Andrew Peers was a child at Wennington from 1966 - 1973.  

 

 

 

AP        From the initial sort of culture shock, of coming, not necessarily from a loving family, but from a dysfunctional type of a family arrangement, to actually going to Wennington, it was, thrown in at the deep end, because I had memories of my mother actually leaving me at the door, and, with the trunk, and seeing the back of the car going, and the sudden realisation that I was, aged 11, on me own. So for three days I was in a turmoil, in a way, 'cos of the culture shock, 'cos at that stage I'd never done anything, as an individual, like I'd never learnt to dust, or clean, or – everything was done for me, so going to Wennington was an absolute sort of – what am I doing?

             But, after the three day period, and – it was not necessarily sink or swim, because the other people who were at Wennington had been through this sort of transition, so they were not like, not Dickensian, not 'get on with it boy or else!', but they were sort of... I mean the first morning I got up, I've vivid recollections of going down to breakfast, now, breakfast at home consisted of literally, a slice of toast, and a bit of marmalade, or something like that, and that was it, and then you'd toddle off to school. At Wennington, we got cereals, which I'd never had! And, you either got a couple of slices of toast, or we had eggy bread or something like that, I mean the menu sort of – because I mean I was not used to it, but on day one, breakfast one, and I couldn't get to grips with this strange food, for want of a better word, and then after breakfast, we had a period of work, in inverted commas, which was housework.

             Well, I'd never lifted a brush, never mind a mop, in me life, I mean at age 11 it's not the sort of thing you do! So anyway, I went into the, in the courtyard, there was a big wooden shed, which was sort of a sixth from study cubicles they were, I don't know if other people have spoken about them, but my first job was, in the upper sixth form rooms, was me, as a sprog, as we were called, day one, at Wennington, and these were in their final years, and I was cleaning out the floors, in their cubicles for them, and they were nice, but you know, the culture shock of having to do skivvy work, in inverted commas, was totally alien.

             And then, we had a sort of, couple of introductory lessons, whereby you became familiar with the staff, and, we learnt, on a one-to-one name basis, which was totally alien, I'd never referred to an adult as Frank, or Roger, or David or – on a first name basis, and it was sort of – disrespectful – and half the time you were thinking that someone was gonna come up behind yer and give yer a quick clip round the ear! So that was another sort of first – another time, I kept slipping back because in primary school you always had to refer to your masters as 'Miss' or 'Mister', you know, so that was another quick learning curve, getting used to referring to the staff by their Christian names.

             So, that was – then we had a morning break, which was totally alien again, and I always remember we had these massive jugs, full of cocoa, you know, milky cocoa, which I'd never heard of, you know, and I wouldn't say we were a poor family, 'cos we were – I wouldn't say dysfunctional, but the family couldn't – wasn't very cohesive. But, the morning break and I think we had, hard-bake – I think you'll hear other people talk about hard bake, but that's another – get somebody else to tell you about that [laughs].

 

 EMB      No – go on...

 

 AP       Well hard bake was a very, sort of – it was a bit like Melba toast, which was a very dry sort of bread, with marmite on, and you know, marmite is – you'll probably find Wenningtonians were brought up on sort of marmite, and it is an acquired taste – which is yeast extract – but that was for morning break. So then we had another couple of lessons, and at lunch time we had a proper meal, and by a proper meal, I mean we had sort of meats, and two veg, and potatoes and a sweet! Now to me, we only got that on Sundays!

 

EMB     [Laughs]

 

AP         And I just couldn't, you know, it was like dawning on me, this was very surreal, you know, and I was thinking, in the space of 24 hours, I'd a sudden shock of being dumped in this alien, inhospitable building, I mean I love architecture now, but when you're a little lad, and very green round the ears, you're dumped in an alien environment but rapidly on day one, all these things are happening to you, and food – you know, like you've never – well, you had once a week, and this was on a – you know, later on when we went on – you know, this happened daily!

             So, we had lunch, and then after lunch, 'cos it was the autumn term, we had what we called outdoor work. And the very first job, I did on day one, was we had to get our boiler suits on. Now, my family are – my father was a tradesman, but my mother was from a business background, on her side of the family, so we were quite well to do, and as we have an expression of what you call, 'plus-fours and no breakfast', or 'fur coat and no knickers' if you've heard that before! So they lived a very false pretence, - so they made look like they were pretty well to do, but skimped and saved and economised in every area possible.

              So, going to Wennington, there was this cross-section of people, you know, who were from deprived or bombed out backgrounds, it was a great leveller. But we had literally everything, so by the end of the first – oh sorry, I'm digressing, after lunch, we had what was called outdoor work, so on the school, clothing list, for the uniform, we had to have a boiler suit. And mentally, the picture was, that this was manual work, and we didn't do manual work [laughs] so – donned the boiler suits, and the first job we had to do was to go in the coal hole, or the coal bunker, because a wagon load of coal had come that morning, you know, it had to be shovelled into the bunker for the boilers. And that's the first time I actually did proper work, the first time I broke into, I actually broke into a proper sweat. You know, the sweat was pouring out...

 

EMB      [Laughs]

 

AP         You think to yourself, you know, I'm leaking!

 

Interviewed by volunteer Elaine Boyling

Recording reference: emb(t)033-4  ©

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