CONTRIBUTION BY LAWRENCE WHALLEY 1954/1964
I was asked to edit my first attempt at a memoir. People who were around at my time remembered things differently. This is not a surprise. When I started in 1954, I arrived with no memories of anything I can remember now. When I left I had just a jumble now kept in an attic loft where I think all my memories might go eventually. Funny that the trajectory of memory should fall to earth in old age with something of an empty thud.
As in all works of fiction, it is customary to divide people into two categories of characterisation, real and imaginary. Obviously, there are some I just couldn’t make up and probably exist in some sort of relationship with real individuals whereas as others (e.g. Paul Ryan) who are truly fictional were contrived just to give the narrative some sense of an ending. It is also important to understand that brother O’Brien shares in a limited way similarities to another Brother O’Brien mentioned elsewhere in these memoirs. Yet despite these apparent corroborations, he is an invention, a sort of Jungian collective memory contrived to explain the sensations of emotional neglect afflicted on some older men from their times as unprotected children. No characteristic, personality trait, unexplained action attributed to Brother Carroll, for example, derives from any interview or examination of Brother Carroll. This would have required serious violations of the space-time continuum by the writer and an unjustifiable demand on a significant part of the National Grid.
It should not surprise anyone how little of school I can remember. I feel sure SJC was no Dotheboys Hall. I can remember only some of the boys – not many – some escapades but nothing delinquent mostly how much I enjoyed reading and sport. Some boys were occasionally punished physically and excessively but that didn’t happen to me or rarely to any of my friends. We just watched the beatings, never showing interest sufficient to attract attention. Some boys expressed private empathy at the time when now I like to think they would record assaults with a view to legal action. Others began unhealthy interests in voyeuristic sadism.
The first memory to emerge from my geriatric sludge concerned Mr Walsh, an English Teacher, who walked to school everyday through Stanley Park, enjoying a fine summer’s morning he spotted a boy around 08.00h in SJC uniform rowing slowly out to an island in the lake. Once there, unknowing he was observed, he tied a plastic bag to one of the stakes at the island’s edge and rowed back. His name was something like Deakin or Dirkin. He had angelic blond curls and an elfin physique. Later that morning, the entire homework of one of the junior school classes was reported missing. Walsh made the inspired guess that Deakin’s behaviour was somehow linked to this. Sure enough, a quick search, the cost of boat hire, and the homework was found. But why? Why not destroy it all? Was he plotting to add his own late homework when he finished? The story was never explained. I saw him again in the Strawberry Pub by St James Park in Newcastle in 1966. He said it wasn’t him and became offensive. I remember asking him how he felt about losing his angelic charm but he ignored me and left.
I was reminded of the Deakin story a few years ago. A 'second opinion' had been sought on a detained patient and I obliged. He told me his story, his lifelong campaign against the “forces” that conspired to sabotage communications between Kinross RAF base and Balmoral and how Grampian Police were “in on it too” when they forcibly removed the barricade of wheelie bins he had built during the morning rush hour on the North Deeside Road (to protect the Queen from the conspirators as he explained quite reasonably). As I listened, he talked very well about his early life and his time at SJC. This got my attention. Never in my past 40 years had I examined an old Josephian. Sadly, his memories and mine for our times at SJC could not be reconciled. He was a professional, skilled in presenting as a lunatic but why pretend to be an old Josephian? I was reminded of a young man brought to my care in 1971 after attempting self-poisoning in an Oxford public toilet. He had a dodgy American accent and said he was a medical student from Springfield, Illinois but suffered amnesia. He enjoyed NHS food and lodgings while I followed up his story not knowing what to do with him should he remain 'unknown'. The US embassy couldn’t help and his account of studying “carnivorous cancers” in Oxford provided only false leads. He ran away one day and that would have been the end of it had the police not come calling to tell us that our patient had previously escaped from a secure hospital to where he was now returned. Their enquiry was into a missing US medical student. Had my more recent patient once led an old Josephian to an untimely end and incorporated some of his history into his own new persona? I’ll never know.
