The Preparatory School and Form 1
My first recollection of St. Josephs (aka Joe’s Jailhouse) dates from a Saturday morning in the spring or early summer of 1956. I’d been taken to the college by my father where I was to be assessed by Brother Dolan as to my suitability for entry into the Preparatory School. For my part the ‘interview’ consisted of a handful of questions designed to test my competency in mental arithmetic. ‘How many 2½d KitKat bars can you buy for half a crown?’ and ‘What change would you get from half a crown if you bought four 5d bars?’ I think I accounted for myself fairly well and moved on to the second part of the screening process some weeks later. On that occasion I found myself seated with a large group of boys at tables in what I later learned was the dining hall located above the gymnasium. The person directing operations was Mr. McGrahan. As part of our assessment we were asked to write a composition. This word ‘composition’ rather baffled me and after some hesitation I raised my hand and asked ‘What is a composition?’ To this, Mr. McGrahan provided an answer which I didn’t fully understand. Nevertheless, I proceeded to write ‘I live in a house. I have a dog. The dog lives in the house.’ Barring probable spelling mistakes that was the sum of it. Needless to say, I was not admitted to Preparatory B in 1956. But in 1957, I was a little better prepared. The same or similar questions about KitKat bars were asked and I batted them away quite easily. And when it came time to write a composition, I was able to pen a well-rehearsed version of Aesop’s The Boy Who Cried Wolf. The latter obviously impressed Mr. McGrahan and Co., and in September 1957 I was admitted to Preparatory B.

Except for gazing out the window and watching a third floor being added to the science block and inhaling the fumes from hot bitumen being applied to its roof, I don’t recall much of my days spent in Preparatory B or the next year in Preparatory A, except that they were trouble free days. That said, I clearly remember Mr. Lynskey our form master. He was a rather elderly gentleman who sported a full set of jowls and a wooden leg. I best remember him seated at the front of the classroom on a raised chair which seemed to me to be part high chair and part pulpit. It was from this perch that on several occasions he recited his party piece. ‘Alpha, beta, gamma, delta…omega.’ Mr. Lynskey obviously had a thing about the classical world of the Greeks. Presumably, this reflected something of his education as a student or training as a teacher. For our class reader he selected nothing less than Homer’s The Iliad. Admittedly, it was an English language translation of the great epic poem. Nevertheless, it was a valiant attempt to instil some rudiment of a classical education in the minds and souls of young savages.

Before advancing to Form 1 we had been advised that lessons would become more difficult and that more would be expected of us. It also meant a reacquaintance with Mr. McGrahan who would be our form master. The belief was that Jolly Jim McGrahan was a tough nut. But that fear was unfounded and the schoolwork seemed very manageable. At the end of the year Mr. McGrahan signed my report with the comment ‘I am very pleased with Bernard’s work. He has been a pleasure to teach. He seems to do well in exams and obtain better results than one expects. Position in class 5th of 36.’ Unfortunately, that was the last of my good reports until the Lower Sixth. On leaving Form 1 and with success in the 11 Plus under my belt, I headed for Form 2A. Matters were about to become very different.

The Middle School: Five Tumultuous Years
After three quite pleasant years in the Preparatory School and Form 1, my progress came to an abrupt halt in Form 2A from where I was demoted to Form 2B at the end of the first term. I then spent the next four years firmly entrenched at the bottom of the B stream. Simply put, I was not prepared for the challenge of studying four new subjects—French, Latin, Physics and Chemistry—and reacted badly. I imagine many boys in the B and C streams had similar experiences.

The Place of Religion in the Curriculum
Anyone unfamiliar with the daily regime at St. Joe’s might have assumed that a major part of it was dedicated to matters religious. This was not so, and a good thing too. The half hour between noon and 12:30 PM was set aside each day for the form master to meet with his form. If religious instruction was given at all, it was during this period. But as I recall, it formed a very minor part of the half hour. By the time I’d reached the Upper Fifth school, assemblies had been introduced. These took place each Friday morning in the dining hall immediately before lessons started. The assemblies lasted for perhaps ten minutes at most and were directed by Brother Mulligan, the new headmaster. Most of the time he focused on instilling discipline and pointing out the errors of our ways, the most egregious of which was failing to wear the school uniform. In a sense this was manna from heaven for it led to boys mocking Mulligan’s brogue with such quips as "Some boys are not wearing the school sock (substitute tie, blazer, gabardine, etcetera). Well that’s alright for lorry drivers, but you are the elite." Assembly would finish with a short prayer and then we would all hurry out.

