Category Archives: Schooldays

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


Something is happening!

Usually my blog posts get seen by my friend Mike Thomas over in Herefordshire, by my daughter Hannah and my old school-friend and Thailand resident Mike Vincent – the two last named do, I believe, actually subscribe to this site and receive an email whenever anything new is published.

New postings also pop up on my own (i.e. the owner of the real hand that operates Little Alfie like some creepy glove puppet) Facebook page and I can tell from my admin page how many people have looked at the site, what pages they looked at and where in the world they were looking from.

What it doesn’t tell me is WHO they are  – so your guilty blog-reading secrets are perfectly safe!

And for some reason the readership stats have suddenly shot up! At some point around the end of last week they jumped from an average of 2 or 3 “hits” per day to somewhere around 25!

These (presumably) new readers are all in the UK and it is interesting to note that the pages they have visited are all ones that I have classified as “Schooldays” (if you cannot face reading ALL of the almost 300 posts here you can narrow it down by choosing one of the Categories listed at the bottom of the right hand side menu) suggesting that he or they are people I have known from Copleston Secondary Modern School for Boys or (even earlier) Luther Road or Britannia Road Junior Schools in Ipswich.

If you are an old Coplestonian and want to read the collected works of Mike Vincent as well you can find them in the “blogroll” or favourites menu down the right side of this page. His are the ones named “Cornelius”, “Damien” and “Morpheus”. If you don’t mind, please finish mine before you start on his!

Thus far the new reader(s) have remained too shy to add any comments or otherwise identify themselves so it’s all very mysterious.

So may I just say “Hello” and “Welcome” whoever you are, and I hope you enjoy what you are reading.

If you don’t want to tell the world (or the strictly limited Little Alfie readership anyway) who you are and what you think of it please feel free to email direct to which is set to forward all messages to one of my “proper” email accounts.

I will enjoy hearing from you.



Posted by on February 1, 2017 in Schooldays


The Circle of Life!

I have a very distant memory of my early days at Copleston Secondary Modern School for Boys in Ipswich – September 1964 it would have been – and one of our first Biology lessons. I believe that the teacher would have been Mr Hall (at least he signed my Biology school report that year) – the lesson I remember; him I don’t!

What I do recall is an initial discussion in one of those early lessons about the primary purpose of any and every living organism be it Animal or Vegetable. And THAT (if you hadn’t guessed already) is to reproduce itself.

To facilitate this, nature has invented, in many different forms and for everything higher than Amoeba (which simply divide – which is no fun at all) SEX.

And, of the animals higher up the evolutionary tree, some Primates (Macaques, Orangutans, Gorillas, Chimpanzees and some Humans) along with Pigs and Dolphins have apparently discovered that you can do that thing for pleasure and fun.

They have thus broken the biological imperative that restricts such acts to a regular breeding time or season – and a bloody good job too!

I should say, incidentally, that when I mentioned the Dolphins, Pigs etc. in the previous paragraph I did not mean to imply any cross-species hanky-panky, with or without progeny in mind! We Humans have not yet reached the state mentioned by Doctor Who in 2005 where virile 51st century men are spreading across the universe with the motto “so many species; so little time”.

Anyway, whatever alternative uses we may have found for the process, reproducing ourselves is still important if we don’t want to die out as a species.

With this in mind at the appropriate time in our lives my wife and I did indeed take the necessary steps to keep our line going and improve the human gene pool with our two daughters.

That was over 30 years ago and Faith and I had started to wonder whether our girls actually felt the same need to continue the line but following a rush of weddings in March 2014 and October 2015 we now (written in November 2016) await the arrival of two members of the next generation – the first due on 21st December to Hannah and Dave and the second to Carla and her Dave on 27th April next year.

It’s a bit like my weekly experience with the Peterborough bus service – you wait years for one to turn up then two appear in quick succession!

The above paragraphs were scribbled during various long waits for appointments and visiting times at Peterborough Hospital when my 91 year old mother-in-law had heart problems recently.

She is a lot better now but I must admit that there were a few a few times in the last few weeks when I did seriously wonder whether she would be able to hang on to see her first Great-grandchild!

That does now, however, seem to be a distinct probability as, on 10th December  2016 – 11 days early, the next generation arrived on the scene. Hannah and little “X” are still in Hospital while a small infection is cleared up (due to him having had a big poo after the waters had broken but before he made into the open and NOT through any inadequacy at the Hospital – I feel I should make that clear) but should be home in a few days to be introduced to his Great-grandmother.

Regular readers from the start of this blog may remember that I was reluctant at first to divulge the real names of my wife and daughters (referring to them as “Faith, Hope and Charity”) and I now have the same problem with my Grandson.

