Today is the day ~ 1970s…

The 1970s were crazy and colourful! Chopper bikes, curly perms and clackers were all the rage. For those of you who were not around in the 1970s, clackers were a toy that was on trend, basically two small balls on the end of strings which made a sort of clacking noise. We certainly had some strange toys! Hem lengths were confused with the mini, the midi and the maxi all vying for top position. The hippies of Woodstock back in 1969 left us confused and unsure as to which way now, not that I went to Woodstock as I was only 7, although I bet it would have been fun! In 1969 I was just 7 years old, a little kid just starting out on the journey of life, no real life experience as yet, just the enthusiasm and innocence of childhood. Glam Rock, Punk, Rock ‘n’ Roll, pop…all taking the stage. The 60s may have been swinging but the 70s were electrifying! My idol was David Cassidy, brown eyes, husky voice and a smile to die for. Here just thinking about him makes me sigh like a teenager. It did n’t even matter that he was in the Partridge Family who to be honest were a bit square, and not in the least bit funky but David sang to my soul with Could it be forever and How can I be sure?  This guy, who was 12 years older than me, somehow knew how I felt, knew who I was, and somehow spoke to me in a way that no one else could. My relationship with David was deep and meaningful. Then years later Robbie Williams came along who incidentally is 12 years younger. I wonder, if like me they are Tigers in Chinese astrology which moves in 12 year cycles. Umm that’s an interesting thought. I’ll have to check that out. Robbie took me through my adulteens and dare I say it my adulthood. Oh yes, Robbie went through everything with me, through his music of course. I am probably dwelling on the 70s just now as this was the timeframe in which I was 16 and in all honesty my daughter is now 16 and I am feeling at a crossroads. It really does not seem that long ago that I was the same age and going through the same experiences that she is just now. I am sure that she would be horrified at the very thought that I may have been as she is now. I am sure to her it does not seem descent that a woman of my 48 years should have ever experienced the first flush of youth. To my daughter, all I can say is just you wait until you have a daughter or son of your own.

© Liola Lee 2010

‘Today is the day’ …was a collection of musings I wrote during the Peri menopause years. It’s spoken in the first person, and was based largely on my journal entries written around that time. Journalling is a wonderful way to express this, that and whatever else needs to be said whether aloud or silently…

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Memoirs ~ Class 9, 2 Davids, Isle of Wight & a smack

In numerology nine is the number of completion and so it was I completed my primary school years in class nine. There were three classes at the top end of the school; classes nine, ten and eleven. I was in class nine taught by Mrs Shelbrook formerly Miss Marcham, my favourite teacher. Class ten was taught by Mr Orford who I think was a hippy or new ageist in the making or something that came close to either. He used to play guitar and sing, had longer hair than the other male teachers and a long shaggy beard, both brown. In my book that made him a hippy or at least it did in my eleven year old eyes. In reality he was probably just a man who enjoyed sporting a beard. As a child, I was always thinking about the whys and wherefores of things, and coming to my own conclusions as do we all but children see things in a different light to adults. The funny thing about Mr Orford was that his own children attended the free school further down the road in Kirkdale, towards Cobbs Corner. The free school looked like it might have been fun, at least that is how I perceived it. Every time you went past, there were children looking scruffy, carefree and happy, I mean really happy! You always heard laughter coming from the free school. Perhaps Mr Orford taught at Kelvin Grove to pay the bills. Finally, there was class eleven which was Mr Phenong’s class. Mr Phenong was scary, I mean really scary!. He was Chinese or appeared to be from that part of the world. He was tall and he took no nonsense. His was the quietest class in the school. You never heard any commotion from his class. I was glad I was not in his class. His class was at the top of the cast iron steps in the old Victorian building. I was always so happy that I never had to ascend those steps  into Mr Phenongs domain. Class nine and class ten were based in the new pre-fabricated huts that were built a little distance away from the main school building. When I think of the huts in my minds eye, I see the colour yellow. They were light and airy, a far cry from the old Victorian classes that I had been accustomed to. When I see those classrooms I see the colours red and brown, lots of glass, really high ceilings and dark corridors. 

