Thursday, 6 December 2012

Ludus Supra Praemium

The Game Before The Prize.

We had that school motto drummed into us for 7 years and I'm fairly sure that none of us really understood what it meant even when we left. If you google that Latin phrase, it takes you straight to the Wikipedia page of the prison of my formative years, Wolverhampton Girls' High School. In fact,  the only references Google seems to find  for that phrase are to WGHS so I do wonder whether it's a motto the school invented. It's been on my mind lately because, through the wonderful medium of Facebook, we discovered on Monday that our beloved Latin and French teacher died at the weekend and the news immediately got me thinking back to how awful we were to him. We gave him such a hard time and apparently he still spoke of us fondly. How bad do we feel now? 

Patrick Royston
Mr Royston - a true legend, source of much
hilarity and permitter of
surreptitious banana eating
WGHS  - god how I hated it. On the day my 11-plus results came through and my parents beamed with pride, I burst into tears and swore I wouldn't go to such a posh school. I don't know whether it's changed but it certainly wasn't posh. I seem to remember around 50% of the year above me leaving when they got pregnant at 15. That may be a slight exaggeration. The only posh thing about it was the head who sported a fine collection of peacock feather-patterned outfits and whose hands were scrubbed to within an inch of their lives. It was a vicious circle - the deputy head hauled my dad in to school when I was doing my 'A' Levels  to tell him I'd been skiving (when actually I hadn't but she swore blind it was me) which in turn made me skive. I turned into one of those middle aged men who get made redundant but can't face telling their wives and spend all day watching the ducks from a park bench. I'd pick up my lunchbox in the morning, drive to school, or in the general direction of it, drive around aimlessly for the day and then drive home. The only thing I used to turn up for were my A level Latin lessons. It's amazing I ever got any A levels. Though Dad was so disgusted with my grades when he drove me to collect them, that he stalked back to the car and drove the 15 miles home on his own, leaving me to get the bus.

Colditz or WGHS? But I'd still send any
daughter of mine there.
Ironically, it's a brilliant school and is always amongst the top few schools in the league tables but it was super-strict (though not as strict as my sister's where the head nun only allowed "salt & shake" crisps in lunchboxes so that she could confiscate the salt. There'd be a human rights case against that today.) Our skirts were regulation, we weren't allowed to stamp our feet during the school song, Latin was compulsory (though I do agree with that - look where it got me) and the lunches were disgusting. I'm dredging through my last remaining brain cells to see if there are any good things I remember about it - I guess gazing longingly and hormonally at the boys from St Peters CofE over the fence, chartering an entire train bound for York for our 75th anniversary, the visit from Lionel Blair where the press photo shows my hair looking like an almost exact replica of his and not having to worry that carving graffiti in the desks that were installed in 1911 was going to, in any way, damage them.

Our Latin & French teacher wasn't a beacon of normality within a prison of weirdness. Far from. But he was a very nice bloke. Very softly spoken, very shy and very kind and as, a consequence, bullied by us. He's the only teacher who ever let me eat a banana in class and on the day I left he handed me a huge leather-bound 100 year old Latin dictionary which he'd inscribed with something I still can't translate to this day. I went on to do Latin as part of my degree but I've always been spectacularly rubbish. Not due to his teaching though, I have to say. Clearly I was inspired by him. Either that or the knowledge that my final year at uni would consist of 3 hours a week and that was on a Monday. It does make you wonder why some people want to do medicine when they could do Latin.

This really is sort of an homage to a lovely man who taught a bunch of girls who are quite upset about his death 22 years after last seeing him. As someone posted  - "Kids - be nice to your teachers as its only when its too late do you really appreciate how fab they were". It's so true. Teenagers are possibly amongst the most evil creatures on the planet. I know, I've seen them getting the train home from Salisbury.

Anyway, there's a very fine rendition of the school song on You Tube. This was recorded in 2010 but still gives you an idea of how truly dreadful it was. Their voices are better than ours were and they don't stamp their feet.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=kEaVSLBphik&NR=1
Bizarrely, I have known the words off by heart for the last 29 years which is scary and the same amount of time as I have known the words to Billy Joel's Uptown Girl. 

I'd still send any daughter of mine there. Watch out Molly!












2 comments:

  1. Well, ironically I found your blog when doing a Google search to check I had the correct spelling and translation. If it's any comfort I left 34 years ago and I too still know all the words. The pregnancy problem was probably due to Miss Starkey, her sex ed. lessons consisted of talking about rabbits, humans didn't get a look in.

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  2. Well, ironically I found your blog when doing a Google search to check I had the correct spelling and translation. If it's any comfort I left 34 years ago and I too still know all the words. The pregnancy problem was probably due to Miss Starkey, her sex ed. lessons consisted of talking about rabbits, humans didn't get a look in.

    ReplyDelete