The Aged P

…just toasting and ruminating….

Archive for the 'Personal' Category


All those youngsters and nervous parents heading for reception class this week took me back to my own reception experience in 1945 at my London County Council primary school at the top of Brixton Hill. 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!!
The teacher, a rather stern looking lady called Miss Bowker, marshalled us into a line then blew the whistle again. Mums prodded their kids into the playground. Some were tearful but Miss Bowker just pushed them into the line then marched us into the school, ignoring the waving mums.
I guess Miss B must have started teaching in 1910 because she eventually retired in 1950. She certainly was old school. English and 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. But nobody left Miss B’s class unable to read or write.
When we did art we painted on 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…..
Wonder how she would fare in our more “caring” culture….lol…

posted by david in Education,Memory Lane,Personal and have Comments Off on STARTING SCHOOL…1945..

Season’s Greetings From The Aged P

Greetings from Worth in West Sussex. The church is 5 minutes from our house. Pic taken by Mrs P in 2010



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My Mum’s Schooldays in 1924 and a Story of Friendship

My mum’s class in her South London elementary school in Brixton in 1924 when she was 10. Not all the kids were the same age because in those days classes were organised in Standards so you didn’t automatically move up each year.

mum's class 1924

One teacher, nearly 50 kids – as she was a woman her pay would be lower and she had to stay single because, if she married, she would be sacked.  No exams and most kids left at 14 but my grandmother thought mum should stay on for another year when she would be bigger! She was then apprenticed to a West End milliner because “women would always wear hats”….

mum's class 1924 - Copy (4)

My mum, Marjorie James as she was is highlighted in red in this pic and her friend, Phoebe in green. Phoebe was a Jewish girl who joined the school late. Mum didn’t know her but saw her crying in the playground on her first day surrounded by some of the kids taunting her and chanting “dirty  jewgirl”  She went up to her, stood beside her and told the others she was her friend and to leave her alone.

That was typical of my mum. She didn’t have much to do with church and I never saw her reading a book on ethics but she had a moral strength equal to fifty bishops. She believed actions spoke louder than words. “You don’t SAY right” she told me once when I had been rather unpleasant to someone else “You DO right!!!”

Mum and Phoebe remained friends until parted by death in the 1980s.

Here they are, strolling along the seafront ten years later in 1934….the girls are back in town….lol..

m ph ad 1934 - Copy

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posted by david in Family,Personal and have Comments Off on My Mum’s Schooldays in 1924 and a Story of Friendship

The Day I Became A Proper Teacher


Forget a lot of the blah that today passes off as the definition of good teaching. The present obsession with targets, test results and exam grades is a quaint throwback to a rather old fashioned instrumental model of learning – the student as an empty bottle and the teacher as lab worker who picks up the jug full of knowledge and pours it in.

Like all instrumental models the pattern is flawed because it leaves out one key fact – you are dealing with humans.

Sure test results and exam grades are important as useful indicators of what has been learned but that is not the whole story of what education is about. Schools are also places where children learn how to act as members of a community and a teacher’s job is also to provide them with clues about social conduct. Hence the relationship between teachers and students is an important strand of that learning process.

You could call it the chemistry of teaching.

Sometimes it can manifest itself in quite an unusual way.

My first job was in a North London comprehensive school. I lived initially with my parents in Streatham. My daily commute was a bus to Clapham Common Station, the Northern Line to Camden Town then another bus to the school. During the 1960s Northern Line trains were often delayed  so sometimes I cut things a little fine and arrived in school just after the bell. It was a big site so by the time I reached my tutor group to mark the register I was running even later. Usually there were still kids milling about the corridors and my delayed appearance  did not appear to be noticed.

How naive of me. My card had been marked and the Head himself had decided to confront me at the scene of the crime.

Fate decreed that on the very morning that the Head hovered around our particular corridor I was even later than usual. I slipped in through a side door, dashed up the back stairs and ran into the classroom, got to my desk and opened up the register – and suddenly noticed it had already been marked. I looked up, obviously rather puzzled and one of the girls told me that the Head had come into the room and asked where I was. Immediately the worst case scenario flashed across my mind. The Head had marked the register in my absence and later that morning I would be summoned to his office for a grade A bollocking.

But the kids had obviously read my fearful face.

“It’s OK, sir – we knew you were late so we marked the register for you and told the Head you’d gone down to the history stockroom to fetch a book” said one of them

When later in the day I told Ted G, our Head of House – a grizzled LCC veteran – he just nodded and said “Well Dave, you’ve passed the most important test. Forget about degrees and certificates. The kids might sometimes still try to cause trouble but if they back you up in that sort of situation you have passed their exam with flying colours. In their eyes you are now a proper teacher. But if I were you I’d bloody well make certain I was a proper teacher who arrived on time.”

Good old Ted G. He taught me a lot about stuff that my teacher trainers never mentioned – what he called the chemistry of teaching. I was never late again – I got up earlier and left a margin for delays. I’m also, fifty years later, still in touch with some of those “kids”. I never was a softy or one for thinking that the classroom could be a democracy. But I always believed that young people should be treated with respect – and that working with them was a privilege and I never had cause to regret that belief.



posted by david in Education,Personal and have Comments Off on The Day I Became A Proper Teacher

My Favourite Christmas Carol…..

