Scrap Book Project – French Women Wearing Trousers

The modern French assessment of Joan of Arc is that she is credited with winning the Hundred Year war by defeating the English and she is revered as a military heroine. She is seen as a martyr who died at the hands of the English invaders when she met her char-grilled fate and was burnt at the stake in Rouen in 1431.

This modern interpretation has not always been the case however and the French themselves had a significant part to play in the capture, trial, conviction and death of someone who they now revere as a symbol of national heroism and as a Catholic Saint.

Joan was born in about 1412 into a relatively well-off peasant family in Donrémy in northern France somewhere near the border of Lorraine. At this time English troops were running riot through France and at one point raided and plundered the village of Donrémy and the d’Arc family had to flee into exile.

During this time Joan convinced herself that she had a visitation of saints and angels and heard patriotic voices that told her that she was chosen by God to save France. Joan kept hearing the voices for a further three years and when she was finally convinced she left home with her brothers and presented herself to the authorities as the saviour of France with a mission to put the Dauphin on his rightful throne.

Word of Joan quickly spread and it was claimed that she was the embodiment of a prophecy made by a mystic called Marie d’Avignon, that a ‘virgin girl from the borders of Lorraine’ would come to save France. To test whether Joan was genuine the Dauphin had her questioned by a committee of clergymen and asked a group of respectable ladies to test her virginity. She passed both tests and with religious sincerity and sexual inexperience being considered more suitable qualifications than an education at an appropriate military academy she was given a suit of white armour and an army of forty thousand men and sent to fight the English at Orléans.

Joan rejected the cautious strategy that had characterized French leadership and attacked and captured the outlying fortress of Saint Loup, which she followed the next day with a march to a second fortress called Saint Jean le Blanc, which was found deserted. The next day with the aid of only one captain she rode out of the city and captured the fortress of Saint Augustins and two days later attacked the main English stronghold and secured a stunning victory that took everyone by surprise. After that there was a run of French victories as the English and their Bugundian allies fled from the field of battle when challenged by the invincible Maid of Orléans fighting, it seemed, with God by her side.

From here however things started to go wrong for Joan and she was betrayed by the King, Charles VII, who was beginning to find here her to be a bit of a nuisance and to get her out of the way he dispatched her on a hopeless mission to fight a Burgundian army at Compiègne, a city north of Paris, where she was defeated by a much stronger army, captured and taken prisoner.

She was held at first by the Bugundians but senior French clergy began to insist that she be handed over so that she could be tried in a religious court on the grounds that she had ‘great scandals against divine honour and the holy faith’. In short they wanted her tried for heresy which if proven would mean execution by burning at the stake. The captors however wanted cash and the clergy failed to offer a suitable ransom so instead Joan was handed over to the English Duke of Bedford who paid a handsome sum for the prisoner.

Contrary to what the French would have people believe however it was not the English who tried her for her crimes, this was carried out by two Frenchmen, Pierre Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais and Jean de Maître who had the alarming title of ‘Vicar to the Inquisitor of Heretical Perversity’.

The charges against Joan were many and serious including witchcraft, blasphemy, fighting a battle on a Sunday and wearing men’s clothes and these plus the other sixty-six almost all carried the death sentence. By all accounts Joan defended herself well in intellectual and religious debate on the issues of heresy but she couldn’t get away with the issue of clothing because in medieval times it was sin for women to cut their hair short and put on armour and fight because this was a role reserved for men. Joan refused to change out of her trousers because she was afraid of being molested or raped by the English prison guards and when the judges failed to prove the religious charges against her they turned to and relied upon the unholy business of dressing up as a man.

Eventually the judges persuaded her to do a bit of plea bargaining and they offered to spare her life if she would wear a dress and confess to the crimes. Joan agreed and she owned up to everything in a cermony at Rouen Cathedral but immediately afterwards she was betrayed and thrown back into prison (by the French) and so afraid again of unwanted sexual advances she put her trousers back on. The judges were delighted and declared her a relapsed heretic and condemned her to be burned at the stake and the the sentence was carried out on 30th May 1431 in the market square of Rouen by her English guards.

Tragically (and I am getting to the trouser bit now) the technical reason for her execution was on the say so of Moses who was responsible for the Biblical clothing law set out in Deuteronomy 22:5: ‘The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth to a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God’. It seems that Moses was much less than tolerant than we are now on the issue of cross-dressing!

