Category Archives: Ipswich

Massed Minds!

In 1985 my old friend and erstwhile Best Man, Dave (naturally, “Dave” – most of my male friends and family are called “Dave”- except, that is, those called Mike, Andy, Richard or Keith!) and I went to London to attend the Annual General Meeting of British Mensa Ltd., more commonly called just “Mensa” – which for those who don’t know is a society, membership of which is limited to those having a tested Intelligence Quotient (IQ) in the top 2% of the country.

At that time Dave had been a member for just under a year while I had only passed the supervised test a couple of months earlier, so this was, jointly, our first foray into the larger workings of the organisation. At that time Mensa seemed rather to be indulging in the “Cult of Celebrity” the committee including Sir Clive Sinclair and the mathematics Whiz from the TV show “Countdown”, Carol Vorderman.

I have often related how Dave and I met up for that AGM outside the National Liberal Club in Westminster (having got different trains in from Ipswich and Chelmsford respectively) and I enquired about the rather soppy smile on his face as I approached him.

“Carol Vorderman just smiled at me” he said.

I replied, rather bitchily, “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure she didn’t have a clue who you were”!

The 1985 meeting took place at a time of some turmoil in the society with various factions seeking to either amend or add to the Mensa Constitution in an effort to constrain the actions of the ruling committee. This committee was seen by some as being allowed to take arbitrary “disciplinary action” against individual members who spoke out against them – action that said members were not permitted to invoke against “despotic” Committee members!

It all got pretty vicious and uncivilised for a couple of years but eventually settled down with some reasonable rule amendments and a few resignations on both sides. While it lasted, however, it did make for some pretty exciting meetings and the distinct possibility that someone might give a committee member (especially if it could be a prominent one) a smack on the nose, added a certain spice to the proceedings!

Dave and I enjoyed watching the in-fighting so much that we returned the following year when the AGM was held at Imperial College, London.

There were similar fireworks at that one too but my main memory is of gate-crashing an event hosted by the Local Groups Officer for any Local Secretaries (the organisers and facilitators of neighbourhood meetings, known invariably as “LocSecs”) who happened to be present at the AGM.

Actually, it was only me who did the gate-crashing – Dave was by then the LocSec of the Ipswich Group (as he still is to this day) and was entitled to be there.

I’m sure I simply told the nice lady hosting the “LocSecs’ Tea Party” that “I’m from Chelmsford” and I couldn’t be blamed if she interpreted that as meaning “I’m the Chelmsford Local Secretary”! Still, it got me some free drink and a few buns!

I did not attend any more AGMs what with parenthood, office closures and house moves getting in the way and at some point in the intervening years the whole format changed.

What happens now includes the AGM but is not centred on it – a whole weekend of events is arranged and these “Annual Gatherings” are hosted by a Local Group or Region and located in a (usually) big hotel in a UK city or large town.

I have no idea how, or by whom the venues are chosen year by year and I was surprised to learn that my old home town of Ipswich would be hosting the whole Annual Gathering circus for 2017, duly organised by my old mate Mr David Davies the Ipswich Local Secretary! This would be the first time that any group in the East Anglia Region had received this “honour”.

I must admit that my first thought was the same as the one I had on learning that London had been given the 2012 Olympic Games – “are we going to muck this up in an embarrassing fashion?”

Then it all went out of mind for a while, being driven out by the much more important arrivals of my Grandson and Granddaughter in December and April respectively.

And it stayed out of mind until June when I happened to notice that a Mensa Regional Officers’ Meeting was scheduled to take place in Ipswich on a Saturday afternoon – the same day as one of my school year group’s reunions had been arranged for – and I decided to attend the Mensa event (as may any paid up member) as an “observer”.

At the meeting I got to see Dave Davies as well as his draft programme of events and thought it all looked well worth attending. I didn’t, in fact, realise that Ipswich had so much to offer – possibly a problem everyone has with their home town! “Familiarity breeds contempt” as they say! I won’t bother listing the itinerary here as many of the locations concerned and the events arranged wouldn’t mean a lot to many of my readers while some of them will know what they were anyway.

Then summer intervened and it all went out of mind again.

By the end of August, however, it became apparent that there would be no unexpected holidays or babysitting requirements preventing my attendance on the weekend of 9th/10th September – although all of the events that needed paying for (River boat trips, Gala Dinner and the like) had sold out by then.

Not wishing at that short notice to prevail upon my sister and brother-in-law for use of their spare room when I wouldn’t be there most of the time, I booked a room in a hotel about 3 minutes walk from the slightly grander Novotel (where all the action would be happening) for the Saturday night.

In order to leave Faith, who had no great desire to accompany me, with transport I also utilised my Senior Railcard and purchased discounted return train tickets from Peterborough to Ipswich and back.

Having taken these irrevocable steps I then emailed Dave, told him I would be attending and asking (rather belatedly) if he needed any help.

From the organisational chart I was shown it seemed that help was needed during the Saturday afternoon on the “helpdesk” in the hotel reception area so I put myself down for a 2 hour stint following on from my earliest possible check in time at my own hotel.

So, on Saturday morning Faith gave me a lift to the station and I duly caught the 9:50 train to Ipswich (via Whittlesey, Ely, Newmarket and Bury St. Edmunds, if you’re interested) and it arrived a few minutes early at around 11:20. As I wasn’t over-burdened with luggage I decided not to bother with buses into town and to walk to the Novotel (only a mile or so away), getting a bit of an insight into the changes that had taken place in the town since I moved out in 1979.

