The Aged P

…just toasting and ruminating….

Starting School in 1946…..

 

Memory is a tricky sort of chap. My recollections before the age of seven are a series of disordered snapshots whereas from seven onwards the sequences and situations become more familiar and easier to recall. But I guess my memories of late 1945/early 1946 are more deeply etched into my consciousness because there had been such a significant shift of my daily routine. In just a short window of time at the end of WW2 not only did my unremembered dad come home after five years of serving King and country but I also entered the world of formal education at a small  London County Council church primary school at the top of Brixton Hill.

 

That day in 1946 we gathered with our mums (dads didn’t do schools in those days) on the pavement outside the school entrance. A teacher came into the playground and blew a whistle. Some of us left mum and went into the playground. (My mum told me years later she was hurt because I didn’t look back!!)

Others came in only when their mums pushed them in. One pudding of a boy came in crying his eyes out. In later years Pudding Boy used his size and weight to bully other kids – so when he did that to the young brother of a friend of mine I reminded him in a very loud voice how he cried on that first day. He steered clear of me after that. I think it was an early lesson proving to me that sometimes interpersonal skills were more effective than a kick on the shin…

The teacher, a rather stern looking lady called Miss B marshalled us into a line then blew the whistle again. The final few kids were prodded into the playground. Like Pudding Boy a few  were tearful but Miss B just pushed them into the line then marched us into the school, ignoring the waving mums.

 

When we got into the classroom we were shown a long row of hooks, each one marked with a coloured shape….red triangle, blue circle etc etc. These, we were informed, were our coat hooks and we were each allocated a hook and told it was our job to remember our shape and Miss B didn’t expect a bunch of five year olds to forget because we were now in school and old enough to be sensible.

Miss B wore a long floral smock that went down to her ankles. I guess she must have started teaching in the early 1900s because she eventually retired in 1950. She certainly was old school. Reading, writing, spelling, sums and mental arithmetic in the morning and, if we worked hard, arty crafty stuff in the afternoon.

She ruled us with a gimlet eye and, when necessary, a sharp look of disapproval which would quell any rebellious soul. My working class mum had taught me to read and write so I managed to bumble along quite well but many of my thirty nine fellow pupils were thrown into the deep end. Yet nobody left Miss B’s class unable to read or write.

When we did art we painted on newspapres or sheets torn out of old telephone directories because there was a national shortage of paper – which is why we had to fill every space in our copy books if we wanted to avoid Miss B’s ire. Wasting paper in those days of genuine austerity was one of the seven deadly sins of education. Even in our loo at home there was rarely any toilet paper, just small squares of newspaper stuck onto a nail in the wall. (I remember once dad forgot I was in the room and said to my mum “we must have the blackest bums in Britain, Marje….”)

 

I often wonder how Miss B would fare in our more “caring” and wasteful culture….

 

Just a few months later she moved to take over the post reception class and we got a new teacher, Miss T, very much younger but not so well organised or experienced. We did a lot of painting and singing but not so many sums or spellings and there was a lot of running around. One of the other mums told mine that her son had forgotten how to read. Another said our new teacher was a “progressive” and Miss B was complaining that when children came up to her class they had forgotten a lot of basic skills and she had to spend quite a lot of time building them back. Clearly then in my infant mind I assumed that “progressive” was a bit of a dirty word..

 

When I moved up to Miss B it was back to basics with a vengeance. Regrettably my first two years at school were continuously interrupted not just by power cuts and the savage winter of 1947 but also with bouts of sinus problems and it was only when I moved up to Class Three in 1948 that my attendance improved.

 

Fortunately my new teacher was neither poorly organised like Miss T or scary like Miss B and I discovered that a classroom could be well controlled but also a lot of fun. Our class 3 teacher was Miss S and all of us, boys and girls, thought she was the best thing since sliced bread (or would have done if sliced bread had been available then..)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It Shouldn’t Have Happened To A Teacher – But It Did…The Bench


There was a bus stop near our school that had a long wooden seat nearby set into a strip of grass and a small, engraved plaque on the back rest which said it had been provided by a couple in memory of their daughter. But the seat itself was quite a few years old and was in a state of considerable disrepair.