I Saw Thee Ships Come Sailing In

3 ships

1. I saw three ships come sailing in,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
I saw three ships come sailing in,
On Christmas day in the morning.

2. And what1 was in those ships all three?
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
And what was in those ships all three?
On Christmas day in the morning.

3. Our Saviour Christ and his lady2
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
Our Saviour Christ and his lady,
On Christmas day in the morning.

4. Pray whither sailed those ships all three?
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
Pray whither sailed those ships all three?
On Christmas day in the morning.

5. Oh, they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
Oh, they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas day in the morning.

6. And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas day in the morning.

7. And all the Angels in Heaven shall sing,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
And all the Angels in Heaven shall sing,
On Christmas day in the morning.

8. And all the souls on earth shall sing,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
And all the souls on earth shall sing,
On Christmas day in the morning.

9. Then let us all rejoice, amain,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
Then let us all rejoice, amain,
On Christmas day in the morning.




posted by david in Personal and have Comments Off on My Favourite Christmas Carol…..

The Aged P….Blitz Baby….

Morning after...

Morning after…

I was born at Lockington Hall, an 18th century country house 20 miles NW of Leicester in the early hours of Wednesday November 20th 1940. Alas this was not my family’s ancestral estate – it had been requisitioned by the Govt as a maternity home for expectant mothers from areas being bombed by the German Luftwaffe at the start of WW2……altogether 2000 of us young Brits were born there during those war years.

Starting on 7 September 1940, London was bombed for 57 consecutive nights. More than one million London houses were destroyed or damaged, and more than 40,000 civilians were killed, almost half of them in London. My South London mum was six months pregnant when the London Blitz began. My dad had been called up into the army and was away “somewhere in England” manning anti-aircraft artillery. Imagine what it must have been like having to spend every night during the last months of your pregnancy down in a cellar hearing the crash of guns and bombs up above, never knowing if the next one was coming down on your house to blast you into kingdom come. Being evacuated to a peaceful rural mansion a fortnight before your due date must have seemed like a minor miracle.

In actual fact in November 1940 the area was not too peaceful. Just a few hours before I was born the Germans launched a devastating raid on nearby Leicester.

Before November was out mum and I were despatched back to South London and further air raids. Dad was granted some leave at times but in early 1942 he was sent off to North Africa and Italy and the next time I saw him was in 1945 when he was demobbed….

Mum, Dad & me...1941

Mum, Dad & me…1941

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Closing Down For August…..


That’s all for this month, folks…..back in September when the battle starts up again. Have a good holiday…….



H/T for beach pic


posted by david in Personal and have Comments Off on Closing Down For August…..

Confessions Of A Teacher….

A few days ago we went, as “guests of honour” to a school reunion which included several people I had taught nearly half a century ago in the 1960s. Several of women asked my wife how old I was as I didn’t look much different to all the other men in the room. In fact they were all round about 60 while I’m in my early 70s….at those ages the grey hairs, wrinkles and paunches make us all seem the same whereas to a 12 yr old even someone in their mid 20s (as I was then) just looks….ancient…

Everyone was very kind and some said they remembered one or two things I had taught them. A few even told me that I had sparked off a lifelong interest in history. They reminded me of things I had said and done in the classroom (much of which I could not recall…lol…) and there was a collective reminder of idiosyncrasies (some of which, I confess, I had deliberately cultivated)

It was fascinating to also hear about their own pathways through life and see the pictures of children and grandchildren from men and women I had last seen in school uniform filing out of my classroom or running across the playground.

I felt honoured to be there and touched that they should want to include me in their fellowship. But that is the bonus of being a teacher. Despite the myths and caricatures that surround schools I have found that there was very little difference between the young adolescents in the 60s and those I was teaching nearly forty years later (and most of my career was spent in bog standard comprehensives…)

I always made it clear that I was in charge of the classroom and that there were certain behaviours that were unacceptable. But within those boundaries the work we did would be laced with good humour and mutual respect and, whatever happened, I was always guided by one key factor.

That these young people are not yet adults and will sometimes be immature, thoughtless and irresponsible – just as we were at that age….

No, as a teacher there is little chance of getting wealthy – but there can be other riches that go beyond price…


posted by david in Personal and have Comments Off on Confessions Of A Teacher….

Whatever Happened To Our Israeli Students Of ’68/’69?

From 1964 until 1972 I was a teacher at London’s leading Jewish state school, JFS Comprehensive. It was my first full time teaching post and the eight years I spent there, teaching history, were amongst the happiest of my career.

In July/August 1968 and again in 1969 my wife and I went with a group of colleagues and sixth formers from JFS (then in the London Borough of Camden) to Israel for six weeks to help Israeli students with their English and also to tour around the country….our JFS leader was Manny Klein, a very lively teaching colleague. It was soon after the Six Day War so we also visited the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza & Sinai and the Golan Heights.

