Category Archives: Nottingham

Staff cricket : the Golden Years (3)

In a previous post of this series on the heroic deeds of the staff cricket team, I had started going through a number of episodes which are also mentioned in my bestselling book, and my Hollywood and Bollywood screenplay, “Nottingham High School: an Anecdotal History”.  If I remember rightly I had just discussed how crap I was at cricket compared to one prodigiously gifted member of the team who merely needed me to be there to do the fielding while he and the other superstars did all the batting and the bowling and showed off all their talents.

Not that I felt insulted by his words. They did not make me angry. No, Not at all.

The next mention of staff cricket in the book comes on the evening of Wednesday, June 21st 1978.
By then, the staff cricket team had two usual umpires, the young idiot Me, and the much more experienced Allan Sparrow, a History teacher. Whereas the first named umpire, Me, lived in permanent dread of having to make a decision which would upset his elders and betters by sending them back to the pavilion some 96 or so runs short of their century, the senior partner,  Allan Sparrow, true to his own wonderfully analytical character, had no such scruples.
This particular day, in the very first moments of the game, the opposition’s opening bowler managed to trap, plumb in front of the wicket, with his score still stuck on zero, a very important batsman indeed. Standing far away at square leg, the young idiot, Me, thanked the cricketing gods that he was standing far away at square leg and would not be required to make a decision. The shrieked appeal  of “howzat” died away in the quietness of the evening:

Umpire Sparrow waited for a moment. Then he raised the dreaded digit to the skies. What an angry trudge back to the pavilion for a very disappointed batsman . It was the bravest thing I have ever seen in the history of sport.

During the following year of 1979, staff cricket continued on apace, counting among its stars such sporting luminaries as Chris Chittenden, Paul Dawson, Bob Dickason, Claude Dupuy, Phil Eastwood, Steven Fairlie, Simon Jenkins, Dave Phillips, Graham Powell, Tony Slack, Chris Smith, Roger Stirrup and Norman Thompson.

Here’s Bob Dickason, Phil Eastwood, Dave Phillips, Tony Slack, three quarters of Chris Smith, and Norman Thompson:

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Claude Dupuy, by the way, was the French assistant, who, after living for a year in Mansfield went back to win the All-France University prize for speaking colloquial English. Chris Chittenden was a Geography teacher who worked at the School in the interval between Charlie Stephens and Bob Howard. Chris had four nationalities. His father was English, he was born in India, his mother was from New Zealand and he was brought up in Australia. Poor, poor man, he lived a healthy life only to be cut down by cancer at just 40 years of age. I will be eternally grateful to him because he was the man who organised for three of us to drive down to Wembley after school one evening to watch England-Holland at football and we all saw Johann Cruyff play at Wembley. And we saw him introduce the Cruyff turn to the world. Here’s Bob Howard:

Such was the fame of the staff team that a member of staff appointed as a teacher for the following Christmas Term actually came along to play in a number of fixtures.

This was Ray Moore, who at the time sported a fashionable Afro hairdo, unencumbered by any such refinement as a protective helmet. Here’s a picture of him a week after the game, when he’d lost that Afro:

On one occasion, Ray was facing an extremely wild fast bowler, whose main interest in life seemed to be scaring the living daylights out of opposing batsmen, with bouncer after bouncer. After a series of whistlingly fast deliveries, he finished his over with a fast, lifting ball, which actually went through Ray’s hair. The moment when Ray advanced down the wicket, shouting loudly, and waving a menacing cricket bat, was, I believe, the closest the staff team ever came to an actual punch-up.



Filed under History, Humour, Nottingham, Personal, The High School

Staff cricket : the Golden Years (2)

I was talking last time about my glittering career with the staff cricket team.  I can actually remember taking two catches, probably in 1976. One was a steepling ball, hit so high that I had time to eat a chocolate bar before it came back down. By the time it finally returned from earth orbit, everybody for miles around was watching me. Some with binoculars. I was the cynosure of all eyes. Players, umpires, spectators and people in the street and people in buses going past the ground. And I caught it. I really did. I caught it. Nobody was more surprised than me. And the batsman was O. U. T.  spells OUT !!

