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Saturday, 25 July 2020

When Past Memories are Demolished

Here am I in the kitchen preparing breakfast for both of us whilst Alex lies sleeping upstairs. What appears to be some kind of scuffle going on outside, I turn towards the curtainless window to investigate, only to see five masked uniformed Police officers staring straight back at me, perhaps as long as ten seconds. They then went to the front door and banged on it.


Suddenly, two of the five officers retreated and then lurched forward, breaking the door lock as it crashed open onto the wall of the hallway, making a dent in it. Then the leading officer spoke:

You're under arrest for...

"Honey, what's happening?" came a female voice from upstairs.

Two of the five officers rushed upstairs whilst the others handcuffed me in my own kitchen, just as the kettle began to boil and automatically clicked off. Presently, the two officers escorted my panicking wife down the stairs, still in her nightdress and also handcuffed. Then one of the officers spoke:

You are both under arrest for not wearing a facemask in your own home.

"What's going to happen to us?" Alex asked, hysterically.

You'll be both be taken to the station to face charges.

"What charges?" I asked.

A hundred-pound fine for each of you. Maybe fifty pounds each if you can pay straight away. You should know by now it's illegal not to wear a mask at any time, including in the privacy of your bedroom.

"BUT WHY US?" Alex shouted with hysteria.

Another officer, who looked as if on the point of apologising for the ordeal, then answered,

A tip-off from a neighbour. Between you and me, we know her as a notorious curtain-twitcher. She loves to wag her tongue at both ends over the phone at the slightest opportunity. But we have to take each case seriously and see it through. I'm sorry about all this. Now please come with us to the station.

"Let me collect my wallet of bank cards," I said. "I'll pay the fine if you allow us back home immediately."

Yes, that may be possible.


Is this fiction? Well, I hope so! I dread it to be some prophetic incident of the future. Maybe it might be possible to pay the fine there and then without the need to arrest us, let alone damaging the door and adjoining wall. Indeed, I'm beginning to wonder whether this Coronavirus pandemic is getting out of hand, turning our national precautionary moves into something resembling panic to the level of universal hysteria and leading on to a social environment not unlike that in George Orwell's novel 1984.

Therefore, with an excuse that our grocery stock had to be topped up, on the first day after making facemasks compulsory in all shops and stores, I made my way to our nearby Sainsbury's superstore, with a facemask tucked away in my pocket and toting a wheeled bag. After a short wait in the queue, I slipped on my mask immediately before entering. A little way inside, this uniformed figure stood tall and imposing, no doubt ready to pounce on anyone who dares enter in without a facemask whilst at the same time creating a somewhat unpleasant atmosphere.

Has all this beginning to resemble Orwell's book, 1984? Everybody in the store, both customer and staff members alike wore a mask, and not a single mouth was exposed to public view throughout. Never in my 67 years of living had I ever seen such a phenomenon like this one before. Indeed, during the two World Wars, some fighters had to wear breathing apparatus, not unlike a diver's, and during the late 1950s, I do recall having to cover my nose and mouth with a scarf to keep out the effects of Winter thick fog hanging over the whole city of London, where I recall the exterior of both private and public buildings blackened with soot. Such a depressing sight brought in the Clean Air Act of 1956, but it was a further few years into the sixties when I began to notice London transformed. Indeed, Victoria Station had never looked so clean as newly-built.

But this at present? It's a phenomenon I had never come across before, a doomsday scenario which has, in the past, kept fiction and movie writers busy, but whoever would have thought that all this would become reality? It was while I was thinking about the future and what could happen therein when a video scrolled onto my Facebook wall. It was thirty-minute footage of my old school being demolished.

Rather shocked with sudden unexpectedness, the next morning, I cycled to the site. Fortunately, the closed main gate into the school was manned by a friendly security officer whose vocal accent had made me aware that he was an immigrant. We started talking, and I explained that I was a former pupil, one who attended that school more than half a century earlier. At my request, he explained that for me to enter the grounds with a camera, I need permission from the site superintendent, and the security officer attempted to contact him on my behalf.

He needn't have bothered, because as the gate opened to allow a car to exit, I was beckoned over, and through his window, I received permission to enter the grounds providing the security officer must accompany me. And as such, I took photographs such as this one from a vantage point not accessible to the public:

The demolition of my old school, taken July 23rd, 2020.

The building which is being torn down at the moment is the classroom block. In fact, more than half of it has already gone, including the upper floor classroom where I sat for the registration before morning assembly, as well as spending part of the schoolday gazing at the blackboard in front of all of us as the teacher wrote on it using a white stick of chalk, and each one of us copying what she wrote into our exercise books using a biro. No calculators, let alone computers, existed back then!