After the end of the Hundred Years War a posthumous retrial was opened. The Pope authorized this proceeding, also known as the “nullification trial”, at the request of Inquisitor-General Jean Brehal and Joan’s mother. The aim of the trial was to investigate whether the trial of condemnation and its verdict had been handled justly and according to canon law. Investigations started with an inquest by a priest carried out in 1452 and a formal appeal followed in November 1455.

The process involved clergy from throughout Europe and a panel of theologians analyzed testimony from over a hundred witnesses. Brehal drew up his final summary in June 1456, when he described Joan as a martyr and implicated the late Pierre Cauchon with heresy for having convicted an innocent woman in pursuit of a secular vendetta. The nullification trial reversed the conviction in part because the condemnation proceeding had failed to consider the doctrinal exceptions to that stricture and the appellate court declared her innocent on 7th July 1456.

So, history is not always what it seems and the French were probably equally, if not more so, to blame for the death of their greatest heroine than the English. The same church that arranged for her to be burned at the stake, canonized her a Saint on 16th May 1920, nearly five hundred years later. She is now France’s Patron saint, and her legacy to both France and the world runs deep.

It is interesting as well that in England she is also in some part considered a heroine and in 1960 Airfix introduced two new model kits into the famous people range, Edward, The Black Prince and Joan of Arc, hardly the sign of a country that holds a grudge!

 

 

 

 

To conclude the story:

The French seem to take this ladies wearing trousers thing rather seriously and since November 1800 it has been technically illegal for a woman to wear trousers in Paris without a police permit.  Just over a century ago, exceptions were introduced for women riding horses or bicycles. Otherwise, the by-law remained in force.

The law appears to have been introduced because French revolutionary women started to take the whole ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ thing far too seriously and demand the right to perform men’s jobs and wear men’s clothes. The law was last applied in the 1930s when the French Olympic committee stripped the French athlete Violette Morris of her medals because she insisted on wearing trousers.

The ministry of women’s rights only finally proclaimed the edict unconstitutional in February 2013 when it declared:

“Ruling Number 22 of Chief of Police Dubois of the 16th Brumaire of the year nine (7 November 1800 in the revolutionary calendar), entitled ‘ruling on women cross-dressing’, is incompatible with the principle of equality between men and women enshrined in the constitution.”

Scrap Book Project – School Reports

From 1960 to 1965 I went to the Hillmorton County Junior and Infant School in the village where I lived and three times a year at the end of each term I had the traumatic experience of taking home to my parents a sealed brown envelope which contained the dreaded  ‘school report’.

This was never a happy experience for me because generally speaking my academic progress from one term to the next could only be described as ponderous and disappointing as I plodded my way through junior school towards an inevitable failure in the eleven plus exam.

At Hillmorton County Junior School the Headmaster was Mr (George Edward) Hicks who was a decent sort of chap but he never seemed to take to me and in days when favouritism in the classroom was acceptable I found him to be quite unsupportive and he wrote me off at an early stage as being a bit of a no-hoper and advised my parents to buy me a pair of clogs and prepare me for a long dull working life in a factory, as he was certain that I was destined to be one of life’s academic failures.

For slow learners there was no such thing as special educational needs or additional support mechanisms and the class was set out in a Victorianly strict hierarchy with the fast learning favourites at the front getting all of the attention and the dimwits at the back making table mats out of raffia.  I suppose I would have found myself about two thirds back from the blackboard.

The reports were handed out by the form teacher and there were strict instructions to take them home without opening them.  I must admit that I was tempted now and again but never had the courage to tear open the envelope that was marked ‘private and confidential’. My friend David Newman used to open his and on one occasion it was so bad that he posted it down a drain at the side of the road.  This wasn’t something he could hope to get away with of course because at the bottom of the report was a perforated line and a tear off slip that parents had to sign and had to be returned to school just so teachers knew that the report had been delivered as instructed.

I would dutifully take mine home and hand it over to mum who would put it somewhere safe ready for dad to open when he got home from work.  There then followed a nervous hour or so waiting for him to come through the door, get changed, sit down and open the envelope.

