Random ideas for ELT people, plus guest blogs & travel notes

Archive for May, 2010

Guest blog 17- Joanne Sato on falling in love in (and with) Japan

My SEVENTEENTH guest blogger is Joanne Sato – a Leeds girl (but I won’t hold that against her) now resident in rural Japan. I have never met her, nor has she been to one of my JALT talks in the last three years or so. I am her devoted follower on twitter, where she tweets under the name of @sugarjo, a sort of language pun that anyone who speaks a bit of Japanese will understand. One of the reasons we started communicating on twitter, and eventually skype, was a shared interest in drama, and you will read about her drama work with her students below.

Twitter can offer an engaging insight into people’s lives and it certainly has for me with Joanne, which is why I pleaded with her to do a guest blog MONTHS ago – and then promptly lost it when she sent it to me. I finally owned up to this error, and she kindly re-sent it.

Joanne has only rarely visited twitter recently, which is why I’m doubly pleased to be publishing this guest post.

Konnichiwa -こにちわ!I’m Joanne, originally from Leeds in the UK but have called Japan my home for twelve years. I lived in Tokyo for three years but have since made my home in the north – never grim up here – in a smallish city.  I am married to Hirotaka, known to all as Hiro, to my mum and dad as Hero, we have a little girl of six (miniature hero).

I came over with the doomed Nova English Language group straight out of university and after three days (yes, three whole days) training was teaching forty hours a week. Since my year at Nova, I have taught a wide range of learners in a variety of Japanese contexts, from one-year-olds to company presidents to university students. This is just a bit of my story as to how I found my little piece of teaching and learning heaven at a women’s college in northern Japan.

I have a deep-seated working class sense of duty (from my dad) that I can’t escape in anything I do, so when I entered the sweatshop plastic cubicles of commercial ELT my whole heart was in it. I have been loyal to ELT in Japan ever since.

In one year and three months at Nova I must have taught over 1,500 hours of PPP, this was my first experience of teaching, of ELT and that slippery fiend SLA (and many other abbreviations I have yet to master). It was an intense, exhausting, rewarding job, and one which has led me on a love affair with teaching English and studying Japanese culture and language.

I’d leave the little cubicle after a days work and walk out into a Tokyo evening. BANG! Life hit me in all its intensity, brightness, loneliness, and magic. Tokyo won my heart, sucked it in, swirled it around and spat it out again coldly on the pavements with my homesickness.

The shiny skyscrapers next to a tiny Shinto shrine, the eclectic fashion and style, the amazing food, noises and smells, the singing/talking toilets, baths, heaters and gadgets; this was most definitely not Europe – that’s another story. I yearned for normality but I knew I didn’t want to be back in the UK. Just as I thought I should leave Tokyo would suck me in again, urging me to move just one little step further away from ‘home’. I liked ‘missing’, but more than that I loved learning about this new relationship with a city, a country (my new home), and a blossoming love.

Blossom in the city - a typical Tokyo image

 

Love: He said he’d teach me to surf. Love went falteringly, deliciously differently from there. The real deciding moment was returning to the UK for three months to think about if I could deal with delicious difference and (remember this is before cheap mobiles) changing pound notes for pound coins, running to the phone box next to the petrol station and pounding them into the slot telling Hiro, “I’m coming back”. The rest as they say…

Mr and Mrs Sato...

 

We now belong to a small but growing group of Japanese husband/western wife ‘units’ in Japanese. In my work (especially university EFL) environment, the vast majority of long-termers are western husbands with Japanese wives. Hiro and I are good for novelty value – and have been known to ham it up.

Enough of love, let’s move to teaching. Well, not enough of love, but enough of Tokyo/Hiro love and onto my love of teaching. I knew I wanted to teach university students, it had been my plan to return to the UK after a year here and do an MA and lecture. My reasons for this were located in my experience age eighteen at Art College in Leeds, that moment when your basic core is shaken by a change of thinking about, or visualizing life – Kristeva, Irigaray, Foucault, Derrida, Barthes – they rocked my world.

