MY LIFE BEFORE GOING INTO CARE
Part Four - My Early Years
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The start to my life came in 1957. For my early years, there are few of my own memories, but with what I have been told, I can build a picture of what life at this early stage was like. My mother had been born and brought up during her younger years in London, the second eldest in a family of five children with slightly over 20 years age gap between the youngest and eldest. My mother was 35 when I was born, my father apparently slightly younger.
My mother needed to support me financially; from early morning to mid afternoon, she continued in restaurant work. In these early days, it was my grandmother who saw to my daily needs. Having only recently finished bringing up her youngest son who was nearing 20 and who still lived with them, a new arrival to look after was not that much of a difficulty; with more or less 40 years’ experience of child care, I was not going to be that much of a problem.
In my early years my appearance had a slightly tanned look. I had rosy cheeks, a thin build and fast movements. I could have passed for one of many origins; with no father around, if no serious questions were asked, there was no reason to reveal my true details.
If my mother was a little late in having me, it was due to quite a full life in the years prior to my arrival.
My mother had left school in the mid 1930s and had started work as a parlour maid, eventually combining this with the task of looking after two young children when her employers nanny took lengthy time off work. Had the war not interrupted this employment my mother could have found herself taking full charge of the children and what would have been a totally different career path..
The war brought a slight change of employment, taking part charge of a canteen at a military establishment kept her at one location for several years. The end of the war saw my mother going into hospital with rheumatic fever, this was partly thought to be due to the partly below ground level of the works canteen causing the ill health. Next came a period working at a hospital that looked after adults suffering from Tuberculosis as a medical orderly. Following this my mother returned to catering.
During the winter months my mother worked in restaurants and a higher class sandwich bar, her employers were always trying to get her to take on more permanent management positions, but when spring came my mother would take herself off to a small holiday village in Devon for the summer season, when she could have the freedom of the sea and fresh air, only returning to London at the end of the season and taking up where she had left off shortly before spring.
My arrival put an end to this six month cycle of activity.
My father was born in Ceylon and had arrived in England in the 1950s. Apparently his family''s background was mixed thought history; his family surname of Jansen was of Dutch Portuguese origin.
The relationship must have been simply been love, for in the late 1950's such romances would have been frowned on by most.
My mother was working in a restaurant and my father was in a similar line of work. What the relationship at the start was I have never managed to find out, except that he occupied a flat in Paddington. My arrival brought the end to an idyllic period of happiness for them. For most a friendship between two people could be tolerated, a marriage or a child could not.
If there was any proof that they intended to make a go of life, it was shown on a small snapshot photograph of my father, that I managed to get a fleeting glance of when I was aged about twenty, before it disapeared out of the family album and vanished for another twenty years.
The photograph was dated shortly before my birth with a message 'Never to leave me, please', in a neat small handwriting that had no trace of my mother's bold style.
If there was any period of trying to remain as a couple, it was short lived, for shortly after my arrival, I moved into my grandparents' flat, nothing more was seen or heard of my father again. Due to my Grandmother telling him a few weeks after my birth, that I had been adopted.
In 2017 I finally managed to meet my father, now at the age of 87, he has had a well travelled life, and has now settled down.
After a few visits catching up on the missing years, my father died in November 2019 at the age of 89, a few weeks short of 90.
Linton at 87
Our flat was the top floor of a detached house in Cricklewood, London NW2. Originally, when it was built, the entire house would have been occupied by one family. Now divided into two, with our family living upstairs and another family downstairs, more use was made of the building.
The house and the complete area had been built between the 1880s to 1890s. The road in which our house was situated had been one of the first parts of the development, and as the other roads were built up, the odd extra house was squeezed into each road – so those houses gradually became smaller and had less ornate finishes to them. If they had a slight advantage, it was that their ceilings were lower and it took less to heat them.
There was one disadvantage to the building’s layout, this was having only a single main entrance. The communal hall divided the lower flat in two, although our upper flat, once you were up the wide open staircase, was relatively private; the lower flat, having rooms that led onto the main hall, was not. In a similar fashion a passage that led to a side door equally invaded the privacy of the lower flat. It was down to both families being good neighbours that little conflict took place.
This slightly unusual layout may have been fine for adults, but for a young growing child it was a disadvantage. In my first two years other than noise I might make when crying, or slightly later when I find that any object that can be picked up and banged would make a noise, I caused only a slight nuisance.
From the time that I became a toddler my presence was more of an issue. In today’s terms I might have been labelled hyperactive at that point – I was very active and on the move all the time, with slightly out-of-control movements. The floor and I had regular contact. A first-floor flat was not the best location to be brought up in, when this coincides with a building that has only a garden and outdoor area for the lower flat. With the need to keep me away from the main staircase, restrictions to my movements had to be made.
If I had any annoying qualities it was down to my energetic ways, that started from the moment I got up to the time I went to bed; a bad temper and vocal opinion also gave me a slightly unlovable personality. Whilst I was around, there was neither quiet nor stillness.
The only point when I was quiet for any length of time was when I caught the measles at a very early age, but I was soon over the worst and back to my slightly demanding self. This was the only childhood illness I ever caught and caused minor problems of a weak bladder, I could solve this by during the day visiting the lavatory possible more often than other boys of my own age.
At night there were a few slight accidents if I rolled onto my front during my sleep, not really causing a wet bed, but just a very minor wet patch. Up to the age of four wearing a pair of waterproof pants over a pair of underpants stopped this minor problem. On most nights I managed to wake up in the middle of the night to either visit the lavatory or use the pot under my bed to prevent any any accidents. Slight deafness and lack of coordination were the only other matters that affected me.
Layout of flat
My life was not totally confined to the indoors; during the morning I would on most days be taken shopping by my grandmother. Often two separate journeys were needed to carry the various groceries the family needed, and with only a cool larder to store food in, shopping was almost a daily task. Early on in life I had the luxury of being taken out in my pushchair for most journeys, but when it became apparent that I was capable of walking quite long distances, although I might start out in a pushchair, the return trip often had the shopping travelling in comfort and me walking alongside. My active movements demanded total control of me: a stout pair of leather reins were always required to keep me from darting along the pavement to view some interesting object in the far distance or across the busy roads.
By far the most interesting shop was the fishmonger’s. This was a very traditional affair, set up from a small shop quite a distance from the edge of the pavement and built outwards with counters and tables covered in ice. It was my grandmother’s habit to visit this shop first. Early on in the morning the fish were fresh and nice; by late morning to early afternoon, the best choices had gone and the aroma was starting to get a little strong.
From early on in my life I had found that there were two attractions in this shop, and often made requests to visit the fish shop when we went out, even if my grandmother did not have fish on the day’s menu. The ice sprinkled around the fish was not something a small boy was allowed anywhere near. Additional ice was stored at the rear in fine broken chunks, and as ice from the display melted it was replaced from this pile. This pile was also out of bounds to a boy of around three. It was in an area near a small grating for water to run away and a small amount of waste ice, that became the interesting plaything.
There were a few times during the shopping trip when my reins could be released without any fear of me running away. When the shopping was finished they were required to prize me away from the ice. The coldness of the ice never seemed to cause me any discomfort and without any instructions I had invented small ice balls rather than snowballs. An added bonus, extra ice could be trodden down into the grate to make a hard surface to build on. Had I been wearing shoes this last activity would have been forbidden. When going out with my grandmother if there was the chance that we might go near to the fishmonger, I always wore my wellingtons.
Eventually my grandmother would have completed the purchase of the fish and I would be now encouraged to come along. I was a little foolish to try and hide a small amount of ice to take home in the gap between my leg and the inside of my wellingtons – within minutes it had all melted away. When out with my grandmother it was necessary to obey any instruction given: if ignored, the rest of the trip could be very miserable indeed.
If I’d been good then the second attraction at the fishmonger’s was allowed. A deep metal container with live eels might revolt most people but I was fascinated by them. Between 20 and 30 long black eels would be swimming around, so tight that it was often impossible to see where one eel ended and the next started. I’d been told never to touch them, as they would bite me. Apparently I was sensible enough to look and wonder at the wriggling mass. If one of the staff was not busy I might be handed one of the long wooden sticks that they used for separating the eels and allowed to prod them gently. Eels were one item my grandmother never seemed to buy. I knew they were for eating, but I never actually discovered how you took one home. The grocer’s also provided a learning experience, with everything from watching bacon being sliced to large lumps of cheese getting cut down to more manageable lumps that would fit on the tea table.
The one drawback of having to go shopping for food was the number of clothes and shoe shops that were in between our flat and the shops we had to visit. Most of the journey seemed to be spent with my grandmother looking in the windows. A sale on, and even more time was spent trying on the various bargains that appeared but it was seldom that anything was ever actually purchased. For the rest of the trip I would be told that the items were the wrong colour, it was the wrong season, or a host of other reasons for not buying the item. I found no real way of persuading my grandmother to speed up the search for these elusive bargains. With my mother the threat of, or an actual temper tantrum was enough to move us on; behaviour in this way was certainly not tolerated by my grandmother.
Up to the age of four I might have requested part way into a long outing that I needed the toilet, often loaded down with shopping, a pushchair and me, the local public convinces were not the easiest places to take me, waterproofs under my shorts solved most problems until we returned home. Once I reached four I realised that if I was left outside a shop, whilst she went inside, a spot that was slightly out view was an ideal place to pee, whilst she would not have allowed me to do such things in her presence, out of her sight seemed to be tolerated by her.
The only thing that was slightly worse than gazing pointlessly into clothes shops, was being taken out when it was necessary to buy clothes for me. There was slight rivalry between my mother and grandmother, it was over the clothes I should wear. My mother’s choice was more for cardigans or jumpers with design embellishments; my grandmother was more for something plain. Often I might wear my grandmother’s choice in the morning and if taken out later in the day by my mother then redressed in her choice of clothes.
By mid-morning, we would return to the flat. If I had been good, a glass of squash or milk and the odd biscuit now came my way; whilst my grandmother would put the kettle on to get a pot of tea ready. If she decided she fancied something other than tea then a solitary bottle of Guinness would be brought out. The glass was just too small to take the entire bottle of this black liquid with its interesting creamy head that formed as if by magic. If I had been good then a special miniature drinking glass would be taken from the cupboard and the last part of the bottle would be poured in for me. Not the average drink for a young child, but to me it was interesting and its quantity did no harm.
The rest of the morning I was free to amuse myself. The front window gave a good view of local events, although by this time of the day there were few people about. Eventually lunch was ready, and once that was finished I was encouraged to go for a little nap. If I managed to get to sleep, I would be woken in time to listen to the children’s story on the radio. Once over, the programmes reverted to more adult themes and I was left once more to my own devices.
Occasionally, if it was a nice, I would be taken to the park by my mother. The park was quite a distance away, and on the days I walked there most of my energy had been used up by the time we arrived. There was little inclination to do much running about until the moment it was decided it was time to go home.
