Article: Not a Bad Boy

Moseleians Gazette: Autumn 2000

Ray Knowles (1968-1974)

I’ve never had a good memory. I can’t even remember the year I arrived in Moseley. Old school photos of longhaired boys and teachers with wide lapels and kipper ties suggest it might have been somewhere around the end of the sixties – but I can’t be sure.

Strangely enough I remember my first day well. Scores of small boys herded like cattle into a small quadrangle, high redbrick walls on three sides. Someone had given me a cap, which I wore obediently on my head. I think that was the last time I wore that cap. On the way home an older boy snatched it from my head and threw it into the trees. For all I know it’s still there.

I don’t think I was a particularly bad child, but for some reason I was always in trouble. It wasn’t yet l984 but there was definitely a room 101 at Moseley. We called it room 6a. It was at the end of a corridor and inside lurked a thickset biology master called Bullock and an angular bird like man named Starling. When sent there for misdemeanors these gentlemen offered the choice of cane or slipper. In the days before a European court of human rights such consideration was about as good as it got.

I have a vague recollection of one time when, amazingly, I wasn’t sent there. I had upset “Neddy” Bacon, the chemistry master. For some inexplicable reason I filled a broken ping-pong ball with water (I was good at ping-pong) and threw it across the chemistry lab where it exploded on Dave Perris’ copybook. The book of course was hand-written in ink. Perris watched open mouthed, as his terms work bled across the page, and disappeared in blue streaks down the sink.

Not surprisingly the boy was distraught, shouts were exchanged and fingers were pointed. Despite my poor memory I can still recall the extraordinary colour change that swept across Neddy’s face. From pink to red to a sort of dark, dangerous deep purple. Neddy wasn’t the tallest man in the world. In fact when he used to turn his back to draw some electron or other on the board, unkinder boys would snigger demand he “stand up’. I had seen how this behaviour upset him – how his little fists would clench in anger. But now it seemed as if this incident with the ping pong ball had driven him beyond reason into a sort of apoplexy of unbridled fury. With real fear I watched him emerge from behind his desk and race towards me, fingers outstretched as if he wanted to wrap them around my neck and squeeze hard. Fortunately, being the professional he was, he just managed to control his fury and between deep breaths, ordered me out of the science block and to the ultimate sanction. The Headmasters office.

The Beak at the time was a chap called Gaskin. He had an entry system on his door – a bit like traffic lights and for the next half-hour I waited for them to turn green. Eventually his secretary opened the door. I can’t remember her name now, (Miss Goode? Ed.) but in an all-male environment her large bosom never failed to arouse my interest.

Inside I was invited to sit on an old scruffy armchair. “You’re a clever chap” he flattered, “What are you playing at?” If I had smoked I could imagine him opening a silver box and offering me one. Gaskin was a nice guy. He lived in a house attached to the school that you could only enter through a secret door in the top corridor. “I’m sorry sir” I explained. “I never meant to do it. It was an accident”. As unsatisfactory as that explanation seems today it seemed to placate him. With a wave he dismissed me and told me not to do it again.

I’d like to say our conversation changed my life. But it didn’t. A few days later I was back in room 6a for letting off stink bombs in Assembly. But that’s another story…