Central High School today
Posted March 25th. 2001 Stabroek News
few weeks ago, when I read the glowing tributes to an outstanding civil servant,
Frank Narain, (fifty years service) and an old boy of Central, I felt obliged
to share and record my memories, as I had the unique privilege of attending
high school, and working at the Public Buildings with this 'Robert Clive'
of the Public Service. Naturally, the usual after-school recommendation from
JC meted out to me in no way compared to Frank's, and I always wondered why
at my farewell, the entire school chorused "Praise God - Godfrey is leaving
I remember being absent from school for hospitalization for two weeks, and instead of a get-well card, the teachers subbed for a thank-you card to my parents.
First day at Central High
On Monday August 21, 1948, I embarked on my secondary education, at Central High School, 90 Smyth St. Slogan - 'Cogito ergo sum.' Brown khaki short pants, white shirt, a narrow knitted blue tie with horizontal stripes, girls in navy-blue uniforms. First assembly as it would be for the next seven years, second floor with Principal J C Luck addressing the student body.
Newcomers, were assigned to three classrooms, and with approx 35 in each class, I venture to estimate there were approximately 120 new students. Most of us had earned less than eighty per cent at the April Scholarship Common Entrance, and therefore missed, for better or worse QC, ST Stanislaus, or Bishop's.
For myself, I say even now, 'Lucky Boy,' as looking back, I have absolutely no regret in attending Central, even though we lacked several of the facilities and amenities, available at the Government sponsored colleges. Initial school books and outfitting for the first term cost $48.
Rites of Spring
The 'Rites of Spring' of Central were a milestone, as bewildering as Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. At eleven plus, you were faced with a new breed of authority figures - the teaching staff - Caleb, Collins, Smith/Green, Persaud, Munroe. Senior Prefects were Stanley and Donald Luck, and Robert Moore, all of whom were substitute teachers, much to our relief. New subjects, included Latin (amo, amas, amat), French (Je suis le garcon), History from the first Jacobite Rebellion against King George I, the theorems of Geometry, and the hierolyphics of minuses and pluses placed between letters, that needed the Enigma Decoder to decipher. That was Algebra - taught only to make my school days miserable - and prepare us for life's threshold. Lamb's Tales of Shakespeare, introduced us to the tragedies and comedies of the Bard in prose form.
The only consolation was that this was our first close contact with beautiful girls our own age, and our subsequent crushes did keep us on track with school studies, and inspired us to be more than the class idiot.
J C's dream
Central High had been started years earlier by another inspired carpenter, this one a Chinese immigrant's son, who taught himself and his brood of children at home during WWWII.
J C did the best thing for his kids - educate them. The learning part was easy, as J C set the example himself, studying privately with correspondence courses to achieve his BA degree in 1947 while his brood performed brilliantly in their own academic circles.
J C was also a prominent figure in several other aspects of the nation's growth, and was a popular private candidate Albouystown) in the famous 1953 national elections, in which the upcoming People's Progressive Party won 18 of the 24 seats.
The birth of a school
Friends, admiring the progress of the Luck clan, sought J C's help for the private tutoring of their kids. Brentnol Adams, a close friend, had also followed J C's footsteps to earn his BA in similar manner, and the building on Smyth St was extended many times, to meet the teaching demand. The academic empire - Central High School - was thus born.
J C ever so often would teach a class, and these occasions were like oases in the humdrum of school studies. He loved to share his memories of his early start, and with a mischievous glint in his friendly eyes, would tell us his deeds as a fresh young cub, and his pioneer days as farmer, shopkeeper, gold digger and rice miller.
All our teachers must have received salary increases at the end of our first term - December '48 - as the grade average of every student in the three remove forms was 85 plus. The miracle was, that the spoilt Roneoed test papers had been inadvertently dumped behind the toilets at the back, and obviously, that first term test was a piece of cake. Thereafter, my term grades diminished in harmonic progression, until I became serious about academic studies in my final year - 1954. Our favourite subject was then Girlometry and Boyology, and my assured 'A' grade each term was for being Talkative, Troublesome and Terrible.
