The School Trip

1950s Bedford coach

Ivor Slipper

I’d brought the note home from school and given it to Mum like I always did. I wasn’t worried when I gave it her cos I knew I’d not done anything bad at school so I didn’t have to worry she’d get angry when she read it. Teacher had told us what it was about anyway — she were organising a trip for my form and the other one of the same year. It were getting near the end of the school year and this year was the last one we was all going to be there. We’d done the 11+ exams and when next September came we’d all be going to different schools.

I knew where I’d be going — the Secondary Modern — as I wasn’t bright enough to get a scholarship to one of the Grammar schools. Not like my pal Derek who lived in the next street and was in my class. He was bright and he’d gone and got himself into one of the really good schools. Funny though, we’d always been pals ever since we were sat next to each other on our first day at that school, four years ago now. He was a bit disabled and had a limp and come playtime some of the other kids started calling him names, but I sorted them out and put a stop to that. Got meself slippered for fighting, but so did they so that made it alright — an’ Derek didn’t get called names again.

So I’d taken this note home and a couple of days later Mum asks me if I want to go on it. Well, you could’ve knocked me down with a feather as I never went on school trips as we didn’t have the money to pay for them. See, there was only Mum an’ me and we lived with me Gran. Her husband had died well before I were born and me Dad had been killed in the war — shot down in his plane on a bombing raid over Germany.

Well, when she asks me if I want to go I wasn’t sure what to say. Of course I wanted to go, but I knew we didn’t have much money, so I says to her, “We can’t afford it Mum.”

“I think just this once we can, Alan. I had a little win at the bingo last week which’ll pay for it. And it’ll be a little treat for you before you move school. I talked to Derek’s mum and he’s going, so you’ll be company for each other. You’ll be going to different schools next year so you won’t see so much of each other after that.”

“Are you sure, Mum?”

“Course I am. Wouldn’t offer if I wasn’t.”

We’d been sat at the kitchen table eating our dinner when she spoke, so I got up and ran round the table to give her a hug.

Of course at the time I believed what she’d said about having a win at bingo. Looking back afterwards I was never so sure that was true. She did go to the bingo every week, but when she won anything she was always excited when she came home and I didn’t remember her being like that the previous week. I think perhaps Gran paid for me to go or maybe, more likely, it was Derek’s parents who paid. They had more money than us as his Dad had a good job in an office somewhere, so perhaps they saw it as some sort of thank you to me for sticking up for him at school. I never did find out, so it were one of them mysteries.


I’d read that the trip was going to be for a whole day by coach to the Isle of Wight. I’d never been there, never been anywhere really apart from the occasional ride out on a bus to the country on a Sunday. It were going to be a big experience, that was for sure.

Come the day of the trip the weather was quite good, but Mum insisted I took my raincoat — just in case. She also made me wear my decent clothes such as they were. I’d got a nearly new pair of black plimsolls, short grey socks, a pair of khaki shorts — which were held up by a blue and red horizontal striped fabric belt with a metal clasp shaped like a snake — a blue Aertex shirt and a grey pullover. She’d washed all of the clothes clean and made sure they didn’t have any holes and patches.

We had to be at the school very early, like seven in the morning, as it was a long trip, but Mum had got up extra early to make me some sandwiches which she put in a lunch box along with a bottle of pop. She also gave me some money for spending.

That lunch box used to be me Dad’s and was what he took his sandwiches to work in before the war started when he had a job in a factory. Because we lived only a few hundred yards from the school I came home for lunch every day rather than taking a packed lunch or having meals at school. So I’d never been allowed to use the box before and that made this trip extra special as I was sort of taking him with me.

I never knew me Dad as I was only six months old when he was killed. I had a photo of him dressed in his RAF uniform that was in a frame on the table by me bed. Sometimes I used to talk to him and tell him about me and what I’d done. Mum said he was good at sport, so I reckon we’d have had lots of fun together playing footie and cricket in the park.

Derek and his mother were there waiting when we got to the school and he said he liked me lunch box. He had his grub in a little shopping bag of his mother’s, as did most of the kids. I thought I’d tell him about the lunch box later as I didn’t want to upset me Mum by talking about it in front of her. We made sure we sat next to each other on the coach and he let me have the window seat, but I told him I’d let him have it for when we came back. I enjoyed looking at the countryside as we went, and all the animals in the fields. They were mainly cows and sheep, but I did see some pigs and some horses including a white one which I pointed out to Derek as white horses are supposed to be lucky. Then when we got to Portsmouth we had to get off the coach to get on a ferry to go over to the island. I hadn’t even thought about going on a boat; guess I just thought there was some sort of bridge like there was over the Thames. So that were another surprise and a treat.