There was a stratum of five class levels according to learning ability. For example, in year one there was class 15 for the slowest learners, then class 14, 13, 12 and 11, the latter for the brightest pupils who fell short of passing the Eleven-plus only by a narrow margin. In year two, they were class 25, 24, 23, 22 and 21. Ditto in year three - class 35, 34, 33, 32, and 31. Pupils in class 31 often attained GCE 'A' levels and can (but not often) qualify for University. Classes in the 33 and 32 in the stratum usually leave with GCE 'O' Levels (two which I have from voluntary evening college.) Those in the lower two end up as apprentices and manual labourers. Such was school life in the 1960s.

It was a classroom where I felt that it was more for teasing and outright bullying rather than for learning. Even the school uniform - consisting of a black blazer with a gold shield sewn onto the breast pocket, along with a grey shirt and a striped tie - failed to turn us into juvenile gentlemen. Instead, at the first opportunity of staff absence the boys, in particular, would become mischievous, but with enough tact to avoid getting caught and to face punishment, which in those days was usually corporal, with detention for minor offences.

The tall building to the extreme left of the picture contained the art room on the lower floor and the old science laboratory on the upper floor (the new science laboratory was opened in 1967, one year before I left school in 1968, which is not in the photo.) Also out of the picture, the main hall where we had morning assembly and also served as the lunchtime canteen with two sittings - now stands derelict and awaits demolition. Behind the hall is the old gym, with the department for technical drawing (TD) further on, and the old woodwork dept, with the old metalwork dept behind it. Running parallel is a building which housed the needlework and the housecraft (cooking) classes for the girls. The new wood and metal workshops were opened in 1967 in the same building as the science laboratory, and the new gym opened at a separate building during the same year. All now stand derelict.

Indeed, it was a big school, but in those days a Secondary Modern (later changed to Comprehensive.) It was geared for everyone who failed the eleven-plus, and therefore unable to go to a Grammar school in preparation for University. Instead, the curriculum was generally non-academic and trained pupils in readiness for vocational apprenticeships in craft, mechanical engineering, and for occupations in industry and construction. This became more apparent during TD and with science experiments. These remained on a very simple level. For example, our TD lessons would never reach anywhere near building design. Instead, it centred on a small odd-shaped block of wood with no useful purpose. And then we did not start with TD until we were into our fourth year, which for me was in 1967.

With our science experiments, we became very familiar with the litmus paper, along with creating oxygen and hydrogen gas in the test-tube, as well as carbon dioxide. And the good old Bunsen burner which heated metal to expansion, along with elementary biology. With such simplicity, it became obvious that we would never become scientists, and they seemed to have made sure of that.

It was a kind of school where although uniform was compulsory, during warm weather, boys sometimes, actually quite often, wore their shirts open-neck and without a tie, and staff usually turned a blind eye to this, perhaps unlike the strict dress code characteristic of a Grammar school. And that despite that our physical education master singled me out one morning and demanded why I wasn't wearing a tie. An easy target? Perhaps bad luck of the draw, I think, as well as during a cooler spell outside.

Generally speaking, the school taught us how to be independent bread-winners without high qualifications, although among the top pupils, it was possible to attain a place at University. It has also trained us to be good at team sports, although I was a failure at this. But most of all, the school taught us to respect our and one another's freedoms.

But as I watch the demolition site in progress, I cannot help feel a sense of sadness. A passing of something, a passing of memories, a passing of something which linked to my youth, now seemingly long gone into the aeons of the past. However, what I haven't said so far is that a brand new classroom block had just opened, a large one, and that will be the new school. It has made me realise that the closure and demolition of the original school must directly be linked to the decline of the manufacturing industry along with all the craft and trade apprenticeships which were connected to it.

School lab classic, the Bunsen burner.

Nowadays, with the advance of high technology, the school must reflect this, and train its students accordingly. Gone are those woodwork and metalwork depts, along with housecraft and needlework. In comes high-tech which must meet our present society. I guess the demolition marked the end of one era and the beginning of the next, where 1984-style (temporary) surveillance of the facemask will take over our freedoms.

The Police arrest in our homes will never happen, at least not here in Britain or Europe. But as one who claims to know God and to read the Bible, to deliberately refuse to wear a facemask in disobedience to the Government's instructions to halt the spread of the virus, is to rebel against God. And that is something I don't want to do, not after what His Son Jesus Christ went through, out of his love for us.

Therefore I will continue to wear a facemask at all the venues where it's required. After all, society might be changing, but The Lord is the same yesterday as he is today, and will be the same forever. He'll never change.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Frank,
    These times surely do remind us that "you can't go back again." Our world is changing so fast, and I believe we are never going back to the pre-pandemic era where we took for granted our right to fellowship, travel and worship without the need for masks or social distancing. I believe that both of these are the wisest precautions all of us need to follow now, based on available research, to protect one another and ourselves.
    I too had to wear a school uniform, and once got a detention for wearing a hairband that was the wrong shade of blue!
    Praise the Lord for the liberty we have in Him! Thanks for the excellent post; stay safe; and may God richly bless you and Alex.