Out with the cane and in with GCSEs for the Class of ’88

I will admit it. I still have to resist the urge to refer to John Lamont as ‘Sir’. I guess we’re all the same when it comes to our teachers.

In our heads we revert back to the days when these individuals were colossally important figures in our lives.

John never taught me and so, mercifully, I don’t have a nickname for him like ‘Sweaty’ or ‘Doc’ – as we did for other teachers.

He was simply ‘Mr Lamont’, head of English at Holden Lane High School in Sneyd Green. Crucially, for the purposes of this article, he also became our ‘head of year’ – which means no-one is better placed than he to run the rule over the Class of ’88.

John said: “Becoming head of year in the mid-Eighties is something I look back on with great fondness as perhaps one of the most enjoyable periods of the my teaching career.

“It meant that I could better get to know many of the pupils and it really helped me to learn more about the diverse community we drew youngsters from.”

John, now aged 62, is a Londoner who came to study at Keele University for four years and then never left North Staffordshire.

He began his teaching career in 1972 – spending seven years at Longton High School before moving on to Maryhill High School in Kidsgrove for a couple of years.

He joined the staff at Holden Lane High in 1981 and watched it grow to become the biggest school in the city.

With my rose-tinted spectacles hooked firmly on, I look back on the Eighties as a more innocent time when discipline was better in schools.

After all, there was no internet, no cyber-bullying and no mobile telephones to be confiscated.

John’s take on it is slightly different, however. He said: “The challenges facing teachers are different because of the technology that’s available these days – something which I just caught the start of, really, before I retired.

“I wouldn’t describe the Eighties as more innocent but I know what you mean. It was certainly easier back then to organise events and school trips and the like because there wasn’t all the form-filling and risk assessments or health and safety considerations.

“This has perhaps taken some of the fun out of the system by making it harder for teachers to be creative and give students different experiences.”

By experiences I think John means the wonderful eccentricity of the likes of my history teacher Geoff Ball who – with his clipboard under his arm – was the scourge of the school corridors, dishing out lines and detention for all.

Nevertheless, his brilliant teaching and classroom museum inspired me to work hard and get an ‘A’ when I left.

John is also talking about regular days out to the ice rink in Telford and numerous educational visits – including holidays to places like Valkenburg in Holland which was my first trip abroad.

He recalls one trip to Switzerland where, because of the unusual male/female signs on the toilet doors, he managed to persuade one pupil to roll up his trouser legs before going to spend a penny. No, it wasn’t me.

There was also the annual end of year show (they call it a prom these days) which once involved some of the lads in my year taking part in a beauty pageant and yours truly dressing up as Santa Claus for a Christmas ‘Blind date’ contest.

I can only apologise to Sarah Harrison who had to endure a candlelit meal with me in the dinner hall.

The Eighties was a time of huge changes in the education system – both nationally and locally.

The cane was banned in schools in 1986 – just too late to prevent a 13-year-old Martin Tideswell having it for back-chatting our form tutor, Mr Jones.

Then in 1988 my year group became the first to sit the new GCSE exams which, controversially, introduced coursework to the grading system.

John, who retired in 2010 and lives in Madeley, said: “During the Eighties there was a big change in the way in which the teaching of secondary school children was approached.

“Previously youngsters in the lower streams who were less academically gifted would perhaps have been earmarked for jobs in the pits or on the potbanks. Brighter children would have gone to work in a bank or carried on their studies at Sixth Form College.

“There had been plenty of jobs around but suddenly the landscape changed and there was a real emphasis on making sure children left school with as many qualifications as possible.

“Education became more tailored to the individual which was definitely a change for the better.”

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

It’s hard to match the thrill of destroying a Death Star…

As I’m happy to admit, I’m a geek. A nerd. Dungeons & Dragons, sci-fi and horror: That’s all my bag. Oh, and computer games.

I got into computer games early because I was fortunate to grow up in the decade when they migrated from arcades and pubs into our homes.

However, my earliest memory of video games is from sitting in the upstairs rooms of a pub in Rhyl.

I would have been 10 or 11 at the time and, as mum and dad enjoyed a drink, my brother Matt and I would occasionally be given money to spend on Space Invaders.

Actually invented by Japanese company Taito in 1978, this was arguably the daddy of all arcade games which became a global hit in the early to mid-Eighties.

Simple and addictive, it was a two-dimensional game in which the player controlled a laser cannon by moving it horizontally across the bottom of the screen and firing at ever-descending ‘aliens’.

Your cannon was protected by stationary bunkers which slowly got worn away by the aliens’ missiles (and your own).

The aim was to defeat rows of aliens that moved horizontally back and forth as they advanced towards the bottom of the screen. You earned points for destroying each alien and they became quicker and more difficult to destroy as the game progressed.

Occasionally an alien ‘mother ship’ floated across the top of the screen and hitting this meant major points.

The object was obviously to get the highest score you possibly could. Truth be told, I wasn’t great at it but I loved it nonetheless.

I also have vague, blurry recollections of playing Atari’s Pong – a very simple, 2D table-tennis game which seems such a simple concept now I’m sure most children wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.

Then, in 1984, I went on a school coach trip abroad. A couple of classes from years one and two at Holden Lane High went to Valkenburg in Holland.

It was in an arcade there one evening that my friends and I (Rob, Richie and Glyn) discovered the Star Wars arcade game. It was a revelation to kids like us who had grown up playing cowboys and indians, ‘Army’ and play-acting the heroes from our favourite films and TV shows.

Made by Atari, this game was truly brilliant for its time. It enabled you to take on the role of Luke Skywalker, piloting an X-Wing Fighter in his final run against the Death Star.

You sat inside the ‘cockpit’, while your mates hung around outside egging you on.

As you downed Imperial Tie-Fighters character voices from the film would echo through the explosions.

“Use the force, Luke”, “I’ve lost R2!”, and, of course, “This one’s strong”, added to the excitement.

By today’s standards, the simple, linear graphics seem incredibly old-fashioned but I can tell you that nothing quite matched the thrill of hitting the exhaust port of the Death Star with your proton torpedo and watching its explode. Happy days.

PC gaming was still in its infancy (my much-loved Commodore 64 had yet to arrive) but video games slowly were migrating into our living rooms – with Atari, Nintendo and Sega leading the way with their chunky ‘third generation’ consoles, ‘joy sticks’ and slide-in games which were the size of a roof-tile.

In 2012, many homes have a Wii the latest X-Box or PlayStation but, back in the mid-Eighties, being able to play video games in your house was a real novelty and any lad (it was usually lads) who owned one gained many cool points.

Some of the games from this era had such an impact on us that they entered popular culture – with Donkey Kong, Mario and Frogger springing to my mind.

Indeed, Namco’s Pac Man was so big at one stage that U.S. President Ronald Reagan once set aside matters of state to congratulate a player on getting the highest score ever.

It was during this time that many of the best-loved platforms were born: First-person shoot-em ups, roleplaying games, survival horror games etc.

Certainly, today’s online mass, multi-player games and the home console games with astonishingly realistic graphics owe a huge debt to the mid-Eighties.

That was the golden age of video arcade games and, looking back, its not hard to see why.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia