Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Maybe Writer's Block...

Isn't such a bad thing after all... 

A writer should write every day. I am not a friend of the word should, but nevertheless, I feel I ought to make a bit more of an effort. 

I downloaded a free-e-book, courtesy of Wordpress, with 365 writing prompts and today's is,' 'Write about an inspirational teacher and the impact s/he had on your life.' 

A non-starter. Though I rather liked school. I wasn't much bullied, I kept myself to myself, expected neither praise nor censure, and am quite happy to have attracted little of either. I did get a detention once, aged fifteen,  for not knowing my 9x table, and at the end of an undistinguished, and deservedly so, Sixth Form, I won the Cup For General Progress. This tended to go to the girl with working class parents who got enough O Levels to go to University. Or, as in my case, Teacher Training College. 

I will record all that I remember of my schooldays. I cannot say that I will entertain in the telling, but spanning as the tale does, 1955 - 1969, researchers, one hundred years from now, may mine this piece as Social History. Stay with me, let's see what crops up. 

September 5th 1955. I am Four Years and Eleven Months Old, I have shoulder length blonde hair with a  side parting and a bow. I am going to be taught to read using a  'Ladybird' Alphabet Chart which we recited every day: ' A is for apple a' 'B is for Ball b'. I am confident I could go through the whole bloody thing today without skipping a beat. What an achievement!  The fact that at Four Years and Eleven Months I could read fluently, counted for nothing. There was no attempt at 'Personalised Learning' in those days. I never questioned this, because, although I was precocious, I wasn't THAT precocious. Miss Greenwood: Young and kindly, put us to bed on camp beds around 2pm and we were expected to nap. I napped. I can nap anywhere at the drop of a hat, and I put this marvellous attribute down to this early training. I didn't cry, so I sat on the table with the good children who were given their free milk first.

Matson Infants is a Tesco Express these days. It had been a village school under the stern authority of Miss Aldridge, but had grown with the new Housing Estate. The old schoolroom held the Middle Infants, I was in a Temporary Classroom, that outlived the school. 

We played on the old village green. 'King Of The Castle' In and Out The Bluebell Windows... Conkers in season, football for the boys: 'Two Ball' and Skipping Rhymes for we girls.

I was severely reprimanded once, for kicking a girl who pushed in front of me to get on the bus home. I NEVER did anything that obvious again. 

I remember seven other things from my Early Years.

Delicious dinners, especially Butterscotch Tart
'Let's Move' (BBC: Still going when I started teaching in 1972) which entailed prancing around between the tables ( with the chairs up) in vest and knickers.
A lurid poster of Persephone being dragged Into the Underworld by Whomsoever. (Pluto?)  A fantastic introduction to Greek Mythology and incidentally, an insight into Romance (of a particular sort) that was even more fascinating, and probably had a profound effect on my sexuality.
Going 'Through The Rainbow': enduring the entire Reading Scheme all the way to The Violet Readers.
Never getting Maths
A Poem with, 'Pomegranates Pink, said Elaine' in it. 

Learning takes on a more serious aspect at Finlay Road Junior School, a tuppenny  busride away from home. I got myself there and back, went for lunch with my Aunty Mary who lived nearby. Lunch hours were a hour and a half long in those days, so's pupils could return home to eat if their parents couldn't afford the one shilling a day for a School Meal. I preferred eating with Aunty Mary, because I could read 'Cassandra' ( political commentator) in the Daily Mirror to 'Pop' her lodger, and eat blancmange. Aunty M dosed me up with cod liver oil every day, which grew the brain I have now, which  was remarkably prescient of her.

I was a political animal at ten. I mean, the Daily Mirror was a serious paper in those days. To further my informal education, when no-one was looking,  I read 'The News Of the World', which gave me even further insights into Romance, and a mistrust of the clergy that persists to this day.

I always had to sit next to a boy. I pretty much despised them all, I'm ashamed to say, especially Desmond, who used to play with himself under the desk. I used to watch, enthralled, but only worked out what was going on years afterwards, having stowed away the experience in the 'pending' file for the day when enlightenment dawned. 

I made an exception for Stephen Collet. He was gorgeous. Unfortunately, as Romance was all about ravishing gods and incontinent vicars, I didn't recognise Love when it first appeared... .

I must have learned all that was necessary at Finlay Rd because along with the WHOLE of Class 4A1 (all 42 of us) I passed the ' 11 +' and was enrolled in Ribston Hall High School For Girls. Few Finlay Rd pupils achieve this today, because the middle class has got THAT  all sewn up in the abolition of catchment areas and an efficient tutoring network. (I like to think that Cassandra would approve of my stance on this.) 

I still didn't get Maths. Especially Arithmetic. 

No inspirational teachers here either, though credit is due  to Miss Long for introducing me to Mozart (Eine Kleine Nacht Musik'. Even saying it was a thrill) and to Mr Watson for Ballentyne's 'Coral Island' my first grown-up book. Blood-thirsty and horrible, but I lapped it up.

I was an intellectual snob by eleven. Commended by Mr Watson for laughing at his puns (the only kid who did) and sniggering at Paul Bullock for not understanding that a ' red pale' is an heraldic emblem:He informed us that Caxton's Printing Press could be found 'under the sign of the red bucket' Ho ho ho. He was probably better than me at Arithmetic though. (Good old RJ Ounstead. History as it should be taught. Out of a book and learned off by heart.) 

We started French. We were allocated on a French name. I was Odette. Eugghh . No wonder I never took to the subject. 

High School. Pretty unmemorable. Rowed in the coxed four, skived every other form of physical activity, played minor parts in the school plays... . 

Some highly un-inspirational teachers, some shockingly inept ones. I rack my brains to recall anything at all about them:

The physics master whose shoes creaked. Miss Walsh, short with a huge bosom. She would sit, inhale, raise said bosom a foot or two, then lower it with a sigh onto the desktop. Mort, the class-snob Of a headmistress, who famously sat on the stage during assembly with her legs apart, showing pale pink all-weather knee-length bloomers... . 

Mr Kennedy! My first crush. He was a  bit inspirational! He taught well, and with humour. Biology. I can hear his voice in my head to this day:  a soft Welsh lilt: 

" A FLOW-er is that part of a PLANT con-CER-ned with re-PROD-uc-SHUN and con-TAINS the SEX-u-al OR-gans"

Maybe my passion for plants is suppressed desire... Maybe not.

My friend Carol reminded me recently that Mr Kennedy returned to his village after a  terrible disaster when a coal tip rolled down a mountainside and engulfed the School. He was from Aberfan.. 

I am asking myself, because it's only fair, "Was I an inspiration teacher?" More so than Mort, less than Mr Kennedy... I do recall one incident eight years ago when I was 'doing The Egyptians' with my junior class. "I will NEVER forget this!" Eleven year old Joshua told me. I had been demonstrating the ancient and venerable art of Middle Eastern Dancing. Though with rather more around my middle than I usually wore. It was one with sticks. 

Lord! Look at the time! I've been writing for over an hour. If you've persevered this far, thank you, and goodnight.

Front row ... Middle

Sixth Form: fundraising for Standish Hospital.

'Gladys' Second Maid. 'The Admirable Crichton' July 1968

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