First impressions when I joined the Prep School in the winter of ‘54 aged eight were of furniture polish, no women or girls, a warm stove and a really friendly classroom. Two boys I met then are friends to this day and later in senior school others became and remain family fixtures – more to do with my having three beautiful sisters than any charm on my part. Of course, no-one ever regrets having such enduring and rewarding friendships and I am no different.
Years later, now a former pupil, I met a group of SJC lay teachers in the Number 3 pub. One said they remembered successful “escapees” well enough and recalled very inexactly some minor scrapes that by then somehow I’d managed to forget. Then one of them told a tale about me of which Mr Lynskey formerly of the prep school had once reminded them. He said that Br Dolan had brought me into the class on my first day and introduced me. “What are you doing now?” Dolan had asked. “Roman invasion of Britain” said Lynskey. “Do you know when the Romans invaded Britain?” Dolan asked me. “For the first or the second time?” I had replied. Somehow, I didn’t ever get over that, the teachers said. They thought I became a notorious smart-aleck from day one – “obnoxious to the point of impudence” one of them said.
One of my grandsons just turned nine and begins to ask me about my schooldays. He couldn’t accept “can’t remember” so chipped away to find out just what I didn’t want to talk about. Fact: there were 16 boys in Prep B in 1954. I remembered just nine names. Wood A, Wood RA, Smith G, Gribbon P, Ashton P, Morgan P, Lynch D, Barnes H. “Where are they now?” he asked. I could tell him about Peter Morgan but nobody else. “How old were you when you left school, can you remember any of them?” “Nearly18...Smith G, Gribbon P, Grealey A, Miller M, Mohr P, Barnes H, Black A, McKernan A, Hindle K, Birtwhistle J, O’Sullivan D, Lynch D, Clark A...Oswell J, Thompson D, Singleton P, .this is very hard, it’s nearly 50 years since I saw all but two of them!” Then the killer question: “Don’t you think about school at all, grandad?”
Others added memories on these pages to show that the school had fulfilled a proud purpose for a four decades in 20th century Blackpool but by 1960 it had become an anachronism, left over from a time when poor Catholic boys of ability weren’t reaching their potential, weren’t getting into senior management or the professions. When in the 1920’s, the Brothers were invited to Blackpool, their reputations in Ireland were as social snobs, fierce disciplinarians who would get the best out of the best boys but were neglectful of those who needed compassion or even simple charity. By the sixties, when even the motives ('vocations') of the Brothers were being questioned, it was clear to many of the senior pupils that the Brothers’ near total ignorance of rapid social change in England – at least 20 years before Ireland’s – provided a poor preparation for our adult life in late 20th century Britain.
From 2000-2005, I served for five years as external examiner in Medicine at Trinity College Dublin. TCD hospitality is legendary and my hosts were always looking for common ground. My time with the CB’s did not impress (how much better if I’d been sent to the Presentation Fathers!). They anticipated accurately in some detail the nature of the storm that would soon envelop the CB’s, spoke angrily about the Industrial Schools, railed against collusion between Catholic hierarchy, the Gardai Siochana and Irish politicians and as ever in Ireland suspected financial corruption at the highest level. I was deeply shocked and disbelieving.
As adolescents, we were never as naive as the Brothers and looked to our lay teachers for practical guidance. By age 15 we were confident but cautious that certain teachers might be trusted. We had begun to discuss contemporary issues including nuclear bombs, the death penalty, contraception and sex before marriage. I remember once we were encouraged by the Brothers to discuss the current Vatican Council (II). Its purpose, we were instructed, was that the Church must be brought up to date, must adapt itself to meet the challenged conditions of modern times. Italians appreciate expressive gestures; we were told that Pope John, when asked to reveal his intentions, simply moved to a window and threw it open, to let in a draught of fresh air. So – encouraged and optimistic - many of us watched a TV interview – I think it was by David Frost – with Cardinal Heenan. “What in one word do you feel the Catholic church stands for?” was the last question asked. We all wished for an answer that would give us hope. “Discipline” Cardinal Heenan replied, his only and last word. We shared our disappointment at school. The Reith lecturer that year had placed 'Charity before Chastity' and even as children we all knew that this old Catholicism wouldn’t last, it couldn’t stand up against the intellectual independence of Protestantism. We questioned Br O'Leary about our disappointment in Cardinal Heenan. He thought the Cardinal could have explained himself better and shouldn’t have been “tricked” into a one word answer. “He meant self-discipline of the passions...not physical punishments”.