I was made to question everything about meta-narratives, about a reality which was constructed in a reality I had no experience of etc.etc. It was passionate, engaging (and dare I say entertaining) teachers who took me on this journey and led me here so far away from where I had expected to be.

Upon leaving Tokyo (for Hiro’s job), I was determined to fulfill my dream and get part-time work at the local national university here, I had a job there within a year but was confronted with large classes (70 in one oral communication class).

I was also lucky enough to have been offered work at a Catholic women’s college teaching one conversation class a week. This is the job which changed my perceptions, my goals, and ultimately led me to doing an MA in TEFL through Birmingham University’s distance learning programme. It felt like the job was waiting for me, the way I taught seemed to fit the educational philosophy of the college. I think this is essential; to find a teaching space where we are supported in our classroom innovations and style. I also enjoyed the wonderful femaleness!

As I came to love the teaching/learning environment (and gave up my work at the national university), I threw everything into teaching a wide range of classes being offered to me at the college, including communication skills, literature, writing and ESP (Business, Tourism) classes.

What compelled me to undertake an MA and aim for a full-time position was also the ‘other stuff’, the activities outside the classroom in which full-time teachers were involved, especially because of the small size of the college. These included curriculum design/innovation, committees, school camp, volunteer activities, the college festival, student counseling, the study abroad programme and many more.

Of this ‘other stuff’, the one which I most longed to be part of was ESS (the English Speaking Society) which is involved with debating events and participates in a yearly play contest involving five universities from the north of Japan.

This is how I first made contact with Ken after he commented on a picture I tweeted on our 2009 play Grease. When we won the contest last year, I knew the feelings which have constantly compelled my most respected colleague Bill to say “this is what makes it worthwhile, Joanne”. I felt like we had just won best picture at the Oscars.

Joanne's students performing Grease

 

We are in the process of rehearsing for the 2010 contest now. It involves many late nights, weekends, blood and tears but the effects on student confidence, motivation, pronunciation, team-building, and spirit are phenomenal.

In a Japanese EFL environment, the struggle is to make English meaningful. I have noticed during my MA studies that the best textbook, the best teacher, the most focused and carefully planned study cannot make English meaningful if it is never actually ‘used’ or experienced outside of the institutional spaces of the classroom.

My classroom is alive with debate, chatter and the buzz of students engaged in English but where I have found this engagement steps up a notch is ‘out there’: on a stage, backstage discussing logistics, volunteering as an English guide, introducing Japanese culture to non-Japanese, teaching free English classes to local children. English becomes ‘meaningful’ and ‘experienced’, it becomes the language of communication not test-taking (I’m so glad this isn’t an MA paper and I don’t have to explain ‘meaningful’, ‘communication’ or ‘tests’).

I am a firm believer in the use of task-based learning and the inclusion of content classes in language curriculums (I teach British History, British Culture, Gender Studies and Japanese Culture) I think this is one way of having more ‘meaningful’ classrooms. However, my recent interest is in finding and creating opportunities for my students to put their English to use in the community. I may well be facing an uphill battle in such a small city but my whole heart is in it. There have been a few worlds rocked, on occasion.

This is a tiny part of my story – thank you for listening. I am lucky enough to have had the chance to meet and share stories with an incredible group of educators in Japan and also hear stories from my forming PLN who continually inspire me in my search to be a better, more passionate, more engaging and – yes I do dare say – a more entertaining teacher.

Some people will do ANYTHING to get their photo taken - and Joanne is just as bad!

 

Guest blog 16 – Emma Herrod on attending first conferences…

I’m very pleased that Emma Herrod has agreed to write this post for me, which contains some pertinent thoughts about attending your first ELT conference, and how twitter can help if you’re aiming to turn up alone. And much more.

I first ‘met’ Emma on twitter, where she has become a very individual and amusing presence. I met her in real life at her first conference, IATEFL Harrogate in April.

