CONTRIBUTION BY STEVE WATTERSON 1970/1977
Well, there have been few contributions from my generation (1970-77), so I thought I would give it a crack. But where to begin…?
Let me say first that I don’t think we endured the unabashed sadism and extraordinary teaching incompetence that seems to have been the lot of many who endured St Joe’s in the 40s, 50s, even the 60s. By the time I arrived there in 1970, it was basically a secular institution; most of the brothers were like ancient relatives, at whom you nodded and smiled and whom you basically ignored. Occasionally we would be greeted by the benignly vacant Joe Snow Dowling (He’s in the photos from the early 50s and he was ancient even then), shouted at by Noddy Liddane (ditto), or be harangued to “stop hopping that golf ball on the floor” by Clarence Glespen, (no prizes for guessing how he got that nickname, at least if you remember Daktari), and we would have to undergo W X Ryan’s assembly lectures (what an extraordinarily loud voice that man had). Other than that, R.I. and Latin were our only encounters with the befrocked Hibernians.
Still, it was quite a culture shock for an eleven-year-old from St Mary’s Fleetwood in 1970. Only three of us from St Mary’s – Barry O’Cleirigh, Brian Houten and myself, plus a few from St Wulstan’s, including Joe Couch, who is the only contemporary with whom I’m still in (semi-)regular touch. We were the last year where anyone wore short trousers. They lasted until about November, and fortunately never reappeared. Ditto caps. There were the joys of the number 14 bus, and later, and for much longer, the tram to Talbot Square, and then a mile and a half walk. The journey home was bitterly cold in the winter, as the wind howled round the now-demolished John Lewis’s, but unbearable in the summer, as you had to battle hundreds of holidaymakers, aka 'grockles', too dim to realize you could catch any tram to Gynn Square; you didn’t have to pile on to the Fleetwood one. You wound up walking back to Manchester Square to get a seat.
The school itself was a fascinating hodge-podge of architectural styles. The old building, built in the twenties, I assume (still waiting for part 3 of the school history to confirm that), housed the lower school (Forms 1 through 3) in old, draughty classrooms. Outside what was then 2Z, on the second floor (US Style), or first floor British style, was the entrance to the counterbalanced fire escape. Did someone walk out on that and descend to the ground during one of Marsden’s history lessons? Was it Mick Maher? Or am I just dreaming that? On the second floor was the chapel, scene of many a blasphemous rite. The addition of bodily fluids into the altar wine would be a scene quite at home in a Farrelly Brothers movie. Below that, the Sixth Form Common Room, sanctum sanctorum to the lower school, with it’s tuck-shop window and impenetrable haze of legitimate cigarette smoke, and ‘progressive’ rock blasted at high volume (well, it was the 70s). When you finally got there, in the Sixth Form, it turned out to reek not only of stale cigarettes, but also of ancient fish and chip grease from the chippy on Whitegate Drive, next to the Number 3, and was consequently best avoided. On the top floor, the Spanish and French rooms (remember ‘Attention– grenouille feroce’?). And what of those impenetrable corridors down to the Brothers’ House? Never once in seven years did we venture down there. Perhaps that’s where they kept Joe Snow cryogenically frozen.
Last but not least, the Gym, scene of many a weekly torture session from Dave ‘Hanging from the Wall Bars’ Bostock, and the Dining Room/Theatre, scene of many a daily torture session as unfortunate youths attempted to push inedible pigswill down their throats. It was when they ran out of white sauce on the ham and mashed potato and decided to substitute semolina pudding, that I decided that sandwiches were a good bet.
Then the New Building. I never worked out whether it referred to all of it, or excluded the bit at the front where Jimmy Johns had his biology lab, and Ryan’s office was. This was the haunt of the upper school, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth, and the science labs, not to mention the staff room, even smokier than the 6th Form Common Room, and that curious semi-subterranean area with "Foxy" Fowler’s art room, and "Wodger" Cook’s Geography room. Narrow staircases, populated by dozens of lads rushing in different directions led to the inevitable tasteless cries of “Ibrox! Ibrox!” (OK, look up what happened in Glasgow, New Years Day, 1971). Was this really only built seven years before? It really did look like the weight of the floors above had pushed it into the earth. Of course, that idea turned out to have more than a ring of truth to it, as subsidence pretty much rendered the new building useless after fifteen years.