Almost everyone in our party was Jewish but not my wife  or myself. Nevertheless we felt a great rapport with our Israeli students and our hosts at the settlement of Merkaz Shapira, about ten miles east of Ashkelon, particularly our guide, Chaim and Eli and Rachel Naaman who travelled with us on our tours

Our students were Ruth, Halea, Hania, Shula, and the two Rachels. There they are in the picture below. They were good company and keen to hone up their English skills. They knew that their generation would be leading Israel into maturity as a nation and had great pride in what had already been achieved. As the decades have passed I often wondered what had become of them through all the ups and downs of the ensuing years. They would, hopefully, be grandparents now – I wonder what tales they could tell….

Ruth. Halea, Hania, Rachel, ShulaBeryl, David, Rachel


R to L Top: Ruth, Halea, Hania, Rachel Bottom: Shula, Beryl, David, Rachel


As to our Israeli hosts -Chaim was a real character, bursting with energy, a brilliant guide who was desperate to show us every nook and cranny of Israel, always clutching his Zev Vilnay. Some of the teachers and students in our JFS group found him a little overwhelming but he burned with an infectious enthusiasm that struck a chord with my own love of history. He also, strangely enough, latched on to my own rather quirky sense of humour

Eli Naaman accompanied us on our week touring Gaza, Sinai, the Negev and the Dead Sea by lorry. He had collected an old Lee Enfield 303 from a police station “just in case” as we entered Gaza. I had fired a 303 at UK military ranges so we got chatting. When we returned to MS it was just before Shabbat and almost everyone in our party had arrangements to visit relatives or friends. Not being Jewish we were prepared for our own company when Eli invited us to spend Shabbat with his family which is how we got to know Rachel and her son. Their offer to share that time with a non Jewish couple was an act of great kindness and it was very moving to experience a Jewish Shabbat in Israel.

Merkaz Shapira - Chaim, our guide & mentor




Merkaz Shapira - Rachel Naaman & son


Rachel Naaman and her son, with Beryl

And Merkaz Shapira?  When I compared my  photos with Google street view it was obvious that things had changed a lot. But then I realised that is what happens after virtually half a century. Where we live  in Sussex was all fields and copses, streams and narrow country roads fifty years ago ….all built up now…..time moves on even as memories seem crystal clear.

Apologies for the quality of the photos – it was fashionable in the sixties to convert negatives into slides. Unfortunately I cannot find the negatives so we converted the slides into jpegs. Colours are a bit washed out (it was only a cheap camera) and there are specks from the slides. However we do hope they convey something of the Israel of nearly half a century ago….


P S……I have been told that Chaim passed away several years ago and that Rachel Naaman is still living but her son Uzi, the boy in the picture was, sadly, killed in the Yom Kippur war……

posted by david in Personal and have Comments Off on Whatever Happened To Our Israeli Students Of ’68/’69?

A Memory of Kirsty MacColl

At this time of year in the shops and on the radio there is the usual barrage of seasonal songs just to tell us (as if reminders were needed) that Christmas is getting near.  One of them, in particular, has a personal resonance for me….The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl – “Fairytale of New York”

Recorded in 1987 it not only revitalised Kirsty’s singing career but has, ever since, been a regular Christmas favourite. Tragically this brilliant singer and gifted song writer was killed in a controversial speedboat incident in Mexico in 2000 but her work is still fondly remembered by a legion of fans.

Kirsty, the daughter of folk singer Ewan MacColl was born in 1959 and brought up by her mother, Jean Newlove, in the leafier part of Croydon, on the southern edge of London. During the early 70s she was a student at Monks Hill High School which is where I was teaching at the time. She was in one of my classes when she was 13/14 and I always found her a quiet, hard working girl. Bright and well informed about the world she was  polite and well mannered but never afraid to voice an opinion if she felt strongly enough about an issue.

For my sins I was earmarked to supervise one of the school’s first discos but found it a doddle because Kirsty volunteered to organise it all. Unfortunately the DJ forgot a vital piece of equipment and I was suddenly faced with the nightmare of 250 teenagers turning up with no music playing. Fortunately even then the girl had contacts so I told her to jump into my car and we raced around tracking down the right stuff. I remember her saying “No need to panic, sir, we’ll sort it out” – and we did, thanks to her.

I also recall another classic Kirsty moment when the Headmaster gave a talk to her group about the responsibilities of democracy and how vital it was that every citizen should get involved. At the end he was about to walk off without inviting any questions. Kirsty put up her hand and very politely asked a question about a recent change of rules, querying the reason for it. The Head very sharply told her it had been his decision and was not up for debate – then walked off, leaving me to dismiss the group. Ever afterwards some of us on the staff joked about that as a brilliant example of the reality of “democracy” in action.

As the years passed I kept track with Kirsty’s music which I always liked even though her politics were the total opposite of mine. So when I hear “The Fairy Tale of New York” I recall both the feisty fiery singer/song writer whose life was cut sadly short – and also the red headed 14 year old who always did her homework and knew how to rescue a school disco.

God bless you and your family, Kirsty – I’ll be drinking a pint of Shepherd Neame Spitfire Kentish Ale to your memory later

posted by david in Music,Personal and have Comments Off on A Memory of Kirsty MacColl

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