I knew it was going to be bad, it always was, and a sort of tide of disappointment spread over his face like red wine spilled over a white tablecloth as he read down the single page of comments that confirmed that very little progress had been made again this term.  He never lost his temper or got cross but when he had digested the full horror of this term’s sorry effort I’d be subjected to a lecture on how I needed to work harder (blah, blah, blah), how I had to make more effort (blah, blah, blah), how I needed to think about the eleven plus exam (blah, blah, blah) and how this all was if I didn’t want to work in a factory all my life (blah, blah, blah).

I have often thought that in the interests of fairness that parents should have to bring home a work report for the benefit of their children’s amusement – imagine Prime Minister David Cameron’s…

Arithmetic – Excellent, David’s expenses claims are brilliantly prepared

English – Good grasp of English but tends to be bombastic and rude

Economics – Very weak with little grasp of basic economic principles

Geography – Weak, doesn’t seem to understand the concept of Europe

History – Poor, needs to understand that Britain no longer has an Empire

Science – Obsessive interest in nuclear power

Religious Instruction – Needs to stop picking on religious minorities

Gym – Very poor, needs to get himself in shape

Summary – David needs to pay attention to what other people are saying and to take other people’s views into consideration.  He has a tendency to be confrontational, argumentative and rude.  He can be very stubborn and dismissive of other people.  He needs to address these issues or he may not get re-elected in 2015.

On Friday 20th December 1963 I took home possibly my worst school report ever and I had sunk to my lowest possible pitiful academic level.  In the overall assessment I scored a dismal 10 out of a possible 100 which put me firmly amongst the dunces.  Dad wasn’t too pleased that day I can tell you as he read down a succession of comments that was nothing to be proud of:

English – ‘Andrew is not working hard enough – I expect a more serious effort in January’

Arithmetic – ‘Weak – Very disappointing’

Religious Instruction – ‘Not good enough’

Science – ‘Average’

Geography – ‘Not good enough’

Practical Work – ‘Quite good when he gets down to it’

Music – ‘Little interest shown’

The form teacher’s general report said – The above remarks tell their own story, Andrew has got to work harder’

Luckily I  think he may have read my sister Lindsay’s report first which was always far worse than mine but nevertheless I had some explaining to do that night that’s for sure and I expect going out to play was out of the question that weekend but although it was an awful report there was surely some room for optimism that dad had either missed or overlooked:

Handwriting – ‘Excellent’, so, it wasn’t all bad because although I was a confirmed dunce in all subjects at least I could write quite nicely and this presumably helped the teachers understand just how hopeless I was! I probably wasn’t doing myself any favours there.

Scrap Book Project – The Dunsmore School Annual Show and a Very Short Career in Acting

Dunsmore School Henry V

Every year at Dunsmore (now Ashlawn) School in Rugby there was a school production which ran for several nights and parents and family used to come along to watch.

As far as I can remember for several years while I was in the lower forms this would be in the form of a variety show and boys and staff would put on a performance for two hours or so of sketches and musical interludes.  These shows were organised directed and choreographed by the school music teacher Mick Self.

Mick Self was an odious man, a Welsh bully who would have been more at home in the forward line of his local rugby football club punching members of the opposition, gouging their eyes or biting their ears off than being a school teacher.  In the 1960s  bullying and punishment were all part of the curriculum at Dunsmore; you expected to get a slippering of your bare backside at gym now and again, a blackboard rubber in the back of the head if you didn’t pay attention in class, detention for no good reason at all except the teacher just didn’t like you or six strokes of the cane for even the most trivial misdemeanour but Self took bullying to an even higher level.

All of this seemed quite normal, after all this was Rugby and we had all read ‘Tom Brown’s School days” and at Dunsmore even the older boys, the Prefects, were allowed to hand out punishments without any sort of vetting for this level of behaviour enforcement responsibility.

I used to dread music lessons.  Self never taught us a single thing.  He had absolutely no teaching skills whatsoever.  If you could already play an instrument like my friends Rod Bull and Tony Gibbard then you would be fine and you were guaranteed a spot in the annual show but there was zero chance of anyone else ever getting an opportunity to learn anything useful.