The nearest the school came to any collective religious display was on the occasion of three funerals or remembrance services that took place during my ten years at the school. The first of these was for Mr. Lynskey who ascended to join the Greek gods in 1960. We were all marched two abreast to St. Kentigern’s Parish Church for the service with prefects or teachers patrolling the crossing of Beech Avenue. The other funerals or commemorative services were for two students, neither of whom I knew.

Not being a boarding student, I don’t know what arrangements were made for religious devotion on Sundays. Maybe the boarders were marched down to St. Kentigern’s but more likely a priest from the church would have visited the school and performed mass in its chapel. During my time at St. Joe’s I visited the chapel on numerous occasions, each time for a few minutes over lunch time, and always alone. This was not because of any religious zeal on my part, heavens no. I don’t remember saying a single prayer. Rather the chapel was a place of calm where one could collect one’s thoughts and perhaps admire the stain glass windows. It felt like a positive thing to do.

Rugby: The True Faith
I recall participating in several sports at St. Joe’s. These started in the Preparatory School with a game akin to cricket or rounders which went by the rather odiferous name of stoolball. At the time our vocabularies were probably too limited to recognize the comic potential this offered. Sports took on a greater significance by the time I reached Form 2. There was cross country running, athletics, cricket, PE lessons which I greatly enjoyed and, of course, rugby. I participated in all, but was most keen to play rugby. No doubt this was largely because my grandfather was a director of a professional rugby league team (no, not Blackpool Borough), and as a favoured grandson I was frequently treated to a seat in the director’s box to watch home matches and on some occasions travelled with the team to away games. For about three years I thoroughly enjoyed playing the game despite the frequently flooded playing fields at Staining, the after-school practices and strategy meetings that meant getting home late, plus the chore of washing my muddy kit and getting it sufficiently dry for games on weekends. There was also the loss of Saturdays especially if away games were scheduled. I was a reasonably good player and was awarded my colours after playing in the Under 14s, although that year’s profile in the school magazine was not without criticism of my style of play: ‘There were days when you would not ask for a better scrum half and there were days when he was completely off form. He has the habit of turning his back to the line when he is kicking for it. Yet he was awarded his colours deservedly for the heroic work he executed in some titanic struggles.’ Today, on reading the first part of this comment I just wonder whatever happened to the coaching. And if the latter part of the statement sounds a bit OTT, I can assure you that nearly all who played were described in similar glowing terms. Kevin Byrne, for example, who eventually replaced me as scrum half, was described ‘the tiniest “man” on the side but…the key man of the XV. He is a very versatile player with an uncanny sense of anticipation. He tackles in real textbook style and deputises with great effect for the scrum half at the right moment. He was awarded his colours.’

My rugby career essentially came to an end by about the time I reached the Upper Fifth. By that time, I had no interest in the game and was playing less and less often. Other boys, like Kevin, were either more talented than I was or simply more dedicated to playing. I didn’t envy them one bit. On one of the last times I played in an away game, I had not expected to be selected and had arranged to attend a Saturday morning presentation at a teacher training college or similar institution in Poulton. I asked to be excused so that I could attend the presentation, but was refused. Well, that did it for me. I attended part of the presentation, left early and arrived at the school to catch the coach not in school uniform but dressed in my green corduroy jacket, red shirt and brown suede tie. I dare say I was also wearing a pair of pants. Brother Ryan (aka WXR) was not pleased. I don’t recall playing after that for several months when out of the blue WXR asked me to play in an away game for the school’s First XV against Bolton Grammar School. Then it happened. It was a hard game and about midway through the first half we were getting the worst of it. As scrum half I was standing close to the line out when I caught a blow in the face. I don’t know if it was deliberate or accidental or whether it was from an opposition player or one of my team mates. Also, poor positional play on my part might have been a contributing factor. From the sideline WXR urged "play on Thraves" but I knew immediately that I was in no shape to continue. I took myself off the field and found my way to the showers. They were cold, and I gave up in frustration trying to operate the temperature dial. It was all I could do to hold myself together. I felt utterly miserable.

In time the game finished. I don’t think substitutions were allowed in those days, if indeed we travelled with one. I’ve no idea of the final score but I’m sure we were routed. On leaving Bolton some of the other boys managed to convince WXR to stop the coach and head for a hospital. I suppose that a fractured cheekbone is normally a fairly minor injury, but I was obviously in a state of shock. Consequently, I spent two nights in Royal Bolton Hospital where for the first time in my life I ‘fell in love’ with a nurse. I imagine many former pupils will have had a similar experience at least once in their lives. On the Monday following the game, I was transferred to Blackpool Victoria Hospital where they finished patching me up. My mother visited me, as did WXR bearing a bowl of fruit. Apparently, I was not polite. Some months later WXR approached me on the path between Mr. Barber’s (aka Ali Baba) art room and the gymnasium. The conversation went like this. WXR: "Thraves you should be playing rugby again." Thraves: "I am. I’m playing for the Old Boys." Nothing more was said. It was true. I was playing with the likes of the phenomenally talented John Oswell and Tom Kelly. What’s more I was enjoying a pint after the game. It was 1967, and once the season ended, I never donned the boots again until I made a comeback 20 years later playing a season for the Regina Condors in Canada. But that’s another story.

