Curtains For Suky

Not recommended

  •  for children under the age of 12, unless accompanied by a parent or Guardian
  • Junior Science teachers ( a minimum of 2 years experience)
  • Science Technicians (as above, pro rata)

Meeting Suky

Once upon a time, before the invention of colour, I found myself in an English lesson. It wasn’t any old English lesson, oh no. It was my first English lesson at my new middle school: the monument to knowledge, learning and betterment of the Human Soul that was St. Wilfred’s Catholic Comprehensive Co- Educational Middle School, Rochdale. As I recall, a largely grim place which bore more than a passing resemblance to that which features in Ken Loach’s iconic 1969 film ‘Kes’. His version of the Barry Hines story ‘Kestrel for a Knave’. Honestly if you want a fairly accurate picture of what life was like in a run of the mill secondary school in the industrial North of England: all its banalities, injustices, absurdities and gallows humour, you need look no further than Casper’s school. In particular, the masterpiece that is the PE lesson and the Headmaster’s Office sequence (Go on have a look. For those of you who have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, click below  for a vintage piece of social commentary in film) I can remember numerous lessons – not just PE, which were as surreal and farcical.

However, its significance was in more than just the marking of another new phase in my life. I admit, I suppose the fact that this notable lesson was being taught  by a professional wrestler was something that doesn’t happen every day. (‘Taught’ insomuch as he gave us the books, set the task, remained with us the whole lesson and repeatedly told us to ‘Shut Up’) Mr. Green as I recall; though I daresay that wasn’t his ‘ring name’ I reckon it was something like ‘Greedy Guts Green: the Grappling Greaser’. He had shoulder-length lank, dark hair and great sideburns like strips of airport runway tarmac that very nearly met under his chin and a huge paunch on top of which you could comfortably park a decent sized family car. A monicker that would have been suitably in keeping with his hirsute style, far from athletic frame and the kind of bizarre, yet strangely compelling spectacle that was British ‘Professional’ wrestling in the 1970s.

No. Despite being an interesting footnote to my education in English, the lesson’s significance did not lie with Greedy Guts or plain Mr.Green nor indeed, how he chose to earn his pocket money.

It was significant because this was the first time I met Suky.

Suky was (and hopefully still is) Edmund Giddins, loveable rogue, tearaway and ne’r do well of Castleton near Rochdale. Not that I ever – not once, called him ‘Edmund’ or  ‘Nez’,’ Ed’or ‘Giddy’ In fact I can recall times where I had trouble remembering exactly what his real name was. No, the strange nickname was down to elder brother Robert’s teasing, singing the nursery rhyme ‘Polly Put The Kettle On. The line ‘Suky Take It Off Again’ seemed to stick, and Suky it was.

We were pals straight away and every chance we got to sit together, we did. Suky was alright. Not least because he was PNE. That means he was a supporter of Preston North End. Living in Rochdale, that took some bottle, particularly as he was so passionate about them. It wasn’t something he hid: quite the opposite. He tattooed the back of his hands during another English lesson. I remember watching him do it, ‘convict style’ with a compass and a fountain pen ink cartridge. ‘PNE’ across his knuckles. I admired this aspect of his character. The only other PNE supporter in Rochdale I knew of was my Dad, who although he didn’t tattoo their name across his knuckles, was passionate in his own way when he talked wistfully of his times at Deepdale watching the great Tom Finney.

Suky had eight brothers: Frank, John, Robert, Chris (who I was to get to know some years later, in of all places, Newcastle upon Tyne, where he was doing teacher training) Anthony or ‘Ants’ as he was known, Michael, Richard, Patrick and three sisters: Anne, Shiela and Pauline. Chris and ‘Ants’ were the only ones I knew. My Best Mate Aky lived nearby and bunked off with ‘The Giddins’ – or at least Suky, Chris and ‘Ants’ – closest to him in age, on a fairly regular basis.

And ‘The Giddins’ is how they were known. A collective entity. Mad on Bowie, Velvets, Lou Reed, Roxy. Not so mad on school, authority, being told what to do. There were times when they bunked so much, people thought they were on part time timetables. Suky wasn’t a bad lad. He was bright but lazy, enjoyed having a laugh, was fearless – every time some hairbrained scheme or other was hatched requiring someone with a bit of moxie to front it, Suky was there. He was always in trouble: increasingly so as he got older; but nothing major, nothing nasty. He gave the impression he just didn’t care – and he didn’t about a lot of things: but he never would have hurt anyone.

