Monday, 31 October 2011

Student Exchanges and Sixth Form Pranks

The two harvest camps (in the previous post) gave me the opportunity to spread my wings a little. However when I was 15 I also took part in an student exchange scheme which took me to Belgium during the summer holidays.  Although there were a few boys involved, it was a major break from home. After two train journeys and a channel crossing we were collected by our respective host families in and around Liege to spend a fortnight in a foreign environment.

I stayed with a family engaged in farming in a small town.  There were two boys although the one I exchanged with, Fernand, was two years older than me. His younger brother was more my age.  Three generations lived in one large farmhouse; mealtimes were treated as family get-togethers and were very sociable. They did their best to make me feel at home. One of the things I remember on my first trip abroad was drinking my first Coca Cola from the original-shaped bottle.

The family took me by car to the Belgian/Dutch border town of Maastricht where everyone spoke two languages.  Maastricht later became the centre for a historic agreement in the European community.

Several week later Fernand came to stay with us. Being older he took plenty of interest in my sister, Betty, who by this time was back in Peterborough working in a local fashion shop.  Having Fernand as our guest, we repayed the kindness offered to me in Belgium by taking him out in the car to show him our part of England.

In 1950 I took my School Certificate and managed five credits and three passes. I decided to take Art, History and Geography at A level although I don't remember being encouraged to think about a future career at that stage.

Life in the Sixth Form was more relaxed and enjoyable although homework became more difficult and time-consuming. My lasting memory of these two years is of the room we occupied where we sat around a large heavy table with the teacher at one end and up to ten pupils along each side. We soon discovered there was just enough room to get our knees under the table in such a way that, by raising our heels together at a given signal, we could lift the table and allow it to 'float' about half an inch off the floor. This was particularly annoying for the English teacher who found it disconcerting to see his open text moving about in front of him. The table was positioned in a large bay window on the ground floor, with large sliding sashes which could be opened up on a warm summer day; ideal when your attention was diverted by girls from the neighbouring school walking past. On one occasion an enterprising boy, sitting with his back to the open window, gently leaned backwards in his chair during a lesson, quietly slipped out of the window and casually walked back in through the door ten minutes later, to the utter confusion of the teacher taking the lesson.

By now I was also old enough to earn a bit of money for myself. At Christmas time young people were taken on by the Post Office to help with the seasonal increase in workload. One year I opted to work in the sorting office doing night-shift work; it was very tiring and I have always had sympathy for anyone doing night shifts ever since. Another year I tried the early morning deliveries, getting up and cycling to work at 6am to deliver mail and grabbing a quick breakfast at home on my way round. The postman I worked with lived on a large council estate along with many of his relatives; the estate formed part of our regular round. On Christmas morning we made a point of visiting them all, collecting a drink at each house. By the time I got home, about midday, I was thoroughly full of Christmas cheer!


  1. I do love the prank where they lifted the table. I guess some things never change, do they?

  2. Have you ever read 'The Jolly Postman'?
    It's a lovely childrens book, and the last part of your dad's story reminds me of him (he was very wobbly on his bicycle, shall we say, after a Chritmas dink or two).

  3. @Ms Caroline - Nope, boys will be boys!

    @Suzanne - Yes, I remember that book from when Rory was little. I'm sure Dad was very 'jolly' too.