Pole Vaulting
At some point in the early 1960s, the school participated a sporting event held in the circus ring beneath Blackpool Tower. St. Joe’s contribution to the Cavalcade of Sport was a display of pole vaulting. This involved senior boys racing in from outside the ring and attempting to vault over a crossbar set on uprights in the middle of the ring. Meanwhile as one of several younger boys our part involved using short wooden poles to vault around the perimeter of the ring as if crossing multiple streams. The main attraction of the evening was a display by four grown men—Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse, Stanley Matthews and Jimmy Armfield (or possibly Stanley Mortensen)—of mutually consented brain battering thinly disguised as an exhibition of heading a football. But back to pole vaulting. St Joe’s was noted for its pole vaulting programme, or so I understood. My interest in the activity lasted for about two years. This was long enough to collect a small trophy at one of the annual sports days, and to also receive something of more lasting impression namely a nasty gash in my left knee from some metal or glass object buried in the sand pit. My pole-vaulting achievements never exceeded 7 feet, but some senior boys could clear stratospheric heights exceeding 10 feet. This doesn’t sound much by today’s standards, but remember this was in the days before whippy fibreglass poles and deep foam cushioning in the landing zone. Just imagine it’s Sports Day and you are competing in the pole vault. It’s raining and you are soaked to the skin. Despite your discomfort, you psyche yourself up and launch into a suicidal dash down the runway, to plant your pole and lever yourself into the air and over the bar. Unfortunately, some part of your body brushes the bar, dislodges it, and you must try again. If you are lucky you fail three times at a low or intermediate height and are quickly eliminated from the competition. There is disappointment at failure of course, but hopefully relief at having survived without injury. But if you have succeeded in clearing the bar, it is raised and you are allotted three more vaults. Three more chances to land in a crumpled mess with the wind knocked out of you and the dislodged bar and your vaulting pole wrapped around various parts of your anatomy. Presumably, however, this was all good training and character-building stuff in case in later life one had to improvise an escape from some POW camp.

English Lessons
Of all the teachers whose name was set for playful mockery, Mr. Burke must have been a prime candidate. Strangely then that I never heard him referred to as anything other than Mr. Burke. Unlike all other teachers he was always seen wearing a suit—a blue suit. I was in Form 4B when he came to the classroom one day where a lesson was in progress and, in what seemed a random manner, pointed to about six or eight boys, of whom I was one. We were then asked to accompany him to another part of the school. As we walked along the aforementioned path by Ali Baba’s, I imagined we were destined for some kind of treat, or at very least we were getting out of the classroom on a bright and sunny day. However, this optimism was short lived. Instead, we were taken to a ground floor classroom in the science block where we were joined by a similar number of boys from Form 4C. In scanning their faces, I concluded that they were not the brightest of individuals and I was now part of their company. In effect we were now the new Form 4D. This arrangement lasted for at least two years and perhaps up to the time of our O-levels. It is only in recent years that I have reached a quite different assessment of Mr. Burke’s random selection. I now imagine that the school had determined that it was of the utmost importance that boys gained a good level of proficiency in English Language and Literature, and had decided that extra resources should be applied in this area. The more I reflect on this, the more I am convinced of it. So, someone somewhere had their thinking cap on, and maybe we were not a class of ‘thickies’ after all. Mr. Burke was a good teacher and is fondly remembered.

Music Lessons
Music lessons formed a regular part of the curriculum for several years during my time in the Preparatory and Middle Schools. However, my recollections of them are scant. Further, I had no interest in learning to play a musical instrument even if the opportunity had been provided—which it wasn’t. Music lessons in the Preparatory School were provided by Brother Anthony and these took place in a dimly lit basement room below the brothers’ residence. The content of the lessons is long forgotten but I do remember something of Brother Anthony’s personality for he was short in both stature and patience, and because of the latter, he was prone to reach for his strap all too often. Unfortunately for Brother Anthony, his strapping technique was totally ineffective. First, his strap was no more lethal than a feather duster. Second, in administering punishment he would frequently miss hitting your hand with the result that most blows ended up buried in his cassock. Brother Anthony’s stint at St. Joe’s was short lived. It was rumoured that his departure was triggered by some kind of breakdown. If so, perhaps our inattention during his lessons was a contributing factor in his ill heath. Poor man.

