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Sunday, 19 January 2020

Biology Made Simple

(This is not a review. I wouldn’t want to say whether the book is any good or not. I simply picked it off the shelf where it has lodged unopened for half a century.)

A book to take you back to the third form (if only), year 9 as now known, two years before ‘O’ Level, the year you were 14. There you are again, head down, sketching and labelling diagrams of amoeba and the human heart, drawing flow charts of the carbon cycle and learning the names of digestive enzymes.

I loved it. I had the kind of dysfunctional, over-active memory that absorbed the names of anatomical structures and physiological processes like protozoan pseudopodia engulfing scraps of food. Two of us were way better than everyone else. There was, let’s called her Hermione, always first in class tests, and me, always one or two marks behind.

But I had a secret weapon. I must have been the only pupil with a tape recorder at home, or at least the only one devious enough to ask my mother to record a radio programme we were to hear in class in preparation for an essay. Mine was bloody brilliant – better than Hermione’s.

Then it became ‘Biology Made Difficult’. That year, Biology in the first term was not examined until the end of the third (terms 2 and 3 were Physics and Chemistry). That’s a long time to have to remember it. You know what happens. Too much messing about, thinking about the wrong things, lack of planning, lack of attention and in my case, well, let’s say poor mental health, meant I didn’t revise for the exam. My end of year report completes the tale. Biology: position in class 2nd; position in exam 25th; teacher’s comment “a disappointing exam result”. For the next two years, the ‘O’ Level years, I found myself in second-stream Biology where messing about and thinking about the wrong things were a way of life, especially if you wanted people to like you. Low grades for all of us. Idiot!

Still, I took Biology at ‘A’ Level and failed, and when I later chucked accountancy to train as a teacher, Biology was my main subject. That’s when I bought the book: a note inside records it was the 3rd July, 1973, about three months before starting at what was then called City of Leeds and Carnegie College, and six months before dropping out. It’s hard to believe you could once be accepted to train as a specialist Biology teacher without having passed it at ‘A’ Level; it was enough merely to have studied it.

No one has looked at the book since. It has been an absolute joy paying it the attention I should have paid then. Goodness, the things it tells you. It’s a bit like a Bill Bryson book without the exaggeration and contrived jokes. It doesn’t need them. It has its own miracles and wonder. Such as that we create and destroy an incredible 10 million* red blood cells every second. Ten million! Every second! That’s 864,000 million per day. Even at that rate it takes over 100 days to replace them all. And then there’s the horror. Such as hookworm. You really wouldn’t want to pick that up, the way it gets into the blood and burrows from the lungs to the windpipe to be coughed up and swallowed to grow in your gut.

And in Chapter 5: ‘Cycles of Life’, pp57-58, there is this. I am guilty of barefaced breach of copyright here, but Extinction Rebellion says it’s all right to break the law to draw attention to environmental issues.

That is what we knew then. In fact, there is a whole chapter expanding upon the preventative and curative measures listed. It was originally published in 1956 and revised in 1967. Despite not mentioning plastic or climate change or unlimited population growth, it lists so many other ways we upset the balance of nature through our “ignorance, carelessness or ruthlessness … in a given area”. Was it too much of a mental leap to understand that “given area” could mean the whole planet? We should all have been paying more attention.

So, an interesting trip down memory lane. It may be “biology made simple”, there were some things I wanted to read more about, it isn’t modern biology with all that nasty cell chemistry, but I enjoyed it. Best of all, I don’t have to learn it now.

*A bit of Googling suggests this may be an overestimate, the correct figure being a still very impressive 2.4 million red blood cells per second, about a quarter of the number given in the book.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Review - Barry Hines: A Kestrel For A Knave

Barry Hines: A Kestrel For A Knave. Penguin Decades edition.
Barry Hines
A Kestrel For A Knave (5*)

I have seen so many clips from Ken Loach’s film Kes, I felt I knew this book well. I didn’t.

I knew the outline well enough: “grubby little lad in Yorkshire … finds and trains a kestrel … bringing hope and meaning to a drab life crushed by bullying schoolmasters and a downbeat home life,” to quote the Daily Mirror (20th March, 1970). I even once co-wrote a parody called ‘Budge’, poking fun at a friend who kept animals, about a boy who found an escaped budgerigar in his coalhouse and trained it to sing rude songs in a Yorkshire accent. 

