Beat Your Classmates Out Of Doors

penelope plod

Whilst at my Tooting grammar school I honed my skills as a card shark. Well, played a lot of rummy.

During a wet playtime this would be our classroom-bound pastime. No money was ever exchanged, although we could have played for tuck-shop-bought doughnuts, although this would have made the desks incredibly sticky; I’d struggled with secondary school education enough without having jam smeared over pictures of Gladstone and Disraeli in my history text book.

When I changed schools in June 1972 to go to Emanuel, rummy was not the card game of choice during wet playtimes. Because it was a posher school, some of my new classmates played bridge.

Before embarking on my fifteen-month sojourn at the Clapham minor public school, the only card games I’d ever played, aside from rummy, were Beat Your Neighbours and Newmarket. (Although I’d only played Newmarket on Boxing Days with family friends.  We’d play for halfpennies – how none of us ended up attending Gamblers Anonymous sessions I’ll never know!)

During these wet playtimes I’d look nervously on, but very quickly arrived at the belief that bridge was like rummy, only with more cards, the word “trump” was used a lot – a word I’d only heard my Nan speak, but this was a euphemism rather than something of an advantage – and there seemed to be a lot of inactivity for one quarter of the players.

I was eventually allowed to play. I say play as I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time being the “dummy”.  If I’d have known this would have happened I’d have done some research before like buying the 1972 Titch and Quackers Annual.

It was the posher kids in my class who played bridge. I assume their parents ran bridge evenings which, given we were all living in suburbia, probably led to swingers’ nights; although you wouldn’t have wanted to be the dummy there unless you actively wanted your eyesight to worsen.

I rapidly realised that bridge was not for me and decided to extricate myself from this elite group. With the cards dealt for another rubber (bridge seemed to full of comedy words) and me being, yet again, the dummy, I watched, and as soon as the second card was placed on the jam-free desk, I shouted “SNAP!!”   The look I received could have been a real-life representation of an HM Bateman cartoon.  I grabbed my suit jacket (of course they didn’t have blazers!) and went outside to contract hypothermia.

I never played cards since, the withdrawal as legal currency of halfpenny bits simply accelerated that.

I found it strange that no one in my class at Bec or Emanuel wanted to play Happy Families. I always fancied Penelope Plod, the policeman’s daughter.

Rubbers are off, love

Sign of the Ford Zodiac


There should be playtime in the workplace. Fifteen mental minutes when you can run around before going back to your office, sweating like a pig before creating more content for your last primary school year county project; never has so much rubbish been written about Middlesex as there was by me in my south London primary school in the late sixties.

Within my school most boys wanted to play professional football or cricket (we weren’t allowed in the girls’ playground, which was no bad thing as this was where the threat of kiss chase lurked and, as a ten/eleven-year-old boy, all girls were considered soppy). (My mother had warned me that using other peoples’ toilet seats would induce VD; for me, kiss chase was simply the start of a slippery slope towards a life of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases.  My mother’s Chinese lantern presentations on the subject make me wonder how I ever talked to girls, let alone realise that kiss chase may well have been better fun than three-and-in).

In the confines of the boys’ playground, we’d emulate Peter Osgood or Colin Cowdrey – some of the boys who weren’t very sporty played cover drives like Peter Osgood and chested balls down and volleyed them like Colin Cowdrey. This was our desire, except for one boy in our class.  He wanted to be a Ford Zodiac.

Whilst we would hope, while we were running around, that possibly there’d be scouts from Chelsea or Fulham or Tooting & Mitcham if you were slightly more realistic; this one lad was hoping to have someone spot him from the Dagenham Motor Works. We all wanted to be footballers, he wanted to be a faux-wood dash board, leatherette steering wheel or alternator.   We were trying to make the ball swerve off the outside of our foot like Pele, our mutual classmate would run around, changing an imaginary gear like Marcel Marceau.

I never got to play for Chelsea, but then, fifty years later, I’ve never had to replace my clutch, although I think I’ve started to leak brake fluid!