Old Uffingtonians Association (1994)

   Willesden County Grammar School                         Ex-Pupils 1924-1967                    


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WCGS Memories!

Michael Anisfeld, 1957 – 1964

Receiving the Spring 2010 Uffingtonia prompts me to reminisce of my time at WGCS, 1957 – 1964.  It’s hard for me to write a coherent story as others have done, so perhaps a few reminiscences of the key things that, 50-odd years on, highlight my WCGS years.

First lesson of my first day in the 1st form; German with Dr Konigsberg.  He enters the room and puts a grid on the blackboard – vertically ‘male, female, neuter’, and horizontally ‘nominative, accusative, genitive, dative’ and then populates the grid with words – ‘der, dem, des, den’.  I still to this day do not know what nominative, accusative etc. are, but I do remember thinking that if German needed 12 ways to say what in English is one word (‘the’), then this is a language that needs no help from me.  From that point on I closed my ears to the language, did homework for other classes during my every German class, failed every test Dr. Konigsberg ever set, and typically for the next 2 years spent every Thursday night in detention – which on reflection was no big deal, as I spent the time doing other homework.  What is truly amazing is that for the past few years I do business several times a year in Germany; and I must be living proof that study by osmosis works – even though I did not actively pay any attention for 2 years of German lessons, much seems to have entered and stuck in the brain cells, and I can fairly easily get around.

I also remember Dr. K’s class collective punishments for group misbehaviour of writing lists of 20, or 50 or even 100 – “10 letter” words, which at the time were torture to produce.  But, unanticipated bonus, this became an evening family project – my parents were WW2 refugees and looking back this provided them, and me, with terrific quality family time and the best expansion of our collective vocabularies that one could wish for, and certainly interested me in dictionaries and etymology – a fascination that still endures, to say nothing of what it did for my Scrabble scores.

3rd day in 1st form, getting into a playground fight with David Young – I cannot remember if there ever was a reason for the fight, but after rolling around on the ground for a few minutes surrounded by a crowd yelling “fight, fight” we were broken up by a teacher.  And David has been my best friend ever since. He now lives in Jerusalem and I in Chicago but we e-mail constantly, I visit whenever I am in Israel (often due to business).  I was his best man when he got married in Australia, and he mine when I got married in Chicago. On such minutia when you are 11-years old are lifelong friendships made!

Changing for sports (football and cricket) in a small asbestos hut which stank of eons of schoolboy sweat, was always dim, and in winter was freezing; and no showers available after a game. What I remember even more was Mr. Rees throwing the class a ball, being told to pick sides and play.  I cannot remember ever once in 4 years (I do not remember doing sports in 5th and 6th forms) Mr. Rees ever explaining the rules of the game, or giving any lessons on actually how to play any game; even any tips, techniques or critiques.  In fact I do not remember ever seeing Mr. Rees on the field – I suspect he went back to the staff common room for a smoke and mug of tea.  Was this actually what happened or is my memory playing tricks? The former I believe. To this day the enduring legacy of my days of “WCGS Sports” is having absolutely zero interest in team sports of any kind.

The teachers I most remember were the ones who had performance expectations from us.  Mr. Major in history, Mr. Mansfield in Geography, Mr. Bell in Maths, and Mrs. Halliday in English.

Mrs. Halliday brings back very vivid memories.  She once set an essay titled “The Road to the Coast”, and I wrote about the technical and physical difficulties of road construction – fascinating stuff for a geek 13 year old.  She gave me a failing grade and reamed me out (humiliated might be a better word) in front of the class; apparently she wanted a Wordsworth type essay on blooming flowers, rolling hills and frolicking bunnies. Three weeks later Dr. Roberts announced in assembly that I had won a national competition from the Institute of Engineering for an essay titled “Surveying in the Antarctic” with the prize being a day trip to the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge.  English was the first class after the assembly and she angrily stomped into the class wanting to know how I could win a national competition when I was such a dismal failure in her class.  I responded that if she would set interesting essays I am sure I could do better – which ended in my visiting Dr. Roberts for “gross insubordination to a teacher”.  Needless to say I failed English ‘O’ level at my first attempt.

7:00am start at Willesden Green tube station for a Sunday morning tour with Mr. Mansfield to track the “Lost Rivers of London” through the City; and a day trip down Betteshanger Colliery (coal mine) in Kent – and they did have hot showers for us very intrepid top-to-toes sooty day trippers (now that would have been a class photo for the records!).  Both trips were very exciting events for a 3rd (or was it 4th) former.

I remember how easy it was me and friends to bunk off for a couple of hours midday and in 3rd and 4th forms, seems nobody really cared whether you were in class or not, and we would end up at the café in Roundwood Park – I cannot imagine that school security today would be this lax.  But there again many of the things we took as normal in the late 1950s – going by ourselves on the tube and bus at the ages of 11 and 12 to the Science Museum or to the Tower of London during holidays without any parental or other supervision, would not even be countenanced by today’s parents let alone be in the realms of thought of today’s 2nd formers.

Other prosaic memories: – the annual visit to the school secretary for a bus pass; about once a month needing to queue at a closet under the back stairs at 4:00pm to get a new exercise book issued when mine was full (color coded by class or subject - amazing what the authorities paid for in those days); being in Saxon House but never understanding the purpose of the house system; being a sub-prefect in 6th form with none of the responsibilities of being a perfect (great stuff); having the afternoon off in 3th form to watch the BBC filming some drama involving the school’s coal bunker; in 2nd form being sent home when Mr. Rees caught me arriving in school without a cap (actually my first introduction to the café at Roundwood Park, where I waited for ½ an hour munching a Kit-Kat and returned to school still without a cap figuring that he would not be waiting to catch me (he wasn’t) – heck I wasn’t going to walk 2 miles to get home and face my Mum, and anyway the 226 bus was very infrequent in those days – does it still exist?); every year during the formal school photo, me and my mates trying to figure how we might be able to appear twice in the photo (once at each end of it as the camera slowly scanned the assembled rows of pupils, the term “students” did not exist in those days, and staff) – we never managed it but I believe it was done (“Old Uff” should offer a prize for photo evidence and the identity of the clever guy(s) who managed it – I seem to remember Andrew Holmes bragging about having done it (and uber-geek that he was, as well as a being a very good friend, he might well have but I could be wrong); routinely being admonished at assembly by Dr. Roberts that when England was playing in the next day’s international football match (a seemingly frequent occurrence in those days), no pupil absentees would be tolerated – next day there would always be a few pupils missing, and in the afternoon we’d hear the dull roar from Wembley when a goal, obviously an English goal, was scored, and hear the details the next day from the aberrant delinquent(s), who never seemed to be punished for the transgression.

I’m sure if I set my mind to it there are other memories.  I cannot honestly say that my time at WCGS was the happiest days of my life, but WCGS did give me a good education, and I owe the school a lot for what I am today.  If anyone remembers these events differently, please do let me know.

Michael Anisfeld, 1957 – 1964
e-mail: manisfeld@globepharm.org