LIFE AFTER THE TECH
I left behind the world of being educated to join the world of work as an ‘educator’. I became a teacher of Geography and PE at Weymouth Grammar School in 1973. Why there? Well I was looking for employment within a two hour radius of Bath in case I had to get back home for any emergencies, or a family weekend event. Also Weymouth GS were advertising for nine new appointments, so I knew there would be people in a similar situation to me who could offer mutual support, and enjoy a beer with me.
I spent one week living in a B&B and getting on a bus full of school kids as I hadn’t passed my driving test. Then I moved into a bedsit for eight weeks, arranged by the Deputy Head. Finally I had a bit of independence when a fellow teacher and I rented a house. The school was fairly traditional with the pupils having to stand up when a teacher walked into the classroom.
In the first term I recall organising a ‘social’ in a local pub for all us new teachers and any others. I think we were going to play skittles. Apparently the Teacher overseeing us ‘probationers’ was offended and organised drinks at her house a few days before the skittles. Two beers in one week – not bad!
Dorset Schools ran an annual cruise to the Mediterranean and the Head asked for volunteers to accompany the trip. It was my first year of teaching but I was one of four out of ten to be chosen to go during the school holidays. We flew to Malta and boarded the SS Uganda, which later became a hospital ship during the Argentinian conflict. There were about fifty retired Scots on the cruise and the rest were pupils from all the Dorset Secondary Schools. I bet it was quite a cheap holiday for the Scots as a consequence!!
The cruise went to Alexandria with a visit to Cairo; Haifa to visit Jerusalem; the Greek island of Kos, and finally Pireas to visit Athens where I had been three years earlier on a Geography field trip with Swansea Uni. Cairo was quite an eye opener at the time with its poverty and squalor - young mothers breast feeding in the gutters and children begging as we got off the coaches.
A few days into the cruise I found a bottle of whisky in my cabin. This was obviously meant for the Scottish contingent. When challenged about having this I denied it – although it did say ‘Teachers’ on the bottle!! When we arrived in Greece I said that I had been to Athens before and would be our school’s tour guide. Getting four adult return tickets and thirty child tickets at Pireas railway station was a challenge, but writing down numbers and using arrows here and there helped. I was able to guide them through the Flea Market and up to the Acropolis (not fenced off then) and find a place for refreshments, which impressed the Deputy Head who was with us. Then a successful ride back to the ship without losing anybody. I thought, “Am I in the wrong profession?”
When we flew back home, ‘my’ whisky bottle had smashed in my case during the flight, then to my surprise the Deputy replaced it at our ‘cruise evening’ for parents. She obviously had an eye for beauty!!
I taught Geography and PE and introduced Rugby which was lacking to some extent. PE lessons varied according to the seasons and Cross Country runs were reserved for the latter part of the Autumn term. On one such run my task was to bring up the rear to ensure any stragglers didn’t miss their next lesson. As I ran into the school grounds, I saw a Year 1 lad lying on the path near to the changing room. He was not responding to me and seemed lifeless. I shouted for someone to get Reception to dial 999 for an ambulance. I tried to keep him warm until the paramedics arrived. Apparently he had died of a congenital heart condition, which could have happened at any time. What I heard was air leaving the body, not actual breathing. This was my first experience of death right in front of me – a bit of a shock. What was appreciated was that the Head of Year phoned me that evening to make sure I was OK and invited me around for a cuppa. What I really needed was a huge dram!
When at Weymouth I joined the local rugby club where they had the County half backs, so I switched to full back and made the 1st XV and eventually the Dorset & Wilts County team.
I passed my driving test at the second attempt in 1974 and bought a Morris Minor – a very reliable little number. My new housemate was a great mechanic and taught me a lot about car maintenance so that I was able to look after it myself, helped by my Tech lessons.
That was when I met my future wife, who was a twin. Both girls were outstanding athletes. I bet them that I could beat them over 100m and the loser buys the beer. I won, so they had to treat me to a drink. My wife was an ex pupil and we used to go to the same Folk Club. Back then, there was a three year cycle in one’s teaching career: Year 1- settle in and make mistakes; Year 2 – correct those mistakes and improve; Year 3 – aim for perfection and seek promotion. When her mother knew I was looking elsewhere to get promotion, she said, “Well you might as well get married now.” An interfering mother-in-law before her time!!
