Here's Chapter Four so far:
I was a big boy now. I was in the junior school. The infant department was behind me.
My school years were dull, uninteresting and monochrome. The qualities of teaching in my primary school, even that from The Atom Bomb and The Cornflake, was superior to my secondary school but every lesson, every day was monochrome. We were not taught anything, we were just presented with things to learn. We were never, ever encouraged, seldom praised yet often scolded.
Moving into the junior department I had four years ahead of me, four years haunted by a single aim, to pass the eleven plus examination in order to attend a grammar school rather than a secondary modern school. Comprehensive schools were new but thank goodness not introduced here I lived.
In the junior school I had two teachers who took the class for two years each. Miss Hudson for the first two years and Mr Lloyd for years three and four. As people they were both very nice and kind but their teaching was monochrome, more monochrome than the three years in the infant department. The black was blacker and the white whiter.
The eleven plus examination was designed not so much to test a child's knowledge but to make a stab at guessing his/her intelligence and potential to success in the grammar school system. The examination itself was set up by teachers whose own intelligence would appear to be lacking. It would not have been hard for a class teacher to train children to pass the examination. In the monochrome world of our school this did not happen.
Turning my mind back through the decades there are some bits of colour I can recall but the colour was there because I painted it myself.
- Mr Sullivan to the rescue.
- Fire !
- Making music.
When Mr J K Davis left our school to become headmaster elsewhere his place was taken by Mr Sullivan. We all called him Sulligogs although we would never, ever have dared to do so to his face. He was fierce and there was a rumour that he had a plimsoll which he would use to smack the bottoms of naughty boys. There was never any evidence of this but the rumour persisted.
I was in Miss Hudson's class when I had my first encounter with Sulligogs. I had been using a coloured pencil crayon to draw something when the tip broke off. I took my crayon to the pencil sharpener which was kept on a work take at the side of the classroom then returned to finish my work. On the desk was the broken piece of crayon, I remember it was red. What to do with it ? I started to play with it, rolling it between my fingers. I would be a shame to throw it away, after all what had this little bit of crayon done to hurt anyone ? Was it the crayon's fault it had broken off. Do not tell me why I did this, I just did. I put the broken crayon into my ear. It fitted perfectly in the gap going down to the ear drum. Yeh, that was great. It could stay there.
Tell tale tit
Your tongue will be split
And all the doggies in the town will have a little bit !
It was a firm rule that you never, ever told tales to teachers about your friends and those in the class. The Tell Tale tit rhyme we all knew. I didn't tell tales on anyone and did not expect tales to be told about me. Someone who did not prescribe quite so highly to this maxim told Miss Hudson that I had stuck a pencil crayon into my ear.
"Take it out," Miss Hudson said.
Ah - problem ! It would not come out ! Any attempts I made to poke a finger in my ear simply lodged it deeper and harder. Miss Hudson was worried and sent me to Miss Evans. the headmistress, for help. Help meant being sent to the hospital. My mother would kill me. I was frightened. Not frightened about being sent to hospital but scared stiff what my mother would say.
Miss Evans peered into my ear then sent for her deputy, Mr Sullivan - Sulligogs.
He looked into my ear and confirmed this was a case for the hospital. Would they have to operate ? Would they cut my ear off ? Then Mr Sullivan had a moment of pure genius.
"Can I borrow a hairpin please Miss Evans ?"
Miss Evans pulled one out of the bun at the back of her head. Mr Sullivan used the loop at the top of the hairpin to hook the crayon and pull it out.
"There we go," he said.
Relief ! I thanked him and thanked him and thanked him. No visit to the hospital and my mother would not need to know what I had done. Or would she ?
Miss Evans dictated a short note to here secretary then ordered it be duplicated and every child take a copy home to their parents. It asked parents to tell children not to put things into their ears. I folded my copy up very small and dropped it on the floor on the way home. My mother never knew what I had done.
She never knew about my second encounter with Mr Sullivan. Thank god for that, she would have most certainly killed me if she had known what I and a couple of friends got up to.