The second catch was when I was fielding about ten yards away from the batsman, as fellow French teacher David Padwick bowled his slow spinners, just like Bishan Bedi:

According to Bob Dickason, our wicketkeeper, the batsman hit the first ball so hard that I did not react. It passed under my arm, brushing the shirt in my armpit and the side of my chest. I just didn’t realise that this situation was really bloody dangerous and it was highly irresponsible of the captain to ask a naive novice to field there. The second ball hit me in the chest. It didn’t kill me by stopping my heart. It bounced up into the air. I dived forward and caught it one handed before it touched the ground. The batsman was O. U. T.  spells OUT !!.

I had a stunning bruise for weeks. You could read the name of the company who had made the ball. And their phone number.

Here’s Bob and his curly red hair, pictured in black and white:

It may have been in that match that I was allowed to bowl an over…six balls that is. It didn’t go too badly. First one—a run. Second one—a run. Third one—a run. Fourth one—a run. Fifth one–the ball hit the edge of the bat and if they had let me have a fielder there as I had previously requested, it would have been a wicket taken. Sixth one–the batsman hit it to the boundary for four runs. And that was my complete cricketing career. I was never allowed to bat because they presumed I would be crap.

A couple of years later, one of the Top Men of the Staff Team, the Golden Boys, told me that “The Star Men of the team need ordinary people like you to do the fielding so that they can do all the batting and the bowling and show off all of their many talents.”  Yes, milord.

Incidentally, I had a second hand operation on February 8th, so I won’t be able to reply to any of your comments for, probably, a couple of weeks. As soon as I am able to, though, I will answer what you have been kind enough to contribute.

And everything in this post is 100% true, particularly what one of the Top Men of the Staff Team said to me.





Filed under History, Humour, Nottingham, Personal, The High School

Staff cricket : the Golden Years (1)

Just after I started work in the High School, my interest in cricket began to grow. Luckily, there was a well established Staff Cricket Team. Indeed, it was during the Summer Term of 1947, that the staff had fielded their own cricket team for the first time ever, playing several friendly fixtures against the staffs of other schools. The most likely suspects would be the local Grammar Schools, Bilborough and High Pavement, and possibly Henry Mellish and the Old Nottinghamians.
Sooo….I decided to give it a go and I asked the team if I could play. I am no expert at playing cricket, but I was assured that this was just social cricket, played merely for amusement and companionship. Weeks later, I realised that the staff matches that I played in were played for amusement and companionship as if they were the last decisive test in an Ashes series in Australia:

In my bestselling book and my two screenplays for both Hollywood and Bollywood films, “Nottingham High School: an Anecdotal History”, I mentioned staff cricket on a number of occasions. The first occasion was the year before I began at the High School in the Summer Term of 1974:

“One of the most famous incidents in staff cricket occurred when according to “The Nottinghamian”, David Matthews “courageously stopped the ball with his head”. It cost him a pair of glasses, and two black eyes. Other participants during the season were Paul Dawson and  Brian Hughes, specialist batsmen David Padwick and Dave Phillips, specialist bowlers John Hayes and Marcus Coulam, and Jimmy Sadler, who in one match took four wickets in the last over, to snatch an unlikely victory.  John Hayes and Allan Sparrow were the usual umpires.”

This old staff photo from 1973 has John Hayes (front left) and in the centre of the front row, Dave Phillips.

Alas, David Padwick has now passed away and the rest of those names must be well into their sixties if not older. Certainly, it is a good while since any of them taught a lesson at the High School. I did find one or two of them on some pictures of the staff which I scanned in the early 1980s. They are not very good, but they are recognisable. On this photo are Bob Dickason, Ed Furze, Chris Smith and Me on the back row, and Ian Driver, John Hayes, Edwin Harris and Dave Phillips in front.

Here are David Matthews and David Padwick :

Luckily, colour film was invented in time to capture the greatest moment of John Hayes’ life. The day he took delivery of the High School’s first ever minibus::

It was during this season that David Padwick passed into legend. In a game against Trent Polytechnic, as it was then called, played at the Clifton campus, there was a fairly steep bank on two sides of the ground, about three feet high, just inside the boundary. Padders was fielding on the long on boundary, where he was theoretically unlikely to get up to too much mischief. At this point he was standing quietly at the top of the bank.

