Friend or foe?

My entry into the world of secondary education clearly brought me into touch with many new people, mostly my own age and it was a time of new friendships.

Some were casual and in the main based on presence in school. These especially came from science lessons as you were often partnered with someone to carry out experiments.

At times we were allowed to form natural pairings and I would work with Roger or another friend.

There were some teachers, however, who soon realised certain pairings would lead to trouble and decided to do their own mix and match.

I doubt we had any foes within our peer group but there were people you might not care to be paired with. It could be someone who took things too seriously and would have to dot every i and cross every t, while others would be exceptionally slapdash and make a joke of everything.

In the end you tended to put up with the hand you were dealt.

There were foes in the school – known as bullies, a term that did not just apply to pupils. There were bullies amongst the teachers as well.

My own nemesis, not exactly a rival more in the terms of an arch-foe, was at the highest point you could reach in school: the headmaster.

The headmaster of Rhyl Grammar School in the 60s, Mr A Ronald Davies, surrounded by some of his Praetorian Guard, the school prefects.

The first bully I met, however, was a pupil, in the year above me.

Now I was an easygoing youngster who always gave people the benefit of any doubt. I was also a peaceful child who would never willingly hit another person (I would have been useless as a boxer).

One day during the morning break I was meandering on the school field when approached by an older, taller and wider boy dressed in long trousers and a black blazer which clearly meant he was in the second year at least.

I happened to have a packet of Smith’s crisps in my hand (the kind that contained a portion of salt wrapped in blue waxed paper).

The boy approached me and demanded I hand over my crisps.

Being a polite child with the outlook that a soft word turneth away wrath I asked: “Why?”

The response was a punch on the nose that landed me on my back, with my bag of crisps parting company with my hand and the crisps parting company with the bag.

Apparently a soft answer does not turn away a bully.

I then found myself pinned to the ground with the boy on top of me apparently trying to stuff grass in my mouth as an exchange for the crisps.

It obviously amused the baying crowd who encircled us.

Just as I thought it was time for “lights out” and “Goodnight Vienna” I felt the weight being hauled off me and pairs of friendly hands helping me to my feet.

I stood and looked around and saw the crowd had disappeared, I was being held up by two classmates and my opponent was separated from me by three other classmates: Roger and the Parker twins.

As all bullies do he sloped off leaving me to thank my rescuers. By this time a couple of prefects had arrived on the scene and were asking what was going on.

It was Louis who stepped up to the mark and said: “We were just having a run around to burn off some energy and Robin tripped so we helped him up.”

Even at that early stage we were aware that you did not dob anyone in to the prefects.

That was the moment I realised that the most important thing you can ever have is friends.

Mind you I would never have expected justice from the school hierarchy whether it was a prefect, a teacher or the headmaster.

Later in that first school year we were in our woodworking class (our project was to make a wooden stool with a seagrass woven seat – I’ve still got mine).

The teacher would walk around the room guiding us in the correct practices. He always carried a long square stick (probably a yard measure) and insisted on no talking.

I was busy chiselling out one of 16 mortises in the legs of my stool when I felt a mighty thwack on my buttocks and heard the teacher say: “Stop talking Pierce.”

I think I was just too shocked to respond and he wandered off to find another victim.

When I got home I dropped my shorts and underpants and viewed my buttocks – there was a vivid purple weal right across them. It took 10 days for that bruise to fade but the memory of the injustice still burns fiercely.

It was another year before I felt the result of another injustice and this time it came from the very top.

I was now a second year and wore a black blazer and cap as well as long trousers. A group of us had been selected to go on some form of field trip which involved pupils from other schools.

I was waiting by the school gate with others for the bus that was to take us to the venue when I heard a bellow: “You boy, where’s your cap?”

I turned to see the headmaster Ron Davies bearing down on us with his gown billowing in his wake.

The school gate was set back from the pavement and the walls either side were not straight but came in at an angle. This meant some boys without caps on their heads were out of his sight. The boys in vision were wearing caps – except for me. As it happened I couldn’t quickly whip it out of my pocket and slap it on my head because I had left it at home.

“Sorry sir (I actually used the word at that time but have never called anyone “sir” since) I forgot it this morning as I got up late.”

“You are not going to represent my school improperly dressed. Go and wait outside my study.”

I did as I was told although inside I was seething that he had stopped me going on the trip for such a petty reason.

Having seen the bus off the head returned to the study and told me to come in.

He then gave me a good 10-minute oration (well it seemed like 10 minutes) before he told me to bend over with my hands on the desk.

That was when I realised I was being punished three times for a minor first offence – deprived of a school trip; ears assaulted by a boring lecture; and six of the best. Whoever came up with that term must have been a masochist.

My time would come.

Next time: Branching out.

PS: Had a reminder from an old pal that the stools were made in the second year of our woodwork classes.

That’s the joy of sharing – old friends can jog your memory.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

2 thoughts on “Friend or foe?

  1. I’m finding these posts great fun. You’ve already mentioned old friends whose names had slipped into the mists of time. Years later Tony Roberts played in the same quiz team as me at the Windsor Hotel. Phil Chesters worked in Chester as a Chartered Accountant and Colin Taylor went to Airbus where I’m pretty sure he was in the design department.
    I also remember the bullies, particularly as I had my arm broken by three of them, after only a few weeks at RGS, which set me back and had a profound effect on my confidence. It was friends in 2B, like yourself, who, without knowing it, got me through this difficult time – so thank you.


  2. David – that was what made some schooldays the best days of our lives. I am glad we were there for you just as you and other classmates were there for me.
    Stay safe at this difficult time.


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