And there were many!

The whole area that I walked down had previously been a somewhat shabby part of town dominated by the railway sidings serving the docks but now comprised a multiplex cinema and numerous fast food restaurants. It was, in fact an area formerly so run down that even a Drive-in MacDonalds counted as an amazing improvement!

Having checked in to my hotel I reported for duty at the “helpdesk” in the foyer of the Novotel – to the relief of the current incumbent who was waiting for someone to turn up so that he could get some lunch! So I started about 2 hours earlier than I had volunteered for but fortunately the work wasn’t too hard.

My main duties were dispensing information packs to newly arriving members and trying to give directions to places of interest to those going out to explore. Bearing in mind that I stopped living in Ipswich in 1979 I don’t think I made any mistakes!

Some of the renamed areas nearly threw me on occasion: “Waterfront Development? Oh, you mean THE DOCKS”! I’m glad no-one from the Ipswich Tourist Office heard that one – I’d have been run out of town if they had!

The Mensa membership that I was called upon to “serve” were lovely (I nearly said “brilliant” but that goes without saying!) and extremely appreciative of volunteer fellow members working for no reward and I’d happily do it again (although maybe not for 4 hours on the trot next time).

I wasn’t on my own all that time being joined during the afternoon by Ipswich members Margaret (who I knew from Ipswich meetings of old) and Izzy (who I had not met before) and when the helpdesk closed at 5 p.m. some discussion ensued on meal arrangements for the evening. Dave Davies in his capacity of organiser was obliged to dress up in his posh suit (prompting calls of “Waiter!” from disrespectful friends when he appeared in it) to attend the Gala Dinner but Margaret agreed to ask around to find others not attending the “do” to go into town and eat.

I went back to my hotel for a shower and a rest then returned at 7 p.m. somewhat hungry.

Margaret had not been able to find any others at a loose end so she, Izzy and I wandered into town and wound up at a Lebanese/Moroccan restaurant in Tacket Street where I had some strange but very tasty and filling “something or other” and some beer! We then returned to the hotel and passed the rest of the evening in the bar chatting (brilliantly of course) with all and sundry.

The next morning I returned to the Novotel after a leisurely breakfast at a rather nice restaurant called “Isaacs” on the Waterfront and Dave and I attached ourselves to a prearranged tour of the “Willis Towers” building (look it up!) designed by Sir Norman Foster using black glass. I spent some time chatting to a member from Ireland who shared my pain when I related that they had torn down the Friar’s Head and British Lion pubs to make way for it in 1975!

This building has a massive roof garden with views of the town, including the football ground and I had a further discussion with the same gentleman up there on the relative merits of the Ipswich Town and Derby County (his team) sides of the 1970s – one of my more surreal experiences!

Dave Davies had to attend a river cruise in the afternoon that would not return until after my train was to leave (the boat nearly didn’t return at all but that’s not my story to tell) so I set out to have a walk round and maybe get a photo of the house in Ranelagh Road that I was born in.

I didn’t get that far as, when I stopped in at the railway station at around 2 p.m. on the way, it turned out that my planned 5.25 p.m. train was cancelled due to engineering works and if I wanted to get to Peterborough at all without going via London I had to get on a free coach to Stowmarket (where Peterborough trains were terminating) immediately. Good job I checked then!

And the verdict on hosting the British Mensa Annual Gathering in what might be considered an unfashionable backwater?

Well, as far as everyone I spoke to in the hotel was concerned it was an unqualified success! And personally, I am delighted to say that I was as wrong about the suitability of my home town as I was about the London Olympics – I apologise for doubting!

Let’s face it – if my friends who organised it hadn’t done a magnificent job I wouldn’t have felt it necessary to write this, the longest article I have ever posted on here, now would I?



Posted by on September 28, 2017 in Informative, Ipswich, Mensa


Brain Fever!

The other day my good lady and I visited an old friend at a seafront flat (U.S. = apartment) in Hunstanton which is a resort on the Norfolk coast and one of the few places on the East Coast of the UK that faces West! *

The place we were visiting was on the third floor (U.S. = fourth floor) and there is no lift (elevator) so it was a brisk hike up a lengthy flight of stairs to get there.  At the top of the stairs there was the usual heavy door giving access to the two flats on that level but I remarked that, unlike the flats, this appeared to be new.

Our friend confirmed that a fault had been found with the old one and this new one had been urgently fitted for the safety of the residents.

“Aha!” I exclaimed almost immediately, “a new Firedoor. I shall name it Dostoyevsky”!

Our friend gave me the look that I am so familiar with – the one that says without words, “What the hell are you talking about?” but she then she thought for a moment, the knowledge acquired a while back during her university education asserted itself and she slowly nodded.

“Ah yes. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I get it now!”

What she did not do, what with this being a pun and all, was laugh! I have pointed out here on several occasions that the best you can expect for a pun is a groan or a sadly tolerant smile often accompanied by the words “Oh dear!”

I have to say, as I have often done on these pages, that I cannot help it! The ability and the NEED to play linguistic havoc with my mother tongue were instilled in me during my early teens thanks to the radio programme “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again”! The presence in my school year group of an amazing number of like-minded boys keen to perpetrate similar “verbal slapstick with the tongue that Shakespeare spake” ** didn’t help.