In 1976 Property prices in Weymouth were increasing as the ‘Granny belt’ was spreading from Bournemouth and Poole westward along the coast, so I looked inland for promotion and got a job as 2nd in the Geography Department at Lord Williams Comprehensive School in Thame, Oxfordshire. Little did I know that the M40 had recently opened up from London to Birmingham, so the commuter belt crept up the M40, causing house prices to rise in Oxfordshire as well.
We eventually bought a new end terrace in Thame, but it wasn’t completed when we arrived in September. Once again, a deputy head came to the rescue and put us up in her house just outside Oxford. Apparently her husband was a doctor and when training/visiting India, the locals put him up for free, so they vowed to do the same for others in need. They were devout, tea-totalling Christians who were very considerate. Towards the other end of the spectrum from ourselves.
The Geography Department ran regular ‘O’ Level field trips to the Jurassic coast in Dorset, staying at Litton Cheney Youth hostel. There was a stream running outside which caused regular visits to the toilet throughout the night. Burton Bradstock beach and cliffs, Chesil Beach, Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door were regular visits. ‘A’ level trips were to the Yorkshire Dales (Austwick) studying Malham Cove, Gordale Scar and Helvelyn. One Saturday I was playing rugby for Chinnor RFC at Harrow and a ‘late’ tackle caused a fracture in an ankle bone. I was given a lift to hospital to get it plastered. I returned to the changing room on my newly acquired crutches to get my clothes. I didn’t realise that the tiled floor was wet and slippery from players showering. My crutches went flying with me in hot pursuit. The next day I was due to drive one of two minibuses to the Yorkshire Dales, so my wife had to take on this duty. I had limited mobility, but I could see most of the main sights from a distance. My leg felt a bit uncomfortable and my toes were swelling – I thought this was quite normal until I returned to the John Radcliffe for a check-up, only to be told that the fracture had been displaced – by my flying in the changing rooms – and would need an operation to reset it. Yippee! A week in hospital, a week at home and then I was hobbling back to work to make the most of the ‘sympathy vote’.
Although pupils are meant to learn from us, the opposite can often apply. In the early 1980s I asked to see a Year 3 lad at the end of the lesson for not paying attention (familiar?) Not being cheeky, he said, “I don’t come to school to be bored, Sir.” It got me thinking about how children learn best, and that there was no ‘one rule’ for all, as I discovered through later training and multiple intelligences. The same boy was sent to me for being in possession of a knife. This was not deemed as serious as it is today as teenage stabbings rarely existed. He said that it was left in his pocket after fishing! Do you go fishing in your school uniform? I phoned home and it turned out that he was a senior scout, responsible for a small ‘troop’ at a camp where he used the knife appropriately. I felt that we were failing this boy with an inappropriate curriculum and that he learned more from the Scouts, including self-esteem.
Lord Williams School was a large split site school – Upper School was the old Grammar School and Lower School was the old Secondary Modern School – and it offered a number of career progression routes. After three years I became Head of House, then Head of Year with Pastoral reorganisation and was soon appointed Senior Year Head with the responsibility for, what would now be called, the PSHCE (Personal, Social, Health & Careers Education) Curriculum. The Lower School Deputy Head had written a number of educational books and thought that some of the teaching materials I had produced were worth publicising. He put me in touch with CRAC (Careers Research and Advisory Council) who published a book in 1984 entitled, ‘Coping As A Young Adult’ which I co-wrote with another Year Head. Two Years later I had my own book published by them called ‘Study Skills’ and this was very successful bringing in a five figure sum.
I wasn’t sure what to do with the money until I saw an article in the Telegraph suggesting one might invest any spare money into barrels of whisky. Distilleries needed the long term investment of ten years for the whisky to mature, and demand was increasing in the Far East. One could sell the barrels back to the distilleries. I went for two hogshead (54 gallons) barrels, an Isle of Arran and a Ben Nevis. Ten years later I had the Arran bottled but the price the distillery was prepared to buy was less than if I had invested in a Bank Account, so I had the delivery of 350 bottles stashed in my garage. I gave some as presents or raffle prize donations and sold some to friends and colleagues. I have just three bottles left!! I had the Ben Nevis bottled after fifteen years and had 320 bottles to add to my collection. There were fewer bottles due to the Angel’s Share – evaporation through the barrel over the additional five years.