My other memory of music lessons is of those conducted by Brother O’Brien on the stage at the north end of the dining hall. Typically, O’Brien would play some classical music—perhaps a piece by Tschaikovsky or Beethoven, or by the progenitor of rap music, J. S. Bach. Unfortunately, all this talk about concertos and sonatas was lost on me. On one occasion O’Brien set about recruiting for his choir by asking each boy in turn to sing a few notes. We were then assigned to one of several groups and instructed to attend a choir meeting for further instruction. Well, I was having none of this sissy singing nonsense and I did not attend the meeting. Nothing became of my absence, but for the remaining lessons of that term I kept my head down just in case.

Sex Education
In short, there was none. Actually, there was a little and this came in two parts. First, it was the custom at the start of each academic year to move to a new classroom and ‘inherit’ the books of the boy who had previously occupied your new desk. It must have been in Form 3 on the first day of the autumn term when I open my desk, ruffled through the books and found one on biology. As I picked it up the pages fell open on two diagrams of the human body, one male and one female, and, best of all, it showed all the naughty bits. Unfortunately, I never got to study biology in that year or any other. It seems that the secrets of the human body and other life forms were reserved for boys in the A stream. This was an opportunity lost to the world as in Form 1, I once came top of the class in no less a subject than Nature Study.

The second lesson in sex education came about two years later. Mr. Peter (aka Pierre) Lavin was our form master. Presumably, the word had come down from on high that it was now time for the boys to be counselled on sexual relationships. All I can remember of the lesson was Lavin stating that ‘sex in the right context was alright’ whilst at the same time motioning with his hands as if playing a piano accordion. That was it.

School Dinners
After allowing for absences from school because of illness or truancy, I estimate that I consumed approximately 1,850 school dinners during my ten years at St. Joe’s. Little wonder then that despite the passage of more than 50 years since I last queued for my bowl of stew or plate of apple crumble and custard my brain can still simulate their taste and texture. I can also remember the daily offerings. Invariably, Thursday’s offering was the aforementioned stew followed by jam roly-poly, better known to all as fat man’s knob. On Fridays, of course, it was fish and chips or perhaps beans and chips either of which would be followed by gooseberries and custard. Except for the occasional goldfish (lens of unincorporated powder) found marooned in the custard, I found school dinners quite palatable and would often join the rush for seconds if and when they became available.

Despite the above, partaking of school dinners was not without risk. The cook went by the name of Ma Coakley. I have an indelible image of her shouting some half intelligible instruction whilst shuffling across the kitchen brandishing a ladle or spatula as if intent on smiting one of the dinner ladies, or perhaps the boy on custard ladling duty. Neither were teachers monitoring dining hall behaviour or policing the slops pail exempt from her admonishments. Away from the dining hall, perhaps Ma Coakley was a wonderful soul with a heart of gold. But for me she personified witchery and if she was around, I would approach the service hatch with a degree of trepidation taking care not to fall foul of some unintended transgression. And that’s how our relationship endured until my very last day at St. Joe’s.

The Playground
I remember participating in games of football in the school playground, although this is not strictly correct as we played with a tennis ball. On one occasion after kicking the ball my right shoe flew off and became momentarily perched half way through a window pane of the classroom situated below the chapel. Mercifully, it then dropped to the playground below. I distinctly remember the shoe in question. It was a 7½ black Grenson slip on, or rather a slip off on this occasion. I’m tempted to think that if WXR had witnessed the incident he would have urged me to "play on Thraves."

My other major playground memory is of teaming up with Tony ‘The Tiger’ Konieczek for a game which involved one boy mounting another as a knight might mount a horse and then waging war on two similarly paired boys. The object of the game was to unhorse your opponent knight by fair means or foul. As an amply built second row forward, Tony provided the mount and I acted as the knight. Together we were a fearsome pair. We never lost a joust, and nobody got hurt. I understand this type of harmless fun along with conkers is verboten in today’s school playgrounds. What a pity.

Classroom Behaviour
In many lessons I was not the most attentive of pupils. I remember spending a great deal of time perfecting my technique of making paper pellets, and, with the aid of a rubber band, firing them to all corners of the classroom with deadly accuracy. Thwack! Of course, I was not the only boy engaged in such activity and we had a good role model to emulate. Mr. McKenna, better known as Mucker or Macca, was our Latin teacher. He was a bright and cheerful type but I now wonder what job satisfaction he experienced from trying to instil a classical language into the likes of Form 3B boys. I never saw Mucker produce a strap. Instead, he came armed with a tube of linoleum or similar material about the size of a corona cigar. This he would wing across the classroom at any boy who was being particularly disruptive or perhaps asleep. His aim was deadly and delighted all, except perhaps the recipient of his accuracy.

