[© Ralph Gee, November, 2001]
The purpose of these is fourfold:
To prompt the memories of others, encouraging them to add to the archives of a defunct institution, but in a lively a way as possible;
To provide an independent social history supplementary to the academic statements on Red Hill's contribution to educational psychology;
To place, in retrospect, the school within its immediate external community and the geographical and historical context;
To ensure that there is a fund of relatively contemporary material for future researchers totally divorced from the rationale and ambience of Red Hill, particularly that applying to Otto Shaw.
The third point is important.
Not only has the building been a Kentish landmark (or possibly a landmark of Kent) for nearly 400 years, but it has been served as a school by local people for 60 of them. All published material hitherto has concentrated on Red Hill as a peculiar community isolated from the outside world, but it was our home. Its drives led to an outside world and reactive influences. We affected the local community, and they us.
This catalogue of crazes, for example, is intended to show that we were not isolated, and that many of our activities were conditioned by our awareness of the Garden of England. Thus these are as much statements of Kent in the middle of the 20th century, as they are of the foibles of an institutionalised collection of tearways (or should it be "tornaways"?)
Originally written: September, 1992
Transcribed for computer files, with modifications: from November, 1996.
CRAZES; or, how we made our own entertainments, son.
We lived in a lost world, where television was insignificant, even when the reception was acceptable; and where the wireless was what we went to bed by. The few newspapers filled their thin pages with the practical concerns of an austere nation, what magazines we saw were in the Maidstone dentist's waiting room, and book publishing was not then an instant media thing. Fads, and their supporting paraphernalia, came mainly from nature and the seasons: ants; reptiles; hop-string; rotten apples; bats, birds and butterflies; clay; conkers; cob-nuts; pine-cones; trees - and all the organic incidentals within that Garden of England. However, even when passions were based on transient perennials, not all appeared every year. Some autumns passed without one conker being threaded, and conscription for wasp warfare depended on the strength and persistence of the enemy. Most of the "one-off" category of crazes, highly consuming one year but never heard of again, came from current films - seen at Maidstone's Granada or Ritz ABC.
Our crazes differed little from those of schoolboys elsewhere, but in a boarding school such things are not so easily fractured by the intervening evening, the alienating home parlour or interfering parents. Add to that freedoms from staff officiousness, and the most harmless device and pursuit can assume, through competition, potentially fatal proportions in less than a week. The most important feature of crazes is that they were instantaneous creations by the boys, outside any formal curriculum, and viewed with disfavour or indifference by the uninvolved staff. Should any staff member show incidental interest or a wish to become involved in any craze, its chance of survival was remote - and, in retrospect, I believe they sensed that. Most of our crazes developed, with imaginations skilfully applied, into social scourges. Fortunately they were generally confined within our own acreage, and when they got out of hand we recognised that, and checked them - until next time. Should serious injury ensue, as occasionally happened, the Bench Members' memories would prevent a "next time". They often got obsessional, but not necessarily pandemic. Some would be the esoteric interests of just half-a-dozen boys. They also had an economic dimension since a craze meant some form of production with associated swapping or purchase - but the market forces were very deceptive with most crazes rising and collapsing within a couple of paydays. There were always boys with less practical ability than others, and these were the targets of the pioneer entrepreneurs, who would sell their initiating devices and head back to the drawing-board to rejoin the fray, better equipped, before the current scheme evaporated in a tumult of voices. Many a new boy got ripped off through such ingenuousness, but in time there'd be a fresh gudgeon for him.
In general, cash was irrelevant, beyond the few coppers of our weekly pocket money. No boy had much more, and anything substantial from external sources was in private accounts, got at only by battering on Shaw's study door, clutching a chit that explained in great detail the reason for the essential need. A craze that required money was a hobby, a serious thing like aircraft modelling or cycling. They often attracted penurious versions running alongside: aeroplanes made without plans from free materials and not in boxed kits, and bicycles without tyres and brakes. Although freelance therapy, helping the clumsy passage of youth while chronicling the harmonic seasons, many crazes were models of the adult world of invention, production and marketing. For many, Red Hill fads became hobbies, and evolved into deep interests for life - even directing particular careers. As tiger cubs rag to learn to hunt, so children should play to learn the shape of life. Any reader of these pages will spot many corollaries with the serious side of adult life, and note what we learned outside the classrooms.
With Red Hill so closely observed by the gurus of adolescent development, that the psychological implications of these crazes (far deeper than mere play) went unrecognised is surprising. The elements of seeking involvement and recognition, competitive achievement, and escape, are obvious. After 1947 Red Hill was a centre of disturbed male adolescence, within which there were the normal problems of the physical change from puerility to puberty. There is an area of psychotherapy seemingly ignored as a specialisation. There are child psychologists, military psychologists, rehabilitive psychologists, and those devoted to women and geriatrics - but there does not seem to be a recognition that the change from child to adult is a significant psychological point in life.
In these days of over-documented science it is curious that the only serious attention paid to what could be called puberal simulation has been the somewhat shallow work of the Opies. At the same time, I'm sure there are specialists with obscure Greek "ologies" filling the relevant journals with papers on similar phases in animals. Opportunities for observation have gone, not that we would have welcomed it, but we accepted all willing to climb into our cage and scorned those peering in. The world has become a village, and there are now few pockets of unsullied insularity. Red Hill is not only no longer a Lost World. It was one now gone for ever, with its most salient contribution unnoticed - even by Otto Shaw himself.
We cannot recall our own births, nor record our points of death, and it is bad manners (or politically incorrect) to pay close attention to the keystones in the lives of others. There is a blocked segment of male life. One day we are sopranos, and soon after baritones, with an intervening pain of curious yodelling. Two things drop: the voice, and the scrotum. This is a disturbing enough period for a conventionally stable boy with loving parents. It is traumatic for the unstable adolescent in institutions, and may carry with it all manner of peculiar responses. These I have not documented, and those old enough must search their own memories. This collection is not a comprehensive statement on universal boyhood, but a reflection of Red Hill's internal social ambience. Beyond this catalogue are all the interests of well-adjusted schoolboys. We collected stamps, cigarette cards, Dinky toys, bus and train tickets, football programmes and all the other ephemera beloved of boyhood. We read all the comics, logged railway locomotives, put tadpoles in jam-jars, and followed the popular music of the day. Where we were different was that our world vastly extended the somewhat narrow interests of our less than fortunate contemporaries outside, trapped in an adult world. We created our own, unaffected by anything happening outside, but we were not so isolated that we remained uninfluenced in or own Shangri-la - even when the instant electronic transmission of substantial ideas was unknown. We were a very spontaneous community, overlooking nothing that could intrigue in some way, and these were the vehicles with which we led ourselves out. What we learned in the classrooms were the real ephemera of life. What we taught ourselves was life itself. We were William Golding's flies, but Lordless.
This 1953 photograph shows the awkward and massive plane tree (far left) at the entrance corner, from which a slope ran towards the larder (window seen between the two trees) and scullery windows, and from a level suggesting there had once been a permanent function. Possibly in Jacobean times, when smells and fire dangers were separated from the house, it was the kitchen. The wall destroyed in 1956 may have been contemporary with the original house, and 300 years old. It was certainly too thick to have been just for a bike shed - on its other side, and the north side of what was then the Square Yard. The upper windows, from directly above Moseley's bat to the right, are: Junior Bathroom, Indoor Bogs, Senior Bathroom and Square Yard Dormitory. The gable is the North Attic, and PD's room.
The Alleyway Railway, and other bushranging
Spring awoke the hibernating bicycles, and the first tests were rattling runs down the Steep Drive and into the Alleyway. Signalmen directed the brakeless bikes charging north and south, and causing collisions was one part of the game while avoiding them was the function of the riders. There were spectacular incidents, like David Crane dropping fifteen feet onto the road through the gap at the end of the wall, and breaking his leg; and Tom Molloy thumping Shaw's brand-new Mark 7 Jaguar broadside on, with Shaw in it. That stopped it, for a year.
Another Alleyway game, heavily influenced by both Douglas Fairbanks Jr and (Just) William Brown, was absolutely stupid, and called Black Knights. Its basic kit was wooden swords and armour, with helmets, made from 7-pound jam tins. One eye-catching spin-off was an applied interest in heraldic art, developed later by John Martin and Richard Bradley in painting the plaster shields below the ceilings of the Dance and Dining Rooms.
