Saturday, 14 July 2018

Mark's Out of Eleven

Author Will Stebbings takes his readers on another welcome dip into the paddling pool of nostalgia that is 1960s Britain.

In his latest novel Mark's Out of Eleven, he takes us back to September 1960. What is relevant about that particular month? Because in the United Kingdom, September is the month when all children who attend state controlled schools will commence the school year, which run from September to July.

In this particular year, Mark Barker is starting his first year at senior school. Because he has passed the eleven-plus exam, he will be taking his place at the local Grammar School, called Parkside.

He has followed his brother to the school and, because they are a working class family living on the limited means that are provided by their father's employment, times are not easy for the Barker family, and sending two children to a Grammar School is not cheap.

The one result is that Mark suffers the humiliation of having to wear hand-me-down school blazers, previously worn by his older brother.

Having had to leave his old primary school friends behind (most of whom would have gone on to the local secondary modern school, for children who failed or who didn't take the eleven-plus) Mark has to try to forge new friendships. Thankfully he is fairly successful in this endeavour.

The headmaster of Parkside is something of a martinent who rules his school with iron discipline and a wooden cane. Which he frequently uses to enforce his reign.

There's another teacher who the pupils both loathe and fear, the sports master who employs violence to make his points.

The book will resonate, perhaps pleasantly in some parts, not so pleasantly in others as we read about the teaching staff at Parkside, about their casual brutality and their often lacklustre teaching methods, about bullying, the first hormonal stirrings when girls are sighted.

We also glimpse the homelife of Mark and his family and see how mothers of that time juggled the financial pittance brought in to the house by their hardworking, but poorly paid husbands.

Will Stebbings also takes a look at prejudices of the 1960s at a time when male homosexuaslity was still illegal.

It's a thoughtful book which is a trip down memory lane and all for only £7.99! The book is published by Matador.

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