Chapter Two - The Formative Years 1963 - 1971
I started the Norwich School as a boy with well above average intelligence and a bright future. Over the next few years I put that in jeopardy with a refusal to put in much effort. Whether it was something inside of me or the appalling standards of teaching at the school I have never been sure. Certainly there was very little motivation from within the teaching staff.
Today I view the school with some affection, but must say that it did little for me and I must be critical of the teaching staff. Senility and being out of date seemed to be the only criteria. It was a culture shock to me of the greatest magnitude. The school in the early to mid 1960s was still desperately living in the past with its out-moded ideas of discipline and ridiculous antiquated rules regarding dress code, school buildings and many other areas. The head, Andrew Stephenson, was a tyrant who most people were afraid of and the teaching was without enthusiasm and repetitive. I slumped.
After initial effort, I slumped into a despondency that often turned into physical hypochondria. I hated so many lessons it wasn't true. Every three weeks they had what was quaintly called the three weekly order. All the test and marks from the three week period were entered into a book, totalled up and each pupil was then given a position in the class. On merit I should probably have come in the top 10 - indeed once when I made an effort I finished sixth. In general I was down in the twenties out of 30 pupils. This was not good. I suddenly realised that I had little interest in learning, the school was too daunting and I was rapidly losing my way.
Indeed I found the school somehow held me back until I reached the sixth form and again became interested in learning. I remember a number of teachers with great affection and have no hesitation in naming them here. I will gloss over the ones I disliked or the robot teachers who thought the way to learn something was to write notes on the board which we copied and then took home to learn parrot fashion.
My two great loves, however, do have their roots from the Norwich School. My love of music and literature both began at the school and are due to four very good teachers.
My love of music (and it is the over-riding passion of my life), was nurtured by the wonderful Bernard Burrell. I have referred to him on other pages of my web site but I cannot thank him enough. Sadly he died a number of years ago.
Bernard was like a breath of fresh air to a school which always seemed to suggest that music stopped with Beethoven. Suddenly here was a man who had an open mind to music. He traded his classical for our rock. He allowed us to teach him about the Who, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath and Procol Harum. He insisted that we didn't just play this music but we studied it deeply and told him what we liked about it. In exchange he described the music of Dvorak and Smetana and told us what he saw in it. And of course we listened to him because he listened to us. I still love those composers and somewhere, some place Bernard is looking down on us and I owe him a debt of gratitude. A couple of years ago I visited the graves of Dvorak and Smetena in the same cemetery in Prague. It was a poignant moment and as I walked by the banks of the River Vltava I hummed that wonderful section from Ma Vlast which describes the river as it meanders its way through one of the world's great cities. I have Bernard Burrell to thank for introducing me to that music.
In the English department we had the new headmaster Stuart Andrews and he instilled in me a love of the classics. Peter Clayton gave me a love of poetry (and in particular W.B. Yates) and Peter MacIntosh, well he was just one of the nicest people I have ever met.
Yes good teachers do leave their mark. Almost 50 years after leaving the school I still remember them all. Sadly Mac died a number of years ago but "Duffy" Clayton is still around and I had the pleasure of meeting him a few years ago at a reunion after I had written an article for the school's magazine for former pupils, celebrating the influence that a number of teachers had on me. I also saw them at a local pub in September 2007. I missed the opportunity to say thank you to them. Also in 2007 I attended a school open day and lunch which I enjoyed immensely. At first the school looked very much the same. The science labs had scarcely changed. Then I tried to find the gymnasium, but couldn't. They've developed the old building into an arts block. Further investigation around the buildings showed just how much development has gone on with new areas bringing the place to life. I never thought the limited space could be used so effectively.
Today the displays are bright and vibrant and the teaching standards are obviously high - this is in stark contrast tot he school I remember. As if to bear out my thoughts a few years ago I came across another former pupil. He was interested in my comments and penned some of his own memories. This is what he had to say.
"Rugby on frozen fields by Cow Tower with winter darkness falling. Changing in the Stables block - bare muddy concrete and wooden benches.
Cross-country runs over Mousehold. Member of the school scouts - 8th Norwich Sea Scouts - best holidays of my life, camping with the Scouts.
Bee Wee very irritable when his leg, missing since the Great War? caused him pain. Tweedy dictating four years of history notes. Double maths with B - last two periods on a Saturday - terror and misery! followed by one and a half days of freedom. I still get the Sunday night blues that started then.
Beaten with a cane by T in the office. Dinners in the crypt at Bishop's Palace - flicking mashed potato onto the roof. Morning prayers in the Cathedral. Such a privilege, mostly unappreciated. One special afternoon around later 67/early 68 JB of my year, clever mathematician, playing Whiter Shade of Pale on the chapel organ.
Woodwork in the chapel crypt, glue from the glue pot that had to be heated, solidified on one of the pillars where it spilled off the stove. Boys playing "throwing knives" with chisels when Wally wasn't around.
Reading lots of novels in sixth form "free periods" when should have been studying. Running for the No 89 (or 84 or 85) bus back to Unthank Road - great jumping on and off the platform.
Self consciously wearing straw boater in the summer - especially walking through the streets of terraced houses in Essex Street, Rupert Street and Union Street before crossing Chapelfield Park.
Loved the splendid isolation of the Victorian Khasi at the top of the creaking spiral staircase between the Chapel and School house.
Queuing for five boys chocolate at the tuck shop window."
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I eventually managed to pull myself up by the boot laces and gain three A levels which was good enough to give me entry to a journalism course at Harlow Technical College. I was employed by Eastern Counties Newspapers who paid for my tuition on the course and also paid me a wage at the same time.