Suddenly, the ball was hit high, high, high into the sky in his direction. But he couldn’t judge the ball’s trajectory properly. Surely he was too far back to catch it. Quick, go forward, down the bank!  But no! Surely he was now too far forward to catch it. Quick, back up the bank! No, that’s wrong. Quick, quick, down the bank!  No, no, no!  Quick, back up the bank! For a good fifteen seconds or more, Padders became the cricketing Grand Old Duke of York. And did he catch it? Well, what do you think?

The next mention of staff cricket comes when:

“There was a report of staff cricket in 1977 in the Nottinghamian of December 1999.  It appeared in William Ruff’s “From the Archives” section of the magazine. Mention was made of Tony Slack, “our benevolent dictator”, Dave Phillips who “wields the straightest golf club in the business”, Phil Eastwood, “for whose particular torture the LBW rule was invented, and Clem Lee, “whose pectorals imitate the motion of the sea as he runs up to bowl”. The regular umpires this season were Allan Sparrow and John Knifton, although the latter did play in one game, “and took an impossible catch to win the game”. The more often I read that, the less possible it seems.

Again, I have found one or two old staff photos to enlarge. On the 1970 photo, there are Phil Eastwood (top right) and David Matthews again (No 3 on the front row). The back row also has Allan Sparrow and, I think, Brian Hughes  :

This photo has at least one more cricketer, Marcus Coulam, the young man to the right on the very back row:

The photograph also shows Norman Thompson, Dick Elliott, Stanley Ward, Ian Driver, Martin Jones, Chris Curtis, Jeff Leach, Gerry Seedhouse and, I think, Will Hurford. The two young ladies, I do not know.

More chat about the sporting superstars next time. Incidentally, I had a second hand operation on February 8th, so I won’t be able to reply to any of your comments for, probably, a couple of weeks. As soon as I am able to, though, I will answer what you have been kind enough to contribute.



Filed under History, Humour, Nottingham, Personal, The High School

The Hen Harrier in Victorian Nottinghamshire

The Hen Harrier is a bird of prey which is called in North America the ‘Northern Harrier’ or the ‘Marsh Hawk’. These days it is becoming an increasingly rare and endangered bird in England because of the activities of the large shooting estates. Hen Harriers are harmful to Red Grouse, the quarry species for the man with a £3000 shotgun, so, completely illegally, many gamekeepers kill Hen Harriers on sight. Prosecutions are extremely few and far between because effective evidence needs to be gathered in very remote places where trespassers are far from welcome:


In Great Britain we have the wild spaces for more than a thousand pairs of breeding Hen Harriers, but this illegal killing for commercial reasons has limited the number to fewer than ten pairs. There are those, myself included, who think that the law should be changed. Instead of trying to prosecute individuals (who are quite often disowned by the estate owners), the estates themselves should be brought to account. Any estate found guilty should have their enormous subsidies of taxpayers’ money withdrawn.

Interestingly enough, just after I wrote this article, a fine example of what happens to Hen Harriers in northern England came to light. It is totally typical of the contempt which the moneyed classes have for the ordinary person who lives his or her life not to accrue wealth by any means whatsoever, but instead to delight in the wonders of the natural world. And look too at what the police managed to do after other people had done more or less 99% of their job for them.

In Nottinghamshire, therefore, the Hen Harrier is not a particularly common bird. The male is very distinctive, but the female or the young bird, the so-called “ringtail” stands out a lot less:

hen harrier

In 1857 William Sterland recounted how, on an unrecorded date this year:

“I was walking past Lord Manver’s poultry yard at Perlethorpe, which adjoins Thoresby Park, when a ringtail came sailing over, evidently intent on plunder. Three times she soared around the large enclosure , which contains several hundred head of poultry, and although it is bounded by a high wall, and is surrounded by the dwellings of the gamekeepers and others, she was only deterred from carrying off a chicken by the presence of some of the men.”


In 1866 William Felkin spoke of birds of prey in general:

“On the whole, this noble tribe of birds is fast decreasing, and some species, if not yet extinct, soon will be, under the deadly warfare waged against them by trap and gun; and thus the finest ornament of English forest scenery will be for ever lost, for the paltry gain of the few head of game they might possibly destroy.”