This entirely misses the poetry of the book: the vivid and lyrical descriptions of the streets and countryside around the coal mining community where it is set. It is an astonishing piece of writing. The story absorbs you completely. Every page shines with brilliance. The language mirrors the shifting emotions: the joy of escape from the dirt and poverty of the town into the natural beauty of the hills, woods and fields; the elation on seeing the kestrel wild and free in flight; the constricting terror in hiding from an inescapable beating; the dread when the bird is missing.

I can only give examples. The first has often been quoted before: 
A cushion of mist lay over the fields. Dew drenched the grass, and the occasional sparkling of individual drops made Billy glance down as he passed. One tuft was silver fire … and when it caught the sun it exploded, throwing out silver needles and crystal splinters. (p19)

There is despair at the end as Billy wanders the streets bereft through a scene familiar to anyone who has walked alone through an empty northern town at night:
A shadow rippling across a drawn curtain. A light going on. A light going off. A laugh. A shout. A name. A television on too loud, throwing the dialogue out into the garden. A record, a radio playing; occasional sounds on quiet streets.  (p157)

There is the language, the Barnsley dialect, such as in Billy’s words as he comes alive in describing the bird’s first free flight to his class during an English lesson: 
‘Come on, Kes! Come on then! Nowt happened at first, then, just when I wa’ going’ to walk back to her, she came. You ought to have seen her. Straight as a die, about a yard off t’floor. An’ t’speed!  … like lightnin’, head dead still, an’ her wings never made a sound, then wham! Straight up on t’glove, claws out grabbin’ for t’meat,’  (p66)
(clip of this scene from the film)

The accent would in truth be much stronger than rendered in the book (as in the film clip linked above). After the film was premiered at the Doncaster Odeon in March, 1970, some thought it would need sub-titles for audiences south of Sheffield. Like my mother-in-law, whose recurring nightmare, each time she heard the local accents when she travelled up on the train to see us and passed through Barnsley, was that her grandchildren might grow up to speak like that. (They did and they didn’t. Other kids at school said they talked posh but when they went out into the wider world their Yorkshire accents were obvious.)

The book took me back to my own Yorkshire town: the streets of terraced housing, the industrial grime, the local accent, but none of it quite as grim and hopeless as here.

The Barry Hines Memorial Statue
Barry Hines grew up near Barnsley at Hoyland Common. He wrote other novels and also scripts for radio, film and television. Before becoming a full-time writer he was an inspirational teacher. He was enormously influential. He died in 2016 and funds are being raised for a bronze statue to be erected in Barnsley in his honour, showing young Billy Casper with his kestrel. The bronze has now been cast but funds are still needed for the plinth.

The film Kes remains legendary in the area and many of those who were extras as children are still around. A fundraising screening at the Penistone Paramount a couple of years ago was a sell out. The folk ensemble I play in put on a fundraising ceilidh (barn dance) in Barnsley last year.

As Ian McMillan says in the introduction to the Penguin Decades edition I have, “Going back to the book with the film in my head is a revelation.” Indeed it is. I should have read it a long time ago. I’ll definitely read it again.

Key to book ratings: 5* would read over and over again, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.  

List of previous reviews 

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Review - Margaret Forster: Georgy Girl

Margaret Forster
Georgy Girl (3*)

Another nineteen-sixties novel I didn’t read when I should have done, supposedly set in ‘swinging’ London, although the sense of time and place arises mainly out of the social context rather than anything tangible. Such as there being nothing remarkable about cohabiting, the choices available to women and the reactionary views of Georgy’s parents. The story is also framed in sixties popular culture by the Seekers’ hit song (like it or loathe it) and the 1966 ‘X’ certificate film with Lynn Redgrave in the title roll. Other than that, the plot might be from almost any time or place.

Georgy is exuberant and outgoing but thinks of herself as ungainly and unattractive. She shares her London flat with the promiscuous, callous and selfish Meredith who, it is revealed in a masterclass of writing from multiple points of view to show not tell, treats Georgy like a skivvy. Meredith becomes pregnant and exercises her choice by seeing it through, so that her boyfriend, Jos, feels he should move in. He then falls for Georgy and while Meredith is in hospital having the baby (no quick in-and-out stays in those days) they become a couple. Not that Meredith is bothered. She has already exercised her choice again by abandoning the baby for adoption. But Georgy has other ideas and sees herself caring for the child with Jos. However, the baby quickly becomes the main focus of Georgy’s affections, and Jos leaves.