In the last ten years, and particularly the last two, I have resumed contact with quite a few of that group and, in terms of senses of humour anyway, they have haven’t changed a bit (to the probable annoyance of quite a few wives, partners etc.)!

“Like-minded” is the term that I really want to investigate here though.

This particular group of boys, by which I mean the ones that were, at one time or another, in the same class as me, had at least one thing in common before we were thrown together in September 1964 aged 11.

I had better interrupt myself here and explain for the benefit of younger readers just how the UK education system worked in those days.

During the final year at Primary School (Year 6 in today’s way of counting) all children took something called “The 11 Plus test”. This was a series of written examinations testing “General English”, “Comprehension”, “Arithmetic”, and “General Intelligence/Knowledge”. Those that passed it (and I’ll be coming to what “passed” actually meant later) were assigned to Grammar School of which there was only one in Ipswich. The rest went to one of the half dozen or so local Secondary Modern Schools and were there “streamed” into classes based, presumably, on how closely or otherwise they had “failed” the examination. There were annual end of year exams in all subjects and some promotions and relegations based on overall performance up to the end of the 3rd year (Year 9) at which point the “A” stream continued on to do GCE “O” Levels and new classes were spun off for those doing subjects in the slightly different CSE qualification.

So, back to where I was a couple of paragraphs ago, and the newly-formed Class 1A at Copleston Secondary Modern School for Boys – which is where I found myself along with around 30 or so others from that part of town deemed to have “just failed” to get into Northgate Grammar School.

Before you ask, yes they did use the terms “pass” and “fail” about such things – something that would have parents up in arms these days!

While there were the above mentioned Football League style promotions and relegations and a few changes due to house moves in and out of the area it is broadly correct to say that everyone who made it to the GCE classes (4A and 5A) had been in that “A” stream from the start. That includes your author (although I’m mighty glad the Football analogy didn’t stretch to the concept of “Play Offs”)!

This group of young people then all had that failure of the 11 Plus exams in common and it is time to consider what that actually meant given that at no time were the entrants told either their own score or, more importantly, what the “Pass Mark” actually was!

All available evidence seems to suggest that there was a very good reason for this state of affairs – even within a single Education Authority such as Ipswich the pass mark was FLEXIBLE!

I’m sure there was a low level fail mark to identify those for whom Grammar school would have been utterly inappropriate but at the other end of the scale other factors came into effect. Remember that there was only one Grammar School available as opposed to 6 or 7 Secondary Moderns within the Borough of Ipswich and it becomes obvious that if you ever got a year with a lot of extremely bright children (coughs modestly!) they weren’t all going to get into the supposedly higher branch of education as might have been the case in another year.


Well I don’t know about the other Secondary Moderns scattered around the town but under our Headmaster, Ken Armstrong, Copleston Boys had acquired a reputation of running Northgate Grammar pretty closely in GCE results (which not all Sec. Mods. were allowed to take) – a sort of sub-Grammar School if you like!

I strongly suspect that because of this quite a few of us living in and attending Primary Schools in the Copleston catchment area were told we had failed in order to take the pressure off Northgate so that pupils on the other side of town with the same scores were able to go there rather than a more average Sec. Mod.

Don’t get me wrong – I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Copleston and my father always told me that being consistently in the top tier there was preferable to being down in the middle ranks of a Grammar School and I tended to agree with him – the idea that I might have had what it took to fight my way into the top rank there too did not ever occur either to him or to me.

The down side was that no-one really pushed us “failures” very hard and some of us (I include myself here) drifted along sharing jokes, brilliant puns and doing just enough work to keep the teachers happy whilst being blissfully unaware of our potential.

And I have to say that I didn’t even become aware that I HAD any potential to do any better than the career with a professional speciality that I was then in until, in 1985, a friend of mine (also an 11 Plus failure) passed the tests enabling him to join Mensa, the society for people with an IQ in the top 2% of the country. Naturally I thought, “If that idiot can do it….” took the test myself and got the same score as him! I have been a member ever since.

When I started this blog I was slightly surprised to find that my classmate Michael Vincent (who was, of course, the reason I started it in an effort to compete with his own efforts in that area) is also a past Mensan.

Now I wasn’t (I’m fairly sure) the brightest member of that particular intake of 11 Plus failures at Copleston and probably neither was Mike but statistically the 2% bracket of IQs for that age group in Ipswich ought to all have been at the Grammar school but plainly were not.

So what I want to know (and I don’t know if sharing this post on our Year Group’s Facebook page will help me here) is this:

How many others of that brilliant bunch that I used to (and to a large extent still do) associate with are also unrealised, warped and twisted geniuses like Mike and I?

Given our similar wits, senses of humour and stated feelings of under-achievement, quite a few I would think!

And if any of them wants to look at me and say “If that idiot can do it…!” let me know and I’ll tell you how to go about taking those tests – they are a bit like the 11 Plus for grown-ups! It would be nice to have a few classmates around me when I attend the Mensa AGM in September 2017 – in Ipswich!




*Look it up if you don’t believe me!

**A quote from the 1930 novel “The Saint Closes the Case” (aka “The Last Hero”) by the excellent Leslie Charteris who will (along with his most famous creation) feature in this blog SOON! ***

***I know! I’ve been promising that for at least 6 years now – but I need to work out what angle to approach it from! I have started it though.


Posted by on July 14, 2017 in Ipswich, Schooldays


Nostalgia! It’s not what it used to be!

I need to update you a bit on some things that happened back in February when, you may recall, I experienced a surprising “spike” in my viewing figures for this site – particularly with regard to items concerning my schooldays.