The school's caretaker was Janitor Persaud, who was the pupil's confidante, while his wife supplemented their family by selling potato balls, bara and baiganee. JC, the philanthropist, gave each of Persaud's tribe free schooling, and built him a comfortable home at the pavilion in Thomas Lands, in appreciation of his loyal, dedicated service.
Desk table tennis
There was no organized game programme, and no sports gear was made available, so we thus resorted to desk table tennis. The First Steps in Latin primer was the ideal racquet, two books on edge was the net, and whoever possessed a Halex or Made in England table tennis ball played first - winner stayed in. James Meigon was desk tennis champion.
At this time, it was a Central old boy, Charles Barnwell, who was national table tennis champion, and I believe another talent, Lennie Brassington was from our school. The St Phillip's playground was our Lords for the few cricket matches, plus football melees with the neighbourhood scruffs.
Dennis DeSouza, famous Guyanese pianist, was an aspiring medium pacer, until I hooked him into Haley's Dancehall across the street. The carpentry woodwork shop at the back of the ground floor, was also used as a classroom to ease the overcrowding.
There was a sort of tuck shop, plus a vendor with a tray of Quality Street Mackintosh toffees - one cent. Deen, the corner grocery, offered Red Spot aerated and channa as the daily meal, and Mrs Wong's opposite sold delicious pastry. Payne's Imperial Drink around the corner was two cents, as well as Cheong's mauby at Cross & Leopold. Deen did extend 'trust' to students, and I still owe him G2.56 from the period during my six months in 1955 as a teacher apprentice, earning the handsome salary of $50 per month, while I awaited my December exam results.
The downstairs' classrooms had no windows, and low partition walls separated the classrooms. Heavy rainfall meant no school, and any excuse for a declared school holiday was a celebration. King George's death, February 5, 1952, was an instant send-home, and we all went to the sea wall for our own impromptu cycle sports. A E Luck's son, Desmond, and Atta Sankar were the cycle champions.
Before the fifties, we did have a fundraising fair on the school premises, as well as athletic sports.
Harold Kaladeen was unbeatable. I placed third in the Late for School Event, and my father was so proud of this achievement, that both parents and myself, attended the prize giving function in brand new clothes, arriving in a Bookers taxi.
First prize was a hairbrush, second a bicycle pump and there was no third prize. The humiliation was so great, that I was allowed to stay at Central only on the strength that I was on a four year scholarship.
There was a Scout troop with Smith-Green as scoutmaster, and Chris Lam's elder brother as king scout. Regular campfires taught us to sing 'Tipperary,' 'Pack up your troubles' and 'Now is the Hour.' The school record was my three years as a tenderfoot, since every so often, King Scout Yhip pulled me out of the Metropole pit, and herded me to scout practice. He lived at Murray and Wellington Sts, and checked the cinemas on his way to scouting. Reminded me of the hound, Inspector Javert in Les Miserables.
Our troop was also leading contender for the camping trophy at a three-day national camp-out at Governor's Ground, Camp St, next to the East Indians' Club. It was a close tie, with St George's, Queen's College, Sea Scouts and Central as the finalists. On the last day, the judges, headed by Scout Commisioners Gomes & C C Lewis passed through the camp for final inspection. The Central campsite was the best and a favourite to win, until Gomes asked for our can opener. Putting it to his nose, he sniffed and smirked, "You guys had sardines for breakfast."
I swear, if capital punishment was not in force in Guiana, we would have killed the two cubs assigned to wash the breakfast wares.
By fifth form, your academic achievements took some priority. The senior teachers included Stella Jackson (Latin), A E Luck (Maths), Hoppie (Literature), Adams (French) and Hope (History) - with Stella Luck an all-round substitute. Many a day, copying homework from the brighter nerds, saved us from caning or detention. 'Tek down' was the popular daily class challenge, where you were challenged each lesson to retain your class place. A correct answer ensured you didn't drift down, and could send you a few places up.
At the end of each session you recorded your numbered place, and started the next session accordingly. Naturally, for each don't-know nod, or wrong answer, you drifted downwards, and I did have permanent residency even in high school. The only thing more embarrassing than being the classroom tail, was to be picked last in school team games.
