Sunday, 1 June 2014

Sunday, June 01, 2014 -

Village Discipline

by James Simpson
Published: May 09, 2014
Words: 29,566
Category: general
Orientation: mixed
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It was the mid-sixties, and on a Wednesday afternoon in October a few chance happenings occurred, setting into train an unforgettable series of events.

In the previous summer holidays, the science block at Ashfield Ladies Grammar had burnt down due to an electrical fault.

This was a disaster for the school, but for the financially stretched Ambrosia County Council who had been considering rationalising the secondary schools, each very generously endowed with land, it was a not to be missed opportunity. The short-term solution was to make Ashfield Ladies and the Lord Devenish boy's GS (founded 1651) a co-educational grammar. The two head-teachers remained at their schools, but the other staff were redrafted to ensure a mix of male and female teachers. There was enough room to accommodate the first three forms in the main block of the girls school, and use the boys school for the O and A level streams, which would release a lot of land to sell to developers.

This was greeted with delight by the pupils and also the bean-counters at County Hall but initially with horror by both sets of governors, particularly those of the old established and extremely traditional boys' grammar. The horror was shared by most of the older masters and mistresses who viewed teaching mixed classes with massive apprehension and in some cases downright disgust. However two senior members of staff who very privately approved were Jane Somerton and Richard Manners, the acting joint deputy-heads at the mixed upper grammar. They had previously been heads of the two sixth forms and had both benefited by the previous extremely conservative incumbents taking slightly early retirement in disgust at the new arrangements. The head teachers had been made aware the new arrangements were to their considerable advantage by the award of a substantial salary increase and a generous bonus when the land was sold. Similarly the governors were awarded positions on various committees of the great and good, which allowed them to draw generous expenses. The matter was therefore a fait-accompli, in the traditional manner of British politics.

Amongst the pupils were four upper-sixth formers Jessica Richards, Carol Ashton, Jimmy Anderson and Matt Johnson. They all lived in the outlying village of Littlehurst and had grown up together. Amazingly they were all born within a couple of weeks of each other in September and early October and each claimed to be their parents' best ever post-war Christmas presents. They had all just reached eighteen and felt far too mature for the disciplinary strictures of an old-fashioned grammar school, and considered themselves as highly superior to the younger students.

Every Wednesday after games they missed their usual 4.15 bus home and as a result went into town to kill time before catching the 5.35 home. Since entering the upper sixth with no uniform rules they often went to the trendy coffee bar called The Pomme d'Or, where like many of their age they drank coffee, chatted and flirted, played pinball and table football, and listened to the jukebox, whiling away the time until the bus left.