Our then headteacher, Mr B, was an old school community chap, a former scout leader and active Rotarian. We were a tad undersubscribed and our exam results were the lowest in the borough. He therefore felt a bit of positive PR would not go amiss so during a senior management meeting he suggested that our woodwork department could gain some kudos for the school by bringing the seat in, repairing the several broken slats and give it a bit of an overall facelift. We might even invite a photographer from the local paper.

My colleague deputy head did not appear over enthused, muttering something about it was up to the council. Mr B replied that he had made enquiries, and nobody knew much about the seat’s history or the whereabouts of the couple who had provided it.

An awkward silence ensued so I said I would broach the matter with the head of our craft department if someone else would deal with the media. Mr B had local media contacts via Rotary and said he would handle that.

The next day I went along to the craft workshops and put the head of department in the picture. I stoically endured the predictable ten-minute barrage about time and material and the demands of the syllabus and then he passed me on to Mr W, a younger member of his staff which was good news because this guy was much more imaginative and got better work from the kids.

We decided that a couple of Year 11 lads, Jock and Billy, would be the ideal “volunteers” for the task. They were both good with wood and metal though in several other subjects they could be “challenging”. Their absence for a while from one or two subject area while they worked on the seat would not be particularly unwelcomed. Our head saw it as a win win – good PR for our school and a chance for a pair of our more awkward students to have the opportunity to bathe in the glow of a more positive light.

So, the appointed day came. The plan was for Mr W to take Jock and Billy to the seat with some tools, supervise them detaching the seat from the base while the press photographer did a bit of papping then walk back to school with the tools while Jock and Billy carried the seat.

In actual fact the seat was more awkward to carry than anticipated so Mr W found himself well ahead of the lads when he heard a lot of shouting. He turned around to see a little old lady had turned up out of the blue and was waving her stick at Jock and Billy and shouting “vandals” thieves” “scum” while the photographer was standing open mouthed and cars were stopping on the road.

Jock and Billy had dropped the seat and were covering their heads, frightened that she was going to hit them with her stick.

Fortunately, I was already standing at the school gate waiting for the seat to be brought on so I rushed towards the fray – much to the relief of Mr W who simply was not used to this sort of public fracas.

I stood between her and the lads in a defensive posture still anticipating a blow from her stick but the sight of a suit and tie must have not quite fitted into her perception of a couple of louts stealing a seat in order to smash it up in an orgy of vandalism.

Fortunately she paused to take a breath and I was able to explain that far from smashing it up we were taking it into the school to repair it and make it presentable again. She looked shamefaced and started to cry and Jock, the hard knuckled toughie from Glasgow took her in his arms and gave her a cuddle while Billy dragged out a grubby handkerchief to wipe her tears and I whispered to the camera guy “Take a f******* pic now” but it didn’t register so he never got the pic that could have gone viral.

I suggested to the lady that she walked with us to the woodwork centre so she could watch the lads start on the seat. But instead, when they reached the workshop, they dropped the seat and sat her down and made her a brew and we all listened as she told us how she’d seen local youths vandalising the bus stop and the seat in the past and decided she wasn’t going to take it anymore.

After she went I told the lads how proud I’d been of their unusually restrained reaction the her tirade. “That’s nothing, Mr R. You should see my nan last term when you rang her and said I was excluded for a week for swearing at Mr Y – I had to keep out of her way for three days until she calmed down……nothing worse than when you let down your nan”

I remembered then that like a few other “challenging” youngsters in our school Jock had been sent down from Scotland to live with his seventy five year old grandmother. I could just imagine the strain and stress of having to cope with an awkward teenager when your contemporaries were relaxing with a cup of tea and a bingo card. But I also knew that Jock thought the world of his grandmother.