Shortly after I noticed this I was invited by one of my former classmates to join a closed Facebook group specifically set up for my particular year group at Copleston Secondary Modern School for Boys.

Incidentally I mention the school’s full, official name from that era just to annoy Mike Vincent in Thailand who thinks that its post-1972, co-educational name of “Copleston High” sounds much cooler! I think Copleston High sounds like something out of a bad U.S teen movie!

Anyway, I accepted the invitation and when I went back over the postings from the few weeks that had elapsed since the group had started I found that someone (not from my class) had mentioned that if you Googled “Copleston” and “Prospicimus” (the school motto) you were linked to articles by “Little Alfie – whoever he is”! Someone who had been in my class then recognised me from the school photo that I use on this site, told the group and I got invited.

All of which explains the sudden rise in my visitor figures – which have, sadly, now slumped back down to their old levels!

I did, however, just manage to join the group in time to learn of an organised reunion at a social club in Ipswich, only a few hundred yards away from the old school. Fortunately Faith and I were visiting our daughter in Witham (a mere 30 miles or so from Ipswich) on the date of this momentous event so I was spared the need for a 100 mile each way drive.

It was a great evening – there were about 15 of us present – three of us who went all the way through the school in the same class and another two who were with us until the GCE/ CSE examination “split” at the end of the third year (Year 9 in modern parlance). The rest I recognised the names of but hadn’t ever “worked with” during those five years (except, possibly, for inter-house events).

We were all as rude to each other as if no time at all had passed and there was an awful lot of laughter about remembered fellow students, teachers and significant events. Suffice it to say that we are going to do it again and soon!

The chat and the subjects raised at that gathering fuelled the discussions on the Facebook page (which continues to grow as people are traced and invited) for several months and has reminded me of many names and events that even my prodigious memory for “historical” matters had forgotten.

And just when I thought I had reached the limit of the school-based anecdotes that I could use to initiate discussions, the same person who had introduced me to that group also added me to a slightly more general Facebook Group. This has a much wider scope and basically extends what I have been doing to the whole of Ipswich and what I remember of my time there from 1953 to 1979.

The schools memories are still of use here but I can (and frequently do) also comment on other things that I haven’t thought of for quite a while as well as throwing in, where relevant, bits from my late father’s memoir that he wrote covering his experiences as a teenager during the war and his army service.

Again that is all quite fun and I feel I make a significant contribution to what may one day be seen as a historical database of 20th and 21st century life in the town. I also (but only when I absolutely HAVE to) get occasional “plugs” in for this site so I may see some more spikes on the viewing figures graph.

I do notice, however, that while those of us in the Copleston Boys Facebook group all received, however reluctantly, a decent education and obviously take some pride in how the stuff we record appears on screen, a great many of the (currently) 13,000 Ipswich residents who belong to the more general group do not have such a sense of pride!

Either that or they were behind the bike sheds having a crafty fag on the day their Remedial English class did “Always starting sentences with Big Letters”! Certainly a great many of them wouldn’t know an apostrophe if it bit them on the bum and are unfamiliar with concepts such as “their”, “there” and “they’re”! I feel embarassed on their behalf on many occasions and quite annoyed that they didn’t bother to look at what they had typed before pressing “send” on others.

I presume that many of these were taught written English anything up to 60 years ago but their lives until now have been such that they just haven’t had to use it! For that reason I have patiently restrained myself from becoming an online Grammar Nazi and have so far managed to proceed on the basis that the content is what really matters here.

All of this is exercising my long-term memory quite well and I’m still learning a great deal from both groups but one thing still bothers me.

I mentioned above the motto of my school as being “Prospicimus” which is Latin for “Look forward” (or possibly “we look forward” – I’m not sure about that because Copleston didn’t actually do Latin).

Why then am I, along with a large number of my schoolmates, putting so much effort into looking BACK at it?!




Posted by on May 20, 2017 in Ipswich, Schooldays


Prospicimus we sing…..!

Following my recent report of people looking at the posts in the “Schooldays” category of this site I thought it would be rude not to write something for he/them – whoever they may be.

The word “she” was omitted deliberately there as the only female at my secondary school was the Headmaster’s secretary and it’s unlikely to be her.

Incidentally, if you don’t know what I mean about “categories” go to the bottom of the menu down the right of this page. There you will find the tags that I have, so far, chosen for these pieces. This one will be marked as “Schooldays” too when it’s published.

My next thought was of what aspect of school life I could write about that I haven’t already done and since I appear to be blessed (or cursed) with a memory full of this sort of pointless crap I thought:

“I’ll start at Day One and see where it goes!”

At the end of the summer 1964 school term I left Britannia Road Primary School in Ipswich having attended there for but a single term as a result of a family house move across town. I did this in the in the knowledge that, along with only one other boy in my class, I had not passed the “11 Plus” examination and was not destined for Northgate Grammar School!

So, at the beginning of the following September I presented myself in my new uniform (including a cap with a badge on) in the large playground of Copleston Secondary Modern School for Boys – which was actually within sight of the aforementioned Britannia Road school and only the width of a public footpath away.

We “newbies” were gathered together – they found us because only first years bothered (because we’d been TOLD to) to wear caps – and marched up to what was then the school hall. There we were given details of the school rules (which I must have forgotten instantly), the School song (of which more later) and sorted into our classes.

And it was here that I had my first and fortunately only, problem with the school authorities!

