Xaverian College


Xaverian College

My experience at Xaverian is difficult to summarise in just a few words. In some ways I am grateful to the staff at Xaverian because, for all its faults, it attempted to be an academic institution. What I learned there stood me in good stead at University and so subsequently has allowed me to earn a living. However, as I reflect on it now, I have two almost overwhelming feelings about the place.

  1. Firstly it was just grim: the buildings, the staff, the atmosphere. Only the students were colourful and real. However, as I describe the 'cast' of staff members below, you might be forgiven for thinking that these staff members are on the 'technicolor' side of colourful. But at the time I didn't think so.

  2. Secondly, it was just not as good as it could have been. The entire institution was the antithesis of 'the personal' (though see some qualification of that below) and it just didn't do a very good job (as witness my appalling knowledge of the French language).

Teachers at Xaverian

I guess the problem started with the staff:

  1. Mr.'Weirdo' Wierden. We were taught history in the first year by Mr. Wierden. My brother Charles had given me good reports of Mr. Wierden: he reported that when he wrote an essay on 'A day in the life of a viking' Mr. Wierden had give extra ticks for each vicious murder that Charles had described. However, face to face the man was just weird. I recall one incident where we were set about tasks and then he walked up and down the rows of desks in 'Ward Hall' as we wrote. Periodically and randomly he would smash the head of a schoolboy down onto the desk. What can you say but that his name was entirely appropriate. I feel obliged to point out that at the time I found absolutely nothing strange abut his behaviour: does that give you a flavour of the atmosphere?

  2. Mr Fitton: This man taught geography in the first year. He was young and dynamic and I recall three things in particular about him. First he used the lancashire pronunciation of the words look and book. This sounds something like luke and buke and in my 11 year old mind this seemed oddly comical. Secondly, I recall him throwing objects such a chalk and board dusters at students who were not concentrating. But most importantly I recall his discovery of Gondwanaland. One night I watched a Horizon programme about the then revolutionary discoveries of the reality of continental drift. The next day Mr ??? came in and told us all about the things he had seen on television the previous night. But it was clear he knew no more than us about all this and my respect for him essentially evaporated.

  3. Brother Robert: What can I say about brother Robert that is not libellous? He was a kind man and bizarrely taught French. He taught with the same cultural insight that a Martian might use to decode the mutterings of earthlings. In retrospect his fondness for young boys and his cane seems... odd. At the time he just seemed OK.

  4. Mr Arkless. Mr Arkless, the maths teacher, sums up the good and the bad things about Xaverian. Firstly, he was basically a good teacher. He could explain things. But...

  5. His exam strategy, which he explained to the class before the 'O' level exams, was simple. 'You should get down on your knees and PRAY, to our blessed lady'.

  6. He had a policy in class which was that he would never castigate a student for saying he didn't understand. He would explain things as many times as students asked, but students had to ask. He warned that he would be annoyed if students said they understood when they didn't. On one occasion remembered by all who were present, Jenkins (I think it was him: front row, middle of the class) was found to have failed to confess his ignorance about some subject or other. He was told to stand up, which he did and then fainted clean away in utter terror of what was to come. I can still see the colour draining from his face. Mr Arkless caught him as he fell and calmly asked the class "Does he do this often?". The answer, Mr Arkless, is 'No, only when he is utterly terrified.'

  7. Mr Finan. Mr Finan taught me physics at 'A' level.

  8. On the good side, Mr Finan knew everything. At least he answered every question I ever asked and his knowledge seemed limitless. This was impressive.

  9. On the other hand he was genuinely odd. He taught many classes with his eyes closed and generally addressed the back of a classroom, even if there were only two people in it.

  10. Mr Burns. Mr 'Jock' Burns was scottish and taught me physics at 'O' level. He made quite a contrast with Mr Finan in that Mr Burns didn't appear to know very much at all. I recall one occasion in particular when we were studying electrostatics. It was full of silk rubbing leather and metal and things going from positive to negative. I recall the class was gathered round the teacher the bench as he went through this postitive -negative spiel. I was following closely and at one point I thought he made a mistake. I enquired "Sir? Shouldn't that be postive?". His response was unequivocal and very loud. "ARE YOU CALLING ME A LIAR SONNY?". I was shocked.

  11. Mr 'Tracy:Mr Tracy was very odd. His manners were very camp and he was very petty about minor dismeanors. I chose to study Latin rather than Biology just to avoid him.

  12. Mr McEvoy: Mr. Kevin McEvoy lived with his sister in Didsbury and I think his sister had been good friends with my mother. Whatever. He taught French and he was just not very good at it. Mr. McEvoy had a special kind of wierdness. He would call out people's names backwards (my name would be atsedop and if a student failed to respond he would be booked into little book kept by Matthew Grant. You could also get put into the book for all kinds of other reasons from the relatively justificable, to the utterly trivial. At the end of the week being booked would earn you extra homework. At the time we all just adapted, but it is only as I look back that I think this behaviour was a little odd.

  13. Mr Diamond: Mr 'pug' Diamond was a terrible teacher of Latin, but I am very happy to have been taught Latin by him. What I liked was the fact that he knew latin itself inside out and was completely fluent in it. He also liked the Romans and would tell stories about the Romans as if he had been there himself. Also, in two years of sitting in a class of 9 learning latin, he never asked me a single question. I would definitely have failed this 'O' level had it not been for Brother McCabe.