Br O'Leary supervised religious instruction of sixth formers. He led us through seven 'proofs' of the existence of God, why bishops don’t (or possibly can’t) make mistakes in matters of doctrine and we read aloud like Medieval monks his chosen sections of The Long Walk by Sławomir Rawicz. None of us understood his book choice; some thought he couldn’t stretch his own credulity far enough to believe this tale of triumph against communism. Others thought he just wanted something potty to make his 'proofs' seem reasoned and logical. A bit like how economic forecasting was invented to make astrology look sensible.
Some figures stood out above the rest. Although he taught us for only a year Jeff Preston seemed a revelation, great intellectual energy and fresh ideas. Like Freeborough, he could see no constraints on our ambitions or interests. I remain certain that the drive that took a then record number of our year onto University (including three to Cambridge in 1965) can be traced to the influence of those lay teachers on our eager and impressionable minds. Of course, timing is everything, another cohort of pupils may have been just as, or more, stimulated by another cadre of teachers.
The Zoology laboratory was crowded when six of us started in 1962. Seven years later, three were doctors one was a dentist and another an established medical technician. I never knew what happened to Donal O’Sullivan, a myopic doctor’s son from Manchester. M R Johns provided me with huge personal encouragement and made us (Mohr, Morgan, Stewart and me) all feel that we could win places at top medical schools and had nothing to fear from any competition. He was candid with us when explaining his confidence: “You lot” he once said “the top ten in your year got more O level passes than the school’s total in 1961”. This was a grave exaggeration but forgivable in a Welshman. He expected the best, and I gave him mine. His insistence on scientific rigour in writing served me well when eight years later I began serious doctoral studies in Oxford and Edinburgh Universities. I owe him a great deal and never properly thanked him. It is rarely recognised that medical students only write essays in examinations so their writing is either completed by age 18 or suffers a serious hiatus before stuttering to recover at age around 28 when writing the first chapter of a doctoral thesis. I treasure my tutelage by M R (Taffy) Johns in my Zoology essays, kept to this day and they remain some of my best scientific writing, especially the one when I was asked aged 17 to consider how female rabbits choose a mate. (My defence was that it was essentially a philosophical question not a zoological one and was comparable to asking 'how does it feel to be a bat?'). Although bats were of special interest to the 17 year old me and I was fascinated by the cooperation between physics and biology in solving to prey location by bats, Taffy’s reproach was that Thomas Nagel wouldn’t say that until 1974 and I shouldn’t be such a precocious twerp.
In sixth form there was encouragement to develop as an 'all-rounder'. I think the school liked to think their best pupils excelled at everything though few did. There were outstanding musicians (including Alan Turner and Derek Chadwick in the English National Youth Orchestra) some of whom were top class chemists or mathematicians and there were great athletes who were well above average in History or English but it was rare to see someone who was the top of his game at everything. The greatest weaknesses were in an appreciation of creativity or a wider cultural life. This could be remedied in University but it was striking how far behind I felt from my contemporaries in University in a wider appreciation of the Arts, Drama and Literature. Reading around Ethics and Moral Philosophy revealed how slight had been my achievements in these quite fundamental disciplines before leaving school.
The Debating Society had a formidable reputation and it was sometimes awesome to see how effectively some students could present a cogent argument. Years later, reading about career choices of the brightest school leavers, it seemed that until about 1970, the best always aimed to study English, preferably at Cambridge. The scientists were rarely out of the top drawer. That was my impression too listening to the best debaters in SJC – Devlin and McNally – others too, they seemed the smartest of the smart.
