Staff talent show.
The Staff Talent show was something that students eagerly anticipated for weeks leading up to Christmas. This lunch time performance was hotly contested affair, which always took place on the Thursday of Charities Week (See Those were the days Part 26).
The winner was chosen by a panel of judges that was not quite of the same caliber as that from X-Factor. Teachers used to dodge the honour of appearing on this judging panel as it always used to end in tears and tantrums from the Staff band in particular if they did not come out on top.
Your brief as a judge was basically to decide if the Staff band had done enough to defeat a less talented, but very determined bunch of reprobate teachers (mainly teaclub members) that locked horns with the band every year. Other groups of staff performed various party pieces, or mimed to tracks of the day from performers such as Rick Astley. Invariably these side acts were poor and often slightly toe curling. Therefore it always boiled down to a straight shoot out – The band versus the “Tea Club Boys”.
The Band was pretty tight and would bash out an Oasis cover or something similar. The Rake 2 for further stories from the band’s exploits.
The lads in opposition knew their limitations, but would use props, bribes, humour and what talent they had to try and win over the audience. One year they built a life size Cadillac out of MDF for their performance of Grease Lightening.
The vision that I still have of one of their best shows was of the four of the reprobates lined up, wearing tutus, leotards and ballet shoes performing a series of demi plies to the soundtrack of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The whole front row of the audience was screaming in shock and blind panic every time the lads bent their knees to lower their torsos gracefully and sweep their arms upwards. This was due to the fact that one of the teachers had burst his tights in a rather crucial area and so every time he stooped down his scrotum squeezed out of the hole for a gentle airing! This was the cause of the screams of terror from the Year 10 girls who were copping an eyeful of this in the front row.
Escape from INSET
My first ever September inset day convened in a small library that was laid out with rows of chairs pushed back as far as the bookshelves. I do not know where the venue was, being new to the school, so arrived late and had to tiptoe my way to the back where there were some spare seats. Little did I know that I had landed amongst the hardcore members of the tea club one of which was MM the music teacher with the optics. As the proceedings started the hubbub died down and introductions were made, notices given out etc.
As time went by I noticed MM who was sat near me start to shuffle his chair away from me towards a line of bookshelves. He did this in stages, sometimes coughing whilst shifting the chair of further and further away. As soon as he made the cover of the bookshelf he jumped up and stood out of the view of the people of the front of the meeting.
He then started gesticulating and pointing at me. One thing I did notice was that he pointed a fire exit which he now had direct access to. He beckoned me across to come and over to him, at this point in time I did not even know who this bloke was, and nevertheless I followed his instructions. He quietly popped the five door open whilst I shuffled across to join him. The last few feet I covered by crawling on my hands and knees using a bookshelf of periodicals as cover, but we got there in the end.
We both ducked out of the meeting via the fire exit went for a cup of tea in the music room until the meeting went for a break. I was later to learn that this is typical behaviour of MM, an old school legend.
5 a- side was played at lunch in a sixth form/staff league, as well as after school on Fridays
There was an 11 a-side staff football team too that played other schools and the Year 12 & Year 13 teams. We used to play Year 11 at the end of the year only if they behaved themselves over the year. It was a good carrot to dangle in front of any meatheads that you taught that were in the Year 11 team – “behave yourself, or you won’t play in the Staff game”. The staff team had a bit of a reputation for being a bit ‘rough house’ and had difficulties at times in retaining fixtures against other staff teams in the Borough after some ding dongs with the opposition.
The team did about three weekend tours (in the school minibus) every year to play other schools around the country that we had contacts with – Bolton School for Boys/St Bedes Grammar Bradford was the big one. The nightclubs in both towns have to be seen to be believed. The team even had its own kit sponsored by Snickers. These shirts were supplied by the chocolate bar company after the school sold 50,000 units from its vending machines – the Healthy Schools programme was still to come!
The day before one tour away the bloke who normally played in nets on tour injured his hand. The only last minute replacement we could think of was the lad who played in goal for the sixth form team. He was in my Year 13 tutor group, so after an invite in Friday morning registration and the “what goes on tour…..” pledge he turned up next day with a note from his mum and was on the bus. He is in his 30’s now and still claims that was the best weekend of his life!