The pervasive 7-pound jam tins, released from winter duties of incinerating pine cones at high speed, became the foundations for entomological property development. When a good Spring brought the ants, nests were raided and parts of the estate shoved into the jam tins. The tops were then sculpted with clay into fairy-tale castles and the ants were expected to explore all the architectured tunnels. It was often more fun to place a red ant castle next to a black ant one, and encourage open warfare. A harmless craze, unless continued in the dormitory, where there would eventually be a motive for a fully-occupied castle to end up in a bed.
One of the few clubs in 1950 was the Nature Club, sponsored by PD and run by John Martin. John's major contribution to nature study was pillaging every nest within an afternoon's walk, and competition against him for the rarest egg became intense. Whether Kent's ornithology ever recovered is an interesting point, but the craze never developed every year. Abolishing the Nature Club provided the best protection for the birds, whatever PD thought.
As winter muscles twitched into life, the first signs of physical activity began in the Square Yard. The hop-scotch court occupied all the flag-stones from the Back Door to the yard's west wall, and the closing stages of the game, with most squares owned, requiring hopping of Olympic standards - a menace to anyone passing through the Back Door, towards which the court inexplicably ran. There was also a vast, crippling and purposeless boulder by the door, our own Logan Rock, the provenance of which was lost in time.
Newts and snakes
Not so much an enveloping craze, but the obsession of Vic Leggett, in which all got involved since snakes can escape. That is all they ever did. Most were slow-worms and harmless grass snakes, but Ada the Adder had to be watched. She was eventually drowned in the Gangplace pond chasing newts. One good place to find reptiles was the Parapet Ditch, particularly an old water-pipe halfway along. The other good place was in your bed, if you had displeased Leggett.
Began innocuously in the Gangplace when David Bragg and I set out to beat the other in walking an oil-drum forward one revolution. Within a fortnight half the school could not only roll around the entire grounds, but vicious jousts with lances were held on the Woodpile. With a limited number of barrels lying around, mounts were imported from the stacks commonly found outside oast houses for oil-firing. Ownership became important, and they became brightly coloured symbols of individualism - an essential part of most crazes. Some rollers were very skilled, performing tricks as impressive as latter-day skateboarders and BMXers, with one exponent starting by the Well Door, going down the Terrace steps onto the Terrace, over the Parapet, and nearly reaching the cricket pitch, only to be brought to earth by mole hills. At that point I decided that being the pioneer was sufficient glory, although it had been good exercise for the cycling hill-climbing muscles. Despite the apparent danger of it all, there were no injuries beyond cuts and bruises, although MOF rattled off a few fines for damaged clothes and shoes. It was a very noisy activity while it lasted. What happened to the alien drums I cannot remember, but I suspect that Ted Brown was left with a battered, but gaily painted collection - presumably no longer acceptable by Shell for return of deposit. This craze preceded stilt-walking (q.v.)
Butterflies and moths
When John Martin's Nature Club had finished its egging ravages, it moved into Kent's lepidoptera. They had first to be caught, and the original little hoops and muslin evolved into devices more at home on a North Sea trawler. Before they were theme parklets, local museums were where unconsidered trifles could be deposited for crowds to gather four deep to pay tribute to the generosity of the donors. They were often stuck with such junk for years, and one example at Maidstone was a perfect Death's Head Hawk Moth, caught by Martin inside the then forbidden grounds of Leeds Castle. As it was some sort of BE-KIND-TO-THE-RUSTICS-WEEK, he got 5/- for it, a photograph in the Kent Messenger, and it was mounted with his name underneath. We all went to see it; and it greatly inspired a fresh set of would-be naturalists, and a rueful curator who, on many summer Saturdays, faced Red Hill boys with fairly common things in jam-jars, expecting at least half-a-crown. It was a chapter from Just William. Since the return bus fare was 10d, the specimens had probably travelled seven miles in a cycle saddle-bag, over some of the quaintest roads in Kent, so it is not surprising that the museum's enthusiasm in encouraging young naturalists had waned. The Death's Head was one of Britain's rarest moths, probably now extinct. John Martin didn't help conservation. The most distasteful, or amusing, side of butterfly chasing was the lack of attention paid by the pursuers to the fresh cow-pats in the Lower Field, into which they pitched as their skyward eyes missed the copious mole humps. The results ended up outside the Linen Cupboard, awaiting MOF's fury and the laundry van.
My camp (the second of three Ronald Reeves sold me for 1/- each) was found to be dug into a seam of excellent clay. This was useful for art modelling, ant castles (q.v. Spring ante) and blob-fights (q.v Weapons ante), so it was a useful commodity worth mining - particularly when Bob Payne said he could do with a dust-bin full. As with all crazes lasting more than a fortnight, it got out of hand. The mine went forward for ten feet and turned left for another fifteen feet - sloping down all the way and totally unshored. The earth that collapsed on John Southouse was about five feet thick, and it took six of us to dig him out, scrabbling as fast as possible with few tools, since he was buried with the US Army folding trench spade ideal for clay-mining. He was unconscious, and we had to smuggle him into school to bath him, where he recovered and we also breathed again. The miners worked naked to avoid hassles with MOF on the state of clothing, but I can't remember who tried to explain the post-operational bathroom, with clay off seven of us all over it. With the coincident banning of blob-fighting, the company declared itself insolvent, but a study of that part of the Lower Field carefully today, shows the working faintly visible.
Climbing, stunts and swings
There were few unchalleged trees in the school grounds, and the particular favourite, constituting the completion of an apprenticeship, was the Big Fir (50 ft) at the east edge of the Terrace, with lowest branches sweeping over the Parapet and Ditch. Its special challenge was a branchless part of the trunk called The Gap, and movement past this qualified you as a climber. From there it was a rewarding ladder to the unencumbered top, with a perfect natural seat and a splendid view across the Weald, and beyond into Sussex. The other way gave an equally excellent sight of the ridge of the north sandstone ridge parallel to the North Downs, while to the west could be seen the Hog's Back and possibly even Box Hill. Providing there was no queue, it was well worth a climb on a fine day, to follow the O1 0-6-0 as it hauled its one decrepid coach from Headcorn to Rolvenden on the only slightly older Kent & East Sussex railway. The only change made by nationalisation was the renumbering of Colonel Stephens' old loco to Southern Region 31065. Phillip Coutanche, a loco-spotter par excellence, took notebook and wristwatch up the Big Fir, and later checked with Charing Cross for the numbers for what he had seen as smoke. You don't always need anoraks!
Bragg's tour de force was to fall 30 feet from the top onto a great cushioning branch spreading over a dense blackberry bush. He would hit this on his back, with limbs spread like a free-fall parachutist, with the branch bending to decelerate him into the thorns, from which he would struggle bloody but unbowed. Although he offered first a slice of bread at tea, and then his breakfast hot-stuff (both standard barter) to anyone who would follow his dare, it remained his unique stunt. It was more fun to join him at the top and watch him wallop into the greenery, and fight his way from the blackberry bush as in Brer Rabbit. This stunt started when Brian Abley, Bragg and I were caught at the top by a very sudden squall with flashing lightning.
Abley went down the trunk as a lift, and when Bragg saw lightning strike the conductor at our height on the East Attic chimney stack, he yelled "Abandon fucking ship", and launched himself. I was alone, terrified. One shoe cascaded away before The Gap, into the thick hedge separating the terrace from the Nutpatch, and I hugged the trunk in the pouring rain for what seemed hours. When I reached the ground, my soaked sock was so thick with resin that later MOF threw it away and fined me a tanner for a new pair. Wearing only one shoe, I had a long search in the thicket for its pair, and missed tea. It wasn't always a friendly tree, but even I knew that socks cost more than 6d. Thereafter I only climbed the Big Fir under a cloudless sky.
It is not usual to imbue trees with characteristics long remembered as defined shapes and aura, but at Red Hill reunions the most common unsolicited memory was of the Big Fir. Yes, of course, some bastard had chopped it down. But then, Shaw sold all the lovely pines once lining the road to Headcorn, put there by Jacobeans as a windbreak. That made me break wind.