A few days later Jock and Billy had repaired and refurbished the seat, it was returned to site and the local paps were there while the head made a little speech congratulating the two lads. We had hoped to invite the little old lady to take part in the ceremony but in all the upheavals none of us had remembered to take her name and address, the pap had failed to snap her and none of us had recognised her. As Billy said she just looked like someone’s nan.

Some weeks later, after I spotted Jock by the bike sheds when he should have been waxing lyrical about Jane Austen and he was able to dog his fag before I could actually catch him in the act and was walking him back to his English lesson, he suddenly brought up the mystery of the old lady.

“Funny how nobody knew her, sir. I reckon she could have been the ghost of the mum who put up the seat in the first place”.

“Could be, could be, Jock” I said “Almost as much of a ghost as that cigarette you were smoking by the bike shed…”

He just grinned and walked towards another exciting date with Jane Austen….

 

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On The Lorries In 50s London

“’Ere, son, do you know anything about Mary Queen of Scots?”

“Why yes, she……”

“Good – then you can carry those f****** desks up the staircase to the History Room on the fourth floor…”

To the rest of the gang, all ex servicemen, it was the oldest sergeant’s trick in the book. To me, a gangly sixth former fresh out of grammar school, it was another lesson in the curriculum of Real Life…..

In 1959 between leaving school and going up to uni my best friend Ernie and I spent three months working for the old London County Council as part of a gang on the lorries operated by the School Equipment Division. Based in a depot in Kennington (near the wafting delights of the old  Marmite factory) the SED was tasked with delivering and collecting furniture, books, machinery and everything else to and from every LCC school or college within (and sometimes without) the boundaries of London.

Six of us would sit in the cab as we threaded through 1950s London going wherever fate and fortune (or rather our foreman and driver) guided us.

Yet whether the tasks were big or small, the destinations northward or southward, our journeys always adhered to the same routine, those culinary intervals sacred to British workers of all ranks and stations in post WW2 Britain – tea and grub and, of course, tobacco.

We would assemble religiously by our lorry for a smoke at 8am and await the arrival of our foreman clutching a handful of dockets for the jobs allocated to his gang for that day. Queries of what, when and where would be ignored for our first port of call was never to any LCC premises but to a local “caff” where, over a half pint mug of builders tea (plus three spoons of sugar) the driver and foreman would discuss the best way of ordering the jobs and fitting them within an appropriate route – making sure that the last job was the nearest to our depot

The first job after that meeting had to be scheduled for completion soon after ten because then we would call in to an appropriate caff for breakfast – always a massive full English with fried bread followed by dripping on toast with another mug of strong tea (and NEVER coffee…)

After two or three jobs and as the clock struck one we would adjourn again to another caff for lunch – almost always a full-scale meat, three veg and gravy followed by some version of sponge pudding smothered in custard (which was always made with condensed milk)

Return to the depot had to be no earlier than 5.30 so round about 4.45 we could call in at the Kennington caff again for that final mug of tea and a cigarette.

Quite a diet in today’s terms – but we were doing hard physical graft, unloading furniture and equipment and delivering along corridors and up stairs to the appropriate rooms. We also never had the luxury of a rising tailgate, everything had to be hefted down to the ground. Believe me, manhandling a massive lathe from the lorry onto tarmac with one of us at each corner was a true test of teamwork

Each one of those caffs was a microcosm of mid twentieth century London working class life. Burly men with massive forearms (mainly white with a sprinkling of West Indians), rough at the edges but quite kindly to a prospective undergraduate. Few women, except those serving in the caffs – and, older or younger, they were as tough as the men. Indeed they had to be in those politically incorrect times, always ready to give back what was thrown at them – in spades. However I did notice that though the language within our gang would be ripe with obscenities around the women it would always be a tad restrained. Indeed it was only when I reached the mainly middle class ranks of university studentdom that I began to hear women sound off Fs and Cs with blatant abandon.

Another time, another world, as distant and different from today as Boswell’s recollections of 18th century London. But in those twelve weeks I learned as much, or even more about how to deal with people as I ever did in school and uni – and although I never realised it at the time, it proved a valuable apprenticeship for my years as a secondary teacher….