And what of the delights of those twin pillars of Muscular Christianity,- rugby and cross-country? Wednesday afternoons on the bus down to the New Fields at the bottom end of Newton Drive, behind Baines Grammar, and then change for rugby, if you were any good, or cross country, if you weren’t, or perhaps actually enjoyed running. I fell squarely into the ‘not very good’, in fact ‘bloody useless’, category, so it was the delights of cross-country. Whose bright idea was it to put the cross-country course for a semi-privileged boys school through the grounds of what is euphemistically described as ‘an institution for at-risk youth’, -i.e. Fylde Farm Approved School? Few of us survived without some kind of incident. And they’d always post teachers en-route to check you off and make sure you completed it. Never put them on the Fylde Farm grounds, though. Couldn’t have Wez being bombarded with rocks and potatoes, could we?
As I said earlier, we got a much more secular bunch of teachers than previous generations. In fact, many were downright anti-establishment, though quite prepared to beat kids with the strap when it suited them.
The archetype, I suppose, was "Carrots" Carrington, ex-pupil, committed old-school socialist, and extraordinarily good French teacher. Not to mention being a decent bloke, who wouldn’t shop you just for being in the Number 4 at lunchtime. His sidekicks included Gerry McCurdy, also a good French teacher, looking like a young W G Grace, and Graham Mills, who was always "DS" to Carrington. When I asked him why, he replied “Dark, Satanic”, as brilliant a nickname as you could ever find. Mills made Carrington’s politics look like Maggie Thatcher's. He gave us homework off the day Franco died. He was another very good teacher, but ultimately a tragic one. He clearly had what are now called ‘substance abuse’ problems, and apparently he died at the ridiculously young age of 41.
The other French teacher, apart from the luscious Miss Dooley, who only lasted a year, was Ken "Wez" Waring, butt of many a schoolboy impersonator. Musty, old-fashioned, reeking of mothballs, literally jaundiced, and with an extraordinary flap of hair at the back of his head that became his trademark.
For Latin we had the formidable Brother "Dooper" Devitt, the storm trooper of the Irish Christian Brothers, Deputy Head and strap-wielder extraordinaire. I suspect he always had a twinkle in his eye though. I remember when Benny Hill’s Ernie the Fastest Milkman in the West was popular, some wag in our class, probably Mick Maher again, spoofed it quite brilliantly with Devitt, He owns the oldest Suitcase in the Land. Well, Dooper got hold of the spoof and we were waiting for sparks to fly, but to his credit, he read it all out aloud, accent and all with a huge and rather contented grin. After Devitt was "Mucker" McKenna, quiet, soft-spoken, efficient, and probably the best-liked bloke in the school. Got me through Latin O and A with minimum fuss and much enjoyment.
For PE, we started with George Brierley, and Ted "Pop" Schools, both long-serving teachers, who had been part of the prep school staff before it closed. Pop in particular was a truly decent bloke. He had time for the likes of me, who had no physical ability whatsoever. The same was true of Dave Cartmell, surely too rotund and not adequately sadistic to be a PE teacher, but not of the unpleasant Dave Bostock.
Geography was in the hands of Roger Wodger Cook. scruffy little tyke in a tweed jacket who couldn’t pronounce his r’s, and had a fetish for tidiness, and a Mr. Baker, who is so unmemorable I can recall neither a first name nor an nickname, just an extraordinary pair of pointy sideburns and a patched tweed jacket. Did anyone other than 1970s teachers ever buy tweed jackets, or elbow patches?
History started as a closed book because of the impenetrable ramblings of a bloke called Marsden, who we had for 2 years. Totally incapable of controlling a class, and always rabbiting about “too much DIN”, I suspect he was relieved of his duties. After him we had Doreen Charles, wife of the esteemed, (by some anyway), L J Charles. I think they swapped. He was at St Joes and she was at Layton Hill, and, hey presto, vice versa. Her most memorable trait was a huge nasal wart, which to those of us who were undergoing ‘O’ Level Physics, became ‘wittily’ known as ‘Charles’s Boil’. (Charles Law, Boyle’s Law. get it? No, I don’t think it’s funny either)
English in the lower school was in the capable hands of Jim McGrahan, another long-serving teacher who had been in the lower school. His obit is on one of the website pages. He was exactly the right kind of teacher for 11 to 13 year old boys, experienced, strict, but not overly-so, in total control of the class, with a great repartee. His son Andy was in our class, which can’t have been easy for him. After him we had Chris Heyworth, fairly efficient and fairly unmemorable, apart from the tweed jacket, and, briefly, the slightly epicene (look it up) and totally bald figure of "Paddy" Gaffney. Then in the sixth we had dapper little Jim "Tash" Worden. Why are all teachers called Jim? Worden was clipped of accent and appearance, but a solid if unspectacular performer, tweed jacket and all.
