Pupils on the move

I think it was Chris Harvey who, seeking a more comfortable position during a lesson in early 1953 leant back in his one-piece desk (the standard classroom furniture of the time) and brought his knees up under the front locker, with rubber-soled feet anchored firmly below. In those days the floors throughout the school were quite highly polished and, not surprisingly, this quite modest change of attitude sent the desk, with its seated occupant, shooting forward. ‘Ooh look’ called out someone, ‘he’s got a mobile desk!’

I can’t remember who was teaching at the time but it may well have been ‘Spike’ Jones, our English master (he was Welsh) and with whom, I must confess, our behaviour was less than exemplary. Within minutes most of us had tried out this new form of locomotion and soon acquired the knack of pedalling rapidly against the floor to send our desks zooming, dodgem-style, around the room with a flabbergasted teacher looking helplessly on. Thus it was that class 2A adopted mobodesking as a new and exciting leisure activity, to be indulged in both during and outside lesson times......... and we were still doing it two or three years later.

These desks were mounted on parallel, solid hardwood runners which functioned like skis and we soon discovered that by waxing them underneath we could attain a remarkable velocity. From our base in room 12 (now E12) it was possible to reach the far end of the corridor (by the Deputy Head’s room at the top of the stairs) in a matter of seconds and it was not unusual for a group of us to race round the entire block, speed-cornering by the old staff room and returning home past the Geography room. Some members of the class displayed impressive skills at controlling their mounts, none more so than Graham Rochester, who was the absolute champion and could do wheelies, back flips, pirouetting turns and even vertical take-offs (‘rocketship mobes’) as well as hair-raising speeds down the corridor. Rochester’s most legendary sortie had his mobodesk descending the stairs (like the Mnis in the Italian Job) and along the front corridor, flipping up the steps past the dining hall and continuing right past the school office and Headmaster’s room to the far end.

We couldn’t all manage stunts like this and most of us were content with taxi- ing to and fro during any lessons in which we knew we could get away with it. A favourite manoeuvre was for the entire class to creep forward en bloc, imprisoning the teacher on his podium at the front. Those of us who took German with Mr Kinsey (‘Herr Kreem’) also regularly moboed to his room, desks gliding in an orderly single file along the corridor to the destination which, once we had all arrived, would be jam-packed wall to wall with furniture, again trapping the teacher. Oddly, he never seemed to mind: in fact, quite a number of staff appeared to turn a blind eye to these escapades, although punishments were dealt out by the firmer disciplinarians: anyone who became a scapegoat (it was frequently the writer) was automatically made a Mobo Martyr and awarded a decoration. At this point I should explain that the cult of mobodesking brought with it a whole host of rules and regulations: there was a mandatory speed limit of 2 mobes (desk lengths) per second, for example, and poor vehicle control would result in a desk with L-plates affixed. I ran a servicing centre for vehicular repairs; we formed a society, the R.M.A. (Royal Mobodesking Association) and published a magazine, the Weekly Mobe, with news of exploits and achievements. I seem to remember that much of this organisation was in the hands of Colin Russell, another highly accomplished moboer who could always be relied on to come up with ingenious ideas even dafter than my own.

By the time we had progressed to form 5A (year 11) mobodesking had run its course, to be succeeded by more sophisticated forms of misbehaviour, some of which I dare not mention here but it was all good-natured fun and never malicious. One of my own contributions (in room E2) was to rig up a mechanical time switch to a long string which I’d installed over pulleys in the ceiling above the blackboard (designed for the lowering of maps, charts, etc.) and on which it was possible to suspend an object, Damocles-style, above the teacher’s head. One day Robin Poole found a dead owl on the field which we thought would provide a little light amusement during French. It was duly affixed to the dangling cord before the lesson started and I set the time switch to kick its lever over and release the string at 12.10 precisely (‘midi dix’ had held a long-standing significance for moments of tomfoolery in French lessons). It worked to perfection, scoring a bullseye in a flurry of maggots and feathers on the bald head of our teacher Jack (‘Buzz’) Watson as he sat in his chair chanting verb declensions. I mention this incident because, in the ensuing uproar, I remember all the desks in my row shooting rearwards in a retro-mobe and slamming hard into the back wall before I was hoiked out by Buzz, to be sentenced to an appropriately severe punishment. As far as I can recall, that ‘big bang’ was the final fling of the moboing epoch, though I have to admit that, when I returned nearly 40 years later to teach at the school, I discovered - on a pile of condemned furniture in the back playground - a battered, upturned, lone surviving......yes, you’ve guessed, a mobodesk! What happened next I will leave to your imagination.

Gerald Usher (Athens, 1951-1958)