The most interesting part of the park was to be allowed to run up the grassy sides of the communal air-raid shelters that were still standing from the last war. The speed at which I could run down depended on how confident I felt. Occasional trips and falls did no real damage, but it appeared I had little ability to put my hands out in front of me when I was about to fall so I acquired a good assortment of bruises and many nose-bleeds.
The other attraction in the park was the swings. My requests to be pushed higher each time were ignored; my size dictated from quite an early age that the safety child swings with bars across to hold the child in place were of little use, as my feet touched the ground. I was allowed on the ordinary swings with orders to keep a good hold.
Eventually it would be time to return home for tea. If things progressed without further problems I was then allowed to watch the television, the signal for me going to bed being the start of the News. From this point on the adults wanted peace and quiet. There was little protest on my part. Having used up all my energy, all I could do was hope I had been good enough to have a story read to me in bed. With me asleep, the family had a few hours of peace and quiet.
Whilst everyone was getting ready to go out first thing in the morning, I was not welcome under foot. From the point of becoming a toddler, I was physically locked in the bedroom first thing in the morning during the week whilst my mother, cousin, uncle and grandfather had their breakfast and made themselves ready for work between 6am and 8am, and left around this time. My grandmother normally stayed in bed until around 9am.
On the weekdays if I was awake and on my own, time could be spent looking out of the window on how the outside world was going about its business. There were picture books I could look at, but without any adult wanting to explain the story, there was little inclination on my part to take any interest in this activity. At weekendI normally was allowed more freedom early in the morning.
During the week a pot under my bed took care of any need to visit the lavatory at this time of the day, hammering on the door to be let out over such a matter would have gone unanswered.
From about the age of four, I was thought old enough to be able to dispose of the content of the pot under supervision when I was released from my room. On one occasion I found that my pot had not been returned to its position under the bed. With the need for a pee, I decided to see if there was any other type of container that would suffice.
The only item I could think of was one of my wellingtons. The event completed, I went back to looking out of the window. On the release from my bedroom, I thought there was nothing wrong in carrying out my boot to empty the contents away; I even thought I was extra good in not doing it on the floor. My grandmother thought otherwise, I received a smack. It seemed it was up to me to remember that the pot was to be kept under my bed. I decided that if it was missing again, I would do it in my bed, for which I knew there was not a punishment for.
I had one fault that could cause a problem it was my temper. I beleived I had equal status to the adults over what I wanted to do. Having picked up a watch belonging to a cousin, I was politely asked to return it. In my mind simply possessing it, meant it was mine, she could have it back when I had finished with it.
Reasoning with me did little good, politely asking for it was also useless, if I had either been bribed to give it back or threatened with severe punishment, I would have relented and handed it over. To me this was a challenge and I was not handing it back, at some point I decided I no longer wanted it. With my temper handing the item back was simply not my way. At that age I had little idea of how fragile a watch could be, hurling it across the room and breaking it on the wall, ended the matter of the watch.
If there were things missing in my life – like a father and other children – I didn’t really notice. I was quite content with my daily life. On a Saturday I would be taken out for the entire day by my mother. Bus rides, exploring the London Underground, playing in the park, watching the events on the River Thames, visiting museums and interesting trips to the larger shops allowed a good basic education of life around me to evolve. On the days I was taken out for the day, those still in the flat breathed a sigh of relief at the peace and quiet that had descended.
Sunday, also gave my mother the opportunity to take me out again. Often our day’s events would involve the park and a picnic if it was fine. The whole day could be spent together, though if there was enough open space I’d be allowed to run about without any restriction. When I eventually ran out of steam it was judged time to eat and when all the food had been eaten and I’d run about some more, the slow return journey would then take place. If the weather was dull or raining I would still be taken out. Long bus rides and looking at famous buildings were far better than having to stay indoors.
I was active for almost every minute of the day. If my mother decided to go in one direction and I had decided that the other direction looked more interesting for whatever reason, a battle of wills would then ensue. I was an expert at throwing a tantrum. In an open park, there were few others to hear my demands; in a crowded street or bus then I had an audience, and knew on most occasions I would be able to wear her down and get my own way. On odd occasions however I came off worse – a quick swipe across my rear soon had me falling into line.
One of the favourite places to be taken was to the site where the Festival of Britain had been held, there were a few interesting items that still remained. A small playground had several play items made out of concrete; these could be climbed over and through. The only disappointment on one of the outings was to be told that the playground was to be redeveloped.
The other main attraction was to be taken to the main line station a short distance away, an afternoon could be spent simply looking at the various engines and activities that were going on. This was a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment apart for a few pennies that could be spent in getting a large model train to operate and using the machine that could print out your name on a thin strip of metal.
If there was time an a little money to spare the a trip to the opposite side of the river to visit the Festival Gardens and the amusements, often our days out could be when it was dull or raining, but it did not really matter to me I was quite happy.
The only time I hurt myself was when I was taken to an adventure playground, a slide and the top of my mouth made contact during one visit. Even indoors I was not that safe during a meal in a cafe I was sat on a bar stool, these would return to their facing positions when you left your seat by means of a spring, my light weight was not enough to sit on properly, my face soon made contact with the hard counter.
My school education should have started at the age of about four. I was quite a handful, and although my grandmother could quite easily cope with me, it was felt that if I could go to nursery school I would be able to mix with those of my own age rather than be surrounded by adults as I was now. There was an ideal nursery school a five-minute walk away. However, there were no available places, no matter how deserving the child was. Had my name been put down a couple of years earlier there might have been room: by applying now I would get to the top of the list in about a year and a half, just at the point when I would be going to infant school. So my life during my fourth year was very similar to my third. I devised more ways of getting adult attention – my quick ability to move and my short temper did not really change.
Sweets came as a reward for good behaviour or after a punishment. I was soon able to work out the amount of time I needed to be perfect to get a reward. Once the sweets were mine and finished, I was able to return to my true self. My grandfather was also the source of the occasional sweet. A small child might have rejected his selection, but I soon developed a liking for his limited choice: Victory V lozenges, Bronchial Cough Sweets and on occasions Winter Mixture boiled sweets.
Left to my own devices I could quite happily amuse myself for short periods. It was wise of my grandmother to make occasional visits to see what I was up to; I could use my imagination. At an early age, a large strong box could become an inexpensive plaything; the only problem would be at the end of its life getting rid of the thing. Around the ages of three and four whilst out shopping with my grandmother, spotting a large unwanted box was an excuse to plead to be allowed to take it home.
On some occasions on our return journey, if the box was thought to be clean and manageable, it was allowed. If it fitted on the pushchair with the shopping inside, then it was quite an easy matter to take it home. If it was too large, it had to be fairly close to home to stand any chance of becoming mine. Other general safe playthings could range from discarded rolls of bus tickets to a host of items that to an adult were simply rubbish, but to a child with imagination they were wonderful possessions.
The wireless or television could amuse me for a short time each day. The early afternoon would bring the afternoon story for children; late in the afternoon there would be a short period of television before my tea and eventual bed. One series that I did find interesting was a regular short story series featuring horses. ‘Tum’ in later life had a lot to answer for. If I wanted to listen to the wireless, there were two choices –– stay with my grandmother and accept her mostly dull talking matters on the Home Service, or go into my uncle’s room. This was slowly turning into my playroom, as it had a nice smooth linoleum surface where I could play with my cars, and turn on his wireless. I was too young to be able to tune into many of the stations that could be found on his set. However the station it would first lock onto that gave clear sound was Hilversum. As it was mainly music, I was quite happy with that.
On a few occasions, my grandmother forgot to check on the progress of my playing, it always ended in trouble. Having watched a children’s television programme about hair-cutting at a barber’s, I decided that perhaps I could amuse myself on that theme. Keeping scissors and sharp instruments out of my hands was a regular matter. Unlike most children at the age of about four, cutting my hair or scalping some object that resembled hair did not immediately spring to mind.
The fashion for men in the early 1960s was to have neat hair held in place with modern white hair cream. My uncle had decided on economy in purchasing his supply: it came in a quite large dispenser with a pump handle. When the adults found my play activity they had little idea of what had gone through my mind. I had neatly squeezed the white rather greasy cream onto the tops of chairs, doubling for the imaginary people that could have been sitting there. Once the top of the chair backs had been covered I set about using any other surface for the rest of the cream. If the white dollops had been joined together, it would have stretched a couple of feet or so. Spread over several items of furniture, the coverage was far more. Apart from wasting a large tub of hair cream, cleaning up the mess was the main problem. On the areas that were solid wood and the like there was no real problem; on the tops of chairs that were covered with cloth and on parts of the walls, the large greasy stains were immovable. Confined to my bedroom in tears was the general result after such forms of play.
The other major mess I managed to cause was with paint. Usually any painting I attempted was on the kitchen table, providing there was no laundry or clothing around that would suffer the odd spillage. If the table was not free, my bed with its blankets and sheets removed made a flat surface; the mattress was protected with a rubber sheet, so little damage could be caused by any mess I might make. With a small container of water and a selection of paints I could be left alone on my own without the ability to cause much of a nuisance, and with no need to clean everything up until it was time for bed I could have several short sessions at painting to prevent boredom.
One afternoon I decided that I wanted to be like some other children in the park and have coloured wellingtons rather than the standard black pair that had been purchased for me. I was bright enough to realise that if I painted my boots with the paints I normally used, the first puddle I went through would wash the colour off. I headed for the confines of my uncle’s bedroom. He was a keen model-maker and I knew he kept a supply of model paints that didn’t wash off. There was a disappointment in the colours he possessed, due to his need for accuracy in colouring the trains and buses he constructed. Instead of a nice bright red, I would have had to settle for maroon, but an attractive shade of blue compensated for the lack of red. While most of his pots of paint were very small, a few were slightly larger, and the blue shade was one of these.
Knowing that if I returned to my room with the paint I might get into trouble, I hid under his bed after finding a small paintbrush and something to take the top off the tin of paint. Actually painting my wellingtons took more time than I imagined; the small modeller’s brush only allowed tiny amounts of paint to be applied. I speeded up the process by pouring part of the paint onto the sides of the boots and then using the brush to make the painted area larger. I soon found that modelling enamel is a very sticky paint and managed to get some on my hands and a small amount on the floor. I was disappointed in my efforts as I had been unable to cover my two boots entirely. I carefully put the top back on the tin and placed it on the shelf with the other tins, and left my boots under the bed to dry.
Not wanting to get any paint on my clothes, I went off to wash my hands. I found that unlike the paint I normally used, washing my hands with water did not work. Eventually after several attempts to remove the paint from my hands I went in search of my grandmother. The amount of paint was nothing major but it took her a little while to bring my hands back to their normal state. Being quite wise to my forms of play she now asked where I had found the paint. Eventually I led her back to my uncle’s room and showed her the paint tin. Looking around the room there was little sign of me spilling paint or actually painting anything. My bedroom and the other areas I might have taken the paint to were also checked, as there were no signs of any problems, my grandmother just took it that I was playing with one of the tins where a top had not been put fully back. I was told off for touching the paint and was given to understand that in future it would be best to stick to my own paints.