How true that has turned out to be. The Hen Harrier is well on its way to extinction as a breeding bird in this country, and before their recovery in modern times, both Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and Osprey had been exterminated by gamekeepers from most of the country.


William Sterland wrote in his “Birds of Sherwood Forest”:

“…the blue hawk as the male is called, is not by any means uncommon ; and both male and female being considered, and I fear not unjustly, as very destructive to game, are visited, whenever opportunity offers, with condign punishment, and their once buoyant forms are seen nailed up in terrorem amongst others of their order, in grim companionship with stoats, weasels, polecats, and other vermin.”


Indeed, by the end of the nineteenth century, polecats themselves were extinct in England. And only the departure of all the gamekeepers to the trenches of the First World War prevented the extinction of the ordinary fox from many areas, especially in East Anglia.

Before 1907 Joseph Whitaker had seen only five or six Hen Harriers in thirty years of birdwatching.
He relates how:

“…one of the Hen Harriers I saw close to my home in Rainworth, was a male in full plumage, coloured pale lavender slate.”

hen peak

Whitaker took great pleasure in this, and other birds of the same species. Rather like William Felkin, he thought that:

“An odd harrier or two do very little harm, and the graceful flight, which I may describe as a cross between that of a Hawk and an Owl is always pleasant to see and adds immensely to the delight of the country walk.”


In his own copy of “The Birds of Nottinghamshire”, he has written of his own sighting:

“About  Xmas 1914 a Hen Harrier female flew over the road at the head of my pond within 20 yards. It had been seen earlier by Blackburn (keeper) today, March 19 it again passed over the same road, but at the top of mill by our gate it looked grand in a clear sun light. I am so glad it has escaped the keepers snare + hope it may like to lay a clutch of Cambridge blue eggs amongst the heather of the windswept Orkney Islands.”




Filed under Criminology, History, Nottingham, Science, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

“Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas…”

This tale comes from a source which I have used quite frequently in the past, namely “The Date Book of Remarkable Memorable Events Connected With Nottingham and Its Neighbourhood”.

Imagine. It is December 12th 1786. Less than a fortnight to the Big Day. What will Santa bring you? Better make sure that Santa can get down those Georgian chimneys without a problem:

December 12th. “A remarkable escape from death at the premises of Mr Wilson, bookseller, of South-parade, Nottingham. Mr Stretton, a builder, accidentally met a Mr Ward of Eastwood, and stood on the pavement in front of the shop, conversing with him about Christmas.”

You can go nowadays and stand where exactly these two gentlemen stood, nearly 250 years ago. I have painted an enormous orange arrow on the pavement:

And I also found a photograph of the houses concerned. This was taken in 1874 and although the ground floors are very different today, the upper floors of some of the buildings are still quite similar:

In 2017, it is not just the ground floors which are different. The people are as well. Nowadays, all the people try to dress as much like each other as possible. A 21st century guerrilla army:

But what about Mr Stretton and Mr Ward the builder? Well, they were talking about what Santa was going to bring them, and Mr Ward was just saying that he had been repairing loads of chimneys in this area because all the little kids were worrying about Santa’s arrival, when suddenly…..

“…a violent gust of wind overthrew a stack of chimneys, which in their descent brought down with them a large proportion of the roof and a quantity of the brickwork of the front wall.”

It was a little bit like this…

But a lot more like this…

It was no laughing matter, because…

“Neither of the gentleman had warnings sufficient to run out of danger. An apparently solid mass fell upon the back and head of Mr Stretton, but chiefly upon his shoulders, beating him to the ground, and cutting the back of his coat into shreds . He endeavoured two or three times to get up, but the bricks continually falling upon him, prevented him.”

I think we’ve all seen Laurel and Hardy, or Tom and Jerry, in that situation, as the last two or three bricks of many fall individually and hit them one after another on the head. But it was no laughing matter at all…

“Mr Ward also received serious injuries. The two men were taken away in sedan chairs, and both of them eventually recovered, although not without great difficulty.”

So it all turned out well in the end. Cue a famous Shakespeare play.