Opposite the school was an area of what we called waste ground. It simply was scrub land which had not been developed. It's not there today, of course but when I was nine years old it was an adventure playground for us on our way to and from school. The Post Office was replacing some of the telegraph poles along the roads and was dumping the old ones on the waste ground, presumably to take them away at some time in the future.
A few things I need to pick up and explain before telling you my story.
There was no BT - British Telecom in the 1950's, telephones were operated by The Post Office and government controlled. Probably half of the families represented by those in my class had telephones in their homes, we had one but not until I was six years old. For those who did not have their own home there were public call boxed everywhere, you were never more than a few hundred yards from one. Phone lines did not run underground as they do today, they were strung along in lines high up and suspended from telegraph poles. You could easily tell if a family was posh enough to have their own phone by seeing a phone line running to their house from the nearest telegraph pole.
The Post Office was replacing metal tube telegraph poles with wooden ones. It was these hollow metal tubes that were being thrown on to the waste ground. Some of my friends and I came up with an idea. If we lit a fire inside one end of a pole we could watch the smoke come out the other end. That would be fun wouldn't it ? Would it ? I don't see how.
My friend Jim and I were the ring leaders. For a couple of days we collected dead dry grass from the waste ground and stored it in the end of of a telegraph pole. There were plenty of others who were happy to help collect the grass but when it came to bringing matches to light the grass only Jim and I were brave enough to purloin these little fire sticks from our mothers' kitchens. On our way back to school after lunch the fire was ignited. We were surprised just how easy it was to set the grass on fire. The resulting smoke out of the other end was very satisfactory.
I think when brains were given out Jim and I must have been off doing something else. Lighting the fire was brainless enough but to do it in full view of the school and during the lunch break when everyone could see it was pure stupidity. The smoke was observed by Mrs Geater who was on playground duty. Getting on in years was Mrs Geater yet she strode at a rapid rate towards the smoke. I wonder if she had been a fire watcher in the war. She returned to the school then sent the caretaker with a bucket of water to put an end to our game.
An emergency assembly was called at the start of afternoon school. Mr Sullivan was in charge. We arsonists were made to stand up. Sullivan gave us the biggest telling off of our lives. I waited in terror to see if the rumours of a slipper were true or not. If they were true I received no confirmation, Sulligoggs left things with our receiving that telling off and humiliation of receiving it in front of the entire school. Sulligoggs must have been in a good mood that afternoon, he did not even send a letter home to our parents telling them what we had done. That has to be the narrowest escape I have ever had in my life.
Thank you Mr Sullivan.
The school's music teacher was Mrs Edgerton. She could play the piano for morning assembly and once a week take us all for hymn practice but she could not teach - not never no way ! Teach music ? She did not have a clue. In a monochrome education system Mrs Edgerton was the dullest of all tones. On a Friday morning she would come into our classroom and teach the girls how to play the recorder and how to read music. Success levels were moderate but many of the female members in the class could whistle a tune on a descant recorder. Boys did not take part, we had to just sit quietly for half an our each Friday while Mrs Edgerton held her all-girl recorder class.
I wanted to learn now to read music. I wanted to be able to make music playing a recorder. I would bring an end to Mrs Edgerton's all female recorder group. I persuaded my grandmother to buy me a recorder and tuition book for Christmas. I looked at the book, it was easy to form notes but I did find reading the music hard. I cheated. I worked out each note and write its letter beneath the note. By the start of the new January term I could play the recorder as well as any of the girls.
That first Friday in January I presented myself as part of the recorder class. I had wondered if any of my fellow schoolboys would tease me, they did not. Mrs Edgerton was not happy but could do little about it. I could play the recorder, I could make music, I did no need a monochrome piano player to teach me.
That was not my only assault on female supremacy in our class. There was one girl, a real bossy cow, who had gathered round her a small group of friends to form a secret society under the name of The Blood Sisters. Why could boys not be part of this club ? I demanded to know. I think this child battle axe fancied me. Why else would she allow me to join the sisterhood ? My initiation to the sisterhood involved standing in a circle and pledging allegiance. Beyond that all the group did was to play together, I wasn't into the girly games so soon left. I felt a bit sorry for the bossy boots girl who set up the Blood Sisters, she had no sisters or brothers of her own and was not a happy person. She had set up The Blood Sisters simply to find friends. Sad.
