Tag Archives: Lindsay Petcher

A Life in a Year – 21st May, Hillmorton County Junior and Infants School

The Hillmorton County Junior School was an old Victorian building with high ceilings and partitioned classrooms with rows of old fashioned wooden desks and attached lift up seats. The classrooms smelt of furniture polish and chalk dust and the in the corridors there was an ever present odour of carbolic soap seeping out from under the washroom doors.  There were two entrances, one said boys and the other girls but these were from a previous time when the sexes were carefully kept apart.  This was no longer the case of course and with segregation a thing of the past we were free to choose the most convenient.  

I rather liked going to school!  The day started as early as possible with a bit of a play on the way there and then there was fifteen minutes of activity in the playground behind the building, two playgrounds one for the infants and one for the juniors.  At the back of the playground were the outside toilets with no roof and completely exposed to the elements.  I think it is possible that the girls had inside facilities, I can’t remember, but for the boys it was the most primitive of arrangements.  After the whistle blew we lined up and took it in turns to march inside to hang our coats in the cloakroom.  In winter there were several rows of identical duffel coats with gloves on strings dangling through the empty sleeves and underneath in neat rows, Wellington boots with puddles of water seeping from the compacted ice in the soles that was melting and spreading over the red quarry tiled floor.

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 never seemed to take to me and in days when favouritism 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 can remember two other teachers, first there was Mrs Bull who taught year three and had a ferocious look that made our knees knock with fear and then Miss Roberts who taught year four and was a bit of a pin-up who made our legs turn to blancmange when she looked our way.  Oh and Mr Etherington, who always had a cold sore and a drip on the end of his nose, I think he took the top class in juniors but I can’t be sure.

After morning lessons there was break time with more play and a bottle of milk for every pupil courtesy of the County Council.  The 1946 School Milk Act had required the issue of a third of a pint of milk to all school children under eighteen and this was a nice thought if not always a pleasant experience.  In the summer it stood outside in the sun and it was warm and thick because this was full cream milk, not the semi-skimmed coloured water that we have today, and in the winter it had a tendency to freeze and pop through the foil cap in an arctic lump that had to be sucked away before you reached the semi-liquid slime underneath.  No one knew about lactose intolerance in those days and it was compulsory for everyone and there were always teachers on hand to make sure that everyone finished their drink of milk.

More late morning lessons then lunch break with a quick dash home and return as quickly as possible for more recreation in the playground.  Afternoon lessons and then it was soon all over and we were released onto the streets to make our way home.  Outside the school at the end of the day there were no rows of cars clogging up the streets because everyone walked to school in those days.  And we weren’t kept inside, in a state of paranoia until we were collected either.  There was no need to worry, you see, children knew instinctively to keep away from the strange people in the village and there were not nearly so many cars on the road at that time to knock us over. 

The friendly little Hillmorton County Junior and Infant School was demolished sometime in the 1970’s and a featureless replacement was built at the top of Watt’s Lane.  They built some houses on the site and my sister Lindsay lived in one for a while which surprised us all on account of her previous history of serious allergic reaction to anything to do with being anywhere near a school building.

This picture was taken on 21st May 1965 in the school play ground to celebrate an RNLI fund raising day at the school.

A Life in a Year, 28th February, Birth of a Brother and Sex Education

On February 28th 1962 along came my little brother Richard to complete the Petcher family.  This came as a bit of a surprise because this was in the days when women disguised their pregnancy under an expansive flowing smock for fear that anyone noticed and realised that they had had sex.  It certainly wasn’t discussed in the house and the first I knew of this was when a midwife greeted me home from school, announced the news and introduced me to my new brother.  I had no idea where he had come from but it looked like from now on I would have to be sharing my bedroom.

