All aboard the Good Ship Calder High

Promising to do our duty - from the left David Hunt, Charlie Martin and Peter Thomas - taken from Peter Thomas's book, The Good Ship Calder High
Promising to do our duty - from the left David Hunt, Charlie Martin and Peter Thomas - taken from Peter Thomas's book, The Good Ship Calder High
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As the new school term creeps nearer, one former pupil reminisces about the happiest days of his life.

PETER Thomas uses the analogy of a famous Morecambe and Wise sketch when describing his school-day memories.

Hebden Bridge writer Peter Thomas for VM feature.

Hebden Bridge writer Peter Thomas for VM feature.

“It’s the one with composer and conductor Andre Previn, when Eric Morecambe is playing the piano and Previn tells him it’s wrong.

“Morecambe quips ‘I’m playing all the right notes . . . but not necessarily in the right order.’ You could say that about the book,” he laughs.

“I’m recalling events that happened but the sequence might not be as it actually was.”

The Good Ship Calder High is mainly a book about school days, interjected with other stories from the time the book covers - the 1950s and 60s.

He recalls his own halcyon days of late boyhood to early manhood, growing up in Hebden Bridge , a setting to some which may have seemed “unpromising” and “no more than a grimy mill town, permanently full of the industrial and domestic smoke that blackened the buildings.”

But still the adventures happened - and more importantly, this was a time in his life rich with interesting characters.

“The stories are a medley of incidents really,” he explains.

“Curious, amusing, traumatic. Stories which stand out in my memory. Some are purely factual; the rest, well they are based on fact with a little artistic licence but the flesh and blood of these stories is the colourful characters who people them - some appear as themselves, some are disguised.”

Peter, who still lives in hebden Bridge, reveals that the book came about as a result of an earlier publication, From Rationing to Rock ‘n’ Roll, which was published in 2001.

“I had a few stories left over and I thought, well it’s a shame to waste them.”

According to media perception, he says, sex was invented in the 1960s, along with mini-skirts, flower power, youth culture and all things bright and beautiful.

“Sociologists more or less dismiss the 1950s as a grey decade where people lived colourless existences, trapped in an oppressive framework of rigid convention and morality. But nobody told us this in Hebden Bridge.”

On the contrary, he reveals, life was exciting - especially for the youngsters at Calder High School and the background of his pals.

“A rich array of characters thronged the corridors and a very distinctive bunch of teachers attempted to bring culture to the Upper Calder Valley.”

But, he adds, he learned as much outside the classroom as he did inside it and for that reason, the first two stories in the book are bound to strike a few chords amongst those who “sailed in that good ship.”

The school, in its early days, was often likened to a ship because parts of the building had small, round windows like portholes, and its skipper in Peter’s days was William Rumble, “a headmaster of hugely imposing presence.”

Peter recalls school dinners, eat at tables set for six, where food was delivered in hot, metal; containers and younger boys, seated at the end of the table, had to make do with more measly amounts. In the sixth form, he came into his “inheritance” - a table leadership with all its attendant privileges. It was during this time that the Calder High “food riot” broke out but the perpetrators, banging noisily on the tables with their spoons, were soon quelled by Mr Rumble.

Peter also recalls metalwork class when he lacked the prowess to either rivet or solder, woodwork when his first attempt at joinery was a pan-stand with dubious angles.

“My mother looked at it suspiciously before resting a full pan on it. Fortunately it was cold water that spilled every where. The pan stand disappeared shortly afterwards, coincidentally on dustbin day.”

Peter recalls the dads and lads cricket matches played out at Woodtop Delph and his time with the Boy Scouts movement.

“It may have been because scout troops often went on Sunday hikes, offering the chance of escape from Sunday School, that persuaded me to join the Boy Scouts,” he says.

“On the other hand it may have been a fashion for scouting that w as local at the time in spite of the dire warnings of my Uncle Garnet. I’m not sure though was Baden Powell would have made of the HQ of the 1st Hebden (3rd Calder Valley) Boy Scouts, a dilapidated room attached to the Neptune Inn.”

Another chapter recalls the excitement of pal Meggy (aka Thorald Eidson) getting his first car. When it failed to start on one occasion, Plan A had been to push it to the top of a hill at which point Meggy would jump in and gain control.

“There was no Plan B and we watched it in horrified fascination, as with a life of its own, it plunged down the hill.”

l The Good Ship Calder High (And Other Tales from the 1950s) by Peter Thomas is available from Fred wade, Halifax, The Book Case, Hebden Bridge and Tourist Information Offices.