Monday, 16 November 2009

Learning Curve

Some readers will remember this post from last November. However, with some added visual fare, I thought it worth re-posting for Sepia Saturday.

When I attended my first school, I wasn't summoned by bells, but by a series of sharp hand-claps that echoed about the yard like mousetraps being sprung in quick succession.

My first school - Bishops Waltham Infants.

Each morning, the same ritual, we all sloped off, to our learning, reluctant to give up the magic qualities of the outdoors.

In spite of its tall windows, the interior of the school was dark and shadowy. So it was in relatively poor visibility that Mrs Woods and Miss Windebanks pooled their efforts to teach us. Theirs was a world of basic arithmetic, heavily crayoned artwork and good manners.

Singing songs always provided a welcome interlude and carols rang around the classrooms at Christmas with great zest and little harmony. But it was the nursery rhymes that I liked. You know, those with the lifetime guarantee. Often, we would sing of things we could do on a cold and frosty morning. In turns, we all got to nominate an activity before singing a solo about it. Being a country boy, I once offered up the way I took 'pot shots' at wood pigeons on a cold and frosty morning. It was the truth, but I was punished for not choosing something more wholesome, like shoe cleaning.

First school photograph (even I can't believe this is me)

At playtime, what joy it was to get into the fresh air once more. Away from the after smell of school meals, chalk-dust and a classmate whose terror of the learning process drove him to incontinence.

Suddenly the world regained its colour. We were a squadron of fighter planes under the command of Graham Wyatt, the policeman's son. Taking off from beneath the heavy limbs of a great yew tree, our arms outstretched and ready for combat. We weaved and dodged, looped the loop with blood curdling cries and crashed with alarming regularity, only to rebuild seconds later for another sortie. Our cannon fire was inexhaustible and deafening.

We watched, intently, when the doors to this undertaker's workshop were open. What were those men making, in amongst the clouds of flying saw dust? Big boxes, but for what?

I like to think that I was a reasonably brave lad then. I shrugged off cuts and grazes, and never even withered under the glare of Mrs Woods. But I did fear a visit to the outside lavatories; those wooden seated conveniences housed in ancient, creaking cubicles. In summer the fuming disinfectant was totally overpowering and cracking open the latched doors resulted in partial asphyxiation as the evil odours wafted up and smothered your face. Calls of nature were inevitably postponed.

In winter the story was equally harrowing. Crossing the yard through the elements, we endured the damp and icy winds that rattled the roofs of the outhouses. Those who had been brave enough to make the journey returned with blue legs and chattering teeth that only the glow of the coke stove could cure.

Gradually I gained valuable knowledge. I learned the art of cutting out. Indeed, I managed to cut every other square of an intricately patterned pullover my mother had knitted for me. I learned that the school dentist was a faceless gentleman, who sat with a blinding sun behind him while he probed about inside my mouth with painful metallic instruments. I learned that it was not prudent to put plasticine up my nose and that to ask a teacher to extract it was more painful than the dental examination. And I learned that to become infected with ringworm by a favourite puppy resulted in an instant loss of friends. So began my formal education.


  1. wonderful!
    you call up memories I never even had (being a delicate girl) and make them real for me. Sharing these images of childhood is such a joy, to read, to write, to immerse oneself in. I look forward to more.

  2. Write a book. Write a book. Write a book. You have an evocative style - reminds me of Laurie Lee or Lorna Sage, bringing scenes from childhood to life, but with a voice of your own. A joy to read.

  3. Laurie Lee with a touch of Miss Read -- because of the village school theme.


  4. In the words of Simon Cowell, Martin, 'You don't know how good you really are.'
    I'll buy the book and interview you.

  5. Brilliant. What amazing memories. Some great character building experiences.

  6. Thank you all so very much for offering such encouragement.


    I will post more like this in the future. It's fun to mix up the content a bit, but I won't turn down a request like yours.

    Fran / Vicki

    Laurie Lee is one of my all-time favourite authors. I'm sincerely flattered to be mentioned in the same sentence.


    With so many positive comments, I'm beginning to believe that perhaps what I produce isn't really half bad.


    Welcome to Square Sunshine. Thank you for your comments.

  7. I'm rather glad I didn't go to your school! But I have to agree on the outside loos being places of horror - that seems to be a universal failing in all schools just after the war...

  8. Jinksy

    I revisited the old school this week. It's now a library, but virtually unchanged apart from those loos, which are conspicuous by their absence.


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