Herrod does Harrogate – a rookie conference-goer’s reflections

If you could attend just one ELT conference, which would it be? @EHerrod, Wed 14th Oct via Tweetdeck

About six month ago, I posted this question on Twitter to my network of ELT followers.  My network was pretty small at the time. I received one response:

IATEFL! Next one is Harrogate April 2010 @kenwilsonlondon, Wed 14th Oct via Twitterrific

I took a look at the conference website, perused the programme from Cardiff 2009 and was a tad star-struck at the list of presenters I saw.  Then there was the ticket price.  I’m a self employed teacher at this moment in time.  It’s not the ideal situation in terms of professional development perhaps, but it allows me to be at home with my son Thomas until he attends school on a full-time basis in September this year.  The relevance of my situation here is that as I have no actual employer, and therefore all costs incurred from attending this conference would have to be paid for out of my own pocket. “Gulp”.  That’s the ticket, hotel, train, and food/drink.

But I thought, if Ken thinks this is THE one to go to, I’ll give it a go and make the most of it.  After all, I can just go to this one and say I did it. I don’t have to go to another one, do I??

Scott Thornbury is now following you on Twitter

Lindsay Clandfield is now following you on Twitter

Pete Sharma is now following you on Twitter

Barak Obama is now following you on Twitter

Until the Barak Obama follow-back, I was oblivious to the notion of ‘auto-follow’.  My heart sank.  So Obama doesn’t really want to be my friend?  He doesn’t want to hear about my Starbucks-based escapades?  Never mind – I was soon over the spurning and assured that my ELT VIPs weren’t involved in any ‘auto-following’, I proudly saw my follow list grow and grow over the next six months:  20, 50, 100, 300 … ” Where did 300 people come from who want to listen to what I have to say? – they’ll realise soon that I’m a big fraud” … and the numbers kept growing.  So did the names: Jeremy Harmer, Scott Thornbury, Gavin Dudeney, Karenne Silvester, Sara Hannam.

“Oh s**t … now I’m done for … it’s just a matter of time before the truth of my inexperience comes out.”

As it happens, I wasn’t exposed. Rather to my surprise, this network of people was interacting with me; re-tweeting, laughing with/at me (I’m never 100% sure about this one), answering my questions, sharing their own experiences and supporting me when things didn’t go quite as I’d planned:

..of course email whenever you want. Sorry to hear the lesson didn’t go well. Let’s talk it through : )
A very lovely Tweeter – Greece

By the time IATEFL came around, I found myself with a supportive community of like-minded people, some of whom had become good friends, albeit in a virtual environment.  Until my ‘virtual staffroom’ had realised itself, I had, if truth be told, been dreading attending the conference.  There was the trek up there, not knowing anyone, traipsing from talk to talk like Billy-No-Mates.

As the tweets began to come in about where people were going to be staying, what they would be presenting and suggestions about when and where to have a tweet-up … oh – actually no, this wasn’t something to be dreaded.  I would go so far as to say I was bloody excited!  I didn’t feel I would be a solitary delegate.  I had people to meet, talks I had promised to attend, if ‘merely’ for the moral support of my fellow Tweeters.  And it felt good…

Waiting for my train to York.  So looking forward to seeing everyone @EHerrod, Thurs 8th Apr via UberTwitter

So the day arrived. I can comment really only on two elements of the mind-numbing journey from Reading to Harrogate.  Firstly the feeling of apprehension in the pit of my stomach and which Ken alluded to in his post.  I can only liken it to a blind date – except my ‘date’ was about 30 people who weren’t buying me dinner.  Secondly, upon boarding the train in York, bound for Harrogate, the train began to fill up with serious-looking people carrying suitcases and wearing A LOT of corduroy.  I had thought that brown corduroy was an education generalisation.  Alas no, it was alive and well and served to identify its clan of wearers all of whom were, I was sure, bound for this teaching conference.

On the bus to the conference centre now @EHerrod, Thurs 8th Apr via UberTwitter

@EHerrod #iatefl tweet-world is waiting to meet you with bated breath @kenwilsonlondon, Thurs 8th Apr via Twitterrific

Allow me to digress for a moment.

I appreciate that the word ‘volcano’ is not one we like to discuss right now, but (and I know it’s a long-shot) to anyone involved in town planning – who ever thought it was a good idea to build a town on a volcano?  This causes weak and venerable city types (me) to have to climb muscle-tearing slopes just to go to the toilet.  Please keep my plight in mind for your future projects.  Thank-you.