Class nine probably made more of an impression on me than any other class at Kelvin Grove. I was growing up and everything was preparing us for secondary school. I had pretty much stuck with the same group through school. The group consisted of Ruth, Angela, Debbie, Ken who joined the school later than the rest of us but fitted in with us all, as if he had always been one of us, and then of course there was David. We all sat on one desk. The others in the group were Perry, Tina, Dawn, and Lillian who sat on other desks but were equally part of the group. 

At playtime the boys would chase the girls, the girls would squeal as young girls have a tendency to do if they were caught, and then they would run away again only to be chased and caught again. That’s just how the game went. It seemed the girls had the most fun, or maybe we were typically stereotypical for  that period of time with the boys being the hunters and the girls being chased. We were all in the first flush of youth approaching puberty but not quite there yet, and so were still enjoying the freedom associated with childhood. A couple of the girls had paired off with a couple of the boys, Ruth and David and Tina and Perry. The funny thing is that all the girls in the class had a crush on David . Whether he knew it or not is a mystery. I kept my feelings on that score to myself. It was a secret crush that had he have known I would have died of embarrassment. I remember wearing a David Cassidy t-shirt one day for PE and David  telling me that it really suited me. I am sure I blushed brilliantly but was thrilled, as him commenting meant that he had noticed me. I wasn’t invisible after all. That was as far as my relationship with David went. It was innocently sweet. 

These children were such an integral part of my junior school years,  and yet secondary school saw us all separated and going off in different directions on our next phase of life. All us girls went on to Sydenham County School for girls, and the boys went to Dacres Road, which was actually Forest Hill Boys School. Even though us girls were in the same school we were split into other groups, our new groups. That’s how life often goes with us going from one group to another as we travel through life on our journey with destination unknown. I only ever saw David (not Cassidy) once more in my life, and that was years later when I was working in the local record shop Treble Clef. Working at Treble Clef was my Saturday and holiday job. It was poorly paid at just £5 for the entire day but I loved it. I got to listen to music all day, and for the most part I got to choose the music. It did not seem like work at all. I never went home with any money as I spent it all on records. Anyway, it was here I last saw David. He was with who I presume was his girlfriend. Strangely she reminded me of me with her dark curly hair and bright eyes. David had not really changed much but I no longer had butterflies in my tummy when I saw him.  I never knew what became of him after that.

Class nine was a good class to be in apart from when we had Mr Hog (what a name! Is n’t hog another name for pig?). Mr Hog was a supply teacher who covered for Mrs Shelbrook when she was away. He had a red face and had straight oiled hair with a side parting that was slicked back and stuck flat to his head. I have a feeling he was Welsh but could be mistaken. His mouth was crooked as were his teeth that were stained dark yellow bordering on green.  It’s strange how we can see people so clearly, and in so much detail even though it was such a long time ago. If I were to annotate any colours to him it would be red because of his ruddiness, and green because of the various greens of his clothes which seemed to be muted together in a mass of coarse fabrics that sat awkwardly on his sturdy frame..  He wore thick glasses and had spiteful eyes. He was quite stocky, not fat but solid. He took a dislike to our class who were by this time quite well behaved as we had the greatest amount of respect for Mrs Shelbrook. One afternoon he was teaching, and said something that the class found funny. There were sniggers all around but the person who was more obvious, and louder than the others was David. He was just ten or eleven and had n’t done anything terrible but the teacher had other ideas, clearly felt belittled and wanted someone to pay. Mr Hog went up behind David and I am sure  if my memory serves me right, thumped him hard in his back. It must have hurt terribly, as well as feeling humiliated. David’s face reddened to a deep crimson. I am sure he reacted by running from the classroom as a way of escaping such a traumatic situation, although I am not altogether certain. We remember things to suit our own perception of events and situations. 

David  was n’t the only David in my life and he was n’t to be my last.  I secretly admired David, he was decent boy with a head of fabulous brown curls. I was also a fan of David Cassidy who had a string of chart hits in the 1970s including Could it be forever; How can I be sure and Breaking up is hard to do. Maureen, my older sister knew that I liked David Cassidy and that he was my favourite pop star but that did n’t stop her from going to his concert. Maureen was four years older than me and was allowed to go to concerts with her friends. While she was at the concert she even bought a David Cassidy pillow case and pendant. I ended up with a t-shirt, although I am sure she wore it a few times before letting me have it. Maureen was so lucky to be allowed to go to concerts. I was just too young at the time. 