Parents who had grown up in the 1930s and 1940s were a bit prim and shy about sex and this certainly went for my mum and dad neither of whom ever provided me with any useful sex education lessons, except for dad carelessly leaving ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ lying about that is.  We had to find out about this for ourselves through playground talk with better informed school pals, watching the girls in their navy blue knickers in P.E. lessons and putting two and two together for ourselves after looking up the dirty words in a dictionary.  There were some hard lessons to be learned and I can remember one friend fell out with us all because he refused to believe that his parents could ever have conceived him through the sex act and thinking about his mum now I can fully understand the difficulty he must have had in coming to terms with this piece of information.

A Life in a Year – 4th February, Facebook and a Family Disagreement

The social networking site ‘Facebook’ went online on 4th February 2004 and whilst it has no doubt brought some people closer together, and has some value in that, it has also been responsible for breaking families up.  Unfortunately I am an example of the latter experience.

I joined the site in Spring 2007, principally to keep in touch with my children, and like most people set about setting up a big network of friends as it seemed that popularity was measured by how many gravitars started to appear down the left hand side of the screen.  I started in the obvious place with family and friends and then progressed to current work colleagues, old work colleagues, old school chums, random people with the same surname and then finally, and quite bizarrely (everybody does it), complete strangers.

Suddenly my life was a risky open book and I was living and sharing it with a dangerously increasing audience.  Luckily I realised this quite quickly and soon began to remove the strangers, the people with the same surname, the old school friends and previous work colleagues who I realised I had no real desire to keep in touch with and then finally the current work colleagues because sharing my holiday snaps and private thoughts with them served no purpose whatsoever and made me perilously accessible and vulnerable.

So my list of contacts started to shrink but I carried on reducing it even though I was teased by my children for having so few friends.  When I was back to family only, my own children obviously, and my brother and sister and their children, I thought this was a safe place to stop but how wrong I was because I was only days away from a family catastrophe that had the intensity of a tropical storm and nearly four years later still hasn’t blown over.


This is how it happened:  By the summer of 2007 I had grown bored with my ‘wall’ being cluttered up with nonsense and trivia and especially that of my niece who used the site principally to share the details of her love life, desires, sexual adventures and infatuations, sometimes dozens of times every single day.  So, having nothing particularly in common with her, except for a few shared genes, I removed her from my list of friends.  I meant nothing by it except that I didn’t think that it was appropriate for me to have access to her private thoughts in this way.  There was nothing malicious in what I did, it didn’t mean that I didn’t want her as my niece or even my friend I just didn’t want to share my life with her on Facebook. It was as simple as that.

One day in August, even though she didn’t have a clue what I was talking about, I told my mum about this, thought nothing more about it and then went off on a backpacking holiday to Greece.  In the first week or so we stayed in Athens and then visited the islands of Naxos, Ios, Sikinos and Folegandros and in this time it never occurred to me once to use an internet café or to access my Facebook account but in Ios for a second time there was a computer with complimentary internet access so one afternoon I couldn’t resist the temptation to log on.  There was a message that a picture of me had been tagged so naturally curious I had a look.  Yes, there was my picture and a tag that said ‘how disgusting, it makes me feel sick to look at it’ (Facebook wasn’t quite so secure in 2007) and it had been put there by my delightful niece.  At first I thought this could be explained by a sense of humour but I was a bit hurt and I didn’t like it so I untagged it, closed the site down and really thought no more about it.

When I got home however all was revealed.  It turned out that it had nothing to do with her sense of humour at all, she had taken unnecessary offence at her removal from my list of friends and she meant every nasty word of it.  Mum, you see, had innocently told my sister that I had taken her off my friends list and the reason why and she had blown her stack.  When I returned home I had even fewer friends on Facebook because my sister and her two sons had removed me, one of them was going to punch me in the face if he ever saw me again and the really sad thing is that I have barely spoken with my sister ever since except to squabble.

