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Archive for July, 2010

Mr. Snow

Posted by willkay on July 31, 2010


I have just spent three hours searching the t’internet for one man: Mr. Snow. He was a teacher at Birkdale Preparatory School, Sheffield. He worked there for the whole of the time I attended the school, 1970-74, as third grade teacher and science/biology teacher. Unfortunately, I cannot find him – not a single trace of his existence. This is a shame because I’d like to say “thank you” to Mr. Snow.

The first school I went to was Mylnhurst Convent School, where I was taught by nuns. [In fact, it is slightly depressing to discover that Mylnhurst is no longer a Convent and has the worst-website-ever.] However, the Convent only went up to the age of 11, and it was my parents’ intention to send me to boarding school at the age of 13. To get into boarding school I would have to pass a series of exams – not just in English and maths but also in history, geography, science, religious studies, French, and Latin. Seven years earlier, my older brother had followed a route that went from Mylnhurst to Birkdale and on to boarding school. He had spent two years at Birkdale Preparatory school, cramming for the exams to enter Pangbourne Naval College. In theory, he failed the exams. Unfortunately, although life at the Convent school had been idyllic (as idyllic as life can be being taught by nuns – and only someone who has been taught by nuns can understand that statement), the educational standards weren’t very high. This meant that the two years spent at Birkdale, for my brother, had been hell. He was far behind his peers, had studied no French or Latin, and was at an academic loss. The only thing going for my brother was his sporting ability. My brother is was an exceptional athlete (he’s 56 years old now and is probably still better at sport than I, but maybe that doesn’t make him still “exceptional“). Anyhoo, the fact that my brother was very good at football/rugby/cricket got him into school. Even though he was not so good at maths/English/reading the British navy decided that he would learn.

This was all well and good for my brother, but I was not going to go to naval college. If my brother was going to follow my father’s footstep into the navy, I was following my father’s footsteps into the family business. I was university bound. This meant that I was going to a totally different boarding school to the one my elder brother attended. And, no matter how good I was at sport, the school I was attending expected me to pass the exams. Therefore, it was decided that I should leave the convent school and attend preparatory school – to prepare!

The convent school was great. The work wasn’t hard, lessons were fun, we learnt at our own pace, and the nuns were…nuns. However, Birkdale was a school, a very good school, a high-flying academic school. The headmaster was a tall, bald, shouty man – as opposed to a short, habit-wearing, quiet mother superior. In the classroom you sat in desks – as opposed to the group tables I was used to. There was going to be homeworks, assignments, projects, and books to read and books to write in. Everything about Birkdale was scary. I was very, very scared. At the time I had no idea of my abilities, the nuns had never made me sit exams, I’d never been placed within my peers. However, at Birkdale, each year group was split into two streams – a top stream and a bottom stream. There were exams three times a year, and these exams were used to rank you from 1st to 60th – so you had a good idea of where you were within your year group. My elder brother had not fared well academically, and the night before I started he filled my head with horror stories. How he had never had a break time (recess) because he spent most of his time in detention. How teachers had made him sit in “the dog house” – the area under the teacher’s desk – and, when he failed to answer questions correctly, how the teachers would kick him. He mentioned the chalk that would be thrown around a classroom, the blackboard erasers that would follow behind. The casual brutality of the teachers who would lift students up by their ear/hair or just clip them on the side of their head. It sounded so much more brutal than the world I was used to (although I had been “rulered” [hit with a ruler] several times by nuns). I didn’t sleep much that night.

I had already sat an entrance exam to the school, and when I arrived for the first morning, I was assigned to my classroom. I was to be in 3A, the top stream. In other words, the nuns had done that badly by me. In fact, there was a long discussion about putting me in 4A, the year ahead, which would have given me an extra year in the 6th form so that I could study for an academic scholarship. Unfortunately, I had not studied any French or Latin and the school started teaching these in the 2nd form, so that would have put me two years behind in these subjects. So it was decided to put me in my correct year group, but “great things were expected of me“, or so I was told. In the classroom there were three rows of double desks (two desks, with lids, joined together, and a bench seat that lifted up). All the kids were sat in alphabetical order, starting with the two children, whose surname began with an A, sitting in the front desk, and everyone else following on behind. I got to sit at the back of the middle row, just in front of the gas fire (yes, there was a gas fire in the classroom), next to Issac Hand. Even now, as I type his name, I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck rise. Issac Hand was to be my nemesis, my arch-enemy, the one boy who got me put into detention more than any other event/failure/problem combined. He and I never got on, and it was obvious from that first moment when I sat beside him. I was delivered to the headmaster, at the school’s front door, by my mother. He then took me through the maze-like building to my classroom. We entered, the class stood, I was introduced to Mr. Snow (my class teacher), and was sent to my desk. I sat there and cried. I wanted to be anywhere, anywhere else, anywhere that wasn’t Birkdale Preparatory school.