In the three or four years I ‘studied’ Latin I learned virtually nothing. It was my choice and a mistake that I regret somewhat. At very least, had I been more diligent perhaps I would better appreciate the scene from The Life of Brian where the Roman centurion (John Cleese) chastises Brian (Graham Chapman) for the errors in his graffiti. As with much of Monty Python, the scene is straight out of a classroom of the 1960s. Alas, all I remember of my Latin lessons is that tandem translated as ‘at length’ and I presumed, and still do, that this had something to do with bicycles made for two persons. That was good enough for me.

Another of my time wasting activities involved doodling. However, part of this time was well spent. I remember drafting endless copies of glaciated alpine landscapes complete with pyramidal peaks, nunataks, aretes, hanging valleys and waterfalls, and various types of moraine. Indeed, every kind of feature. I can’t remember, but I’m sure I must have reproduced the same to good effect in exams. Strange then that many years later I would find a career as a human geographer rather than a physical geographer.

Harsh Punishment
Perhaps I was lucky as unlike some boys I was rarely singled out for harsh punishment. Also, I can see little to be gained from dwelling on the questionable acts of teachers who have passed on and cannot be present to give their side of the story. Elsewhere in these Memories much has been said about Brother O’Brien (aka OB or CLOB), and whilst it is true that he had a fearsome reputation, I saw little or none of it. Instead, I remember him as a person of stern disposition who was prone to smile a great deal. He was my form master in the Upper Fifth and we got along just fine despite him noting that the 18% I scored in my end of year religious knowledge exam was ‘disturbing.’ Having said this, there was one teacher who made my schooldays quite unpleasant for a period of about two years. I shall not name him. Rather I would prefer to think that had we met in later years it would have been on cordial terms and we would have enjoyed a beverage or two together. Mind you, it would have been better still had he picked up the tab.

The strap was used quite frequently by some brothers and lay teachers, but by others seldom or never at all as far as I could tell. By the disciplinary standards of the day we knew what the penalties for misbehaviour could be, and I think we knew which teachers to push and which not to. Also, it was known which teachers possessed a particularly lethal instrument although they themselves may have used it rarely. I remember on several occasions being dismissed from class in the middle of a lesson and being sent to find Mr. So-on-So and ‘fetch his strap.’ Of course, I never went in search of the said teacher and instead returned to the classroom just in time for the next lesson. On reflection, this was a good strategy for dealing with a disruptive pupil whilst avoiding the prospect of corporal punishment. Whatever incident triggered the dismissal, it was effectively dealt with and both the teacher and boy moved on. In contrast, in modern schooling it seems that all and every type of incident is reported and recorded, and sanctions applied. It keeps the school administrators busy and the teachers even busier.

School Reports
The thing about school reports is that they reveal as much about the teacher writing summary comments on the report as they do about the pupil. I still have all my school reports bar one and almost all from the Middle School make for depressing reading. From Form 2B in spring 1961: ‘Gives impression of being capable of much better but too lazy to do so. Position in class 31st of 34.’ Well thanks a lot! That’s a real confidence booster. Or, from the Lower Fifth in autumn 1963 ‘Making things hard for himself through his truculent, [and] grudging attitude to teachers in general. They want him to pass—but not on his terms! Let’s be more helpful and cooperative, shall we?’ C’mon, I was never that bad. Moreover, had this strap happy teacher who served as my form master for two years chosen a different profession, then very likely I would have been happier, more engaged and less likely to have played truant. In contrast to these woes, by the time I reached the Lower Sixth my school reports started to show some improvement. It was now noted that I was ‘Interested in [my] work’ and that ‘[he] Does his best.’ Somewhat worryingly, however, these assessments were made for a person who went by the name of Michael Thraves. Presumably this was some long-lost brother who I have still yet to meet. The reports were signed by a Brother O’Sullivan, a person of whom I have absolutely no recollection. I can only imagine that I was now flying successfully under the radar and that the lack of recognition was consensual.