Survival in high school required augmented skills, especially if you were not one of the gifted ones and was study-impaired. So instead of wasting time studying, I honed other skills, which caused me to wear spectacles in later years.
I bettered Clarke Kent's X-Ray vision by mastering the art of 'seeing in a curve and around corners.' Sitting behind the bright ones, I could copy all their answers from the exercise books before them. On one occasion, I even copied Vasil Persaud's name on my test paper, much to the amusement of the entire class. Hope solved the problem, by seating me alone at the back of the class. What an honour, to have a whole desk and special space for yourself. When my test paper recorded "This battle will be dealt with more fully in the preceding chapters," that was the final straw. Back in the principal's office, Stella, with a smug smile, immediately reached for the cane. No questions asked - guilty without representation. Isn't that why the colonies rebelled? J C was in stitches; he ordered Stella to make a note of this scholastic misdemeanour for the school's Yearbook, and immediately promoted me to prefect. Thereafter, I walked the corridors with a halo around my head, and became Saint Godfrey. The principal and I were henceforth bosom-buddies.
My epicurean belief then was that socializing, fraternizing and gamesmanship were far more important for public life than academics - call it street smart. Our private underground ballroom dancing was terrific fun, with Lionel Samuels teaching us waltz and tango, with the Arthur Murray system of following step charts, drawn on the floor. The new movie, Valentino, convinced me that a gigolo career was the best, until I was reminded that good looks and charm were essential.
When Lionel Samuels convinced me to follow him with the in-style crew cut, I swear I was the school's ugly duckling, until thank heavens, like Samson, my hair grew back.
Our term-end parties were $2 sub to pay Castanheiro for the juke box, Naraine for sodas and for sandwiches made by Nesta Adams and Maureen Alli, Broad St. Trup was our Las Vegas pastime, and Hector Lachmansingh, Dennis Bankay, Jainarine and Arthur Chang-Yen, the school's Rat Pack.
High school mafia
I was the school's Don Corleone, settling 'underdesk' disputes, and having my own numbers game, by soliciting bets on the West Indies cricket team mesmerizing England with the three WWW'S - Ram and Val, Robert Christiani, Stollmeyer and Goddard. With the six hours time difference, I picked up the daily cricket scores from Mount Eagle by the Astor during the school lunch break, and gave betting odds accordingly, thereby relieving students of their pocket money.
This was my version of the famous US horse race wire racket. We started our own five dollar chain letter with ten school friends, and creamed off the top of this pyramid for months - long after leaving school. We bought out Fogarty's six cents Archie Comic Book sale, and resold for twelve cents to fellow students - rentals, four cents a copy.
Jesse James now sheriff
The next year, I became tired of shenanigans - had tried, done all the high school tricks - and actually reformed. I became a model student, and left school with honours - Prelim BSc. Top grades in Econ/Econ History, English/Eng Literature, Br/European History and supplementary French.
The final years
With a low grade Senior Certificate, and only 14 years of age, I was required to promise my parents serious academic studies in exchange for another two years in sixth form, at the then astronomical sum of $18 a term. The wheat had now been separated from the chaff, and sixth form was an enriching experience. As prefects, with a special necktie, we were now the ones to set an example for the new students, as well as prepare ourselves, belatedly, for life's journey of responsibility and career. While in the political arena, the PPP with Cheddi, wife Janet and Forbes Burnham entered Parliament in triumphant white suits. Classmates Randolph Kirton, Odel Adams, Doodnauth Singh, Carl Veecock, Bernard DeSantos and Atta Sankar showed their acumen, proferring prolific arguments in our debating society. A nest of legal eagles - Mohabir (Balzac), Literature Teacher, encouraged our interests in theatre and dramatics, with the staging of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, to critical acclaim.
Our comaraderie was great. We met evenings to study in school - refreshed afterwards with a ride to the sea wall for a singalong of light classical favourites, especially Richard Tauber's hits. Suresh Naraine was as competent a tenor as Othmar Arthur, on the local Radio Dem.