Now that we were in our final year at Primary School it meant that we could go on the annual school journey to the Isle of Wight. The school journey was to be both educational and fun, and like the other children I couldn’t wait to go. We were only to be away from home and school for a week, which before we went did n’t seem that long a time but when we were actually there it seemed an eternity and I was horribly home sick.. The teachers that were to accompany us on school journey were Mrs Tuppenden and Mrs Shelbrook who were both teachers, and Mrs Atkins who was actually a lunchtime supervisor who kept an eye on us at dinnertime, and made sure that we ate our school dinner. If there were any other teachers on the trip I don’t recall. I remember much of that journey, not the actual travelling which was by coach and ferry but the actual trip itself. We stayed in chalets in San-down, four to a chalet on bunk beds I think, although I don’t remember if I took the top bunk or the bottom bunk. At night time on that first day we were to bathe and clean ourselves. I soon realised that mummy and daddy had forgotten to pack a flannel. I told the teacher and was given a J-cloth as a substitute. An adult would simply see that as improvisation. That would have been fine but a couple of girls in class eleven had overheard my dilemma, and for the rest of the holiday repeatedly sang the song from the J-cloth advert. I tried to laugh it off but it seriously got on my nerves in the end. They just didn’t know when enough was enough. So that was the first thing on the trip that got me down. 

Being homesick I wished that I was back at home but there was nothing I could do. I would just have to hope that the days went by quickly. Being on the Isle of Wight we made various trips to the beach. Allum Bay was one place where we went because of the variety of coloured sand. As children we were encouraged to play and run around to work off our excess energy. I remember Mrs Tuppenden and Mrs Atkins lifting me by my hands and feet and mockingly acting as though they would hurl me into the sea. I struggled, screamed and cried, and got quite aggressive, threatening that I would tell my dad and that they’d be sorry. They were just playing but I didn’t like that game, and felt scared. I did tell my dad when I got home but he could see that no harm was intended, and said that I was far too sensitive and should n’t take everything to heart. 

On the trip we would all eat our breakfast together. My favourite breakfast was Kellogg’s cornflakes with a rather large sprinkling of sugar. After breakfast we were told what we would be doing and where we would be visiting that day. One particular excursion that I remember only too well was a daytrip to Carisbrook Castle. Now, either on the estate or maybe on route to the estate we went to visit a windmill. Before entering we were told not to touch anything as it was very old. I obviously either did n’t hear that point or maybe switched off and chose to ignore it. It does n’t matter as the result would have been the same. I touched when I should n’t have touched. What it was I touched I could n’t even now say, some sort of cog I think. What I remember is how much my leg stung as Mrs Shelbrook’s hand came hard across the back of my leg. There was no warning, it just happened spontaneously. Suddenly, my favourite teacher was no longer my favourite teacher, and I was no longer the good girl I had always strived to be. Not only did the smack sting but my pride was in pieces. I never saw Mrs Shelbrook in the same light after that, and I never touched anything that said don’t touch again. With that in mind, it’s true how they say history repeats itself, and that each person can only learn from their own mistakes. Two years later on the same school trip, while on the same excursion my younger sister got smacked by the same teacher for doing the same thing, in exactly the same spot. 

One of my friends on the trip was Linda. Linda was only in my life briefly, and for a short time we were good friends. Linda was an only child, and lived on the Hillcrest Estate, known to us also as the flats at the back because they were situated down beyond the Orange Moon at the rear of our houses in Hillcrest Road. Linda had dark brown hair and sky blue eyes, and was confident and self-assured. I wanted to be like Linda. Linda lived with her mum and her dad when he came home on leave. Linda’s dad was a soldier. Linda’s   mum drove a bight red convertible MG Spitfire. Linda’s mum wore her shoulder length blond hair in a flick. Linda’s mum was young and fashionable and did n’t look like a mum at all at least not in my eyes. 

Once during that brief time that Linda was a part of my life, I was invited to stay over at Linda’s for the night. I had never slept away from home before, and I am sure my parents had reservations as sleepovers were not the done thing back then but I managed to persuade them that I would be fine, reminding them that I really was n’t going very far. I had to sleep with Linda in her bed. The only recollection I have of that sleepover was her mum asking what drink we’d like to have on the bedside in case we should become thirsty in the night. Linda chose orange juice and I chose milk; milk was a bad choice as it curdled over night. To this day I have never left milk out overnight. You learn all sorts of things from the people you meet in life; sometimes we learn simple things and at other times not so simple things. 