The most common stunts in other trees were leaps and two-handed drops, and it was everyone's ambition to discover new ones and have them named after them. Of course, you had to do more than find them. You had to prove them, before witnesses eager for the chance to enjoy the snap of growing bone. However, once one carried a name, its pioneer was not expected to prove himself on it again. There is no doubt that with some of them, once was enough. A leap meant plunging hands first for one branch from standing on another, while a drop was hanging on one and releasing to catch a parallel one below as you fell past it. Since the most challenging drops were in the most mature trees, misjudging was invariably a tut-tut from MOF and plaster-of-Paris for six weeks. It was the sort of action for which success was expected, and failure never won sympathy. Unfortunately, everyone was expected to do at least one. The Peak of Perfection, was a two-handed drop on the Copper Beech that could be reached only by an initial Death Leap, eponymously Patterson's. Having promised myself no tea until achieved, I sweated on the departure branch for an hour or so, before throwing myself forward. I held the target branch, released for the destination one, grabbed that, and swung hand-over-hand to drop into the road-side bushes. I only tore my trousers. Highly elated, I found my witness had pissed-off through impatience, disappointed in not being able to rush through the school shouting "MOF! Gee's broken both his fucking legs!" No-one believed me, so it remained Patterson's Leap, and I never did it again - particularly since Peter Searle, an expert on leaps, broke his leg on it the following week.
Actually very few broke limbs. Bragg had both his legs deliberately broken by a surgeon at Maidstone General Hospital, to straighten ankles twisted by a babyhood accident. It didn't work. Michael Taylor broke his leg falling down the Back Stairs; John Rogers smashed his brand new Humber cycle into the concrete anti-tank trap on Chart Sutton hill, and David Crane flew his bike from the Alleyway onto the road. In my six years, only Searle broke anything climbing trees. Odd, that.
Brian Abley, a veritable arborate, introduced me and Snowy Foster to a similar challenge in Leeds Castle grounds, from which the only way down was a leap, drop, and hand-over-hand over an inlet in the lake. Fear-stricken, with Abley having done it and safe on the ground below, I studied the problem, aware of every second becoming a minute through Abley's emphatic gloating. Snowy wandered off, looking for eggs. I squatted my life away until a fall of rain made further indecision potentially fatal. I launched in panic, and got most of it right. From the drop, the hand-over-hand down the wet branch eluded me and I fell into the lake, close to a cluster of alarmed cygnets, with sounds of approaching gamekeepers - whom we knew to be armed with 12-bores. Abley, nicknamed Goblin from his odd apparel and large boots wrapping a small stature, was a thoroughbred water-sprite in the rain, and was soon no more than a receding clatter of skegs through Hollingbourne. . The gamekeepers had been flushed into pursuit by Snowy, who headed for safety. He sought asylum in a cottage garden within the estate, and a sympathetic old lady shooed off his hounds and gave him a cream tea. Meanwhile, back at the lake, I was learning martial arts from an over-protective swan. MOF gated me on my eventual wet and muddy return, unable to accept my explanation of a facial bruise from a bird's wing. Fortunately, within a day or two, her normal skivvy was isolated with mumps so she needed someone to make her tea-time toast. I negotiated to do it for no pay in return for her lifting the gating. And all this came from climbing trees.
Another contribution of trees was the facility for rope swings, and three of the most popular overhung the Terrace Parapet: the springy yew by the Nutpatch (until we broke it); the Silver Birch; and the lone pine near the Parapet Steps. The rope for the last was attached by someone using climbing irons, and was at least 25 feet from the branch to the cross-pole tied some six feet from the ground at the foot of the rope. If you fell from that, it hurt - particularly if you collided with the Parapet.
Apart from releasing energy, certain trees were favourite retreats into which to escape alone, and I read acres of books quietly perched in the top of the Lower Field hawthorn. A very friendly tree within earshot of the meal bell, a nice view of the Weald, and not too far to climb down if I dropped a book.
It is likely that the prominent bank across the top end of the Woods is man-made, but not by 20th century boys. It possibly dammed the stream in the 17th or 18th centuries to create a fish-farm. That it would have led to an effective pool was proved by us, ignorant of history, when one hot summer (1950?) we blocked the gap in the Ridge for swimming. Then the Gangplace pond was ferociously stagnant, and years before a proper swimming pool was built in Red Hill's last years. Our dam held back a reservoir some six feet deep, and deprived sheep and cattle between East Sutton and Headcorn of water. As livestock died, a disturbed farmer traced the source of drought, and Shaw ordered the release of the stream. It was hardly the Eider, but the dam collapsed under our attack and a mass of boys in front of it were carried up to fifty feet as a great wall of water headed for the parched throats moaning at the dried pools south of us. I think the farmer actually attended the school court to put his case, and accepted our abject apology with good humour.
An esoteric development beyond Subbuteo cricket (there was such a thing, and speedway!), using miniature equipment handled by two players. A ½" ball of painted clay (including the seam), was finger-bowled at tiny stumps defended by a batsman with a 3" long scale-modelled bat. Fielders were card pieces stuck in clips from the "L'Attaque" board war-game. It was played by the enthusiasts Gee, Abley, Alan Dandridge and Bernard Smith on the main door step, with great seriousness, including score-books and umpires. It was hard on the knees when batting. It was not a craze in the mass-delusory sense, but it had a crazy little spin-off in a short-lived passion for making miniature bats from real willow with twine-bound handles, tiny trade-marks, lovingly soaked with linseed oil, and polished to just the right shade of well-used brown.
A Woodpile game introduced by PD, with complex rules worth recording, although probably inaccurately after 40 years. It required two teams of 6-9 each, a tennis ball, and four sticks 8" long by 1¼" or so square, looking rather like luxury firewood. The sticks were leant against the wall like a cricket wicket, three vertical all touching one horizontal across the top, within a 6-foot semi-circle. One team adopted fielding positions, while each member of the other side had three throws at the sticks. If the ball was caught straight from the sticks the thrower was out and took no further part in that innings. Throws continued until all four sticks were completely down and clear of the wall. The surviving throwing team then joined the fielders on the Woodpile, and the game became a form of Hot Rice. The fielders had to hit the scorers with the ball, who would be deemed "out"; but the scorers could punch away or catch on the volley, throwing the ball as far as possible without being touch by a fielder. Favoured targets were the Main Gate bushes or over the school building, but the road and Back Garden were out-of-bounds. While the fielders recovered the ball, the scorers had to reconstruct the sticks, precisely, to score one point. If they lost all their players without achieving this, the sides switched objectives. Each side had a maximum of three consecutive innings, and the game was won by the first to reach 9 points. Ron White has attempted to document the game, and restore it in the Maidstone area, but our memories are in conflict. However, he has admitted changing some rules to improve the game. It was such a good game that it must have an honourable history beyond the school, but it was a natural for the geography of the Woodpile. It was possibly also the only craze accepted by the boys from a member of staff. It died as quickly as it had come, possibly because some clown had lost the sticks.
(This game has been revived in the Maidstone area, full documentation and claimed avid following, by my Red Hill contemporary, John White)
Like barrel-rolling, an expertise-oriented craze beginning with idle curiosity at a humble level. The first stilts had foot-blocks about 9" from the ground, but within days they were up to four feet on nine-foot poles (liberated from hop-fields). They never reached the heights of the hop-stringers, from whom the idea must have come, but amazing skills emerged. These led to fantastic competitions and combative jousts on the Woodpile (where else?), and some clown trying to get from the top of the Steep Drive to the Hollow Oak without falling off. To stop stilts being stolen, owners were loath to leave them outside, so they clumped around the house and up and down stairs. Not even David Bragg managed to integrate stilting with barrel-rolling, so the iodine stayed largely in MOF's bottle.
Conditioned by expediency, and the black-and-yellow plagues delivered by the good summers of 1952 and 1953. Where plums are rife and turn to strong autumnal maturity, elderly wasps look for drunken orgies, stinging everyone in sight. Their population had to be reduced before vespine playfulness spread into October. The approach was to poke a great hole deep into the nest, waggle it and run for the horizon. If you led the attack and stood still, the enraged soldiers headed for the panicking cowards, leaving the violator safe until the sky was clear. I think we won in 1952, but the wasps discussed tactics, and we were dismally defeated the following year. I was stung 22 times at once, much to MOF's amusement as she dubbed me "Bluebag of the year". However, I was unscathed when I broke open a hornets' nest by mistake.