Two memorable lessons (for all the wrong reasons)

Both incidents take place at the Bishop Henshaw Memorial R C High School, Shaw Road, Rochdale. Don’t look for it, it’s no longer there. It is now St. Cuthbert’s. I attended for two years: 4th and 5th year (Years 10 and 11 in today’s money)

Anyway, it is three years later and it just so happens that me and Suky are sitting together, funnily enough, in our first Geography lesson at our new high school, the aforementioned Bishop Henshaw – or ‘Benshaws’ as it was known. Despite it being our very first lesson of the year our teacher was absent (not a good sign) and so we were being looked after by the Head of Department, the ‘hilarious’ Mr. Broadgland. He was playing the ‘Introductions’ Game. Go round the room one table at a time and get everyone to say who they are, which school they have come from, why they have chosen Geography and who they fancy for the 3:30 at Chepstow. Anyway, he finally casts his piggy little eyes in our direction. I am dreading this, but he starts with Suky – “Now, don’t tell me … You’re a Giddins aren’t you?”

“Yes Sir” says Suky

“Aaaahhhh. See? I can smell ‘em a mile off” Chortled Mr Broadgland to himself.

“Yeah, but at least I don’t smell of shit like you, you cunt” said Suky under his breath, smarting (as I did on his behalf too) at the uncalled for verbal assault by Broadgland.

“What’s that lad?”

“Oh I was just saying I hoped I’d be able to sit nearer the front Sir”

“Pleased to hear it Giddins, my lad, pleased to hear it. Next week”

“Fuck you, you knob” muttered Suky

“Sorry? …. “

“I said just the job  …”

What an outrageous thing to say. Thirty five years later I can still see, as though it were yesterday,  Suky colour up, bite his lip, breath quicken and blink rate increase  as his eyes begin to prick and sting …. .

The second episode is –  surprise, surprise! Another Geography lesson, six months down the line. It turns out that our Geography teacher, second in command in Broadgland’s little empire, is ‘up the duff’ or ‘with child’ so not only have we not seen her since we started at the school, we’ve had cover teacher after cover teacher after supply after cover teacher and its a load of crap and we’re all sick of Broadgland’s photocopied sheets. In fact, we never do see her,ever, because after giving birth, she decides to give up teaching to be a full time Mum! Excellent! Another year of photocopies we’ve actually already done and cover teachers,supply teachers, cover teachers …

… Like this one. Dr. Joy. Bastard. He was a Physics teacher of bad hair and humour. Today, he had our lesson. The inevitable photocopies came round, we said we’d already done them. He said we hadn’t, we said WE HAD: TWICE, he said there must be a good reason for us doing them again and not only that, but we would do them in SILENCE! (Shouted) –  a common teacher’s trick. Lull your class into a false sense of security, with a gentle calm voice … then make them all jump when for no apparent reason, YOU SHOUT THE LAST BIT OF YOUR SENTENCE OUT AS LOUD AS YOU CAN! Great fun.

Anyway, there’s no chance me and Suky are going to pass up the opportunity of a good natter – probably about music, which by this time, we were both heavily into. Joy obviously knew we were talking, he kept looking up and giving us the ‘I know you two are talking, and so I’m going to keep doing this till I catch the pair of you’ look. Well me and Suky are quite adept thank you very much at holding surruptitious conversations. I mean, we’d had lots of chance to practice. But what this sneaky bastard does is quietly slip out of his seat, work his way around the room, coming up behind as we chunter away. He’s brought with him ‘Scrote’s Elementary Physics’ a sizeable hardbacked tome, which he brings down with full force, on first my noggin, then Suky’s. To add insult to injury, he  gives us a post lesson ‘stern talking to’ and asks us each do an essay for the following morning on ‘Truth’ ‘Why it’s important not to lie’ or some bobbins like that. Bastard! ….  Anyway, I thought as he sent us away, We didn’t tell any lies: we were talking; you caught us.Then you hit us over the head with the fucking Domesday Book.