  14. Brother Cyril: I have mixed feelings about Brother Cyril. He did two things that deeply affected me and my family, one kind and one horrribly unkind.

  15. The unkind thing he did was kick my brother Charles out of school. He did this because he said Charles hair was too long and he insisted that he cut his hair or leave the school. What was utterly unfair about this was that my other brother, Sean, was at the school at the time and his hair, while technically perhaps not quite as long as Charles' hair, was filthy and Sean took much less care and pride in his appearance than Charles. This was just petty and stupid but blighted Charles life in a profound and completely unneccesary way.

  16. The kind thing he did occurred when by father was critcally ill with cancer. I did not know he had cancer, but I did know he had had his lung removed and that he was in Wythenshawe hospital. Domestically, it was just me and Charles (who was working shifts at a petrol station at the time) at home. Wythenshawe hospital was a real bugger to get to from our home in Didsbury, requiring a long walk to Princess Parkway and then a long bus ride. Each evening I would come home from school, grab some food and then have to leave to get to the hospital in time for visiting hours. I would stay with him and then come home, arriving at may be nine o'clock when I would have to do my homework. After a few weeks of this, one day I just overslept drastically and instead of waking up about eight in the morning I woke up about ten. I rolled out of bed and went to school. I arrived in Mr McEvoy's lesson and when he asked me why I was late I said I had overslept. He sent me straight to the headmaster. I waited outside Brother Cyril's office and when he eventually appeared he put his arm around me and asked me how my father was. I didn't even know he knew my father was unwell. He never asked me why I had been sent to see him.

  17. Brother Anthony McCabe. What to say about brother McCabe? Brother McCabe was much younger than most of the other Brothers, and generally a little bit more lively.

  18. He taught us for our sex education sessions. He passed over most of the technical details of sex about which I personally would have been very pleased to have received clarification, but then I guess a celibate would not really be the best qualified to teach this kind of class! 'What!' I hear you say. 'You were taught about sex by a celibate brother?' . All I can say is at the time, I found nothing odd about it at all!

  19. He also came in (replacing Mr 'pug' Diamond) and taught us Latin for the 6 months before our 'O' level exam, and undoubtedly is responsible for my grade 'C' pass in that subject. I remember his heroic recitation of hic, haec, hoc... even now.

  20. Mr. Newton: Mr. Newton taught PE and I was always awful at PE. At least that's how it seemed at Xaverian. At St. Catherines I was generally good at sports and took part in the AAA certificate scheme and ran in races and competitions and was pretty good at the triple jump. But as soon as I reached Xaverian I seemed have been deemed to be not very good (presumably because of a lack of aggression) and I responded appropriately. PE was just a weekly case of having it emphasised that I was crap at PE. I was constantly fearful of these lessons. Fearful of being, for example, forced to jump over a 'horse'. However there was no malice in Mr Newton, just indifference towards those who were not very good at PE. He also had two children at the school, the elder of whom (whose name escapes me for the moment) went on to become a quite well-known stage hypnotist.

  21. Brother Kieran: I don't know what Brother Kieran taught but in the first year I somehow ended up having to play rugby (union) a game I had never played before. Although he was kind and encouraging the experience of playing rugby was just awful. I recall six months of just having all hell knocked out of us by boys from other schools who may not have been older, but were definitely bigger. Much bigger. It was just awful. Eventually I was released from this purgatory and allowed to play football.

  22. Brother Brennan: Brother Brennan was american and taught Maths in the first year. He was very likeable and approachable. I recall one occassion where I expected punishment and humiliation. However Brother Brennan dealt with with grace and mercy and I still feel grateful. He also once took a group of us to Knowsley Safari Park in a minibus. It wasn't an easy trip. Firstly he seemed to expect us students (aged may be 11 or so) to have opinions about what we should all do and where we should go. He seemed annoyed when we could not collectively make up our minds. This was a bit shocking at the time because we were always just told what to do and then did it! And secondly, I don't think I had enough money. I think I benefitted from Brother Brennan's generosity that day. I still recall seeing the monkeys close up as they climbed all over our car.

  23. Mr. Challenger: Mr Andrew Challeger taught music. He was the youngest teacher in the school by a long way, and had indeed been at the school only a few years previously. I didn't like him or music lessons because they were completely inaccessible to me. I'd like to thank Mr Challenger for this object lesson turning people off subjects they are interested in. Of course it wasn't his fault. His job was to get people through music 'O' and 'A' level exams and coming from a family in which classical music was not played I was at something of a disadvantage. Indeed, at that time, the Haydn Trumpet concerto and the music 'Exodus' (See Junior 3 at St. Catherines) formed around 50 percent of my total lifetime exposure to non-pop music.

  24. Mr. Barry: Mr Barry taught me chemistry to 'O' level and as I look back I find him amongst the most real and genuine human beings I met at Xaverian. He was teaching chemistry and it was apparent that (a) he actually knew his stuff and (b) he enjoyed chemistry. I also think he liked teaching. I really liked Mr. Barry.

Link to St Catherine’s Memoirs