The first lesson was maths. Now, this was September 1970, and (as you all know) in February 1971 Britain was going to go decimal. The whole of the monetary system was going to change from pounds/shillings/pence to a new system that had 100 pennies to a pound. This system was far more complicated than the one I had been brought up with, where 12d was one shilling and 20 shillings was a pound. Totally understandable! Anyhoo, the maths lesson was to be about decimalisation. We were to listen to a radio programme (that had been recorded on to a reel-to-reel tape deck) which would talk us through decimal currency. At the end of the broadcast there would be a game of decimal bingo, where the announcer would call out monetary sums in old money, and we would have to cover their decimal equivalents on a bingo card. You know, he’d call out “one shilling and sixpence” and you’d have to cover 7½p on your card. Mr. Snow gave out all the bingo cards, while I sat at the back of the class, sobbing – you know, doing that breathing-thing where you go “huh-huh” in the middle. After giving out the cards, Mr. Snow went back to his desk but instead of pressing play on the tape recorder, he stood there looking at me. Suddenly came back down the classroom, took my bingo card off me, exchanged it for another card, then went back to the front of the classroom and pressed play.

I won the bingo game.

The card that I had, was the winning card. And there was a prize. A packet of mints. Mr. Snow awarded me the packet of mints and then offered me the chance to eat one of them, “so long as I shared them with my classmates“. This was fantastic. Not only had I won a prize in my first lesson in the big-scary-school but now I also had all of my classmates, desperate to be my friend so that I would give them a mint. Suddenly, school didn’t seem so frightening. Suddenly, I knew everything was going to be ok. Everything was going to be great, so long as Mr. Snow was there.

And it was. I stayed at Birkdale for four years, until I passed my exams to boarding school (with results that led to me being top streamed at that school as well). Oh there were moments that I was hit by flying pieces of chalk/board erasers, lessons I spent in “the dog-house” being kicked by a teacher, times I was lifted up by my ear, to stand on my desk in shame because I had used the word “nice” in an English essay. But there was never a time I felt in danger, never a time I felt really scared, because of the actions of one man, Mr.Snow. Looking back with the experience of a teacher – and an insider’s look at how preprepared bingo cards are marked before the start of a lesson – I know that Mr. Snow took pity on that crying/sobbing child at the back of his classroom, and he switched cards so that I would win.

I told this story to maria this morning and she pointed out that I should try to find Mr. Snow and thank him. And that is where this post started – my failure to find Mr. Snow. Having searched high and low, across the t’internet, I cannot find any reference to a Mr. Snow, third form teacher, biology teacher, working at Birkdale Preparatory School, Sheffield in the 1970s. So I can’t thank him. I can’t tell him how wonderful his actions are. All I can do is write this post and hope…hope that one day he (or his children) do a reverse search on google, and find this. If you do:

Thank you.

Posted in stuff | 3 Comments »

bikes, food, dreams, and six feet under

Posted by willkay on July 28, 2010

Le Tour de France is a bike race around France, that lasts for three weeks. For twenty-two days, 180 cyclists, ride around France, climbing the Alps, the Pyrenees, and racing on the flat stages. It sounds silly to say that watching it is exhausting – watching people cycle up hills that I would have difficulty walking up, and they are doing this after having ridden 100km to get to the mountain – but it is draining. It has been an excellent Tour, where the lead has never been more than one minute, and was finally decided by 39 seconds.

Due to the Tour (and the 8 second gap between 1st and 2nd place), last week was spent mainly close to a television/computer screen. I did manage a haircut, deciding that it would be a good idea to get that over and done with, rather than waiting for the day before going back to school. There are few things worse than the “back to school haircut”. We also went to the cinema and saw Inception. This led to a series of weird dreams-within-dreams dreams. However, don’t let that put you off seeing Inception. A visually stunning film with a great concept and execution. Well worth the entrance fee.

Apart from that, we have also worked our way through Six Feet Under, all five seasons.

So, we haven’t left the flat much. However, we have been having adventures, adventures in food. I really enjoy cooking. I like finding recipes and then giving it a go, seeing if it works out. maria has also joined in with this, producing some fantastic meals. We spent some time plotting quitting teaching/photography, and setting up a restaurant instead. But, gentle reader, you have no need to panic just yet. We’ve decided that the restaurant business won’t work, and we’ll just stick to what we do for the time being.