Eventually a court offence, the precedent being David Fisher, and a small balloon. The game was simple. Get an old cycle inner-tube, cut away the sector with the valve and tie a tight knot in one end. Put the other end over the Junior Bathroom bath cold tap and hold on until the tube expands to enormous proportions. Ignore the puncture sprays as a vocational hazard, but take their hint, with great speed and skill bind off the tap end, lift it gingerly up to the bathroom window, and wait to hear the Back Door open. Count three and heave it out. The choice of the Junior Bathroom is obvious. All pass immediately below, but the most delicious part of the trick was that the victim's identity was unknown beforehand. The result was a liquid bang, great confusion and drenched fury. Finally, don't stay to enjoy it. Rush up the east Attic stairs and hide under Gee's bed. It was frowned by the cycling fetishists when they discovered the inner tubes were neither old nor owned by the bombers. I was directly hit by a Hiroshima Hydro-bomb. Altogether a stupid craze.
WEAPONS: Stone-guns, bows and arrows, and blob-fights
Stone-guns were a prime example of advanced technology evolving from a harmless carpet game (not that we had carpets). It began with Dennis Ward making a paper-pellet pistol from a matchbox, drawing-pin and rubber-bands - as suggested by The Champion weekly comic. As others copied, the matchbox became a block of wood, and the rubber-bands cut from cycle inner-tubes. Progression was natural. The blocks lengthened and car inner-tubes were sought. Soon Wealden tractors would need to be locked away. The missiles clearly had to be heavier than paper, and small pepples and pieces of gravel proved effective. We were well into Kremlin-Pentagon one-upmanship.
My final effort was a pistol device fitted into a stock attached to a cut of broom handle carrying a catapult crutch. The missile pouch was leather, attached to two 8" strips of ¼" that were stretched two feet between the end of the "barrel" and the trigger lock for firing. Using 3/8" ball-bearings, it was very accurate up to 50 yards, and still deadly after. Its hour of glory was exploding the deformed head of a Banky Meadow myxomatosised rabbit at 50 feet, covering an astonished Ted Brown with time-expired brain. He was using a 12-bore shot-gun. Apart from bottles, tins and windows, that was its only humane achievement. Its power was such that the Catapult Permit was refused for stone-guns, I had to dismantle it, and the weapon was sensibly banned. The secrets of its construction left with me in October, 1953, but if pushed, I could make another much more powerful today.
Bows-and-arrows perennially developed from feeble efforts into 4½-foot bows and 30-inch tipped arrows, improving as designers found the best trees and bushes for the wherewithal. Invariably our technology was defeated for want of good string, unless Maidstone market had a source for nylon parachute cord - which happened one year, when some remarkable distance records were achieved.
Footnote to WEAPONS
Things generally thought typical of boyhood by editors of comics were rarely part of Red Hill. Air-guns and .22 rifles were forbidden, and instantly confiscated in perpetuity, although provided one had the money, they were easy to buy, being regularly advertised in such as Boys' Own Paper! That is how I got my Diana spring-pump air-gun, ruthlessly sequestrated by Powell-Davies when John Newey asked for a pass to Sutton Valence to buy me a box of pellets. (Loud mouth!) At the ridiculous level, water-pistols, potato-guns and pea-shooters were dealt with, personally, as soon as there was a victim. Anything with anti-social or personal nuisance value would soon conflict with the school's sense of remedy, and would not become a craze. Bench Members kept an eye on new boys in case they had brought in something incompatible with our traditions, and the post-holiday periods were always unsettling. The Bench Member system was possibly the most significant point of control, since any overt interference by the staff would be a signal for spiteful counter-measures, and the best way for the staff to control doubtful aberrations was by subtle use of the Bench. Thus not all the crazes died natural deaths, and anything suggesting injury to non-participants was quietly eased out of fashion.
A type of cricket that today's old generation of commentators tell us was the backbone of the English game. Here was where the Larwoods, Voces and Woolleys were born. But not on Red Hill's Woodpile, where hard balls, including sorbo rubber, were banned. Tennis balls only. Over the Back Garden wall was 6-and-out, and a trip on bended knees to Ted Brown to get the ball back. A 4 to Holland's lawn, when occupied, invariably caught a three-penny put-down (fine). There was always too much trouble climbing awkward fences to get balls back, and dealing with PD's niggling when charging across the tennis court in other than plimsolls. Waste of time really.
Curiously related to cider-making (below), since it began with rotten apples projected from sharpened sticks with increased acceleration from the extended radius, first into the sky, and inevitably, at an opposing team. The sticks became "launchers" and the sessions moved from the Terrace to the Woods, where there were no apple mounds, so the rotten fruit became blobs of dampened clay. Soon there developed advanced strategies, and opposing captains playing large-scale chess, with victory decided when one side ran out of clay. John Martin launched a lone attack on our clay-dump, held by David Bragg, John Southouse and myself. As he threatened us with a blob the size of a large Bramley, he fell under our defensive barrage - a massive lump of clay from Southouse exploding across his face. I still have a twinge of conscience over this, even though it was not my blob that did the damage. The appalling smack of that moist clay hitting Martin's eye is still with me, and taught me more about thoughtlessness than any other stupidity since. It was tragic, but what was forgotten was that Martin had a launcher so long it took him two hands to wield, and a reputation of superb accuracy. We had no choice but to get him. It had occurred to no-one that exchanging blobs of clay could do more than dirty clothes or cause bruises. That John was too active a boy to lie absolutely still in his hospital bed for the weeks required may have brought about the permanent loss of his eye, but that is irrelevant. It was no-ones fault, but...
The consequent banning of blob-fights knocked the bottom out of clay-mining, an activity that had nearly killed Southouse (See Clay-mining, Summer, below).
A relic of public schools, jamborees at Gilwell, and sunsets on fragments of the Empire. As a Boy Scouts favourite it was probably imported by PD, but most boys of my generation knew it well, as an awesome experience for small participants and a great way of settling scores. The rules were simple. All players, bar one, were at one end of the Terrace, the "bar one" being piggy in the middle. All charged for the other end and the piggy had to grab someone charging past, lift him up, shouting "British Bulldog" , to gain a helper. The game continued from one end to the other until the one survivor became the next piggy. A colony of pippistrelle bats often joined in this autumnal evening game, as we disturbed their insect hunting ground. I associate this game, like Torchlight Releaso, to communal cocoa in MOF's room while she read aloud from Vaughan Wilkins' And so to bed, to us juniors in dressing gowns. A curious pair of opposites, but that's my memory!
Most popularly rectangular trenches with a fireplace at one end, an entrance at the other, and a cloud of toxic smoke in the chamber between. They hid under corrugated iron sheet resting on branches (or stolen hop poles), with a turf roof merging it into the landscape. The iron sheets probably came from hop-pickers' huts, but released earlier from some minor component of the Battle of Britain. The turf was dug from the meadow, balancing the copious mole hills that already contributed to our very rustic cricket field. The fires, either non-flammable or ferocious ovens, were for cooking unpalatable pastry twisties on sticks (from one of PD's Baden-Powell moods), or half-cooking potatoes and cabbage stolen from the kitchen, and making far more inedible the stuff we wouldn't eat at table. We boiled nettle, dandelion, and other undomesticated greenery, making civilised pigs of ourselves, and candidates for a stomach pump. Chestnuts were Russian roulette, exploding in such confined spaces.
Camps were real estate, changing hands at prices ranging from respectable to extortionate, although many were bought and sold untested, or as potential sumps. However well the roof was built, water seeped through the walls, providing the essential ecology for living natural history. Some were luxury condominiums, as Greendam under the Hollow Oak, at the near end of the earthworks that long ago had dammed a Jacobean fish-farm. Its three interconnecting chambers merged round a large common fireplace, but each with its own fireplace, and the large entry chamber was deep enough to stand in. The inner floors were covered with rushes from round the sewage tanks, about a hundred yards away to north. The archaeological remains, visible after 45 years, were believed by a much younger generation to be craters from doodlebugs and crashed Messerschmidts. Not so, I'm afraid. Just the results of toil by post-war trainee artisans.