Linda went out of my life as quickly as she had come into it. Where she went I don’t know. I never saw her or heard from her again. Linda was just one of many people I befriended or who befriended me during my life, and who made a lasting impression on me. They say that people come into your life for all manner of reasons so that we can learn something from them or vice versa. Sometimes we see the lesson immediately, and sometimes we don’t see it at all. Perhaps it was Linda’s parents who were learning something from me being with Linda. Perhaps they went on to have another child so that Linda would have a playmate and companion. Of course this is just conjecture but it is a possibility.

Memoirs ~ Head Sore

Class six proved as ineffectual educationally as class four. I don’t really remember learning that much in either class, as most of the time the teacher was shouting at the class trying to gain control. It was a losing battle for the teacher most of the time. She was soft, and the kids knew it! Miss Lawrie mentioned previously, was far too nice to be teaching at Kelvin Grove. She might have been safer teaching the infants! What her memories of Kelvin Grove Junior School must be, can only be guessed at but it is my guess that when she left, it was like being set free from a horrible period of punishment.  

At this time in educational establishments boys were still given the cane if they were really naughty. I often remember taking the register up to the Head Teacher’s office, and seeing a queue of boys sitting outside waiting to be caned. It was just accepted as the norm. I was glad I was a girl at such times as boys really did seem to have a much harder time at school. Mind you, I always felt that they shouldn’t be naughty then. Whether the punishment fitted the crimes committed is debateable. 

One day, a day like any other at Kelvin Grove but not like any day I had ever had Miss Lawrie left the classroom, a common occurrence, to fetch assistance from another teacher to help calm the class down as it was beyond her skills to achieve this. While she was away from the classroom a boy named Paul took a ball of hardened plastacine and hurled it hard at the windows between the classrooms; a good throw if he had been playing cricket. One of the windows smashed. There’d be trouble now. Paul hurriedly went round the classroom threatening that anyone who told on him would get it. By that he meant he would hurt them. Even in class six Paul was the best fighter in the school and not someone you upset intentionally, at least not if you had any common sense. He was a volatile and unpredictable boy who could be charming one day and a monster the next. Paul was blond, blue eyed and athletically built. He had a nice voice that gave little indication of the stormy nature that brewed within but he was a troubled boy who was just dismissed as naughty. That was the thing if you misbehaved you were quickly labelled and the label would stick and over time you lived up to the label as if you had decided to give people what they expected.

My mistake that day was being little Miss Goody Two Shoes. Rather than say I knew nothing about the window I told the truth and told the teacher that it was Paul who broke the window. I am sure he got the cane for that, not something that I had given any thought to at the time. I found out later that Paul used to get beaten by his dad at home not because his dad was necessarily a bad man but because that was how he viewed fatherhood and had probably had a similar upbringing himself by his own father. I think if I had known that about Paul I might not have said anything but as it was I thought it was the right thing to do.  With hindsight I know that I was more scared of getting in trouble from lying than I was of anything Paul could do to me. I had been brought up to tell the truth and shame the devil. It was better to admit to a lie than to prolong the lie and get found out that you were lying. I paid the price for informing on Paul. He waited until dinner play when there was the minimum of staff supervision. It didn’t matter that I was a girl. At that age boys rarely think that they mustn’t hit girls. Paul took my bag off me which I recall quite clearly was a dark maroon colour with a white rim or edging that I took off my toy shopping trolley. He roughly snatched that bag, swung it high above his head and then brought it down hard on mine with forceful anger. The pain was excruciating. How my neck didn’t break I don’t know. No one did anything to protect me as they were all too afraid to stand up against him. They could only help and support me in the aftermath when I cried my eyes out. It seems that very few people stand up to bullies, not because they are cowards necessarily but just because they are trying to survive in a tough world and let’s face it they are scared of getting hurt themselves.  At these times you don’t always think about standing together and uniting against the bullies not when you’re children anyway; not always even when you’re an adult.  