Absent from Exams
There came a point during Form 4 that the thought of sitting the end of term exams became unbearable. I was struggling in about half the subjects, and didn’t care to keep embarrassing myself. As a consequence, I started playing truant each time exams rolled around. This phase lasted for three terms. I remember setting out for school from Fleetwood by bus but on getting to Blackpool I would start walking back to Fleetwood along the seafront. A view of the seafront by Norbreck Hydro comes to mind as I recall this. On the last occasion I played truant, I wandered the lanes beyond Thornton close to the River Wyre. It was on that day that I was approached by a policeman who questioned me on my apparent absence from school. The fact that I was wearing my school uniform including the cap was perhaps a bit of a giveaway. I assured the policeman that the school had declared a holiday. But I was still worried about this encounter so about two hours later I turned myself in at the police station in Thornton. The desk sergeant didn’t seem too bothered. Perhaps he thought my confession somewhat hilarious, although he would not have shown it. But worse was to come. For the first time my end of term report indicated that I had been absent for most exams and that the marks given were estimates. On presenting the report to my parents they were less than pleased but did not impose any sanctions. I suppose they knew that I knew the game was up. My career as an aspiring fraudster had been nipped in the bud.

Subjects Failed
French was one of my weakest subjects and I got off to a bad start immediately on landing in Form 2A. Pierre Lavin was our teacher. Just about every day he would conduct a question and answer session for which a boy with a correct answer would be enthusiastically awarded a drapeau. These were small sticky backed paper flags about two-thirds the size of a standard postage stamp which we stuck on the inside front covers of our cahiers. At the end of the year I had managed to amass un grand total de quatre drapeaux. Placed side by side these stretched half way across one line of the inside cover of my cahier. In contrast, some of the budding linguists in the class had accumulated drapeaux extending the full length of their inside front covers and half way down the inside back covers of their cahiers. In compensation, I was awarded more vous êtes toqués and espèce d’idiot than they were. No, this was not the most appropriate way to introduce boys to a foreign language. Nul points, Monsieur Lavin.

The highest mark I ever received in an end of term French exam was 47%. Well, that’s not strictly correct. The given mark was 17%, but by the time I got my report home some minor miracle of transformation had taken place. In Form 4B, I once received a mark of ‘14%!!’ in Physics but was able to better that with ‘6%!!!’ in Chemistry. Presumably I reached this level of excellence by managing to attach the Bunsen burner hose to the water tap. Well, if nothing else it demonstrated an interest in experimentation. Oh, and then there was the 2% I once received in Latin. For a period of probably three years I drifted through school and learned virtually nothing. Neither did the curriculum seem to change much. Mathematics lessons in one year seemed much like mathematics lessons the previous year. Today, as the coronavirus does its worst, personnel in the education sector from the Education Secretary down the line to the lowliest new teaching recruit are concerned about the educational deficit the closure of schools will create. What a load of tosh! What is really at stake is the undeclared national childcare service that schools provide.

Card Sharps
It was in either Form 3 or Form 4 when Steve Houghton and Billy Wrigley seemed to spend any and all breaks between lessons playing three card brag, at which, as I was to learn, they were quite skilful. Steve was a member of an aspiring rock group, although I don’t think I ever knew its name. I admired him for this. If I was like other boys, and I dare say girls, of the 1960s much of our time was preoccupied by following the success and comparing the merits of various pop/rock groups. Who from that era doesn’t remember first hearing a particular recording and knowing instantly that it was destined for No. 1 in the charts? For me it was the Animals House of the Rising Sun. More to the point, does anyone know whatever became of Steve’s musical ambitions?

Three card brag was not the only card game I remember from my schooldays. It was probably when I was in Lower Fifth, and in the dog days of some term. Mr. Cartmell was our Physics teacher, but on this this day he was not reviewing the Laws of Thermodynamics. Instead, he was providing instruction to a small group of boys at the back of the classroom on quite a different game. I presumed it to be bridge. I never quite managed to grasp Physics although I gave it a reasonable shot. I suspect that outcome was the same for many boys. But on that day in the Lower Fifth a small group of boys was learning not just a simple card game but a social skill that they could carry forward into the rest of their lives. Well done Mr. Cartmell.

O-level Results
Unlike today where students gather at their schools to receive their GCSE and A-level results and are interviewed by the local media, in 1965 things were quite different. The first I knew of my O-level results was from the pages of the West Lancashire Evening Gazette. That is, at exactly the same time as the rest of the Fylde coast received the Earth-shattering news. Most unexpectedly I had managed to gain or ‘rag’ 5 O-level passes. Admittedly, most were with marginal grades, but I didn’t care. It seems Mr. McGrahan’s assessment of my abilities was correct after all.

I don’t recall any farewell address before leaving school for the last time after the O-level exams. No "Well-done boys. We wish you a bright and happy future." There were no celebrations. No farewells. Nothing. Not even a collective act of vandalism. Frankly, at the time the absence of any celebration did not seem unusual. It is only from having lived in Canada for much of my adult life, and where a great fuss is made of graduation from high school, that the absence of some form of celebration on finally leaving school seems odd. Maybe others have different recollections. Maybe I missed out on a big party somewhere? But then again, I don’t recall that I ever thanked a teacher for their dedication to my education and welfare, and that seems rather selfish of me. Perhaps parting with school is conducted with greater recognition and celebration these days? I certainly hope so.