Sedan chairs must have been magic. Ideal places for meeting your lover, at least, if you can persuade the servants to go and have a cup of coffee for half an hour. And take that magpie with you…

And here’s the ideal sedan chair for a collapsing chimney situation. That roof looks very well made, very robust. And those top hats would be brilliant. Just like the special zones that crumple up when modern cars crash into each other.

Mind you, I think if they were my servants, I might buy them a pair of shoes each for Christmas. Unless, of course, I could think of a really life changing present to give them.







Filed under History, Nottingham

And here is the news (4)……

I was talking last time about a book which I have started writing about the High School’s war dead from World War 2. At the moment, the book has no title but that will emerge!

I intend to incorporate a few poems in the book. You will be glad to hear that none of them are by me.

One comes from the writings of ‘Granta’ in the School Magazine, The Nottinghamian. To paraphrase his words:

Nine Nottinghamians,
At the Forest Road gate,
One went to Bomber Command,
And then there were eight.

And the poem by John Maxwell Edmonds:

Went the day well ?
We died and never knew.
But, well or ill,
Freedom, we died for you.

This poem was written by R. W. Gilbert and was featured by my friend Pierre Lagacé in his blog « RCAF 425 Les Alouettes »

The pain has stopped, for I am dead,
My time on earth is done.
But in a hundred years from now
I’ll still be twenty-one.

My brief, sweet life is over
My eyes no longer see,
No summer walks, no Christmas trees,
No pretty girls for me.

I’ve got the chop, I’ve had it.
My nightly ops are done.
Yet in another hundred years
I’ll still be twenty-one.

I may incorporate a poem by a Bomber Command veteran, John Pudney:

“Do not despair

For Johnny-head-in-air;

He sleeps as sound

As Johnny underground.

Fetch out no shroud

For Johnny-in-the-cloud;

And keep your tears

For him in after years.

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Better by far

For Johnny-the-bright-star,

To keep your head,

And see his children fed.”

I have not decided yet on which ones I will definitely use, except for the  following words which will certainly appear. They describe perfectly the job that, hopefully, I will have done. They were written by (possibly Robert) Wace, a Norman poet who was born in Jersey in the Channel Islands between 1099 and 1111 and who was last known to be alive in 1174. Wace was brought up in Caen in Normandy and eventually became Canon of Bayeux:

All things decline
Everything falters, dies and ends
Towers cave in, walls collapse
Roses wither, horses stumble
Cloth grows old, men expire
Iron rusts and timber rots away
Nothing made by hand will last
I understand the truth
That all must die, both clerk and lay
And the fame of men now dead
Will quickly be forgotten
Unless the clerk takes up his pen
And brings their deeds to life again.

In Jersey’s Royal Square stands the States Building and a granite memorial  stone to Wace is built into one of its side walls:

It has on it a proud quote from Wace’s major work, the Roman de Rou, the Tale of Rou, which tells the story of William the Conqueror and the Norman Conquest, including Halley’s Comet :

Jo di e dirai ke jo sui
Wace de l’isle de Gersui

In Modern French it would be

Je dis et dirai que je suis
Wace de l’île de Jersey

And in English

I say and will say that I am
Wace from the Island of Jersey

It is also recorded in Modern Jèrriais, a language I had never heard of, but it still has an admittedly declining number of speakers on the island :

J’dis et dithai qu’jé sis
Wace dé l’Île dé Jèrri

It was Wace who introduced the idea of Halley’s Comet to the Bayeux Tapestry story:

Watch what you’re doing with that arrow !!!!  You’ll take somebody’s eye out !!!!

Because I am a registered Nerd / parce que Je suis un geek de la langue française, I have the poem in Modern French and whatever language Wace spoke as well…Norman, Medieval French, Medieval Jèrriais, whatever. In the first section I have put ye Olde Frenche firste, and then modern French in Italics and then English. In the second section, see if you can think of the modern French words that ye Olde Frenche comethe fromme ….