Later in the afternoon when my mother returned I was keen to show her my painting results. My wellingtons had not entirely dried off and although the paint was no longer in its runny state it was still a little tacky. A second cleaning session was now called for. My grandmother now found out that my activity having been out of sight was the reason for not being found out. Getting a second telling-off was not fair; it was not as if I had been naughty again. I was sent off to bed in tears. My wellingtons were past saving and were consigned to the dustbin. The small area of blue paint under my uncle’s bed dried off and was on the linoleum forever. The following day, I appeared to be of good enough behaviour to be taken by my grandmother for a replacement pair of wellingtons. I might have asked for a red pair but I had not been good enough to have any choice. An ordinary pair of black wellingtons were purchased for me with a warning not to paint them.
The other area of trouble I regularly became involved in was trying to find out how things worked. To the adults it was being destructive with my possessions; to me it was merely an attempt to take an item apart to find out how it worked and then put it back together again. It was this last activity that normally ended in failure. A kaleidoscope with its small plastic coloured inserts makes interesting shapes when viewed. All I wanted to do was find out how the plastic pieces went together. With a small accordion, it was how the air moved the small reeds that was of interest; with a small metal xylophone, the two metal bars that made each note made no sound when taken apart. How they worked was interesting.
Most of these experiments ended with the plaything confiscated and thrown away, as it appeared to be useless after I had taken it apart. If I only had been allowed to keep it, I might have been able to find out more on how it worked. Once an item had been attacked, replacement articles were seldom purchased. I just moved onto the next item that caught my eye. Play sessions like these often ended with me being sent to bed in tears to mull over my actions. Around this time I was warned by my mother that there were schools that took bad boys and if I did not stop my bad behaviour, I would be going to one.
This ideal solitary life without other children except for the odd meeting at Christmas with a two cousins of my own age continued through my fourth year. At Christmas there was the treat of the large stores to visit. I often visited the major shops to see the the toys, knowing that many of the toys would never come my way I was simply quite happy just to look. A visit to see Father Christmas was often the big event of the day, before entering the store however I often had to watch some rather dull in my mind animated scenes in the shop window.
At the age of four, during the summer I was taken to the seaside for two weeks. Our location was a chalet on stilts at a small resort near Clacton. The holiday appeared to start out in dull weather. On arrival, the sun came out and remained for almost every moment of my waking day. My mother had the knack of managing the best two weeks of sunshine for the entire year.
I was fascinated with the basic living conditions; water came from a communal standpipe in the dirt road. There was no mains drainage; water from the washing-up was simply chucked on the garden. What fascinated me more was the lavatory. Each dwelling had its own shed at the bottom of the garden; inside was what appeared to be a small oil drum with a wooden lavatory seat on top. To get the bucket collected you needed to display a letter C on the front of your chalet. Early in the morning, a group of men came round with a vehicle that resembled a large dustcart and dealt with the bucket. It was possibly at that moment I decided on a line of work when I grew up. An engine driver was not for me; this early morning work was going to be my choice.
A small local shop was available to buy all the groceries we needed. Most mornings I was treated to bacon and egg, fried almost in the open air compared with the dusty air of London. The breakfasts were wonderful. The other favourite treat was to have a small mousse that came as a small frozen block. There were instructions to let it thaw for a period before eating. I never managed to let it completely thaw before eating it.
I had inherited the skill of being able to stay out in the sun without getting sunburnt. My skin never turned red, it went from my slightly tanned look to almost dark brown in a matter of days. To keep the sun off the back of my neck, I was equipped with a desert-type cap with long white flowing tail and a clear green see-through visor. It worked for most of the time, however my active play meant it was often off.
Spending most of the time on the beach meant a quantity of sand getting everywhere, I had been bought a new pair of plastic sandals to wear, with socks they would have been fine, but with bare feet and sand they were soon red raw. The pain only really became apparent on the long walk back at the end of the day. To solve the problem of the sandals rubbing my feet, I was allowed to wear my wellingtons for the rest of the holiday. My mother decided that the nice leather of shoes and salt water did not mix, the shoes remained out of my clutches until we returned to London. I did not mind as long as I did not have to wear those plastic sandals.
Eventually the holiday ended and we returned to London. It was another year before we returned for a second two weeks’ holiday, and again for most days my mother had managed to pick fine weather.
One problem with holidays and longer journeys with my mother was coach travel. With a limited budget, travel by coach was often the only solution. Knowing my difficulties lasting on a coach journey of three hours or more without visiting the lavatory, my mother had solved the problem until I was five by insisting that I wear waterproof pants under my trousers, whenever we went by coach or long trips. After a protest from me, now at the age of five and a half that I thought I was too old for them. I was soon told it was either obey her or not go on holiday. I followed the orders but they never were needed.
Travel sickness always affected me. Even if I had apparently not eaten for many hours, my ability to produce an amount of sick that gave the impression I had recently had a massive meal was always a mystery. Often our journey would end at that point, sometimes miles from anywhere. Following such an incident our travel was often by local bus. I was completely fine from that point on.
How to pass the time
In the flat in London if my grandmother was busy I was quite content to look out of the front window to see what was going on outside. If we had been on a main road, there would have been plenty to see, but as our road was quiet I had to pick certain times of the day to look outside. The rag and bone man was possibly the most interesting; as we were almost at the end of a road he often used to stop to see if there was any other trade around before turning into the next road. None of the adults had been able to explain why he was still called a rag and bone man. Although he might accept old clothing and rags, there were no bones on his horse-drawn cart.
On occasions when I had been out shopping, I had been allowed to pat the head of his horse. The call that he yelled out as he went along the road was simply not something I could understand, until on one of the occasions that I was patting his horse he explained that the call was for the goods he was after. Some people used to leave things on the kerb for him to collect. Almost opposite there was an old lavatory cistern that had been left out, I was waiting to see him pick it up. A man walking along the pavement glanced down at the cistern, possibly wondering what such a thing was doing in the middle of the pavement, and did not notice the lamp post that he now walked into.
My earliest experimentation with electricity must have been at the age of around five. I was fascinated by the shapes of light that were made in the electric fire. Part of the fire had a plastic type of cover that was meant to represent coal. To give the effect of the coal burning, a couple of bulbs were inside that gave a reddish glow. At some point, I had managed to remove the coal-effect part, followed by one of the two bulbs.
The fire had not been on for very long so it was only warm to the touch. Soon the bulb was in my hand. Looking at the end I saw that it had three small lugs on the end, rather than the normal two I had noticed on other light bulbs. For curiosity, I now put my finger into the area where the bulb had been removed from. At this young age all I could describe was the feeling of a person grabbing you and immediately jolting you. For a short while, I was rather stunned. There was no real pain, just an odd shaking sensation; I replaced the bulb, followed by the cover. There was no feeling that I wanted to cry, it was just a stunned sensation. Keeping quiet saved me from getting into any trouble. None of the adults found out about my latest bit of inquisitiveness. The 240 volts that went into me for that short moment could have done real harm, but at that age, I simply put it down to curiosity.
1962 Local Carnival out with Grandmother. Whilst out with my grandmother there were occasions that I seemed to be allowed more freedom than if I had been with my mother. At one point I was with my grandmother watching the local carnival. It was quite crowded and actually moving along the pavement was rather slow, the carnival was progressing at a much faster speed. My grandmother had the idea that if we wanted to get where we were going mixing in with the actual parade would get us there far sooner. My grandmother picked an ideal moment when a group of mothers with their children in fancy dress walked by. For a short while we walked along with them, before we left the group and went our own way the procession stopped. It was the ideal moment for a local newspaper photographer to take a picture. A week later in the local paper there were several photographs of the carnival were printed, my grandmother had been quite happy to stand still whist the photograph was taken, in my normal way I was heading off at speed.
During the week, my grandmother was the main person that I saw. If I was a nuisance, I had to answer to her. My grandmother did not waste any time telling my mother if I was ever badly behaved; I was punished well before her return from work. By the time I saw my mother I was on my best behaviour. If I was out shopping with my grandmother and causing a minor nuisance – normally through boredom, there was often a telling off. If I took the hint and did not cause any further disruption for the rest of our time out, once we arrived home, no more was said about the matter.
A second warning whilst we were out and I knew I had to be absolutely perfect until we arrived home. That might get me off the punishment, but normally it was too late. If I had made a fuss at the point of the second telling off I was really in trouble. For the occasional disobedience when we had been out, as soon as I entered the kitchen after we arrived home, my grandmother would sit down on a chair and beckon me to come forward and lie across her knee. A light but not painful spanking of three or four hits with her hand would now be administered. I would then be sent to my room. Once I had made up my mind to be good I could return; it was up to me to decide when the punishment was over.
If when we arrived home after having been naughty and my grandmother started to put the shopping away, then either put the kettle on or poured herself a glass of Guinness, I knew I was past the minor stage of disobedience. Other than taking my coat off I was not allowed to leave the kitchen. Even using the excuse that I needed to visit the lavatory would not work; my grandmother didn’t want me hiding in there to avoid the punishment that was about to befall me. Even if I had decided to lock it from the inside, it was easy to open from the outside with a small screwdriver.
There was some fear, as I knew exactly what was coming next; it would just be a wait of about five minutes whilst she relaxed with her drink before attending to me. This delay was a good idea, when she did punish me, she was much calmer. From the age of four I had found out that this punishment hurt. I could start crying now or when the smacks started; my grandmother was not going to take any notice of my feelings.
The punishment when it came was harder slaps with her hand on my bottom; they were not done in a way that would cause me any physical harm, just enough to bring tears to my eyes. By the time I was five I knew exactly how much it was going to hurt. Once over I would be escorted to the bathroom for a wash, and then taken to my bedroom to quieten down. When I decided I could be good, it was possible to go back to my playing. After a spanking, a treat was normally given to me on my return to the kitchen if I promised to be good. A few squares of chocolate or sweets allowed me to forget all about earlier events.
My worst ever punishment had been shortly before my sixth birthday. To my grandmother the age of six was the point by which I should have learnt to behave. I had deserved to be punished that day as I really was causing a nuisance, and was badly behaved. Instead of the normal hand, my grandmother had used a small cane; this was kept in the kitchen for closing the top window. Originally it had been a parasol, but now only the thin cane remained. Instead of being put across her lap I was told to face the wall. Unlike the three or four hits with her hand, I was only given two hits on my bottom with this cane. It was far more painful but soon over.
I was sent to my room to contemplate my actions; from that point on I knew how to behave. I did get my reward on my return to the kitchen, but it was not any different from the reward following an ordinary spanking, which I thought was slightly unfair as this time it had hurt more.
At the age of five, I should have started infant school. Our flat was located on the very border of the borough; the nearest infant school that might have space was a good half-hour walk. My mother had already gone off to work at that time so she could not have taken me, whilst my grandmother was still looking after her son in the flat, just at the time I would need escorting to school, and with it being uphill for most of the journey to school, there was some reluctance over the idea that I should start school.