Now, as most of you, especially those of you reading this via my Facebook link, will know my real name is neither “Little” nor “Alfie” but is in fact “Searle”. And at the end of that Hogwarts-style “sorting” I was the only person left in the room but for the teacher with the hand-written list of names and HE now had two problems; what to do with me and what to do about “Scarfe” who had not turned up!

It does, I think, say much for our respective intelligences that I worked out what had happened first and had to timidly point out that if you wrote my name badly it might appear to read as Scarfe!

Upon reflection this may be why you never saw the cartoonists Ronald Searle and Gerald Scarfe in the same room together before (very, very) distant cousin Ron’s demise in 2011!

That initial trauma apart there were a number of very new and very strange things that we had to get used to, including:

  • No girls – they were all in the adjoining building and contact was forbidden. This probably explains why so many of the people I know from those days seem to have had so many marriages! We simply weren’t used to them! At least it stopped those sloppy and embarrassing games of “kiss chase” – it did for me anyway although there may even in those days have been some in that all-boys environment that weren’t fussy!
  • Different teachers for different subjects (I’ve mentioned some of them in the following pieces; , and I should, in fact, do another in that series to pick up all the ones I’ve remembered since.
  • Lessons in different classrooms all over the school (and even at a different site 1.5 miles away – and with only minutes to get from each one to the next. The moves from the distant annexe to the main school were done either in the 30 minute slot after registration when the rest of the school was having the daily assembly or during the 15 minute mid-morning break. I must have been so much fitter in those days – especially as I didn’t get access to a bicycle until after the completion of the new building works made the Clifford Road annexe unnecessary! The other bad changeover was when you finished P.E. in the gym and had 5 minutes to shower, get dressed AND get to the next lesson. We became experts at dressing while still more than slightly wet!
  • I don’t recall there being physical punishment at junior school but I was such a goody-goody that I wouldn’t have known about it anyway! At Copleston we had teachers who utilised things like the sole of a Plimsole, the 2 inch thick climbing ropes in the gym, the well-thrown wooden-backed blackboard eraser or Headmaster Ken Armstrong’s cane. I have to say that I had sufficient wits to avoid all of those but suffered my fair share of individual, class and whole school detentions, the latter type including the notable one that followed the detonation of the pipe bomb in the waste incinerator near the cycle sheds. I still wonder who was responsible for that one!
  • Michael Vincent! Yes I do know you’re reading this Mike and I don’t mean anything bad by it! Just remember that I’m listing some of the things I found to be “very new and very strange” and to ME you certainly came under at least one of those headings. OK? For anyone else reading this I should say that Mike was a force of nature at that school. His enthusiasm for anything (such as the “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again” radio show or any other “off the wall” comedy of the day) was so “over the top” as to appear almost manic. And as for his out of school activities ….. but I’ll let him tell you about those! We didn’t really understand Mike at all and were somewhat unkind to him but I apologised for that when we resumed contact in 2009 and we are good friends now even though separated by 6000 miles and 6 or 7 hours of time zone difference. I’ll bet if any of us “non-entities” from that year met any of our old teachers and they had trouble placing us mentioning Mike would do the trick! They would probably recede very quickly over the horizon too!
  • Daily Assemblies. I don’t remember having such gatherings of the whole school EVERY DAY at junior school but we certainly did at Copleston. There were only a limited number of ways of avoiding this. Needing to run from the annexe to the main school was one them but I also got out of some by being in the school Recorder Group (later glorified with the name School Orchestra) who met and practised during one Assembly per week. There was a very minor Church of England religious component to the Assembly – one or two hymns and The Lord’s Prayer was about the limit of it but that was enough for the handful of Roman Catholics to have permission to wait outside until the important announcements were made by Ken Armstrong or his deputy. In case you are wondering about students with “other” religious backgrounds – there were none!

    On special occasions such as the start of term, end of term, state visits by local councillors or just when Ken felt like it, we would be required, in these assemblies, to sing The School Song! This had been composed by Ken himself (to try to make us feel like we were at Eton or similar) with music arranged by “Wombat” Woolford the Art Master and Official Pianist. The song was based on the school’s Latin motto which was on our uniform badges and which was “Prospicimus” or “We look forward”. That translation was also in the lyrics which were tediously banal and the first line began with the words I have used as the title of this piece. I won’t bore you with them here but I do have a printed sheet with both the words and the music which I picked up at the school’s 50th birthday event and wrote about here: – if anyone wants a copy……..! I do sometimes think it’s a little ironic that I keep looking backwards at a school that constantly wanted us to look forwards!

Well, that went well! From wondering what to write to almost 1500 words in one evening – that should keep you all going for a while! And, as I’ve said before, if you wish to comment but don’t want to do it on this post directly, please email and I will respond.



Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Ipswich, Schooldays


Doctor, Doctor!

When I was about 6 years of age (that is to say, just before the “Swinging Sixties” began) it was discovered that it wasn’t only the crappy school dinners at Luther Road Primary School (now known as “Hillside”) that were causing me to throw up in bed at night on regular occasions!

The “food” concerned was getting wedged in my throat due to my enlarged Tonsils and a visit to the local hospital was scheduled to whip them out.

This was a considerable improvement on a generation earlier – pre-NHS and in similar circumstances my father had HIS Tonsils removed by the family doctor on my Grandmother’s kitchen table! I’m sure that entailed no risk of infection whatsoever! I can only hope it didn’t interfere too much with my Grandfather’s dinner!