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University Then (1959) And Now (2020)

Eager student with a fellow student- now my lovely wife of 57 years..

In 1959 97% of school leavers didn’t get a sniff at university. Even in my selective state grammar school’s 1952 intake a third left at 15 and another third left at 16. Moreover at the end of sixth form only nine of us went on to uni – that was just 10% of the original intake of eleven plus “winners”. Not forgetting that the bulk of my primary school fellow pupils “failed” the 11+ and went on to secondary modern schools.

That was the stark reality of 1950s England where the concept of “failure” was built into the hurdle race that was the key driver of the education process – never publicly acknowledged, of course, but privately accepted in many quarters with much talk of achievement and “stretching”

A lot has changed since those days. A university place for nearly half of school leavers is now the norm. Of our grandchildren Hannah has recently graduated, Oliver is starting his second year and Pippa has just arrived for her first day. No doubt that the youngest two, Evie and Harry will be wending their way shortly.

All these thoughts welled up as I cast my mind back to September 1959 when I arrived at my Leicester University hall of residence in Oadby.. I was a grammar school boy from a South London working class family whose parents had left school at 14 and had never owned a house or a car but but both were autodidacts who treasured reading and learning and study and encouraged me to make a bid for university.

I suddenly found myself, for the first time in my life amidst a bunch of people I had never met before….some of them even had northern or Welsh accents!!!! Most of us had trickled in during the day. We had our first evening meal then, afterwards, we sat around in the common room. After an initial burst of chatter we all became quiet, lost in our own thoughts. My own mind suddenly wished that I was back home, having tea with my mum and dad in familiar surroundings.

Why the hell, I asked myself, had I got myself involved in all this? I was absolutely homesick.

Then suddenly someone shouted “Let’s all go down to the pub!!!!”

My homesickness instantly evaporated – and never appeared again. I was now a fully fledged university student – the first ever from my family – and I was now going to enjoy it to the full….

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When Wasp Dreams Come True

You know when you have that nightmare where you dream that a giant wasp is crawling over your head and you try to brush it off and it stings your face and it hurts like hell and you cry out and your wife wakes up and says what’s wrong and you say I was dreaming that I had been stung in the face by a wasp and she says does it hurt and you feel your face and there’s no sting and you sheepishly say sorry it was just a dream and she says you shouldn’t have eaten that kebab and turns over to go back to sleep?

Well, that.

Except last night it wasn’t a dream. I really did wake up with a wasp crawling over my head and brushed it off and it stung me in the face and it hurt like hell…….😬😬😬😬

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Getting Ready To Welcome Home A Dad I Couldn’t Remember…..Demob 1945

Mum, dad and me..January 1941

 

I have no specific memory of VE Day itself, partly because I was only four and a half years old at the time and recollection from that age is often difficult to disentangle from imagination.

Dad had been sent to Algeria with the British army in the autumn of 1942 but even before then he had been stationed in various camps all over Britain since after call up in 1940 so, like millions of other young children, home during WW2 was a dad free zone. Throughout those years, however, in Britain, Algeria or, later, Italy, he wrote regularly to mum and always included a note for me, usually a set of funny cartoons.

So, for millions of women like my mum the importance of VE Day was as a sign that their menfolk, after years of separation, would be coming home.

The magic word was “demob”……demobilisation, the release of millions of servicemen from the routines of military life into “civvy street” and the process began just a few weeks after VE Day.
I must have sensed an air of excitement as I was told about daddy coming home.There had been some photos of course plus the little drawings and I knew about daddies from stories and nursery rhymes but otherwise “father” was in reality as strange a concept as the man in the moon.

