logoPORTADOWN COLLEGE DAYSsp(1953- 1960)spby Ed Anderson


In September, 1953 I started at Portadown College, a grammar school for boys and girls, non-boarding type, located next to the Bann River bridge. The 8:30am bus would just get me into the town centre in time for the quick walk down the town to be in assembly by 8:55am. First days there took some getting used to, but soon lessons with new teachers got me into the swing of things.

Richmount Primary School had prepared me reasonably well. My mathematics skills were pretty good and probably was the main reason I had been placed into Form 1A. I took to the new mathematic subjects, Algebra and Geometry, like a duck to water. A lot of credit for this was due to Jimmy Chambers, the Maths teacher. He was small in stature, with a voice that didn't match. He had a great way of teaching, took interest in everyone in class, and used every technique in the book. I remember him well, pointing to his five fingers, spelling out T-H-I-N-K, when he thought that there were students not thinking or not trying hard enough. When things were going well, he would have a smile on his face and a gleam in his eye. He believed that Maths did not have to be difficult. It could be simple. It was like building a wall, brick by brick. If anyone was slow to start solving a problem he would ball out, "What are we trying to find out. Lets call it X."

My English lessons were tougher. I had not been steeped in proper English, because in the country, three miles out from the town centre, we didn't exactly talk like those in town. It took a while for me to know that you don't say "Him and me done it", or "We didn't know nothing". My English would improve slowly, it just had to get better.

Headmaster Donald Woodman was a headmaster you would never forget. He was dedicated and worked incessantly. He set the pace and the example for everyone to follow. His management style was by walking around, getting to know everyone, and knowing everything that was going on. To the outsider, he was the headmaster that rode a bicycle with his case perched on the handlebars.

headmaster going home

When I started the College, my family couldn't afford to buy me the clothes to play rugby, so my mother wrote the headmaster saying so. Thus I was excused from playing sports. I would go to a study class instead, where the other students had asthma or other afflictions. Jimmy Chambers, when he found out, got some old equipment from some-one, and I was put out to the rugby field. The boots were too big, so I had to stuff the toes with old socks. The laces were rotten so they broke easily and often. The black and blue of the old shrt was so faded that the other boys had to wonder if I was on the same team or not. The first time I got the rugby ball and was tackled, this shirt failed its tensile test, and I came back from the rugby field in tatters. What appeared like a good idea by my maths teacher, to get me out to play his favorite sport, turned into a one time event and I was back to the relative safety of the sports-exempt study hall. What's more, we got to go home early.

One thing at Portadown College that was a pain was the school cap or skullcap. Students going to other schools would grab it off my head when I stepped on the bus and played pickle in the middle. I soon learned to keep my cap in the schoolbag until I got off the bus in town. The other problem was when you hung it up in the cloakroom. If someone had forgotten his cap that day, they would take a loan of one going home. This would cause quite a few boys to lose their cap that day and they would take a loan also. Having an extra large head, I was usually on the receiving end of this almost daily run on larger size caps. Eventually, I either locked my cap in my locker, or kept it in my school-bag.

Boys will be boys, and some will play tricks on the others. One I remember arose out of rivalry between one boy who was an excellent long distance runner, and the other, an excellent sprinter. I think they had their eye on the same girl. On the day for our cross-country race, I was told just before the race, that this one was going to be very interesting. Just watch. Eventually, I found out why. When the race began the sprinter took off like a bullet, and the long distance champ went right after him. After about a quarter mile both of them were exhausted. Imagine my surprise when I caught up to the long-distance champ, something that wasn't meant to happen. The sprinter apparently ran off home, his mission accomplished. The favorite didn't win the race that day.

Headmaster Woodman ran a tight ship. He was a disciplinarian. I would learn about it first-hand. In our class we had two boys who had a giggling problem. Each would take turns to make the other laugh and this would alternate between them for an extended period, especially in one class. The specific teacher just didn't know how to handle it, and it was driving him nuts. In one of his classes he was going over some problems on the blackboard, and asked if everyone understood. I asked him seriously to go over the problem again, and he agreed to do so reluctantly. The giggling that was going on was getting to him. He asked me at each step Do you see that? After a few times of this belittlement, I whispered to the student beside me, Id be blind if I didn't. The teacher must have heard me. He went ballistic and stormed out of the classroom. In about five minutes he was back trailing the headmaster behind him, and I was removed from the classroom and marched off to the headmasters office. After waiting for what seemed like a lifetime, Headmaster Woodman decided to give me the cane. I was told to bend over, he lifted up my coat, and I just knew that this was really going to hurt. Then he held a notebook on my back as he brought the cane down on my back. After two or three strokes, I was told to go to the bathroom and get ready for the next class. At that point I realized that I hadn't been hurt. It was the fear of the cane that Headmaster Woodman had used so effectively. I then went to the next class and told the others I got the cane. I didn't tell them everything. The giggling problem disappeared. Headmaster Woodman and I would keep his strategy secret for a long time.

My class would pay dearly for annoying some of the teachers. In our last year very few of us were appointed prefects, headboy and headgirl. That was to teach us not to be so self-confident and cocky, since most of us had been awarded university scholarships prior to our final year. It was a good lesson and prepared us well for the real world that lay ahead, at university and in the business world.

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