My mother had the idea that the pair of us would move in the spring to a new location, so it was not really worth starting school in these winter months. Spring came but no firm plans for moving emerged. Spring became summer and still no real plans were made. It did not seem worth starting me in the middle of term; it might be best to start with the next school year in September.
The school year started but I did not. It was not a case of not getting an education; my grandmother had many years’ experience of bringing up children and did not let me stay idle. Time was spent drawing, writing my name and learning to read. There was encouragement in this field with her starting a story and making me get really interested, then we would work through the final part, word by word with me doing the reading.
I was quite happy with this life. Having been led past a school on days we had been out for our walk, and looking at those noisy children behind the big iron railings, it did not really give me any thoughts to demand to take part.
By the end of the year my mother’s plans were made; around mid December we left London and headed to the West Country to a small seaside town. Travelling in the holiday season was not easy, and coupled with very bad winter weather, a shortage of fuel for the trains, a train dispute and a totally unreliable timetable, and you have the makings of a rather irritable child surrounded by a larger number of cross, overcrowded passengers.
Before I started school I had read several books. I was looking forward to starting school.
December 1962, it was cold, very cold. The coldest part of the year was not the best time for our move. Eventually after a final bus ride, we arrived at the small seaside town where we were going to live. Not knowing the area it took some time before we found our new home. A power failure with the local street lighting did not help matters.
My mother had taken a job as a housekeeper-matron and to help with anything else that needed doing at a small private school. This was attended by children aged between four and eight years, mostly in preparation for them to join private preparatory schools later in life. Part of my mother’s wages would include my place at this school rather than to a local council school in the locality. The building was a large semi-detached house with an additional bungalow at the rear. Originally the school had taken in several boarders, but it was now almost entirely restricted to day pupils. I was not going to be on my own; there was one boarder, slightly younger than I was.
We arrived during the holidays. Christmas that year was a little unusual: I had been used to having the rest of the family around; now it was a rather strict lady, my mother and a boy plus a Siamese cat and a Dachshund – both animals disliking the company of children. The weather was the worst for many years. It snowed and snowed, fun at first for children, but when you return indoors to a cold, sparsely heated building, it is not that nice.
Before we set out on our journey, my mother had received a very nice little booklet on the school and the facilities it offered. In reality everything was economised to the bare minimum. Food was very basic and meagre in portions, every possible expense to keep the building running was spared. A small bungalow in the grounds was even let out to lodgers to bring in some extra income. During the very cold winter, the bungalow became flooded after a pipe burst. As the lodgers were away over the holidays, the heating had been turned off with disastrous results. Christmas had my mother dragging a soaked carpet out of the bungalow, and trying to get the building dry. I tried to help, but an indoor paddling pool to a small boy is only fun.
Actual school terms contained the least number of possible school days; ideal for children, but at this point having just reached six I was eager to start school. The school had a uniform that was required to be worn by all. To save some money, most of my uniform comprised of clothing left by former pupils or items that had not been claimed from the lost property box. With my ability to grow quite fast the saving was welcome.
I now needed to mix with other children. Until this point I had made no contact with children of my own age. At past Christmas times I had met my cousins, but given the limited space in the flat, no real play had ever been achieved. Very occasionally in the park, my grandmother might have allowed me to play a catching game with a ball if a child were on their own with a parent, but no real group play had ever been achieved.
The other major difference was that I had to share the attention of an adult. Until this moment providing an adult was not actually busy, any question or problem I wanted to ask about normally received immediate attention. Having to share with a group of other children was new for me. Before starting school I had read all the small books on going to school. Life now slightly resembled the books, but the nice activities that were shown in the books did not seem to happen. If I had started school a year earlier, I might have been more settled, everyone around me had over a year of school behind them: for me everything was so new.
Unless we were alone, I was not to address my mother as Mummy, Mum or Mother. I had to address her by our surname, as I would address any other adult. This was to make me equal to every other child in the school who might need to address my mother.
My mother had some help with her work. When we first arrived, the cook was from Spain. Straight away we made friends. As both of us were dark haired and had slightly tanned skin, many at first thought that I was her child. Later on, she left and a lady from Holland took her place. The headmistress liked to take on workers from other countries; as they were partly here to study, they were more willing to work longer hours for minimal pay. I soon settled in quite happily with this new lady whilst my mother was busy and learned a few words of Dutch. Apparently I picked these up quite easily; my many hours as a young child spent on my own listening to Dutch radio broadcasts seemed to have ingrained a few words into my vocabulary already.
My mother’s job was originally to be housekeeper and to lend a hand in the school if necessary. When the headmistress learnt that my mother had looked after children as part of her work previously, a little more involvement in the school was organised.
After school, I had my tea with the other boy in the sitting room with the headmistress. We each had a small chair and a table to put our tea on. Tea took place during the early evening news; it was thought that we both might learn a little about what was happening in the world that day. If we had been good, we were allowed to stay for the following programme. If either of us had been in trouble, both of us would be going to bed early. I always thought this unfair; had we both been naughty then I could quite understand the punishment. I had been quite used to a telling-off and occasional physical punishment from my mother or the adults in our flat. On arrival here, the headmistress explained to my mother that she was against a child ever being hit for any reason. The odd light slap from my mother ended. However, the punishments that I now had to endure were far worse.
A telling-off seemed to go on for so long. Once it was over there was often further punishment of not being allowed to go outside or taken down to the beach. When it came to tea, if either of us had not been good, then cake would not be given to us, but would be left on the main table during tea.
The worst punishment I ever experienced at the school was when the parents of the boy who was boarding came to take him out for a day out. They had previously arranged that I’d go with them. Everything that morning seemed to have been fine. But at some point I must have done some minor thing wrong in front of the headmistress. We were both ready to go out and in our best clothes. Suddenly I was told to go to my room. It was at that point his parents arrived to take us both out. The headmistress informed them that I had been naughty and did not deserve such a treat. With my mother expecting me to be out all day, she had already left the house so did not know I had been sent to my room. I spent the entire day in my best clothes stuck in my room.
Everyone at the school was expected to have spare clothes for play. These were needed if we were to have dry clothes after having been taken down to the beach for exercise, a few of the girls also had a pair of thin rubber bloomers to keep themselves dry.
The school not having any grass area where it was possible for us to run about made use of the beach a couple of times a week for active play and exercise and in the normal way often arrived back at the school soaked. Trips to the beach were an ideal way of one of the teachers getting time off, in the normal way our middle class and the upper class would go out together, with one teacher leading and my mother supervising the rear, a crocodile of us could make the short journey between the school and the beach for fun.
Once at the beach we were divided into two groups, those who had play raincoats and wellingtons were allowed the total freedom to run about in organised games, those without wellingtons or only had their best school raincoats were only allowed minor amounts of running about in the dry parts of the beach.
When the fine weather came we were all allowed a little more freedom. The best treat was to be taken as a group to the large concrete paddling pool; this was in the centre of the beach.
Each time the tide came in the water was completely refreshed it with new clean sea water. The pool in parts was a couple of feet deep, due to the damage at one side a crack lowered the water to around a foot or less in most places.
In the normal way getting school clothes soaked with sea water would have brought an immediate telling off. We possibly knew that if the teacher from the upper class was taking us out, we had much more freedom, if it was the middle teacher or the headmistress we had to be very careful over our play activities.
The biggest danger of using the paddling pool was that if there was any glass in the bottom, if we were fortunate when we went in bare feet we never cut ourselves. If we did not want to chance it and the water was shallow we kept our wellingtons on. If pieces of glass were ever spotted in the pool, only those that had their wellingtons on were allowed into the water to paddle.
Even with a few inches of water it was possible to get our trousers completely soaked, if the splashes of sea water only reached our middle that was fine, any further up and even if we had been taken out by the teacher in the top form there was a telling off.
We occasionally teased the girls for tucking their dresses into their rubber bloomers when they came into the pool to paddle, this however was really through jealousy as we would have loved to be able to keep dry like them. If the pool had as much water as it could hold they could always go into the deepest parts without getting soaked.
Eventually a few of us boys would risk a telling off and get our school shorts completely soaked, but that was down to this was the only naughty amount of play we could get away with. I needed to wait until after school or at the weekend when I was taken out by my mother to go completely under the water, then I was allowed to bring my swimming trunks.
The school taking a run on the beach.
At night once we had gone to bed, we were both expected to stay in our rooms until morning. Once I had become five I was quite used to getting up in the night or early morning and visiting the lavatory if needed. Now I was told that I had to go back to using a pot under the bed. I was now thought too old to wear waterproof pants to bed. Before we went to bed, each of us was made to go and sit on the lavatory to make sure that if there was a need to go during the night we would only use the pot to pee in. He knew that if he ever had an accident in the night, he was not to cause a fuss. If he was uncomfortable, he was to take off his soaked pyjama trousers and put a second dry pair on. He was then allowed to get into the spare bed that was always made up ready. My arrival had changed these rules; I now occupied the spare bed.
Any night problem and he was upset. Making any noise during the night inevitably led to trouble. Our room was next to that of the headmistress; crying out in the night or making a noise, even if we were only talking, soon brought her in. A quick telling-off at that point was a minor event; the punishment for the following day was always something we had time to think over.
It was suggested by the headmistress that if either of us had an accident during the night, it was fine once a dry pair of pyjamas had been put on to share the other bed. Our beds were quite big enough for two of us to share without any discomfort. In a way, both of us were quite happy with this rule; if we were sharing a bed, we could talk as much as we liked without being caught by her.
The event of getting out of bed and trying to take aim at the pot was something we both hated. It was always dark; we were not allowed to switch on the light. The following morning there was a telling-off if our aim had not been perfect. A cold night and every reason could be thought of over not having to leave one’s bed. In the morning, there was never any telling-off if there had been a wet bed, even two wet beds did not bring any comments.
My mother's wages included the boarding fees.
£63 per term in 1963.
My first report after four months did give some hope.
Spring Term Report of 1963.
Division – Transition.
Age 6 years 4 months.
Scripture, History & Geography: Philip takes an interest in these stories and answers well.
Arithmetic & English: Philip tries hard with his written work, but should learn to concentrate on his tables; he does not listen.
Reading: Has made a good start and is progressing slowly but steadily.
Percussion Band: Will do better when attentive.
Elocution: Many sounds need much care, but he tries hard.
Conduct: Fairly good.
General Remarks: Philip is gradually learning to be a co-operative member of the group; he tries hard with his work but is considerably behind others of his age.
I made slow if erratic progress, but in time, it was hoped I would settle in with the others. With no actual cash coming from my mother, a few economies were made on my education. I was a fidget and tall for my age; this became apparent when my school desk fell apart. Their construction was never intended for everlasting use and constantly having to stand on a supporting wooden beam on the desk to get up, caused the desk to fall apart. For any other child a replacement desk would have been found; I was treated now to two apple crates turned on their sides. If I were special in some way, it was now down to having the only desk with a coloured picture of fruit on the top.