I don’t remember his actual arrival. But I do have a few mental snapshots of the time the way most of us recall isolated events in our younger days. He must have returned in one of the earlier demob waves because I have a memory of houses up and down our road being decorated with union jacks and red, white and blue bunting and lots of signs saying “Welcome Home….Bill or Jack or Sid”….or in my dad’s case “Eddie”. I also remember my mum’s oldest sister, my maiden aunt (do they exist anymore?) lifting up me onto the wall of our front garden, giving me a small flag to hold and saying to my mum “he’s a flagpole” and them dissolving into laughter and me feeling very proud and important…

Precious memories….

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A Bit Of Cancer Surgery To Liven Up The Coronavirus Lockdown

Had a bit of a break from lockdown with a fun day at East Grinstead a few days ago. The Lovely Mrs P dropped me off at Queen Victoria Hospital at 7.45 for some neck surgery to cut out a bit of cancer. At the car park nurses were electronically testing temperature but it was too cold for an accurate reading so they let us through. Next step was a CT scan to check if I was a CV carrier….apparently QVH is doing that for all surgical procedures. Currently QVH is tagged as a “cold” hospital that will not cater for any Coronavirus cases.

Fortunately I’m not a carrier so straight then to theatre reception, gowned up and into the theatre after an initial chat with the surgeon and anaesthetist who both suggested, because of heart problems, a local rather than a general anaesthetic.

Now QVH, a twenty five minute drive from us, is one of the best in the world for head, neck and facial surgery so who was I to argue.

So I had my neck sliced and cut with a dentist type local plus a sedative feed to keep me comfortable. But I stayed awake and had some good banter with the surgeon and his team. Whenever the cutting became a little too sharp I squeezed the anaesthetist’s hand and she upped the sedative for a moment. Oddly enough the whole process put me at my ease and, as my surgeon said afterwards, a settled patient reduces pressure on the theatre team.

When all was done went back to ward at eleven and enjoyed an NHS Lancashire Hotpot and Apple Crumble at twelve. Because the wards were almost empty I had Prince Charles type attention from the nurses with copious cups of tea and digestive biscuits in between BP takes.
As the local wore off neck felt slightly but not unbearably sore so was able to persuade the staff to give me a box of that scarcest of drugs….the humble paracetamol….lol

Discharged at 3.30 so was able to walk into the car park just when my wife arrived to drive me back home.

As I said to Mr X and his team as I left the theatre I would rather not go through it again but if my neck needed to be sliced and diced I would opt for them every time….

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CORONAVIRUS AND THE RETURN OF THE BRITISH BOFFIN…..

Unlike the rest of us who can bloviate about coronavirus knowing full well that nobody else in the public sphere has to take a blind bit of notice of our Facebook blatherings Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, and chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty bear an unimaginable and unenviable burden of responsibility which few outside the military will ever experience – so anyone who has ever been in a position of authority will understand that being at the top can be a frightening place.

But cometh the hour, cometh the men…

For just when it feels like we’re about to enter full-scale coronavirus panic mode, two quiet doctors enter from the wings – and magically chime with our national, keep-calm-and-carry-on temperament.

Dr Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, are just the kind of modest eggheads we crave. They don’t make a drama out of a crisis; they just quietly get on with doing the right thing, leaving the frantic jazz hands to others.

Because they’re so clever and understated, we trust them. When Dr Whitty quietly lays out the measures needed for the ‘delay’ phase of the crisis – the symptoms to look for; why we should be isolating ourselves for a week if we have them – we see the sense of it.

When Sir Patrick gently explained, on the Today programme, why it was safer to go to the Cheltenham Gold Cup and watch it live than go to a pub and watch on TV, we listen.

Theirs is a respect rooted in intelligence and achievement, as well as their air of quiet, cool command. Chris Whitty, 53, was brought up in Nigeria, where his late father worked for the British Council. Educated at Malvern and Pembroke College, Oxford, he went on to collect four postgraduate degrees. He is an NHS Consultant Physician at University College London Hospitals and the Hospital for Tropical Diseases. He was a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. He’s an expert in malaria and Ebola.

Sir Patrick was educated at Truro School and London University and was also a professor (at UCL Medical School). He went on to become head of research and development at the huge pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline. He’s an expert in vascular medicine.