Me and Derek went up to the rail at the front of the ship to see where we were going. After we left the dock and got out into open water — which Derek told me was The Solent — it started to get a little windy and some waves appeared, but I didn’t feel like I was going to be sick. Then Derek pointed and exclaimed, “Look — white horses!”

“What you on about?” I replied. “You don’t get horses at sea — they live in fields.”

Derek grinned at me and said, “Yes, you do — it’s what they call the white tops on the waves.”

So, I learned something new.

We did go down below after a while and looked at the menu for the café, but everything was pricey so we decided not to bother. We thought we’d probably find another café when we got to where we were going.

Another coach picked us up from the ferry and we drove for what seemed ages. I’d thought islands were little things so I’d only expected to be on this coach for like five or ten minutes, but finally we reached this place the teacher told us was called Alum Bay. She said we’d have four hours to enjoy ourselves and do whatever we wanted, but not to go near the edge of the cliffs or to go swimming, but we could paddle if we wanted. Luckily Derek had a watch so we knew we could wander off and still be sure to get back in time.

First though we found some benches and wooden tables that had been put there for people to picnic at, so we decided we’d sit there and have our lunch before going exploring. It had been a long time since breakfast and it didn’t take me long to get through the contents of my lunch box. After that we went for a walk down to the beach where you could see all the different coloured sands in the cliffs. Then I spotted this tall piece of rock standing away from the cliffs and in the sea.

“Cor, that looks a bit like a needle,” I said to Derek.

“Course it does, silly. There’s three of them if you look properly and they are called The Needles,” Derek replied.

I was glad I’d said that to Derek. Anyone else would have laughed at me, called me stupid and told everyone else how daft I was.

So then we went into the sea for a paddle. It was very cold, but as I’d never seen the sea before I couldn’t not go in. Afterwards we sat down on the sand for a while to let our feet and legs get dry in the sun. One of the boys had brought a football with him so several of them started a game. I knew Derek couldn’t play so I decided to sit with him rather than join in. We looked out to sea where there were a few little boats with sails and you could see the people in them and then some bigger boats in the distance. A couple of them looked like warships and one of them was a big passenger liner. I said to Derek that it might be the ‘Queen Elizabeth’ but he said it couldn’t be as it had three funnels so he reckoned it could be the ‘Queen Mary’ cos the ‘Elizabeth’ only had two. Not surprising Derek got a scholarship knowing things like that!

Derek said he was going to miss me when he went to his new school in September. I knew how he felt as I was going to miss him too. He told me we’d always be friends and that I could still go round his house and play with him. I hoped that would happen, but I wasn’t sure. He was certain to make lots of new friends at his school and they were going to be brighter and nicer than me. Plus he’d already told me he’d have homework to do in the evenings. I ended up feeling a bit sad, even though it was the best day I could ever remember.

When we decided to move I stuffed my socks in my trouser pocket and just went barefoot in my plimsolls. We walked back up to the top and went to the café. The menu here wasn’t as pricey as on the boat, so we went in and had a glass of pop and a bun each.

When we came out of the café there was a little shop next to it that sold all sorts of things. I still had some of the money left that Mum had given me, so I decided I’d like to buy something for her. Most of the stuff they had were pretty expensive, but then I spotted they were selling little glass tubes with cork stoppers so you could fill them yourself with the coloured sands. I pointed them out to Derek and we both bought one and went back down the beach to fill them. When we’d done they didn’t look as good as the already filled ones you could buy in the shop, but they were a lot cheaper! I took my socks out of my trouser pocket, wrapped them round my tube and put it in my now empty lunch box to keep it from getting broken. Derek saw what I was doing and said it was a good idea, so he took his own socks off and copied me.

All too soon our four hours was over and we had to start on the return trip. I didn’t mind at all that Derek had the window seat on the way back because soon after we left Portsmouth I was asleep. At some point the coach must have gone over a big bump in the road cos I suddenly woke up. When I looked down Derek had his head sort of in me lap so he must have fallen asleep too. It were nice having him there like that, sort of made me wish I’d been a twin.


Despite my fears of what might happen when we went to different schools, Derek and I remained good friends through our teenage years. Our friendship even survived him going to university three years after I had started work in the same factory where me Dad had worked, as we’d get together whenever he came home from Cambridge.

I’m just not sure what is going to happen to it now he has come down from uni and got a management job in the same firm, seeing that I’m one of the shop stewards there!