Twenty-Four Hours in Didsbury

My last day at Ewing School with the Middle Group

If you read the previous article entitled Seven Go Camping in Crowden, you might enjoy the latest Ewing School themed article. As the previous one took us back to the Dark Peak, this piece takes us back to a less forbidding part of the world. It is set in Didsbury and Cheadle, and covers my last twenty-four hours as a Ewing School pupil.

Twenty-Four Hours (in Didsbury): 19 – 20 July 1990

Starring the whole of The Middle Group including:

  • Mrs Butterworth;
  • Rita Cooke;
  • Carsten Earle;
  • Eleanor Mansfield;
  • Jeni Mobbs;
  • Catherine Thompson;
  • Stuart Vallantine;
  • Karen Warburton;
  • Rebecca Willis;
  • Matthew Wood.

Also featuring:

  • Pippa (a Golden Retriever);
  • Rufus (a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel);
  • Jaime Earnshaw (Upper Group).

19 July 1990

A Thursday in 1990 at Ewing School was no departure from the norm. The First Group went out on their weekly trips in the red minibus, augmented by Marjorie’s Austin Maestro and Brenda’s Vauxhall Nova Merit. The same taxis and minibuses dropped off and picked up on Central Road in the AM and PM peaks as usual.

In the Middle Group, Thursdays meant a bit of R.E. in Rita’s classroom before dinner time. After the hour long break, to Mrs Butterworth’s room to discuss and test our understanding of current affairs. Before the day was over, it meant being the speech therapy room for a one-to-one session with Jeni.

Of the Middle Group teachers that had a lasting impression on me, it was (the late great) Jeni Mobbs. She was bubbly and introduced me to the joys of Edward Lear’s Nonsense Verse (and ultimately, poetry of any description). She was the most creative of the three teachers, whereas Rita and Mrs Butterworth prepared you better for the trappings of mainstream High School education. Neither Rita nor Mrs Butterworth suffered fools gladly.

Come 3.30 pm, any sense of a normal Thursday ground to a halt. This was thanks to a farewell barbecue with Middle Group and Upper Group pupils.

Before the school’s demolition (and its replacement by new buildings for the West Didsbury C of E Free School), Ewing School had a nice garden section. This ran from the wardens’ flats nearest to Palatine Road right up to the hard playground beside a three storey block. It included three grass banks nearest to the bus turnaround and a brick sandpit, some concrete slab flooring, two ponds, white horizontal wood fencing, and a garage.

Between the garage and the three storey block was a selection of garden plots used by Middle Group pupils for Friday afternoon’s gardening lessons. These were previously grass verges before paving slabs (in a grid layout) were added in Spring 1987.

Beside one of the ponds, a concrete lined rectangular one, was a brick barbecue.

The good weather we were blessed with for most of the week continued into the night. There was plenty of nibbles – all the usual barbecue type stuff like burgers – and music to get us all into a Mediterranean mood. Instead of the chart sounds of 1990, there was a bias towards Greek music. In other words, Zorba’s Dance instead of Partners In Kryme’s Turtle Power (probably a good move).

The party ended at around 10.00 pm. Had I made the journey home myself, it would have meant a taxi from Ashton after changing en-route in Droylsden (169 then 216) or Piccadilly Gardens (43/44/143 then 216/219). Thankfully, there was an alternative plan for me, one that didn’t mean missing the last 220, 221, 339, 340 or 346 by a whisker. It was a put-you-up at Hotel Springdale.

11.30 pm, Chez Mobbs, living room

The plan was simple: it involved a fold-up soft futon bed in the living room of Jeni’s house. I was most impressed with how quiet Springdale Gardens was given its proximity to Wilmslow Road. Before retiring to bed, I had a lemon and lime soft drink as a nightcap. At the time, it knocked the spots off Morrisons’ Hot Chocolate. Back then, it was drinking chocolate with chocolate flavoured Smash instant mash style pellets.

20 July 1990

7.45 am, Chez Mobbs

Friday 20 July 1990 was a seminal point in my life. It brought to a close a most incredible three years, seven months and fifteen days as a Ewing School pupil. I was ready to venture out into the Big Wide World of Mainstream Senior School, though no buses nor GMPTE Scholar’s Permits would be harmed in the next episode.

Thirty years on, I still say to this day how my time at Ewing School prepared me for life better than at High School. Though I grew academically in the mainstream school environment, I learned more about myself whilst at West Didsbury. Then even more besides after leaving school, though I still see myself as a work in progress at times.

After rising for breakfast, we left the house for Fog Lane Park. Before starting work, Jeni walked her dogs, Pippa and Rufus. Pippa was an adorable Golden Retriever in her second year. Of a similar age was Rufus, a tricolour Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Then, on returning to her house, we dropped the dogs off and headed for Ewing School.

9.15 am, Ewing School

A normal Middle Group Friday at Ewing School meant gardening in the afternoon, followed by a tea party to take us to the weekend. As the 20 July 1990 was the last day of term, this meant Toy Day. A time to let our hair down or use the Big School Telly to watch a video instead of Thinkabout or Look and Read.

