Latin, PE, Games, bullies, and other things to avoid

I attended Borden Grammar School, Sittingbourne, from 1960 to 1967, during the reign of Mr. G.E. Hardy ("George"), a tall, looming figure, bat-, or perhaps vulture-like in his flapping, threadbare black gown, given to humming tunelessly to himself as he roamed the school corridors in search of those evil miscreants who might, horror of horrors, be wearing non-regulation socks.

If caught, these sinners would be ordered to remove the offending garments and be forced to spend the rest of the day sockless.

Meanwhile, the 5th Formers got down to the serious business of debagging someone...

My father, H.P. Mills, had attended the same school some 30-odd years earlier. Every morning in assembly I would see his name painted on the honours board hanging behind the headmaster as George stared at the shuffling and snuffling throng trying to catch the eye of the boy who had farted.

There were still a few masters at Borden who had taught my father, including the French master, Mr. ("Sniffer") Snelling, who would delight in showing me how much better than I my father had been at languages by pulling out ancient mark books. I thus hated French.

I also hated Latin, which "Basher" Booth attempted to hammer into us, literally: "mensa..." (thump), "mensa..." (thud), "mensae..." (whack), "mensas..." (slap) and so on). He failed miserably with me, and I still bear the mental scars, though at least, unlike some, not physical ones.

Whilst most of my peers played games and learned similar useful male skills, I quietly chose an opposite direction and became embroiled in music (which involved spending a proportion of my time at the nearby girls' grammar school or hidden in the small room filled with stale-sweat-smelling gym mats behind the stage) and art and English and history.

Looking back, I think that perhaps I would have been happier at the girls' school, though not for the same reasons as my peers!

There were, however, dreamy times spent in the warmth of the biology lab, surrounded by sprouting beans and formaldehyde-soaked dogfish; moments of utter farce in the chemistry lab, with its ever-present smell of bromine leaking from the gas cupboard (perhaps this was a deliberate ploy to lessen our teenaged libidos). Afternoons spent trying not to fall asleep as the sun poured through classroom windows.

The only really useful skills I acquired were how to find fossils, how to hide from authority (usually prefects) so that I wouldn't have to leave the warmth of the school on cold days, how to avoid prowling bullies, how to make a wooden teapot-stand, and how to skive out of physical Education and Games, both of which were "taught" (inflicted on) us, the less than agile, by fist- and plimsol-swinging sadists who would probably be in jail today.

I eventually had my revenge on Mr. Booth, however. The day he left, during a staff-student cricket match in which I'd accidentally been included, I drove a cricket ball into his solar plexus! I think this was the only occasion that I ever hit a cricket ball. Hmmmm.

Some Borden Memories

Actually the title of this section is a misnomer — there's a hell of a lot I don't remember from my schooldays in the 1960s, as the result I suppose of life's regular clearouts of dusty neural storage files, the demise of many millions of brain cells and the concomitant process of going fuzzy around the edges.


Thus I can't remember the names of many of my schoolmasters; not surprising in many cases, but I regret losing the names of a few who encouraged me in various directions...

Mr Lucas — Music

A sad figure, gentle and clever, he was bullied and driven out of the school (and teaching I believe) by brutish senior boys, and seemingly given little support from other staff. He encouraged my early duck-like quackings on the oboe, and for him I played my first school orchestra solo (in the Schubert Great C Major symphony) and I played in his over-ambitious and chaotic production of Bach's Christmas Oratorio. His wife was a colourful and (to me) glamorous figure, joining us to play the flute from time to time.

Mr Burrell — Biology

Mr Burrell was a small, shy, smiling man, with whom we got on well. I loved every aspect of biology, which I experienced as a creative pursuit, and was much encouraged by Mr. Burrell. I would spend ages drawing microscope slides and specimens and loved dissections. I spent many hours closeted in the back room of the biology laboratory, a brightly-lit and cosy oasis of calm crammed with textbooks and specimens.

Mr Warren — Geography

Another enthusiast, who turned me on to the fascinations of geography, a subject I was loth to abandon when leaving the 5th form.

Mr. Veal — Maths and Geology

I was hopeless at maths, but "Beefy" Veal didn't hold grudges, and later introduced me to the, to me much more accessible, joys of geology and palaeontology. I still have my trusty geology hammer, wielded for the first time on a field trip to Cornwall.

Mr Goff — Art

The art room was separated from the assembly hall/gym by a folding wall, against which balls and bodies would occasionally thud during art lessons. Whenever there was a major event that demanded the entire hall, the art room would be emptied of furniture. This gave it a somewhat temporary feel. I was good at art, and enjoyed my time with Mr. Goff, who I remember as a genuinely nice man, and who was devastated when I gave up art at the end of the 5th form, choosing sciences instead. I wonder what would have happened if I'd made different choices?.

