Sunday, 27 March 2016

Glimpses of the past: it wouldn't happen today.

When I started at Bassaleg Grammar School in September 1959 (gulp! Was it really that long ago? Yes, unfortunately it was.) I went into Form 1 South and our Form Master was Mr Brian Selby. If memory serves me correctly, we arrived at the school at the same time and we were his first form. He was a very gentle, decent man who taught Biology and RE (Religious Education). He was a great lover of the outdoors and, a few years later, when we were in Form 3 and a little older, he organised a series of day hikes locally and longer 'expeditions' in the Brecon Beacons. It wouldn't happen today, of course: little paperwork (was there any?), no risk assessments, no set routes, no more than two members of staff for around 15 children and no parental contact from start to finish.

I loved going on them and have vivid memories of some of the things we got up to. Many of our exploits were recorded in 'The Log', of which I seem to be the current minder. I haven't looked at it for a few years now but I dipped into it today to try and check up on a detail of one trip. Here are just a few glimpses of a golden age that present day children probably will never get a chance to enjoy the freedoms of.
The title page of 'The Log', written by Mr Selby.
This one is from a day hike in June 1961. It started in Lower Machen and took in the ruins of Ruperra Castle before ending in Bassaleg. It must have been an impressive 7 to 8 miles. The photograph shows some of us on the old bridge over the River Rhymney at Draethen. I'm the gurning loon in the middle.
A more ambitious 5 day expedition to the Brecon Beacons in June 1963. Here we are outside of the Youth Hostel in Crickhowell. Note the stylish woollen bobble hat that I seemed to be attached to. I obviously thought it was cool: I was wrong. Memories of Crickhowell YHA? Cold dormitory, salty porridge but next to a café with a juke box with Cliff Richards and Elvis Presley records.
On the banks of the Newport to Brecon Canal at Llangynidr. You may be wondering what two of us have between our teeth? Knives, that's what. Every boy carried a single bladed knife as normal practice. Definitely not something that would be allowed today.
I can remember most of the names and it's interesting to recall what happened to some of them. We've got an opera singer/Celtic folk artist, a teacher, a solicitor, a scientist (me), a manufacturing executive, an airline steward and a graphic artist (who worked on Star Wars animations). One, after a spell in prison, ended up in a suicide pact with his girlfriend. And, not surprisingly, one of the two embracing in the foreground was gay and has a very long term same sex partner. 
Same location just before we were told off for throwing rocks in the canal. We thought splashing each other was great fun until an official came up and made some of us wade in and retrieve what we had thrown in. He said that the rocks were a hazard to canal traffic. We discovered much later that there had been no boats on this stretch for about 50 years and wouldn't be for at least another 20. How we laughed: how he laughed.
Seeing the photograph of me (still wearing the bobble hat) made me wonder what, if I had the opportunity now, would I say to my younger self. What words of advice would I offer? That's easy to answer: I'd say absolutely nothing. Nothing for fear of influencing what turns out to be a good life. I'm in a very happy place now and I wouldn't want him not to end up in the same spot.
On our way up Table Mountain near Abergavenny. Close inspection reveals my knife on my belt. And where's my bobble hat? Where has it gone? Is that why I'm looking a little bereft?
Ah, there it is. On the disused railway track running alongside the Talybont Reservoir. Wonderful countryside and countryside that I've relished eversince.

No comments: