Formative years

Tuesday 26th April 2011

HULL is as flat as its accent.

The city is named for a muddy tributary of the Humber river. A 1299 royal charter conferred a Kingston-upon- upon it, but, unlike their southern counterparts on the Thames, who prefer the regal preface, the stubborn Yorkshire burgers continue to refer to their city by its monosyllabic surname.

We moved there from the West Riding when I was eleven.

I attended a direct grant grammar school for boys, where we wore short trousers, sat at single wooden desks with inkwells, had to write ‘lines’ as a punishment, were compelled to join the cadet force, and had lessons on Saturday mornings. Prefects ruled the corridors and the masters, who wore gowns, referred to us by surname only. I was frequently in trouble and bottom of the class in woodwork.

In the second year – the ‘upper third’ – we were allocated to the Greek, German or Art sets. My first encounter with the language of Homer left me so terrified I feigned illness to miss the next double lesson. English and Maths were passable, but the rest mostly monotonous. The gym and the pitch pulled stronger than scholarship.

Then, suddenly, there were girls. Only two of them, from the nearby high school, and only for a few hours a week, but that was enough to draw several of us into auditioning for Julius Caesar.

The director, a teacher of French, broke school tradition with an avant-garde production in modern dress. We plebeians wore cardboard masks. This allowed us to gaze, without being noticed, at the sixth form girl playing Portia, whose skinny-rib top so accentuated the shape of her teenage breasts that I fell headlongingly into adolescent love… not only with her, but also with the theatre.

Thirty-five years later, in a festival green room, a well-known actress ended the long tug’o’war I’d waged between certainty and doubt that she had been the schoolgirl Portia.

“Fourth Citizen? How could I have forgotten him?” Maureen Lipman teased the local press, as we smiled for a reunion photograph.






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