Eleven of the Best Aug 8, 2012 5:00:46 GMT -1
Post by Demelza on Aug 8, 2012 5:00:46 GMT -1
Eleven of the Best
Church of England and Roman Catholic – two schools with only the public swimming baths between them: Proddydogs to the left; Catlicks to the right. I went left, my friend, right and we'd meet up after school and go home together. But apart from a bit of name calling: "Dirty rotten Proddydogs," "Smelly old Catlicks", which is natural amongst children, both schools got on well together: religion was never an issue.
I started school at the age of four and, from what I can gather, used to leave whenever I felt like it. But as my school was in the next street to my home, someone always saw me and took me back.
We were co-educational so I grew up with boys continually pulling my pigtails and giving us all nicknames. I'll not say what they once said I looked like.
I remember the smell of chalk, the horrid screech fingernails made when scraped down the blackboard, the roly-poly pudding that almost broke your teeth, semolina pudding (utility whitewash) and that awful lumpy, watery custard.
The lavatories were in a separate building in the yard and consisted of a long wooden box with individual lids, each with a round hole cut out. No cistern for flushing! Trying to get onto the seat was quite hard as you had to climb up and I often wonder whether anyone fell in.
Every morning we had Assembly and woe betides anyone who spoke. I was a shy and timid child and very scared when, one day, I was sent to the headmaster for punishment for talking. I didn't think it fair because it wasn't me. Quaking in my shoes I knocked on the headmaster's door; he looked at me sternly but said he would let me off the strap this time and then he smiled – oh! the relief. I realized later in life that the threat of punishment kept you well-behaved and, if that didn't, your parents or neighbours did. If you answered a neighbour back you'd get a smack off your mother for being cheeky regardless of whether you'd done anything or not. Did it do us any harm? Certainly not: it taught you to hold your tongue and think before you opened your mouth.
Once a week our class went to the swimming baths. I was so shy that I put my costume on when I got dressed in the morning. I also put my clothes on again on top of it when I came out of the water and would drip steadily through the street and in the classroom afterwards until it was time to go home!
I was not a pretty child and to add to my good looks were the black gymslip and wrinkly black or dark-brown woollen stockings, held up with elastic bands. Our school did not have a uniform and, having been brought up on School Friend and Girls' Crystal etc., felt I was missing out so mithered my mother for a gymslip – my father had been killed during the D-Day fighting and she didn't have much money. Eventually she scraped the money together and I was bought my heart's desire but about three sizes too big so I would "grow into it".
I was probably about four feet tall at the time and had thin scrawny legs so the bands kept slipping down, together with the stockings. Shades of St Trinian's and Nora Batty. I had a third-hand satchel, far too big for me, which kept slipping off my skinny shoulders and tripping me up. I also had to wear navy-blue or dark-brown knickers with legs down to the knee and finished with elastic, very handy for keeping your handkerchief safe.
Those knickers were the bane of my life. Every morning before leaving home, I would very carefully pull the legs up as high as I could, fold them over and creep to the front door. And every morning my gran would race down the hall flip up my skirt, pull down the knickers legs and push me through the door into the street.
I almost forgot the liberty-bodice – how could anyone forget the liberty-bodice! It was like wearing a straightjacket and of course as your body grew the darned thing got tighter and tighter and the rubber buttons cracked and scratched you.
When we had PE (girls only) we were a delight to behold. There we stood in all our glory; liberty-bodices, vests and knickers on show, although not all the girls wore knee-length knickers. Some wore vests that had holes in or straps held up with safety pins and some had their knickers tied around the waist with a piece of string because their families couldn't afford elastic. But we enjoyed ourselves playing leapfrog and various other forms of exercise and felt very proud when the teacher praised us.
Two of the many things I was no good at were sewing and knitting. I'd cast-on the right amount of stitches and then try to knit the next row but never remembered to slip the stitch off and ended up with so many tight stitches I couldn't get the needle through them. The teacher would sigh, strip the needles, tell me to unravel the wool and start again.
We had good teachers who wouldn't stand any nonsense. I remember a boy, so badly-behaved that he'd been transferred from school to school, being told on his first day to "Get in the bin with the rest of the rubbish." He stood in that bin for the whole lesson while we ignored him: he never misbehaved again and stayed with us until leaving age.
I had a good all-round education, my favourite subjects being English and History. We were taken to museums, art galleries and to the Hallé Orchestra and I loved it. I still do.
I left school at fifteen, having made life-long friends, armed with a School Leaving Certificate as proof I'd attended school for eleven years, and went out into the world to start to earn my living.
Copyright© Constance Easty