Friday, November 02, 2018


We all had our exercise books covered in wallpaper. 

You got looked down on if you used woodchip wallpaper. Even more if you used old bits of brown paper, especially if it had come off a parcel from the butcher. Except for Billy Humphries. In his case we were never sure whether the blood was human or not. The posh kids had vinyl wallpaper in contemporary designs and were all superior about it. So Darren Cladthorpe pinched a book of wallpaper samples from the hardware shop and sold them to us at a penny-ha’penny a go and that put a stop to the nonsense. 

Why did we have to wallpaper our exercise books? The official reason was: “To keep them clean and tidy.” The real reason was because we’d all scribbled on the front cover. Every single one of us, even the Violet Elizabeths. Printed on the front cover of every exercise book, on the bottom right-hand side, was the inscription:


Five minutes after they got their new book every kid in our class had changed this to:

           LANCASHIRE gives
           EDUCATION to its
           COMMITTEE who are dim

So we had to wallpaper our exercise books. 

This was a shame because on the back cover they printed the answers to the really hard questions in tests. Lots and lots of tables of Avoirdupois weights and measures. Proper weights and measures in the old money. 

When schools went metric they changed the back covers but there wasn’t a lot of point because once you realised that any 100 centisomethings made a whole something it applied across the board. Something even teacher twigged after a few months. 

Proper weights and measures, they were more complicated because they applied to the real world, not just counting on your fingers. There was a natural consistency and flow to it. So twenty scruples made an ounce, sixteen ounces a pound, fourteen pounds made a stone, eight stones or one hundred and twelve pounds made a hundredweight and twenty hundredweight made a ton. Simple. 

It got a bit confusing sometimes, though. Fancy calling something “a rod, pole or perch!” Which one was it? “Miss, miss, is it a rod, a pole or a perch?” “No, it’s a rod, pole or perch.” Five and a half yards made one rod, pole or perch. Tommy Ecklestone said it must have been a blooming big budgie. (He was demoted from being milk monitor for that.) Four rod, pole or perches made a chain and there were eighty chains to the mile, or eight furlongs if you want, and one hundred and sixty square rod, pole or perches made an acre so it was all dead straightforward. 

Then there were cubits… “Miss, miss, what’s a cubit?” “It’s the length of Henry II’s forearm,” she said. We were baffled. Who was Henry II? We knew he wasn’t in our class because he didn’t say “Yes miss” when teacher was calling the register. But we’d know him when we saw him. Because he had four arms.