“I want to show you something,” my father said as we turned left in the vicinity of North Pier and headed away from the promenade. A few minutes later we were on Newton Drive and Dad parked the car outside of the gates of my old school. The gate-posts looked familiar but what I saw beyond them was new to me. It was January 1995 and I was in Blackpool, in fact in England, for the first time for thirteen years. I had heard that St. Joe’s College had closed but was unaware that the actual buildings had also disappeared. The original house, the new face-brick and glass block, which was only officially opened during my time at the College, and the playing fields had all given way for what looked like quite an up-market housing-estate. I thought of the thousands of boys, with millions of memories, who had walked through those gates and trekked up that steep driveway. I felt quite sad.

During that visit to the UK, my brother-in-law, who is also a Joe’s old-boy, showed me a tie and asked if I knew what it was. I instantly recognised the school badge. He said it was the tie of the Old Boys Association and he gave it to me. We didn’t discuss the demolition of the school or the Old Boys Association, but I, obviously incorrectly, assumed that that organisation had also closed its doors.

In December 2010, nearly fifteen years later, I was in my office in Johannesburg and, for some inexplicable reason, suddenly decided to Google ‘St. Joseph’s College, Blackpool’. I was expecting to find either nothing at all or else reference to a Christian Brothers’ College, with the date that it had opened and the date that it had closed. Instead I was pleasantly surprised to find all sorts of information and many photographs which certainly brought back memories.

I was at Joe’s in the nineteen-sixties and later was a member of Blackpool Old Josephians RUFC for whom I played during the late sixties and early seventies. I was pleased to find on the website, information about both the school itself and Old Josephians.

Scrolling across those long school photographs showing the staff and all the boys I was amazed how many faces I was able to recognise and put names to. One of these was Paul Sloane. I later noticed an article about Paul and I realised that I would’ve been unable to recognise him now. I only knew what he looked liked in the sixties. (Now we are in our sixties!) This, I‘m sure, would be the same for many others. I have therefore included a ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ photograph of myself to prove my point.

So, what do I remember about my time at Joe’s? The first things that spring to mind are the inane statements and meaningless comments from teachers (usually Brothers) that we enjoyed so much:
“Three -quarters of the boys in this class are lazy and the other half just plain stupid, uh!”
The exclamation at the end of this mathematically-impossible statement leaves no doubt as to the identity of the Brother involved. Of all the silly written comments I received over the years about my homework, my favourite was: “Rather poor but quite good.’’

Then there were the pointless verbal inter-actions:
Spike: You, boy.
Boy: Yes, sir?
Spike: What do you call that?
Boy: It’s a raincoat, sir.
Spike: I know that, you stupid boy. I mean, why are you wearing a shiny, brown raincoat instead of the regulation navy blue gabardine
Boy: Because I don’t have one, sir, and it was raining when I left home this morning.
(Spike, clearly unsure as to how to follow this, found another infringement of the strict dress-
code instead.)
Spike: And why are you wearing a striped shirt?
Boy: I didn’t have a clean school shirt, sir.
(Spike weighed-up whether it was worth continuing this line of questioning, and realising what was coming, “Would you prefer it if I came to school in a dirty shirt, sir? or “ Would you prefer it if I stayed at home, sir?”, he decided to change tack.)
Spike: And get your hair cut, boy. You are disgrace to this college! If you want to look like a long-distance lorry-driver or plumber’s mate, go down to the Technical College.”

I heard this expression on a number of occasions. He obviously thought that the Technical College was a den of iniquity and that gentlemen who worked in the occupations that he mentioned, were the lowest of the low. By the way, the culprit (me) had hair which at the sides just touched the top of the ears and at the back barely touched the collar. Looking at photographs of school teams of the seventies, it is obvious that the short-back-and-sides rule no longer applied!

I remember that at one stage, during lessons, we had to stand up on the hour every hour to say a Hail Mary, and at noon, the Angelus. I also remember reciting the Litany of Saints where the boy leading would add a few extras into the Litany:
Beans on toast………Pray for us
Fish and chips……….Pray for us
The Brothers never ever noticed.

