My Old School

Recently, my old high school had an open day for all past pupils and teachers. I decided to go. Having a wander around my old high school is something I’ve wanted to do for a few years, and so when the opportunity came I had to take it.

The reason for the open day was because the school was due to be closed for good a few weeks later.

When I originally attended the school as a student I very rarely used the main front doors. We were all encouraged to use the side doors, as the main doors were meant for use by important people like teachers and visitors. Over the 5 years I went to that school in the past I had used them maybe 8 times in total, usually when leaving early to go to the dentist, or when I had been ill. There was also an occasion when I wasn’t ill as such, and didn’t have an appointment to go to, but I had been hit in the eye by a branch. It was a quite impromptu, unplanned leave due to injury. But on the night of the open evening that was where everyone was queuing. It felt very official.

At 6 O’Clock, as I was stood outside chatting to a good friend from my year who I hadn’t seen for about 18 years, they opened the main doors. We were lead in, handed a pamphlet about the event and given a raffle ticket in the foyer, before we made our way through into the main reception.

The reception room used to be a huge space with chairs in the centre, a reception window on the right, a staircase on the left and the smell of wood coming from the woodwork rooms to the side. As I stepped inside school for the first time in 20 years, it amazed me how small it had become. Inside, the reception room was now tiny. They had constructed an internal wall a few meters in front of where the reception window used to be, in effect halving the size of the room. It felt cramped.

Tour guides, current school children, lead small groups of us around the corridors, pointing out where different departments were as we went. Our group consisted of me, my mate from school, and 7 or 8 random people who were either much older than I was, or were younger but had had quite hard lives.

The tour guides periodically stopped and allowed us all to peer through classroom doors and take photos. The first stop for us was our old science area.

My final year form tutor had been Mr. Ross. He was a strange man, but a very likable one at the same time. He was quite tall, he had thinning curly hair, and he taught biology. He would also never let a chance to utter an innuendo pass him by, and never fail to acknowledge a double entendre, and because of this he came across as being quite a fruity man. As I peered through the door of room 27, I took a photo of my final ever form room.

We then went across the landing to our library and past the French and German rooms. They used to be on the balcony overlooking the hall, but where the balcony once was there now stood a wall.

My French and German teachers had been Ms Hulme-Sheffield and Mr. Grimshaw respectively. Ms Hulme-Sheffield loved the colour blue. She wore blue clothes with blue make-up. The frames of her glasses were blue, and even her lenses had a blue tint to them. A few hours before my first ever high school parents evening I told my parents of her liking for blue things. When they returned, with obviously glowing reports, their first words were “She does like blue, doesn’t she!”

Mr. Grimshaw, however, was odd. Not odd in a quirky Mr. Ross kind of way, but in a way I didn’t understand when I was the naive age of 12. A few years after leaving school, when I was 18 or so, I went to Manchester with my mate Alistair to buy some cheap records. I saw Mr. Grimshaw walking along wearing a Bros t-shirt. He saw me, waved and shouted “coo-ee!” Retrospectively, things made more sense after that.

We went to the music room, where Mr. Iddon, (who always reminded me of a bird of prey,) taught me how to use my first midi keyboard. It was also where I used to store my violin for the times I’d trying not to go to violin practice, and where the orchestra I was in practiced.

I once scared Mr. Iddon so much, he froze mid-walk. In the second year, the music department upgraded all their keyboards. They bought about 10 keyboards that had microphones in them. With these new keyboards you could record your voice and play the sample back at different pitches. They pitch of the playback depended on whether you pressed a high or a low note.

Before Mr. Iddon had arrived we all got the keyboards out of the storeroom and started to play with them. As there were 10 children all trying to play their keyboards at the same time, the volume gradually increased and increased as people tried to hear their own noise. Everyone was recording samples of their own voice and playing it back at funny pitches, but getting louder and louder. I just recorded the word “No” in a typically high pitched un-broken childs voice, and was repeatedly pressing the high notes so I sounded like an angry cartoon character.

With all 10 keyboards eventually at full volume, and everyone playing back random shouty noises, no-one noticed Mr. Iddon swooping up the corridor like a Falcon. He burst into the music room, obviously annoyed at the terrible noise that could be heard half a mile away, and at the top of his voice bellowed, “RIGHT, EVERYONE SIT DOWN AND BE QUIET!”

EVERYONE was INSTANTLY quiet and shot down into their seats. As I shot down into my seat, my left thumb accidentally caught the lowest note on my keyboard. From within the suddenly eerie silence, my voice, transformed to the deepest voice of Satan, (at volume level 11), boomed “NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

Mr. Iddon froze mid step, turned his head to the side to stare at me and instantly turned white. I remember thinking, “Man, he looks like a petrified owl…”

At this point, we broke away from our tour guides. They were great an’ all, but I just wanted to wander.

We went outside, passing by the cookery rooms, to see the computer block, or The Unit as it used to be called in the 80s.

This was an external block of 8 rooms that housed craft and computers. The craft room, where Mrs. Cornish attempted to teach me how to use a sewing machine, was downstairs. All the high tech stuff, if you can call 8 BBC Micros and 6 networked Lynxs high tech, was upstairs. I spent weeks of my life in the IT block, going there most afternoons after school and playing Repton. The peope I associate with the IT block are Michael, Malcolm, Adrian, Mark, Craig and Nick.

