Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Orangefield Secondary School

1976-1980 - After being expelled from Grosvenor Grammar School in 1976, I was sent to Orangefield Boys' Secondary School. The term ‘Secondary School' seemed to openly declare itself as a lower form of institution. Less than half a mile away loomed a building that was a towering, shadowy institution of supposed finer education, class and children – my old school Grosvenor Grammar, the arch-nemesis of Orangefield Boy's High. Was Grosvenor Grammar the thing Orangefield was stating it was secondary to?

In Orangefield there was very little educating carried out - the pupils were not up for that. They wanted to play football, have a laugh, smoke cigarettes and then go home. I think the teachers within the school were satisfied as long as the kids weren't killing each other or wrecking the place. The school playground consisted of various groups of kids. The quiet kids would be chatting together while several football matches would be happening simultaneously. Some would be gathered in corners playing games of pitch and toss, and the smokers would be behind the games hall in groups sharing one cigarette between six or seven kids. Their activities would be occasionally disturbed by a fight breaking out which everyone rushed to see.

Most of the teaching staff in Orangefield gave off an air of apathy as if there was no point in educating their little ingrates. Our music teacher tried unsuccessfully many times to give our class some culture through his love of music. Our maths teacher was a depressive type who would stand in front of us looking as if he had given up on life altogether and declare "Listen boys, you just DON'T understand! Mathematics is BEAUTIFUL!" Muffled replies of "Dickhead!" and "Wanker!" could be heard around the classroom. I liked my English teacher. Many times he told us the story of seeing Led Zeppelin play live and his classroom walls were adorned with posters of the punk-rock star, Siouxsie Sioux. That made him cool in our books. The PE teacher was a really shady looking character with a bulbous red nose who insisted that all boys must have a shower after PE. He would oversee the showering proceedings from a corner of the changing room. It always unnerved me how he watched a line of young boys standing in a communal shower.

What intrigued me most about the teachers of Orangefield Boy's is how they all had their own unique styles of punishment. The maths teacher used a wooden T-square to hit the unruly ones across the bottom. He would brace himself like a golfer about to tee off and then give a full swing to deliver an agonising whack to a pupil who had forgotten to do his homework. The metal-work teacher would lock boys in a steel cage in which he kept his spare lengths of metal. He would hurl chunks of metal at the cage while shouting "WHAT ARE YOU?" at the pupil. The reply had to be "I'm a waste of space Sir!" He wasn't called ‘Wild Bill’ for nothing. The geography teacher had a thin bamboo cane to which he had fitted a metal tip for further enhanced pain. He was a fanatic Manchester United supporter and named his cane ‘Stuart Pearson’ after the centre-forward of his beloved ‘United’. His ‘joke’ being that Stuart Pearson was a striker, just like his cane. What devastating wit.

The most creative and original punishment came from the Economics teacher known as ‘wee Bart’. He was an extreme socialist who hated Grosvenor Grammar. To him it was the symbol of affluence and middle-class aspirations. Wee Bart despised Grosvenor so much he wouldn't even say its name, simply referring to it as "the institution at the gates". If you misbehaved in wee Bart's class he would order you to "go to the window and watch for the great Soviet army coming over the hill!". Doesn't sound so bad compared to the other teachers' methods of inflicting pain, but in reality it meant having your face pressed tightly against the window for the remainder of the class. It was a form of mental torture. Every so often he would shout "Are they here yet, boy?" to which you replied "no Sir". "Keep looking!" would be his retort. If you actually did take your face off the glass window wee Bart would have inflicted great pain upon you with a cane.

The Headmaster of the school had a cupboard full of instruments of what looked like torture and death. If you were sent to him for misbehaving, he would order you to go to the cupboard and "choose a cane" to be hit with. It didn't really matter which one you chose for they were all designed to hurt. I was sent to him once and it was terrifying. I opened the cupboard and there before me were various pieces resembling a museum exhibit of torture instruments. I chose a long flat wooden metre-stick and he gave me two welts across the bottom and boy, it hurt.

It seemed that most of the Orangefield teaching staff spent their days taking out their frustrations on the pupils. My science teacher once kicked my back-side so hard I was off school for three weeks with an injured tail-bone, but that was okay in 1978. He made a simple apology and that was the matter done and dusted. I will admit that I was able to go back to school after two weeks off however I chose to milk the opportunity to stay off school for as long as possible.

