JRGS John Costello Memories
JRGS Alumni Society

John Costello's Memories
John Ruskin Alumnus 1951-56

JRGS Alumni Society


1962 2002   Forms: 1?, 2?, 3?, 4?, 5W
1952 2002  

I started at JRGS in 1951, although my parents probably had little understanding of the nature of a Grammar School. At the selection interview, while sitting in a classroom with some other candidates, I was asked what I wanted to be. "A Taxi Driver, Sir," was my reply. My Aunt had told me that they earned good money! "We think that you can do better than that," said the interviewer.
   My first day was, of course, very intimidating. It was not helped by my mother sending me in long trousers when everyone else was in short trousers. I don't blame her for this. Hewitts, the outfitters, had advised her and had sold her an enormous amount of school clothing which included cricket whites and boots, which I never remember wearing. I was from the South Norwood area and, perhaps as someone has already stated, there were some catchment areas less socially advantaged than others. So my parents must have spent a considerable amount of their modest income at Hewitts. (The shop in later years went up in flames.)
   I remember the first year class having an introductory lecture on behaviour, appearance etc., when important information was given on the use of hot water to keep the hair on the crown from sticking up. Naturally, there was to be no eating or whistling in the street, and the cap was to be worn at all times! I can remember Mr. "Joe" Lowe keeping everyone in the Hall following a neighbour's complaint of unruly behaviour, and the whole cohort being threatened with detention until the culprit owned up.
   My journey to school took several different routes. Sometimes I went on the 8.15 AM steam train that stopped at Norwood Junction and went on to East Croydon. Mostly, however, I used the 12 or 197 bus from Portland Road to Katharine Street. I loved the walk through Surrey Street to Tamworth Road. I did try the 654 trolleybus from South Norwood High Street on occasion, but I think the service times were not very suitable.
   Mr. Hancock's Music Class was most enjoyable. I think that I came top of Music Theory in the first year, though how I did it surprises me. I had no previous knowledge and presumably some boys were already learning various instruments. He sometimes played his violin for us, and he played many recordings which I really enjoyed. Perhaps we heard Schubert's Trout Quintet too often. Even now I find it repetitious! I don't recall any Music lessons after year one. The Science lessons up in the roof labs were the most interesting to me. When two pieces of sodium flying around a water bath collided, the ensuing eruption was most exciting.

You may like to know that my wife - Maureen Howlett - is an ex-Coloma girl. This year we are celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary.

   Our P.E. periods always filled me with alarm. The vaulting horse always looked like the side of Everest, and the number of boys that I saw helped over with a foot up their backside was very intimidating. I would say that an Army Assault Course would have filled me with less terror than those P.E. sessions. You could either do it or you couldn't. If, like me, you were in the latter category, you suffered general humiliation and victimisation. Football and cricket were a waste of time for me. I enjoyed the long winding class walk from the school to the Duppas Hill pitches and the pre-paid bus ticket that we got for the return journey. Right Back was my chosen position in Football. You didn't see so much of the ball there and you had plenty of scope for running the other way. Once, when moved to Centre Forward, they had to show me where to stand!
   Maths with Mr. Pearce was good, and Woodwork with Mr. Chinnock was very satisfying. I can still remember his soft voice and the empathy with which he handled the wood. Many of the little instructions that he gave I still use today in my DIY jobs. I am very grateful to him. I did not last too many years with Latin. Mr. Rees was so physically dominating that even today I can easily imagine the hunched dark figure and the rustle of his gown as he rushed between the rows of desks to remonstrate with some poor miscreant.
   I think that the general academic ambience of the Tamworth building gave way to a rather more open and institutional feel when we moved to the Shirley building. It did have more space and the cycle parking was very good but for sports we still had to travel through Oaks Road to the pitches down Coombe Road. I wonder why? The smell of lunch being served in the new dining room was the best memory that I have.
   I wonder if anyone remembers Ken Harrow of my year. He lived in South Norwood, near the Goat House, and was very good at Chemistry, as far as I remember. I would be interested to know how he is.
   I left in 1956 with six GCE passes and went to work at the Wellcome Research Laboratories on Polio Vaccine Production. After four years, I joined Gresham Life Assurance Society to earn more money and stayed there for the next 28 years. I was variously Life Claims Manager, Pensions Manager and Mortgage Manager, and completed studies in various professional fields, as well as obtaining two Degrees with the Open University. At one point I applied for a job with Nestle in Croydon and was interviewed by Leslie Peagam, their Pensions Manager and an old JRGS classmate! I am now retired and greatly enjoying life in Bournemouth.
   The school gave me a very good education, and many lessons learned there have driven my development since. Socially, I found it a difficult environment and there was little individual support, so far as I experienced it. It was competitive, intellectually very stimulating, and a great educational opportunity for boys like me from modest working class homes. But at the time I was glad to leave.

John Costello, Bournemouth, September 2002 email.

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