There were other areas where I did not really fit in. My diction was not that clear. I might have been early at just before the age of six for losing all my front teeth, and this had the result that almost everything I now uttered was with rather a splutter. I also had an accent which did not help matters; it was not a true Cockney accent, but compared with the local dialect it was different.
Another difference for me was in my looks; in my mind I had never experienced any problems over my slightly tanned skin and red cheeks. The summer dark tan from my holiday had vanished; I was my normal light tanned complexion. My mother was slightly upset when one of the girls at going home time asked my mother if her older sister from another school could come and see ‘the brown boy’; apparently I was a new attraction. Within two terms, it was decided that an alternative school might be of more use to me. My mother made enquires at the local infants’ school in town to see if there was a vacancy for me.
The move to my second infant school was quite a happy one. A benefit to my mother was that her wages were increased by a very small amount, simply because a token amount of her wages was no longer taken to pay the term fees of the private school. The new school was in the town. Like any ordinary child I now had to become used to walking to school and waiting at the end of the day to be collected. In an effort to help me, I was by put back by a year; this would allow me to make up the missing year.
The morning outing to school was enjoyable; if the tide was out it was a quick walk along the beach, if it was in and our way impassable it was a slightly longer uninteresting walk to school using the local roads. In the afternoon if our beach route was manageable, I was allowed to use up any excess energy; a little sand getting on my clothes could be dealt with quite easily once we arrived back.
The new school was totally different from my introduction to school life. Here we all sat in little groups; that we were allowed to talk during the lesson as long as the teacher was not talking was ideal. I was soon able to make several friends. Most lessons were more interesting as things were attempted in small groups, all of us helping each other rather than sat in neat rows.
The only lesson that I was having difficulty with was English. Before I had started at my first school I had a basic reading skill and knew the alphabet of 26 letters in full and was quite able to read the early stage text books without any help. At this school the alphabet was different; there were extra letters and this was confusing to me. The Initial Teaching Alphabet I was now taught had 44. The reading books were all in this new style of writing and I found it almost impossible during my first few weeks to make any sense of any storybook.
My writing also had to change. At my original school I had become used to the first stages of a script type lettering. Although our written letters were not actually joined up, each letter was formed in this style. Our workbooks had extra fine printed lines to show where the tails to letters should reach and any top parts of the letters like t, k and l should touch. At this new school, letters had to be printed in an upright style and fit between two lines in our workbooks.
Other lessons were far more fun. Sand play, cooking and other interesting events took place on most days. But one event in the early afternoon did not suit me: having to lie on the floor on soft mats shortly after lunch and listen to a story was not to my liking. There was the encouragement for us to lie on our front during the nap. The result for me was a slight damp patch on my shorts at first it was only noticed by the teacher. My mother was informed about my slight problem after a few events, her solution was that I went back to wearing waterproofs for school. Had I been able to sit at a desk and listened it would have been fine. I was not the only one; a girl in our class also found this story session rather hard to concentrate on.
Had only one of us had caused minor disruptions with our fidgeting the lesson might have been all right: two of us was too much. Both of us were now sent outside for an extra playtime and apart from any other children while the quiet lesson continued. In time the teacher regretted allowing us out for these extra periods alone as it seemed to allow us extra time to plan mischief for later in the day – nothing very major, just jokes and games we could play on our friends. The girl did not act like the other girls I had met, if she had been upset in any way; a boy soon received a thump – her speed and strength was far more than I could ever manage, I had someone who liked to stick up for me and who simply liked acting like a boy rather than a girl.
When it emerged that we both lived in the same road and by taking different routes had not had much contact with each other, our life became much more fun. Within a short time, my mother would collect the girl from her house in the morning and we would walk or run to school along the beach. Most afternoons her mother would collect her as she had an older brother in a nearby junior school.
If we decided to annoy our teacher, it was to see which of us dared to come into school wearing our wellingtons. In dry weather, we were the only two to arrive in wellingtons owing to our walk along the beach and were often missed. It was fun to be picked on by our teacher then being able to complain that she had not complained about the other. At first we were sent out of the room to change but it was soon realised we were doing minor thing like this on purpose. Unless our antics started to disrupt the lesson we were generally ignored.
Having a friend to protect me was wonderful; it was not that I really needed any protection. Having been placed one year back, I was a slight oddity. At the age of almost seven I was a whole year older than the rest of the class, and if you added my height I could easily pass as an eight – or even a nine-year-old. I was teased a little by smaller children who knew I would not be able to fight back. Help came to me from the girl who could settle a few odd matters for me without any chance of either of us getting into trouble. If it did have one advantage, I was the one picked to do little errands or help with things and if I needed any help, there was a willing girl that was easy to pick as my partner.
Art was the best way of spending time at school: an easel with paint and paper and I was happy. My main subject was railway engines. As we had to share the range of coloured paints, I simply wanted to possess the jar of black paint. We were meant to have three different colours and swap over during the lesson. I just took the one jar and only used the other colours when encouraged by the teacher. All railway engines were black, weren’t they?
The small seaside town gave me more freedom than staying in London. There was the opportunity to get out of the house and explore more of the area. For my mother, living at the seaside meant that if there was any free time that is where we should be. Originally, my mother might not have intended to take a second child out along with me. However, the boy who boarded at the school would have felt quite miserable if I were taken out for a walk and other treats, and he was left indoors. Most of the times that I was taken out, the boy a year younger than myself now came with us. I was a little jealous of having someone else to share my mother’s attention, but I allowed such things to continue without too much protest.
If my playmate had been my own age there would have been more fun, but he was not at the age where my mother could really allow him to go very far. On the beach he tended to stay quite close to my mother when I went and ran off into the distance. There was little harm I could come to; the sea was always either up to the edge of the beach with a nice shallow area to paddle or totally out and somewhere in the far distance. One matter that stopped me from running off in the direction of the sea to find out exactly where it had gone to, was patches of dark oozing mud that you could not only get stuck in, but was difficult to remove from clothes.
Several miles of desolate beach near to where we lived meant I could be allowed freedom without causing annoyance to anyone. A few seagulls might have been disturbed by my running and shouting but they could easily find more quiet areas away from where I wanted to play.
Vast sand dunes provided hours of entertainment. Unlike the sand by the seashore that could be used for building things, even after heavy rain the dunes seemed to remain dry. My mother could find a nice sheltered spot and sit down for a rest; the pair of us could then play happily for a short while. My boredom normally ended such a sit down, and a different location further up the beach and a second rest could be made. My mother was quite capable of long walks along the sand; I could have easily managed such distances as well, but having the younger boy with us meant that our walks often needed to end earlier than both of us would have liked.
Nearer the town, the beach tended to get more crowded. The reason for going to this part of the town was to get sweets or visit the local café for a snack; things that were totally lacking at our remote area of the beach. The best treat for me was a small bar of chocolate and a bottle of ginger beer. I was often encouraged to share the chocolate. Ginger beer was not a taste that the other boy enjoyed, so to keep him happy my mother normally purchased a carton of orange squash or a small bottle of pop. I was quite happy; the bottle of ginger beer was bigger than either of the drinks he was ever given. To most boys of six, ginger beer might not normally have been their first choice, but to me this drink had some flavour.
A second treat was to be each allowed a donkey ride. I soon advanced to riding one of the two ponies that the man possessed, but still firmly under his control. On a trip out to our remote part of the beach, we came across a group of young girls with their ponies. They had set up in slight unofficial competition to the man with the donkeys, but they were at a far enough distance not to be noticed or to have any real impact on his trade as few people came to this end of the beach. As the area was more deserted, the girls were more willing to walk and run with the ponies during the ride, and for longer distances. At some point a decision would be made to make the turn and return to the starting point. The return trip was always at a run and if it was seen that you were capable of staying on, then quite a speed was possible.
On the days that we did go out, whilst a donkey ride was often given to the younger boy, I normally refused a pony ride at this point. Later on under duress I managed to get my mother to our end of the beach where the girls might be with their ponies. My mother was never asked how old I was. In time I soon progressed from one of the smaller ponies to the largest of the group. It was possible to get a fast pace in both directions; the ride might have ended sooner, but often I was allowed a second lap to give the ride good value in time and distance. On the final trip back I was often allowed full control of the pony.
Once it was made sure that I had the reins gathered up, the lead rein would be unclipped and the pony released to head back to the main group in the far distance. To the girls my height, signs of my second teeth might have given them the impression I was about eight. If they had realised I was only six I bet the rides would have been at a far more leisurely and controlled pace. Although I never actually managed to fall off, my light weight meant that I needed to cling on tightly to avoid being thrown off at the fast speed.
The afternoons my mother were given off from work were often spent at the beach. If the boy was taken out by his parents when they visited him, it was possible to go further along the beach. I still had to be watched; the further you went the more interesting the finds: dead sheep that had been washed up amongst the dunes, and plenty of areas where barbed wire that remained from the war was still located amongst the more remote dunes. Lumps of wood and other debris could make marvellous items to play with; having been in the sea for long periods of time they were perfectly clean. If I found treasure like this it allowed my mother to take longer rests. Eventually it was necessary to return to the school and its rather strict order of life.
If I played up or needed occupying in some way, there were always plenty of tasks I could help out with. Some were quite interesting: setting out the upper classroom with things for the following day’s lessons, often meant that odd extra pieces of drawing paper could be had and the more interesting shades of pencils obtained. Chores on the days when I had not been on my best behaviour could be anything from wiping down the play coats belonging to the other children to putting a shine on their spare shoes or cleaning their boots in readiness for group activities on the beach.
The stay at the seaside did not last very long; my mother was getting a little restless owing to the rather poor irregular pay that she and another member of the staff received.
General ideas of leaving had been mooted between them for a little while. Whilst my mother and I lived on the premises and our food was supplied, the other member of the staff had to pay rent for a small local flat and also purchase her own food. With their wages dependent on payment from two lodgers in the small flat that adjoined the school, at the end of some weeks there were no wages until several days later. The decision was eventually reached that they were both going to leave together otherwise the one who remained would have the extra work.
My mother was aiming to get another job as a housekeeper; the other lady was going to return to Holland from where she originated, having come to this country to improve her English. Her family had a large farmhouse; my mother was invited to come and bring me. We could have an extended holiday and other work might be possible. Irrational moves like this would have been something my mother could have easily accepted. It was only for the simple reason that neither of us had a passport that the offer was not taken up. If there had been further time to get a passport for both of us, then our trip could easily have happened. My mother was tired of this location and wanted a new start as soon as possible.
Soon our cases were packed; a few extra clothes came my way – several garments from other boys that had been abandoned, usually because the boy had left the school or outgrown the item, became mine. These items of clothing were normally used by other boys when their own clothing had been mislaid or forgotten; at odd times even items belonging to the boarder or myself had to be lent to the day pupils when necessary.