Mr Nicholls— English

I suppose, without it really being obvious, "Nick" Nicholls encouraged my writing. I had a few poems and essays published in the school magazine, and was supported in my wide-ranging reading (I used to read all the set books). So thank you, Mr Nicholls...

Mr Ashby — Deputy Head

"Dusty" taught Biology to the lower school. I remember beansand damp blotting paper in gas jars and detailed, though not very emotionally helpful, sex lessons. In the darkened, over-warm biology lab, we dozed through lots of rattly films and scratched film strips.

Mr Hill — Geography

"Prune" presided glomily over a room in which stood a battered glass case of decayed and dusty mineral specimens, as well as a huge, black, ancient epidiascope that I never saw used.

Mr Davies — Chemistry

"Jack" Davies, wearing a leather flying helmet, would ride to and from school astride a Moulton bicycle. In the prep room, where he would hide and smoke while we battled with titrations, he used to distill his own urine, presumably for some unknown biochemical experimentation. He had lost his sense of smell, which led on one occasion to him almost gassing the entire fifth form Chemistry group when he overlooked a leaking sulphur dioxide valve and filled the lab with sulphuric acid fumes, sending us gasping for breath into the corridor.

Mr Weekes — Physics and Woodwork

Mr Weekes, cheerful and enthusiastic, was mad about astronomy, and built his own reflecting telescope. This involved grinding a concave mirror, which he used to do while teaching us. He eventually set up his telescope in his back garden. The woodwork room was located to the east of the main building, and being in the A set I only frequented it long enough to make a seed-dibber and a tea pot stand. However it was where the Model Railway Club held occasional meetings. The layout consisted of a large plywood baseboard to which was attached a fair amount of "OO" gauge trackwork, but no scenery. During my first year I contributed a balsawood and brickpaper overbridge, but never witnessed a single train run on the layout, and I soon lost interest. I don't think the club flourished during the 60s.

The Library

Sixth formers would congregate around the large tables in the library during our study periods and pretentiously and (usually) ignorantly discuss the issues that mattered to us in the 60s, which mostly revolved around sex, something few of us had even come near experiencing. It was here that Mr Hardy gave his sex talks, which were frustratingly uninformative and consisted mostly of the word "don't!" It was here we keenly reviewed newly-published works of literature such as Lady Chatterly's Lover, Naked Lunch and Parade.

Friends and Peers

I have failed miserably to stay in touch with any of my fellow pupils, but given the (now eclipsed) success of Friends Reunited I'm not alone. We all no doubt promised we'd be friends forever, then forgot each other the next week when we bumped into that leggy creature in the Union bar (er, now what was HER name??).

Actually that's not entirely true. I do stay in irregular contact, with Terry Barry, Associate Professor of Archaeology at Trinity College Dublin.

As a meek and retiring junior boy I was frequently bullied, so many of my memories of my peers are not happy ones. I hated sports and PE, spent most of my time avoiding possible conflict and didn't share the general machismo that united the greater mass of pupils. I have been fascinated to discover how many people who were creative in later life were bullied at school!

I was a member of a musical clique, partly I guess as a way of withdrawing from the mainstream into which I didn't fit all that well, being a feminine sort of bloke. Classical music wasn't seen as a very cool thing for boys to do in those days (and perhaps isn't still). In retrospect I think we claimed a little strength in numbers and in being not a little priggish I suppose, or at least I certainly was. We would play regularly in the Highstead Girls School orchestra and in the wind band run there by the ebullient Trevor Wye, experiences that certainly influenced my emerging libido!

Some names I remember positively... David Baker(singer); Nicholas< (French Horn/composition) and Patrick (clarinet) Sims-Williams; David Jordan (violin); Terry Barry (singer). Lots of Gilbert and Sullivans. Underage pints of beer supped in the Gore Court Arms or The George, choruses of Gibert and Sullivan sung badly on our way up Bell Road...

Arts Festival Torture

"Other Instruments" was what it was called, a rattlebag of whatever people were still blowing or banging or plucking. Every year a handful of us were roped in to play in the school Arts Festival competition, usually with the Spanish Recitation still ringing in our ears. By the time I finally won the class there were so few musicians left that the odds were pretty unfairly in my favour! But Barrow House collected a few more points to ensure its monotonously regular overall Arts Festival victory....we couldn't run, but we could blow! (Nowadays that sounds rude!)

But having said all that, I can't guarantee that any of the above is absolutely accurate... I wasn't one of the school's star performers, and didn't possess a huge personality, so there aren't many out there who will remember me. And I have little enthusiasm for the grammar school ethos and selection, so have no desperate desire to spend time looking backward at what wasn't a particularly golden age.

Thanks to Richard Davis for helping me out recently with some long-forgotten staff names and for sending me a copy of a long-lost school photo!

Oh, and I haven't mentioned school dinners! Another time...