CONTRIBUTION BY DAVID ROSE 1956/1967
'We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.' - Plato
St Joseph's? What a bizarre collation of witness the tales of all those thousands who passed in and out of that hallowed place might relate. Don't get me wrong. I am not of those who would look back and seek to attribute guilts and joys, failures or successes as they might be judged to the experience of that schooling. Neither am I one of those who might hold the methodologies of the mostly desperate people who became Christian Brothers as an Educational exemplar. It seems to me the atmosphere of the place combined with a limited conception of Catholicism to limit that challenge and growth which extends the range of a free and enquiring mind.
Lynskey and Dolan to Joe Snow and Mulligan. Eleven years. "You served a life-sentence” - anonymous Irishman. Shoulder of Mutton, Hebden Bridge, circa 1987. I hold a different view.
In my world, no-one spoke of it. Corporal punishment was understood to be extant in such times. Within that, the abuse by Brothers and some of their lay-teachers were extreme. Yet no-one spoke of it. The saddest thing my mother ever spoke to me in her last years was, suddenly out of context: “We never knew about the Christian Brothers.” Yet I do not accept that the wider Catholic community was entirely ignorant of the place. Our Boys. Remembrance. Silence.
At times the witness of violence and injustice can be more harrowing than the experience of the victim. We confuse and displace effect and cause in matters emotional. But for some of the less robust this place created a near-constant atmosphere of fear, resentment, a witness of madness. I have met several and still know one or two former pupils who yet carry the marks of that legacy. All underpinned by a blasphemous contradiction between love, forgiveness, free will and that fear (for some), the violence (for most) and promises of everlasting retribution for minor infringement.
I would still question the small-minded parochialism of some practitioners of Fylde Catholicism in the setting and governance of that school. I am sadly aware that, to some extent, such limited vision still has its influence. Not to forget the convenient blindness of the Bishops of that era. No-one spoke of it. "Cantemus et jubilaemus" somewhat tongue-in-cheek.
Who yet remembers Bishop Pearson's E-type Jaguar? Or his 1956 speech-day address about H-bombs on Liverpool and melting eyeballs in Blackpool?
Prep B. Mr Lynskey. 7 and 8 year-olds. Brown relatively thin strap and unfastened sports-jacket a size too small, perhaps. Beatings regularly administered for failing to show evidence of learning. Particularly where the catechism was concerned. And introducing Mr Priestly, determined to install a capacity for BBC Home Service English in place of accents from Wesham or Bacup. She sells seashells around the rugged rock chasing ragged rascals and pheasant pluckers.
Prep A revolt. Circa Spring 1958. Brother Anthony was a diminutive man. Not a subtle disciplinarian, he resorted to the strap rather too readily but it seemed to me that this was a gesture of despair. His strap was flexible and it was quickly understood that the combination of that flexibility and the energy of Anthony's downswing led to greater drama and noise than pain when inflicted. At the end of the stroke he would finish by striking his own robe around knee-level. In part as consequence of a recognition that the experience was less severe than appearances would suggest, a music lesson in the basement produced an opportunity for a strapping competition. Initially led by (I think) Paul(?) Moran and Paul Walker, the object was to get the greatest number of strikes from Brother Anthony. Several people joined in with the spirit of this venture of resistance and the lesson deteriorated into near non-stop stropping of hands, Anthony's face getting redder, his veins bulging. I haven't a clue what happened to Brother Anthony. Later reports of a nervous breakdown would fit but are unconfirmed.
Where there is no respect for the example, for the teaching within that, learning failure is inevitable.
Form 1. 58/59. For most, the 11-plus year. Kevin Hickey, later British Olympic Boxing coach, was set in charge of the class while still a Sixth former, to give him early teaching practice before he was to study to become a teacher (as I then understood). With no strap to hand, his own development of punishment methodology was the sharp application of a broad plastic ruler, edge on, to the knuckles. Mr Lavin (a big cheese for the Legion of Mary): 28 strokes of the strap administered in the corridor to one Gribbon (Tony?) of form 2B. Heard from 2A, next door. Claimed to speak a plethora of languages. Retrospectively seen as creepy.
Lower Vth. October 1962. The palpable tension of the Cuba crisis and the sound from one of the regular sonic booms over the Irish Sea led to half of the class diving under their desks. Bob Freeborough i.c. One of the most decent people in the place; there were a few beacons of light.
The trips to the Achille Ratti hut at Dunmail Raise were fun. Glorious or sodden days on the mountains. All piling out from an overloaded 12cwt Morris van on Hardknott Pass to push the vehicle whilst inhaling fumes from the clutch, then walking up after it before climbing Scafell the long way. No Risk Assessment there, then. 15 year-olds drinking Snakebite in the Swan at Grasmere (now the Wordsworth Hotel) and lurching their way back up the Raise. Ted Schools focal. Affirming my abiding affair with the English Lake District later extended to the mountains and waters of the far North-west of Scotland..
Chloroform and ether on a pad at the top of the Sixth Science staircase (in appreciation of Master Chadwick and others). Access to the Chemical lab of the Sixth form was a simple matter. Particularly with a co-operative lab technician who few might recall, but who had a penchant for fireworks and for Birds of Prey – one Saturday he brought along a Peregrine falcon which he had trained to Jess.
Joe Snow – Wait now. Carefully handling samples of Radioactive substances from thick- walled containers using tongs which were themselves radioactive after repeated contact with Alpha, Beta and Gamma emitters. Fiddly work, at times he would give up trying and pick up the Radioactive compounds with his fingers. A green Hercules bicycle regularly pedalled around the lanes by Staining. Another school song: “Joe Snow's touching up all the little boys, and he won't have to 'Wait now' any more”. Perhaps pejorative – I have no experience or witness to offer.
It was with somewhat mixed emotions when, driving up Newton Drive for the first time in years, accompanied by my children, I noticed that Holy Joe's had been almost entirely demolished. That evening proved profitable for Messrs Theakstons and the Old Pulteney Distillery.
Were you to ask your children what they recall as their own moments of resentment, of hurt, of love, you might find that all of those pieces of your own memory which harbour guilt or laughter are unremembered by them. Those which they might relate would take you by surprise. A similar argument can be applied to the histories from that school. The apparent condition of humanity is the constant encouragement of a denial of hope, but others will inform us of our recollection as selective, our certainties revealed as ephemera. I still resist the capitulation of the mind to false claims on authority, work in small ways against the abuses of authority. Now three months from a bus-pass, I retain an abiding and somewhat naïve insistence on liberties. That has its root in the experience of - as distinct from the teaching within - St Joseph's College. For this I remain grateful.
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