Another great sporting event was the renowned crazy golf tournament on the field which was organised by the PE department. You had to chip over benches, hack out of the long jump pit and lob the ball over hockey goals around an improvised course. Mr Old School himself, Matt Morse – a teacher that called girls by their Christian names and boys by their surnames, used to carry a 7 iron around along with a plastic carrier bag of 9 bottles of Beefeater G&T mixers. He would tee off and have a scoop on each hole. This was a man who had a set of optics bolted to his upright piano in his music practice room. He would regularly spike his tea with a shot of the good stuff from one of the bottles fixed in front of him whilst tinkling away on the piano as he accompanied a scratchy Year 7 violinist. A legend.
Form trips were all the rage then. I took some of my tutees ice skating, bowling and sailing, even down to Loftus Road to watch the football. I always had a form Christmas meal out when I had a sixth form tutor group. They were often more fun than the departmental meals out. Green forms had only just started to come in then and risk assessments were unheard of. One Year 13 tutor group night out bowling ended in Zenith’s nightclub in Park Royal and I only had two kids in registration the next day!
This stuff used to be banned. One reason in particular was that the organic solvent used to thin down the correction fluid was abused by kids. The situation got quite bad for a while where students would put a few drops of the solvent on their blazer sleeve and sit and sniff it during assemblies. It became the latest craze. One could argue that the assemblies were so bad that the kids got driven to solvent abuse in order to get through them. It is ironic that these days we bang on at kids to wear their blazers in assemblies, whilst then the students were told not to wear them for fear that they would be “on the sniff”.
Staff smoked in the staff room when I first started. When the smoking legislation came in and things tightened up my erstwhile mentor (Richard Michaels) would have a snout in my lab under the fume cupboard hood, whilst sat on a student stool. This saved the hassle of trapsing off to the smoking room.
Staff went to the pub at lunch. Some went every day – no joke! It was the norm for these teachers to have a liquid lunch. Mind you, lunch was an hour long break then, not these modern 40 minute “lunch hours”. In fact the local boozer used to take the TES on a Friday along with the regular order of tabloids for customers to read, as so many of us went down there on that day.
There was also an elite drinking fraternity, which was an off-shoot of the tea-club (see previous posts). “The 335 club” was as the name suggested based on a time of day when members had to be in the Black Bull by. This was the only rule of the 335 club. The “Bull” suffered at least one suspicious fire and had its windows shot out by one disgruntled patron. It has now become run down, but is still being used as a film set!
Back to the booze……..We used to knock back a wine box at every Science Department meeting, regular. The booze and nibbles were supplied by our HOD, who would always bring a decent red and high end bar snacks. Wine was also served with a hot meal on all INSET days and some of the hard core drinkers would regard it as a personal challenge to make sure the wine was all consumed before going back to their work, even if it meant minesweeping the unfinished bottles from other tables.
When I first started teaching the smoking regulations had yet to be introduced and staff were allowed to smoke in the staff room. Members of the tea-club would not think twice about smoking in the workshop where the club members met. When smoking in the workplace became more restricted a smoking room was set up. This room changed location over the years. It eventually ended up being put in the office space between two mobile class rooms. This mobile hut sat in one of the school carparks detached from the rest of the school. The smokers were a tight bunch who always made the room as homely as possible. It had a TV, fridge and microwave and some comfy chairs to sit in.
One day a Year 11 class was waiting for a cover teacher to turn up for their lesson in one of the classrooms next to the smoking room. The teacher had not arrived and the hut was empty so the class let themselves in. After 10 minutes or so an impromptu game of football broke out amongst some of the lads who were clearly getting bored. Things got more organised, chairs and desks were cleared and the boys started playing “headers and volleys” using the whiteboard as the goal. One stray shot got belted too hard and it burst a hole in the flimsy plywood wall between the smoking room and the classroom. A head got poked in by a student to investigate, the hole was made bigger and a lad shoved through to open up. By the time a teacher eventually got there the tea had been brewed, the fridge had been raided and the fags had been smoked!
Now as promised I am going to list a few things that Bernie used to do on a regular basis that made him the stand out character that he was as and ever will be. But before I start I do not want it to look like character assassination. We all love BC and he is a Legend in my book – hence the poll I have set up above. These anecdotes may make him out to be a bit of a “special” guy, yet BC is a top bloke and he never fails to touch those that he meets in some way.
Onwards and upwards then.