The Sixth Form
After O-levels, I opted for the Sixth Form without any hesitation. On starting in the Lower Sixth, I was happy to see that Kevin Browne, Timothy Howe, Peter Isaacs, John Myers and Michael McGarry had also made the transition from Upper 5B, and Paul Wood had escaped from Upper 5C. What a hero! I think that without their company the Lower Sixth might have proved a fairly intimidating environment. Most of the class comprised boys from Upper 5A all of whom, I presumed, had a great stash of O-levels under their belts, and no doubt with very superior grades. Classroom seating was not assigned. Consciously or not, our little group sat in a defensive cluster in one corner of the classroom. A visiting psychologist would have had a field day.

Progress to the Lower Sixth meant that I could now wear a black blazer instead of the blue ones I’d been wearing for the previous eight years. My parents bought me the finest blazer they could find in Hunters, and my mother sewed the bright new school crest onto the left breast pocket. As a sixth former I was also entitled to wear a cap with a gold band fringing the base instead of red that identified boys in the Preparatory and Middle Schools. Unfortunately, my entry into the Lower Sixth coincided with a relaxation in the school’s uniform code whereby sixth formers were excused from wearing caps. This was somewhat disappointing as I had been looking forward to wearing the gold fringed cap as it looked rather smart and distinguished. On reflection, perhaps the relaxed uniform code had blunted my nascent elitism.

Of course, my progress to the Lower Sixth did not entirely curtail my rebelliousness. I remember distinctly an encounter with Brother Mulligan on the gloomily lit corridor outside the Lower Sixth. I was wearing a traditional seaman’s jumper that my mother had knitted. As a stickler for school uniform Mulligan was not at all impressed. I argued that the jumper was made from untreated wool and as such had special properties of insulation and weatherproofing. My defence fell on stony ground with Mulligan insisting that if I wanted to wear the jumper I should do so ‘under my shirt.’ My quick-fire response to this was that such dress would be ‘as ridiculous as wearing my underpants outside my trousers.’ The discussion ended at that point in a 1–1 draw, but I knew I was pushing it a bit and did stop wearing the jumper. Needless to say, later that year I was not selected to be a prefect, let alone Head Boy. Neither did I have the consolation of being appointed Bad Boy, although I would have thought that summonses to attend five Prefects Meetings—possibly a school record—during my schooldays would have made me an excellent candidate.

For my A-levels I studied Geography, History, English Literature and General Studies. The latter was chosen because some universities were prepared to accept a pass in the subject in lieu of a pass in a foreign language at O-level of which there wasn’t a snowball’s. Of the aforementioned subjects, English Literature gave me the greatest concern and still caused me the occasional nightmare for many years later. I never did find the time or interest to read the two Shakespeare plays we were assigned, Anthony and Cleopatra, and Richard II (or was it Henry IV Part 1). I seem to recall a line from the former in which ‘he ploughed her, and she cropped.’ I understood what that was all about, but beyond that my ability to interpret meaning in text was slight. The same was true of Milton’s Paradise Lost perhaps because I never read a word of it until, in panic, I tried to just few nights before the A-level exam. Shaw’s Major Barbara and Pygmalion were a little easier to digest, but the poems of T.S. Eliot were quite beyond the pale, and they probably still are. The only text I could properly manage was John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. It made an immediate and deep impression on me and perhaps for the first time in my life I realised that I was a sensate human being. In later years I would read other Steinbeck novels—The Pearl, Of Mice and Men, and Cannery Row (which I have visited)—and I still remember that ‘children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange.’ Powerful stuff.

Our English Literature teacher was Mr. Gaffney. I remember that he had the ability to flex his ears, or perhaps it was an affliction he had no control over. It was a cause of our amusement, although we dare not show it. At some point Mr. Gaffney organised a field trip to an arts festival in York where we were to see a production of Richard II or, again it could have been Henry IV Part 1. I really can’t remember which. Somehow on arriving in York I became detached from our group and found myself wandering around the city centre trying to make the most of it. I didn’t have the wherewithal to visit a pub of which there seemed to be many. Instead, I remember stopping at a white doorway where a sign read ‘Society of Friends.’ This sounded interesting and vaguely familiar, so I knocked on the door and was politely admitted. I next found myself seated in a room remarkably free of adornments and where I was provided with a brief history of the Quakers and their philosophy. The latter seemed to emphasise equality, mutual respect and freedom from doctrinal views. It was an insight into a different world. So, as an educational experience, the field trip to York was not entirely wasted. By the time I got back to the coach to join the other boys nobody had noticed my absence. Thanks.