I saw Suky the following morning.“Essay? “ He looked unconcerned. “Nah, he can stick it up his arse. I’m not writing any essays. He won’t bloody check “ He didn’t, Joy never bloody did. My Dad was Head of the Sixth Form at the school, and I didn’t want tales of my misdemeanors finding their way back and embarrassing him. So my earnest, crappy little ‘essay’ was dutifully handed in at the staffroom door. It probably went straight into the bin. (As kids, staffrooms seemed to suggest a fiercely guarded garden of delights. When I became a teacher, I discovered that all that was fiercely guarded were the few minutes calm in a sea of lunacy …there was no garden of delights. Not even, despite the many plant pots and yoghurt containers anything remotely green and living – except in the fridge –  the squalor! …)

The Tale of Suky and the fireproof curtains

Now then, in a grim, colourless and unstimulating environment, Science labs were an Alladin’s cave of wonders just crying out to be stolen, broken, fucked about with, and used for entirely the wrong purpose.The corridors and stairwells where we had to ‘line up’ for Science lessons had fire extiguishers at approriate intervals on their walls. It was considered highly amusing, around this time to read out to those around you for their health and safety, the instructions for operational use of these vital pieces of equipment.

Remove from the wall

Keep upright

Aim at the base of the fire

Strike knob

At which point, some unfortunate of the male persuasion and not party to what was coming next, would be the recipient of a barrage of thumps into the goolies which would serve to make his eyeballs spin, like washing machine drums in different directions, stream stinging tears and be enough to raise the pitch of his voice by two octaves. Little did we know that today they would be called into action. (And at least one of them found wanting)

Like many school Science departments, the rooms were collected around a central resource space with connecting doors to the classrooms. we entered the classroom and sat down. Suky was in the other class. After a few minutes I felt sure I heard a faint scream, from the class next door. Then lots of subdued shouts, calls and a couple of bouts of hysterical laughter. The noise was getting louder!

Suky had decided to appoint himself Chief Fire Officer for the day and number one on the list of checks he had chosen to  to perform was over the effectiveness of the flame retardancy of the safety curtains. All Suky had to do was open the gas tap and torch the nearest curtain at the same time. The rest of the class, sensing something was ‘afoot’ began to sidle over to Suky’s side of the room, eyes on the curtains.

And they weren’t disappointed as much to their glee minimal contact between flame and fabric, and they went up like the Hindenberg. One of the white-coated Science technicians burst through the connecting door, into our classroom, from where, she amost bounced up to Mr. Viscsak our teacher and began whispering frantically.

A loud “Ooooooooohhhhhh!” from next door.  It seems like another curtain had gone up. It was like bloody Bonfire Night!

We weren’t aware of it at the time, but it transpires that poor old Suky is in double trouble. For as we strain our necks to watch the flaming tatters of the ‘fire- proof’ curtains peel away and fall with a kind of ghostly grace, they do so onto neatly stacked piles of unmarked Science exam papers! Arkward.

“Now that’s enough!” Said Mr. Viscsak, as he strode purposefully next door to sort out the whole flaming mess. We were out of our seats peering into next door’s room for a better view. Suky was dragged off for questionning The whole school was abuzz with his exploits at lunchtime.

What’s all this about the curtains in the Science lab?

‘Fireproof’

‘Huuuuhh?’

‘Fireproof, flame retardant. I think they have to have them in case of fire.’

‘Well, they had a case of fire today, and they were fucking useless’

Epilogue

Later that same afternoon, Suky was grilled by Headmaster, Mr. O’Riordan . His defence that he wanted to check and confirm that the curtains met minimum BS standards was found to be untenable. Suky was sent home the afternoon of his misdemeanor, to come back again the following morning, to then be taken out of his lessons all day, returned to his science classroom at the end of the school and held there for an hour’s detention.  That was just for starters. I think the Science department wanted its pound of flesh for those damaged exam scripts.

With a clarity that is admirable, Suky said “This is bollocks”, went home that afternoon never to return!

