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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories





It was strange having to attend Selby Technical College. Why I had been sent so far away I have no idea. I suppose it was some cruel trick by the Education Board. My Mum and Dad spent a lot on having to kit me out in the trappings of High School, as it was known, and the uniform was only available from Wetheralls department store in Selby so we had to make a couple of journeys to get the stuff. The school colour was a dark rusty brown. Gym kit was black shorts and yellow t-shirt. I even had a school cap, which I still have, a blazer, and a brand new satchel. I looked like the character "Just William". We also had to apply for a bus pass, which allowed me free passage to Selby and back, Monday to Friday. It only operated between 3pm and 5pm, or later if I was on school business.

On the appointed dreaded day I presented myself in Ferrybridge Square where there were about a dozen other kids of varying ages also waiting for the bus. When it turned up it was an old Leyland Guy double-decker, complete with a lunatic driver and a child-hating conductor. You boarded at the back to be ushered downstairs. Only the older kids went upstairs. I later found out why. I was a new boy so was shoved into the downstairs. After numerous stops, and about 50 additional kids later, we arrived in Selby marketplace.

Shell-shocked and fearful, I followed the other kids to the school. Hardly anyone spoke to me but they all looked at me. Some had pity in their eyes, others contempt, as if I had no right to be there. There I met the man who was to be my headmaster for the next couple of years, Mr. Harry H. Plackett. He was quite a flamboyant type of man in sharp contrast to Chad Radley at Weeland Road. He was a disciplinarian but not as quick to cane as Chad had been.

I was entered into class J, and so began my existence at that school, which, although it was an old building, had light classrooms and windows you could look out of. The view wasn’t Bagley’s smoking chimneys. The school had its own playing fields at the side. The down side was that on the opposite side of the playing field was the secondary school. I was later to find out that they were our enemies, but more of that later.

As the days passed it got a little easier and friends were made. The other kids on the bus started talking to me and life picked up a bit. I was introduced to Biology, Chemistry, Woodworking and other delights of senior school life.

It would be fair to say that I was very average at these subjects but then I couldn’t be good at anything… or should that be everything! Chopping up frogs, bunsen-burning chemicals and making fruit bowls just wasn’t my forte.

My only claim to fame I think was that I was still wearing short trousers. In fact I think I was the last one in the second year to wear them. Some style guru! - although I suppose setting off the fire alarm in a chemistry lesson, and having to evacuate the school does come a close second.

We were working in pairs, doing something with chemicals and bunsen-burners. As I recall there was a lighted taper involved, which had not to go in the jar if I think on. It was too good an opportunity to miss. Curiosity and mischief bubbled to the top, and you guessed it, yours truly had to put the light in the jar. The look of horror on my partners face, just moments before the jar exploded, was a picture. The rest is a bit of a blur really. The fire alarm going off, the mad scramble down the stairs, rushing out onto the playing fields, fire engines, sirens, police etc. made my day. I have no idea what the experiment was, but not that it matters. Thankfully nobody was hurt and we got off chemistry that afternoon. What a hero I was for a few hours!

For the first time, after games and gym, I had showers. They had hot water and soap that didn’t smell of carbolic. It was a communal shower with other boys, all naked, which was a shock to the system to say the least. Within a few days of going to the senior school and having no friends, to be naked with strangers was, to say the least, different. I’m sure all young boys, the first couple of times they have a communal shower with other boys, will understand what I mean. I believe it is politically correct in modern times to have individual showers. Shame as it does away with the community spirit!

The games master had one philosophy; one in, all in. At that school, our games master was Mr. Marr, who doubled up on Religious Studies. A strange combination, one that could hold a wealth of innuendo’s and jokes for the comedian. I remember him as a small powerfully built man. In thinking of him, I am reminded of the character teacher played by Brian Glover in the film “Kes”. Mr. Marr was a keen football player and got changed with us boys. He didn’t pull his tackles and was a tough guy to play against. I had the bruises to prove me right. What was different was he got changed with us boys and showered with us. Nobody thought anything of it at that time. Nowadays such a thing would provoke a frenzy. To us boys it was just Mr. Marr getting showered after games.

He was a firm believer in competitive sport and everyone, bar none, took part. The only excuse was a note from home and that was only for a short period. "Boys needed competitive sport", was his philosophy. Forgetting kit was no excuse as there was always the ‘Games Box’ in which there was all manner of shorts, shirts etc. The trouble was, you weren’t sure of the origins of the clothing so you didn’t forget your kit too often. This was normally after a swift application of a pump to the culprit’s rear end. If no pump was available the unfortunate got a football boot or even a cricket stump.

School dinners, now there was a treat to behold. I tried to stay on the good side of the dinner ladies to ensure that if there was any extra, I nearly always had some, but I usually had a generous helping anyway. There was method in my madness, running errands etc.. it paid dividends in the end.

I don’t think it was a conscious thing not to have long trousers. To this day I still prefer to wear shorts to long trousers. Any psychologist would no doubt have a field day and be able to write a university thesis on that.