Orangefield Boys Secondary School was the place where I saw the death of my academic career and in return saw the beginning of my new education in smoking, drinking and being very unruly. Orangefield was a rough school, a sort of place where survival from the ‘hard men’ was at the top of my agenda. To do this I had to form a cunning survival plan which was to simply get on with everybody, and so I did. My logic being that it is more difficult to beat up someone who is genuinely being a friendly person.

And so I became friends with the different factions; the quiet ones, the ‘hard men’, the mischievous ones and the sport-lovers, the music-lovers, all except the silent kids. They were the ones who had a disturbed, lifeless gaze in their eyes. Everyone including the bullies stayed away from those kids.

My tactic of being friendly with everyone usually kept me clear of enemies which meant I was able to keep my face intact. It was hard work drifting in and out of the many personalities like a schizophrenic but I managed to become skilled at it. I could shift seamlessly from the different conversations with the various social tribes within our school. As I walked along the corridors I would meet the ‘hard-men’ and enter into their talk - "Dinger's fighting' Andy after school. He’s gonna kick his shite in…” Further down the corridor I would run into the football-mad kids - "C’mon the Glens, get into that Linfield shite..." When I ran into the music-nerds I would switch into arty mode - "heard the new Genesis album? It’s brilliant.” I was kind enough to even speak to the pair of effeminate boys who were isolated and banished from the herd for being too girly. I would speak to them about some gentle topic such as comic books. I secretly liked talking to these quieter ones as there was never any hostility in their conversations, so no one was going to get hurt.

This multiple-personality approach to school life worked a treat. I was friends with lots of kids and therefore was under the bullies’ radar of people to beat up and make life hell for. This tactic saved my skin.

The teachers were driven to distraction by some of the kids who were full of devious mischief. One boy brought in a fake bomb to cause a bomb-scare. The school would have to be evacuated while an army bomb disposal crew was called out to check the ‘device’. The ‘bomb’ was a shoe box taped up with wires hanging out of it. Inside would be a clock ticking. In the 1970s Belfast there could be no chances taken as to whether it was real or fake, so we would all be sent home. Happy days!

Once, a team of glaziers were called in to fit new glass to windows that had been broken the night before. Seeing the playground covered in glass from smashed classroom windows was a regular occurrence. As the glaziers were repairing each window my mates and I were sneaking up behind them and picking out the putty-adhesive that held was supposed to hold the windows in place. The glass was eventually falling out and smashing to the ground. This of course could have caused severe injury to some innocent child or teacher walking past – but give me a break, I was twelve years old and wanting to impress my school mates.

Due to our mischief we had caused four windows to break. The word got around that ‘Westy’ the Headmaster was on the warpath looking for the boys who had caused the windows to break. “Westy’s goin’ round smelling everybody’s hands to find out if they smell of putty!”. I immediately smelt my hands and got a strong whiff of the putty. In a state of utter panic I washed my hands numerous amounts of times but the smell just wouldn’t go away. I rubbed my hands on the muddy grass banks at the side of the school and washed my hands yet again like an obsessed anti-germ freak, but still the odour remained. I was in such a panic and fear about being caught and caned by the headmaster that for a moment I even considered rubbing my hands in some dog poo but we all have lines which we do not cross even at critical moments.

I sat in class waiting for the moment a messenger would walk in and announce to our teacher that “Mr Weston wants the class to go out to the playground”. That moment did arrive and our class was herded outside and ordered to line up. As we stood in line like captured war criminals we were instructed by the headmaster to hold our hands outstretched in front of us with palms facing upwards. Mr. Weston walked along the line like a military general inspecting his troops, except he was sniffing everyone’s hands. Every few boys he would yell “You!! Five steps back!!!” He had obviously smelt the putty from the boy’s hands. I waited as one by one he sniffed a line of hands and moved slowly closer to me. It was then I knew my fate. Mr. Weston eventually stood in front of me and I closed my eyes and waited for that booming voice - and it came. “You boy!! Five steps back!!!” he screamed. We each got caned across the backside that day. Harsh, but well deserved – Ouch!

For the next three years I daydreamed my way through school paying no attention to school work and my truancy had now become very regular. In my family there were no expectations from school at all. My parents saw it in a sense, like a glorified baby-sitting service - somewhere I could go during daytime while they were at work. The previous hopes they had for me when I had gained entry into Grosvenor Grammar were by now gone afet I had been expelled. I was destined to enter into an apprenticeship as an electrician, plumber or a welder in the Harland &Wolff shipyard, like the majority of males in my family therefore a good education didn’t really matter.