I only ever remember one person standing up to Paul. The girl’s name was Sharon. I don’t remember why they fought, just that they did. As the fight started, cheers of “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” could be heard chanted across the playground. The children descended on the fight as vultures to a rotting carcass, surrounding the two figures in the middle. No child present tried to stop the fight; it was n’t the done thing. Paul repeatedly punched Sharon with precision to the head while Sharon’s flailing fists tried to fight back. She did n’t, would n’t back down. Never before have I seen such determination to stand one’s ground. Whether she was brave or stupid depends on where you are standing but on that day in my opinion that girl was the bravest person that I had ever seen. She had no way of beating him; her tear stained face was red with crying but she kept going. She was the first person I ever saw stand up to a bully even though she was scared. Whether he ever felt any remorse for hurting me, Sharon or anyone else I have no idea or whether he felt he was justified in punishing me for telling, again I have no idea. I had been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea and either way I would lose. I didn’t ever tell on Paul again. That was the first time anyone had really hurt me physically. It wasn’t to be the last. I got over it and Paul  forgot about it, even being kind to me when he kicked a football against my head.  He was a strange boy who puzzled me. 

Paul was one of those boys always in trouble for fighting, and losing his temper, yet it was unheard of to involve Educational Psychologists back then. The boy would get in trouble, possibly get the cane, maybe a letter home. At home he would probably get a smack from his mum, even worse from his dad. Parents knew that kids could do wrong, and invariably did do wrong. If the child was in trouble it was a case of “What did you do. You must have done something”. Parents did not go in, and accuse the teachers of unreasonable behaviour. Parents let the teachers do the teaching, and the teachers left parents to do the parenting. There was no overlap. Parents didn’t crowd the playground at the beginning or end of the school day. The minute children entered the school gate ,the kids became the school’s responsibility. Each understood their role in the development of the child, and neither interfered with the other. That’s just how it was.

In Kelvin Grove it was better to just flow and fit in with the main crowd, if you didn’t want trouble. Back then it didn’t do to be too different. The kids that were different were the ones that tended to get picked on. I remember some of the kids that were given a hard time. Among them I remember a boy by the name of Sinclair Hart. What were his parents thinking giving him a name like that, then sending him to a like school like Kelvin Grove.  Personally I think it is a beautiful name! A film star’s name! His name was different, and he himself was a little eccentric to our rather limited life experience. In fourth year juniors he was still wearing grey knee length shorts, another no-no. On top he would wear a tank top over his shirt and sport a bow tie; no kidding, a bow tie. He wore his hair short and smart unlike the other boys who had longer, messier hair that was typical of the 1970’s.  Sinclair looked out of place, and his appearance along with his name made him stand out as did his beautifully pronounced diction. I do not know what became of him but think that maybe his parents eventually withdrew him from the school and sent him elsewhere. With retrospect I now think he was a real character but never attempted to be friendly as it would have brought trouble on me. Yet earlier on in the school my younger sister and I had been among only a few pupils who bothered to wear school uniform. So maybe we were not that different after all. That didn’t last long when we saw that wearing uniform didn’t fit in with the other kids. As I grew up I decided that I did n’t want to be the same as everyone else and tried my best to be different. Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes I did n’t. It would get me into trouble from time to time but by the time I was an adult, I had learned that it is okay to be different, although to be honest there were plenty of times when I chose to be different just to be awkward, and not because it was the right thing to do for me. Mostly it was because I did n’t like being told what to do.

Another pupil who was treated with disrespect was a young South East Asian boy by the name of Barrett. I think he too was friendly and decent, and never remember him doing anything to hurt anyone else. Yet he was berated at times, which looking back was not only unfair but pretty dehumanising. Children can be heartless at times, and demonstrate a ruthlessness one would not usually associate with childhood. It is often not until we are adults that we realise how cruel, and thoughtless we have been and even though we have been so thoughtless ,we brush it aside as just part of growing up. 

For the most part I managed well enough, just every now and then would I do something that landed me in trouble with those kids, I would have rather steered clear of. Even the nicer kids could sometimes be cruel. Maybe they didn’t realise it at the time. I know that in Secondary School I was guilty of being inadvertently cruel in a secondary sort of way. That in a way is even worse than the ones being overtly nasty. 