Meanwhile, there is a backstory. Georgy’s parents are employed as live-in servants to the wealthy James who, childless, has funded Georgy’s privileged upbringing and education. She doesn’t seem to need to work much. James has also been trying to persuade Georgy to become his mistress and after his wife dies he proposes marriage. Georgy accepts in order to be able to adopt and bring up the baby. 

A readable fast-paced novel, not as soap-opera-ish as it sounds, which fired up Margaret Forster’s reputation as a respected writer. Great characters, not particularly likeable. It may have seemed progressive and even scandalous at the time, but gives little sense that this is what life was really like in the sixties, if it ever did or was.

Key to star ratings: 5* would read over and over again, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.  

Previous book reviews 

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

New Month Old Post: Donkey Stone

I seem to have gained quite a few new readers during the past year since starting to comment more on other blogs and discovering a lovely, friendly and supportive blogging community out there. I have therefore been thinking of instigating a regular feature “New Month Old Post” to revisit and perhaps improve earlier posts they won’t have seen, posted during the previous five years I spent blogging sometimes only to myself. Here, almost at random, is the first selection.

This has nothing at all to do with a recent accusation that I don’t post enough (YP Blog Awards Committee 2019). If anything, it’s a duplicitous way of being able to post less.

Donkey Stone

(first posted 27th May, 2016)

Advertisement for Donkey Stone

We were discussing door steps last week – I can’t remember why – and a very early memory came back.

“Did your mother ever colour your front door step with a block like a piece of house soap?”

My wife’s expression indicated she thought I was talking gibberish. It is a look I get quite a lot these days – the same expression she used for her mother before she went into a care home.

“I’m sure my mum used to rub our front door step with something called a dolly stone or something like that, which coloured it red,” I persisted. 

“What a stupid idea. It would get paddled all over the carpets on people’s shoes.”

“I think she did the window sills and round the boot scraper as well.”

My wife, who is from the South of England, still thinks some of our Northern ways are peculiar, even after twenty-five years in Yorkshire. She is particularly contemptuous of memories of the small West Riding town I grew up in. I tried to explain that the boot scraper was where you left the empty milk bottles, but it seemed inadvisable to go further and argue that, no, the colour would not have got paddled all over the carpets because we didn’t have any – we had lino and clip rugs – and the topic moved on.  

Dan Cruickshank using Donkey Stone

But there, last night on television, as clear as anything, was Dan Cruickshank in At Home with the British, scouring the door step of a Liverpool terraced house with a DONKEY stone. They were made from pulverised stone, cement and bleach, and originally used in textile mills to make greasy steps non-slip. Subsequently, house-proud housewives in terraced houses used them to clean their stone door steps and window sills. Like clean net curtains, it was a way of fooling the neighbours into thinking the rest of your house was just as spotless, even though it might have been a filthy pigsty inside. The practice died out in the nineteen-fifties and -sixties, especially after in some houses the worn soft Yorkshire stone steps were replaced by coarse concrete.

First home with boot scraper beside front door
So I wasn’t talking gibberish. We left that house when I was six, but I have a clear memory of my mum, down on her hands and knees on the pavement one sunny summer’s day, dipping a rectangular block into a bucket of water, rubbing it into a paste all over the front door step and telling me to “keep off it while it dries” (as we would have said then). One of the most common colours was yellow-brown sandstone which I would see as red (explained in Colours I See With).

The only surprise is that I had forgotten about the donkey.

The Donkey Stone advertisement is from an out-of-print 1930s directory. Inclusion of the single frame from “At Home with the British” is believed to be fair use. The last picture is of the house where I first lived. Its doors and windows have changed (excluding the attic) but it still has the boot scraper recess beside the front door.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Young Thugs

The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour

Tuesday, 26th December, 1967. Boxing Day. Went with Phil and Neville to see Magical Mystery Tour on television at the Lowther. You won’t bump into any teachers there but it’s not rough like some of the other pubs down by the docks.

No one in except Bloddo as usual standing on his own at the bar, grimy gabardine mac riding tight round his stomach, bicycle clips riding tight round his ankles. Phil noticed that his purple socks matched his purple nose.

Sat waiting for it to start at 8:35. Changed channel to BBC1. Bloddo muttered something under his breath about “young thugs”.

Who was he, I wonder all these years later. Where was he on Christmas Day when the pubs were closed? It wouldn’t have hurt to have asked would it? Casual indifference. Young thugs.