The Middle Group had other plans, and that involved the trusty red minibus. Our original plan was a game of pitch and putt at Bruntwood Park, followed by a brew at the Golden Days Garden Centre in Cheadle. Both, theoretically, should have left us with change from a pound coin each.

11.00 am, Golden Days Garden Centre Café, Cheadle

On arriving at Bruntwood Park, we were mortified to find that a game of pitch and putt was beyond our means. We assumed it was 50p a go. Instead we found it was £1.50 – quite a price hike (suffice to say, Stockport MBC might have raised it to keep Poll Tax rates as low as possible).

Instead, we went straight to our nineteenth hole: the café of the Golden Days Garden Centre. A cheap and cheerful location where a brew and a Juicy Lucy ice lolly cost you 50p. Almost the same price as a large Coca Cola at TESCO’s café in East Didsbury at the time.

Though the café had the typical ambience of a late 1980s garden centre refreshment rooms, it had one other redeeming feature (well, at least for me). It was on the side of the Cheadle Heath freight line that runs from Northenden to Hazel Grove. What really stole the show for me was a passing Class 47 diesel in BR’s Trainload two tone grey livery.

1.30 pm – 3.20 pm, Ewing School

The last two hours at Ewing School involved a treasure hunt. This Mother of All School Treasure Hunts had clues dotted around the school. Everything was going well till I was stumped by the last clue.

The last clue concerned a key that was stored in the Headteacher’s office. I thought it would have been in a more obvious position, and I was livid to find that the said key was… in a desk. More specifically, the lock for the drawers on the side of Mr Williams’ desk. This was where the pot of gold was at the end of our quest.

3.30 pm, Farewell

After the treasure hunt, we collected our stuff, as normal for another Friday. For the Ewing School leavers (myself, Carsten, Rebecca, Karen and Catherine), this meant having to empty our desks. A new adventure into The Big Wide World of Mainstream Education.

Catherine would finish her schooling at Our Ladys R.C. High in Blackley, whereas Rebecca moved to Castle Hill High School near Stockport. Carsten and Karen would finish their schooling at other schools in Manchester Education Committee boundaries. As for yours truly, one of a small number of non-catholic pupils at a school close to home. One with family connections.

My last few minutes saw yours truly saying goodbye to his peers, in the normal We’ve Broken Up For The Summer Holidays way. There was no tears, just another chapter waiting to be written. I said my goodbyes to all three teachers, who came up with some supportive words. Also to the rest of the Middle Group, from Dave to Eleanor, both Matthews (Hough and Wood), and Nathan.

I headed towards the taxi with some of my ‘souvenirs’ from Ewing School: a waterproof clipboard (given to us by Headteacher, Mr Williams) and a book based on the Television South [TVS] series Panic Station. Lovingly signed in fountain pen by Mrs Butterworth.

The last I would see from the old order at Ewing School were my fellow taxi passengers who lived in the Tameside area. These were Jaime Earnshaw, who would stay in the Upper Group for a few more years. Also Rebecca Hind and Sharon Kennedy – both at the Reception Group in 1990, and (also in the Upper Group at the time) Michelle Greenhalgh.

Or so we thought back in July 1990. I returned to the school in December that year for a Christmas disco. Instead of the Disco Nöel tape I heard in 1989, the bulk of that night’s playlist was tracks by The Doors.

Then in March 1991, I was back one Saturday for a special event to commemorate Ewing School’s 21st year. With local press in attendance, a special cake was baked for the occasion and photographed in the dining hall. The hall had several photo displays, featuring the holidays of all four groups (Reception, First, Middle, Upper).

There was also computer games, with the school’s BBC Master Computer (the 128k version of the BBC Model ‘B’, by the way) seen between the Middle Group and Upper Group classrooms. On one of the machines was Empire Software’s Pipe Mania, which I would enjoy on the Commodore 64 two years later.

My last visit, with Louise Frost and Andrew Morton, was a more bittersweet affair. In November 2013, we returned to the site of the school expecting to see boarded up windows or the school’s buildings razed to the ground. Not so, as Birches School used the Ewing School buildings as an annexe. Due to asbestos, the former residential block was out of bounds, though the rest of the building was open for visitors.

Before I go…

I would be grateful if you have any memories of your last day at Ewing School. Whether in 1990, 1980, 1985, or in 2012, feel free to comment. (Better still if you left the same year I did).

If you left in 1990, you might like this song I remember hearing in the residential block prior to the barbecue. Before the party started proper, I was sat in the residential area TV lounge (first floor, accessed from stairs nearest to dining room) for Top of the Pops. It was must-see TV back then, especially for fellow pupils who stayed over on weekdays. On that very night, I heard this song by a Neighbours heart throb other than Jason Donovan.

Yes, I understand this is cheese of the highest order, but you’ll be whistling along to this for a day or two.

S.V., 20 July 2020.

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