The interests that Bernie had were nearly all sports related, and before I go any further it was thanks to Bernie that my club cricket career took the path that it did. He was the man that introduced me to the two clubs (Guinness and Harlington) that I spent very happy times with. He even got me a game down at Northwood Football Club’s veterans side – but my career there did not last that long after my team mates worked out that I was no good. I mean to say that my first touch was so bad; my next one was a tackle!
So Bernie’s foibles?
Ablutions – his morning started with a gym exercise routine in the boys changing room. He often used a few free weights. The thing that I remember about this daily event was it finished with him having a wash of his face, a brush of his teeth and a good old spit in the tiny Belfast sink set at floor level that was there for cleaning boots!
In the same shower room was a huge plunge bath big enough for a whole team to fit in. We are talking swimming pool here. Bern had a small adjustable spanner in his office that he used to get out before our regular Friday night staff soccer fixtures. The spanner was used to set the bath tap running very slowly as we were getting changed. He used to leave the tap running as we trotted out for the fixture and on our return after the match there was BC’s bath waiting for him!
Practice makes perfect – Bernie loved to practise his sport. On cold and often wet winter evenings after work BC and I used to stand about 20 yards either side of a football goal that had no net in it. We used to strike a football and aim to hit the cross bar and if it did not then the ball would glide over the goal to the person opposite in a nice long pass. This was well before Sky did the “cross bar challenge” and it was amazing how many times we hit the bar flush. This routine certainly improved my game and I lost count of the number of corners I struck in matches to where BC pointed, as he jostled for a chance to run onto the ball in the penalty box and burst the net with a bullet header. I knocked over a few crosses in my time and can still hear him scream “BC’s!!!!” as he launched himself at another goal attempt. Bernie could head the ball all right.
Pock marked gym wall – Bernie used to love his cricket. His batting was like my bowling, erratic. Equally I could bat a bit and he was a really decent seam bowler. So we were pretty well matched as practice partners for the “net sessions” we used to have after school during summer terms. Bernie was a very much a rhythm bowler, he was metronomic at times which had its plus points and draw backs too. When he had conditions in his favour he could replicate unplayable deliveries and get a bunch of wickets in one spell. On the other hand his regularity would also be his down fall as once a batter got after him, Bernie would get an awful mauling.
During our practice sessions I could almost anticipate his next delivery at times and if I had my eye in I would walk down the indoor cricket net and drive the ball straight back over his head. Often I would catch the ball he had bowled “on the up” so it meant that my shot would go straight on up and onwards until it crashed against the metal cladding on the back wall of the gym about 10 metres up. This would make BC a bit peeved so he would jog back to fetch the ball and then tear in from the back of the gym on a long run up. He was often a full throttle, nostrils flared and knees pumping when he came in to bowl at me again. The trouble was he would bowl faster but at the same spot so often the ball would ping off my bat and go even faster past his head to make another dent in the cladding behind him. It used to really piss him off and was one of the rare times that he was actually quiet playing sport.
Gum shield; Times when I wish Bernie would be quiet were when I batted with him on Saturday league fixtures down at Guinness CC. Bernie and I used to open the batting for two reasons. Firstly Bernie was madder than a box of frogs and sending him in first used to pay off – he scored fairly freely and could stay in long enough to knock the shine off the new ball. This meant that the better batters that followed got a slight advantage. The other reason that I went in with him was because nobody else wanted to as it was psychologically damaging!
Bernie was a terrible runner between the wickets and was always looking for the “quick single”. He had the potential to drop his bat down on the ball and dab it gently in front of him. Whilst doing so he would bellow “YESSSSSSSSSSSS!” and start to run. I would back up his call and come scurrying down his end only to find he had changed his mind! He would start shouting “Noooooooooo!” or “Waaaaaaaaiit!” At this stage I was in no man’s land, half way down the batting track, slamming on the brakes. Meanwhile a fielder would be swooping in to gather the ball ready to fire a throw at the wicket down at my end. I had to turn tail and run back to the bowler’s end and dive back into the bowling crease before the throw hit the stumps. With me dashing back, Bernie yelling and the fielding team smelling blood and shouting too it was complete chaos. All it needed was to have Clive Dunn run past in a Homeguard uniform shouting “Don’t Panic! Don’t Panic!” and the scene would have been perfectly set.
The ball would fizz past me on its way from the fielder to miss the stumps as I dived back to safety. Having got up and dusted myself off, I would march down the wicket to have a word with my batting partner.