I look back, and know that I could have made a difference to the likes of Elaine and Kay  who at secondary school were often the butt of cruel and snide remarks. Both girls acted like they did n’t realise it but I am sure they knew it and felt hurt. Elaine was a skinny girl with blond hair and freckles who reminded me of a pop star called Clodagh Rodgers, a winner of the Eurovision song contest with a song titled  I’ll be your Jack in the Box.  She used to be picked on, and called skinny ribs but it’s Elaine who’s had the last laugh now as I am sure that many of those who made these remarks are overweight with middle-aged spread, and would now die for a figure like Elaine’s.  Then Kay who was very short and busty was given a hard time for being big chested. Some of the girls used to taunt her about having greasy hair as they did Elaine, and yet don’t the majority of teenage girls suffer with greasy hair from time to time. What was the big deal? Kay actually looked to me like a young Liza Minelli, although her hair wasn’t as dark. I never told her or anyone that but had I let her know that she was like the famous caberet star then it may have helped her self- esteem. Instead I watched in silence from the sidelines minding my own business. As an adult I know now what I ought to have done but growing up is difficult. No one tells us how to do it. We just do it the only way we know how.

Memoirs ~ Kelvin Grove

The best days of your life or not?

How often have you heard adults say that your school days are the best days of your life. I am sure that Tom Brown in the novel of the same name would argue against that assumption. Looking back I can honestly say that at times I enjoyed school, and at others I hated it. School for me was just something that you had to go to. There was no choice, it was compulsory or so that is what we believed. Things were very different in the 1970’s. For a start, few parents dropped the kids of at school; there just wasn’t any need to do so; children made their own way, either with brothers and sisters or with friends or both. Parents didn’t group in the playground, cluttering the place up with pushchairs and toddlers, clucking around like broody hens. You were trusted and expected to take yourselves to school, and trusted to get yourself back home again from a very young age. Parents just didn’t have the same fear factor that faces modern parents, well, at least not to the same degree. Parents didn’t have to get that involved with the school apart from making an appearance at Parent’s Evening every now and then. Once you were at school the teachers were in charge of you. That’s how it was. If you did wrong at school, the teachers would punish you as they saw fit; maybe with a smack or a shout or if you were a boy, you could get sent to the Head Teacher for the cane. I can recall taking the register up to the Head Mistress’s office as that was where they went once the register had been called. It was not unusual to see a queue of boys waiting to be given the cane.

My school days began as a rising five at Kelvin Grove Junior School in Kirkdale, South East London. It wasn’t reputed as a particularly good school but it could have been worse and it could certainly have been better. Would have passed an Ofsted inspection these days? Highly unlikely! Maureen, my eldest sister had started her school career at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School. One lunch time she refused to eat an apple so the Nuns locked her in a cupboard, in the dark. I have never been locked away in a dark cupboard. For a five year old it must have been terrifying. If that was done to a child today it would be considered child abuse. Mummy took her away from St Joseph’s immediately, and found an available place at Kelvin Grove, which is how we all got to go there.  Perhaps that early trauma in Maureen’s life left an unseen scar. 

We used to walk to school form Hillcrest Road, down through Well’s Park to the other side, where we came out at the top of Taylor’s Lane and then into Well’s Park Road. At the top end of Taylor’s Lane there was a tiny house. In fact I think even now it was the tiniest house I have ever seen. It stood adjacent to the park’s entrance. Rumour had it that a witch lived in the house. Everyone knew it. It was common knowledge; therein lived the Witch of Taylor’s Lane in her witch’s hovel.  Many children used to shout out “witch” as they ran past screaming. Everyone was terrified of her in case she cast an evil spell on them or cast them a look with her evil eye.  Now, when I heard about the Witch I simply believed what I was told. Why should anyone lie about the presence of a witch? Far be it for me to argue with a fact that had been established as true by those who professed to know more about these things then the likes of me. Why question the fact? She must have been called a witch for some reason or at least that’s what I thought at the time. These days I question everything, and have no time for witch hunts or witch-finder generals of which there are still many, all eager to fill the post

