Bolton School Former Pupils
Michael Farmer (1942-1955)
Michael wrote to us in November 2013, with his 'light-hearted' reminiscences of his thirteen years at the School.
"I consider it a great privilege to have attended Bolton School. It provided me with not only a very good education but also a memorable mix of friendship, sport, adventure and romance.
Old Beech House
I don’t think I created a very good impression during my early days at Beech House. It was customary for the Headmistress, Miss Drury, to invite a small selection of children to join her table at lunch. On the day I was selected, I struggled to cut up some very gristly meat and somehow managed to catapult it into her face. It hit her on the forehead and knocked off her glasses. She took it well but probably made a mental note to watch young “Farmer” very carefully!
I have four particular memories of my time at Junior School. My first is of Mrs Webster. She taught us arithmetic and insisted that we learnt our multiplication tables off by heart (what a boon in later life!). She would select a pupil at random and ask him to stand up and recite, say, the 9x table. If he got it wrong, she would throw a piece of chalk at him and ask him to start again. The accuracy of her chalk throwing was legendary!
My second memory is of playing “conkers” in the playground during the lunch break. This is a game where two boys armed with conkers on a string take turns to swipe at the others conker until it breaks up. The winner would record a victory by tying a knot in his string. The conkers were hardened chestnuts and we spent much time preparing them for battle.This involved heating them up in the oven and then soaking them in vinegar for several days. The best conkers were normally over a year old.
My third memory was of the unexpected death of George Riley. George was everyone’s favourite, always laughing and playing the buffoon. But beneath this façade was a serious academic who consistently took the first or second prize at the end of class each year. He died suddenly in our last year at Junior School and most of us cried. The cause of his death was meningitis. For most of us, this was our first encounter with death and it made quite an impact.
And my fourth was of the old swimming pool in Senior School. We visited regularly and soon became accomplished swimmers. Some could even dive! I remember a boy called Aspinall who was famous for his “flying dives”. He would run at speed along the side of the pool and then launch himself into a long leaping dive and enter the water with a huge splash. We all envied him his athleticism.
Also, at the swimming pool, I undertook training for my Life-Saving badge. This meant learning how to break the grasp of a struggling swimmer and then swim with him/her to the edge of the pool and start resuscitation. I was so proud when my mother stitched the badge on to my swimming trunks.
Around 1947, I moved up to the Senior School and entered the realm of such formidable teachers as messrs Lancaster, Jones, Booth and Sawtell.
One of my earlier experiences was to visit the old Tuck Shop by the Levels. I can still visualise the tantalising array of snacks and drinks on the shelves. My own particular favourites were liquorice allsorts and dandelion and burdock. The latter was drawn from a large stone jar with a thick screw top.
I was always an enthusiastic sportsman at school and remember the thrill of being selected for the “colts” cricket team. My supposed skill was to bowl left-arm leg breaks. In my very first match, our opponents reached an impressive 120 runs for four wickets. There was a pause in the proceedings and suddenly our captain threw the ball to me and invited me to “have a go“. Well, I did and went on to take a hatrick. Rather embarrassingly, this feat was announced by the Headmaster to the whole assembly of boys the following day. This was my brief moment of fame!
Like many of my fellow pupils, I joined the Scout Troop and eventually became leader of the Adder Patrol. We had many happy times together and I attended several “Long Camps”. One of these was at Powerscourt in Ireland. I remember there that we all ate too much chocolate and made ourselves sick. Chocolate, of course, was not readily available in post-war England so we all over-indulged when we tasted it for the first time. Another was to Tal-y-llyn in Wales. It rained so heavily there that our tents were washed away and we had to be evacuated to higher ground.
Our most exciting scout trip was to Corsica in 1952, led by Bill Brooks and Jim Slipper. We travelled by rail to Nice and sailed on from there to Bastia in Corsica. Then we hiked over the hills to Calvi, some 50 miles, and set up camp. During this hike, two of our group (Urmson and Clegg) “caught” a couple of asses and rode on them for a few hundred yards. The owner was furious and swore at the two boys in some very fruity French!
In our later years at school we started to notice all the pretty girls in their pink gingham dresses. Fortunately, we passed through their part of the school on our way to the Dining Room so we had plenty of opportunities to pick out our favourites and leave surreptitious notes. My own particular favourite was an attractive young girl called Audrey. She was very clever and athletic and we “went out” together for two or three years. We finally parted when I left school and had to sign up for my compulsory National Service.
My closer friends at senior school were Mike Crompton, Donald Chadwick, Keith Brown, Keith Whittle, John Coop, Mike Smith, and Geoffrey Tetlow. I’m glad to say that I managed to keep in touch with most of them after leaving school so they were all enduring friendships.
When in the Sixth Form, I used to meet up with a fellow pupil called David Lowe in the chained library. He had a portable radio and we would listen, very furtively, to the lunchtime Goon Show. I can still hear the noise of a grand piano being dropped from the top of Everest! All this seemed so daring at the time but wouldn’t raise an eyebrow today.
Like every old boy, I shall always remember the Great Hall and daily Assemblies. During my time at school, an older pupil called Keith Bond used to play the organ whilst the assembled boys, all neatly seated, awaited the arrival of the Headmaster and his platform party. One particular morning, Keith Bond decided to liven up his classical music by incorporating the melody from a current pop song by Jimmy Young. The song was called 'They try to tell us we’re too young…..too young to really be in love' The assembled boys loved it and Keith Bond’s reputation soared!
The peak of my time at school was to be appointed a Monitor. How proud I was to march in with the other Monitors up the side of the hall to our seats near the platform. As Monitors, we had various privileges, but we also had responsibilities, one of which was to take a turn at reading the lesson to the daily assembly. Once when I did this, the text included the word “controversy” and the Headmaster (FR Poskitt) later scolded me for mis-pronouncing the word. He insisted that the emphasis should be on the second syllable. Ever since then, I haven’t been able to look at the word without a wry smile!