As an aside, our own Battle of Britain fable had the [Old] Art Room perforated by a shell deflected from an aerial duel, erasing the unfixed charcoal drawings pinned up by George Westby. Although less than a decade after, perhaps that was equally romantic, but it is amazing that in 1980 a Spitfire, with pilot's remains, was dug from a copse that was part of our familiar landscape - beyond Gladdish, about two miles south west.
At most reunions, camps were the one activity for which memories needed no soliciting - thus the space I have devoted to them. In a self-sufficient rural environment with little adult interference and reasonable self-discipline, camps seem impertinent; but they were womb-shaped escapes from personal troubles, and from the school itself. Although we had not the same escapist wishes as our external contemporaries, we still had "thoughts that lay too deep for tears". Perhaps some retrospective analysis is useful. There were two different kinds, not in terms of construction, but as property. Most were owned by introverted individuals or pairs, but the Greendam site was an organised communal affair, with rules. Anyone could join in, but there were contributions to be made: fire-fuel, food, cleaning and maintenance, and general subservience. It was a microcosm of Red Hill itself, with Community Jobs and social responsibilities in return for claustrophobic and smoke-polluted shelter. However, if you owned an individual camp your presence was not welcome at Greendam, unless they were on the scrounge. They even expelled people! The major crime, of not fulfilling commitments, included being late. The supreme irony was that within its bowels it was impossible to hear the school bell, so Greendammers were late for everything beyond their grassy mound.
I was neither a pioneer nor Greendam inmate. I purchased. Always 1/-, and always from Ronald Reeves. This was not because I trusted his acumen in property development, but I think he built them solely as attractive bait for my shillings (he has since changed his name to stop me getting my money back). The one in the Main Gate bushes was not an autumn job. With no fireplace, it had an air of being built for purposes other than cooking twisties and chestnuts. The next was by the Lower Field hawthorn tree, and sat on a stratum of clay carrying a subterranean stream to the River Beult, traceable on the Ordnance Survey map. Ron had spent the shilling when it flooded two days later, heralding its eventual conversion to clay-mine. The third was north of the gap between the Hollow and Blasted Oaks, with its entrance east to leeward. Thus the prevailing westerly sucked all the pine-cone and cow-shit smoke from the fireplace into the chamber. No-one could survive there for ten minutes. Brian Abley was daft enough to build one with his entrance facing mine, two feet away. He had to beg me not to light up. Once I fuelled and banked the fire while scrounging flour for twisties from the then cook, Bill Dunkerley. From the circle, nearly a quarter of a mile away, I saw my camp billowing smoke from its two holes, like a coastal tramp burning peat. It must have been hell in there.
Ron was soon at me again. Another shilling for his best yet, and he had someone lined up to give me 9d for "Old Smokey" - so my new camp was there for just 3d. There were two snags. Firstly, his new venture was within weather distance of the school sewer. The second was unknown to him, or he was playing ex-directory. Greendam, pillaged by invading hop-pickers at night, had been repaired from any resources in sight - including by stealing my roof. All I owned was a naked hole, not worth anybody's 9d. I was not to be bitten four times, so I retired from the troglodyte life, 3/- down. This is included for the benefit of "he-who-was-Ronald-Reeves"
Camps presented the romance of boys' literature as truth. We were Robin Hood, William Brown, Jennings, Bunkle, Swallows and Amazons and the Last of the Mohicans - each in our own Brendon Chase. We rusticated ourselves in England's garden, and the root was a more primeval one than a reflection of post-war adolescent maladjustment. Most boys, probably 90%, were from towns, mainly blitzed London, with playgrounds torn from scarcely cleared bomb-sites, and hiding unexploded ones. There was no evidence that the local kids of Headcorn, Sutton Valence, Ulcombe or Hollingbourne were into similar activities. Red Hill could be a socio-economic paradox. Most of us went as stripling urbanites and left as clod-hopping yeomen. The camps represented, not so much a reaction to authority, but rus ex urbe.
Cider-making and poteen
A perfect rural pursuit, with elements of scientific discovery and agricultural pragmaticism, using genuine cider apples in a mature state of oozing rot. They were also much appreciated by the crazed wasps we disturbed where the farmers piled them. We were not stealing. Cider apples were so piled, long after farm cider-making had gone, so we were restoring a lost Kentish art. The foetid resource restricted production to the uninspected chalets, with Bragg's as the major plant - soon to smell like industrial Taunton. Measuring only eight by six feet left no floor room beyond tanks and bottles, with more on his bed through the day. Bragg slept in it, but he always had that look of sublime indifference associated with a profound and sympathetic understanding of alcohol. The potable result we called poteen..
The internal room-holders were not to be left out, extending the market by making wine and more potent poteens. No Kentish flora went untested, and what did not explode converted to near-relatives of wood-alcohol, giving MOF more mysterious illnesses to diagnose. In my East Attic room over hers, three large glass flagons burst in a cupboard, cascading a -sugared and yeasty virulent mystery through the floor-boards. I was pedalling along the A20 at the time. I had to redecorate MOF's room, but she moved to the Upper Cottage, vacating for Audrey Davies. To help shift decades of overpapering, Alan Garnett and I soaked the ceiling overnight, ignoring the lampshade. In the morning we saw a colossal stalagmite as the entire ceiling hung from the light flex to the floor. In clearing that, we fused half the school's circuits, giving ourselves more unpaid work. The dangers of uncontrolled alcohol reached me quite early.
A social gathering around poteen was Russian Roulette, with a toy pistol that should have fired a stick with a rubber sucker on the end. The stick was shortened to fit right inside the barrel, and the sucker replaced with an embedded broken relief pen-nib, with two wicked little prongs. The pistol passed round, until the victim of the previous circuit, holding the stick either way vertically and his back to the party, shouted "Stop!". The trapped punter turned the pistol vertically, up or down, passed it to be aligned with the prongs, and took it back. The victim shot into his forearm, and if the prongs came out first and stuck in, poteen was swigged all round. To enliven the event, the point was dipped in school ink, creating an elite with tattoos as important as Heidelberg scars. No-one ever contacted blood-poisoning, so perhaps our school ink was an unresearched prophylactic. It was yet another of those ventures causing retrospective sympathy for the late Marion O. Farrell (MOF), who had to cope with undocumented pandemics, apparently from alien planets.
Once a schoolboy universal, but Red Hill did nothing by halves. We had sufficient tree-climbers to harvest the best quality, and when the season was in full swing (to coin a phrase), with several 100'ers around, the strings were over two feet long. We tried all the fiddles, like vinegar and baking, and the occasionally holed pebble appropriately painted. The former rarely worked, but the latter did. The skills of contesting at this distance were great, as were the concomitant injuries and broken windows (standard fine of 5/-). Damage came from walloped thumbs; fingers crushed by strings tangling at speed; and hit conkers smashing into faces, or flying off at tangents when strings snapped. One of childhood's gentle pursuits.
Another lost part of Kent's past. When open warfare erupted between the "holidaying" Eastenders on Banky meadow and the Greendam campers, we invaded each other's territory, all with violent weapons. They had .22 rifles and air-guns, and baseball bats - and were mainly adults. Banned from all local pubs, they sought amusement, but it was not funny. Our main retaliation was cycling past the corrugated backs of their huts, running sticks along, although once Tony Cook quietly removed all their firewood and tipped their water away. The police were once called, Robin Wyles cycling from his Sutton Valence police house, but he knew many of us by name and all hop-pickers were aliens. They were not the romantic community that H.E. Bates or social historians imply. I know they worked hard for poor pay, but there was no need to take that out on us with hard play. Possibly the antagonism between both sets of campers was triggered by vestiges of cave-dwelling tribal memory. The hop-pickers were also escaping into shacks from crowded streets, and to each other we were territorial threats. Mongrels all, fighting over unconsidered scraps when there was a meal in the dish.
Less a craze, than a seasonal gift of Kent, if you like them. Cobs (hazels) in the Ulcombe hedgerows; chestnuts in the Girls' Borstal grounds; fiddling, but rare and delicious beech nuts. We collected in bags and shelled into 7-pound jam tins, munching in the dorms. They were also currency in poker and pontoon. The camp fires were centres for chestnut roasts. There's nothing like the fresh English nut, unlike the wrinkly foreign things in Christmas stockings.