I don’t suppose that you could ever have described us as being devoted to each other, after all being related doesn’t oblige you to be friends or even like each other, but we used to get on well enough on the few times that we ever met or spoke.  For a short time in 2003 when dad was ill and passed away we became quite close but that was only temporary because shortly afterwards things returned to normal and sadly in respect of our fragile sibling relationship the Facebook incident has turned out to be terminal.

Since then I have met with Lindsay only one time.  That was in May 2008 when I was on a golfing holiday with my brother in Spain and she was staying close by in her apartment at La Maquesa so we arranged to meet one night in a Spanish restaurant in the town of San Miguel de Las Salinas.  It was a pleasant enough evening (except for Richard’s son Scott making an unfortunate gaff) and for a brief moment I thought we may have mended the broken bridge but at the end of the evening I put my arm around her and kissed her to say goodbye and her response was so cold and unresponsive that it made me shiver and I knew that the bridge was still in ruins. 

 We have never spoken to each other since.

1966 – Murderers

In the world of crime in 1966, the Moors Murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were sentenced to life imprisonment for killing five teenagers and the London gang boss Ronnie Kray murdered rival George Cornell in the Blind Beggar pub on Whitechapel Road by shooting him in the head.  The death penalty had been abolished in 1965 and although Ronnie had the decency to die in 1995 the British tax payers consequently had to pay to keep these evil people alive much longer than they were entitled to expect.  Much later I had a job for a Company with a head office on the Mile End Road in London close to the Whitechapel Road and I visited the Blind Beggar pub but there was no blood on the carpet or up the walls.

In entertainment John Lennon upset America by claiming that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus and had to apologise for that a few months later just before the group played their last ever concert together in San Fransisco, California.  It has been theorised that this rather ill judged remark may have led ultimately to his untimely death because his eventual killer David Mark Chapman was a fan at the time but also a devout Christian and was allegedly deeply offended by what he regarded to be an act of blasphemy.

The cult television show Star Trek began in 1966 and at the end of the year the chain smoker Walt Disney died of lung cancer.

In October there was a terrible tragedy in Aberfan in South Wales when after days of heavy rain a primary school was engulfed with waste from a coal tip that had become unstable and collapsed.  It slid down Merthyr Mountain behind the village at about nine o’clock just as the school was starting the business of the day, killing one hundred and sixteen children and twenty-eight adults.

Coal mining was still big business in South Wales the 1960s and all of the towns in the valleys had their pit and their slagheap that consisted of the waste and the slurry that was extracted from the mines.  Coal mining was a dangerous business and there were frequent news items about disasters and deaths and this just seemed to be an acceptable risk associated with the industry but this was something completely different and the death of so many children brought the dangers and the unpleasant nature of the industry to the attention of the public and the Government and may have been one of the early reasons for its eventual demise.

The Town of Merthyr set up a Disaster Fund collecting approximately £1,750,000 by the time the fund closed a year later.  Part of the fund was used to make the remainder of the waste tip safe and the Coal Board thereby avoided the costs of doing the job themselves. The Labour government paid back the £150,000 in 1997, although taking account of inflation this should have been £1.5m.  Although the National Coal Board was found responsible for the disaster at an enquiry, Lord Robens, its Chairman, declared the cause of the slide to be the responsibility of the community and falsely claimed that nothing could have been done to prevent it.  Robens never apologised or showed any sign of remorse.  The NCB was ordered to pay compensation to the families at the rate of £500 per child and the Merthyr Vale Colliery was closed in 1989.  In February 2007 the Welsh Assembly announced the donation of £2m to the Aberfan Disaster Memorial Fund, in part as recompense for the money requisitioned from the fund by the government in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

For me, life at secondary school didn’t get off to a brilliant start and in my first year at Dunsmore I was in form D.  To put that into perspective that is form D out of A to D; A and B were grammar streams, C were the hopefuls or maybes and D were the hopeless and the write-offs.  A and B studied Latin and Grammar and joined the chess club and D did metal work and wood work and smoked Players No. 6 behind the bike sheds.