Another night, we staked out Eccles, East Bank, to try and catch the Dutch ghost overseer, who allegedly rode a white horse, pulling chains, on the East Bank road.
Olga Lopes Seales' After Ten Club was our MTV, as we sent each other musical dedications, with the occasional puppy love messages. Patti Page was the singing rage.
On another occasion, my high school gang turned up, posing like the parapsychologists in the later film Ghostbusters to help capture the bacoo, that was throwing 'stones like bricks' in a Princes St house, for a full forthnight before thousands of frenzied spectators. Officer Mcleod dispersed us with a threat of an overnight stay at Brickdam.
At this time Central purchased a parcel of land in non Pareil Park, Albert St, and a junior school pavilion was built. Students were conscripted to help clear the field of bottles and debris, and after several loads of dirt and sawdust, we had at last our own playing field. Earlier, I would organize challenge cricket matches against other schools, and with my experience playing Cup Cricket at the Chinese Sports Club, I was the automatic choice for captain of the school cricket team.
For the first match, a school holiday, 800 children including Principal Adams, and staff were allowed to witness our first Chin Cup vs Tutorial. Winning the toss, I opted to bat on a rain-soaked wicket. hoping to nullify the vaunted pace attack of our opponents. Wrong move. Every delivery jumped face high, but slow, and after two hooks for six, found myself back in the stands. However, in the end Tutorial fell for 38, and we went on to play unbeaten that season. I won the toss ten straight times with a two-headed coin, extending hospitable courtesy to visiting captains the privilege of spinning the toss. No trick, no gain, and Central emerged High School Champions for 1954.
Brown was appointed Games Master before Roberts, and the school team toured Bartica. The high point of my school cricket was the match against the Combined Colleges, including Charlie Stayers, Ron Willock, Julian Archer, in a three day fixture at Queen's College ground.
Combined High Schools was captained by Deonarine Bissessar, leg spinner. I was vice captain/wicket keeper and opened batting, and I never saw the Stayers' hurricane that uprooted my stumps. Combined High Schools lost that encounter,
Central beats QC to win Chin Cup
In July 1955 Central again emerged cricket champions defeating the invincible Queen's College to win the Chin Cup, the symbol of cricket supremacy at the college/high school level. Opening bowlers Harvey Ng-a-Kein 4 for 17, and C Naughton 3 for 25, limited the homeside, packed with the formidable batting array of Rustic Fung, the Roopnaraine Bros and Laurie Lewis, to 76 in slightly windy conditions at Queen's, Thomas Lands.
Ron Willock and Julian Archer immediately struck back, to send CHS openers Davis and De Nobrega back to the stands with the score under double figures. The elegant, Mervyn Dornford held on tenaciously for 24, aided by Lennie Shuffler 18. The match see-sawed into the sixties, until wicketkeeper Alan Mann carried the score to 78 for 7. This was the first defeat of the College team by a high school eleven, which had received adequate playing facilities only two years earlier. I missed that match as I could not get the day off from my new career at the Chief Secretary's Office, Public Buildings, but was mighty proud of my alma mater.
There was some football. Before my time, Fontanelle (Tip-Ee-Toe) Embleton, Feidtkou, were the stars, and they went on to become the unbeatable Northern Rangers. Later Odel Adams was captain, Carlo Faria centre half and Dublin, a wizard inside forward. In a cup game, I fluked at centre forward five goals against Chatham.
After the game we rode to celebrate with mauby at the Mount Eagle on Camp St, then on to Radio Demerara to give B L Crombie the good news. It was also my duty to hand in every morning, sport achievements to the principal, for announcement over the address system. I guess, my flair for reporting and exaggeration started then.
True or false?
My final picong, is not verified, as I was absent that day - couldn't miss the Abbott and Costello 1:00 double at the Astor. Fire Chief Atkinson apparently visited the school to carry out a fire drill, and check evacuation procedures. In the principal's office, he was reviewing the school's orderly and efficent five minutes' evacuation. At that time the recess bell went off. The fire chief timed the school again, and declared, "Oh, hell. That's a record. They just did it in three minutes!"