Rod Liddle Rod Liddle

Learning? It’s a walk in the park

Aged ten, I was asked to choose between school and football. I chose wisely

A hot, still day in Middlesbrough in early July 1970, the junior school summer term running down like an unplugged fan. Coming up soon would be the 11-plus, although we didn’t know it then and wouldn’t know it until the morning before the exam. All we knew or cared that fragrant, baking month was that soon we’d be free for six weeks.

I think the teachers felt the same way. They were dilatory and listless, indulgent of our misbehaviour, the usual insistence upon discipline melting away in the heat. Why bother? That’s what the teachers must have thought. Why cram anything more into them with the holidays coming up? That month we’d already been let loose to play football at times when we were meant to be doing other stuff.

There was a demob atmosphere and even the dinner ladies seemed weighed down by the heat, ladling out the rabbit stew and mash, or battered spam fritters with a bored weariness. Even the buildings. You see, this would be the last few weeks in our 1950s-built school — a new and thrillingly modern one was being built next door. It was almost finished now; the workmen we’d been watching for six months, and annoying from time to time, had departed. This new place stood at the periphery of our vision. It looked great. And we would be allowed into it on 9 September.

Anyway, one morning in that fag-end of July we were suddenly told that we would be going for a walk to the local park, maybe a mile and a half distant. Stewart Park, with its bizarre wallabies and orangery and tree-lined lake. We were taken there by our regular form teacher, Mr Guymer, and the headmaster, Mr Watson, marching two abreast down the quiet crescents and avenues of our placid 1960s-built suburb.

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