If I could have arranged slow motion and Tchaikovsky Click here to play appropriate first-time-twitter-meeting music, I would have done so.  However even without the atmospherics the moments I met each of my friends from Twitter will be moments I hope to always remember. There really isn’t anything like a Twitter hug and I highly recommend them if you get the opportunity.

Part of Emma’s ICTP (Instant Conference Tweet Posse) at IATEFL Harrogate :-)

Over the next four days, more slow-motion hugs followed, together with chats, drinks with good people, talks by good people and inspirational educators and tear-inducing funny and moving moments.

On reflection it really was quite exhausting!  But I think reflection is important after an intense conference like IATEFL and I spent much of the nightmare (due to numerous train cancellations) journey home considering what I had heard and seen and how I might implement some of the suggestions in my teaching.  I am still thinking about what I will take away with me a month on, but here is what I have come up with so far:

1. Cemented friendships

Virtual friendships are wonderful, wonderful things.  I’m angered when I hear people say that friendships conducted online do not have as much worth or substance as face to face relationships.  I believe them to merely have a different energy but to be equally as valuable and fulfilling.  Add to this unique dynamic however, the opportunity to put a real face to a name and to interact face to face, and you have the makings of something truly extra-special.  Perhaps it is a trust, a familiarity or something in the body language.  I’m no social psychologist, but I know if I feel comfortable in people’s company, then it’s special.  IATEFL was full of such ‘specials’ and I feel thankful that I had the opportunity to cement the friendships I knew already existed.

2.   A greater understanding of my network’s areas of interest.

Seeing some of my virtual staffroom give presentations and workshops, I was frequently filled with a mixture of feelings: awe, fascination, pride, empathy.  To be honest, in a couple of the smaller talks I went to, the overwhelming feeling was one of confusion – but that’s another story.  I know a little more about who to contact in which areas, and equally who to pass information on to if I find something of interest in their field.  Who knows, tomorrow I may professionally need that contact who works in Army English.

3.  Sympathy for the rookie conference-goer

Perhaps one of the most constructive things I will take away from Harrogate 2010 is a sense of how tough it could have been for me as a first-time delegate and relatively new teacher.  Had I not had a presence on Twitter, I fear my reflective journey home may have been quite different and certainly not as enthusiastic.

In her excellent plenary at the conference, Tessa Woodward referred to Hubermann’s study which identified a series of professional life-cycle stages, which most teachers seem to go through.  Those teachers who in their first one to three years of teaching Hubermann suggests, are going through a difficult stage, characterised by such feelings as ‘survival’, ‘insecurity’, ‘sense of reality shock’ and ‘viewing of themselves as a fraud’.

Add to that the often long journey to a conference, the crowds of VIPs, the not knowing anyone, the eating breakfast, lunch and dinner on your own, and you can put together and very good case for recommending a new teacher never goes near an IATEFL conference venue in their first three years.  I believe this would be a real shame and new teachers can do a lot to further themselves personally and professionally by attending.

But this left me thinking – you can only recommend something, you cannot force people to participate – so why am I so concerned by it?  I don’t like that feeling.  It normally means I have to do something about it (see point four).

4.  What is the something I/we can do to help new teachers build their network so that ‘survival’ and ‘insecurity’ at such an event doesn’t have to be the norm?  How can I/we support them in their first stage of the life-cycle?

I would like to simply list these thoughts below, as they are still just that, thoughts to be developed:

- Could new teachers be identifiable at IATEFL by a different coloured badge/lanyard?  Would this encourage the more experienced teachers and VIPs to walk over and check on them, chat to them, find out what talks they are going to and engage with them?

- A buddy system.  Buddies volunteer to ‘look after’ a new teacher for the duration of the conference.  I’m not thinking hand-holding (unless mutually agreed by new teacher and buddy!) rather, advice on talks to attend, offer of attending dinner with the buddy’s PLN etc.  Just so they don’t feel so on their own.

- Talks at the CELTA stage about the value of Twitter and social networking so that more teachers can attend from a position similar to mine.  I am happy to be involved on a local level in the UK if anyone wants me too.