I now get £100+ for each bottle at a Whisky Auction.
Lord Williams’s School had a Principal for the whole school along with a Head of Upper School and a Head of Lower School. The Principal at the time transgressed and was having an affair with the parent of a sixth form student. He got the parent pregnant and was asked to leave by the Governors. The Head of Upper School was promoted to Acting Principal and I was made Head of Upper School. A case of being in the right place at the right time, I guess.
I took various rugby teams at the school and years later I was playing with the same boys in Chinnor’s 1st and 2nd XVs, then refereeing their children in our Mini and Junior sections.
Once our two children had started Primary School, my wife used to help out in the Primary School. She then applied for a job at my school and got the post of Teaching Assistant. On our drive to school we often talked about domestic chores still to be done etc. Then our son was about to join our secondary school, so I thought it was best to move on after fourteen years. I applied for jobs within commuting distance, not to uproot the family, and became Deputy Head in 1990 at The Chalfonts Secondary (Modern) School, 25 miles away in Chalfont St Peter, Bucks where Grammar Schools still existed.
This was the first time in my career that I did not live and work in the school’s catchment area where I was constantly bumping in to parents and pupils. On balance I think I preferred this as it help to build up good relationships within the community. However, I did enjoy the freedom back in Thame of going out and not have to be concerned about my behaviour or appearance as no pupils or parents could see me enjoying myself!!
I found the daily 35-40 minutes commuting quite therapeutic. On my way to school I would ‘rehearse’ my contributions to meetings, lesson plans and assembly presentations. Then, on the journey home, it gave me a chance to get school and angry parents out of my system so that I arrived home fairly calm.
During my time at the school I undertook practically every role going starting with Staff Development, Training and Appraisal, along with Pupil Reports and Records of Achievement. Then Curriculum Development and Teaching and Learning came my way, finishing off with Pastoral Care, Safeguarding, Admissions and timetabling for 1760 pupils and 100+ teachers.
As the time-tabler I would often have the problem of lessons with no teachers available, so I would fill in taking the odd class for German, Science, Maths and ICT. Yes, they were very odd lessons!
As a minibus driver I was often called on to help with trips, including Fieldtrips back to delightful Dorset where we stayed at the Swanage youth hostel. It made a nice change. An ‘A’ Level history trip to Russia was quite an eye opener. With our hotel in Moscow, the security guards had their own secondary source of income. They would allow prostitutes in to trawl the corridors for business. If you left your room door open it was a sign that a you required ‘customer services’. Don’t ask me how I discovered all this. It was certainly a country of contrasts with the wealth and glitter around the hotels and department stores compared with the drab and sombre looking locals at the open markets, avoiding eye contact and smiles. I was stopped from taking a photo of an old typewriter in a book shop as the owner feared reprisals from the local authorities. Even our tour guide was owed five months back pay - or that’s what she told us in order to get a big tip!
In the early 1990s my wife went on a ski trip with her school. She enjoyed it and we ended up going on our own ski holiday with friends. I had never had lessons and fell at every turn, so much so, that I had no energy. I lay cold on the icy piste, then went back to the hotel shivering and slept for two hours to overcome the hypothermia. Being small, I just used to lower my backside and this gave me a great, low centre of gravity to stop me falling over.
Golf was also something I began to play, but not very regularly due to weekends playing rugby. Since retirement I have played a bit more, but I still do not have a handicap, apart from my clubs!!
In the mid 1990s Friends Reunited emerged on our computers and Bill Williams set up a Tech School platform. I was able to get in touch with Len Muir who was working for the foreign Office in Washington DC. He occasionally came back to Bath to see his ageing parents. On one such occasion I met up with him in Bath along with Chris Simmonds, Head boy in 1968-69. We had a few beers, lunch and a stroll around Bath to catch up on the past. Len was about to follow in a colleagues footsteps by taking early retirement and moving to Dominican Republic where both the weather and cost of living were more favourable.
In 2003 we booked a holiday in Dominican Republic but didn’t tell Len initially as we didn’t want him to feel obliged to put us up. He met us at the airport, took us to our hotel where we dropped off our cases before he whisked us away to his local bar. He introduced us to various friends, mostly locals. Despite my wife being with me, these teenage girls were stroking my arm until Len told them to stop that as I wasn’t a customer!! In the background was a middle aged chap, taking a handkerchief out of his pockets full of jewellery. Fagan came to mind! I felt that I had just been transported back to Dicken’s Oliver Twist – the twist being that we were in the Caribbean. He later took us to see a friend who was an ex cop from Florida. He lived in a shack in the hills. He must have been on the run for taking back handers in the drug’s world.
