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ARBURY 70's ARCHIVE - PART 3 - 'Skiving' In Carlton Way...

The old homestead - Cunningham Close on South Arbury. This was my childhood home and it was here as a little 'un that I learned the concept of left and right. I stood on that corner and memorised the fact that we lived on the left and the other side was the right. Even now, when my poor addled old brain is required to work out right from left, I still spontaneously summon up a mental image of Cunningham Close.

It might be nice to be able to write that I attended one of the Arbury primary schools, but I didn't, despite living in Cunningham Close on South Arbury.

When I started school, I lived in Stretten Avenue - then considered as 'New Chesterton' by its inhabitants and, indeed, the home of the New Chesterton Window Cleaning Company - but residing in 'Castle Ward', electorally. 

My mother had attended Milton Road School, as had my grandmother, and so I was sent there. When we moved to Cunningham Close, I expected to be moved to Arbury School on South Arbury or the Grove on North Arbury, both being nearer, but this didn't happen. Mum saw no reason why I shouldn't continue attending her old school.

Now, my cousin - I'll call her Sharon, because she desires anonymity, two years older than me, lived in Bateson Road - considered as New Chesterton by its inhabitants but electorally North Chesterton Ward then Castle Ward - and, later, Arbury Ward (and now West Chesterton Ward) when she started school. She went to Milton Road as well - her mother being my mother's sister.

At that time, St Luke's would have been closer, but our mothers wanted to send us to their old school and we were too young to argue.

We all moved onto 'The Arbury' in 1970, but continued to attend Milton Road School - and, what's more, walked to and from the school at lunchtime every day!

Whatever the weather.

We could have got the 186 bus which ran from Arbury into Cambridge much as the C1 does today, but our parents had little money and somehow never got round to looking into possible bus passes for kids.

The dear old 186 in Carlton Way, about to leave the original Arbury Estate for the 'New Hospital'. This was the present day Addenbrookes - which was then referred to as 'New Addenbrookes' because it was. 'Old Addenbrookes' was in Trumpington Street.

Early 21st Century photograph of Gilbert Road - taken from the front seat of the top deck of a Cambridge-bound C1. This was the first photo I took with a digital camera. Me and my wife were very excited with it and snapped anything and everything on that bus trip - including an incoming Arbury bus!

Cousin Sharon was two years older than me, and much sharper. I was a dreamy boy, loaded with sentimentality and a view that life could (possibly - I wasn't in an easy family situation) be rather lovely. Cousin Sharon was streetwise and sharp and led me into mischief!

One day, we were strolling down Carlton Way to school when Sharon said: 'Why don't we skive today?'

'Skiving' was basically telling your parents you were going to school and then not. I don't think you could do it today - there are probably little gizmos in the school ceiling clocking your eyeballs as you walk in or something, but back in the 1970s it was a popular and very daring thing - guaranteed to enliven any day.

Well, at least that's what some kids said. 

I, all of nine years old, had an attack of the wibbly wobblies at the very thought, but cousin Sharon was full of enthusiasm: 'It'll be a laugh! School's so boring!'

I was very worried indeed. 

We didn't use the word 'wimp' in those days (I think it came from America, and it hadn't reached Arbury at that point), but I didn't want to be thought a coward, so I agreed.

For some reason, we ended up standing near the corner of Metcalfe Road, opposite the Carlton Terrace shops. A pair of klackers hung forlornly down from a high telephone wire above our heads, and, soon, I was feeling as forlorn as they looked.

It had become something of a sport to try and lob these little beasts over high telephone wires, as users tired of getting their knuckles rapped by them.

And under this particular pair we stood.

A pair of klackers. This is not THE pair. It's another pair.

Surely, we must have been there for hours?

Cousin Sharon checked her watch. No. About eight minutes.

We were bored. I was worried as 9am ticked by and knew we were now officially 'skiving'.

Why on earth we'd elected to stand opposite the shops on Carlton Way I don't know. It was ridiculous. People who knew us shopped there, although our mothers were more likely to go to Arbury Court.

It just shows how young and daft we were.

The fateful corner. The fencing wasn't there in those days and the hanging klackers, which were, have gone.

About twenty minutes (or six hours in our time) had passed when I spotted a woman we knew coming along Carlton Way. She was known to be a bit of a gossip, and knew both our mothers.

I was convinced she'd seen us - it was said all round South Arbury that her eyes missed nothing - but she made no sign of it. Sharon grabbed me by the hand and we ran down Metcalfe Road. We stopped a little way down and looked back, and the woman was standing outside Yarrow's ('Yarrer's') chatting to somebody.

'She hasn't seen us!' said Sharon.

We spent the entire morning walking up and down Metcalfe Road - to the Lady Adrian School and back up again. The atmosphere was enlivened by a brief childish squabble as the full horror of what we'd done seeped into my little brain.

'We'll go in this afternoon,' said Sharon. 'Don't worry. I'll write us notes about being off this morning. Say we had belly ache or something.'

I knew Sharon's writing and wasn't convinced it would be accepted as our mothers', and said so.

Sharon was highly offended.

'You're always moaning, you are!' she said.

Well, the morning passed - as somebody once said of the book Brideshead Revisited  'a triumph of length' - it was forever - and then Sharon said: 'Let's go home for lunch now.'

'But it's only just after twelve,' I quavered. 'We'd still be walking up Gilbert Road if we'd been to school.'

'Don't worry!' said Sharon. 'We'll dawdle and it'll work out the same.'

We parted on the corner of Brimley Road - that's where we always met and parted for school journeys.

'It'll be fine - you're a real worry mutton you are,' said cousin Sharon.

So, she went to her home and I went home to Cunningham Close.

The Close looked as it always did - so peaceful and normal, I felt comforted. I saw Doreen, our neighbour, and somebody was cleaning their windows with Windowlene (messy stuff in those days) and, well, it was just an average day.

'Stop worrying,' I told myself. 'You're a twit.'

'Mum!' I called brightly, as I entered the house.

But it wasn't 'Mum' who descended on me from the living room. It was a vicious beast that vaguely resembled her. Something with eyes that popped and face that grimaced and hands that flailed - something out of Dr Who that even Jon Pertwee would have fled from.

'AND WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?' it screeched.

I opened my mouth, but it swept on: 'DON'T BOTHER LYING! YOU HAVEN'T BEEN TO SCHOOL! YOU WERE SEEN!!'

So I'd been right about the 'ABC' (Arbury Broadcasting Company), as she was sometimes known, clocking us earlier.

Well, I endured 'a bloody good hiding' and was assured my aunt knew and cousin Sharon would be receiving the same.

But worse was to come as our mothers then marched us to school (we met my Aunt and cousin Sharon on the corner of Brimley Road) and took us straight to the headmaster's office.

Mr Mac-Caffee (that's how we pronounced his name) was the headmaster of Milton Road Juniors. He was a kindly, genial man - very dedicated to the school. Our mothers went in to see him and we went to our classrooms as afternoon school began.

I trembled and tried to concentrate on making something out of papier maché, but it wasn't easy. The thing was supposed to be a chicken but nobody would have known by looking at it.

Then, the school secretary arrived and I was beckoned to and sent off to Mr Mac-Caffee's office.

I can't recall what he said to me, but I came out severely 'shook up', and when I saw cousin Sharon after school she was ashen.

But she tried to brazen it out.

'He was very nice to me,' she said. 'He gave me a cup of coffee because I'm a young lady.'

I looked at her and she averted her gaze.

'HAH!' I said.

We never 'skived' again.


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