Spring's beautiful Wealden blossoms fell away, and their reason appeared in autumn. Unlike nuts - apples, cherries, pears, plums and soft fruits were selfishly owned by apparently unreasonable farmers. Scrumping is strictly applied to apples, the word probably sharing the same stem as scrumpy for cider, but in school terms it meant theft of any fruit, and was a very serious offence. Punishment was a high fine, automatic at 10/- in 1950, and a likely gating (no passes outside). Always great fun, of course, but totally unnecessary. Most farmers would allow taking windfalls (the real meaning of "scrumping") if permission was sought, but that was never the same thing, although often the relevant farm-house could be a mile or two away. Because of hop-pickers, farmers defended orchards with dogs and shot-guns, making scrumping an active adventure - and an unforgettable part of Kentish boyhood. This must particularly apply to Welham, who got his arse punctured by two barrels of John Payne's 12-bore. Before EEC standardisation, when supermarkets were not yet supplied from across the world by air, apples and nuts represented the year's passage, and the range of orchard fruits was enormous, with varieties never seen today, some eminently edible from mid-summer. We did, however. Have to share the best of nature's wealth with equally great varieties of fruit-loving wriggly grubs. Even now I believe the best apple to be that with the maggot in it.
Games were not restricted to winter. That part of the Kentish sandstone ridge, with nothing to the sea except the low-lying Weald, got some very inhospitable weather at all times of the year. We had some glorious thunder-storms. It is, however, harder to remember the less-than-golden days. Before widely accessible television, transmitted over several channels from 6am to way past midnight; when the school had no private wireless sets, and before "pop" became confused with "popular", the period between tea and bed was dominated by board, card and table games - as well as billiards and what was still known as ping-pong. The only game we never had was darts, and I'm sure there were sensible reasons for that. Any ingenious mind could link darts with crossbows, and launch another potentially fatal craze. All games were taken seriously, with cheating and ragging around darkly frowned upon. Children may change rules, but they tend to stick to the changes, until others come along. Games had a less obvious function. The school before 1950 was very poorly heated, and bleakly lit by a 50 volt direct current supply, so only a few rooms offered comfort - and in these circumstances games naturally fall to mind, even if played in balaclavas, scarves and gloves.
It goes without saying that Red Hill boys excelled in any game they played. Not everyone, of course, but we probably could have produced a champion in any field. The interesting thing is that no-one thought it all that important beyond the moment, a sign that we were not as maladjusted as some believed us to be.
There were the communal sets, issued by the Social Committee and signed out for the evening like library books, with the quorum open to all; privately owned ones, and the invented ones. Apart from traditional board games like chess, backgammon and halma, most board games became crazes until the cumulating loss of irreplaceable pieces pensioned them off. Two worth remembering, and never seen since, were L'Attaque and Dover Patrol. The first was a classic, a 19th century French invention and one of the first war games, and the second a more complex World War II update of it. Pieces of card stuck into metal feet, and each player saw only the faces of his own. He set them out as he wished, and the game was challenging opposing pieces by moving in front of them. Each individual challenge operated on the "scissors-paper-stone" principle, with sniper-Privates able to knock out Generals, and the final objective was the enemy flag. Both games were full of tactics and strategy, and led to intense knock-out competitions, invariably followed by quarrel. Both would transfer to computer, with sufficient ingenuity. I might try it sometime.
Another popular war game, requiring only paper and pencil, and patience in drawing the grid, was Battleships, invented by the bridge-playing journalist, Hubert Phillips. This game had the possibility of increasing the oceans and fleets to massive sizes for marathon games. Waddington's Monopoly (since sold) was a hardy perennial, modified heavily, with the best invention being the Mobile Fish and Chip Shop. This was the first player out, who remained on the board, collected £200 for every passage of "GO", fined any player sharing his square, and payed out nothing. He invariably won the game. A nice touch of Red Hill enterprise devised by Dennis Ward, who once lost, and did not like it. One board game bettering Monopoly that I have not seen since was a stock market caricature (Contango?), that deserved greater fame and fortune than it got. A once very popular entertainment was Cluedo, then a new invention, but enthusiasm for it fell away once most had played it half a dozen or so times. It still sells well after 45 years, but today most games like this are more bought than played.
We played them all, and at levels I have never met since. We had some excellent bridge players, but when I played much later I realised our method was based almost entirely on pre-war system, because the overall enthusiasm came from Morley Gayton, who had not known other ways of playing. He taught us, and we taught enough around to make sure we were never short of a fourth. I played for years later before I came across stuff like Acol and Blackwood.
Another Hubert Phillips' invention played for hours was called Black Maria, variegated-ruled versions of which are known throughout the English-speaking world as Chase the Pisser, and recently reconstituted as a personal computer diversion within Microsoft Windows, called Hearts. In this, hearts and spade royals (primarily the Queen, but in some versions also King and Ace) are penalty cards when taken in tricks, unless all are taken by the same hand. It can be a nasty game, when three players gang up on a fourth, but it is an excellent way to develop counting and recall of the passing pack. Whist was still a strong fashion in the 1950s, and many rural communities found it difficult to garner sufficient players to hold good drives, so we invited local adults to lose at ours; and in return sent players to the Sutton Valence village hall to make up their numbers. The standard of play outside the school was comparatively sorry, and we smug prodigies had great trouble in holding our patience with the elderly ladies who seemed to delight in wrecking a good communal card game.
The word "patience" links to another passion, led by Paul Pollak, the junior maths and science teacher who had been a Red Hill boy before the war, and a fire-watcher during it. He must have protected an asbestive area, because most of his watching was playing one-handed card games, collecting dozens of games - a few I remember, and all are better than the standard thought by many to be the only solitaire card game in the world. The riffle of a pack of cards would also trigger poker, pontoon, shoot or brag - but playing for money was strictly forbidden, and those games do not work well without. That did not stop us being good at them. Around 1950/51 we took up the national canasta craze, which evaporated as fast as it had appeared, largely because it is better played for money, but is not as good as the older single-pack gin rummy. There were also aficionados, like me, of cribbage, solo, nap and two-handed bridge, and it is fair to say there were not many card games we did not know. I wonder how many children could make the same claim today.
In the 1950s there was a range of proprietary card games played with functionally designed packs, often made by a company called Pepys. The top of the Social Committee lending list were always Newmarket, an arithmetically ingenious horse-racing game from the 1920s (judging by the names of the racehorses depicted), and Contraband, a gorgeous game for impenitent deceivers, of a philosophy similar to Liar-dice - also very popular. I have since collected new sets of these last-named games to remind myself of pleasures otherwise forgotten, but sadly do not meet many who know how to play them. Another of the world's changes.
Another sporting mimicry, played either alone or as pairs, was Owzat!, cricket simulated by two hexagonal "dice" bought in a natty little tin, for enthusiasts to select fantasy sides of the world's greatest cricketers, to lose to Red Hill School. Those without the dice wrote their own runs and dismissals on chopped-up pencils. A less standardised equivalent was Book cricket, with the alphabet codified for runs and wickets matched letter-by-letter through words, sentences and paragraphs down pages of randomly-selected books. The coding skill required acute observation of English letter frequency. For example, if "Q" is an appeal for out, what is "U" to be? If a 6 is an infrequently used letter, is it possible for a Book batsman to score 36 in one over? I solved that problem by invalidating the letter "E" - it was not even a "dot ball". Past library book candidates for this exercise were recognisable by the neat pencil lines through the text. The school was fined 5/- by Kent County Library for a rash of such defacement by an undiscovered culprit. I retrospectively nominate Brian Abley, whose passion for Book cricket was to prove Essex an unbeatable team against all conjectural comers, past and present - as his Walthamstow Avenue had beaten Pridmore's Wolves (with Billy Wright) in the Subbuteo FA Cup Final.