The school was known for its discipline. I have no problem with that and it certainly did me no long-term harm. I believe that we could do with some of that discipline in the schools and homes in the present time. There is no doubt, though, that some of the teachers seemed to enjoy this part of their job a little bit too much! I believe that in some cases it bordered on sadism but occasionally a teacher with no sadistic streak would be tormented so much by the boys that he would do something out of character. For example, not long after the infamous ‘Joe’s Jailhouse’ story had made headlines in the national press, another incident at the college resulted in further negative publicity in the newspapers. It was a long time ago, but so far as I remember, the story goes as follows:

As you will recall, there was one period on the timetable that was called Orchestra/Library. During this period boys who could play a musical instrument were allowed to practice their musical skills and boys who wished to learn to play an instrument were given suitable training. Those who were not musically inclined were allowed to improve their knowledge of literature by spending time reading in the school library. This option was very popular as there was very little supervision and so instead of reading, boys often used the opportunity to catch-up with their homework.

When the first Orchestra/Library period arrived, many of my class-mates and I were ready to wander over to the library, when to our horror, we were told that there were too few people wishing to learn to play an instrument and so we would have no choice. We would learn a musical instrument, whether we wanted to or not!

We were told that we would be taught to play string instruments. Some boys were given violins others (including me) were given bigger violins, which we were told were called violas. Whatever they were called, we had no interest in learning to play them. While some of the boys who were there by choice, valiantly tried to master their instruments, the other group showed no interest whatsoever and deliberately irritated the poor teacher throughout the lesson.

I can’t remember how many lessons he had actually endured when it all became too much for the teacher. (What was his name?) I also can’t remember what the final straw was that tipped him over the edge, but I do remember that grabbing a violin (or was it a viola?) he smashed it across the head of a boy called Billy Rogerson. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth and lots of blood, as well as much verbal abuse aimed at the teacher. That moment marked the end of the lesson and the end of the musical careers of a number of the boys present.

While first aid was being given to the victim, a number of us decided, there and then, that we would not attend another Orchestra session. We agreed that the following week we would go to the library, regardless of what any of the teachers may say.

The story appeared in the Gazette (I’m not sure if it made the nationals). I don’t remember whether the matter got to court or was hushed-up with an out-of-court settlement or whether nothing happened and the whole incident quietly faded away. What I do know is that the following week we rebels went to the library instead of the orchestra room. Every time the door opened we expected it to be a teacher coming to drag us back to the dungeon. Not only did this not happen, but not a word was ever said about our permanent absence from the orchestra lessons.

The plan to increase the size of the orchestra by force failed completely. In fact, to use an expression that I probably first heard in an English Language lesson at St. Joe’s, you could say that the teacher was hoist with his own petard; whereas poor Billy was violated with his own viola!

After school, I did not join the Old Boys’ Association itself, but, as mentioned earlier, I did join Blackpool Josephians RUFC. I have many fond memories of that time. I remember travelling to such exotic locations as Oldham, Wigan, and Colne and Nelson. Here, especially if we were the Second Team (Blues) or the Third Team, we would often be expected to walk hundreds of metres (or in those days, yards) to the pitch allocated to us. This was often either little more than a levelled-off rubbish dump or slag heap, invariably with a huge drop on either side about a metre beyond the touchlines and the dead-ball lines, or else a meadow where we had to chase the cows away before the game and avoid the cow pats during the game. The trek back to the clubhouse after the game resulted in our arriving long after the other teams had finished their post-match ablutions. It was often a case of a cold shower for us or, if we were really unlucky and that particular club had one of those terrible communal baths, a plunge into the huge tub. By that time of the afternoon, the water in the bath was not only lukewarm, but was the colour of brown Windsor soup with the consistency of minestrone.

After this it we would go into the bar for a pie and a pint (or even two). I managed to find a picture of one such occasion:

The picture was taken circa 1970. Is the young man with the beard, by any chance, the current Chairman of the Old Boys’ Association? He certainly sees to have the attention of his audience. He would’ve been:
a. Singing an Irish Rebel song,
b. Explaining why the Yanks should get out of Vietnam,
c. Reciting an epic poem about an Inuit maiden called Nell, or
d. Giving his advice as to what we needed to do to ensure that we lost our next game by a smaller margin.

I am the well-dressed young fellow wearing a tie. It would seem from my facial expression that a few seconds before the photograph was taken I had taken a large bite out of the aforementioned pie. I appear to be in the process of fabricating a gag from a napkin. Obviously the intention would’ve been to bring this into use only if Tom continued his monologue for too long.

Finally, I have included another piece of history. This is the Blackpool Old Josephians newsletter dated May 1972. What did we do before computers, fancy logos and letterheads etc.? Here is the answer:


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