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Form 1G, Acklam Hall Grammar School 1958-59; form master Mr Gaskill; That’s me, 4th left back row


What did you dream about when you were young? What were your hopes and aspirations? Most of us were raised in humble circumstances and few of us are wealthy even now, but as children most of us yearned for something better.

When I was a young lad of nine or ten our local library was a dream machine filled with all sorts of adventures — most entirely beyond my reach. But I came across stories that were tantalisingly only just out of reach. I was inspired by the “Swallows and Amazons” books by Arthur Ransome. I was already a lover of the outdoors, cultivated I’m sure by my mother.

The stories are about two sets of children, the Blacketts who live on the shores of a lake in the Lake District, and the Walkers, who holiday at a farm on the other side of the lake. The Blacketts have a sailing dingy called “Amazon” and the Walkers one called “Swallow”. They meet by accident on an island and become rivals but end up friends. They have all sorts of adventures together over a series of books involving sailing, camping, fishing, and country pursuits.

By today’s standards the stories are old-fashioned, perhaps even a little naïve, set in 1930s Britain when children’s entertainment was almost entirely home-made and make-believe. Relationships with parents was a curious mixture of amazing freedom combined with obedient deference involving traditional values like honesty, integrity, trustworthiness and “doing the proper thing”. Sailing skills, knots, nautical terms, semaphore, signal flags, make-believe captains and mates, pirates, – I drank it all up. How I longed to go sailing! How I longed to own a boat! How wonderful a holiday in the Lake District would be!

But the middle-class world of the Swallows and Amazons was out of reach for a working-class boy like me on a council estate in Middlesbrough. And yet . . . there was one possibility. The Boy Scout movement offered a potential route to adventure and the great outdoors. But I never joined. Why? Well, a combination of factors including a huge debilitating shyness, plus one great stumbling-block: scouts wore a uniform. I hated the idea of a uniform and in any case, I would never have asked my parents; I knew they couldn’t afford it or the fees. Instead, I got hold of the scouting handbook and devoured it in my bedroom, where I dreamed vicarious adventures using the skills I learned. I could light a fire, read a map, take a compass bearing better than any Boy Scout.

Why the problem wearing a uniform? I suppose it’s buried deep in my psyche, and part of the reason I hate ties (see a previous post). Starting a very traditional grammar school with its posh uniform was a torment. On that first day my mother thought I looked so very, very smart, while I writhed inwardly. I managed to keep my cap on all the way to school. This was a good thing since I discovered that if we met one of the masters we were required to doff our cap and say “good morning sir”. If we didn’t, or if we were cap-less, a note would likely arrive in the classroom halfway through the morning, requesting the delinquent to see Mr. So-and So after school. I learned to put up with the uniform, and I still have my cap, several sizes too small now, but I never learned to like it.

How foolish! Denying experience, adventure, growth and progress for the sake of appearance. I haven’t entirely grown out of it even now but I’m getting there. Does it seem familiar though? I’ve noticed that many people have a similar problem. They deny themselves blessings and opportunities because they have difficulty conforming. The fact is, Christianity is a uniform. The series of doctrines and commandments is a uniform. The famous statement of Jesus “take my yoke upon you . . . for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” says it all. The fact is, in this life there is no option for no yoke. We all have to carry a yoke (put on a uniform), the only choice is which yoke to take. I believe with all my heart that Christ’s yoke is the lightest and I just better get happy about putting on his uniform.


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