Posts Tagged ‘Eric Smith’

West Mon personalities

October 22, 2013

I was recently reminiscing with my friend Eric Smith about some of the personalities who taught us at West Mon in the early 1940s. Two of them we spoke about at length:

Professor Alfred J. Thompson of Bristol was blind from birth and came to teach at West Mon about 1943. He was always accompanied by his wife who had to guide him everywhere. As the piano was on the hall stage, that’s where we had our music lessons with him. I remember being totally amazed the first time I saw him play the piano. I was learning the instrument at that time. He just placed his hands on the keyboard to find the keys and then he just played effortlessly and, of course, from memory. Later he wrote the school song which is featured elsewhere on this blog. Music lessons with “Toot” Steven had always been rather irregular and perfunctory but with Professor Thompson we really got down to it.

He lived just a few doors down from Park Terrace Methodist Church and held music appreciation classes at his home. Eric attended these and Professor Thompson gave him 40 records and a walnut record cabinet.

 

Miss Orella Jones was the glamour mistress at West Mon. As teenage boys we had an eye for this sort of thing and frequently talked about our mistresses’ qualities in a way which had little relation to their teaching abilities. Gilbert Garnett was frequently seen talking and laughing with Orella. I also remember Jehoida Brown – a prefect when I started at the school – when he visited the school in his army uniform earnestly chatting to her in the school hall. I suppose he would have only been about six years younger than Orella. She was leaning against the wall and Jehoida stood a couple of feet to the side with his hand leaning on the wall about a foot from the side of her head. I remember wondering what this cosy little tête-à-tête might have been about.

Orella was engaged to Tom Churchill who took me for French in Six Arts (written about earlier in this blog). Unfortunately he died quite young and Orella transferred to the Girls’ County School. Eric told me that she never married which I found quite surprising.

 

If any visitor has any recollections or photographs of either of these two members of West Mon’s staff I should be pleased to hear from them.

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Arriving in Pontypool

June 11, 2008

One of my favourite comic characters, Popeye the Sailorman, made his entry into the world the same year as I did – 1929; but there was a difference: he became famous and I didn’t. Other famous people born the same year were Audrey Hepburn, James Last, Martin Luther King and Anne Frank. It was the year that television was first demonstrated by Bell Laboratories in New York, but a practical system was said to be a long way off. In London the first 22 public telephone boxes came into use, and, importantly, the England cricket team retained the Ashes.

I was born at 7 Wern Terrace, High Street and was to live there for my first seven years. About 18 months later another baby boy was born next door at number 8. He was Eric Smith and became my best friend throughout our school days. He too was the youngest member of his family, having an older sister, Mary. Both being regarded as “too young” to play with our older siblings, we always played together and with other same-age friends either in one of the houses or gardens of numbers 7 and 8. Soon we were allowed to play in the lane at the back of Wern Terrace and it was there that we played cricket, football, rode our three-wheeler bikes and spent many happy hours slaughtering hoardes of red indians with our cap guns.

My eldest brother, John, was born six years earlier and went to the nearest school, Pontypool Town School, where my other brother, Garyth, soon followed. The new Park Terrace School had not been built at that time. Naturally, I also went to Town School.

It was a very old Church of England School and I clearly remember the centenary celebrations in 1938 when I attended the junior section of the school. I started in the infants section rather earlier than I should have because an aunt of mine did some pupil teaching there and I think she was able to pull a few strings. Pupil teaching was an allowed arrangement for the benefit of young people who wanted to become teachers and were thinking of going to a teacher training college; they did a bit of practice in a school before doing so.

The infants section had two rooms. The first class (usually known as “reception” these days) was a room on its own. It was in this class that I remember we used “slates”. Actually they were not like the original slates which were pieces of slate used for writing on. These were made of thin wood painted black and with a frame around them. We practised writing on these with chalk and used small pieces of wet cloth for erasing.

Photograph of the staff at the Infants’ School
From left to right: Miss Hughes (my aunt), Miss Williams, Miss Long and Miss Rees

In the corner of the classroom was a rocking horse which we were allowed to ride on from time to time. It always struck me as huge but, having seen photographs of it since, it wasn’t all that large.

David on rocking horsePhotograph of me on the rocking horse. I can’t remember the
name of the other boy.  Any ideas?

3 on rocking horseTwo classmate have joined me in this photograph. I’d love
to know who they are. They’ll be well over 80 now!

There were various theories and experiments carried out in schools even in those days (we seem to delight in using children as guinea pigs) and I remember that it was considered a good idea for all children in the first class of infants schools to have a nap in the afternoon. As a result of this we were all supplied with camp beds and had to lie on them for about half an hour. We were told that we had to go to sleep but I can never remember doing so.

Classes two and three were in the next room. It was very large and was divided down the middle by a large heavy green curtain. Things became rather more exciting in there and I remember having to copy the drawings of objects from a large flip-chart, each object related to a letter of the alphabet – “A for apple” etc. I really loved doing that and we had to repeat it time and time again.

In the third class we had a percussion band with bells, triangles, tambourines and drums. Wow! Fortunately I was chosen to be a drummer and I loved it. You could make such a glorious noise with a drum. Unfortunately, when I was absent for a short while due to illness, someone else was chosen as drummer in my place and I was reduced to a triangle player. I was devastated!

Infants' percussion band

Our percussion band resplendent in hats.
I think I remember some names from left to right.
Back row: yours truly, Ronnie ?,  Glyn “Mickey” Morgan,
Kenny Rice, John Evans?, Ray Hurcombe.
Girls, L to R: Myra ?, Enid ?, Beryl ?,
5th from left I think is Jane Grey.
I’d love to hear from any of these who recognise themselves.