Posted in holiday diary, holiday post | 3 Comments »

two weeks’ work destroyed

Posted by willkay on July 18, 2010

So, my holiday project, Grow-A-Beard was going really well. And when I say “well” I mean “well” in the sense that I was growing a beard. In all other aspects of my life, the project was not going “well”. Those of you who have been students of mine will have heard Roald Dahl’s description of men’s beards, from The Twits. Those of you who haven’t been students of mine, go read The Twits to discover that Mr. Dahl does not have a very high opinion of beards. At one point in the book, he raises the question: do men have to shampoo and condition their beards? I don’t know the answer to that exactly, as my beard never quite got long enough, but I can vouch for the fact that they are itchy. Very itchy. You know how scratchy and itchy and annoying your dad’s beard was when he kisses you goodnight? How he will sometimes scratch your face (or in my dad’s case, pull up my shirt and rub his chin on my tummy)? Well, take it from me, it is ten times itchier and scratchier and annoying (-er) on the other side. Yes, beards are awful to try and grow. And, as you probably noticed, the weather changed mid-week. Suddenly the sun shone, the temperature rose, and everything became more and more itchy. Friday night I shaved.

Apart from that, there isn’t a lot to report about week two of the holidays. I visited school one afternoon – I need to update my papers so that I can work in Mexico -, went shopping a couple of times, paid off the phone/electricity/water/mobile bills, watched a lot of cycling – La Tour de France, played a lot of Animal Crossing and finally got some peach trees to grow.

So ends week two. How’s it going with you?

Posted in holiday diary, holiday post | 5 Comments »


Posted by willkay on July 12, 2010

That Was The Week That Was = TWTWTW = hence TW3

The wonderful Scarlatte has continued blogging throughout the holidays (you are reading?), and has finally shamed me into updating this place. Well, she didn’t shame me, my own sense of shame kicked in, and here I am.

Monday 5th: Went to school. Delivered DVDs. Yes, maria finished working on all the photos, burned two (TWO) DVDs of photos for every child, and we handed them over. I also signed my contract (Hurray!). It appears that no matter how bad the students were in the Bees, nor how many times I had managed to get things wrong, I still have a job. Phew!

Great excitement for me, I found a place (on the internet) where I can get coverage of The Tour de France. This is a three week bike race round France. Obviously, it isn’t cricket, but nothing says summer holidays (and stress-free relaxing) to me as much as laying around the flat, watching 198 men cycle round France. (As opposed to watching 22 men stand around a field in England, playing cricket.)

Tuesday 6th: Tuesday is 2×1 Pizza day!! This means that we are slobbing out all day, and eating Pizza. Yes, we stayed in our jim-jams (that’s pyjamas to you) all day while I tried to convince maria that watching men cycling for three hours was interesting. She wasn’t convinced, and spent some time on Animal Crossing (did I mention I have a Wii?).We also got to watch Uruguay go out of the World Cup. This was a disappointment to maria, who had been supporting the Uruguayan team from the beginning – based on the fact that they had “proper footballer’s hair“.

Wednesday 7th: Following on from 2×1 Pizza day, today was 2×1 at the Cinema day! Wow, I really know how to show a girl a good time – and one that doesn’t cost me much as well??? I do not enjoy horror movies, am not keen on endoftheworldapocalypse scenarios, and will definitely avoid zombie films. So, after watching the Spanish team crush and humiliate the German team (in a way that the English team could never have done) we went to see The Crazies (that’s “El Dia del Apocalipsis” to you). Oops. Just because a film is called The Crazies and has Timothy Olyphant in it, doesn’t mean it’s a comedy western!! Nope, it was a zombie film. Or, at least we think it was a zombie film because we didn’t get to see the whole thing. Thirty minutes into the film, there was an earthquake. No, not in the film, nor was it the rumbling from The Prince of Persia next door, it was a real earthquake! The film got stuck in the projector and melted! Plus, we were all evacuated from the cinema! We left, and went to TGIFridays for dinner.

Thursday 8th: Since coming to Mexico I have only had a curry (an Indian meal) three times. Three curries in (nearly) five years. This is unusual as I would have probably had three curries a month (minimum), back in England. However, as luvverly as the meals had been, I had not had onion bhajis. I woke up, on Thursday morning, desperate for onion bhajis! After searching the internet for recipes, I armed myself with a very long list of spices, and set out for the border. Unfortunately my visa had expired, and the queue to cross the border (and then the queue to renew my visa) was enormous – it looked like a minimum three hour wait – so we set off looking for spices in Tijuana. Thursday night, we sat down to eat home-cooked onion bhajis. They were not good.

Friday 9th: It took two hours to cross the border and renew my visa. Then it was off to Hillcrest. One stop in Trader Joe’s, one stop in Whole Foods, $100 lighter in wallet, $100 worth of spices heavier, and we set off home again. That night I produced onion bhajis, pillau rice, chicken tikka masala, chicken madras, a vegetable curry, riata, and two different types of naan bread (I bought the bread) for friends. We ate and ate and ate. And there was still some left!

Saturday 10th: Ate curry.

Sunday 11th: Ate curry.

Monday 12th: Will not be eating curry today. It is a rest day on The Tour de France. There is no more World Cup (for another 1432 days, until it all starts again in Brazil). So, there isn’t anything to do this morning…except write a post. How’s your holiday going?

Posted in holiday post | 1 Comment »

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