- A PLN just for new teachers (the promotion of which would be very much linked to point three).  I would like to take my uncomfortable feeling and use it to set up a PLN which can help new teachers in those first couple of years.  Is it overly wishful thinking to hope that a supportive network might go some way to seeing new teachers stay on longer in the profession, rather than merely thinking ‘I’m trying being a teacher’ as Tessa noted?  Perhaps this new PLN could reserve a block of rooms so that all new teachers are in one hotel for IATEFL.  A talk at the conference just for them with tips on how to ‘survive’?

All just thoughts, but I hope that by putting them out there, some suggestions and opinions will come back and they can begin to take on a life of their own.

So I leave you with those, my thoughts and reflections on a special time in Harrogate.  Thank-you for hugging me, for making me feel welcome and part of your group.  And, for those people I didn’t yet meet, I’m excited at the thought of spending time with you in Brighton, 2011!

Biog

I live in the UK, about 20 miles from London, with my little companion Thomas, aged four.  I teach English to all kinds of people.  Business professionals who are learning English for work, teenagers from abroad who have re-located here with their parents, students who moved to the UK for a few months, fell in love, and now need the language to live and argue with their new husband/wife. There are so many stories, no two students, or their English needs seem to be the same.  That is why I love what I do.

Some other things you might care to know about me…

-     I drink far too much coffee for my own good and frequent coffee shops on a regular basis.

-     I own five pairs of red shoes.

-     I knit a mean tea cosy.

-     I am terrified of bugs/mini beasts of any kind

-     Thomas and I love doing Origami (or Mr Garmi as he calls it)

-     Worst job I ever had was cleaning toilets in an old people’s home – I think ELT is a little better!

It really IS worth taking a look at this blog!

The power of the written word.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the above image is being used as part of a blog-awareness campaign. The idea is to highlight ten blogs that individual bloggers think are worth reading. The message is Portuguese forIt’s worth taking a look at this blog’.

At first, I decided not to take part, on the grounds that I didn’t want to reduce my list of favourite blogs (which you can see on the left of this page) to a mere ten. Then I read an impassioned rebuke for this stance in Jason Renshaw’s blog.

Jason wrote:

It’s not surprising that some members of the ELT blogosphere chose not to take part, but some of the reasons I saw put forward did have me scratching my head a bit. While in some cases those reasons appeared logical or understandable (and goodness me, let’s not forget that nobody warrants criticism simply because they chose not to do something a lot of other bloggers were doing!), I can’t help coming to the conclusion that several good bloggers out there not only missed the whole point, but also missed a golden opportunity.

So here are my ten.

1       Jason Renshaw


No really, this is the blog I ALWAYS read. What I love about Jason is that I’m sure he could start a fight in an empty room. His blogposts regularly contain something that raises hackles somewhere. A fight breaks out, and after the dust has settled, Jason stands there with an innocent look on his face and says: “What did I SAY???”

I’ve never met Jason, but I am so looking forward to it. I think we may come to (verbal) blows but it will be a memorable encounter.

http://jasonrenshaw.typepad.com

2       Laura Ponting


If you’ve never read Laura Ponting’s blog, go there immediately. Laura is a Welsh teacher who lives in Vietnam and her rich and warm descriptions of the world she lives in are tempered by a thoughtful reminder that not everyone has access to a computer, and that doesn’t mean they can’t learn.

I’ve never met Laura either, but I’m looking forward to hearing some of her Vietnam stories when she visits London in the summer.

She also supports Hartlepool United FC, so she deserves our sympathy just for that.

http://lauraponting.edublogs.org/

3       Mark Andrews


If you didn’t know who Mark Andrews is, and you follow him on twitter, you now know that for the last few days, he has been campaigning energetically for a re-alignment of British politics.

I’ve known Mark, who is based in Budapest, for a long time and can vouch for the fact that he is a caring, sharing and quite brilliant thinker in real life too.