Just as at junior school I was hopelessly misunderstood by the teachers so these were not happy days.  I fell in with the back of the class trouble makers and consequently made zero progress in my first full year and was doing best in report book entries and detentions.  I’m afraid I just didn’t find school very stimulating and I was about to set out on frittering away what might otherwise have been five productive years.  I wouldn’t say that I didn’t enjoy school, just that I found it a bit of an inconvenience.  Not as bad as my sister Lindsay however who when she was fourteen went down with the longest recorded case of tonsilitus in medical history and stayed off school for eighteen months until they told her not to bother going back.  On the positive side I did pass my second class swimming certificate in 1966 so it wasn’t a completely wasted year.

1957 – a Sister, Spaghetti, Scouting, Sputnik and Stanley Matthews

In 1957 there was big news on the home front when my sister Lindsay was born but around the world following the excitement of wars and revolutions in 1956 this particular year seems to have been less frenetic.

The Treaty of Rome established the Common Market, which was a deeply significant event that has shaped the recent history of modern Europe.  This has become the European Union and has undergone a number of expansions that has taken it from six member states in 1957 to twenty-seven today, a majority of states in Europe.  Britain joined in 1973 after a long period of being denied membership by France and in particular the deeply ungrateful and Anglophobe President de Gaulle.

Harold MacMillan became the new Prime Minister of Britain when Anthony Eden resigned over the Suez crisis debacle and this ushered in the baby boomer years of the late 50’s and 60’s when life generally improved for everyone.  He led the Conservatives to victory in the 1959 general election using the campaign slogan “Life’s Better Under the Conservatives” and MacMillan himself is remembered for his famous personal assessment of these years when he said, “indeed let us be frank about it – most of our people have never had it so good.”

Most people were beginning to get television sets in the home and on 1st April the BBC broadcast one of its most famous ever programmes; a spoof documentary about spaghetti crops in Switzerland. The Panorama programme, narrated by Richard Dimbleby, featured a family from Ticino in Switzerland carrying out their annual spaghetti harvest. It showed women carefully plucking strands of spaghetti from a tree and laying them in the sun to dry.  Some viewers, presumably those who were daft enough to believe it, failed to see the funny side of the broadcast and criticised the BBC for airing the item on what was supposed to be a serious factual programme.

The home dining experience was much more limited in the 1950s and spaghetti you see was not a widely-eaten food at the time and this explains how the broadcast managed to fool so many viewers.  In the programme Dimbleby explained how each year the end of March is a very anxious time for Spaghetti harvesters all over Europe because of the risk of late frosts and he also explained how each strand of spaghetti always grows to the same length thanks to years of hard work by generations of growers.  An estimated eight million people watched the programme and hundreds phoned in the following day to ask for more information about spaghetti cultivation and how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. The BBC kept the joke going by advising callers to place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.

1957 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Boy Scouts which began in 1907 when Robert Baden-Powell, a Lieutenant General in the British Army, who had served in  India and Africa in the 1880s and 1890s held the first Scout camp at Brownsea Island in Dorset.   Since his boyhood, he was fond of woodcraft and military scouting, and therefore, as part of soldiers training he showed his men how to survive in the wilderness.  He noticed it taught them to develop independence, rather than just blindly follow orders and so towards the end of his military career he wrote a book called ‘Scouting for Boys’ in which he set out the basic the principles of Scouting which were based on his earlier military experiences, and in so doing started the World wide Scouting movement.

