Gary Strachan – "Write" Said Fred

Off The Wall Essays From Deep Within A Capricious Mind

Schooldays Beside The Old Oak Field

“Who wants a game of Japs and Commandos?…. Who wants a game of Japs and Commandos?”

A schoolyard enquiry frequently heard at Oakfield Junior School during my fledgling education years of 1968-1974. A chant ordinarily started at breaktime by a small number of boys intent on attracting recruits for their game. A query made by this ‘band of brothers’ who’d bond with arms around each others shoulders while scouring the tarmac play area for like-minded ‘warriors’.

In retrospect, the 1960s playtime question gave an indication into how relatively short a time had passed (just over twenty years) since Victory in Japan Day – The concluding episode of WWII, that’d been heavily influenced by the use of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I’ve absolutely no recollection as to what constituted the rules of Japs and Commandos, although logic dictates it couldn’t have been a very long game. After all, by the time enough recruits had been secured to make it worthwhile the break time would’ve been almost over.

On reflection, I suppose we junior school kids were lucky get the option of partaking in this game. If it had been a couple of decades after 1814 the instigators cry may’ve be “Who wants a game of Napoleon and Sailors?” where we may’ve been press-ganged into participating.

If memory serves me correct, Japs and Commandos was the Oakfield boy’s contingency break time entertainment, generally invoked if the tennis ball being used in the playground football game had been lost. This a fairly regular occurrence following the ‘tennisy’ escaping under the school gate.

Circumstances when gravity took it’s course, hurtling the ball down the steep Chowdene Bank quicker than any of the kids could run to catch it. It’s probable eventual destination the Team Valley Trading Estate.

The scruffy white ball possibly coming to rest outside the NCB Area Head Offices (the place of my first employment as a 16 year old) at the valley’s bottom. I’m unsure of the tennis balls eventual fate from that point. However, somebody must’ve retrieved them as I never saw any evidence of a ball pool from the numerous ‘tennisys’ we lost on Chowdene Bank.

Despite their company being years earlier, I can recall more about my junior school teachers than those whose acquaintance I made at senior school. Maybe a result of my deep rooted existential happiness during this pre-puberty segment of my life which I recollect with much fondness.

Anyhow, I enclose a few memories of the people who helped shape my education at Oakfield Junior High School:-

Mr Wood – The headmaster when I first attended infants school. As a very young child, witnessing him administering the leather strap to an older boy mid-assembly frightened the life out of me. Following the incident I was terrified of him; probably even more so than child catcher in Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang!

Mr Dobson – Deputy Head when I started at Oakfield. Grey of hair and old of school when it came to running the good ship Oakers, although I always recollect him as firm but fair. Classroom gossips claimed he had a tattoo of Newcastle United full back Irving Nattrass on his shoulder, but that was unlikely to be true. In six years of attending the school I never once heard him use the word philanthropist.

Mrs Davidson – Teacher of year six children. Like Mr Dobson, ruled the classroom with a firm hand, yet was equally adept at indulging in amiable tete-a-tete with her charges. I recall Mrs D as a erudite tutor who taught me a great deal when I was 10/11 years old. At one point she’d aspirations to become Scottish, but changed her mind after concluding the ‘jobs’ life expectancy wasn’t that great. Once carelessly thought she had, but she hadn’t.

Miss Hood – A young woman who was my tutor in year 4. A darn sight easier on the eye than the Hood from Thunderbirds; the villain whose eyes lit yellow to hypnotise his nemesis. A tactic Miss Hood thankfully didn’t employ to control her class. As a 8/9 year old boy I fell in love with this fragrant young teacher. Unfortunately though, much to my chagrin, she got married around that time. Subsequently leading to my affections moving in the direction of Blue Peter presenter Lesley Judd who, despite never replying to my love letters, always seemed to be eyeing me up when watching her on telly!

Mrs Edwards – My teacher in year 3 at Oakfield – A formidable Scottish lady whose daughter Lorna was in my class. Mrs E taught me my times tables, how to perform cursive writing and to duck if a teacher throws chalk at your bonce. As with all my teachers at junior school, I remember Mrs Edwards lessons with the level of fondness I’d reserve for a favourite Netflix boxset or a Frank Sinatra lament.

Anyhow,  never mind all that nonsense, “Who wants a game of Japs and Commandos?…… Who want’s a game of…..”

oakfield

Categories: Blogs, fiction, memories, parody

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