Tote rien se tome en declin
Tout  décline
All things decline

Tot chiet, tot muert, tot vait a fin
Tout meurt, tout va à fin
Everything falters, dies and ends

Hom muert, fer use, fust pourrist
L’homme meurt, le fer use, le bois pourrit
Men expire, iron rusts and timber rots away

Tur font, mur chiet, rose flaistrit
la tour s’écroule, le mur tombe, la rose flétrit
Towers cave in, walls collapse, roses wither,

cheval tresbuche, drap viesist
cheval bronche, drap vieillit
horses stumble, cloth grows old,

Tot ovre fet od mainz perist
tout ce qui est fait de la main des hommes périt
Nothing made by hand will last

Bien entenz è conoiz è sai,
I hear the truth well and I am aware and I know

Ke tuit morront  è cler è lai;
That all must die, both clerk and lay

E mult ara lor renomée
Emprez lor mort corte durée

And the fame of men now dead
Will quickly be forgotten

Se par cler ne est mise en livre,
Unless the clerk takes up his pen

Ne pot par el durer ne vivre
And brings their deeds to life again.

Wace, Romain de Rou, III, II, 131-142
(c 1170)

The translation is not such a close fit in the second bit rather than the first.




Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Nottingham, The High School, Writing

The High School Hell’s Angels, Chapter 6

More about the Free School, as it was called in 1858. It was called that because the school was free at this time. And it was not in Arboretum-street as it is nowadays, but in Stoney-street. Look for the orange arrow:

And is the lack of school fees reflected by the background of the pupils? Well, on the one hand, I have found in the Register the sons of bakers, butchers, cellarmen, clerks, a Foreman Porter, grocers, joiners, machinists, overlockers, painters, plumbers, porters and warehousemen. Some of them might have worked in the very centre of Nottingham, only a town at this time, not a city. It was very different, even around 1900:

Set against these jobs are a number of occupations which are decidedly less working class. They might require varying levels of training or education such as architects, bookkeepers, dental surgeons, doctors, draughtsmen, engineers, an engraver, a gilder, the Governor of the Town Gaol, the High Bailiff, a photographer, physicians, a Professor of Languages, solicitors, the Supervisor of Inland Revenue, surgeons, the Surveyor of Taxes, tailors, an upholsterer and a veterinary surgeon.

Others are jobs with managerial aspects…auctioneers, a beer house keeper, a bookseller, brokers, a coal master, a confectioner, an earthenware dealer, a hosier, an iron monger, a jeweller, Manager at Manlove & Alliott’s, a newspaper correspondent, a patent agent, publicans, shoemakers, tobacconists and a Victualler. Manlove & Alliott’s, by the way, was an engineering company set up during the 1830’s in Radford, and who later moved to their Bloomsgrove Works just off Ilkeston-road. The main entrance was on Norton-street. They moved to Scotland in 1970 and, like Augustus Caesar’s Spanish 9th Legion, they have never been heard of again:

Most interesting, of course, are the occupations directly linked with that of the period, 1858-1868. Some clearly had their place in history. Not many fathers nowadays are, quite simply, Gentlemen. And it is impossible nowadays to be the Adjutant of the Robin Hood Rifles. Bleacher is not really a very probable trade in this day and age and neither is cap manufacturer, cheese factor, coachmaker, cork cutter, framesmith, hatter, hay dealer, potato merchant, steam railway engine boiler maker or twisthand, a man who had to be strong enough to carry out certain specialised operations on a lace machine. A yarn agent is nowadays surely more likely to turn up telling stories in the Children’s Section of the local Library and if there is still a Clerk to the Lunatic Asylum then the job description is probably expressed in more delicate words. The Lunatic Asylum was on Porchester-road:

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So too, there are pawnbrokers nowadays, but not too many of them, and you don’t see Life Insurance agents traipsing up and down from house to house like you used to, even in the 1950s and 1960s.

Some of those jobs, though, back in 1858-1868 , are just the first of many. They foretell the future with Estate Agents, Gas Fitters and Sharebrokers, wh0 are surely now called Stockbrokers. What we don’t have any more are all those jobs connected with religion. But back then, the parents included a Baptist Minister, the Incumbent of St Luke’s, an Independent Minister, the Minister of Canaan-street Chapel, a Sexton, two Scripture Readers, a Town Missionary, a Wesleyan Minister and an ordinary Missionary. Religion was so important it was even on the side of the horse drawn trams as a destination:

Best job of all though was Charles Bown of Carlton-road. He was a Butler.








Filed under History, Nottingham, The High School