One day when still very young, I was walking by and I actually caught a glimpse of the  so-called Witch of Taylor’s Lane.  The Witch was very short, tiny in fact with hair like thistledown. It was surprisingly neat and tidy hair for a witch or so I thought at the time.  My image of Witches at the time was based very much in Grimm’s Brothers fairytales.  Her skin was crepe like and wrinkled as one would expect to see on one so old. It was said that she was a hundred years old, maybe even as much as a hundred and two. She did n’t look as scary as I had expected. Witches were supposed to look scary or so I thought. In fact she did n’t look scary at all. It was n’t until much later that I realised that the Witch was no witch at all.  She was just a tiny frail old lady living in a tiny cottage alone, probably lonely, and persecuted. Why someone had decided on some day at some time to call her a witch is unknown to me. Children can be so cruel! The old lady’s life was one of persecution and taunts by so-called innocents. She must have lived in constant fear! Some children would dare others to knock on her door,  and then run away. Others would be more brazen and even wait for her to answer the door before calling her names. There were others who would throw eggs at her house. I look back and curse myself for never having stopped what I saw. The old lady cruelly dubbed  thew Witch of Taylor’s Lane must have died a long time ago but there are many adults out there who must know that they did a terrible thing. I can only hope they are sorry for what they did. Me, I am sorry for what I did n’t do.We remember things at the strangest of times. Until now I had forgotten about that poor old lady. 

Going back to the subject of school, we would walk along Well’s Park Road until we got to the school gates on the Well’s Park side. I have many memories of playing in Well’s Park with my sisters and friends, and over the years it doesn’t seemed to have changed that much, not to look at anyway.  We were never worried about walking through the Park, never concerned that there might be some danger lurking behind the bushes in dark spaces; either because there wasn’t any danger or because we didn’t think about things like that which is more likely. Of course we were always told not to talk to strangers, and to go straight to school or straight home and not to dawdle; we were always told there was safety in numbers. Evidently, parents had similar fears to those felt by parents today, and yet, they still gave us room to grow and be independent. I have often asked myself why I have been so over-protective of my own children. Have times really changed so much that we dare not let our children out of our sight for fear that something terrible should befall them. Where and when did we learn to be so fearful?

My first teacher was Mrs Redgrave who appeared to me to be tall but then I was only four and a half so I expect all grown ups looked tall to me back then. Mrs Redgrave had silver shiny wavy hair that was neat and tidy, which she wore close to the nape of her neck. Mrs Redgrave had small piercing blue eyes that seemed to see right through you and know what you were thinking.  She was a teacher who demanded respect even from such young children. One of my earliest memories of starting school was sitting down in my classroom and wetting myself. It was possibly my first day at school. The boy next to me who I remember only too well for all manner of reasons raised his hand to seek attention from the teacher, “Please Miss, she’s wet herself” pointing at me. There were laughter and giggles all around.  I can hear it now echoing down through the corridors of time.  I don’t think I was told off as I believe that Mrs Redgrave quite liked me but I was escorted to the staff room and given some dry knickers to change into. I am not sure if I cried or not?  There was a good chance that I did as I was able to turn on the tears if the need arose even though I was only four. If I did cry, I have erased it from my memory. Either that or I didn’t cry. It was in this class that I made friends with Angela Ham. Angela was a pretty girl with big soft brown eyes and long black curled lashes. Angela Ham became my first best friend at school. It wasn’t until I was a lot older that I discovered Angela was black or maybe mixed race but then so was I mixed race being Anglo-Indian on my dad’s side, something I did not really know until much later in life. The same was true of my friends Angela and Charmaine. Angela’s roots lay in Jamaica and Charmaine’s in the West Indies. Of course they had always been the same colour, nothing had changed but what did change was that when I was a fair bit older my attention was drawn to it: not by anything they had done or that I had done but by politicians, people who should have known better. When I was growing up our friends were neither black, white or mixed race or anything else, they were just our friends. It didn’t matter the colour of our skin back then, and as small children we didn’t notice that there was any difference.  

 The only other incident that sticks in my mind is when after PE we were all changing back into our own clothes and Debbie who was to be another of my best friends was putting on her pink crocheted cardigan. While stretching up and out her arm into the sleeve, she knocked over a vase that was standing on the window sill. It fell and smashed in pieces on the floor. It was an accident but she still got smacked by the teacher for being careless. I think it was that incident in those first few days in school that encouraged me to be a good girl, at least for most of the time. Today my husband and daughter refer to me as a goody two shoes when I mention that I was well behaved at school. However, there were times later on when my halo slipped, and I became a survivor in a jungle, that jungle being school.  

