutter, “Get on, get on,” and gaze blearily into space. Now, at this time, we were in the Library, which doubled as the Upper Sixth Mods classroom. The subterranean passage, which was referred to by David Henry in his reminiscences, was known to us as, ‘Chad Valley.’ We assumed that the name referred to the well-known toy-makers and book publishers, but it may be that David Henry’s nickname had something to do with it. In our day, it was rumoured to be the entrance to a secret passage leading to the ‘Number Four’ pub on the other side of Newton Drive or by the more scurrilous of us, to the Nuns’ Dormitories at Layton Hill Convent. There was a comedian, Dave Royle, who wasn’t in the English class, and had a free period whenever poor old Scholes was with us. We persuaded Dave to go into Chad Valley with his violin and to emerge like a Jack-in-the-Box, fling open the double doors of the press, play a few bars, and disappear, slamming the doors after him. Well, Scholes asked what the Devil was going on, we denied hearing or seeing anything, and the poor old bugger thought it was part of his DTs. This was done a few times, and we finally confessed that it could be the ghost of a Christian Brother who had drunk himself to death after pawning his violin for drink. Scholes left after one term. Cruel? Maybe, but we had ‘A’ Levels to pass, and couldn’t afford a wasted year.
History was taught initially by a Mr. Melling, armed with the sole of a gym shoe, but he was replaced by ‘Solly’ Coombes, a perfect gentleman, attired in a morning coat and striped trousers, who couldn’t keep order to save his life, but taught History in an easily-assimilated and interesting manner.
Another person on our stage was ‘Chippy’ Burns, a malicious and anti-British Brother, who taught Chemistry. Small, dark, and evil, he had somehow lost the edges of his ears (hence ‘Chippy’). Perhaps it was due to frostbite whilst he was in the IRA and was hiding up in winter from the forces of law and order.
Physics was down to ‘Oscar’ Slater, a pompous fellow, who, on discovering a boy imprisoned in a fume-cupboard in his laboratory (I could name him, but it wouldn’t be fair), simply asked, “What on earth are you doing in there, boy,”
Chemistry at initial level was taught by Jim McGrath who, long after we had left, became Deputy Head. He was alright.
General Science in the early stages was taught by a Lay-Master, Paddy McGee (‘Maurice Many Fingers’), a pillar of his local church, Grand Knight of the Knights of St. Columba, and molester of small boys if he got the chance.
The only other pervert was a Brother Phelan (‘Joe Tubb’) whose MO was to feel boys’ thighs “to determine if they would be good at Rugby.” He taught Maths, and would sidle alongside one during a lesson, ostensibly to examine one’s work. He quickly fell to examining one’s short-trousered inside-thigh. I discouraged him, and McGee, by accidentally dropping my mathematics compass and impaling their hands.
In fairness, despite the bad press of the Christian Brothers in Ireland, Australia, Canada and England, my personal experience is of one Lay Master and one Brother, and each easily put in his place.
PE, as it was then known was the kingdom of Alf Pope, a large and ignorant churl, who played cricket for the Blackpool Cricket Club. He looked like an extra from ‘Anna and the King of Siam,’ you know, the one who stood, bare-chested, in baggy trousers, resting on a scimitar reversed, waiting for someone to shout, “Off with his head!”
Terry McGreevy referred to the incident with the shot, in the string-instrument basement. The violin master’s name was Kaye-Perry. He used to whip one’s ear with the bow of a violin-string adjacent to head when roused, and had no sense of humour. The shot in question was used more than once, and was christened, ‘Pebble-O.’ A ditty was devised, based on the then-popular song, ‘Pablo the Fisherman,’ but in honour of ‘Pebble-O.’
Stuart McKenna tells of his loss of teeth at Rugby. I took him from the stricken field to Blackpool Victoria Hospital on the back of my motor-bike, the one which nearly led to my extinction in November, 1957. Incidentally, Stuart’s cousin, Ian McKenna, was my best man when I married in 1964. I last heard of him when he had just returned to the UK from South Africa, but I’ve lost track now.
One last reminiscence. Does anyone remember the Phantom A***hole? It was about 1955, when human faeces began to be found in various places around the interior of the school building. A streamer of toilet-paper would appear at the window of the jakes in the ‘New Building,’ and this would proclaim that ‘the Phantom has struck again.’ It continued spasmodically over a period of weeks, if not months. The culprit was never found, and even the pupils had no idea who was responsible. Many random suspects were named, but all without any evidence. If anyone knows the answer, please declare – though perhaps it couldn’t be published. It certainly exercised the minds of the entire school at the time.
My elder brother, Terry, was also a St. Joe’s boy. He was 15 years older than I, and attended the school in the 1930s. He got his feet wet on 6th June, 1944, when, as a Royal Marine, he landed on King Red Beach, Gold Sector, at Ver-sur-Mer. He survived, rejoined the Marines in 1951, served to Pension, and died of a heart-attack at the age of 46.
My eldest son, Giles, was in the last true Grammar School intake, as the school prepared to become a Sixth Form College. That was in 1976. After clearing mines in the Falkland Islands, as a Royal Engineer, he ended up with a degree in Physics and became Deputy Head of a large comprehensive in Lincolnshire.
As to myself, I have led a varied existence, in England, New Zealand, West Cork, and now France. My St. Joe’s education has enabled me to enjoy a full life, and I still enjoy reading English, French and German literature. I am grateful to the school, and sad to see its demolition.
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