That’s how Phil remembers it. My version is different. It wasn’t Bloddo who called us thugs. I don’t think we even needed to change channel because David Frost was on when we arrived and Bloddo ogled the Breakaways. The TV schedule bears that out.

I think it happened afterwards as we walked rowdily home with three pints of beer inside. We passed a middle-aged couple arm-in-arm. The woman whispered “young thugs” which I overheard and repeated to Phil who fell into helpless drunken laughter: a mixture of pride and disbelief because three more unlikely young thugs there could never have been. Three grammar school boys! We were under-age drinkers if that counts. And young thugs.

Whose version is right? Is anything on this blog right? Were we called thugs twice?

But back to the Beatles’ film. It was rubbish. No plot. No structure. Just surreal events and silly-joke characters on a tour bus. Like ‘Buster Bloodvessel’. It didn’t help it was in black and white. Even when repeated in colour on BBC2 a week and a half later, hardly anyone, or any pub, had a colour set.

I still don’t like the songs. They have a strange, directionless feel, like that last directionless year at school, waiting for the van to come to take me away, the fool on the hill, the Bloddo at the bar, now I’d lost myself instead. You say,“Why?” And I say, “I don't know.” You fail exams on nights like that. 

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Christmas Tree

80 year-old Christmas tree - links to article in The Guardian
80 year-old Christmas tree
I enjoyed reading last year about a 74 year-old from South Wales who still has his childhood Christmas tree. His parents bought it for around sixpence from Woolworths over eighty years ago. Obviously, it is artificial. The branches are wire and goose feather and fold up to the main stem for storage. He keenly remembers the excitement of decorating it each year. “... having an artificial tree was aspirational,” he says.

Ours was much the same. Here it is, below, in the corner of the front room in 1963, scanned from a scratched and blurry negative. Mum and Dad are sitting round the fireplace trying to read despite the disruptions of Sooty the cat, my brother, and the long blazing flash of a disposable magnesium flashbulb from my Brownie Starmite camera – my main present that year. Apart from the tree and a few paper trimmings, we don’t seem to have many other Christmas decorations. You didn’t need them with wallpaper like that.

Christmas Tree 1963

For the rest of the year we stored the tree away: in the attic at the previous house. Dad used to greet it “Christmas tree, Christmas tree” every time we went up the stairs. We kept the tree decorations with it in large cardboard box.

Going by some of the junk I’ve posted about, you may be surprised to hear I no longer have the tree. But not to disappoint, I do still have the box and some of its contents. Here it is in the loft:

Wm. Jackson of Hull cake box circa 1923 Wedding cake - undated - possibly 1920s

It describes itself as a bride cake box from Wm. Jackson & Son, Ltd. of Spring Bank, Hull, now remembered more as bread makers and supermarket owners. Exactly whose cake it once contained is one of those things I should have thought to ask when I still could. The box bears a testimonial from November, 1923, which was too late for my grandparents’ wedding despite my grandfather’s name written on the lid. It could have been my grandma’s sister who married in 1927. Could this be the cake: a tiny photograph found between the pages of a family bible I borrowed over twenty years ago? Again, we’ll never know.

Christmas tree ornaments 1940s 1950s

And here are the decorations, probably from the nineteen-forties and -fifties. The coloured globes look similar to those in the newspaper article. There used to be more but, being glass, they shatter easily. We no longer use them. The bird – a golden Christmas dove – can just about be made out on top of the tree in the 1963 photograph. Other years we had a Christmas fairy. We used to put the candles on the tree and light them – and we lived to tell the tale. (an after-memory: Mum used to extinguish the candles by licking her fingers and squeezing out the flame. I tried it but was too hesitant and burnt my fingers).

Christmas tree lights 1950s
At one time we had a set of hanging pear-shaped lights like those in the newspaper photograph. Before that we had some with plastic bell-shaped shades with nursery rhyme images, exactly like these. They were wired in sequence so when they invariably failed to work you had to check each bulb in turn. You could buy a special “flasher bulb” to make the lights flash on and off: no need for LEDs and digital controllers when you could buy a bulb with a bi-metal compound bar.

