The front entrance to St Bonaventure's Catholic Secondary Modern. It has since been renamed - but without telling me!
It was an act of opportunism. Two boys, finishing a morning paper round, kept their large canvas bags, perhaps in readiness for the evening delivery that followed school, perhaps not. En-route to our brand new school - St Bonaventure - they walked into a sweet shop in Rice Lane and watched as the shopkeeper stepped into the back for a fresh box of gum. A moment later, the shop was without four very large jars of pear-drops and mints. The two boys walked out with their packet of gum, their backs unnaturally stiff beneath the weight of twelve pound of sweets.
They didn’t have far to go. St Bonaventure was only two or three hundred yards away, down Cedar Road. Nor did the shopkeeper need very long to work out what had happened. The school received the phone call within the hour.
A special assembly for the whole school.
No one knew for sure whether the whole school would fit in the hall.
We were lined up in forms, the teachers lined up against the wall with knowing prison-guard smiles on their faces. The Head, Mr Coleman, paced the stage like an aging lion before a roomful of monkeys - curious rather than cowed.
The lion delivered his bombshell. A shopkeeper was accusing two of our boys of theft. Four empty sweet jars had been found in the toilets. We were to stand in silence while staff searched our pockets. Teachers swung away from the walls, some of them grim, others smiling menacingly. From later experience, I imagined they probably had some kind of sweepstake as to who would detect the culprits first. They would certainly have had their suspicions.
None of it mattered.
All of them were winners.
Sweets cascaded out from every boy’s pocket.
“I am Spartacus’ mumbled from eight hundred, sugar encrusted lips. The film came out four years later.
I learnt then the real message of Robin Hood, and guerrilla movements everywhere. I learnt then what Mao Ze Dong meant by guerrillas being the fish, peasants the water. We had all shared in the proceeds of the crime. Even this beast of the jungle, pacing the stage couldn’t cane us all…?
He played his final card - a very weak one. He called in the shopkeeper who’d been standing hidden behind the stage curtains. It was going to be an identity parade - with Mr Magoo. His glasses were so thick they looked more like binoculars.
The staff kept straight faces, most of them, as Mr Magoo did the rounds and the Head wheedled and threatened from the stage.
Finally it was over, and we stood there in silence, the whole school missing their break as a form of collective punishment. But Butch and the Sundance Kid had got away with it. And none of us were crucified.