My experience with History was a little better although I can’t remember exactly what period of British or European history we studied. I can only remember that one of our texts, perhaps some vast work by A.J.P. Taylor, was so thick it could easily have been switched with the Bible from the altar at St. Kentigern’s. I enjoyed learning about the Chartists and the social reforms and economic developments of the Victorian era, but was less keen on the political history. Shortly before the A-level exam, Mr. Charles went around the class reviewing our prospects for success. Again, these were the days before notions of confidentiality had been invented and, at the time, I didn’t think it unusual even if Mr. Charles was the only teacher to conduct such a review. So, each boy in turn was assigned his expected grade. Smith could expect this grade, Jones that grade. When it came to my turn Mr. Charles simply stated "I just don’t know Thraves. It all depends on your examiner." Fortunately, when the results were released it seems I had the same examiner as the Prince of Wales had the year before.

I can’t remember much about my geography lessons, perhaps because I managed the material with comparative ease. Moreover, I had an excellent teacher (see tribute to Tony Smailes). All through my schooldays geography had been the one straight arrow in my quiver, and I buried myself in the subject. But when it came time for the A-level exam, I blew it. My error was not reading a question carefully. Instead of assessing United States energy resources east (or was it west) of the Mississippi, I provided a rambling account which ranged from Atlantic to Pacific and back again. I knew immediately on leaving the examination room that I had written a poor paper. The result was predictable. I was awarded a grade of D. In a way it didn’t matter because based largely on my marginal O-level grades, I had received six rejections from the Universities Central Council on Admissions (UCCA). In later years I could recount my carelessness in cautioning my students, but at the time my only recourse was to re-sit the Geography A-level at Blackpool Technical College. Meanwhile I reapplied through UCCA to another set of six universities including Sheffield, which, to their loss, rejected me for a second time. Fortunately, this time around I received only five rejections. Queens Belfast had the good sense to offer me the lifeline of a waiting list, and when I received my A, I was happy to go. It was the autumn of 1968. The Troubles were just kicking off and the news was full of Peoples Democracy and Bernadette Devlin. It didn’t matter.

As with the completion of O-levels, A-level exams came and went without a flourish. No recognition was given to the fact that we had each reached a major crossroad in our lives. It seemed to me that everyone just drifted away. To this day I have never met or know of any boy with whom I completed the Sixth Form. Perhaps my experience is not that unusual. For those of us who went on to university, there was the prospect that new friends, relationships and obligations would take us far from Blackpool, or in my case Fleetwood, and lead to a weakening of ties with the once familiar environment and social realm of our youth. Fortunately, on the few occasions I have attended the annual dinners of the Old Boys Association, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with some old boys who, whilst they may not have been classmates, were my contemporaries and have shared many of the same experiences of life at St. Joe’s.

After leaving St. Joe’s I returned only twice, each time on a visit to the Fylde coast after hiking in the Lake District. On the first occasion, all seemed in order although I saw no evidence of a blue plaque to commemorate my schooldays. On my second visit, in the early 1990s, all had changed. The school had been wiped off the map and in its place a yuppie housing estate had been built complete with a phoney street name, The Cloisters. It made me feel strangely uneasy, even abused. Nobody had asked my permission. This erasing of my history and that of thousands of other boys seemed wrong. A great reference point had been snatched from our lives. It made me better appreciate why neighbourhoods fight to save their schools when faced with closure by education authorities and urban planners. But just maybe those living in The Cloisters will also have felt unsettled, and in a very real sense.

St. Joe’s was sited at the top of a modest hill, with two large playing fields occupying an upper and lower terrace to the east of the buildings and playground. In 1963, the brothers negotiated the receipt of demolition rubble from the Palace Theatre which had been located on the seafront immediately north of Blackpool Tower. The rubble was dumped on the lower terrace, which was then levelled to grade smoothly into the upper terrace. The site was landscaped and the all-important rugby field restored. Much of The Cloisters now occupies the same site. So, to my question. Did the builders clear the rubble before erecting the houses, and how stable are those footings? And if they’re not stable, do I really care? No.

When I reflect on life’s progress, I still think of myself as a boy from the bottom of the B form. I’ve long been comfortable with that history. Yes, I have some regrets. I should have been a more attentive and diligent pupil. But everything considered, St. Joe’s was a good school that gave me the basic tools to succeed in life although I may not have appreciated their relevance at the time. The school had some fine teachers many of whom showed me great patience.

And just in case you were wondering. No, I no longer live in a house with a dog.
One last Thing
Should any of my old classmates or school friends wish to contact me I can be found at I look forward to hearing from you. Take care.

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