Schooldays – the primary

At the age of nine, I had to move on from my much loved first school, which had given me a grounding in so much, and brave the much larger and very daunting local primary school. Here, I was considered to be automatically slow, being profoundly deaf, and initially sat at the back of the class with other children labelled ‘ESN’ with some sewing cards to keep me busy. I started taking a book with me & when the realisation dawned that I could not only read but was reading Dickens, I was promoted to sit at the front so I could lipread the teacher & leave my books at home. This teacher rarely faced the class & was prone to chucking the blackboard rubber at anyone he deemed to be not paying attention. My main memories of that school are of how some children were cruelly teased, not only by schoolmates; of assemblies which neither Jewish or Catholic children attended; of country dance classes where I, afflicted by warts on my hands, was forced to always dance with the boy with permanently sweaty palms; of rulers used on hands to punish sloppy writing; of chilly lavatories across the asphalt playground (“please miss may I go ‘cross'”); of half innocent games of kiss chase; of sheer despair and shame when asked to sing “lala” & promptly being told to never sing out loud but always mime. Every dinner time, I and my two brothers and three cousins would run down the road, over the bomb site to my maternal grandparents’ home by the seafront. Here we would sit round a vast table, with the budgerigars & canaries bred by my grandfather watching from their cages round the room, and devour vast mounds of stew, pies & puddings cooked to perfection by my grandmother. One hour later we would be back at school, having run back all the way. Looking back, we rarely just walked anywhere as children – we ran, scooted, cycled or roller skated. I was at this school for two years, then the dreaded 11plus loomed. I was expected to pass it & go to the local grammar school, where both my parents had gone. It seemed such a momentous thing to do that the disappointment when I failed felt too much to bear. All set to go to another school, with term starting in three days, my parents got a call to say that another father (with some kind of influence, I never discovered what) had persuaded the powers that be to give his daughter another chance and this had been granted to all those whose failure had been borderline, including me. I took it again. Reader, I passed it.

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