If you go to his blog, you will find much more than his politics. A rich mix of thoughts about teaching, his passion for literature (especially James Joyce) and most important, his firm belief in the power of conversation and the exchange of ideas with colleagues near and far.

http://markandrews.edublogs.org/

4       Sara Hannam


Sara is based in Thessaloniki, Greece and is pretty well known to anyone who works in ELT in Europe. She’s also someone who I met through twitter, and whose uncompromising political stance is clear even when she only has 140 letters and spaces to express her views!

Sara’s blog is almost the complete antithesis of mine, in the sense that it’s serious, thoughtful and examines issues that are fundamental to our work as teachers and our position in society.

I had the chance to meet her and her husband and daughter when they came round for tea in early January. They are wonderful people to have tea with!

http://sjhannam.edublogs.org/

5       Sheetal Makhan


Sheetal is a South African living and working in Korea. She did a guest blog for me recently which you can read if you scroll down.

I think the expression ‘wears her heart on her sleeve’ was written for Sheetal. She uses her blog, and indeed her tweets, to examine her emotions and circumstances in a very deep and personal way, and her blog varies from moments of poignant sadness to hilarious episodes with colleagues, students, even taxi drivers and other people who pass through her life.

http://www.sheetalmakhan.com/

6       Agata Zgarda


Another of my guest bloggers, Agata is a Polish teacher living and working in Teresina, Brazil. As you may have noted from the choice of people so far, I like reading the experiences of people who are living and working in a country which is not where they were born.

Agata only blogs occasionally, but she provides a delightful insight into how to get by in a place where the social rules are quite different from the ones you grew up with.

http://sabendoquasetudo.blogspot.com

7       Cristiana Crivat


Cristiana Crivat is a teacher who lives in Constanta, Romania. Agata and Cristiana have something in common which is that that they have both seen me give talks but chose not to come and say hello at the end. :)

Cristiana wrote a brilliant guest blog for me about a visit to a post office. You can read it on her blog if you go there now. My only objection is that she hasn’t added to this distinctive blog since last year. Maybe if she gets more visits, this will encourage her to write more hilarious, insightful material.

http://bloggishinglyours.wordpress.com/

8       Diarmuid Fogarty

I think many people who inhabit tweet-world and the blogosphere probably know who Diarmuid is. He’s Irish and has lived all over the place, and I hear that he has fetched up in my home town Manchester. I haven’t a clue what most of his stuff is about, but it’s a riveting read. His blogs have titles like this: 26 is the smallest number that is not a palindrome which has a square which is a palindrome.

Yeah, right. At moments like this, I feel like Homer Simpson.


http://taoteaching.wordpress.com/

9       Özge Karaoğlu


If there is anyone reading this who doesn’t know Özge by now, then where have you been? Quite apart from her regular appearance in my blog, both as a guest blogger and someone I bump into at conferences, Özge is now carving a well-deserved reputation as an astounding early learning innovator. Check out her blog for the amazing award-winning cartoons that she has done with her pupils.

http://ozgekaraoglu.edublogs.org/

10     Rowan Conway

And finally, unashamedly, I choose my daughter Rowan Conway, (on the right above, with her son Senan and her sister Anya), the person who showed me how to blog. I’m very proud of Rowan for many reasons (of course) but particularly because of her attempts to live the green life with her family, located as they are in the middle of a great city. Her blog is, as the title suggests, an account of her attempt to live her green dream.

But much more than that, she assesses and synthesises information and statistics about green living. As an American who regularly reads her blog said: “Rowan does the math so that we don’t have to.”

rowansgreendream.blogspot.com

Just discovered this photo of Rowan and Senan taken last week on a beach in Ireland…


My first appearance on stage, age 11 (Part 2)

Prize Day at Salford Grammar School - with Dave Starr, Dave Rimmer and school captain Pete Britton - the first photo of me that ever appeared in the Salford City Reporter

The story so far –

*      Your humble blogger (YHB) is a first-former at Salford Grammar School

*      The head teacher seems to think that he (YHB) has potential as a public speaker and actor

*      This is probably a case of mistaken identity, as there is another boy called Wilson who joined the school at the same time

*      Nevertheless, YHB is entered for a Public Speaking competition, in which he does quite well

*      Later in the school year, the kindly headmaster EG (Eggy) Simm gives YHB a script containing a scene from the up-coming school play, extracts from a 1930s musical called 1066 And All That

*      Eggy has underlined the part of a Puritan woman, the part that YHB will have to play.