The man was a psychopath.   I remember one time that he made us sit in the school hall for a double lesson (an hour and a half) absolutely still with our arms folded with a warning that if we moved a muscle then we would be punished.  He was an obnoxious evil man.  Another time in another lesson he told us to write a four page essay about Beethoven and that we couldn’t go home until it was finished.  I mean how can you write a four page essay about Beethoven without any sort of warning?   My response to this unreasonable challenge was to drag up what little knowledge I had about the German composer and then write it down using huge letters and to drag each word out across the page as far as I possibly could.  As it turned out I needn’t have gone to the trouble because he didn’t bother to read them anyway so I could have written about anything I liked just to fill up the pages.

David Howe

Anyway, one year, 1969 I think, Self was preparing as usual for the end of term Christmas show when there was an announcement that this year we would do something different and the English teacher David Howe (above) would be producing a Shakespeare play – Henry V.  Henry V was on the ‘o’ level English Literature syllabus that year so we were all fairly familiar with it.  Self was livid but I imagine there had been some staff room intrigue because even the other teachers didn’t like him, the decision was made and casting began.

I auditioned but was not successful in securing a speaking part but was compensated with not one, but two roles as an extra.  My first part was rather important as I was the servant who carried on the casket of tennis balls that is presented to King Henry by the French Ambassador in Act 1 Scene 2 and then I had to make a hasty costume change to become one of the English army, first at the siege of Harfleur in Act 3 scene 1 and then at the battle of Agincourt in Act 4 scene 1.

The play was performed four times that week and on the final night on Saturday Mick Self turned up in a drunken rage and stomped through the corridors looking for trouble.  I think he would have murdered David Howe if he had found him but luckily for David he didn’t.

A few weeks later Mick Self just seemed to mysteriously evaporate. It turned out that as well as being a bully he was up to all sorts of no good and although nothing was said, no announcements were made everyone knew that he spent some time sewing mailbags at her Majesty’s pleasure at Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight.

The failure to get a part in the play was a bit of a personal setback for me and I never auditioned for a part in the school play or any other sort of play ever again but I have to admit that this was no great loss to the theatrical profession.

Henry V

Scrap Book Project – Hillmorton

The family settled in Hillmorton in 1960 when Dad took up a new job at the Rugby Rural District Council (created 1894, abolished 1974) and we moved from Hinckley in Leicestershire, about fifteen miles away.  In those days Hillmorton was only a small village and although there was no discernable boundary from the town it was undeveloped and had only a fraction of the population that it has today.

We moved into a brand new bungalow at number 47, The Kent that was one of the first new developments in the village at that time.  It cost £2,000.  All around there were exciting places to explore and play and there was lots of time to do so because parents were not nearly so paranoid about children wandering off to enjoy themselves in the 1960’s as they are today.  In those days it wasn’t uncommon to go out in the morning and only return home when empty tummies demanded that food was required and there certainly weren’t search parties out looking all over the place.  It’s a shame that these days children are confined to their back gardens or have to be taken back and forth to school by car because there was so much more fun when young lives were not subject to so many restrictions on movement.

The house we lived in was built on an old tip and over the back was a big hole perfect for sifting through and finding old junk and behind that was ‘The Bank’,which was a strip of trees and undergrowth that was good for playing jungle war games.  A narrow path ran from Sandy Lane to Tony Gibbard’s garden at no. 37 where two trees, one large and one small, were converted into tree houses and frequently doubled up as a Lancaster bomber and a Spitfire fighter.  You certainly had to have a vivid imagination to achieve this childhood fantasy transformation.

What is now Featherbed Lane used to be Sandy Lane which was an unpaved track and in the adjacent trees was a long abandoned car that in our imagination we converted into a Churchill Tank.  Beyond Sandy Lane was the ‘Sand Pit’, which was a bit of a forbidden zone on account of the large number of rats that lived there.  Mum didn’t like us going there and with her exaggerated warnings of how they would either dash up your trouser leg and chew your penis off or alternatively take a flying leap and rip your throat out was enough to make you think twice about venturing too far inside.

A few years later they built some houses on the sand pit and a lot of them fell down quite soon after because of inadequate foundations in the soft sand.

Further down the road there were some derelict old terraced houses that had been condemned by the Local Authority that we convinced ourselves were haunted, they were knocked down a few years later and some Council flats built there to replace them.  These days they would be boarded up and made secure but in the early 1960s they were left open so we used to go inside and frighten ourselves half to death exploring the empty rooms looking for their secrets.