Nothing more than such as Subbuteo, which we discovered when the originating company operated mail order only from a village green near Tunbridge Wells, and when all you bought was little more than 22 tatty cardboard men; their plastic hemispherical bases with slots in; a fragile ball that reached the teams' knees, and a piece of billiard felt. The ball, of course, all too often got stepped on, to dislocate the season until a postal order went to the Royal Borough. That was 1950. We had football, cricket, and my own set of speedway - which I always won. I can reveal the secret. My set came with a duplicate blue base, which I buffed and polished. When I failed to be blue rider the rougher one was substituted. Subbuteo speedway was played on a highly polished of plywood, released from the back of a wardrobe belonging to MOF, that she had lent to the East Attic. I nailed it back when I left, complete with indelibly marked sections and immovable patina of polish, built up from each race. I'm sure she was pleased.
Subbuteo made obsolete the table football games, Push football and Glida football, both played on the polished wood base of an old quarter-sized billiards table, in some respects similar to each other. The first used two pre-decimal pennies; a half-penny, and for each of the two players, a comb with all teeth - then a rarity. Comb pushed penny towards ha'penny, to hit it towards the goal, each player having three pushes per turn. Glida was a commercial analogy with the two player pieces being polished wooden cupolas and the ball a ½" sphere of cork. The pieces were shifted, flat side down, with a tiddley-wink plonker. Whatever the rules of Glida had been, we directly adopted those of Push football for it, and ran knockout competitions in which both forms were used - a complexity we left to Bernard Smith, Chairman of the Social Committee and a devoted organiser of knockout competitions for anything. Boys exclusively adopted the names of their favoured professional clubs, and I was always Nottingham Forest, then in the old Division III (South) and not yet glamourous enough for anyone far from the Trent to idolise them. Brian Clough, the same age as me, was not even a bootboy for Second Division Middlesbrough. Incidentally, the Subbuteo cricket product was unimpressive, using a tumbling device to deliver an outrageously scaled ball. One of the batsmen looked like W.G.Grace. Our door-step game was way ahead of this, but we couldn't sell our door-step.
Digital dexterity was required in another very popular game I've not seen played since then: Swizzle-sticks. This was reputed to be Chinese, and consisted in a cluster of over-long toothpicks twisted and let fall, and each stick had to be removed from the mess without disturbing any one other. A pointless (ho ho!) game to me, requiring patience and a perfect surface.
Some were excellent, notably mine! I was always designing games, the best when I was meant to be studying for the GCE.. Had I been able to crack the fortress of the industry, I would have made an excellent living at it. Inventing an original game is an absorbing exercise, and my belief is that it should work first time, requiring only slight modifications, mainly with the rules, rather than the design. If a game does not work, it is better to take the best ideas into a fresh design, than to tinker with failure. The problem of getting it right is compounded by presenting it, and making all the bits and pieces, and having one fail was heart-breaking. It was a hobby from which I learned much of relevance to systems design in later life. A good invention encouraged others, and at one time so many boys were inventing, designing and constructing games that no-one was free to play them. I wish I had kept all mine.
Not exclusively a winter pursuit because the most practical results had outdoor objectives, such as flying aircraft on the Terrace and sailing boats on the Gangplace pond. Modelling was best done in one's own room, but it was not a solitary thing. It involved exchange of ideas and materials, and led to group activities, like Bernard Smith's regattas. "Twit", as he was ever known, created the prizes from halfpennies attached to pink card, with rankings drawn with his famous scratchie Tintinkoolie fountain pen, fresh from his father's Berlin billet. I think every parcel he got from Germany had one of these needle system pens, very similar to today's Rotring drawing pens, but using standard writing ink. We never had any flying competitions, but there was an undefeated glider distance record from the top of the Big Fir. Crispian Andrews' 6-foot span expensive kit was last seen half way between the Prince of Wales and Marden. It flashed in the sun as it found captive thermals over Gladdish, where unknown to us was a full-sized 1940 Spitfire only a fifth of the way through its time for discovery. So what should the odds be on recovering a schoolboy's glider?
Making models was a very enthusiastic pursuit, inevitably with balsa wood, whatever was being built. The interest was, as always, stimulated by the Social Committee's competitions with money prizes for the best models, invariably judged by Bernard Smith. Anyone going to Maidstone was plagued to run errands for wood, cement and paint; and if he was astute he could supplement his pocket money by re-selling such necessary consumables as balsa cement. A glue-less model maker was fair game for the odd penny or two, as it was well worth paying over the odds to continue the project, when the nearest shop for the resource was an afternoon and tenpence away. Although we discovered solvent sniffing many years before it set up national panic, it was just an incidental part of the pleasure of creation, and anyone who wasted his O-My up his nose was a profligate idiot - at 10d a tube (large) - or 1/- had I fetched it. Clay was a popular material, costing nothing, and extremely versatile when rolled flat and used as strip and sheet - but natural clay is not very robust whe dried slowly in the air. The modelling resources of today were unknown: plastics; epoxy resins; pre-printed card; white metal; battery soldering, and super-glues being luxuries beyond the dreams of the readers of Aeromodeller of 1950. We muddled through with expediency and broken razor blades. Nearly all my work had blood under the paint.
Modelling was not taken seriously by the staff, although in my earlier schools some form of it had been a regular class-room activity. In retrospect, no staff member of my day had much practical ability, and modelling was ignored as an art form by every art teacher - even by Bob Payne, whose views on art and craft I held in deep respect; but if it wasn't taught at art school, it was someone else's problem. The attitude was pedagogic snobbishness, straight from the last century, with clay modelling seen as related to sculpture, but balsa work as some form of common carpentry. Sometimes Red Hill was an enigma, inconsistent within itself. But beyond that place, I see no reason why model making should not be taught in schools. It is a satisfying form of creativity; teaches structures and materials; hones observation, and if specifically aligned to subjects and periods (railways) is a fine stimulus to research. Scale modelling is a miniaturised truth, while making the finished efforts work is empiric engineering at best, and sheer frustration at worst. It is significant that the demise of the Meccano company, and the general conversion of modelling to prepared plastic cut-outs, has been followed by the collapse of Britain's design skills and our engineering industry.
Morley Gayton was a notable exception, having some of us make balsa mangons, balisters and trebuchets - ensuring I remember what these words mean. This came from an idea of Crispian Andrews. Although we liked the words, our ambition was to build them bigger than 6" high, with bigger missiles than pellets and matchsticks, like the dead horses of mediaeval times - an intriguing prospect. This is an example of the previous point, about scale working models stimulating proper historical research - in this case on siege weapons since Roman times.
Another exception, not quite analogous, was the marionette theatre, the Midget Players, under the guiding influence of Bob Payne, and a shoal of ideas completely fresh to us. As the stables were now no longer slept in by any boys, we stripped out the stalls, chopped down a tree or two, and built a special-purpose theatre with a back-stage area as large as our auditorium. It was a marvel, technically superb for puppet manipulation. With this we put on several performances of two plays: King John and the Abbot of Canterbury and Doctor Faust. We wrote these ourselves, the second one involving wide reading of the story as written by everyone else, a piece of literary pursuit on our part that bewildered PD, unaware of our reasons. Each puppet character was built by the actual performer to specifications decided by consensus, and was not operated by anyone else in the company. If the puppet didn't work, or had not come out quite as expected, we modified the "choreography" to fit. These shows were given before external guests, and as puppetry were as advanced as anything I've seen outside the deceits of television. One boy made his puppet ride a bicycle, but we couldn't handle that within the influence of Christopher Marlowe.
It is odd that where a great deal of psychological attention was paid to analysing art work and recognising the value of creative art within educational therapy, the significance of modelling was ignored - but then, so were the crazes. Most Red Hill boys can remember the models they built and the crazes in which they took part, while completely forgetting their paintings and drawings. Perhaps the latter had too strong a connection with either formal class-room or with Shavian psychoanalysis, while modelling presented a private world where the skills developed as individual attributes far more quickly that those associated with more accepted art forms. Although I argue that modelling is an art form, my most angry moment was when someone destroyed one of my uncompleted models, and had the same happened to a painting, it would not have worried. If my mural had been damaged, I would have shrugged my shoulders and set out to repair. There should be a psychological explanation for that.