Trumpet Christmas Tree Decoration 1940s-1950s
Yet my favourite tree decorations from all that time ago – two trumpets – were not in the cake box. Only one survives. It was with the decorations we use. It has a dangerously broken mouthpiece, but if you take care to avoid the sharp shard of glass and powdering lead paint and put it to your lips and blow, it still gives out a rousing rooty toot toot: Hail Smiling Morn! Well, maybe not quite that rousing, but the same unfettered childlike glee.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

A Silly Christmas Love Story

At a writing group I sometimes attend, it was suggested we submit Christmas-themed pieces to The Writers’ Magazine. This is mine, previously posted here in 2015 (not against the rules) and I was delighted it was accepted. It appears in the December 2019 issue, and below (about 1500 words).

Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs
And what's wrong with that? I'd like to know, 'cause here I go again. 
(Paul McCartney)

From mid-November to the end of term, when the hockey and rugby pitches slid shirt-soakingly wet from the autumn rains, or skin-scrapingly rough from the winter frosts, games lessons were displaced by dancing practice. The boys and the girls, and their teachers Mr. Ellis and Miss Poskitt, came together in the gym to prepare for the school Christmas party. The girls tolerated it. The boys felt embarrassed. Miss Poskitt enjoyed it and joined in. Mr. Ellis did not.

The wall bars, climbing ropes, horizontal beams, benches, spring boards, vaulting horses, medicine balls and rubber mats were all stowed away, and the boys and the girls assembled dolefully on opposite sides of the gym.

Mr. Ellis called them to order. “Gentlemen,” he announced with false gaiety, “please cross the floor and take your partners for the Dashing White Sergeant ... and walk, don’t run,” he added in an exasperated voice on seeing that some boys were already half-way there. “We walk across the floor in a civilised manner and courteously ask the young lady to grant us the honour of the dance.”

Now I know this sounds awful – sexist male chauvinistic objectification you might call it – but it is simply the way things were for thirteen year old boys in the early nineteen-sixties. There were some girls you would happily dance with and others you would not. Nat Lofthouse always wanted to dance with Wendy Godley but because she was pretty so did everyone else. On the rare occasion he managed to be among the first to cross the floor he was usually bundled aside by one of the more civilised and courteous members of the rugby team, and would find himself face to face with Wendy’s friend, Amanda. Even when not among the first to cross the floor, he still usually found himself face to face with Amanda. And when it was a ladies choice, when the claws came out and the fur started to fly, yes, you’ve guessed already, Amanda always chose him. He began to suspect a conspiracy.

Sadly, Amanda was not one of those girls you wanted to be seen dancing with. It was not that she wore glasses and had spots but more to do with the hideous and rather slimy orthodontic brace that glinted inside her mouth. She was taller than him too. Why did he keep ending up with Amanda?

The class knew The Dashing White Sergeant well. The school had only about half a dozen records for its feeble gramophone so they danced the same dances every year. They went straight into it:

Rum-tum rum-tum rum-tum tiddle-liddle,
Rum-tum rum-tum rum-tum tiddle-liddle,
Rum-tum rum-tum rum-tum tee,
Tiddle-liddle liddle-liddle rum tum tum.

The remainder of the afternoon was occupied by a varied choreography of allemande holds, steps forwards, backwards and sideways two-three-four, hops, spins, do-si-dos, grand chains, polkas, waltzes and two-steps. The willow was well and truly stripped. It was odd though that whenever you were supposed to progress on to other partners, Nat always found himself back with Amanda. It definitely was a conspiracy.

The following week he decided on a new tactic. When Mr. Ellis began to instruct them to take their partners, he would set off early, walk not run, be civilised and courteous, and grab hold of Wendy first before anybody else.

“Gentlemen,” said Mr. Ellis, and Nat set off. “Please cross the floor to take your partners for ...” Nat realised he had gone too soon.

“Ah! Lofthouse,” said Mr. Ellis in predatory mock surprise, “How wonderful to see you so keen. Perhaps today you would like to ask Miss Poskitt for her hand so you can demonstrate the Veleta Waltz for the benefit of us all.” Unconstrained laughter echoed around the gym.

Da-ah de da-ah de da-ah de dum,
Da-ah de da-ah de da-ah de dum,
Da-ah de da-ah de da-ah de dum,
Da-ah de da-ah de diddle-lit-dit dum.