“What the f*ck do you think you are doing Bern?” I would enquire in an agitated state.
“Mwaah Fyysuayy sstumoppsut” came the reply.
You see Bernie was a tight so and so. He was paranoid about damaging some expensive bridge work in the front of his mouth, so not only would he bat with a helmet with a full face visor, but he also had a gum shield in as added protection! So it was near impossible to understand a word he said.
The Legend that is Bernie Cronin.
People who come into contact with Bernie are always struck by what a character he is. The good things about so called “characters” are they can brighten up your day and make you chuckle. The flip side is some of their actions and behaviour can cause irritation beyond belief, but that is what makes them unique.
There are three things that I want to get off my chest about Bernie. Firstly his stock phrases, second his weird and wonderful habits and finally his “one offs”
I will come back to these at a later date, but meanwhile people may want to click on this link to a Facebook discussion about Bernie to whet their appetite.
Work Experience Visits
Work experience visits were organised using a sheet that you could sign up your name next to a student. It was pretty flexible. Form tutors used to do a lot of visits, purely on a pastoral basis, although there were a few perks, one of which was the fact that you got out of school and away from cover if you went visiting.
One mentor of mine that I have yet to mention was a Tea-club member who certainly liked a drink or two. Richard Michaels was a mean looking customer, a former London schools boxing champion, who in his younger years used to work some evenings as a nightclub bouncer. I shall call him RM. We both shared the same GCSE science classes in year 10 and 11. This meant that during work experience in June we had a lot of free periods that coincided. RM suggested that we did a batch work experience visits along the High Street, as we had similar free periods in a run from mid-morning till the end of school.
So we piled into the car and did the run of visits from Woolworths to the solicitors’ office all the way up the High Street. RM suggested we debriefed in The Swan and had a go at writing up the visit reports as it was still lunch time at school and we were free last period. We were similar to Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis in the fact that RM assumed the old git, boss role and I was the younger partner who got stitched up with the driving and getting the rounds bought.
As I brought the drinks back RM leaned back in his chair and puffed out a plume of smoke and said “This is the life! Year 11 are down the road, no classes to teach, no registration neither!”
REGISTRATION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My jaw dropped. I could see RM grinning smugly. He had no tutor group, whereas I had a Year 9 form and the school had a 5 minute afternoon registration period. He knew the score and I had been mugged off. I checked the clock……….. Too late! I had no time to get back in time to do it. Panic set in, I had visions of my form drifting in to the lab after getting bored of waiting for me and causing mayhem. Knowing them it could get messy.
I jumped up and got on the payphone and quickly punched in the numbers.
Rings for ages, no answer. Kids will be waiting now. COME ON PICK UP!
Still rings. I have visions of my lab getting trashed.
Receptionist finally answers
“Chris, it’s Sam. I need help!”
“You’re down the pub aren’t you?”
“No I am not! I need a really quick favour”
At this point someone in the pub wins on the fruit machine and it starts paying out. RM is laughing his socks off.
“You ARE down the pub!”
“YES I AM DOWN THE PUB! Just please get someone to register my form. PLEASE!”
RM is in absolute stitches.
“I will see what I can do. Make sure RM behaves himself!”
I could have swung for him, sitting there with his fag, pint and big grin.
Inspections OFSTED had not been invented when I first started teaching. Instead you got dropped in on by Borough ‘advisors’ on a very infrequent and irregular basis.
During one lesson observation of a Tea-club member tension was building. As the class beavered away, putting together a spice rack, or some such wooden contraption, the advisor scuttled around the workshop with his pen and clipboard, occasionally asking the teacher inane questions.
The Tea-club member normally did not take any messing and the advisor clearly irritated him. When another “shouldn’t you be doing it this way?’ question came his way the teacher finally lost it.
“Right lads,” bellowed the irate teacher “tools down, machines off!” The wagon load of monkeys that was this year 10 class ground to a halt and silence returned to the workshop.
“Now then lads, as you can see we have a visitor today, a Mr Jones. He is a so called expert in woodwork teaching and I have decided that he knows far more about my job than I do, so I am going to leave you both to it and go for a brew.”
Then beckoning with his hands he introduced both parties, “Lads. Mr Jones.” “Mr Jones, meet the lads, they are all yours!” and then walked out and left them to it! Old school!
Those were the days Part II
An “old school” teacher of what was then called Woodwork & Technical Drawing (I think it is called RM now, or is it D&T?) had his own personal policy with regards to cover.