Calling him “X” seems a little cold and makes him feel like some tiny secret agent so, as I do not have either his or his parents’ permission to use his real name I shall fall back on the usual family nom de plume, thus:

Welcome to the world and be magnificent, “Littlest Alfie”!

Granddad Alfie

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Posted by on December 14, 2016 in Schooldays


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


When the machine stops!

Back when mankind was just getting ready for the first manned Moon landing (in the very late 1960s, that is) I was taking my GCE “O” Level examinations, one of which was in English Literature.

Well, since you absolutely HAD to go and ask, I failed it!

Twice actually as I did a “re-take” later in the year and got exactly the same grade.

This was not down to any lack of interest in English Literature – my nose has seldom been out of a book since I started reading just before I started school.

Oh no. The big problem I had was in the bits of said literature that the Examination Board set us to study in that particular era.

These comprised:

  1. “Twelfth Night” by that Shakespeare bloke, of whom you have probably heard.This is a highly confusing and highly unlikely farcical story involving a shipwreck, cross-dressing twins, characters with near-anagrammatical names (Olivia and Viola if I remember correctly) and a love-struck servant with ideas above his station. I was bored senseless by the whole thing and would probably have passed the exam in a flash had we been assigned “Henry V” or anything with a bit more action.
  2. “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding. For some reason I was scared shitless by this “modern” novel! If I even attempted to read it during the homework period in the evening at home I would have nightmares – so I stopped bothering to do any LotF based homework! My copy of what is probably a well-written classic story still sits on my bookshelves, perennially unread 46 years later.
  3. “Twentieth Century Short Stories” by various authors writing between 1901 and its publication date of 1959.This was someone’s idea of a “best of” compilation of thought provoking or witty writing. It is quite slim volume containing only six stories most of which were (to me) quite forgettable.

I have a couple of reasons for my remembering the last named item – the first being that, despite it being school property, I still have it. I borrowed it for that November 1969 examination retake and really must return it one day.

The other reason for calling it to mind is that a recent newspaper article (which I will get to later) reminded me of the one story in it that I actually remembered. It was a story that was one of my introductions to the field of dystopian or post-apocalyptic fiction that I told you about here Although I didn’t actually credit it there and probably did actually read “Day of the Triffids” first, it was still a significant factor in my liking that kind of fiction.

I am well aware that “Lord of the Flies” is, in fact, set in a time when World War 3 is going on but that is just background and it is, I think, the psychological side of that story that scared me – so I don’t count it in that genre.

I see that I have not yet named the story in question and will tell you without further ado that it is “The Machine Stops” by E.M Forster and it dates from 1909. It is a story of a society that after many future wars and upheavals has become homogenised and pacified. All humans live underground in single person cells and all food, heat, light and high quality Audio-visual communications are provided (presumably free of charge) by “The Machine”. Travel, even international “airship” travel is not prohibited but is frowned upon as unnecessary and is used less every year even though “The Machine” finds it easier to run empty airships than to cut back or abandon the service.

I won’t give away the plot but you can probably guess the ending from the title of the story and all that dependence on technology leads me to draw what I think are very obvious parallels with our own increasing dependence on computers (our very own version of “The Machine”). Take a moment and think really hard about what would happen if all the aspects of our society and industry, food production etc. that are computer controlled were suddenly not so controlled!

I believe that the only thing stopping us from sliding headlong into a similar sort of society to that of this story is our lack of the unimaginably powerful, self-sustaining power supply that Forster takes for granted in his story.

Even so, steps towards our own destruction are being taken and the newspaper article that I mentioned above details one of them. It was a report buried deep in the uninteresting middle pages between the advertisements for holidays and walk-in baths for the elderly (as if it were of no consequence at all) and it related that the Education authorities in Finland are ditching the teaching of handwriting and are going to concentrate on keyboard skills instead!

Does no-one other than me see where that might lead? If the power goes out and you need to send a message it will do no good whatsoever to take a sheet of writing paper (if such a thing still exists) and rattle your fingers over it as if typing! We are dumping our “manual backup systems” and that can surely never be a good idea, can it?

Yes, I know that I am publishing this on the Internet via a computer but I should tell you that all of these blog posts are written initially by hand, on paper – just so that I don’t forget how to do it and so that a hard copy may survive for someone to read the old fashioned way, some day.

Finally, since starting this piece I have discovered that if you follow the link at the end of this sentence, you will be able to read “The Machine Stops” for yourself.

Unless, of course, the Internet stops – in which case we will all have much more serious things to worry about!



Posted by on August 31, 2015 in Schooldays