Goodness Gracious Me, Chapel Street!

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

Mother: “Look, I’m a student. I’m balancing a traffic cone on my head.” /     Son: “That’s not a traffic cone; it’s a small aubergine.” / Mother: Aubergine, traffic cone. I’m too drunk to tell the difference! – Goodness Gracious Me, BBC TV comedy series.

I’d had to move because Mum and her partner had to relocate. I was uprooted from New Moston School and sent to a strange foreign land: Clayton. I hated life in Clayton Brook Primary School. Luckily, I would spend just one and a bit years at the school.

“It took John a little while to settle down in class 3. He is a bright boy and is now working very well. Although he is very untidy, he has a good understanding and has been very enthusiastic about some topics we have tackled. He wants to do well and his attitude to work is excellent. Number work is also good, but he does tend to be careless. A very good start at Clayton Brook.” – I. Proudfoot, year 2 teacher, Clayton Brook Primary School, 3rd July 1990.

Chapel Street Primary School made me stronger. It was never an easy time there, but it wasn’t the worst time of my life. To my younger self, bullying and getting into childhood scraps probably readied me emotionally for puberty and the tests of young adult life. It didn’t scar me. In fact, I look back and think of how much of a little terror I was. I made silly mistakes – more than any other kid (probably).

Before Chapel Street, I’d already been at New Moston Primary School and Clayton Brook Primary School. They’d taken our classes to Moston Baths and Ravensbury Primary School’s swimming pools respectively. At Levenshulme Baths, Chapel Street Primary School students had long been making the area into a madhouse. Levenshulme Baths used to be located opposite Levenshulme Library and both were next to the back gate of our school. The Bluebell Pub (at one stage ran by a parent of a classmate) was to the other extreme of the back of the school, and lay across the north-eastern flank of the school was Chapel Street Park. Here I can remember great times playing football with Ben McGreavy and Kevin Fairfax, or climbing (trees?) with Dan and Peter Ridyard, or digging for treasures with Alex Muir.

At Chapel Street, I recall the great dinnerladies being ever so friendly and the dinnertime assistants at lunchtime (yeah, there’s a whole problem of terminology regarding mealtimes going on there). In the morning we’d have a bottle of milk around 10am. To this day, I sup as much milk as the cows can produce. I draw the line at soy milk. It gives men breasts, I read somewhere. The school day had three breaks, all of which involved the playground, running around crazy (pretending I was a velociraptor after seeing Jurassic Park at the Davenport Theatre; or I was one of the Royal Air Force Red Arrows after attending Woodford Airshow). I had my imagination and Micro Machine cars or Lego figures were in or out of my pocket often.  I wasn’t the closest friend to anyone.

“How big is his danda?” – example of a catchphrase from Goodness Gracious Me, BBC TV comedy series

Mrs Clegg’s class during year 4 meant that I would lose many Micro Machines and Lego men. Her big plastic laundry bag must have held hundreds, if not thousands, or possibly millions of them. She was an incredibly strict teacher who like many in her profession drank copious amounts of coffee. I recall her reeking of coffee. At that time, I hated the smell of coffee, but in hindsight, she knew best, coffee is wonderful. Although now, I only drink 1-2 cups a day, if any. I’m in China and there are too many wonderful teas to sample. This week at St. Lorraine Anglo-Chinese Primary School, Miss Zeng gave me Peach Oolong tea and anther oolong tea that tastes like champagne. At primary school, as a kid, all I’d drink was corporation pop (water) and the odd Barr’s Dandelion and Burdock if I had 20p to hand.

I joined Chapel Street Primary School in year 3 with a short-haired teacher (who I cannot remember the name of) charged to calm me down. I’d entered part way through the school year and was a little unsettled. I soon became friends with the shortest member of the class, Peter Ridyard. He had a few brothers and sisters. His sibling clan of seven weren’t all dwarves. Far from it. I always remember his long-haired taller and older by a year or so sister Amanda with golden-red hair flowing like Rapunzel. I was scared of her instantly. She was a girl and a taller one at that. Then there was Steven, and he was older and much more streetwise. He was the guy with the cool kids and maybe some trouble. Apart from one incident over they years, Steven was fair to me, and never gave me problems. Actually, he stopped a few local knobheads kicking the crap out of me. Dan was Peter’s younger taller brother. Jodie, Adam and Sally made up the younger trio of the Ridyard clan. I used to sing to the theme of a Toys’R’Us advert tune, “Millions of Ridyards all under one roof…” but I did it with affection and jest. One thing about their mother, Margaret, she is a damn strong woman and has raised seven kids over a tight age-range. Dan and Peter would go onto be my best friends. I’d enjoy good friendships with Alex Muir and James Cliff too, but both would drift away in time.