The old Anglesey Road Hospital in Ipswich was a massive Victorian (possibly even Georgian) stone-built building extended quite massively over the years. This extension may even have gone underground to some extent as my enduring memory is of being wheeled to the operating theatre down long, semi-circular, white tiled “tunnel” corridors reminiscent of some old parts of the London Underground.

I am, despite my prestigious GCE “O” Level in Biology, still uncertain as to the purpose or function of Tonsils, save that like the Wasp we seem to be better off without them! What does seem to be the case, however, is that they (Tonsils, that is NOT Wasps) are somehow inextricably linked with similar objects called Adenoids which extend into the nasal area and which are normally removed at the same time.

This double removal happened to me and resulted in a long-lasting psychological effect and what was probably my first brush with non-parental authority!

Before I went into the hospital my parents had dutifully taught me certain social skills, most notably how to avoid the classic small boys’ permanent snot dribble by blowing my nose on a handkerchief.

After my “operation” I fell foul of a rather stern nurse on the children’s ward and, because of the nose element involving those Adenoid things I was told off for blowing my nose as previously taught.  I am aware even now that had she gently explained WHY to me I would have made every effort to keep my hands off the hanky but when I was caught a second time she over-reacted by taking it away from me completely!

My way of revolting against the spiteful cow was a refusal to use a handkerchief at all for some years afterwards to the annoyance of my parents!

Fortunately I had no reason for further involvement with the 1950s/60s hospital system but have over the last 10 years or so (and indeed the last few months) experienced the modern equivalent.

My most powerful and prolonged association came in November 2006 (it was contemplating the 10th anniversary of that event that started me writing this in November 2016) when I collapsed with an allergic reaction.

I don’t believe I have ever told that story here although an abridged version does appear in the 2006 chapter of my fishing memoir) so here it is:

I visited my Doctor on the evening of 6th November 2006 with a “creaky” hip joint and was prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs of the sort that my wife has for serious back aches usually incurred by excessive gardening and which I have used myself in the past.

I took one before going to bed that night at about 11p.m. and woke up 7 hours later with a desperate need to visit the en-suite bathroom. I also noticed that my entire skin felt hot and itchy.

Much of what follows I cannot state as gospel truth as you will see but I don’t think Faith made any of it up.

A few seconds after I went into the bathroom she heard a crash and when I didn’t answer her calls she managed to get the door open, help me to my feet and get me back into bed. As I wasn’t coherent and fearing that I had experienced a stroke of some sort, Faith went downstairs to call an ambulance. While she was doing so I, in my befuddled state, decided once again to go to the bathroom and once again collapsed to the floor, this time passing out completely!

And that was how the Ambulance men found me.

They diagnosed Anaphylactic Shock and started me, in situ, on an Anti-histamine drip to keep me alive while my body tried to shut down completely.

What they failed to realise (and I don’t blame them one bit – saving my life was MUCH more important) was that the central heating had come on at full blast while I was unconscious and I was laying with my left hip wedged up against the feeder pipe for the bathroom radiator!

I spent most of the day in hospital on that drip and what turned out to be a third degree burn was taken to be a graze resulting from my fall in a confined space.

It took several months to heal completely and necessitated going to the Peterborough NHS Walk-in Centre every couple of days to get the dressing changed. As I went back to work after only a couple of days this meant evening visits and as a result I became quite well acquainted with the evening/night shift staff. As we went into December I quipped that as a regular “customer” I should get invited to the Staff Christmas Party.

They replied to the effect that, while they couldn’t invite all of me, my left buttock was welcome to attend!

I’m sure that the whole healing process was extended and made much worse by the fact that the burn, and therefore the dressing, was right where the waistbands of both my underpants and my trousers rubbed against me. That, however, wasn’t the fault of the Walk-in Centre staff for whom I had (and indeed still have) the greatest respect, gratitude and admiration.

Just lately, as I mentioned in my review of the year 2016 a few weeks ago, I have spent a lot of time escorting or visiting various family members at the Peterborough City Hospital and on all of those occasions the “front-line” staff have been brilliant!

And yet, I keep reading of and hearing about “Crisis in the NHS” and “Hospitals cutting back services for lack of cash” and have to conclude that this can only be because there are whole echelons of unnecessary chair-warmers hidden behind the hard working and caring front-line professionals.

Given the amount of well-informed press coverage there must, indeed, be whole teams whose sole purpose is to report on where cuts due to lack of funds need to be made!

Well, I may be being naïve here but wouldn’t cutting out those teams be a grand place to start saving money?

Prune out anyone in a team such as that who doesn’t actually do anything positive (right up to the top level six-figure earners at the head of the chain) in all of the many NHS Trusts around the country and I’m sure funds would suddenly be available again!

Sometimes these articles take a long time to finish due to my lacking a good way to end and this is a case in point!

As I write these last few paragraphs on 1st February 2017 (3 months after I started) I am sitting in a waiting room at the Hospital while my wife has a routine scan for Osteoporosis (all was fine I’m pleased to say) and a lady next to me is reading the Daily Mail which has an apt headline.

“Health tourism ‘chaos’ draining the NHS”!

Apparently the billing process for foreigners who don’t qualify for the “free” service that we natives get by virtue of paying for it, is completely screwed (surprise, surprise) and hundreds of millions of pounds per year are being lost.

Now there’s a job for those “cuts” teams!