On the road down to the Locks and the Oxford Canal there was the site of the old Hillmorton Manor House that lay in ruins surrounded by dense undergrowth of trees and vegetation.  This is where Constable Road is now.   Around the Manor House the bigger boys in the village had constructed a scramble track (a sort of pre-BMX thing) where we had bike races and pretended to be the Brandon Bees motorcyclists.

This wasn’t my favourite game I have to say because I used to prefer to go down to the canal and mess about on the locks.  This is where my best pal David Newman and Gary James lived and his parents allowed us to build a camp in an old outbuilding in the garden.  The canal was an incredibly dangerous place really but of course we didn’t realise that at the time.  During the summer we used to wait at top lock and offer to open and close the locks for passing canal craft in the hope that we would receive a few pennies for our labours.

School was about three hundred metres away and to get there we had to pass what was euphemistically called the ‘corn field’.  There never actually was any corn in it of course it was just a piece of uncultivated land with long grass that was waiting to be developed and it wasn’t long before the Council built a clinic and some houses on it and took away another useful recreation site.

At the back of the school was the Elder Forest, which wasn’t a forest at all just an area of overgrown vegetation with a predominance of Elder Trees.  That’s all been grubbed up and built on too of course now.  Given the shortage of playing space it’s hardly any wonder I suppose that today children have to stop at home and watch the TV or play computer games and are denied the pleasure of real play!

Scrap Book Project – The Eleven Plus Exam

The eleven plus exam and secondary education obligations were  introduced in the Education Act of 3rd August 1944.  It was the only significant piece of legislation relating to post-war social reform that was passed by the coalition government during the war years.

When I went to the Hillmorton County School and moved from primary to junior classes in 1962 everything about the curriculum was about preparing children for the eleven-plus exam because this determined what sort of secondary school they would go on to.  Interestingly I don’t remember anyone really adequately explaining this to me at the time and if they had I might just have made a bit more of an effort!   Pass this and you could go to a grammar school like Lawrence Sheriff, fail it and it was off to a secondary modern school like Dunsmore or Fareham which were designed to be more technical than academic.

The Headmaster was Mr (George Edward) Hicks and he generally led an assembly with a hymn and a prayer and a short address.  He was a decent sort of chap but he just never seemed to take to me and in days when favouritism in schools was acceptable I found him to be quite unsupportive.  I just enjoyed being at school, especially the play times, and wasn’t terribly bothered about the learning bits in between so I think he wrote me off at an early stage as being a bit of a no-hoper and advised my parents to buy me a pair of clogs and prepare me for a long dull working life in a factory, as he was certain that I was destined to be one of life’s academic failures.

I met him years later when he came knocking on the door collecting for the RNLI and I think he was genuinely shocked when I told him that I had been to University and had a nice office job with good prospects at the Council.

For slow learners there was no such thing as special educational needs or additional support mechanisms of course and the class was set out in a strict hierarchy with the fast learning favourites at the front getting all of the attention and the dimwits at the back making table mats out of raffia.  I suppose I would have found myself about two thirds back from the blackboard.  I was a late developer!

I never made much impact at school and casually ambled through four years of education, three times a year at the end of each term taking home a disappointing school report and enduring a lecture from dad on how I had to work harder because one day I would be taking the eleven-plus exam.

The structure of the eleven-plus exam consisted of three papers:

  • Arithmetic — A mental arithmetic test.
  • Writing — An essay question on a general subject.
  • General Problem Solving — A test of general knowledge, assessing the ability to apply logic to simple problems.

This established a tripartite system of education, with an academic, a technical and a functional strand. Prevailing educational thought at the time was that testing was an effective way to discover to which strand a child was most suited. The results of the exam would be used to match a child’s secondary school to their abilities and future career needs but the exam became a fiercely competitive annual scramble with parents pushing hard for their children to pass the exam and join the elitist group going forward to the stuck-up grammar schools where they could learn Latin and join the chess club whilst leaving the failures to move on to technical drawing and smoking behind the bike-sheds.