I can remember only patches or incidents from junior school. There is a fog around two years (1960-62) that even psychotherapy training from 1971-73 couldn’t penetrate. I realised my mother was dying – she died on 17th June 1960 – when I was 14, enduring a long and painful illness from which death eventually released her. In her last years, she helped set up (1957-59) the school’s Parents’ Association, serving as committee secretary which she greatly enjoyed. She went to PA meetings, gossiped about old friends (she had been a Layton Hill Girl, 1922-1928) and turned up for junior rugby matches with my dad and other stalwarts like Greg and Barry Smith’s parents. She was disgusted when Brother Carroll, the new Headmaster, disbanded the PA entirely because (she said) a parent wanted to discuss the school’s policy on punishment. She said Carroll was too “insecure” to lead an open discussion. I gathered she didn’t care for “insecure” men so I took myself off to find out what she meant. She had an astute, inquiring mind, was a keen theatre-goer, gregarious and emotional. I used to wonder how she got on with my father (an engineer) who in 1976 told me (now a psychiatrist, still wondering what she meant by insecure men) he recognised only ten types of person (“those who understand binomial mathematics and those who don’t”) the first time I’d heard that joke. I remember that, because by age 13 he had tutored me through all of Euclid’s geometry, logarithms from first principles, history of mathematics until I got lost around 1815, some basic physics of light, rules of artistic composition, how to remember nonsense but gave up on music, rugby and ballroom dancing. Yes, aged 11 he had even tried to teach me to waltz around our living room to a radio dance band! He hoped that very little I might learn in the College would come as surprise. He encouraged me to read Howard Spring, gave me a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus for my 11th birthday, Ingenious Mechanisms and Devices when I was 12, introduced me to Steinbeck, J B Priestly when I was thirteen and Lawrence Durrell and Evelyn Waugh when I was 16. Most of all, he encouraged and rehearsed various ways of speaking in public. He showed me tricks of Rhetoric, how important the last sentences of the Sunday sermon might be (“look straight at them and say it like their lives depended on the last words of the Book of Revelation”)
His tutelage is a likely foundation of my academic success, perhaps it was his engineer’s approach to puzzle solving, but he was certain that I should never be intimidated by a problem. His example suggested that I should likewise not be intimidated by people. I now believe he was thinking of a certain type of shallowness affected by some public school boys when he said “he got by on presentation” but as a youngster, I was wrong to think he meant the teachers at school. I am writing this because it may explain why I remember one particular incident when I’ve forgotten so many others.
Age 13, I had a new friend called Tom Spencer in 3b and whom I met sometimes after school or at weekends. I felt unpopular but didn’t know why. He seemed intrigued by me, said he wished he was me (I don’t know why) and gave me my first cigarette in a park on Waterloo Road. We later graduated to small cheap cigars of which he seemed to have a steady supply. I could still remember this when I would light up somewhat flashier brands on one of those occasions out of doors that seem unobserved. Around that time, Mr Charles was taking our Latin class in 3A when a noisy commotion broke out next door. Brother O’Brien was beating Spencer, he was punching and kicking a small boy for what seemed many minutes.
A door slammed and Spencer ran out of the school. He didn’t stop until he was found as a stowaway (we were told by his big sister) on a ship out of Liverpool. O’Brien didn’t change his ways. Later, responsible for in-patient care in a psychiatric hospital, I was reminded of O’Brien’s sadistic brutality not by a patient but a male member of staff. My mentor showed me how not to become intimidated as others – patients and senior staff alike – had been. How to manage institutional violence effectively and so protect the vulnerable. A well-managed school would never tolerate O’Brien’s vicious attacks on children, much as a mental hospital should be a place of safety so should a school.