Clothing that would last me for the next year was carefully packed into my case. Some of my outgrown clothing was left in its place; my mother thought that was only fair, the amount exchanged being about equal.
The day we all left brought total disruption for the plans for the cooking and general upkeep of the school and lodgers. Although both staff had given reasonable notice of leaving, no replacement staff had been arranged; it was thought that my mother might have changed her mind and stayed on, but her plans were made and there was no going back. We were off on a new journey. I was told that we were moving to another seaside rather than back to London.
Our new location was in a small village near the coast. Again, we arrived in almost darkness, so our new home looked rather dark and slightly frightening. My mother was now a housekeeper at an isolated house. This was set in five acres of land. I was allowed to visit some of the garden area when there were no guests, but generally, I was confined to our small garden at the side of the house where our flat was. My mother normally looked after just a lady and gentleman during the week; however at the weekends their grown-up children attended; the time spent with me at these periods decreased.
Having been used to other houses surrounding us, this isolated house took a little getting used to. The house was at the end of a long tree-lined drive; there were no local streetlights anywhere near, so at night there was only moonlight. The house had formerly been used as a convalescent home. Next to our flat was a small summerhouse, which had a more macabre use in years past as a mortuary.
During the first couple of weeks there were a few wet beds, but once I got over the layout of the passages, I settled down at night.
The wages my mother received for housekeeping were not a large amount. Three pounds a week had to pay for our food, heating etc. In the normal way, a housekeeper would have expected to receive these items as part of her wages, but in this job, she was expected to pay for her own supplies. As a bonus, we were allowed some vegetables from the garden. Food, clothing and heating were perhaps the main expenses of the week. With careful planning, my mother seemed to make ends meet. A few savings could occasionally be made; the farm next door supplied us with misshapen eggs at a reduced price. During the week, my main meals were in the form of school lunches. At two shillings and sixpence for the week, it ensured I was well fed on school days.
A horse lead a solitary life in the field that faced the house, it was ridden, but for most of the time it was simply left on its own, my mother was frightened that due to the large size if I went close I would be squashed, but I was tolerated.
At one point I did take the courage and start to have a ride. Most days when I went to school, the horse would be at the far side of the field. On days that had been raining the horse decided to take shelter under the trees that followed the side of the drive.
With extra time before school, I would spend a little while stroking the head of the horse simply for something to do. If I got to school too early, I would just have to spend the time outside waiting to be let indoors, here I was kept quite dry. I knew the horse was quite lively, when the adults rode him he seemed very strong and could soon cross the field in a few seconds. On these days the horse seemed quite easy to get on, but without a saddle more difficult stay on. The horse was never in the mood for racing across the field, having found a sheltered spot, with me on his back was not enough encouragement to seek the open field with its rain. A few steps were taken, then some more grass was thought more interesting than me. I was always allowed to slide off without been thrown off.
The horse having been out in the rain earlier and without me having the benefit of the saddle, I found that the rear of my trousers and the inner part of my legs were soaked.
At school, the trousers slowly dried out, there was always the slight continual smell of damp horse, not a smell that I found unpleasant, some of my friends might have thought otherwise.
If I was going to play near to the house I had to remain clean and tidy; there were few real playthings to amuse me – all I had was a few model cars; there was a limit to the number of times you can push them around. There were two swings in the side field, made totally out of metal. Neglect over the years had made them difficult to use and rather fragile, so only light use could be attempted.
A small bicycle was given to me by the owners of the house; this had lain unused for many years. I was forbidden to take it out of the grounds; if I had gone out onto our lane, the steep hill would have made the bicycle uncontrollable.
The gravel path made it quite difficult to cycle; any indentations in the gravel path that I made had to be put right by the use of the rake before I came indoors. The lightness of the gravel meant that if I attempted to wear shoes or plimsolls they soon became very uncomfortable when a single piece of stone would become lodged inside. On most days I wore my long leather riding boots which the owners of the house had also given me.
I could easily manage to put the boots on, but I needed the help from my mother in removing them. On returning indoors, I had to wait until my mother returned to our part of the house to help me take them off. Providing they were clean I was allowed to wear them indoors but any mud on the floor normally confined me indoors for the rest of the day.
My mother decided that as I was older I should now have slightly different punishments if I was naughty. The main worry for her when she did punish me, by stopping my treats or confining me to the flat if I had been naughty, was that I might do something more disagreeable in retaliation for a long drawn out punishment. If this were something that affected her employers, then she might lose both job and home.
During the previous year, I had become used to the very boring regime of missing treats or being sent to bed very early. At this new location there was no headmistress living here to dissuade my mother from smacking me. My mother explained what she had in mind. In an odd way, I was happier to go back to the punishments that had been given to me before I had gone to that school. Once a punishment had been given, that was the end of the matter. Not having any sweets or treats and being sent to bed early seemed to last for ever.
My temper was normally the main reason for getting into trouble. As we lived in the house of my mother’s employer, I would have to be restricted in both where I went and the amount of noise I made.
When my mother found out that my bedroom here was relatively sound-proofed through having a strong kitchen wall and storage room surrounding it, sending me to my bedroom where I could cry and make a noise after a quick punishment solved the problem of me annoying her employers.
We came to an agreement that for any minor matter I did wrong, I would go back to having a slap on my legs or bottom with her hand. This to me was something I was quite happy to return to. Knowing that there were a selection of sweets in my mother’s room at the school, and not being allowed to have any had been one of the worst punishments. My mother now explained that as I was a year older I could expect a little harsher punishment for things that were naughty.
I thought my mother meant the cane, as my grandmother had used, but it appeared that her idea of the next stage in punishment was that instead of her hand, my school plimsoll would be used. I could only ask if there would be anything worse than the plimsoll. It appeared that restricting me to my room for the entire day and confiscating my sweets would be the ultimate punishment. Having already experienced almost a year of such punishment, I made the decision that I did not want to return to that form of reprimand.
I was told never to tell any of my friends, or anyone else, that I received the plimsoll from her. If they told their parents I misbehaved and was punished, I might find they were told not to play with me.
With my active forms of play and annoyance, I soon experienced the odd slap across my legs over minor matters, and took it as part of my play activities. Fun was trying to dodge my mother’s hand as it was approaching my legs. She did not have the time to pursue me throughout the flat; in most cases if I reached the safety of my room, I was not in any position to cause any more problems and was left alone. When I thought it was safe to come out, I could return to our sitting room.
The use of my plimsolls could cause a problem when I had left them at school, which for the odd occasion did get me out of a punishment. Only when I outgrew a pair and my mother decided not to throw the old ones away did I learn that there was one readily on hand with which to punish me.
I did not bother fighting her or throwing a tantrum. When it was decided on the odd occasion that I had been naughty, the sooner I got the matter over with the sooner I could return to whatever I had been doing.
My mother was tall, and had the strength and physique to apply the plimsoll with force to cause real pain; fortunately when I was punished with the plimsoll it was more for show than for pain. I was told to lie face down on my bed; two or three hits were applied to my bottom. Once the plimsoll had been given, my mother left me alone. There was never any massive pain – just enough to bring me slightly to tears, which was to me more the anger of the punishment than the pain. I did not want her to see me in tears whilst she was in the room; when I had finished crying and had decided to be good, I was able to leave my room. On coming back into the flat, I normally had to say sorry about what I had done wrong and give a promise not to do it again.
The plimsoll was a punishment that seemed fair; it was the thought of my mother stopping my sweets and going outside that I was fearful of. When my mother decided to punish me with the plimsoll, it could easily be down to the way she was feeling at the time. In the normal way, my mother was one of the most easy-going adults one could ever hope to meet; these were on the days when there might be the odd short time to relax with a cigarette. On a day when she had run out of cigarettes, the most minor item of mischief could displease her. With the nearest tobacconist over a mile away, and funds always short, frayed tempers were a common occurrence.
Christmas was a disappointment. At the age of almost seven, I was growing out of the idea that there was a real Father Christmas. Whilst friends from school stayed indoors on Christmas Day and had their relatives visiting them, I was left alone in our flat whilst my mother worked in the main part of the house.
There were a few new toys from relatives, but as the items were sent by post to our remote location, they were of the smaller variety. My main present was a toy typewriter. The illustration on the box, when I had been allowed to choose it a few days before Christmas, made it seem that it would really work. On opening the box, the excitement soon turned to disappointment when it became clear that there were no real letter keys to press and each letter had to be selected by turning a wheel, then a single bar pressed to form the letter on paper. With a limited area that the paper could be printed on, the eventual things that were produced took too long for me. Total boredom over the toy set in when the single fixed piece of ink ribbon lost some of its ink. Parts of a line could be read but the centre area of each line became too faint to read. Extra special ribbons had to be purchased. The shops were closed over Christmas, and with them all in town, meant the end of that toy for the time being.
With just the two of us and a lack of money, a Christmas cake was a luxury we couldn’t afford. For a treat, we had a Swiss roll with an extra layer of chocolate on the outside. Decorated by the shop with some green leaves it was disguised as a Christmas log. I loved chocolate so I was quite happy when my mother purchased this rather than the traditional Christmas cake. When it came to actually eat the log, it was very sickly; the covering was soft. This was not real chocolate but something based on cocoa powder and flour. We managed to get through about half of the log before it was put out for the birds and the local squirrel population, which would normally eat anything in sight – but they left the remains of the log alone.
My third infant school was quite a long walk from where we lived. At first my mother took me to and from school, but after a while I managed the just over a mile walk on my own. I shortened the distance to a mile by going along a muddy footpath that ran across a field. This was a route my mother would only take if it was very dry.
There was little traffic on the road that was next to the house. Local traffic knew to avoid this road at the time I went off to school, as a farmer would take his cows quite a way down the lane. Not having had much contact with animals, I found nothing really to be afraid of when I met them during my journey to school. If I did not make a fuss, they calmly walked past me. I found it easier to stand in the middle of the lane and let them pass me on both sides rather than be forced into the hedge.
My new school was similar to my previous schools. The English lessons were like my first school as the alphabet was back to twenty-six letters. Although it was not really a telling off by the teacher, it was an error on my part to use some of the extra letters I had learnt at my last school in the written work I produced.
For most of the time, I was quite happy at school. There was only one point when I had a few problems. The school was divided into three classes, one for infants and two for the juniors. This covered all the ages between five and eleven. Having just turned seven, I was still in the lower class of infants and looking forward to when I would move up into the middle class of juniors in a few months time. The older children had told me even more interesting lessons went on once you were in the middle class.
At the end of break, I had been chosen to take the hand bell back to the top class. The headmistress took that class, and would decide when the breaks would start. It was the first time I had entered her classroom. The instruction I had been given was that I was to put the bell on her desk.
Three of the boys from that class were already in the room; my attempt of trying to get the bell to her desk was thwarted when they blocked my passage for fun. In an effort to reach her desk, I made my way by walking between several desks. I nearly managed to get to her desk, but they pushed a couple of desks along the floor cutting off my route. I tried a second route around some desks, but again my path was blocked for fun.
