Tuesday, July 25, 2006

School days - 2

Later, in 1936, after the death of King George V, we moved to Birmingham to live with my grandfather in Handsworth. This was because my father's accountant had decamped with all the money from our garage business, leaving us in dire straights! So I now went to a school run by an elderly cousin of my mother's.

And once again the process of learning which I went through proved not to be memorable, with one important exception: my little book of 'times tables'. This played a daily part in my life, and I believe I owe my lasting ability for basic mental arithmetic to the emphasis that was put upon it. It was about 3 inches square, in a shiny red cover, and I seem to remember that the tables were beautifully written out by my teacher. No doubt I had to copy and learn, copy and learn, to the point of absolute saturation. I certainly remember sitting at the little desk in my bedroom and poring endlessly over my little red book.

The second school I went to in Brum was a posh one - the Edgbaston High School for Girls. Here for the first time I had to wear a uniform, a gym slip and tie. I wonder how many of you remember the gym slip. I also recall navy blue serge knickers** with elastic round the leg, and a liberty bodice in winter - a sort of long cotton vest with rubber buttons on, to which you could attach suspenders to hold up your beige lysle stockings. Oh joy! Oh glamour! I don't think!

Here too I gathered a memory of misery. I spent my last two terms there in the boarding house, instead of making a daily bus journey, because my parents were in the process of house hunting from London. During one half term I caught mumps and could not go home for the break. I was so unhappy that I poured out all my misery in a letter to my parents. Letters home were, of course, monitored by the Matron - (would this be allowed today, I wonder?) - and I subsequently found myself in the awful presence of both the Matron and the Head Mistress, who harangued me together about being selfish, and upsetting my parents, and they couldn't let me send such a letter could they? Whether I wrote another one or just gave up I don't recall, but I have never forgiven that betrayal.

** Talking of navy blue serge knickers, they feature in one of my favourite rebel memories: In that last summer before the war, when I was 11, we had a visit from a great aunt whom we saw very rarely. I stood beside her at the table to show her something, and she put her arm around my knees. Suddenly, to my intense surprise, her hand crept up under my skirt. I was wearing my knickers with the elasticated legs pushed up as high as they would go – I hated any form of physical constraint – and my aunt was firmly pulling them down again to just above the knee. I was outraged, and made good my escape as soon as I could! How dare she?!

To be concluded ...

9 comments:

stitchwort said...

I seem to remember that the term "liberty bodice" was a complete misnomer, as the ones I had were so small that I had extreme difficulty getting them on, and could hardly breathe once inside them!
Perhaps they were that other item from yesteryear - hand-me-downs.
Today's teaching methods may be more user-friendly, but those of us who chanted their times tables over and over can still recall them, and do enough mental arithmetic to be sure the calculator has got it right.

Judith said...

It's great, isn't it to have something that 'yoof' might envy. I mean the mental arithmetic of course, not the liberty bodice. I don't know how we lived with suspenders before tights came in, which was after my fourth son was born, if I remember rightly. And when I think of the boned girdles I would put on for a dinner date.....

Richard said...

The sad thing is Judith, I don't think they would envy it. They might regret it later but only if they're feeling left out. That may well not be the case in large swathes of the country.

I never wore a liberty bodice.

Sheila Joynes' Musical Diary said...

I remember navy blue knickers with great affection, though they were not the sortwhich came down to my knees. They were thick and warm - a necessity living as we did, on the north east coast of Scotland. And if you ever had the misfortune to have a little after-dribble, they soaked it up nicely!

Judith said...

That reminds me that I used to wear white linings under my blue serge, which got washed more frequently, for reasons which you have already made clear!

Richard said...

Good. Somewhat senior ladies talking about after-dribblage. I can see that my arrival has lowered the tone sufficiently so I will have to make renewed efforts to invite more of my friends over.

Judith said...

Hmmm! If this is the way to get more widely known, I might have to publish a piece I wrote once, for a female readership, about my first visit to the Continence Clinic!

stitchwort said...

Is "Continence Clinic" something like Newspeak for "INcontinence Clinic"?

Judith said...

Absolutely! It's supposed to inspire confidence in one's ability to restore the 'status quo ante'.