And so it came around and 1965 was a mixed year for me when it came to passing exams.  As predicted I failed my eleven-plus in Spring and was sent to secondary school in September in the bottom grade at Dunsmore (or Duncemore in my case) but to compensate for that I did get my Leaping Wolf certificate in the Wolf Cubs and passed my Elementary Test for swimming a whole length of the swimming baths and that was quite something let me tell you, the certificate was signed by the examiner, Mrs Dick, who was a fearsome creature, Councillor Pattinson, the Chairman of the Baths Committee and Jim Duffy, the Town Clerk no less!

More about Academic achievements…

Scrap Book Project – British Birds, The Wren

I like the Wren and would like to encourage them to pass by more often and I have put a wren box in a yew tree in the hope that this might encourage him to nest here.  Although I don’t see them very often Wrens are among the most common birds in the UK, and according to the RSPB there are currently around ten million pairs.

They suffer from heavy losses during the winter though because food can become hard to come by for them.  In the most recent coldest winter, 1962/3 there wasn’t a frost-free night from 22nd December until 5th March.    The continuous freezing temperatures meant that snow cover lasted for over two months and the winter of 1962/63 was the coldest over England and Wales since 1740 with mean maximum temperatures for January and February 1963 more than 5 °C below the average.

Seventy-five per cent of British wrens were thought to have died during the harsh winter of 1962-3.  That is why it is important to feed them in cold weather.  They suffer from cold because at a length of less than ten centimetres they are the second smallest birds in the UK, after the Goldcrest.  Because it may be difficult to catch spiders and I am not going to do it for them a handful of grated cheese is the usual recommendation.

The food needs to put on the ground and their scientific name explains why, it is taken from the Greek word “troglodytes”, from “trogle” a hole, and “dyein” to creep, which literally means “cave-dweller” and refers to its habit of disappearing into cavities or crevices whilst searching for spiders or to roost.

Another interesting fact about the Wren is that it has an enormous voice for its size, ten times louder, weight for weight, than a cockerel, so try and imagine, if you can, a cock-a-doodle-doo with that sort of vocal power!

In the Spring the male Wren builds several nests, as many as six or seven and then invites a female to select her favourite. These are called cock nests but are never completely finished or lined until the female chooses the one she wants.  I suppose that is a bit like a man building a house and leaving the decoration and soft furnishings to his wife.

According to European folklore, the Wren is the King of the Birds.  Long ago the birds held a contest to see who could fly the highest; at first it looked as though the Eagle would win easily, but just as the Eagle began to get tired, the Wren, which had cleverly hidden under the Eagle’s tail feathers, crept out and soared far above.

The Wren also features in the legend of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who was supposedly betrayed by the noisy bird as he attempted to hide from his enemies. Traditionally, St. Stephen’s Day on 26th December has been commemorated by ‘Hunting the Wren’, when young Wrenboys would hunt hedgerows and catch the bird and then ritually parade it around town,

The diminutive Wren also appeared on the last farthings to be minted in the UK from 1948 until 1956 and it ceased to be legal tender from 1960. I don’t know this for sure but I have always assumed that the image of the Wren appeared on the farthing because of the fact that it was such a small coin.  That seems plausible to me anyway.

Shakespeare refers to the wren no fewer than nine times in his different Plays. Its small size is noticed, and the bird is credited with an amount of courage disproportionate to its stature. When Macduff flees to England his wife bitterly complains that he left her and his children without his protection:

“He loves us not;
He wants the natural touch:
for the poor wren,
The most diminutive of birds, will fight,
Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.”

__________________________________________________

Other Posts about Birds:

Blackbirds

Collared Doves

Dunnock

Fat Balls

Mozart’s Starling

Robin

Starlings

Starlings in the USA

Vinkensetting

__________________________________________________

Scrap Book Project – The Annual School Outing (Away Day)

In the 1960s one of the highlights of the school year was going away for the day on the annual school outing.

When I was at junior school at the Hillmorton County school this was usually a simple affair with a trip and a picnic to somewhere fairly close by.  Dovedale in Derbyshire was about the furthest the teachers would venture to take us but it was more usual to stay within the county of Warwickshire and trips would inevitably be to Warwick Castle or Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon.

I can certainly remember going to Stratford-upon-Avon for the day and visiting Shakespeare’s House on Henley Street in the town centre, Anne Hathaway’s House in Shottery and Mary Arden’s House in nearby Wilmcote.