I was on the opposite side of the room when the headmistress walked in. As she had entered, the other boys were still pushing the desks around the room and although I was not actually climbing over any chairs or desks, the angle that the desks were in made it look as if I was also pushing the desks around.
The four of us were brought to the front of the class. As the rest of her class filed in, we were led out to her office. There was a telling off; it appeared that we should know how to act indoors. It was easy to see we were all in the wrong, and needing to get back to her class, our punishment was over in seconds.
My friends had told me that the cane was given to any boy who badly misbehaved; I had imagined that you had to do something very naughty to be given it. All four of us were now given a stroke on one of our hands. I was too stunned with the suddenness of the punishment to think about crying. As soon as the cane had been given, we were sent back our rooms. I rejoined my class.
Our teacher did not notice that I was a few minutes late as she was busy dealing with some others in our room. I sat at my table and looked at my hand; there was a red mark forming across my palm. As it now stung, I started to cry. In time, our teacher came over to see what the matter was. I was not crying loudly or making a real fuss. If I had just received a little sympathy and told to be better behaved in future, things would have been fine. At first, my teacher thought my tears were due to one of our class hitting me.
As soon as I mentioned that the headmistress had hit me with the cane on my hand, matters worsened. I was now told to come with her and we went to the upper class. I was left to wait outside for a few moments whilst my teacher went to get the headmistress.
They were soon outside and discussing what I had done wrong to be given the cane. My teacher thought I was too young to be given such a punishment. All that the headmistress was saying was that she thought I had already moved up to the middle class and was no longer in the lower class. The matter was left like that; I was led back to my own class. Before we went in, I was taken into the girls’ lavatory and made to wash away my tears. I was now told that when my mother came to collect me, she would explain why I had been punished. Once back in the classroom life returned to normal. I had almost forgotten the event by the time it came to going home time; the pain had really finished whilst I was being taken to see the headmistress.
It was only at the point we were all leaving the school, that my teacher asked if I would bring my mummy to see her. Most parents were waiting outside the school gates when we finished school. A few times a week, my mother did come to collect me; this was only when she had some time off work. On all the other afternoons I walked home on my own. I told my teacher that I was walking home on my own today. Now I was told to tell my mother about today and next time my mother came, she would have a word with her about my punishment.
The journey home was no fun, I was dreading telling my mother about what had happened today. On earlier occasions I had seen boys of my age receive a slap on the legs if they were naughty and a couple of older boys hit with a plimsoll, but until now I had never seen anyone caned. I knew my mother would think I had been very bad to be given the cane, even if I tried to tell her that I hadn’t. If I then told her that my teacher wanted to talk to her about the matter, she would think I was still in trouble.
On arriving back at home, my mother was still in the main part of the house working, so I had even more time to think about what I was going to say. Eventually my mother returned; with the need to get me changed out of my school clothes and get my tea ready, I found I just could not tell her. By the time I went to bed I had really put the matter out of my mind. There was no pain and the red mark on my hand had long ago vanished.
School the following morning had returned to normal. It might be best to keep out of the older boys’ way, as they would think I was to blame for their being punished. Almost as soon as my teacher saw me, I was taken to one side and asked if my mother coming to see her at the end of the school day. All I could do was tell her that I might be collected today. I was left to get on with my lessons. I knew this afternoon was one of the times I would be met at the gates.
When school finished I rushed out and managed to get my mother to walk away from the school as soon as possible. Often on the days I was collected, my mother would take me across the playground and out of the other gates that went in the direction of the shops. I was not looking forward to school tomorrow; my teacher might have even seen my mother waiting for me; I was going to be in trouble.
On going to bed, I was still worrying about school the following day. It was quite early the following morning when I woke up. If last night I had worried about what my teacher was going to say, I now had something else to worry about: my bed was soaked. I simply waited for my mother to come and get me up; I thought that my punishment would be the plimsoll. This was the first time I had wet the bed for a long time since we arrived here. Now I was seven I didn’t think it would happen. There was a telling off from my mother about not getting out of bed in time, but I did not receive a smack.
The worst part was the bath I had to take. The hot water for the bath came from an electric cylinder. In the morning the water was always cold. To save money my mother tended to turn it on only for a short time in the late afternoons ready for baths at night. No time was spent to see if there was even the slightest amount of warm water; my bath was filled very quickly from the cold tap and soon over. With my mother having work to do in the main part of the house first thing in the morning, that I had now caused a delay by having a bath meant I was not in her good books.
The events of the morning were forgotten by the time I arrived at school. Again, my teacher asked if my mother would be coming to see her today. As it was a day I knew my mother would not be coming, I announced that I would be making my own way home. My teacher now told me that she would write a letter to my mother about the matter. I was dreading having to take her letter home, but nothing was given to me. On the way home I thought that my teacher might be sending it by post, so I was not looking forward to the next morning when the post would arrive. By the time I went to bed, I was worried about what my teacher was going to say about my punishment. Life was not going well; again I woke up to a soaked bed.
My mother thought I might not be very well; her answer was that it might be best if I did not go to school today. After a cold bath and clean sheets I went back to bed for the rest of the day. I knew I was not ill, but if it meant not having to see my teacher, things were better. There had been no post today, so everything went fine, if rather boring with the entire day in bed. My mother decided that I appeared to be well enough to go to school the following day.
Friday could have turned out better had I not wet the bed again. My mother had decided that there was nothing wrong with me; I must be wetting the bed on purpose. So there was a sterner telling off, and the time spent sitting alone in a cold bath was longer as a punishment. I was asked if everything was all right at school, and was it so that I did not have to go to school? I never had the courage to say anything about my teacher wanting to see her; all I said was everything was fine.
Once I had been given breakfast, I was given the benefit of the doubt and again let off school. Staying in bed for a second day was no fun. I was restless and bored. By the evening, I was wide-awake. My mother checked me all over; I did not appear to be coming down with anything. My night problems were put down to either laziness or not wanting to go to school. I was now warned that the next time I wet the bed I would be given the plimsoll.
The problems continued over the weekend. On Saturday as I did not have to go off to school, I should not have been afraid, but my bed was wet again. The time I spent sitting in a bath of cold water was much longer. Once dressed I was given the plimsoll; the scolding I received lasted the entire day as there was nothing wrong with me and as it was not a school day, I must be lazy at not getting out of bed. Sunday was a repeat of the day before. I was actually looking forward to returning to school and the telling off from my teacher for not bringing my mother to see her.
On Monday morning after another wet bed, my mother decided to come to school in the afternoon and have a word with my teacher about me, and to see if there were any problems at school. With the need to get me off to school, there was no time for any punishment.
The afternoon came around and my mother was there. I waited outside the classroom whilst she went in and had a talk with my teacher. I could guess that my mother would now start to stop my sweets and going outside to play as a punishment for receiving the cane at school. Finally, my mother came out. It appeared everything was now sorted out, but I was a naughty boy for not telling her about my teacher wanting to see her.
As we left the school, my mother explained that now she had found the cause of my bedwetting, she did not expect my bed to be wet after this. My mother could be firm; my plimsoll would be used for all future wet beds, even if it were a school day and there was not time to punish me in the morning, I would receive it when I returned from school. This final telling off seemed to be the end of the matter. I was happy that everything was now sorted out.
On the way home, I was questioned a little more about the cane; I was now asked if it hurt. All I could say was that it hurt and I did cry but I told my mother that it did not hurt as much as when grandmother had given me the cane. That I had been caned earlier was now news to my mother. I was asked to tell her where my grandmother got the cane. When I explained it was the one used to close the kitchen window, it was known that I was not making such things up.
It was now decided that as I was seven and the school could use the cane on me, this might be a further deterrent if I was very naughty. I could decide to either stay indoors or have the cane; my mother thought that the gardener at the house could soon find her one if it was needed. My only thought was that there might be a way of avoiding spending a day in my room.
Odd little problems seemed to come my way. The house was covered in parts by a large creeper coming up from the ground at several locations. One point was outside our front window. The creeper had evolved over many years. A thick trunk about the size of my arm ran close to the ground. At first, it held my weight, and then it suddenly snapped. The damage was not apparent at first, but slowly the creeper started to die off. Soon a large area at one side of the house was clearly seen to be dead.
I decided to see how the radio worked. After taking out the many valves, I found that I was unable to get them back in the correct order. The set appeared to work but the sound was very faint and unclear. Another experiment was to set fire to a car tyre in the field. Although the flames did not spread to anything, the amount of smoke I caused was a bit of an annoyance. For each of these events I received the plimsoll and was in tears after every session, which for the level of damage I had caused was in my mind quite fair. I wondered how close I had come to the cane. I knew it was not just a threat; my mother had found a suitable one from the vegetable garden and kept it in our sitting room ready for when it would be needed.
Two other problems were not my fault. A couple of my friends decided that the metal swings could be given plenty of heavier use; the swings were soon a twisted pile of metal. The corrugated plastic panelling of an unused stable block was partly ripped apart in an effort to acquire a couple of sheets to use in a den at their home. I was blamed for these two events, as they happened on the same day. I found I had now reached a punishment beyond the plimsoll. I was taken to my bedroom; my mother spent a little while talking to me over these two events. Damaging these items was wrong and I had to be punished. I tried to explain that I had little to do with these events, but to my mother, as these were my friends and I had allowed them to come here to play, I should have made sure that no damage was done. In future, none of my friends would be allowed to come here again.
There was a choice given to me: either two days in my room with just books to read and no sweets, or the cane. I might have taken a day in my room, but two days was just too much. On telling my mother that I did not want to stay in for two days, I was left alone whilst she went to get the cane. She was only away a minute but it seemed to take forever for her to return. I was now asked how my grandmother punished me; was it any different to the way of the headmistress? On explaining that my grandmother had hit my bottom and the teacher had hit my hand, my mother decided that perhaps my grandmother was the best person to follow. Instead of standing up in the way I had been punished by my grandmother, my mother told me to lay face down on my bed in the same way as if I was having the plimsoll.
I was in tears, I knew it was going to hurt, but I was not going to stay indoors for two days. The two hits from my mother matched exactly the pain from my grandmother. It was one hit for each of the damaged items. My mother knew that the punishment had hurt, and instead of leaving me straight away, she sat on the bed and told me it was all over now, and I should now go back to being a good boy. I was now left alone to get over my tears. I was angrier that I was punished for the damage my friends had caused, than the pain from the cane. Soon I was out of my room; at least to me the punishment was over, and there was only a little more pain than the plimsoll.
At night, I was having trouble getting over the punishment. I was upset over the cane; to me I had not done anything wrong. I knew during the night, I should have got up to visit the lavatory. I wet my bed – more to upset my mother, than being too lazy to get out of bed. In the morning my mother kept her word over if I wet the bed again – there was the plimsoll first thing on getting up. The following day was school and again my bed was wet. During my cold bath, there was a reminder that when I came back from school I would be punished.