I joined the Wolf Cubs when I was seven years old and after I had passed all the tests and received my Leaping Wolf Certificate moved up to the Scouts when I was eleven.  At first I was in the Paddox Troop but later transferred to the Hillmorton, which was good for me because dad was the Scoutmaster, which gave me a bit of an advantage when it came to passing tests and getting badges.  I liked the Scouts and the quasi-military organisation that came with it with the uniforms and the kit inspections, the law book and solemn promise and the fact that I could legitimately carry a hunting knife on my belt without being challenged.  It was a bit like the Hitler Youth Movement but without the nastiness!   Boys stayed in the Scouts until they were sixteen but I never saw it through to the end; dad fell out with the Group Scout Master, Harry Newman in 1969, walked out and never waggled his woggle again and that November I discovered girls and that hanky-panky was much more fun than gin-gan-gooly and that was goodbye to the Scouts, which was a shame because I was only a couple of tests away from my First Class Scouts badge at the time.

Age of innocence – Boy Scouts

Robert Baden Powell and Scouting

In a serious note there was a major train crash disaster in 1957 when two trains collided in fog which killed ninety-two people and injured another one hundred and seventy-three.  I mention this because the accident was in Lewisham in south-east London and only a couple of miles or so from the town of Catford where my grandparents lived and who we used to visit regularly.  I can remember the railway line that you could see from the bottom of the garden and I find it surprising that I was until now unaware of this fact.

In sport Stanley Matthews played his last game for England at the almost unbelievable age of forty-four.  He has the record for the longest serving England career at twenty-three years and remains the oldest man to ever play for England.  Let’s face it; it is completely unlikely that this record will ever be beaten.  He didn’t retire from football altogether at this time though and he continued playing at the very highest level in the English First Division with Stoke City until he was fifty years old when he finally retired in 1964.

To find a player in the mould of Sir Stanley is almost impossible nowadays. With all the press and media hype that surrounds today’s celebrity players such as David Beckham and Wayne Rooney, Matthews was the first real football celebrity. Unlike any other players, he was able to maintain his professionalism at all times and lived only to play the game. Matthews at the time was only earning £20 per week in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of pounds nowadays.

I can actually remember seeing Stanley Matthews myself because from about seven years old dad started to take me to Filbert Street to watch Leicester City.  I can recall quite clearly going to the matches because this always involved a long walk of about three miles there and three miles back.  Very close to my grandparents house there was a bus stop with a direct service into the city but dad rather cunningly always started out for the match at a time certain not to coincide with the bus timetable.  I never caught on to this little trick of course and dad had a very brisk walking pace that required me to run along side him just to keep up as he strode out ahead.   Dad just didn’t like paying bus fares.

Football grounds were totally different to the all seater stadiums that we are used to now and were predominantly standing affairs.  I was only a little lad so it was important to go early to get a good spot on the wall just behind the goal.  This required an early arrival and although matches didn’t start until three o’clock dad used to get us there for the opening of the gates at about one.  This must have required great patience on his part because two hours is a long time to wait for a football match to start standing on cold concrete terracing and I really didn’t appreciate at the time that all of this was done just for me.  In the 1960s of course it was common to have pre-match entertainment when local marching bands would give a thirty minute medley of tunes up until kick off time so at least there was something to watch.

Footballers like Matthews were completely different from the prima donners of the modern game; they got stuck in and played like men with a big heavy leather football, shirts that became waterlogged and uncomfortable in the rain and the mud and boots that would have been more appropriate for wearing down a coal mine.  What’s more it wasn’t unusual to watch the same eleven men play week after week because they just shrugged off the knocks that put modern players out for weeks.  An injury had to be almost life threatening to stop somebody playing in those days.  And if you don’t believe me, the 1956 FA Cup final, in which Manchester City beat Birmingham City 3-1, is famously remembered for Manchester goalkeeper Bert Trautmann continuing to play on for the final fifteen minutes of the match after unknowingly breaking his neck!

Off the ground there were two important airborne events in 1957 that were important for the future.  There was the first flight of the Boeing 707 which was to become important in increasing travel opportunities and in the USSR the sputnik programme began with the launch of Sputnik1, which was an event that triggered the space race between the two world superpowers the US and the USSR both bursting with testosterone and competing with each other to rule the modern world.