The one teacher I do remember well, and the one who had the most influence on my later life, is Mr Rimes, or Romeo, as he was known to the boys at my school. Romeo was a life-long bachelor who taught English, Latin and rugby. He rode a sit-up-and-beg bicycle (complete with trouser clips) and had lodgings not far from the school. Outside the school his interests were birds and rugby. Somehow his ornithological interests rubbed off onto several of his pupils and every weekend, summer and winter, a number of us would accompany him on bird-watching excursions. In the winter months we would hike across the north Kent marshes and along the Thames and Medway estuaries while in the summer we might take a bus to Canterbury and then another to the village of Stodmarsh.
Thinking back, I suppose we were really twitchers, interested more in ticking off the greatest variety of birds possible than really watching them. We kept detailed records of where we had been and the birds we had seen each day. During the week, 15 varieties was a reasonable number to aim for while on day-long excursions at weekends we would hope for 50 or more.
Romeo was a very generous man. Every winter he would buy tickets for one or more rugby international matches at Twickenham and would take along three or four boys, stopping first at Staines reservoirs for the birds before going on to the game. On those days, all expenses were down to him.
In those days, many of us collected the miniature inn signs produced by Whitbread's brewery. (I have mentioned these on more than one occasion but this post gives the best explanation.) Officially, these miniatures were to be given only to persons buying drinks at the appropriate pubs. Unofficially, many publicans were happy to put one in a stamped, addressed envelope sent by the collector. I said "many publicans". One who refused was the licensee of the Red Lion at Stodmarsh, so on those days when we went there, Romeo had to drop in for a swift half pint just to collect another miniature. Another refusenik was the licensee of the Ypres Castle at Rye. Now, Rye was a difficult town to get to but Romeo came up with the goods and, at his expense, he took me and my cousin to Rye for the day just so that we could get that last miniature in the set.
I have lost any enthusiasm I might have had for watching rugby but I still like to watch the birds, although nowadays I find it more interesting to watch their habits than just tot up the number of varieties. I have to smile when I see a herring gull marking time on the grass in an attempt to fool the earthworms into thinking it's raining. And the blue tits are much more fastidious eaters than, say, the house sparrows at my neighbours bird feeder. Most breeds sit there and stuff their faces, but not the tits. They will take one seed and fly with it to a nearby branch. There, the bird holds down the seed with a claw while taking nibbles at the food. Once finished, s/he flies back for another seed.
I have yet to be called upon to fulfill any lookerer's duties but watching over these sheep would not be my responsibility I'm pleased to say. It would be a good half-hour walk just to get to the field - and just imagine trying to count the animals!
I've been playing a CD of chart hits from 1961 - Bobby Vee, Helen Shapiro, Fats Domino etc. And this one is guaranteed to keep you awake!