The school had an 8 period day and cover was managed by a member of SLG. No computer networks then, you got given a slip of paper the cover details on it. These dreaded cover slips got delivered by students that ran around the school looking for you at the start of the day. When the said “old schooler” got given a slip he would often be found in the T-club (see later) having a snout. The bloke would squint through the smoke drifting from the fag drooping in the corner of his mouth and say ‘That’s number 6 lads now – not long to go’.
He had a large bulldog clip hung on a notice board in his workshop. It was used to collect cover slips. When he reached 8 that was it. The next full teaching day he had, bang, he would be “ill” – in his reasoning 1 day of cover = 1 day off in lieu. He would always take a sickie on an 8 period day to get his full pay-back.
The man would do this regular as clockwork, and it did not take long for him to clock them up, as the school was a little less gentile than here – so there were long term absences and also supply teachers would turn their noses up and a day of work there.
Cover got so bad at times that I covered the same maths class 4 weeks running. When I went to the HOD to ask what to do in the last week as we had finished the chapter – he replied ‘any chance you can set them a test?’ I was even asked for appointments for parents’ evening from some of the students in that group as I had taught them more than the regular teacher.
There was an art to using these. The real trick was not go too slow, or the ink smudged; going quick was the way, but too fast ended up getting the machine jammed.
The staff room had different smells and sounds then. The big Banda machine certainly provided a lot sound and that characteristic organic solventy smell when it was being used at full pelt.
Geographers loved them – all those colours!
Bottom set year 11 loved them – scratch and sniff!
Drinking was a cultural thing when I first started teaching. The last day of the Christmas term was notorious and one would often get invited to various gatherings.
A typical day would start at
8 am Port and Stilton in Music with the legend that had his own optics.
Break Gin slings in the Maths office or
Mulled wine & mince pies in Science
The mulled wine was cooked up using a tripod, gauze & Bunsen burner in a large Pyrex flask and served in 100ml beakers.
Lunch the kids went home and the Tea-club Christmas dinner started.
In addition PE would be an all day ‘open house’ serving cocktails & nibbles – a young suave blonde(then) Head of Boys PE was host and maître d’. Hawaiian shirts and flip flops were part of the dress code to the PE department one year.
When one mentions a Gentleman’s Club these days, people think more White Horse on the West Wycombe Road than The RAC Club.
The Tea-club was an ‘old school’ gentleman’s club that was based in a metal work workshop. Club membership was granted to me only after I wrote a letter of application that was seconded by a club member.
There was always tea available that was brewed in a big enamelled tin tea-pot. No women were allowed in the club – not that many wanted to join! Other colleagues that needed to speak to a club member would often knock and wait at the door if they paid a visit.
Typical members were Matt Morse the music “optics” teacher, the metalwork ‘cover’ teacher and my mentor, Richard Michaels who got me in to the tea club. Before gaining membership I would not have to knock before coming in.
President of the T-club was a salt of the Earth head of technology. He would often cook himself breakfast on the top of the ceramics oven. This oven was used to roast the turkey for the end of term meal. The President would get into work in the early morning to fire up the bird, the spuds were popped in during lesson time and sprouts & veg cooked on top.
At the end of school on that last day we had had a few drinks beforehand, by the close of the meal it was carnage. The traditional after dinner game was to try and get from one end of the workshop to the other without touching the floor. Only half the room had work benches, the last half was the tricky bit. You had to either climb over the machinery like lathes and bandsaws, which was nearly impossible. The reckless alternative was to jump up and monkey swing from the service pipes and cables on the ceiling. This manoeuvre was made more difficult by being pelted by uneaten sprouts as you tried to reach your goal! As darkness fell you could see the wives and girlfriends sat in their cars parked up at the back of the workshop with the engines running waiting in the cold to take their better halves home.
The Tea-club Christmas meal bit the dust circa 1991 when one of the deputies (Reg Ball) paid the Tea-club a visit to try and call things to a halt. “This cannot go on” he told us. “People are making comments about it” After delicate negotiations where the Tea-club view was it was a tradition and in fact had “become custom and practice” The resulting stand off was broken by Reg when he said “Ok. What is it going to cost me to get you boys to cancel the Christmas dinner and get yourselves to the pub?” A £50 cash donation from the deputy to start the whip was enough to break our resolve and the gents went to the pub instead that year.