I suffer from flat feet! - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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I suffer from flat feet!

I never really settled down in Leeds. At weekends I often cycled to Wakefield to meet up with former school friends. As a family we regularly went on a West Riding red bus to visit the Autby's at No 25 Cotton Street. I always enjoyed visiting them because Mrs Autby laid on sumptuous teas with really splendid trifles. At school I enjoyed those subjects which interested me, Latin, French, Maths, English, Geography, but I had little interest in Art, Craft, History, Physics, and Chemistry. Discipline was strict, as was expected, and no-one ever spoke out of turn nor did anything to disrupt lessons. In return, the Masters paid little attention to those who showed no interest as long as they didn't disrupt the rest of the class.

Above: This was my second report from Roundhay School. I had come 10th out of 32 for term time work and 6th out of 32 for the end of term examinations.
There were no formal music lessons on the syllabus at Roundhay, but there was a weekly sing-song which was interesting enough in its way. We had to learn the words and tunes from memory because there were no song sheets or music. The teacher, and I have no memory of who it was, used to hum an initial note to start us off but, since our pubertal voices were in the process of changing from sweet treble to croaky and tuneless bass/baritone, the result was usually comical. I assume the only reason that slot was programmed was to meet some obscure requirement of the education system.

Roundhay was not a church school but there was the mandatory assembly every morning at which we sang a hymn and the Head Master recited a few prayers. Formal religious instruction was confined to a single hour per week and, as far as I can recall, it consisted merely of readings from the bible with selected boys being invited to read a few verses out loud.

More than half of the pupils in Form 1A, and possible the rest of the forms as well, were Jewish and they were excused the religious part of morning assembly. The Jews were excluded from our weekly Religious Instruction lesson, but they had one of their own. I had never met any Jews before and I was keen to learn as much as I could about their religion and way of life. I was interested enough to want to go to one of their weekly lessons but it was not permitted. Nevertheless, one or two of my close Jewish school friends did explain much about their Faith and especially about the Bar Mitzvah ceremony which most of the boys were either preparing for or had just gone through. I am not sure whether I knew about the Holocaust at that time – there is certainly no mention of it in any of my diaries from the 1940s and early 1950s.

The wireless was still our family's main source of entertainment and by this time we had a proper three-valve wireless set. We listened to the very last ITMA live on the BBC on Thursday 6 January 1949. Our family, like millions in homes across the UK, never missed their weekly dose of Liverpudlian comedian Tommy Handley, the eponymous 'It's That Man Again', who had kept the Nation entertained every week since the outbreak of World War 2. Three days later our family went to the 21st birthday party of Irene, the eldest daughter of the Houtby's, who still lived two doors away from our former house in Wakefield. I see from my diary that we left that party early, because Dad was on early shift the following morning.

Whenever we returned from a family evening outing, it was my usual practice to run on ahead to open up the house, liven up the coal fire and put the kettle on the gas hob, so that by the time the rest of the family arrived the house was rather more welcoming. I remember that evening very clearly because as soon as I had done those few jobs it was nearly 9pm so I switched the wireless on ready for the main news bulletin on the BBC Home Service. The small valve set took the usual 30 seconds to warm up and then I heard the news reader say: "We regret to inform listeners that Tommy Handley has died suddenly." Without listening to any more of the News, I ran out of the house. The rest of the family were just reaching the end of our street and I shouted out to them: "It's just been on the News. Tommy Handley's dead." That was one of those events where you always remember where you were when you first heard the news. It is no exaggeration to write that the entire population of Britain was shattered and saddened by the news that Handley had died of a stroke, just one week before his 57th birthday. Thousands of folk turned out for the funeral and there were two memorial services: one at Liverpool Cathedral and one at St Paul's Cathedral in London.

In March 1949 I started being plagued by trouble with my feet again - something that had first cropped up at QEGS when trudging the miles to and from the sports grounds in rugby boots. This time, instead of sore feet, my insteps started to be incredibly painful. I thought I might have been doing too much walking, running and cycling in and around Leeds so I reduced my physical activities, but that provided no improvement. Eventually I was taken to see a doctor. The doctor's diagnosis was that I had fallen arches - commonly known as flat feet - and both feet were affected. I found this an interesting diagnosis because flat feet were usually thought, rightly or wrongly, to be something that mainly affected policemen. In my limited experience it was certainly not something that teenage boys suffered with.

I wasn't sure whether it was an affliction I could brag about at school or whether it would be wise to keep quiet about it. I decided to keep it quiet. The doctor tightly bandaged up my left foot, the flatter of the two, from my toes to above the ankle. "The left foot is worse than the right," he told my Mum. "Make sure he keeps the bandage on night and day until the symptoms go away. There's no other cure."

The bandage didn't prevent me going about my normal activities but it was difficult to conceal a limp when walking. I must have made some sort of excuse to be absent from the weekly swimming session because the bandage would have been obvious to all in the pool. After about a week, having worn the tight bandage on my left foot night and day (my foot must have ponged quite badly by then), the Physical Training Master noticed the bandage and asked, in front of the rest of the class, what it was for. When I explained, there was much banter from the Master and the boys about policemen. The master didn't examine my foot at close quarters - and who can blame him.

During the remainder of that lesson I must have tried too hard to demonstrate that there was nothing much wrong with my feet because, before the end, I tripped headlong over the edge of a mat and sprained my other ankle quite badly. It immediately started to swell alarmingly. I pulled the plimsoll off and rolled around in quite severe pain. The Master looked contrite - and worried. These days he would probably have gone off to consult the school lawyer about possible compensation claims from my parents. I was sent home, but I can't for the life of me remember how I got there; I couldn't possibly have gone on my own. Once at home, I made a unilateral decision to remove the grotty bandage from my left foot. I had to stay off school for a few days until the swelling and bruising on my right foot went down. Thereafter there was no further mention in my diary of any problems with my feet and I have never suffered from flat feet from that day to this.

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