Get rid of the people responsible for the messed up process, they are plainly inept , and give new contracts to these other spare parts paying them £1 for every £100 they recover from the non-paying “health tourists”. After all they seem very adept at bullying their own colleagues into cutting costs; squeezing a few quid from some defaulting foreigner should be child’s play!

If they get really good at it they might even be able to rise to the sort of earnings they expect highly trained Nurses to get by on!

And then, of course, there’s the £350 million PER WEEK that the NHS will allegedly get from our saved contributions to the EU following “Brexit” – but how many people would believe in a promise like that enough to vote for it?

How many?


Really?! It seems as though Education must be in trouble as well!

Right! That’s the National Health Service sorted – all the Government had to do was ask me! What’s next?


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Posted by on February 11, 2017 in Ipswich


Dirty work!

I am descended, as is my wife (who does all the genealogical stuff in our household) from long lines of agricultural workers who seem periodically to have jumped into more modern occupations.

For a specific example, one of my great-grandparents started his working life as a “groom” to the carriage horses of the Earl of Stradbroke but saw the way the world was progressing and finished up as the Chauffeur of the first motor-car of the prominent Cobbold family in Ipswich.

Similarly, there are several other “lines” (if you’ll pardon the expression given what I’m about to say!) where humble agricultural families suddenly became, in the mid-19th century, “Railway Workers”.

Now I’m sure you’re all thinking “That’s over a hundred words and there is still no real sign of what this is about and where he’s going with it!”

Well, don’t rush me – I’m getting there!

This article is a “leftover” from the piece I did a while ago (5 years ago, actually, and you can find it here: ) concerning the great parties that used to be held at my house in Beaconsfield Road, Ipswich in the 1970s and particularly from the mention therein of my friendly neighbour, Brian. It wasn’t really appropriate in the earlier article and you may well decide after reading it that it isn’t appropriate anywhere else either!

Nevertheless it is something else that comes to mind when I think of those parties and if this site has any purpose at all it is to set down my memories as a “backup” against the day when some cosmic I.T. Department accidentally formats my personal internal hard disk (or “brain” as some would call it)!

Like it or not I’m going to tell you anyway, so there!

In the previous piece I mentioned Brian’s brewing and curry making skills but there was insufficient room to say much more about him. Plus it would have resulted in me getting seriously “off-topic” and I’m sure you’ve realised that I ramble off the subject quite enough already!

Brian was approximately 40 years of age when I knew him, as tall as me (6ft 4in) and possessed a magnificent black “handlebar” moustache which gave him a resemblance to the common caricature of a World War 2 RAF Wing Commander!

And, in common with a number of my ancestors, he worked on the Railway.

Not, it must be said, in the menial labouring capacity that I imagine the remoter of my railway forebears left agriculture for but as a Driver working out of Parkeston Quay, Harwich and Dovercourt at a time when ferries for the continent were not “containerised” as they are now but still on- and off-loaded freight by crane to and from trains “parked” alongside the waiting ship.

When his shift pattern allowed and his wife, Ruby, took the children to visit their Grandparents, Brian could often be found round at my house chatting about this and that over some of his own home-brewed beer with my lodger, Andy, myself and any of our friends who happened to be around.

And, when I mentioned him in the previous article I was reminded of one particular story he told us.

It concerns the working practices of the gangs of workmen involved in laying new or replacement railway track. It is no longer wholly relevant as most such activity is carried out on special trains that work on the same general principles used to lay transatlantic cables; that is the lengths of track to be laid are carried on special trains and are welded into one continuous length before being fed out onto the track bed and automatically fixed to the concrete (formerly wooden) cross pieces, or “sleepers”.

Such specialised and semi-automated trains are quite recent innovations and include special additional carriages for the workmen to eat, shelter and (for all I know) even sleep in but before such things existed much larger gangs laboured to lay the tracks by hand. Any railway rolling stock used consisted mainly of the flat-bed trucks carrying the lengths of new rail and not many facilities existed for the workforce (known as “Platelayers”) who were usually bussed to and from the working site.

For such things as the storage of food and drink for ingestion during the working day were Lunch Boxes and Thermos Flasks invented but provision was not made for removal of the inevitable waste products!

Men, and there would almost certainly never be Women doing such work, do not have too much of a problem divesting themselves of unwanted urine! I know from my own sea fishing activities that all you have to do is walk down to the water’s edge and simply increase the volume of the ocean by a tiny amount. Or, if fishing on the breakwater of Dover Harbour, simply stand at the rail (assuming the wind is off the land behind you) and take the appropriate action towards France.

Removal of other waste (Look! I’m trying to be as delicate as I can here, OK?) is a bit more of a problem – on my fishing trips I avoid it completely by planning ahead – but the railway workers, being simple, bluff, working men, adopted a very direct solution. They would simply squat down between the tracks and do the necessary on the nice, new, creosoted wooden sleepers!

Very nice for them I’m sure but not so great for their colleagues or the next shift who would have to walk out along the tracks from their transport while avoiding treading in these little piles of poo!

Brian told us that, as with most occupations that develop their own vocabularies over time, the railway workers devised a term for these unpleasant heaps and he told us what it was.

Thereafter if Andy or I spotted that one or the other was about to tread in dog poo (this was before the days of pooper-scoopers or fines for irresponsible dog owners) we would give warning with “Watch out for the…….” and use that expression.

So if you ever are in my presence while out walking and you hear me say “Look out for the Platelayer’s Weasel” just watch where you’re treading!