One special trip from the Hillmorton School was an outing to London and a visit to the Science Museum in South Kensington in about 1964.  I had been to London several times of course because my grandparents lived in Catford and we used to visit and stay there regularly.

The Science Museum has always been one of my favourites.  I liked Stephenson’s Rocket and the replica coal mine, a sort of early interactive experience where we stepped into a dark world of a Welsh mine.  The exhibit may not be there anymore because since all the country’s pits closed in the 1980s you can go down real ones instead.  But my real favourite, and I agree that this is not especially exciting, was an exhibit that explained ploughing and tilling and was in a glass case with three tractors and three different types of plough and when you turned a handle then the whole thing moved and explained the sequence of farming. I was delighted to see that that particular exhibit was actually still there forty years later when I last visited the museum in 2002.

The junior school annual outing was generally a well behaved affair that can’t have been too stressful for the teachers and we would obediently form organised lines and follow them like sheep from place to place as we went through the day.

This was not the case however with school trips at secondary school when the day was a perfect opportunity for mischief and mayhem.

The day started with a lot of pushing and shoving waiting for the coach to arrive because, a bit like the classroom, it was essential to get the back seat and be as far away from the teachers, who inevitably sat at the front, as possible.  When I say coach what I really mean of course is the most ancient and worn out vehicle in the fleet partly because the school would have paid the lowest price possible but mostly because the coach operating company was not going to provide its best vehicles for a bunch of unruly school kids.

On account of the age of the bus and the worn out state of the engine it would take a couple of hours to get to London including a fifteen minute stop at a service station to let the engine cool down and give us an opportunity to run around the car park and for no reason other than we could, to cross the bridge to the other side of the M1.

After we had arrived in the capital we would go to the Tower of London, or Buckingham Palace or to some other sites as part of the formal part of the day.  Once we met the MP for Rugby, William Price, who took us on a tour of the Houses of Parliament.  In the House of Lords he carefully explained that it was absolutely forbidden for a commoner to sit on the red leather chairs so we then spent a few minutes trying to force other kids into the seats in the hope that someone would have their heads chopped off.

After that it was time for lunch so we would parade off to Hyde Park or somewhere similar and eat our sandwiches.  Most of us used to carry our sandwiches and our raincoats in a duffle bag, which was a sort of draw string canvas bag which no self respecting school kid would be seen dead with these days.  They were about forty centimetres deep with soft sides and a rigid round bottom, they were lined with plastic that used to split and break off and around the top were some brass rings where the cord passed through and was tightened to close it.  Even though our sandwiches were in airtight Tupperware dishes they always tasted of chlorine because these were the same bags that we used to take our swimming trunks and towels to the baths for our weekly lessons and it was impossible to get rid of the smell especially after you had left them in there over the weekend.

After lunch it was free time and this was the opportunity to let our hair down. Out of sight of the teachers the first thing we did was to take off our caps and maroon blazers and roll them up into our duffle bags and then we made for the city centre.  Sensible kids did more sightseeing or a bit of shopping but I always hung around with the boys who wanted to misbehave and do silly things.  On one trip I remember that we wasted a whole afternoon by buying a ticket on the underground circle line to the next stop and then going all the way round, again, just because we could and it felt as though we were doing something wrong.

On another occasion, when I was about fifteen, one of my friends, Paul Connor, who was more sexually advanced than most of us, arranged for us to go to Soho because he had heard that it was possible to see live sex shows. He was confident that the way to do this was to go to a dirty book shop and just hang around and then someone would come and ask us if we wanted to go through to the back room.  We did this and we didn’t have to hang about too long at all (probably no more than a few seconds) before a man came and asked us what we were doing there (we were only fifteen and probably had no more than ten shillings each to spend) and Paul told him we wanted to go into the back room.  He told us to follow him and he took us down a corridor and opened the door at the end and ushered us all through – back onto the street!

At five o’clock or thereabouts we had to return to the rendezvous point for the trip home. Someone was always late or worse, lost, which meant thirty minutes of adrenalin filled panic for the teachers but eventually everyone turned up, sometimes accompanied by a police officer and by the time everyone was accounted for it was back on the bus to eat the last of the chlorine sandwiches on the way home.

school-trips-and-feeling-homesick