Hardly a craze, but a youthful exuberance that went in phrases, most likely arising from several days of non-stop rain. Strictly, it covered physically violent play indoors, and although it was serious offence in dormitories, that did not stop its most likely result of a broken bed. During a hectic rag, Newey's bed-leg dropped through a hole between floor-boards, and threatened to punch further into the Dining Room ceiling. In dismantling to shift it, he wrecked the bed, and swapped it for that of Gerald Whipps, the newest, lightest and most diminutive member of the Senior Dormitory. When Whipps rushed off to MOF innocently to ask for a new bed, she agreed if he could rationally explain what he had done with the other one, else she would fine him substantially:
"I sat on it, MOF"
"That's no good, Whipps. I'm putting you down 5/-"
"Twice" said Whipps hastily, to justify the extent of the wreckage
"That's another half-crown then, It's just once for 5/-, but you get two for 7/6".
MOF was one of the few who knew everything that went on.
Another bed incident ended a concerted lengthy rag directed at Vony, who had the tin hut on the Terrace. His bed-frame somehow got to the top of the Little Fir and he was left to recover it. We watched him drop it on his own roof, exploding springs in all directions. Properly contrite, we offered to replace it through a secret night raid on the stables, where spare beds were then stored. We broke in successfully by pushing the tiniest boy through the window, but we could not get the bed out. Neither could we recover the nipper we had lifted in, so we left him to holler, to be found by Paul Pollak who was irrationally curious about the noise at 2am - immediately next to his cottage.
Senior Common Room
With ragging widely forbidden indoors, and rooms such as the Library and Dance Room requiring signed permits available to only the well-behaved, the SCR became the ragging room for boisterous activities when the weather was bad. One common game involved three benches, one facing the Sink Room wall with the other two at right angles to that. Each of the three players were goalkeepers, wearing gloves to bash a soft ball through the other goals while minding his own. The first to concede ten goals made way for another player. There was no limit to the power to the ball in that small room, and the blank wall was everyone's ally. It was a hectic game well-favoured by the Woodpile hockey players as goalminding practice. Without gloves the aged floor-boards implanted the sort of splinters that MOF enjoyed removing, because she did not need her glasses to see the big holes left for the iodine after the plunge in boiling water and nimble practice with the tweezers. My left thumb carries the scar of two inches of splinter that drove in from the top, and I still wince at it. The game didn't do much for our trousers either, to say nothing of the windows. So what we didn't get from MOF, we got from Bill Wallace.
Outdoor winter games
Restricted to areas close to the house, by choice rather than regulation, and invariably the Woodpile or the Alleyway. The size of the Woodpile, pre-metrically a perch by half a chain, limited most team games, except Foursticks, to four a side. Football was the most common, and played throughout the year. Its pace and tactics were remarkably like the five-a-side tournaments now played by professional teams. Our ban on full-size balls protected more than windows, but the only two decent leather-cases for real matches. They took a morning to inflate, lace and dubbin - a task too laborious for the Woodpile micro-Wembley. In those days, every full field game began with pumping up and tearing fingers lacing an unyielding pachyderm - far removed from the beach-balls used with today's carpet-slippers, on pitches like billiard tables. That's why Tommy Lawton was a footballer. Today's overpaid ballroom dancers are better at reverse turns than lifting pounds of wet leather over shark-infested mud. However, we did not eschew the niceties of dribbling - but reserved them for the Woodpile.
Inspired by the weekly televised matches from the tiny national league (Brighton Tigers, Nottingham Panthers , Wembley Lions and a couple more) we played a Woodpile ice-hockey analogy with a sorbo ball, but finding the right sticks was a limiting factor. I remember the game because I was a star goalminder, and four years later, when I played deck-hockey in the Royal Navy I scored seven goals in my first game. After Woodpile hockey, even "The Andrew's" most murderous game was a doddle. There we had no need to dribble round a great tree trunk, to get ambushed on the other side.
Again through television, we imitated West Ham, Wembley and Wimbledon with Woodpile speedway not for respectable bikes; and we circled on dirt thirty years before the BMX. Our art was to force other riders into the fence, wall, tree or hedge - and survive four laps without so being undone. All bounds were painful. Even the apparently comfortable parts of the yew had spears at the ends of hidden broken branches, but the real killer was that plane tree.
With bitter Wealden winters, the Woodpile developed a magnificent diagonal ice-slide, bending past the plane tree, into a malevolent last slope, crossing the bottom of the gravelled Back-Drive, for braking crashes into the iron-barred scullery window. This once dramatically slid the 1935 Morris Minor bread van from Sutton Valence tight to the scullery wall corner, so salt and ashes was deployed against us. This was overcome by chucking water down last thing at night, and the baker responded by reversing all the way down the Back Drive. Then came the thaw.
Sledging never caught on. Apart from the technical problems of building sledges, there was no adequate slope. We would have wanted nothing shallower than a 1-in-2 gradient, and our only bit of the sandstone ridge close to that was the rocky and bent Steep Drive and adjacent apple-treed orchards. Furthermore, although this country used to get slidy winters, the most optimum sledging surface never lasted for more than a day or two, and not worth building sleds for. We were not so forward-planning a community that we would construct for future winters.
Outdoor winter games must include our representation of the national game, and the community of less than 50 managed two internal games of full-scale football each week, whatever the weather, on Friday and Sunday. Implemented by staff like Gayton, Pollak and PD, many sides were fewer than eleven differing sized players, but we played for full 45 minutes each way, with adult-sized footballs.
Some Saturdays would have a match against outsiders - mainly Sutton Valence or Ulcombe Reserves, but facilities were vicious for visitors - indeed, one club left at half-time, and they were winning. Perhaps it was raining. We preferred to play away on flat pitches, where they had corner-flags and nets on the goalposts. In those weeks, the picked team practiced on Wednesday afternoon, so the equivalent of four full games a week was common. In heavy rain, dense snow and mist, we ploughed through in boots and ball made from dinosaur hide; and our approach to the game would shame most professional players. We changed in the house and walked or cycled, in crippling studded boots, to the distorted pitch at the bottom of the Lower Field. Its warped contour put the north-east corner-kicker below the defending goalie's horizon. After 45 minutes each way, we trudged back to the two baths servicing two teams.
Those who had saved themselves were the first back to hot water. The exhausted enthusiasts sat in a cold sediment of discarded mud, ignoring the curses of Charlie Bradford or Owen Brittain overheard from the boiler room below. Getting sent off for the early bath became less necessary when Brit was full-back for the school team - not for his ball skills, but to get the footballers hot water. He kicked face high, whether the ball was there or not, in the biggest boots he could find. They sometimes flew off. Even with a number of able players, only two ever played outside: Michael (Wally) Hammond and Gordon Finch for Sutton Valence firsts. It was not so with cricket, with boys and staff in the East Sutton team - but then we were in that tiny parish. An historical point: in 1949 Colin Patterson organised a game of rugby. It flopped. Fewer than fifteen players on each side were aged and sized over the range of puberty, and only he knew the rules. The ball later disappeared, kicked into the furthest possible touch by a soccer player, and the proposal was never heard again. I hope my emphatic "we" in the foregoing shows how I felt about it.
Why the line of trees and bushes between the "Front" Drive and the Headcorn road was called the Alleyway is a mystery. It led nowhere except to a gap at the top edge of the Terrace, but less than 20 feet wide and 70 yards long it provided the arena for Torchlight Releaso. This was like the urban street game called in the northern counties Tinny Lurky, without the twitchell-rattling tin. The capture point was a large plane with a massive trunk, known as the Releaso Tree, The hunting team had torches and captured the prey by shining at them and identifying by name. Release of the captured was by running in to touch the tree, when all scattered and it began again. Owning a torch influenced team selection. The game ended with the Juniors' bath bell at 7pm.
We had another forgotten name for these. Associated with late autumn and the camps, these were 7-pound jam tins, suitably hole-punched and given a long wire handle to swing it by. What we would have done without those ubiquitous jam tins, I don't know, but we must have lived on the stuff. (Ever plum or apricot). For winter warming they were filled with pine cones and dried cow-pat, and swung around the head until roaring into white heat. They often tore off at a tangent, not always an accident. An efficient burner came more from happenstance than pre-meditated design, and the best ones roasted chestnuts very nicely. They were micro-camps in portable form, and this strong external association banned them from the house and outside classrooms, and numbers of them would be in a smoke-spiralling line outside the Art Room while their owners were inside. Many an art class consisted of boys all wishing, for some reason, to draw cones - needing to be found in the pine-lined Steep Drive just outside.