My last day at Orangefield was a strange affair. I was eligible to leave school before I sat my GCE exams, so that's what I did. No-one batted an eyelid, including my parents who had the view that education wasn’t important. This was working class Belfast.

For some unknown reason my last day at school happened on a Tuesday. I walked into my last ever school class and the teacher asked me "Aren’t you leaving school today?" I told him "Yes, after this class that’s me finished sir". He replied with "On you go then, enjoy your life"... and that was that. I had left school forever, with not an exam to show for the entire experience.

As I made my last walk home from Orangefield Boys' I wrestled with the concept of never having to go back. I debated internally, "What, NEVER? I have actually LEFT school?
My fifteen year old head struggled to comprehend how the next stage for me was life as a working man, out in that big scary world….
.

22 comments:

  1. I went to Orangefield in the late 80s - early 90s by the sounds of it it had improved a lot.

    Was Weston the Headmaster back then because your headmaster sounds nothing like the headmaster i knew.

    Although Wild Bill was still there we didnt fined him that wild

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  2. Weston was the Headmaster back in the 70's. He was a quiet man, but still carried out punishments to those who were sent to his office.

    'Wild Bill' really was as crazy as described in the blog post. He used to go on and on about Aliens coming to take over the Earth. I once saw him make us all get on the floor as he was shouting "They're Here!! They're Here!!" as he hurled objects (his duster, wooden ruler etc) around the room...

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  3. Weston was still head when i got there i must admit i kinda liked him

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  4. i went there 73 to73 everything he said is true the most important thing to our science teacher jimmy morrow was picking what he wanted to watch on tv from the raido times and you just had to love popplestone total wanker who loved to inflict pain left after 4 years went to tech

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  5. @struth -I'm glad to see the stories have reached you in Oz :-)

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  6. I went to OBSS from the day it opened until 1963 and it was nothing like you describe it.
    The headmaster was Mr Malone and it produced many famous people during that time including musicians, writers, poets and international soccer players.
    It also had a terrific english teacher David Hammond who was also a quite famous singer and film maker. Mr Weston at that time was a geography teacher. I dont know what happened between the time I left and the time you joined to make it go downhill so much.

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    1. I totally agree. I went to OBSS between 1960 and 1965 and could not fault the place.

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  7. @Caldy - I reckon the mindset of the troubles had begun to kick in with everyone!

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  8. I left ODSS in 1977. Great to read about your time there, just as I remember it. So I would have been in 5th form doing my cse's and gce's when you were there. Our class was wild and think we had some of the hardest nuts jobs in the school .... Dennis Irwin springs to mind. I have fond and scary memories of the place. But mind you I caused my own share of trouble.

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    1. HI Dave I think I remember you,rather than a hard nut,in reality I was very unhappy, insecure, angry young boy,a bully, do you remember one of my many victims,Paul Brown, a rather polite serious young man,I met him briefly at age 21, he had just qualified as an accountant,strangely I felt very proud of him,at the time I hadn't the guts to tell him how sorry I was, for making his school life hell, but he's had the last laugh, he grasped his chance to educate himself,I left schools exam free,if I was obnoxious to your self, I'm sorry for that too,best wishes,Denis,ps Merry Christmass.

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  9. Went to ofield boys from 81 until 85 big Brian Weston was the head master...Davy Clarke was my form teacher and most of my lunch time was spent at the back of the games hall having a cigiee or setting of the fire alarms in the extension building..when I think back they where the best days of my growing up.

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  10. Dave & Dave - Orangefield Boys was a mad wee place indeed!!

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  11. I went to obss my name is bill McGregor would love to here from anyone who played for the minors intermediates or seniors footballteams

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  12. i went to obss in the late 70,s some of the teachers where brilliant like davy mc bride we were in the motor cycle club and had a scooter in school but as you say if you didn,t fight you didn,t survive

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  13. That is the most accurate description to my life at Orangie at exactly the same time! Lets see who i can remember. Mr Weston, Headmaster. Wild Bill, Headphsyco, Miss Gardiner,"Crystal Tits", English. Desi "nosey" Walsh my 4th form head and thief of all my cigarettes. (He actually got a nose job done when i left). My 1st form teach was Mr Lawther a PE teacher who hated me with a passion as i hated football and everything associated with exercise! I had to join the rugby team to escape his vengeance, I actually quite enjoyed rugby, got to hurt people legally and not get caned for it! Davy Rutherford, Music, i actually quite liked him. Mr Mullen, (Hitler) Maths, accurate description above! Mr Sinerton, French, and side kick to Desi Walsh. He was alright. There was a woodwork teacher in the new building who was nice but i never got him. Oh and the best teacher of them all Davy McBride!!!