On the first run through of each dance it was Miss Poskitt’s custom to select an unfortunate victim to demonstrate it. It was never Mr. Ellis, he never danced, it was always one of the boys. And when she danced, her natural, neat, flowing movements transformed her from an ungainly girls’ sports teacher into a graceful danseuse. On each third beat of the Veleta she rose nimbly on alternate ankles poising briefly to show off her athletic, hockey-player legs. As she moved him around the floor and changed sides to demonstrate the man’s leading role, Nat felt as powerless as John Betjeman’s subaltern partnering Miss Joan Hunter Dunn: weak from the loveliness of her “strongly adorable tennis-girl’s hand”. He glowed bright red as Mr. Ellis led the class in a round of applause.

*                   *                  *

The following year, when the playing fields were once more cloaked in fog and blattered up with mud, dancing came back as predictably as an unwanted partner in a well-executed Circassian Circle. The boys and girls assembled reluctantly as usual on opposite sides of the gym. As always, it was the first occasion in the school year when classes of the same age came together and an interesting new face might be noticed. Any new member of Wendy and Amanda’s A-stream girls would be seen for the first time by Nat’s B-stream boys.

Nevertheless, when Nat crossed the floor to take part in the traditional partner-selection ritual and was brutally barged out of the way by one of the school prop-forwards, he was surprised to find himself face to face with a new girl, an attractive new girl who glowed with health and perfection. Actually, he’d spotted her a couple of months earlier and wondered who she was, the sporty girl playing tennis with Wendy. She played so well, so athletically, a true Miss Joan Hunter Dunn. Nat hesitantly mumbled his request to dance. The new girl gave him a lovely smile, thanked him for choosing her and said she would be delighted to accept.

They took to the dance floor for The Military Two Step: Heel toe, heel toe, de diddly diddly dum de diddly, heel toe, heel toe ... Never had Nat seen anyone heel and toe so elegantly. Not even Miss Poskitt.

“Look at you!” his partner whispered wide-eyed at the end of the dance. Nat was taken aback by her intimate, affectionate tone. She turned to face him, looked him up and down, and stepped so close he could feel the warmth of her face on his. She reached up and placed her hand on top of his head, and then moved it backwards over her own. “You’re taller than me now,” she said.

To his astonishment, Nat realised it was Amanda. What a change!

I don’t need glasses now,” she laughed, amused by his bewilderment, “or that hideous brace.” 

And then, before they could say more, it was The Finnjenka Dance to the school’s newly acquired record, March of the Mods by Joe Loss and his orchestra. Joe Loss? Dead Loss! Within seconds Amanda had marched on to the next partner and was gone. But as always, as if through some secret feminine wile, she ended back with him just in time for The Gay Gordons.

Da, Dah-de dah-diddy, Dah-de dah-diddy, Dum dum dum diddy, Dum dum dum…

“We’re dead good,” Amanda raved at the end. “Really great! Natural partners! Ace, brill and fab! You have to come round on Saturday. I’ve got all the music at home. Come round to practise on our own. Then we’ll go to the party together.” Nat wished she would keep her voice down. Mr. Ellis pretended not to hear. Miss Poskitt rolled her eyes and blew them a kiss. 

Nat loved being bossed and organised by Amanda. They did go to the party together. It was at the Baths Hall where every winter the pool was drained and boarded over with a dance floor, the only hall in town large enough to accommodate the whole of the school year. They danced all the dances, and held each other glad all over into something good to The Honeycombs, Dave Clark Five and Herman’s Hermits. They laughed when the science teacher, Mr. Richardson, as ever, stood up and recited entirely from memory a long poem about young Albert and a lion called Wallace and a stick with an ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle.

It had begun to snow during the party, and after Auld Lang Syne they came out into a winter wonderland and walked home together merrily singing Jingle Bells and pretending to be reindeer. Nat dared to kiss Amanda’s soft warm cheek and she produced a piece of mistletoe to hang on his imaginary antlers. She kissed him back and gave him a tender hug.

He was sad that before school resumed again after the holidays, Amanda had left with her family and moved to Johannesburg.

*                   *                  *

The next year everything changed except the weather. The Christmas party took place in the pristine new school hall and the traditional dances and Mr. Richardson’s recitation were consigned to the past. Nat found an excuse not to go. He hid at home from the cold, dreaming of tennis and Christmas dancing in the summer sun at the other end of the world.

Mr Ellis also appears in:
          Jim Laker, Mr. Ellis
and the Eagle Annual

Tackling Rugby
The wonderfully evocative photograph of the school Christmas party captures exactly how things were in those far off innocent schooldays. Multiple copies of the image appear across the internet but if it is still the copyright of H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images I will remove it on request of the copyright holder.