Now read on…

I was standing alone in the kitchen of the headmaster’s house, wearing a grey dress with a full skirt that was much too big for me. I wasn’t wearing a wig, so I looked like what I was – an eleven-year old boy in a frock. I was roused from my reverie by someone clearing their throat. A milkman was standing at the door which led from the kitchen to the garden. He was staring at me. He wasn’t expecting to see me there, he was expecting to see the headmaster’s wife.

“She’s gone to the front door,” I explained.

He nodded and walked out of the kitchen, stifling a laugh. Once outside on the path down the side of the house, he began to roar with laughter.

I was already a bit stressed about wearing the dress, so hearing the milkman laugh didn’t help.

This was the day I was fitted for my costume to play the Puritan woman in 1066 And All That.

1066 And All That was a ‘humorous’ look at the history of England that was originally written as a series of articles in Punch magazine in the 1930s. These were then turned into a book, and the book was turned into a musical, which was first performed at The Strand Theatre in London in 1935.

So it was pretty old and dated even before the English department at Salford Grammar School got their hands on it. And I don’t think it was that good even in 1935.

The original musical had 26 scenes and more than 100 characters. The Salford Grammar School powers that be had decided that only a selection of scenes would be performed. This still made it possible for a lot of pupils to get their five minutes of fame in front of their adoring parents.

I was involved in Scene Eight of the original, called Merrie England. According to the original programme, the following characters were involved:

Revellers, Court Ladies and Gentlemen and Dancers, The Common Man, Nell Gwynne, Oliver Cromwell, King Charles the Second, a Puritan Man, a Puritan Woman and ‘A Lady of Fashion’.

The last of these was played in the original by an actress with the wonderful name of Yvette Pienne.

In our version, we just had Charles the Second, Nell Gwynne, a couple of Court Gentlemen … and the two Puritans, played by me and a sixth-former called Ken Livesey.

The fact that I had to play a girl in the play hung over me like a cloud during the run-up to the day of the first performance. It didn’t even help that three other boys also had to play girls, although I did notice at rehearsals that I was by far the biggest and tallest of the four, AND I had more lines to say than the others. In fact, two of them had no lines at all, including the boy who was playing Nell Gwynne, the mistress of King Charles the Second, in the same scene as me.

Thinking back, it must have been pretty risqué to have a king and his mistress in a school play.

For the first three or four weeks, we rehearsed without costumes. Scene Eight was quite straightforward – the curtain opened, the king was sitting on his throne, bantering with the Court Gentlemen, who then for some reason burst into song. During the song, Nell Gwynne appeared and she placed herself decorously at the king’s feet.

At that point, we two Puritans stormed onto the stage and basically laid into the assembled throng (?) for their bacchanal. I use the word ‘bacchanal’ loosely. The director had told me that we were to imagine that there were scenes of great debauchery in front of us. I nodded when he said that, then went home and looked up ‘debauchery’ in a dictionary.

‘Extreme indulgence in sensual pleasures,’ it said.

We rehearsed in a room behind the school kitchen. Rehearsal time was after school and coincided with the kitchen staff thrashing around and cleaning things. I found it quite difficult to imagine a scene of extreme indulgence in sensual pleasures with the kind of post-lunch smells and the noise that was emanating from the next room.

But I didn’t really care about imagining anything. I just wanted to get the whole thing over and done with.

The head came to watch rehearsals one afternoon and congratulated us all. As we were leaving, he came over to talk to me.

“Tomorrow lunchtime,” he said, “could you nip over to my house? It’s walking distance from school. My wife has a dress she wants you to try on.”

This was how I came to be standing in the Simms’ kitchen.

Mrs Simm was a wonderful woman who did lots of unsung tasks for the school and the local community. She was also an expert seamstress. Do we use a gender-specific word like ‘seamstress’ any more? Are they now seamsters? Seampeople?

She took a very large grey dress from a box and asked me to put it on. It was vast, too long and too wide.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take it in,” she said. With that, she picked up a box of pins, got down on her knees and began to pin the dress to my shape.

