It probably comes as no surprise that I look back with affection to my years at St Joseph’s College. I can still almost smell the lower corridor, leading down to the gym, where much time was spent as a prefect, marshalling the lunch queue. I can still picture the scene from the Upper V rooms overlooking the playing fields. I can still hear the soft Irish tones of Bro J J Dowling, as he instilled a love of physics in us.

I believe I was blessed with a good education at St Joseph’s. We were, after all, the elite of the students of our year-groups, having passed the 11-plus. What was the figure – about a quarter only of the year groups went to grammar schools, and, of those, only about a quarter went onto University. A far cry from today, where opportunities are far better and standards overall are higher. It was clear from things that were said from the outset that we were expected to do well and to become eventually the “leaven in the lump”, particularly in Catholic circles, if not in the wider world. The ghetto mentality of the Church at the time has certainly disappeared, with some credit due to the Catholic school system.

From the start in Form 2, I enjoyed the lessons, on the whole, particularly the sciences. I remember Mr Jim McGrahan teaching us about moles, a quite fascinating insight into the world around us. English was never my best subject – successive teachers despaired of my essays and even my handwriting (it’s no better now). Latin – now there was something to get the teeth into. Amo, amas, amat and all that. Actually this language helped enormously in understanding English construction and French. It has also come in very useful on holiday, when visiting ancient churches and Roman antiquities. Brother Liddane, whose earlier career had been in the CB school in Darjeeling taught us the strange delights of algebra. Bro. Sullivan (geography) and Mr Bernard Howe (French and German) are all remembered. Those early years were great fun on the rugby field, maybe because I was one of the tallest boys on the field. Meeting the same teams each year gave us a sense of competition, with Arnold and Blackpool Grammar schools the main rivals, not to mention the CB schools from Merseyside. Interestingly I met up with two opponents from Arnold, G Norrie and M Lyons, at Uni and played in the same team. Again, it was Jim McGrahan who was our first rugby teacher. Looking back, it was the arts side which languished somewhat, at least compared to today’s schools. Areas such as fine arts, theatre and music were distinctly lacking, even though there was a school orchestra (I led it for a while – ho hum!!).

There were, of course, the various classroom “incidents”. I better not mention names of fellow pupils, but contemporaries will know who they were. Paper aeroplanes, a stink bomb, crashing desk lids, someone crawling underneath the back row to get to another desk, fish skin in slipper, ladybirds under the piano lid and occasionally a teacher losing his rag because of the disruption. Brother Dolan was head when I started, a tall austere figure as he wandered around the school. I guess we all respected him, though we never had any idea as to his leadership qualities, as these were beyond our comprehension. However, being sent to him for punishment was, I am told, something that one ought to avoid.

“Caps on, boys” was the cry as we left school, but for those of us who regularly cycled, even as far as Fleetwood (Billy Wright, Derek Sandwell and others), caps came off just round the corner. “Better not lose them, had we?”.

The Brothers did not stand still. They kept the fabric of the buildings in good order. They planned and watched over the development of the science block, the sports changing facilities and the new playing fields at Normoss, a major change after the two pitches by the school.

I sensed the standard of teaching improved as time went on. By the time we reached the 5th and 6th forms, we had new faces in front of us. Mr Bob Freeborough, Mr Ted Schools, Bro C J Sreenan, Bro. F X Ryan and Mr Crosby came in to give new life to departments. They encountered the old stagers like Mr “Oscar” Slater, Mr Le Brun and gentle old Bro O’Leary, all good teachers but of the old school. The 6th form opened up new avenues to explore – the Debating Society, where all students were encouraged to take their turns at speaking, the Science Society with its regular programme of outings, arranged usually by ourselves, to UKAEA at Salwick, to Pilkington’s in St Helen’s, to the Fish Dock in Fleetwood (not so naff as it sounds!) and elsewhere. The regular arrival of such journals as Scientific American and New Scientist helped to develop in us a wide interest in the scientific world. The Science 6th was more popular that the Arts, though the Arts had the better and more vociferous speakers – Tom McNally, Chris Walmsley and Dave (?) Mulholland, who all stood later for Parliament, Tom successfully. Oh, and the 6th form classrooms did overlook the playing fields of Collegiate Girls school, not that we were really interested – heads down with our homework and science experiments, etc!!

I lost touch with my contemporaries for 40 years, except for my brother John, until a glance at Friends Reunited and an exchange of emails. Of course, we all went our separate ways, different universities and jobs. I think I was the only one who went to Leeds that year. Chris Pownall, with whom I competed for class prizes, worked in ICI all the time I was with another part of ICI. Friends from those days, both in class and on the rugby field, included Adrian Dunn, Frank Cornwell, Bob Shawcross, David Elder, Terry Egerton, Peter Ellwood and many others, all now “retired” (except David, who is parish priest in Garstang). The Old Boys Dinner is where you meet them all again (and the Queens Hotel for a couple of jars beforehand).

From St Joseph’s, I went to Leeds, studied Maths and Physics and took an MSc in Electronic Computation (paper tape, Fortran programming and all). 26 very good years at ICI followed a year teaching abroad. Then I took a year off to take an MA in Development Studies at Leeds (even got a student railcard!) and then worked for Christian Aid for 6 years, representing the charity in North Yorkshire, God’s own country.

All in all, happy days, fondly remembered. I suppose it is the onset of aging that one begins to find time to remember the past and seek to fit it in to the present. Not only have ones children passed through the system successfully (3 are teachers and one is converting to it), but also ones grandchildren are even now lapping up the wonders of education with enthusiasm. A good start in life was what we got at St Joseph’s, with many ups and occasional downs. I am very grateful for it all.

Best wishes to all.

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