A long time ago, I went to a school called Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar. It was a good school: very academic and very sporty. Purple blazers. It was about as close to being a public (i.e. private) school that you could get without paying large sums of money. At one time, Chiselhurst and Sidcup was officially the second best school in the country (after Manchester Grammar).
Then one day the school became famous. Front page of every national newspaper. On the editorial pages for about a week. Suddenly, Chislehurst and Sidcup was a symbol for everything that was wrong with the country.
I was a part of that and this is my story.
I had already left school to join the Navy in 1982 but all of my friends were still in the sixth form when I came home for Christmas holiday. Come to the Christmas Party they said. Of course I said. Why wouldn’t I?
Make sure you bring beer my friends told me because we are only allowed beer, wine or cider. Nothing stronger. So I brought some beer. Most people did. Mr Gooden brought a couple of boxes of wine.
Mr Gooden saw me going into the sixth form centre where the party was to take place. Where are you going, Kevin? He asked. He checked my bag and, when he saw that it was only beer, he let me in.
The party was fantastic!
Spirits were high. Lots of dancing. Lots of singing. Apart from that one kid who threw up, no one really got drunk because we had all been having beer at birthday parties since we were thirteen.
The highlight for me was when Come On Eileen came on and everyone held hands in a big, boisterous circle and sang with lung-bursting joy. I got to hold hands with Jo Burston (who I had wanted to hold hands with for 4 years) and we danced together for the rest of the afternoon (and the next three years).
The rest of the vacation passed without incident – except that I started dating Jo Burston – and I went back to HMS Fisgard brim full with happy memories…
…until the second week of January.
Suddenly, our party was on the front page of every national newspaper. Every op-ed page had a stern reflection on alcohol in schools. A few papers had 6 page special features on the evils of drink. The Sun had an editorial cartoon.
I called Jo that night to find out what was going on and she said she was suspended.
The whole sixth form had been gathered into the assembly hall and given a lecture. The headmaster called out some names of kids who admitted to being at the party and said they were suspended. Other kids then said I was at the party too then more kids (I imagine I am Spartacus! I am Spartacus!) until finally the headmaster said everyone who was at the party should just go home because they were all suspended and the whole sixth form walked out.