John MacNulty was an irritating thorn who probably derives pleasure to this day from the annoyance he caused SJC. The pity is that it seemed so unjustifiable at the time and he appeared so blameworthy. He was certainly narcissistic, highly intelligent, lazy as La Duquesa de Rothesay, grandiose, and even to another 13yr old, a committed sensualist. He should have gone on to greatness, everyone should now know his name. But SJC was not a friendly place for idle mavericks with absent fathers. So he drifted away into pseudoscience, never making the contributions of which he seemed so capable. But not before he had loosed (what we thought) was a massive broadside against the CB’s. It was a powerful lamentation on educational failure in 1962 (of which he was a good example) published as a prize winning essay in the Blackpool Gazette and Herald. It got him a trial as a cub reporter (and many jibes about capes and wearing his underpants outside his trousers). He didn’t last at that, aged 17 played the lead in King Lear in the round in the Tower Circus arena and auditioned for RADA, got a place, chickened out and became a clerk in the Civil Service. Now, when I think of him, of Tom Spencer and others like them, I think of the thwarted lives. The many boys whose education was sullied not thrilled by the school. What a waste and how different it could have been.
The failure of the school to manage O’Brien’s widely known bad behaviour reminds me that over the next year, open discussions were commonplace in 3A then 4A that showed we were worried about how incompetent the Brothers were as teachers. General Science and maths teaching was well beyond the knowledge requirements of Brothers who seemed to be only a page or two ahead of the class. We were also becoming aware that many of our fathers were teachers, engineers and some were doctors and that my experience of home tuition wasn’t at all uncommon. The worst derision was ladled out by 4A on Brother ('His Majesty') O’Keefe. Seeing a pupil convulsing with silent laughter as His Maj struggled to understand a simple Euclidean proof, he would rush to beat vigorously but strangely ineffectively his tormentor. I can remember how funny we found this (or a similar incident) when one of the class said we should stop laughing because we might all be dead by the end of the week. He told us about the ongoing Cuban Missile crisis and I remember feeling very childish.
My daughters once got great encouragement when they found some old SJC exercise books from 3A, 4A and LVSci and noted therein my imperfections. Around this time, I decided on Medicine, set my examination targets and just focused on qualifying for University. My great good fortune was that Brother Shreenan now taught me chemistry, Freeborough taught physics and maths and 'Panker' Le Brun taught me French. The sciences became my strongest subjects and French went from being my weakest to my most enjoyable.
I think Freeborough was behind what happened next. I was told my school hours would be extended to 22.00h and I would only sleep at home. Preparation for O levels went smoothly. The school had very high expectations of the candidates of 1962; everyone seemed determined on success. An unexpected benefit of extended school hours was that Harold Barnes taught me to play snooker. He was outstanding. On one of the school’s two full-sized tables he made a break of 117 and another occasion guided me to a lifetime achievement break of 52.
Bother Carroll was my downfall. I felt quite inconspicuous, enjoyed school and was now playing rugby though not very well but I had friends who weren’t just the dead-end malcontents. Extended school hours were a great help and I was confident that phase one of my exit plan was on course.
St Patrick’s day 1962, and its allied St Joseph’s day holiday gave us three days off. I went home to unexpected insistence that I should go the St P’s Ball. Seriously boring but I did as I was told and escorted my sister whose ploy was an introduction to Butch Myerscough and the Greenhalgh Kid then dump the escort. I left early and walked back home around 22.00h with an equally under-impressed Paul Ryan. On 22nd March, back at school, in an afterschool club, I was hauled out by Brother Carroll and silently walked to his study. He informed me that I was expelled and must never return to the school. Asked why, he said that Paul Ryan and I had stayed out until 2.00am after the St P’s Ball with two school maids. I can still see his face, twisted in anger and maybe hate, the image has not blurred with time.
My father was upset, phoned Brother Carroll and was told that there was evidence provided by the maids of 'notes' written by me. I was left at home, expelled and without a plan B to exit Blackpool. This went on for a week until, a sixth former came round to the house and said I could go back. Summoned later the next day to Brother Carroll, he did not mention Paul Ryan, said he was convinced of my wrong doing, that I could remain at school until 1st May 1962, but only between 08.45 and 15.30h, and return only to sit my O Levels. I was to remain expelled. By September 1962, I had a new plan, and an interview for Arnold School. Unfortunately, I hadn’t reckoned with their polite insistence on my father being present. He simply phoned SJC to ask when I was expected back (not 'if') and that was the end of it.
During sixth form we contributed wooden acting to sketches in the school Christmas concerts, I was elected chairman of the Historical Society and for a time was Treasurer of the Scientific Society. The secrets of these societies are probably buried in time capsules under Layton Mount but the gist was as follows. Societies were encouraged by the school but organised by the pupils. The Treasurer’s position was much sought after. Imagine, you must survive on 10/- per week. Admittedly things were cheap in 1963 but how to improve one’s situation? A nod and a wink from the outgoing Treasurer and an envelope containing £6 in loose change. All I needed to do was hire a 52 seater coach out of season, gift one place to a teacher, preferably Br Dowling and then sell the rest of the seats for 'school trips'. Boarders were a soft touch, desperate to see the outside world, Flirt with Girls (that placed the Ferranti circuit board assembly plant in Blackburn close to the top of the list), go to Thwaites brewery (spend as much time as possible in the sample room), Port Sunlight, Ruined Abbeys in the Yorkshire Dales in fact anything to sell the coach seats. All profits were managed by the Society Chairman and Treasurer who found ways of liquefying most of the assets before handing over to the next incumbents. A surprising aspect of these well-laid money making schemes was that none of the Office Bearers ever became school prefects.
As enterprises these were certainly going concerns but not as profitable as the horse racing books opened I think by Donal O’Sullivan and Gerry Turner. All they did was lay-off their book with a local betting shop to reduce their risk and maximise their returns. I never found out how much they made but their turnover was sufficient to require a measure of caution outside school hours.
Brother Carroll kept me under surveillance but rarely interfered. I was only once called in to see him as a sixth former. He had read a piece in the Manchester Guardian planted by Gerald Mulholland, a former pupil, that a group of SJC boys planned a pilgrimage from Ashbourne in Kent first to Rome, then to Athens and onto Jerusalem. Mulholland’s plan (conceived alone whilst training for the priesthood) was to carry an ecumenical letter from one Pope in Rome to the Orthodox Patriarch in Athens and then to another minor Christian Patriarch in Jerusalem. Inexplicably, he had failed to tell the current pupils (whom he named and included me) of his plans and the item in the papers. I could easily deny this though I doubt Br Carroll believed me. My father read the same article over breakfast in a Belfast hotel and quickly realised that it was a silly prank. An unexpected bonus was that Peter Mohr received a free pair of Lotus Veldtschoen boots to take him on pilgrimage. These were originally intended for me but their acceptance would have made me complicit in Mulholland’s hare-brained scheme and Peter seemed happy to wear them for the next thirty years or so.
The final memories are pinkish, more flushed. By then, a medical school place was assured. My father had remarried and there were ready-made reasons for getting on with life; the pity was that there was so much adolescence left to do when I finally got into medicine (but that, they say, is another story). And my fondest memory? We pre-arranged to meet up on A Level results day in the Thatched House in Poulton-le-Fylde. I drank four pints of Boddingtons (twice my previous record) and later lay tipsily staring at stars set in a deep blue late summer evening sky. Now, I can sit dreamily, a careless crystal glass of fine malt whisky loitering near my hand and try to wish myself back to late August 1964.
I did try. First, in 1994, driving back from Liverpool to Edinburgh, I went back to the Thatched House. I ordered fish and chips and said to the young attractive barmaid “I haven’t been in her since 1964”. “I know” she said “you’re still banned”. Second, I attended my first SJC reunion in 2010. I was lucky to recognise old friends around our table. Chris Miller thought my memories were perhaps a little jaded. “Did you realise” he queried “that in 1963, three of us – John Oswell, Peter Morgan and me - were selected to play rugby for Lancashire under 19’s?” His point was well-made. “No”, I confessed I had never added up all the successful stories and focused just on the waste of talent. Turning to my left, I spoke to Paul Ryan, my alleged co-miscreant on St P’s Day 1962. “What happened to you?” I said. “Oh, not much...Trinity Dublin, LSE, economics in Cambridge then ten years in Harvard before coming back to a professorship in LSE. I’m back in King’s Cambridge now”. So it wasn’t just the rugby – perhaps it was something they put in the water?
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