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    1. Hi Mike Gribb (I think I know you ?? (rising sons) Yes I know all the teachers you've mention Mr Lawther was my 1 year at school 1LA , I was In bryson house (yellow) and Mr Sinerton (didnt like french lol especialy Mr Stanley Miss Gardiner mmm the final teacher I had before left OBSS was Mr Steel and he told me to go after my time was up and started in the real world boy i miss old times

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  14. Thanks for the comments Mike! It was a mad wee school!

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  15. Mr Livingstone you are a true master of time travel, brought me right back to feeling like a frightened 11 year old. Orangefield never taught me a lot. But the ones that stay with me are, never tell on your friends,If its not nailed down it must be mine, and never waste a good fart, last one from Da Morrow R.I.P

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  16. Yes I went to orangefield 1972-1977 we were the eg class that started murderball what a sport yes I agree Weston was there and what about pip Hewitt with his slipper he used hit you on the arsenal with it also pick a nose usher picked in his nose and put in his piper then there was da Sloan ex Borsal teacher thought he was a hard man until he met Ronnie Williamson yea Eileen crystal tits gardener was our form teacher from 1st year- 4th year then we had da Steele what a wanker he was. The class of 77 there was Robert Hanna , Stephen foreman, John shanks, Thomas Bishop, Ronnie Williamson,Jim Devlin,Peter Darley, Stephen Groves, GavinBoyd, Martin McCullough,Martin Adams that's all I can remember sorry guys I am now 54 years old hard to remember everybody

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  17. Hahaha, I went to orange in the early to late 80s, does anyone remember "bigbird" and "spud". Kinda cool and funny to stumble into an orangeries reunion.. Who remembers old green finger. Oh and Charlton Heston was the best headmaster, only my view, but he did run the charity marathons around the school grounds.

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  18. Great Blog Livingstone, well done mate!

    Happy days, well kind of, I was there from '73 - '78. At the beginning my first year there was a drugs bust, apparently it was LSD or so the rumour went.

    We had a couple of characters in my form class called Brown and Johnstone, they were each close-on twice my body weight and would have regular punch-ups, it was like a poor mans Lewis/Tyson fight and we'd all crowd round the ad hoc venue immediately spurred-on by Brown shouting "C'mon Jonty!" and it was game on. These kids were about 12 years old and as big as full grown adults and commanded some respect by virtue of their stature.

    I remember Johnstone would fight everyone and anyone including our then English teacher Mr Adams - it was the best entertainment of the day and I thoroughly enjoyed the drama with the Headmaster shouting and salivating like a rabid dog while trying to separate them.

    Education was not really on the curriculum, it was more a sort of crowd control and survival mentality that prevailed amongst the staff and pupils alike. Let's get through the day and get out of here was more of a commonplace attitude than let's promote academic excellence and it was a contagious vibe with many of us kids leaving after lunch at the dinner hall to do much more interesting things like - smoking, shoplifting, hoax bomb calls, fighting with the 'poofs' at Grosvenor and general loitering on the buses at Orangefield and Castlereagh.

    I remember Mr Woods taking a detention class after school and 2 kids climbing out the first-floor window and down a drain pipe. Woods ignored the spectacle and then closed the window without a word after they left, it cracked me up. Then there was the chair throwing riots that would spontaneously erupt if the assembly class wasn't policed immediately with teachers turning up late to carry-out the wounded.

    I don't think ADHD was invented in those days otherwise three quarters of the inmates would have been on Ritalin, but there certainly was some hilarious times.

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  19. Loved reading this blog. So much rings true and has kinda made me feel a little sad. Not of my days in ofss but the fact it no longer is there. And to see that over many generations that their experience was very similar all be it punishment methods changed. Hearing Hughes house, 1LA, mr sinerton( bonjour) has brought back memories that I've never re visited. But now I do look back with some fondness. I defy anyone who can't say the school was eventful. Mainly due to its many characters staff and pupil.
    Wind lands and the story of Hermin the German and the floating hand that knocked the windows at night is a favourite story that stuck with me and one if past on to my kids. Which is crazy as it's a load of nonsense. Which is something ohss kinda give most of its pupils. A wicked sense of humour coupled with a sense of sceptical outlook.

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