Alan Foxall

It all began a long time ago when I was too young for my height and too tall for my clothes. I remember 'twas a dark and dismal day that I first went to Risinghill School (the original one) and it got darker as I went down the narrow stairway to the lower floor classroom. Then some genius switched on the lights (electric they were) and all was revealed, a warm gaily decorated room where I spent my first school days learning to write my own name without first copying it from a small card.

The year would have been 1956, and my world was a very strange and blurry place (it was some years later that some clever so and so twigged I was short sighted). It got much stranger and more frightening when I was told that I was going to another school. I cried my eyes out thinking that I must have done something very bad, if the school wanted to get rid of me. It took a while before it sunk in that everyone in my class (and of course the school) was going, as Risinghill was closing down (for the first time).

My mother and my grandmother first took me to my new school, it was called White Lion Street and for the first year or so there I was quite happy (I think). I can't remember if I cried on my first day, not that it makes much difference as I cried a lot, being tall and awkward I was often bullied and that was only by the teachers. Things got a lot worse when I got into the senior classes and was taught by two expert sadists a Miss Collins and a Mr Boundy. Happily, there was a light at the end of the tunnel as, at the age of ten, some enormous district nurse who, after having whispered the word "banana" in to my ears and realizing I hadn't heard a thing, announced very loudly to the world (well the rest of the class) that '..this child is deaf….'. 'Shame' everybody else seemed to say 'we just thought he was stupid'!!!

It was then that my first saviour came into my life, he was the new Headmaster of White Lion Street and his name was Mr Straker. He had me put into a special class, as I had fallen behind in my education. He put me in the front row of the class and made sure that I both saw and heard everything that was being taught. I made considerable progress in this class and eventually was put in for (was there a choice?) and passed the 11+. However, what with my disabilities and the fact that I was often off sick, the School recommended that I should go to Risinghill (the new one) as they did not think I would cope in Grammar School.

So in the autumn of 1961 with my brand new uniform and very cold knees (I was still wearing shorts) I ventured forth into senior education. I first met Michael Duane a few days after I joined and was shocked rigid by the fact he called me by my first name. He seemed interested in me and in my progress at the beginning and through my years at Risinghill. He always looked at me when he spoke to me as if he knew that I was instinctively lip reading (I was never taught to do so), unlike some other teachers who could only shout at me, thinking that somehow that helped me. Michael Duane was always there when I needed him (which thankfully wasn't often) as I was doing reasonably well at this school. I can remember that when it came to deciding what senior class I was to join in the fourth year, he persuaded me that I should do Engineering (he wasn't wrong).

1965 the year of the school closure passed alarmingly fast and before I knew what was happening, the Engineering Class and I got whipped off to Sir Philip Magnus. The only good thing about this new school was that I learnt a lot of card tricks from the maths teacher who was a budding magician (failed more like it) and by the end of the year I was shuffling a deck single-handedly and pulling the aces out every time. I left the school with only two O Level GCEs and two CSEs.

My dad got me my first job with the company he worked for in Esher, Surrey. The personnel manager (an ex-headmaster) a Mr Duncan interviewed me and said he thought I should continue my studies as a Student Apprentice. Well, in 1966 £ 5 a week plus one day a week at college seemed like a good idea. Six years later I am still at college, although by this time doing Higher Education diplomas. The company closed in 1972 and I joined the then London Electricity Board as an Engineering trainee.

I spent five or so years with the LEB and after a brief period seconded to a classified military project in Iran. I left the Board and joined Ford Motor company as a Plant Engineer in their foundry, hot work I can tell you, especially when I had to cross very militant picket lines. By this time I was married and when I got transferred to Ford's European Operations working in France and Germany, we were expecting our first child and almost our first divorce because I was abroad so much. I decided to leave Ford's and I joined a petrochemical company as a Project Engineer in Wood Green, London for five years. This company closed down (getting to be a habit) and I joined a pharmaceutical company initially for four months on an agency basis and left nine and half years later when the company closed down (this is getting seriously worrying). I was out of work briefly and then I got offered an agency post with Tate & Lyle (sweet work that) that lasted for two years (no they didn't close down). Out of work again for four months then I was offered a post as a Senior Electrical Design Engineer with an Irish Utility organization and I am still there, but nowadays I am the Quality and Training Manager.

Last year I got approached by a couple of ladies (thought my luck was changing) who had a questionnaire about Risinghill. I got very interested in what they were doing and when they asked me to join them I happily accepted and so formed the Risinghill Research Group.

I have had a good career thanks to three teachers at different times in my life, Michael Duane especially as he saw something in me that others were trying to ignore, and not only me many hundreds of children during his career as a teacher.

The last memory I have of MD was on the final day of Risinghill (in July 1965) when he was loading his things into the back of a red van. He was surrounded by a vast number of pupils, teachers, parents and the odd onlookers, the strange thing was the relative quietness, nobody seemed able to speak, and all they could do was stand and stare and by their mere presence demonstrate their support and appreciation for the man and his work. The spell was all too soon broken when he was driven off leaving everybody behind to his or her own thoughts and emotions to begin their new lives without him.