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Christmas at the Ebenezer

Saturday, 21st December 2002, West Yorkshire

Ebeneezer HallMemories are all around us in the Domesday village of Horbury, near Wakefield, and some of the old inhabitants may be under your feet if you use the Tithe Barn Street car park as this was once the Methodist cemetery. At the upper end of this once hallowed plot stand the few charred timbers that are all that remain of the old Tithe Barn while at the lower end the Ebenezer Hall, built behind the Methodist Church on the High Street, is still used for a variety of local events. It was here that I spent a year of my school life, aged 9 at the start of the 1960s.

Mr ThompsonIn those days of the baby boom and the Sunday schoolroom in the Hall served as an overflow classroom for St Peter's Junior. Mr Thompson was a bit of a loner amongst the staff and seemed to enjoy his isolated position. Certainly his style of teaching was far removed from the efficient but uniform national curriculum of today.


He could turn on the stern discipline typical of the older generation of teachers, occasionally using a well-aimed piece of chalk or on one occasion a well-aimed blackboard rubber (for those who don't remember them this was a block of wood the size of a bar of chocolate with a felt pad attached), but to tell you the truth he didn't really need to resort to physical violence; we became so used to the signs that his temper was about to explode that my friend Adrian and I nicknamed him 'Tommy-Bomb'.

Shaggy Dog Story

On the other hand, with his gift for storytelling, he could take us out of our dreary everyday world of school. He told us of his days in the Home Guard during World War II and of way back when his boyhood school turned out waving flags to see the launch of the Titanic. I remember a couple of Shaggy Dog Stories - long rambling tales with a humorous denouement - he told, one about the trenches of World War I and one about a murderer on the run.

Each afternoon in the week before Christmas he read a chapter from A Christmas Carol.

Ebenezer, besides being the grouchy hero of A Christmas Carol, is also a non-conformist chapel, the name deriving from 'the memorial stone set up by Samuel after the victory of Mizpeh (1 Sam. 7:12)', so the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary tells me. Appropriately, as we're remembering Mr Thompson, it can also mean 'anger' and 'temper' in US slang.

A Dance with Angela

The Christmas concertThe school Christmas production was usually held in the Ebenezer Hall. With song, dance and playlets I remember it as a colourful occasion in a drab world - this was well before the days of colour television, for instance. Mr Thompson's contribution was to drill us to be a Welsh Choir. The boys wore black jeans, white shirts and clip-on bow ties so - carrying the odd leek to boot - we must really have looked the part. I can still remember the lyrics to Mr Thompson's alternative version of Men of Harlech, a song about woad, the plant dye used by the naked savages of pagan Celtic Britain as war paint;

Hairy coats were made for goats,
Gorillas, rats, retriever dogs and llamas!
Ancient Britain never hit on
Anything as good as woad to fit on
Neck or knees or what you sit on -
Tailors you be blowed!

You see, still word perfect after 40 years; just think how incomplete my education would have been, had it not been for Mr Thompson.

That year's concert was also memorable as the only time I've danced on stage. No, don't laugh - I had been sitting forlornly on the substitute bench, my dancing abilities being so abysmal, but, in true Cinderella fashion, when a boy in the top country dancing square dropped out at the last minute not only did I step into the limelight but I also got to partner the alluring Angela - in my opinion the prettiest girl in the class.

It had turned out to be quite a Christmas!next page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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