My friends were needed because not long after moving to Levenshulme, my sister Astrid was hit by a car. She would endure many weeks in Booth Hall Children’s Hospital and then years of schooling at a specialist school to help her recuperate and catch up, before she could finally start at Chapel Street Primary School. I love my sister Astrid fiercely and seeing her curled up with traction devices and machines attached to her is a vision that haunts me. When she was finally back out running, I had my sister back. But, around this time, ‘Titch’ was mobile and in the education system. Her and Paul (the youngest of our tribe on my Mum’s side) grew closer. Astrid and Paul were inseparable as I started to outgrow them and their games. It remains a pleasant memory to recall.

5AJ with Mr Andrew Jones was where I switched from maths work lover to someone curious and interested by words. Mr Jones would set us challenges such as write as many words as possible beginning with ‘st’ but we must understand the meaning of every word. I read the dictionary. I started with ‘st’ and then I carried on through all the words starting with S. Then I went to the letter T. I decided I needed to read the prequels A through to R. After that, I decided U to Z needed a look. It wasn’t exciting and I understood very little, but I actually read a dictionary. I recall building Lego models at home and stopping to take in a page, with occasional writing of the word, running downstairs and asking my mum how I could say a particular word. She must have thought I was madness personified.

Around about 1997, I discovered Goodness Gracious Me on BBC Radio 4. Sanjeev Bhaskar, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Syal and (my first crush on an Asian girl) Nina Wadia. I fell in love with Nina Wadia’s voice on radio and then when I did see the television version of the show, well she didn’t disappoint. Not that I could focus on her physique or voice. The show was far too funny for that. Here was a mould-breaking show, fast, witty and dynamic. It laughed itself, it mocked stereotypes, it ripped apart tradition. It flipped views of the British over to those of South Asia. It parodied and spoofed and after just 3 TV series, it left the world a better place. The best sketch has to be: Going for an English. In this sequence a group of Asian friends go for an English meal after a few lassis (non-alcoholic yogurt drink). They mispronounce and bumble the waiter’s name. They request the “blandest thing on the menu” and request a “stronger” steak and kidney pie. Who can possibly eat 24 plates of chips? The parody of British people, and you know there are some who still do this, getting drunk and going to end the night at an Indian restaurant. Surely, we’ve all met the macho guy who orders the hottest vindaloo. How many papadums can one actually eat?! Cheque, please. I need to go and watch Asian Top Gear again.

“The people here believe the tree to be sacred, so that even if one leaf falls onto the track, the whole line is immediately shut down.” – Goodness Gracious Me, BBC TV comedy series, sketch: Great Train Journeys of the World: Fenchurch Street to Southend

During the final year of primary school Miss Rowe (6RO) and her classroom assistant calmed me down. When the final last day came, I never collected signatures on old schoolbooks or signed my school jersey. I just walked out of the gate saying thank you and goodbye. It didn’t seem to be a big thing. The sterile looking Reddish Vale Secondary School awaited. I would move on a free transfer from Manchester’s educaton authority to that of Stockport. How bad could it be?

John II

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

Mum and Paul soon needed a larger house; there were five of us and only two rooms.  We arrived at Broom Avenue, off Broom Lane in 1991.  This road was located in the district of Levenshulme.  Levenshulme was famed for its antiques village, and very little else.  I started at a new primary school, this time Chapel Street Primary.  The new challenge of making friends was not easy.  Year 3 was not easy.  The bullies soon discovered new prey.  Who better to pick on than a dictionary-crazed, mathematically-ahead-of-them, wildlife-loving kid who was way ahead of them, or seemed to be because he didn’t eat erasers or fart the national anthem using his armpit as an instrument. I never thought I was better than anyone. They projected this onto me. Made me feel inferior by appearing superior. I hurt lots. Every day. Every year for nearly four years straight.  I became more and more distant from the other kids, as I often found people would reject me as a friend. I didn’t trust anyone, initially.  Troublesome Peter Ridyard, and snobby Alex Muir became my friends.  It was rare I would play out with them until year 5, as they lived far away at the other end of Broom Lane [although just 2km away, it seemed, back then, to be closer to London].

Within days of moving into Levenshulme, Pup had run from the house, and Astrid had run after him between parked cars.  Astrid was hit and landed many feet from the point of impact as the car screeched to a halt.  I remember the day as it was so confusing for me.  I had been taken to see trains go by with Ernie (my Granny Ivy’s partner) at Levenshulme station.  We were eating Gregg’s Bakery pasties on the platform and he was telling me and Grannyny Ivy all about how trains worked and the good old days of steam.  We returned to my house to discover from the neighbour’s Mary and Bill that they had all rushed to hospital with Astrid.  Later that day Paul returned with Paul junior.  He told us how it had happened, and how Astrid was.  She had suffered severe head injuries and a broken leg.  It would take weeks at Booth Hall Children’s Hospital (where I had my hernia operation aged 7), and months of intense physiotherapy and treatment at Rodney House Specialist Support & Outreach School before Astrid with recover.