Malcolm once hid a board duster in the front pocket of Michaels schoolbag. Michael got home one day to find his front pocket filled with chalk dust. He left it in there and planned on taking it back the day after. At the next days computer club, he asked Malcolm if he had been the one to put a board duster in his bag. Malcolm laughed heartily. Michael angrily took out the duster leaving his bag unzipped, stomped across the room, and slammed the duster back on the board tray next to Malcolm. As he was stomping back, Malcolm picked up the same board duster and threw it at Michaels bag. Michael turned around to warn Malcolm not to do that again as the board duster whizzed past him. It was perfectly choreographed so the duster flew behind Michaels back as he turned, so he wasn’t aware it had been thrown. It hit his bag and fell back into the same pocket just as Michael turned back.

Michael, unaware of the chalky missile, turned towards his bag and zipped it back up. He then picked up his bag and we left.

Back at his house, where I went on occasion to play on his Megadrive, he unzipped his bag to find the board duster back in there. He stood there, stunned. He just kept saying, “HOW did he put it in AGAIN?!?………. HOW?!?”

I found my very first form room, Room 2, where I spent the majority of my first day.

I took a photo of where my very first desk was.

This was also the room in which Mr Kearsley would teach me maths a few years later. Mr. Kearsley was one of my favourite teachers.

When I was 21, I got married. We had children. We both moved away from the areas where we grew up and, subsequently, our children went to different schools to the ones my wife and I had been to. Before our eldest was due to start high school, we were invited to an open evening to look around. Neither of us had been in this new high school before. We were lead around and introduced to the staff…. this is Mrs. Such-and-such, the head of drama …. this is Mr. Somebody, head of science….. this is the maths block and this is Mr. Kearsley…. Mr. Kearsley had moved schools a few years ago, and was now going to be teaching MY children. THAT was a bit of a shock, but a VERY welcome one.

Mr. Kearsley and Mr. Ashby, the English teacher, were the two people I should thank for how I turned out as an adult. As a job I’m the Senior Payroll person at a firm of Accountants, so Mr. Kearsley, I thank you. I have written hundreds of articles on different websites over the past 12 years, so Mr. Ashby, I thank you too.

My very first form tutor was Mr. Woodcock. I have no idea what he taught, as I never had him for any lessons. He left at the end of my first year there. I’d gone from primary school, where I knew everyone names, to high school where I was surrounded my strangers. My first ever form had a few people I knew in it, but many that I didn’t know. I knew David, Paul and Gary from primary school, but on my first day I met Craig Rogers and Clive Duncan, who sat directly behind me.

At primary school, to acknowledge you were in class during registration, you said “Yes Mrs. Whoever” At high school, apparently, it was customary to say “Yes Sir” or “Yes Miss.” I didn’t know this, and no-one had explained this change to the rules, and so on my first ever registration at high school, because I was first alphabetically, I called out “Yes Mr. Woodcock.” Everyone followed suit for that first day.

After registration Mr Woodcock politely told me during a one to one that it should be “Yes Sir”, but I was so embarassed that I’d got it wrong that I continued getting it wrong on purpose for weeks, so as to not acknowledge that I’d been in the wrong.

Finally, I think in week 3, I changed to “Yes Sir.”

There were a few things I had always wanted to go back to school to do one last time. Firstly, I wanted to do one final run down our school hill to the field at the bottom. I did this.

Next, I wanted to walk straight down from the music room, down far too many flights of stairs and go straight to the drama hall. I did this too. The lights were all off and the door to the drama studio was locked, so I got as far as I could.

I wanted to go and stand where I used to stand every morning, with my mates. It was our mutual gathering place every morning for years.

Finally, I wanted to sit on the steps in the hall. This was where I had eaten the majority of my packed lunches throughout my high school life. I also managed to fit this in. Despite how the photo looks, I am genuinely, genuinely happy about it.

Walking slowly through a building I hadn’t been in for 21 years was amazing. It wasn’t emotional on an external level, but it was internally quite an intense feeling as memory after memory returned.

I was amazed how small the entire school was, not just the reception area.

Corridors that seemed to take five minutes to walk down when I was young took just moments as an adult. I walked down from reception, past the dance studio and Mrs Cowleys R.E room, past the staff room, past room 13, (the Geography room and my third year form room where Mr. Gerard lived,) round the corner towards the dinner room and down towards the biology labs. It took a couple of minutes at a miandering pace, if that. I had either been a tiny 16 year old, or incredibly slow at walking.

As I’m writing this, I’m desperately trying to remember my old form room numbers and teacher names… I seem to have blanked out for the entire fourth year.

1/2 – Mr. Woodcock
2/38 – Mrs. Cornish
3/12 – Mr. Gerard
4/? – ?
5/27 – Mr. Ross

If you hadn’t been to my school and you hadn’t had the experiences I had, I imagine the photos I took, of corridors and buildings, would be a selection of the most bland you’ve ever seen. To people who did go to my school I imagine you have ery different memories, yet equally vivid and important ones.

I had forgotten so much in the 20 years since leaving, so finally having the opportunity to revisit was a great experience. If you haven’t been back to see your old school, you should. It doesn’t matter if you had a bad time there or a great time, just seeing everything again is amazing.

You should also go to a school reunion. Why? See here -> Why you should go to a school reunion

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