Let me explain. All this nonsense took place about four weeks before the end of the summer term of Suky’s  third year. the summer holidays followed, then …a new school! …. Bishop Henshaw! Suky confided in My Best Mate Aky. What was he going to do? They were going to crucify him at school. Aky put his thinking cap on. Master-tactician and strategist even at the age of 13, Aky considered the whole picture. There was a fair chance, he reasoned, that if Suky ‘laid low’ till the end of term, then a new start in a new school? who knows? It might all blow over. It was a calculated risk. But one that Suky was prepared to take. My Best Mate Aky concerned that Suky’s immediate future and peace of mind rested on his ‘long shot’ agreed to accompany him. So the two of them bunked off the whole of the following month.

And what do you think? It bloody well worked! Suky ‘re-surfaced’ anew at Bishop Henshaw, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, so to speak, having escaped the wrath of Headmaster O’ Riordan and St. Wilfred’s Science department. Now you can see why idiot Broadgland’s stupid remarks struck a raw nerve.

So there you go. That’s the story of Suky and the unsafe safety curtains. I last saw Suky in The Flying Horse 1977, before I moved away from Rochdale. But I gather that he still lives in the area with his family. Thanks Suky for a great story and just mind how you go with the barbecue.

© Andy Daly  2010

 

 

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14 thoughts on “Curtains For Suky

  1. Pingback: Bad Influence « Sitting comfortably?

  2. A good read – I went to Bishop Henshaw and indeed am Robert Giddins. You said early on how you didn’t know why he was called Suky – well I do as I gave him that name. It came about years earlier when I. as an elder brother was doing things to annoy him. It transpired during this ‘exercise’ that one could call Edmund anything and he went wild (he was probably 9 or 10 at the time. Suky was just one of ,many names he was called in a short-lived burst of sibling sadism. It is the Suky of ‘Polly put the Kettle on’ fame – the one who took it off. So there you have it……..now you know. Thanks for the story.

    • Apologies for not replying sooner, but I am recovering from an operation to help control the Parkinson’s. Very slow as a result. Will correct and reply properly as soon as I can.

    • Finally…. I’m sorry it has taken so long. How did you find the story? I’ve long since given up trying to ‘promote’ the blog (If you can call it that) Whatever, I’m pleased you did, and have solved a 40 year old mystery for me. So that was it! Suky take it off again … Well, I’ll be. I’ve very fond memories of Suky – of course I always knew him as Edmund as well, but its true that all the time I knew him I only ever reffered to him as Suky. It just seemed to stick with me. In fact, come the ‘Friends ReUnited and Facebook era, there have been many times I’ve mentioned him only to get the reply ‘Who?’ ‘But as soon as I try Edmund, they cotton on.

      I re-read it the other day. It needs a bit of tidying up: its not my best, and there’s a fair bit embroidery here and there, but it’s all basically true!

  3. very amusing. I am Sheila Giddins of the Giddins family. Just need to correct a factual error. Edmund (I have never once called him or referred to him as Suky..theres those that can and those that can’t). has 8 brothers..you missed off Patrick.I agree about Doc Joy-horrible. Did A level physics for 1 week and then left it to do Biology because of him.

  4. If this is the same Dr Joy who also taught physics at St Theodore’s RC High School in Burnley, I think you’ve nailed him! He once hit me for “looking through” him. I was 11.
    I guess he was embittered by slumming it with his doctorate in state schools. It’s a good story! Take care.

  5. Came across this story by chance, Suky is married to my step sister Ruth. Not seen them in years. fond memories of them and their family.
    Sheila Newman

  6. Loved reading this. Fond memories of all the Giddins family though I don’t think I ever met Chris. Are you sure the head’s name is right ? Bishop HEnshaws was Mr Kelly, St Wilfrids was Mr O’ Loughlin

  7. Pingback: Bad Influence | Sitting comfortably?

  8. This is strange, I knew the family too. Demoralising the supply teachers, the lack of enthusiasm for teaching and the frustration. Strange to find an article. Some people are lucky with their education, sadly we weren’t. Mr Stamp was a fabulous art teacher, sadly others not.

    • Yes, Hillcrest Rd, grandmother and grandfather had a shop in Partington Street, on the corner the far end of the road. Kim and Deb Biggins, twins, now 52. We attended school at the old then new St Gabriels schools. Sorry Andy, forgot to look at reply.

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