Someone knocked at the front door, but Mrs Simm didn’t seem to hear. After a few seconds, I pointed it out to her. She wandered off to the front of the house. It was the milkman of course, and when he got no answer, he made his way round to the kitchen door. Which is where we came in.

I can’t hold back from describing the actual show itself any longer, can I?

The twenty-odd boys who were in the cast gathered backstage for the first performance, on a Wednesday afternoon in front of the whole school. I was probably more nervous than anyone, but there were still two surprises in store for me.

Firstly, when I put on the dress, I found that Mrs Simm had cleverly created a bosom for me. I was quite a tall broad lad even when I was eleven, and when I breathed in, my bosom increased in size. One of the other actors fell on the floor laughing when he saw that.

“Better not breathe in during the play,” he said when he got off the floor and stopped laughing.

There was one more surprise. The four boys who were to play girls had all been fitted with female attire of some sort or another, but none of us had as yet been given a wig. The director assured us that wigs would arrive in time for the performance and he was true to his word.

About twenty minutes before curtain up, he rushed backstage with a cardboard box, put it down on a table and opened it. There were about six wigs in it. The other three quickly chose one and went off to try them on. I looked in the box and saw that I was left with a choice of a peroxide blonde wig that would look good on a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like or a small wig of straight brown hair which would have been perfect but was too small for my large head. And the other one.

I can only describe the wig I had to wear as a giant curly Afro. I looked like Jimi Hendrix when I put it on. It was so high on my head that I was suddenly taller than my male companion.

The six hundred boys of Salford Grammar School filed into the assembly hall. They were in a rowdy boisterous mood. It was Wednesday afternoon and they were delighted to miss lessons in order to watch this final dress rehearsal of the play. After this, we were to do it again in the evening and then for the next two nights for parents.

The curtains in the hall were closed and the stage lights were turned on. I realise looking back that Salford Grammar School must have spent a lot of money realising Eggy’s theatrical dreams. The assembly hall really looked like a theatre. The opulent red curtains on the stage opened and the show kicked off.

Backstage, I was of course wishing that the earth would swallow me up.

The first seven scenes went pretty well, with a good-natured response from the audience when actors forgot their lines. The curtains closed after Scene Seven, and we hastily prepared for Scene Eight.

King Charles jammed a crown on his head and sat himself on his throne (the headmaster’s assembly chair), and his two courtiers prepared to swan around the stage singing an Elizabethan song a cappella. Nell Gwynne prepared to saunter onto the stage and ensconce herself at the king’s feet.

The scene was introduced from in front of the curtains and then they swept open again. King Charles pushed his crown back, threw his legs over the side of the throne, and the courtiers started singing.

Then Nell Gwynne made her entrance. And what an entrance. She smiled seductively at the audience, did a few dance steps around the courtiers and swished her way to the throne.

The audience were in uproar. They loved it and clearly wanted more. Instead, two kill-joy Puritans stormed onto the stage.

“Shame upon ye, ye sons of Satan!” yelled the woman with the Afro wig and heaving breasts. Puritan Man was completely thrown by how loudly I shouted that he stared at me and forgot his line.

In the ensuing silence, someone in the audience shouted: “That’s Kenneth Wilson!” And the place erupted with laughter.

Even though I wanted to cry, I also started laughing. Laughing on stage, what I now know is called ‘corpsing’. But I was enough of a trooper even then to realise I shouldn’t do that. So I stifled the laughter in my chest.

And that made my bosom heave up and down. So the audience laughter just intensified.

Puritan Man and me had about ten lines of invective each, before we stormed off the stage. I don’t think the laughter abated for long enough for a single line to be heard.

But at least it was over. The performances for the parents were much more refined, and people even heard our lines. And next morning, the talk was all about Nell Gwynne, not the other woman with boobs and an Afro.

I vowed never ever ever ever to appear on stage again, but of course I did. I was in every school play and every house play for the next five or six years. And really enjoyed all of them.

The only photo I can find in a school play - on stage with Peter Boeuf, later to be Director of Public Prosecutions

Please leave accounts of scary school stage stories!

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