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Posted by on November 9, 2016 in Ipswich


Still boldly going!

I pride myself on my memory – that and my intelligence are what I have going for me, mostly!

Oh, the body isn’t THAT bad! Some of it is still too big and some of it is still too small (Stop right there! I mean my FEET – size 10 for a height of 6 foot 4 inches means I come to a point and it’s a wonder I don’t fall over a lot) but most of it works as it is supposed to most of the time. I suppose at 63 years of age that’s as good as it gets!

Nevertheless, it is my memory that stands me in good stead when doing quizzes and having the recollections that form the basis of many of the almost 280 posts on this blog since it started in 2009.

Many people seem amazed at my ability to recall in tiny detail quite obscure matters such as things that happened in my schooldays which ended 47 years ago this week.

As an example, during one of my volunteer sessions at the Peterborough Library recently I was asked to locate some of the books shown as “missing” in this year’s stocktake. One of these was the Collected Works of the Satirist and Author who wrote under the name of “Saki”. Sure enough it was missing from the fiction shelves under “S” but without even realising I was doing it I went to the letter “M” and sure enough, there it was. When asked why I looked there I explained that I knew Saki’s real name to be H.H. Munro. So they asked me how I knew THAT and I explained that one of our English Literature set books had a “Saki” story in it and the teacher had mentioned his real name.

“But that was nearly 50 years ago” they said. “So what?” I replied.

I don’t know just how my brain goes about indexing and cross-referencing things I experience, making so much of it accessible to me – IT JUST DOES! And, as I said at the start, I am immensely proud of it.

All of which makes it all the more annoying when I have occasion to look something up and some detail makes me realise that my memory of it is not strictly accurate.

I mentioned an example of this about 3 years ago when I found that an episode of a radio comedy programme was not aired until 4 years after I left school while I could clearly recall discussing the jokes in it with my classmates (the ones that had any kind of sense of humour, anyway).

That could not have happened, so why do I THINK I can remember it? If you want to read it for yourself you can find it here:

And it has just happened again!

I was watching the 2009 J.J. Abrams’ reboot of “Star Trek” and the fact popped into my head that the original TV series was first made and shown in 1966. The Mathematics Division of my mighty intellect soon calculated that this was 50 years ago and I resolved to give it some sort of celebrationary mention in a blog post – this one!

If I may, I would like to digress here and go down an apparently unrelated path.

In the early part of 1967 I joined the 3rd Ipswich Boys Brigade Company and was then aged 14.

I don’t recall the exact date I joined but I know it was before 14th August because on that date I was in a Boys Brigade tent in a field near Hadleigh in Suffolk and that was the date that all the Pirate Radio stations were driven off the air by the stuffy and repressive government of the day. Except, of course, for Radio Caroline whose bold defiance of the Marine (Broadcasting) Offences Act 1967 was heartily cheered by all of us in that tent when they continued after the midnight deadline.

The Boys Brigade football season that began in September 1967 and ran until (I think) April 1968 was the first one where I played for the 3rd Ipswich BB and I continued to do so for the 1968/69, 1969/70 and 1970/71 seasons at which point I had to “retire” having reached 18 years of age.

Now, as with the tent and the partial demise of Pirate Radio, I have a very clear recollection of those teenage Saturdays and how they unfolded.

First off, my mother would try to bulk me up in the winter with a massive plate of Stew and Dumplings or, in warmer weather, with Sausage & Mash followed by Bread Pudding and Custard! It was a wonder that I could move on the pitch at all – opposing players must have run into me and bounced!

After that dinner I would cycle to our Church Hall (in any weather), cycle with the team to the match venue (in any weather), play for 80 minutes (in any weather) then reverse the process (in any weather).

When I got home I would have a long soak in the bath – I was usually pretty muddy – followed by Bread and Jam for tea while……. watching “Star Trek”!

That’s why this wasn’t an irrelevant digression and that is where the memory problem arises.

You see I have convinced myself, to the point of absolute certainty that the routine I just outlined took place over that entire 4 year period of my “footballing career”.


When I looked up some basic screening details I was expecting the USA/UK TV situation to be as it is now – that is, popular shows come to the other side of the pond maybe a series (sometimes only a few episodes) behind.

Obviously that wasn’t the case in the 1960s because when I looked closer I found that all three series of “Star Trek” comprising 79 episodes in all had been shown in the USA before we in the UK got to see a single one!

In fact it was 12th July 1969 (the week before I left school) that the BBC started showing episodes here – so the discussions about it with Sci-Fi minded classmates could not have happened either. They must have been with Sci-Fi minded Boys Brigade friends instead but that is not so likely AND it’s not how I remember it!

However, it does explain one tiny mystery for me.

If you follow the link I gave you earlier you will note that the episode of “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again” that it refers to also concerns “Star Trek” and I was at a loss to explain why they were doing a skit in 1973 about something that had ended several years ago. With what I know now I can see that as far as the UK was concerned it was still pretty current and, therefore, fair game for a “send up”.

So, for us Brits it’s not yet 50 years since the Grammar Nazis started screaming about “Split Infinitives” and how the words in the opening titles should be “Boldly To Go” and not “To Boldly Go”!

Personally I still love “Star Trek” in all of its incarnations and I still love to happily split infinitives – whatever THEY are!

So, Happy 50th Birthday to Star Trek.



Posted by on July 17, 2016 in Ipswich, Schooldays