From Mrs Redgrave’s class I found myself being taught by Mrs Riley who although she had an Irish name was not Irish. She too had silver hair but tinged with blue which she wore short. Mrs Riley had a rich mellow voice with an accent which was neither English nor Indian but which I am now certain to have been a mixture of the two. I feel fairly sure that she was Anglo-Indian which is where my own heritage lies on my paternal side. Of course I will never find out if I am right unless someone who remembers or someone who knew her is able to tell me if I am. Mrs Riley also seemed to quite like me, and never said a cross word to me. My time in her class passed without incident or at least without any that sticks in my mind, although one other thing has suddenly sprung to mind. The infants finished at a quarter past three while the juniors finished a little later. For those of us who had older siblings in the school we had to wait in the infant school hall until we were collected by our older brothers and sisters. During that time we would be read a story which was quite enjoyable as we were at an age where being read to was still very much a pleasure. On this particular occasion the teacher reading was Miss Marion. Miss Marion was I felt very pretty and fair. She wore long suade boots and short skirts as was the trend at that time. One afternoon my sisters were late collecting me from the hall. They got into so much trouble and were told off by Miss Marion in no uncertain terms. They were never late fetching me again. They were only little girls themselves but back then if you were older you were expected to take responsibility for your younger brothers and sisters.

Those were my years spent in the infants, next came the juniors.

In class two I was still best friends with Debbie who had superceded Angela Ham in that role. I had been devastated for a short while when Angela left the school but soon replaced her with Debbie who proved to be a great best friend. Children can be quite fickle. Debbie was a brilliant swimmer if my memory serves me right, and had beautiful long nails which I envied, as even at that young age I was a nail biter of the highest degree, and could bite my nails right down to the quick. Debbie also had pierced ears, something else I wished I had but did n’t.  Although to be fair I don’t ever remember making that wish known to my parents. It was while in class two that we moved out of Hillcrest Road and into Kent House Lane in Beckenham. We were no longer the Howatsons of Hillcrest. We were now the Kids of Kent House.

It was in class two that I met another but equally lovely Angela and beautiful Charmaine who were to become good friends throughout my school years. The class teacher was Miss Marcham who made a tremendous impact on me as a young girl. Miss Marcham was an attractive woman with short wavy bordering on curly reddish brown hair most likely auburn. Her voice was clear and crisp as fresh morning air in Spring. She had a nice figure, wore nice clothes and was engaged to Mr Shelbrook who was Maureen’s teacher, I think the first one that she had a crush on. Mrs Shelbrook like most teachers seemed to have favourites ,and we, all us girls in the class vied for that position. I don’t think girls are any different today at that age. It’s just so unfair on those children that don’t ever feel that they are among the favoured few. Me, I was one of the lucky ones and often felt I was up there with the best of them. Miss Marcham, later  to be Mrs Shelbrook was one of my favourite teachers of all time, and yet I can’t actually remember why this was so. Although later on in the school she was relegated to position of most unfavourite teacher, explanation to follow later.

It was also while in class two that I went down with tortecollis for a few weeks. At the time tortecollis sounded to my ears like a tortoise in the stomach which is what I told my horror stricken friends who believed every word as did I, and sympathised accordingly with oohs and ahhs. I had to stay off school for a few weeks to recover as it was very painful, and almost impossible for me to move my neck. I had a wonderful time staying at home being pampered, and nursed better by mummy. I eventually recovered from the tortoise in my stomach and returned to the jungle that was Kelvin Grove Primary School.

The junior years were as far as I was aware not unlike the junior years of anyone else but they were my junior years, and this is how I saw them looking back now as an adult. Class four followed class two and was taught by Mr Anderson. Mr Anderson was my first male teacher. He was middle aged I think, and bald on top with grey wispy hair to the sides. He wore casually smart trousers and corduroy jackets in dark greens and browns with checked shirts and a tie. He wore a hearing aid and dentures. The hearing aid was visible but the dentures were not and were only noticed when they fell from his mouth one time as he was shouting at the class. The class naturally laughed at the teacher’s expense and probable humiliation. That would teach him for shouting at us. He seemed to be always shouting and had little control over the class and yet he wasn’t a mean teacher at all. He was just a man doing the best job that he could to the best of his ability. We were a noisy class after all, that needed someone who could control us better or more correctly someone who could handle the boys more effectively for it would be true to say that the girls were pretty well behaved most of the time, and the boys or at least a few of them were as badly behaved as they came.  I am sure a few would be the fodder for her majesty’s prison system later on.  And so, I continued to move from one class to another, from one year to the next.

© Liola Lee 2010