Until I was ten years old I had never seen a black person, in pictures and in books yes but not in the flesh. When George joined the school I had that first experience. When I told my mother that there was a black boy in the school she said she hoped we boys were not teasing him. Far from it, George was different - unique and so everyone wanted to be his friend. He wasn't in my class so I did not get to know him well and was never his friend. I was sorry about that.
A new word was added to our vocabulary soon after joining Miss Hudson's class - comprehension. We had a new book to work from, it was called USING YOUR READING. My father made another visit to The Midland Educational Centre to buy a copy for me to use at home. The school still did not allow books to be take home, the home-school divide was as wide as ever. I do not recall at any time being given homework while at my junior school.
One thing, one terrible thing, haunted every minute of school life - The Eleven Plus Examination. Failing it was unthinkable, not being able to go to a grammar school would be the end of the world. Passing or failing was not in the hands of the individual child but the monochrome education system we passed through every day. Each week there was the Friday Test, twenty mental arithmetic questions and twenty spelling/comprehension questions. I would usually score eighteen or twenty in each test, sometimes twenty but never twenty in both tests in a week. Those who did get twenty out of twenty in both tests would stand up in assembly the next Monday morning to have their achievement recognised. I never stood up in assembly.
We left behind writing with chalk on boards when we left The Atom Bomb's class, we graduated to pencil in exercise books. In the junior part of the school we had to write using joined up letters instead of printing. My handwriting was never that good, it still isn't brilliant - actually it is terrible. We were shown how to do joined up writing but we were never taught.
The ball point pen was invented in 1888. Laszlo Biro developed the pen in the early post war years but these were so expensive few could afford them. During my junior school years the ball point pen, or biro as it later became known, was not in common use. Adults wrote using fountain pens which the filled from bottles of ink. Teachers always had two pens, one which write in blue and one in black. On there desks were two bottles of ink, blue and black, which invariably had their lids removed first thing in the morning so the teacher could fill their pens as and when needed. A fountain pen did not hold enough ink to write more then a few dozen words. In writing this chapter thus far I have typed 2,502 words, if I were using a fountain pen I would probably have had to fill it eight or ten times !
We had a morning playtime and we had an afternoon playtime, I always went home for my lunch so never had a dinner time playtime. If it was raining the teachers could not be deprived of their coffee break so prefects from the fourth year would sit with the class. There was a box containing comics which we were allowed to read during wet playtimes. I remember on one occasion the two prefects were sitting on Miss Hudson's desk and larking about between themselves. They may have been in the senior year but they were, after all, only eleven years old and children themselves. Somehow they managed to tip over Miss Hudson's desk and spill the ink fro her blue and red bottles everywhere. We all gasped in horror. This was terrible. What ever was going to happen to the prefects ? This had to be the worst crime ever to have happened in the history of the school !
Miss Hudson was very calm about it, had that happened in The Atom Bomb or The Cornflake's class world war three would have been declared. The mess was cleared up, the floor was mopped and the prefects bought new bottles of ink for Miss Hudson. By the time I reached the senior year the prefect system had been abandoned so I never got to lord it over younger children. Thank goodness it was not me who tipped over a teacher's desk.
When we moved from Miss Hudson's class to Mr Lloyd's class we stopped writing in pencil and began to write using ink. Not from a fountain pen as did the teachers but using a pen nib fastened to the end of a short wooden stick. We had to dip the pen into an inkwell which was a crock pot held in a hole in the desk surface. Mr Lloyd filled the inkwells in all the desks using a jug, he used the same jug to make the ink from a powder mixed with water. He always made the ink too thin so it was a pale blue instead of the rich royal blue it was meant to be. Trying to produce neat, even readable, handwriting using diluted ink and a scratchy nib pen was just about impossible. Graduating from pencil to this method put all standards of handwriting into reverse.
I am still working on this chapter. I want to tell you about the two times I stayed for school dinner, the steam engine we had in our den, the angling club I founded and the much feared eleven plus examination.