Sciences I remember less, as I give them up after ‘O’ level. Biology was "Jimmy" Johns, well-known Dracula impersonator and tweed jacket wearer. Chemistry started with a chap called Peaker, who was so bland he makes Baker memorable. For ‘O’ Level though we has the old Number Eight himself, Pete McCarthy, who was made deputy head after Dooper left, and I assume expected to get the headship of the combined school. No such luck. It went to Sis-Mo from the Convent. McCarthy was a huge bloke, ex rugby player, former pupil, but so softly spoken you could hardly hear him. Many disliked him but I’m not sure why. For Physics we had a curious fellow called Duke, who had a sports car and a mid-Atlantic accent, and presumably fancied himself as a bit of a jack-the-lad. He really should have given up the tweed jacket. He was followed by another rather tragic figure, Bill "Mr Magoo" McGarry, a likeable bloke but disastrous as a teacher. He had no control over the class, and no respect from anyone. He only lasted a few months. Sadly he was one of those killed in the Abbeystead explosion in 1984. We expected to get landed with Bill "Nobby" Naylor (Q – What do you call a bald Bison? A – Buffalo Bill) but presumably he was too busy dispensing his gloriously inconsequential careers advice to everyone (..strokes chin.. ‘Hmmm.. have you thought about quantity surveying?’), so we got a new bloke called Phil Stainton, possessor of the broadest East Lancs accent I have ever heard, but a godsend to those of us, and there were many, who were struggling with physics. We did, however, waste a whole lesson wondering why he persisted in referring to a “born error” when he was actually saying “bow and arrow”.
Maths was handled by another bland fellow, with obligatory tweed jacket, called Armitage, who did his job but left virtually no impression. We would have occasional visits from Chris "Two-Slaps" Hassett, who I think had been there since the school was founded. Art was handled in its entirety by "Foxy" Fowler from his lair in the basement. No tweed jacket for him, he was trendy. There were various music teachers, also stored in the basement, one of whom was called Egghead, presumably an alias, and another being a big Irish bloke called Rafferty, but as I am tone deaf, I paid little heed to them.
R.I. was pretty much the last refuge of the only non tweed-wearers, the Brothers themselves. Devitt and Ryan both tried it, but the most memorable was Bob Beattie, he of the extraordinarily domed forehead, and, it transpired, grossly unpleasant personal habits. His stock-in-trade was to have the boys describe some personal issue to them, preferably embarrassing and/or sexual, and have a discussion round it while some unfortunate tyke got to sit, cross-legged, at his feet under the desk, well within touching distance. One day he just wasn’t there any more. "Taken sick" they said, end of discussion. He was succeeded by an Aussie, Brother King, who given the extraordinary inventiveness of 13 year old boys, was nicknamed Bruce. Then there was Brother "Cocker" Leahy, whose other function seemed to be i/c stationery cupboard. Perhaps his nickname should have been applied to Beattie instead.
And then the Brothers vanished, in 1975, I think, victims of their own mismanagement, and of the intention to merge with Layton Hill. The ancient Jesuit, Fr Doyle, came along as an emissary from the Diocese to smooth the transition, and to get us through Latin A Level, with long and not-too-Jesuitical discussions about the historical accuracy of I Claudius. And by 1977, it was one school, and we all had to traipse between campuses for lessons.
Sadly, I’ve lost touch with all my contemporaries now, apart from Joe Couch, who was one of the more eccentric of pupils. I’m not really a social person so it’s not surprising, especially as I have lived abroad for 22 years. There were some memorable characters though. The aforementioned Mick Maher, Jim Murtagh, Adrian Parry (aka Hopkins), Dave Ashmole, Head boy, Tim Clarke etc, etc.
But the school served me well enough to get me through the Oxbridge entrance, pick up a decent degree, emigrate to the US, and start a career in a field that has nothing whatsoever to do with anything I learned at school (IT Consulting). It made enough of a favourable impression on me to encourage me to send my own (non-Catholic) daughter to a Catholic school, but no nuns, and no tweed jackets.
And now it’s all gone. You can now buy a house in Devitt Close, or Ryan Crescent, or whatever they’re called. Most of the teachers have passed away. Those that haven’t are presumably long retired. Oddly, I hated it while I was there, at least till I got to the 6th Form, but I miss it more as I get older. After 22 years in California, you yearn for a little bit of history, as long as it’s not taught by bloody Marsden!
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