The day after the accident Dad collected Pup from our home.  The only way I would now see my closest friend was when Dad would pick me up.

During May 1991, within days of starting school I finally swam my length at Levenshulme swimming baths.  It was apparent I was not going to be a channel swimmer, but I did progress from a width to a length.  Class 4PC as dictated by the tyrant Miss Clegg started with a bang.  Within two weeks I had many things confiscated by the hairy-nosed teacher.  Two Lego men, countless Micro Machine cars, and twenty pence (as provided by the tooth-fairy) went into her large laundry-bag-come-personal-suitcase.  My attendance at school however was excellent.  I did enjoy learning even if I hated the bullies.  Miss Clegg referred to me as a loner on many occasions but made no effort to help me make new friends.  I was behaving sensibly (to mix and mingle amongst the other monsters may have got me into trouble and maybe even eaten by Miss Clegg).

Miss Clegg was an enforcer of learning.  Whilst under her control, our class worked as hard as possible.  We worked on as many ways as to wind her up on the class trip to Levenshulme library [a place of dreams], we sneak off and hunt down the Anne Hooper’s books for a giggle.  We also rotated the “who can throw a rubber [eraser] at Cleggy and get away with it” game amongst ourselves.  At parents’ evening as with many years of schooling, I’d be told alongside my parents that my work was great, and my work rate was above average but my handwriting was poor.  Maybe then I had foreseen the Computer-typed work age.  Besides in Miss Cleggs class would I shiver often at the thought of being told to slow down and let others catch up.  That, and I had to keep an eye on my back, at the bullies. How could my handwriting be neat under those conditions?

In September 1993, a wise and witty teacher by the name Andrew Jones began to teach us.  He allowed us more room with our imaginations and helped us with our vocabularies.  This teacher was dedicated to his job.  He helped my confidence, encouraged me to be recognised by the class in teams, and congratulated me on a determined improvement of my handwriting.  During this academic year several pupils visited Ghyll Head Outdoor Education Centre, close to Lake Windermere.  The car park view looked over the great lake.  Our supervisory teachers included Mr Jones, Mrs Treanor (the deputy head-teacher), and Miss Spencer.

On the Monday we explored the site grounds of Ghyll Head, climbed the rope course, and I also met numerous mallard ducks.  They were already hand tame and loved the bread I had brought them.  On the Tuesday, we enjoyed rock scrambling on Humphrey Head overlooking Morecambe Bay.  We also kayaked across Lake Windermere seeing several swan eggs along an island to the West of the lake.  The other days varied from horse-riding like John Wayne, to gorge walking, tunnelling two miles up an underground flood drain, caving in Ingleside (Yorkshire) and singing on many mini-buses.  On the final night we had a barbeque and Mr Jones claimed he was drinker a Larger drink, but we all knew it was Lager!  During my stay at Ghyll Head, I had to sleep for five nights in room Gimmer.  There was also five others there, and we chatted late into the night with mad post-mushy-peas farting epidemics. The older kids were friendlier than the younger students there. I didn’t feel threatened.

The end of year five arrived, and before departing for home for the summer period, Mr Jones very kindly gave me a set of encyclopaedias he had learnt from as a child.  It was a very generous and touching gift, and I thanked him.  Mr Jones was my greatest Primary school teacher.  In fact he remains my greatest teacher of all time, and I hope he is doing very well for himself.

Miriam Roe was our next teacher.  6MR was a very lively year, with me, Osman and Alex always doing Smashy and Nicey impressions (characters from the TV show, Harry Enfield and Chums).  We even allowed Evangalia Votski into our group, she was a very kind friendly Greek girl. She was also the first girl I ever found attractive and wanted to kiss. It wasn’t to be. Miss Roe taught me that even when I wish to be independent that asking for help at times when I required it would not be frowned upon.  I survived a year of bullying, and Chapel Street Primary school with its giant six-foot-plus headteacher that was Mr Gary Kershaw.  I no longer had Mr Kershaw to guide me through school, and help me avoid trouble.  After Summer, I would enter high school in Reddish Vale with classmate James Cliff.

To summarise my early years, I had a coin ride obsession when I was a wee toddler; I most likely kept Professor Peabody’s in Blackpool’s Winter Gardens open for trade; enjoyed many a holiday in Cleveleys and Morecambe with Nana and Dad, and many other family members; I remember getting drenched one birthday in Blackpool with Neil Fanning and my Mum;  I even remember pushing my sister Astrid, aged two, up the Great Orme in Llandudno; and if anyone invites you to Scarborough for a holiday, say no.  Scarborough can boast grey skies that would rival the likes of a winter in Wales. But now, after three primary schools and years of relative comfort, the ride of life would begin…

TO BE CONTINUED