When someone heard that we had lived in Weymouth, she wanted to take us to someone who ran a bar on the Island and was from Weymouth. We arrived at the bar, which was a loose term to disguise this brothel with loads of young ladies floating around, including one who was heavily pregnant. It turned out that the owner had been a trainee nurse with Claire’s sister in Weymouth. Small world with hugely different career paths.
I always enjoy wandering off the beaten tourist track to see how the locals live, watching car mechanics using bake bean cans to repair car parts for example. One day I took a bloke from Birmingham outside of the hotel complex to explore the locality. We ended up near the docks and we were approached by an undesirable asking if we wanted a woman, pointing at a lady standing across the way with her young daughter. We replied with a strong, “no!” He then asked if we wanted her daughter instead!! “F—K off” was my loud reply. So there was certainly a sinister side to Len’s new abode.
Len confided that he had the early onset of Parkinson’s disease. He did have a slight shake, but nothing to stop him leading a normal life. Indeed he thrashed me at golf and tennis. He was considering moving back to the States where health care was far superior to meet his future needs. He did this in due course and we lost touch. I then discovered that he had sadly passed away in 2015.
Friends Reunited did just that and reunited us with fellow members of form 5X from 1966, prompted by Alf Cousins who was on a family visit from Australia. This led to us organising a tour of the school for twelve of us from that year along with Harry Mower (Tech Drawing teacher) and Fred Naylor (Headmaster). This was followed by a meal down the Wheatsheaf at Combe Hay. We had not met up since we had left school some 36 years ago.
At school, league tables seemed to dominate, but we had a strong leadership team and some excellent Governors so we became one of the better secondary modern schools, but we couldn’t compete with the Grammar Schools – except in football.
I eventually retired in 2013 after 40 years of teaching. I was still playing rugby for our Vets, running the touchline in the first half and being brought on in the second if we were winning by a safe margin, otherwise it was back to the touchline. My wife bought me a bicycle so off I went around the various Oxon cycle ways. I also did more voluntary work for the Rugby Club who had a group of Volunteers – the Friday Club who would spend that morning getting the pitches, changing rooms etc ready for the Saturday match, along with maintaining and decorating the Club house. A sort of W.I. for men – good for their mental health. We organised trips and social events for ourselves to keep us out of mischief. I also became the club Chairman for 3 years.
Then one day in March 2016, I had a phone call from my old Chair of Governors, explaining that they had ‘sacked’ the new head for financial incompetence and poor discipline and replaced her with one of the deputies as Acting Principal, but he was just as bad. They had appointed a new Principal for September but would I go back and run the School for the summer term three days a week, while the newly appointed Principal did the other two days. Well, I thought that as it was only for a few months I could tolerate this, as well as support my old colleagues. I had a bit of a shock with the now, low standard of discipline with no one wanting to take any responsibility for it. Anyway, we got things moving back in the right direction, but by no means ‘job done’. I was relieved when the end of term arrived... and then I became a Governor for the next three years to help steer the ship in the right direction.
So now back to retirement enjoying three grandchildren who live fairly locally, acquiring an allotment, which was a huge ‘god send’ during this pandemic to get me out of the house, and continuing supporting Chinnor Rugby Club. I became their Covid Officer during the pandemic to ensure correct practices and procedures were in place. I am now Hon Secretary for Oxfordshire RFU as they needed a volunteer for this role with all the RFU budget cuts.
Then finally to organising a Tech School Reunion at the end of August 2021 with a school tour and lunch at the Cross Keys for 33 ex pupils and 2 ex teachers – Graham ‘Jet’ Harris, ex pupil and Physics teacher, and Mike Williams, Chemistry teacher. We all thoroughly enjoyed this as it prompted so many memories.
An outcome of the reunion was David Hough’s initiative to share our ‘Lives after the Tech’ while we can, in order to maintain the memory of CBTS – so here we are.
As we left the reunion someone asked, “When is the next reunion?” Good question.
Back to the 1960-64 page.