Back to the story! Mum and Dad, in their wisdom, bought me a pair of grey school trousers. This would have been fine if the wearer had been seven-feet tall and had a 36 inch waist. As I was 13 at the time, a rake of a thing, and average height, I felt so embarrassed the first time I put them on. The turn-ups were okay but the waist was in the middle of my chest and I had to wear a belt, cinched up tight. Most of the time I had braces as well. Under my blazer I wore a jumper to cover up the trouser waist. Most of the time I got away with it but it was difficult during gym and games. I got away with it for a while, dressing and undressing in frenzy, sometimes putting on or taking off two or three garments at once but, as it always does, that came to an abrupt end.

I think we had done games and I was getting dressed. My jumper had gone astray and for a brief time my trouser waist was on show. Nearby was a boy whom I didn’t much care for and who wasn’t one of my fan club. Nothing was said so I thought I had got away with it, but how wrong I was!

Later that day, in front of the whole class, he proceeded to tell everyone who would listen about my trousers. Teacher was out of the room for some reason and I was made to stand on the desk minus my blazer and jumper, while the whole class looked on in amazement. You can imagine the result. There was great amusement. I had to stand up straight with gritted teeth and stony face. I really wanted to die inside and for two pennies would have thrown myself through the nearby window. I was so embarrassed. To make it worse, the teacher came back into the room to find yours truly stood on the desk. I was told to get down and stop making a spectacle of myself. To compound the embarrassment I got 100 lines. I had to write 100 times, “I must not stand on school furniture”, or something similar.

For a while I was the butt end of jokes etc. The only good thing to come out of it was that one person didn’t take the rise out of me. I will not forget that piece of kindness as long as I live. Whether it was through pity or that she couldn’t think of anything to say I don’t know. The point is that she didn’t. Over the next few months we became friends and I felt feelings I had never had before. I had met my first ‘love’ and for the first time in my life I looked at girls differently. Up to then they had been something to avoid and suffer. Now all that had changed.

This young girl was called Linda. We spent some happy times together, as happy as you can be at 13 years old. I helped her with her History and Geography homework and she helped me with Maths. It was all very tame and innocent by today’s standard. She was in the same class as me and in those days the class stayed together for nearly all lessons. It wasn’t until after the 3rd years that students branched off for different subjects, depending on their choices.

As I mentioned earlier, we were enemies with the school across the playing field. I’m not sure what it was called but we were a Technical School and it was a Secondary School. I believe it was later that year that a couple of us were in Selby running some school errand at lunchtime. We were chased and caught by a gang from this school. Both my friend and I were battered and bruised after the encounter but we gave as good as we got. We returned to school with a bloody nose and split lip; our skinned knuckles bearing evidence of our bravery. However, as often happens, the more the story was told the greater number grew our enemies and the more injuries they themselves had received. Our bloody noses and bruises paled at the mayhem we had inflicted upon them. A real ‘fisherman’s tale’ if ever there was one. It was a story that couldn’t be disputed though. Our two hero’s weren’t about to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The enemies weren’t about to come forward and dispute our account, so we won every which way. The culprits were never caught so justice was served.

That summer, as I was about to start the third year, we moved to the other side of Selby to a large Comprehensive, which I believe is still there. I believe it was called “Abbots Road Comprehensive” and what a change it was from Selby Tech. It was probably the largest school in the district.

The older buildings of Selby Tech gave way to a modern purpose-built school.  A large tower block overlooked rolling fields and woods, games fields and tarmac tennis courts. It housed purpose-built gyms, laboratories and a stage. The school population at least doubled, if not more. Our enemies from over the playing fields joined us and we became one big school. Thankfully our enemies from the previous encounter never surfaced so I have no idea what happened to them.

As mentioned at Weeland Road, now the fun began as to who was going to be ‘Cock of the School’. A few lads stood up to be counted, and by a simple process of elimination, one emerged victorious at the end. He was someone to stay clear of. To cause him any upset would result in a bloody nose and bust lip if you were lucky - worse if you weren’t. He was always surrounded by his entourage of cronies, both boys and girls. A regular ‘Godfather’.

Our new headmaster’s name escapes me but he regularly wore his black gown when prowling around school. He wasn’t a particularly friendly person but it seems that it was the norm in those days. Headmasters and teachers ruled more by fear than by being friendly. The chalk, chalkboard rubber and hockey slipper were the favourite weapons for throwing and beating us with. Occasionally it was a book, but it was not used so regularly as the others as I recall.

So passed the next two years of my school life. I was not a particularly brilliant student. I would say average in the main, probably English, Geography and History being the exception. Woodwork, Metalwork and Science, forget it. I didn’t really know the difference between dovetail and soldering, being useless at both. As for chemical formulas and physics, there was no hope.

I was voted to the dizzy heights of House Captain. I was voted to the position for the greens, "Bronte House”. This house seemed to contain all the nerds and geeks who were not very good at anything physical, but a whiz at all the debates and anything where the brain, not brawn, needed to be used. Another cruel twist of fate. Trust me, being above average at Sports and Physical Education, and being made house captain for the future boffins and librarians, I’m sure the voting was rigged so that I got the job, because no one else was daft enough to take it.