In a world obsessed with celebrities and show-offy Instagram influencers, what a contrast it is when two gentle scientists against their better wishes, take centre-stage.

It’s the return of the boffin, the understated hero, who dominates our attention by not shrieking for it…

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The Joys Of Being A Teacher…Dealing With A Very Angry Parent

After having spent my lunch hour patrolling the playgrounds and corridors making sure a thousand kids at my comp let off steam in a civilised manner I was sitting in my office about five minutes into the start of afternoon lessons and ready to take a bite of my cheese sandwich when the phone rang.
“Better come round, Mr P – we’ve got an effer. It’s Sharon S’s dad”

That was the school office code word for a visitor (usually a parent) who came in out of the blue and demanded to see the head or one of the deputies immediately about how their f****** son or daughter had been treated by either some f****** teacher or another f****** pupil.

Although the textbook reply from reception could have been “Certainly, sir or madam, we’ll arrange an appointment – would next Wednesday at 10.45 be OK?” or even “We refuse to deal with you until you rinse your mouth out with soap and water” the office staff knew that a secondary school reception area is usually busy with passing trade both with both pupils and assorted adults so operation defuse had to be the order of the day.

I was therefore summoned.

Mr S was still at reception, bubbling with anger as I appeared.
“Hello, Mr S” I said “thanks for coming in” and immediately shook his hand.

Notice the cunning strategy? I was immediately owning the situation by pretending that he had entered our turf on my invitation rather than invading us in a fit of anger.
The handshake was even more significant. A gnarled old veteran from east end secondary mods had once told me that physically, psychologically (and statistically) it was very difficult to punch someone straight after they had shaken your hand.

I used the opportunity of Mr S’s confusion to shepherd him away from reception, along the corridor and into my office. He might still be angry but it would now be away from public view, the first important stage of operation defuse.

I closed the door, motioned him so sit down and then sat down myself with the desk between us. I then invited him to inform me of his concerns and the flood gates opened. In between the swear words the story gradually unfolded and it proved to be the old girly chestnut – friends falling out.
For about fifteen minutes there followed an eruption of anger and vituperation punctuated at appropriate moments by a “hmmm” or an “indeed” from me.
Eventually the volcanic activity subsided and Mr S looked down at his boots. After a long pause I sensed my moment had come. “Thank you Mr S” I said “I think I get the picture – leave it with me”
Mr S looked up

“Thanks Mr P” he replied “Sorry for all that stuff beforehand but I was on site and got this phone call from the Mrs with Sharon in the background going wa wa f******* wa……well, you know how it is…”
I gave what I thought was my knowing/sympathetic look and stood up and came round my desk. Mr S stood as well and we shook hands.
“….and thanks for your advice, Mr P” he said as we moved to the door.

Which was odd because I had not given him any advice at all…
On the way out he moved briefly to reception and muttered an apology and went back to his van outside.
“Another triumph for Mr F*** Off” said the girls at reception.
“I don’t know” I replied “he thanked me for my advice but I never gave him any.”
“But you listened” one of them said “and maybe that’s all some folk want at times”

As for Sharon and falling out with her bosom mates? At the end of school I buttonholed her as she was leaving and said her dad had come in about the situation and she just rolled her eyes. “Omygod – really? That’s all sorted, sir, no problem” and she went off, joined her mates and they went arm in arm towards the main gates….

Another notch on the gun for Mr F*** Off……

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With Trump The UK Telegraph Consistently Goes Pravda..

I have always found it a useful rule of thumb to treat DT articles on American politics as simply agitprop regurgitated from WaPo/NYT via cut/paste. For eight years the US media set aside its critical faculties and acted as Obama’s Palace Guard and DT writers aped that sycophantic style. Throughout 2016 they shifted this devotion to Hillary.

BRS and co totally failed to read the runes during the campaign and their faulty analysis and lazy assumptions got the election wrong

Instead of learning from the mistakes of their shoddy “journalism” they have let their anger fester and used it to drive this systematic anti Trump agenda……so Read more…

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