The start of my lazy teenage years - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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The start of my lazy teenage years

I had been at Roundhay School only about a week when it dawned on me that few of my new friends lived within three miles of our house in Harehills. In my sparkling new school uniform, I stood out like a sore thumb in the rundown neighbourhood of Gathorne Terrace. There was a definite suggestion that since I went to the grammar school, we must be a rich family, in which case why were we living where we did? Another problem was that out of school hours I had no-one to play with. I didn't want my school friends to visit me and see how we lived, and I would have had to use my bike if I'd been invited to visit them, but I rarely was. Even my parents noticed this. Although I am not aware that there was any significant crime in the area, unlike today, the fact that my Dad was required to wear his Prison Officer's uniform when travelling to and from work, added to the suspicion with which our family was viewed by our neighbours.

Non-fraternisation was a much used expression in the first few post-war years. In that context it referred to the defeated enemy: at Roundhay it had a different meaning. We could see and hear the girls on the playing fields at every break time, but we were forbidden to mix with them during school hours. The timetables, however, seemed to have been deliberately arranged to ensure that a girls' session in the pool or gymnasium was immediately followed by a boys' session. We boys were supposed to keep well clear of the changing rooms until the girls had left and the female teacher had given us permission to enter. Sometimes the mistress was nowhere to be seen and then some girls lingered, giggling profusely, until we arrived and barged in. In the following term the timetable changed and the situation was reversed. Our own swimming instructor always dashed away as soon as he had blown his whistle to clear the pool so, if we deliberately took a little extra time to get dressed, as we did, the girls could come rushing in and catch us, apparently unawares, while we feigned false modesty. Hearing the loud cheers, the girls' teacher would then enter, grinning and shouting loudly, "Come along boys, get dressed quickly before you frighten my girls." Those teachers presumably considered this to be part of our education - or their entertainment. Either way, it was all very revealing.

Re-reading my report at the end of my first term at Roundhay, I see I had done much better than I had expected, especially in the subjects I disliked. The report of my Form Master, TP Blackburn BA, stated: "He has shown reasonable progress on the whole during the term but I do feel that more consistent application would be desirable." I thought that write-up was a bit mean. The Head Master, Mr BA Farrow MA, did not make any comment on my report.

Above: My first report from Roundhay School. Note that 'HP' reported that I had made fair progress at Swimming. Sadly, that was a gross exaggeration because I still could not swim at all - and, what's more, no-one had made any attempt to teach me!
In spite of the superb sports fields and gymnasium, sport was a problem for me at Roundhay as it had been at QEGS. Wednesday afternoons were devoted to what the school called "Compulsory Sport" and all boys had to take part. I remember saying to a member of the P Ed staff on one occasion that 'compulsory sport' was a contradictio in terminis - a Latin expression that I had learned at QEGS. The P Ed chap was not impressed - especially as I had to translate the phrase for him. I have often wondered what he said to his colleagues when he was next in the Staff Common Room.

The school's winter game was soccer. My first outing was also my last. I had been keeping out of the way of the ball for the best part of 20 minutes when suddenly a boy from the other team kicked the ball hard straight at me. It reached me at shoulder height. Instinctively I did what I would have done in a rugby game at QEGS: I gathered the ball up and started to run with it towards the goal mouth: brilliant take and no knock-on. I was sent off and never invited to take part in a football game again. When the cricket season started a few weeks later, 'they' must have remembered my one football appearance and I was never asked to take to the field. I was actually quite disappointed by that because, as a true-blue Yorkshire lad, I was well acquainted with the laws of cricket and was quite keen to take part. However, it was just as it had been at QEGS: the staff had no obvious interest in coaching; they were there merely to supervise the boys and break up any fights.

I quickly found out that there were two approved alternatives for boys who did not wish to take part in organised sports. One was to remain in a classroom doing homework supervised by a prefect, who presumably had a similar disinterest in sport, and the other was to join the Combined Cadet Force which paraded every Wednesday afternoon in a remote area of the school grounds. I didn't know the CCF existed until I had been at Roundhay for some months. Had anyone bothered to tell me about it, I would happily have joined. In the event, I remained indoors doing homework on most Wednesday afternoons.

That was the start of my lazy early teenage years. Frequently I wrote in my diary, "Another really boring day at school". I was bored because I found most of the school work incredibly easy and I rarely needed to do any private study at home. I could rattle off homework very quickly and that left most evenings entirely free. My problem was what to do with my evenings. How I missed Wakefield Park and the many other green areas around my former home and, yes, I missed the train spotting. Still, I had a new sports bike and I spent hours cycling around the greater Leeds area by night as well as by day. Early on I had a couple of minor accidents when my front wheel got trapped in tramlines, but I soon learned the technique for crossing the lines without getting thrown off.

I quickly acquired a vast knowledge of the streets and lanes in the greater Leeds area, out as far as what is nowadays the Ring Road, and beyond into the countryside. Leeds district is very hilly so in addition to already being very fit, I became very strong physically, although I was still slightly built. It is interesting to look back now and note that it was perfectly safe for a 13 year old to cycle on his own around all parts of Leeds, including the busy town centre and the relatively remote parkland areas, even on dark evenings, without any danger from any source. Many adults would not do that these days let alone permit their offspring to do it on their own.

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