In the house games we came last all the time, however, we walked the brain stuff so life did have its compensations, but not a lot of good to me as it didn’t rub off much. Being very much into sports etc. I started to fill out a little bit, but was still a bit scrawny. About this time, an incident occurred that has stayed with me all my life, one that I have recounted many times.

Since arriving at this school I fell foul of a lad I shall call ‘Peter’. The school had a lot of farm lads from the Selby area and he was one of them. A tall lad, well-built, but a bully, he was head and shoulders above me. For some reason, which has been lost in the mist of time, he took a dislike to me. Contrary to the media, school bullying is nothing new, I’m sure it has been going on for generations, if not centuries. Tom Brown’s Schooldays is not a long way from the mark.

Anyway, it started out quite simply at first, from verbal abuse and swearing to finally physical abuse. He thumped me a few times and I got a few bloody noses. I never gave in, but wasn’t brave enough to tackle him alone either. I wasn’t the only one he bullied and we lived in fear of him. He seemed to take great delight in picking on kids smaller than himself and any protest resulted in a smack, usually full in the face. He liked to display his handiwork to keep the rest of us in check. By the law of the playground no-one spoke out to the staff. Who wanted to be a snitch? Looking back we should have done something about him sooner. After about two years it came to a head when he started taking the dinner money. It didn’t happen to me but the others had money taken off them.

When we played football he and I always seemed to be on opposing sides. If he was tackled and had the ball taken from him the result was a smack later. He was a poor loser so I was like a red rag to a bull. I was a decent tackler and not afraid so I took him down a few times and suffered for it later, but it was worth it.

To get back to the story, on one particular day we had been playing football and I had nailed him good and proper. He thought he was a world beater and in his own mind perhaps he was but I nailed him and he ended up chewing grass. When he got up his face said it all and I knew what was coming. Later, in the playground, I was grabbed and punched. I fell down but got back up. He hit me again but I got up again. That was it. As I started to get up I went onto one knee and cocked my fist. As I stood up I hit him as hard as I could on the nose. He went base over apex and measured his length on the playground floor. What a mess he was, but I didn’t care. I had stood up for myself and it was a wonderful feeling; a mixture of pleasure, relief and satisfaction. The moment was short but exhilarating. He went off to hospital and I went to the headmasters study. What could I say? I was suspended and sent home. Dad was surprised to see me and after some coaxing I told him what had happened. He was a bit miffed because I hadn’t told him sooner. My feelings went from one of exhilaration to one of disappointment. I felt that I had let him down by not telling him. What came out of it was a rule I have lived by ever since and tried to have my children live by. Not to be a bully, but not to be bullied either. As Dad would say, “The best thing for a bully is a good old Knottla lugholer”.

This chapter of my life is drawing to a close. The school bus had gone from overspill to a handful. We still had children-hating conductors and lunatic drivers but there were not many kids left. In fact I think I was one of the last to leave from the Knottingley area.

In the winter before I left school one of the teachers started a rugby class after school. Dad had been a good rugby player in his younger days and had played rugby league for Dewsbury. I know that he wanted me to play and I took to it like a duck to water. A game was arranged in the spring, when we were to play another school from the Selby area.

The team was picked and I was playing left centre. I was wearing the number 13 jersey. The match sticks in my mind for a couple of reasons. One because we were playing in green jerseys and two, it was St. Patrick’s Day. The venue was the Selby R.U.F.C. ground. We were soundly beaten by a lot to nil. The only part I remember clearly were the tackles. My opposite number was a good player and went past me a couple of times. Dad, who was at the game, spoke to me at half time. “He can only sidestep off his left foot”, was the observation from dad. Now dad knew his rugby inside out and had played in some good sides. In the second half he got past me again by side-stepping off his left foot leaving me catching thin air. As I got up, Dad, who was on the touchline, looked at me. The look said it all. Finally, with my sleeves rolled up, a grim determination took over. “You’ve made a monkey out of me for the last time, now it’s my turn.”

Play continued and we were being well beaten. When the ball came out to my opposite I lined him up, bearing in mind the left step, and crashed tackled him. He stopped dead, the wind out of his sails. We lost the resulting maul and when the other players got up he was very slow at getting up. I looked across at dad who had a large grin on his face and his thumb up. I caught him another couple of times in that half and the attacks on that side of the pitch slowed down. After the game, although being well beaten, Dad was full of praise. He was so proud. I had learned my first lesson in rugby league; tackle and tackle hard, so that they start looking for you, not the ball.

We had another couple of games before school finished and were beaten in both, but I had been bitten by the rugby league bug and went on to play after leaving school.

GCSE exams came and went. I completed my education leaving with Grade 1 passes in English, Maths and Geography. I had to forgo History for Geography but have never forgotten it. To this day I still have a passion for History.

So ended my school days; the best years of your life probably. How many times have I heard that? How many times have I said it to my children? Too many to count I think! Certainly a time that can never be forgotten or ever replaced. To everyone who made it what it was I offer a big thank you. Without your participation it would never have occurred and not have been so memorable.

I left to enter the big bad world; to endure and partake in all its trials and tribulations.

John Kidd

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