I was miserable during school, it was with the knowledge that I was going to get the plimsoll on my return. At the end of the day on my return home, I was given the plimsoll before tea and sent to bed as soon as I had finished the meal.
The next time I went out to play, there was a reminder not to let any of my friends come here. I managed to get even with the two boys that had caused the damage. I was not forbidden from visiting them, so on a day they were not around, I went to one that had a den in his garden and caused a similar amount of damage. I opened a large party keg of beer that they had stored in their den. They did not have the intention of drinking it, but one of them had taken it out of their father’s garage as a trophy. Emptying it onto the dry earth floor made their den unusable.
The next time I received the cane from my mother was after I had lit a few matches in my bedroom. I had not tried to set light to anything; all I was doing was seeing how slowly I could drag a match across the edge of a box before it caught light. In the normal way, I was not meant to have matches. If I was out of doors and at the bonfire that was fine; if I burnt myself that was my own lookout. Indoors it was wrong and I knew it. I might have got away with it had I not struck the matches shortly before it was time to get up. On coming into my room my mother had noticed the smell from the recently struck matches. It was quite easy for me to tell that it was not going to be the plimsoll.
Once my mother had removed the matches that remained, I was left alone for a short while before she returned with the cane. If the punishment was to hurt more today it was because I was still in pyjamas. The ritual of lying face down was soon requested. To my mother my crime was worse than any previous matter; today it was three hits with the cane. I had thought there were only going to be two hits, so I had moved slightly after the second hit, when the third one hit at the top of my legs. I was crying in agony.
It was easy to see my mother was still cross, the telling off over the matches now followed. I was now told to get up and have my morning wash. As today was a school day, the delay I had caused meant that there was only time for a very quick wash and breakfast before leaving for school. In a way, getting the punishment over so quickly had made me forget about the pain for a short while, but once out of the house I could still feel the stinging as I walked to school.
By the afternoon everything was back to normal, and when I met up with my mother outside the school gates, there was a reminder about not playing with matches. Once that was over, the matter was at an end. A reward of a small bar of chocolate was purchased for me once I promised not to light any more matches indoors.
At the age of seven, I was confident to be out on my own. Our isolated area gave me courage to explore alone. From the grounds, I could travel in three directions. The main one was to walk up the long tree-lined drive; with its neat gravel surface there was little scope for play. A route through the farm and down the farm paths led to the main wood. Originally, this had been part of the grounds to the house but had been sold off many years before. I was however allowed to use the path, but as it did not lead to any interesting areas, it was seldom taken.
The farm used the third entrance. This small private lane was in a muddy state almost all the year. Part way along the lane was a small market garden, growing vegetables and flowers. This also contributed to the mud, only on the days I was out at play did I venture along this route, as it was a quicker exit from the grounds of the house. I had only made little contact with the man who ran the market garden. There was a German Shepherd dog that roamed around. From an early stage, I learnt that although the dog was there to keep guard, he was quite friendly when the owner was around to keep him under control.
On one occasion I was making my way down the lane when the dog bounded up from the distance. I was not afraid and knew not to run off as the dog might attack. The owner was nowhere to be seen. The dog did not bite but its large powerful mass soon had me on the ground. There were no snarls or biting from the dog, it just tried to keep me on the ground. I was eventually allowed to get up. I decided to return home but the dog seemed to have other ideas. By size the dog was larger than me: when outstretched, the paws came above my shoulders. I could feel the claws digging in every time I tried to move away. The dog tried to grab me again. Finally, when I was far enough away from the site, the dog returned home.
Arriving home in a muddy and bleeding state, it looked worse than it really was; my mother could not understand how there were so many scratch marks on my shoulders and across my back. If the dog had attacked me why did I not have any bite marks?
Shortly after cleaning me up, my mother went to visit the owner of the dog to find out what had happened. On her return, it seemed the dog had just been playing; it was my own fault for just wearing a thin T-shirt. When I was going to use the lane, it might be best I wore my duffle coat for more protection if I was going to play with the large dog.
For several nights, I did have nightmares over the dog, but this might have occurred as it coincided with a play on the radio, that was read over several nights, about The Keeper of the Dead, who had the body of a man and the head of a dog. Our isolated house with its many passages and rooms, did not give much reassurance to a seven-year-old boy that Anubis was not lurking in wait for me. I started wetting the bed due the fear of leaving my room, I would wake up in the middle of the night, I did not mind the total darkness, but the silence other than the wind or rain outside now made me reluctant of leaving my room. I would try to get enough courage to get up, but I was to afraid, the thought that I would get the plimsoll the following morning was not enough to get me up. During the next couple of weeks, there were many sessions of the plimsoll and the cold baths, but in time I slowly seemed to get over the problem and did not mind the dark passages of the house.
It was some time before I had the courage to venture down the lane again; then it was simply luck that the owner of the dog was around when I did decide to go in that direction. I was reassured that the dog was only playing; I now found out that the dog was behaving in a way some male dogs did. On later occasions when I was alone and the dog came up to me, I stood perfectly still. The dog putting his paws on my now protected shoulders soon finished his antics and I was left alone to continue down the lane.
Providing I gave my mother an idea of the location I was planning to visit, there were few restrictions, other than if I went too far it would be a long walk home. Friends in the village of my own age were fun to be with, but as most had families that took them out, I was often on my own. The local beach was about a mile away, so was within walking distance; there was little going on when the season was quiet, so I had most of the small pools and the beach area to myself.
At the far end of our lane, a wood was slowly being cleared in preparation for a small housing development. Mechanical diggers and bonfires were a magnet for a small boy. If I did not get in the way my presence was tolerated; if I was encouraged to help, it was to drag the smaller branches that had been cut over to the many small fires that were continually burning. The best treat was to be lifted into the bucket on a tipper truck and driven around and over the more bumpy areas of the site. It depended on the weather as to what state I returned home in. The clothes and myself were washable.
The wood had a large amount of unwanted tyres. These varied in size from the normal car up to tractor size. A few were used during the salvaging of the timber; the unwanted ones were ideal for encouraging the damp branches and waste wood to burn easily. This secret site was only revealed to a few of my friends.
One dangerous activity we took part in was to each select a tyre and roll it out of the wood and onto the lane. A steep hill then took away all the major effort of propelling the tyre in its downward direction, and if we were careful it took only the odd nudge to keep it out of the ditch and trees. The lane was little used and we never encountered any vehicles coming up. If there had been traffic, we would have been able to spot it and take full control of our own tyre. It was only when we were near the bottom of the hill and could see that there was no approaching traffic that we let our tyres out of our control. A small bridge with a stream running beneath was our target. If we had the tyres positioned correctly they would hit the edge of the bridge and then bounce into the air. The competition was to see if one’s tyre could then go over the wall and into the stream below. Often the tyre bounced back onto the road and needed to be physically thrown over the small bridge. Our tyre play ended when the houses were starting to be built and the tyres were all used up.
Most of my free time was taken up at the farm near to the house. I soon became interested in how the dairy side of the farm worked; it was a small family farm and within a short while became accepted as always there. They had a son who was in his late teens.
My favourite activity was to be allowed to ride the pony at the farm; this had been the boy’s when he had been younger. Until I started to ride the pony, it had not really been ridden for some time but it soon accepted me. The farm also possessed two massive carthorses; these were mainly used for pulling carts at the farm for many years. The two horses were now almost in retirement, however they were useful when the tractor became bogged down in the mud and needed rescuing, and during harvest time when the big hay wagon needed to be moved.
Steering the tractor along the lane was another treat. I was tall enough to be able to reach the pedals, but my lack of weight did not enable me to have full control over them. One other draw for me to the farm was to be allowed to play with the toys the boy still possessed. A clockwork train set would be set out on the concrete yard and could keep me amused for some time, and compared with the few toy cars I had at home, this was wonderful.
Watching chickens being killed and having their innards removed might have upset other children who did not live on farms, but I quite enjoyed watching such activity and helping. Collecting eggs from some more remote areas of the barn was something I was soon quite agile at. Helping mucking out the cowshed was another activity that I took pride in. Raking the straw from the drain gully might have been a little dirty, however, my mother had one set of clothes for me if I decided to visit the farm.
The house and farm
The move from infants to juniors at this school was quite easy. We moved into another room with a different teacher rather than actually changing schools. Some of my friends now found sitting at traditional desks in rows rather odd but it was a form of education I was already used to. Having a master teaching us was a way of encouraging us to behave.
The only major injury I managed to achieve was at the start of the afternoon break. I was the first onto the metal climbing frame. At one end, there were low bars that you could climb across, this then continued to a high single bar that took you to the end of the frame. Originally, the high bar was designed to have ropes or other equipment attached, rather than the difficult movement we had to complete to enable us to swing hand over hand along its length. My attempt to climb along the bar after a short shower meant part way along I lost my grip. The sensation of going headfirst was all I remembered until I awoke with what seemed the entire school gathered around me. I was carried into the school, and the various cuts and bruises were sorted out. All I could think of was that concrete was hard. If they had left me alone I would have been quite happy, but the headmistress thought it necessary to telephone my mother about the accident. I was let out of school early and as soon as we arrived home I was put to bed.
If the adults thought I was a little odd, it was that I did not use the words ‘Mum’ or ‘Mother’ either to talk to or about my mum, but addressed her as any adult might. This was down to not being told that I could go back to the words that any ordinary child might use.
My mothers' wages were normally paid on a Saturday when she had a half day; this enabled us to go into the local town and shop. On a few occasions her pay was late due to her employers been out for the day or not having any cash to pay her. Meals over the weekend might become a little basic; often wages were then given to her on the Sunday, but with no shops open, nothing could be purchased.
If my mother was paid on a Sunday, this brought an additional problem on a Monday morning when I was due to go to school, my mother often did not have any change for me to take to school to pay for my lunches for that week and it was never worth risking me with a pound note as either that or the change might go missing. Her need to work first thing in the morning meant it was impossible to get to a shop that might be able to provide some ready change. A few times my mother wrote a rather apologetic letter to my teacher informing her that the correct money would be with me the following day.
My aunt and uncle paid a visit to us during the autumn of 1964. I did not realise this at the time, but they were concerned over my mothers’ health. Due to her poor wages, she was finding it difficult to feed us both. It might seem strange that as a housekeeper she had plenty of food for the family she was looking after, but none of this came our way. Her wages of £3 each week were spent looking after the pair of us; this included the provision for the food.
In reality possibly her employers might not have meant that she was not to have any of the household food, as we did have some vegetables from the garden. They possibly meant that she was to pay for any luxury items of food like cakes and similar items.
My mother stuck to the rules that she had decided upon, this meant that her wages covered the purchase of our food, she might have skimped on her share of the food to provide for me, but her heavy smoking meant that a large dent was made into her £3 on cigarettes, followed by the heating and hot water, what was left was for food and any other items we both needed.
My aunt and uncle seemed to hint to my mother that she did not seem in good health and that a change of job might be the best for us. Apparently I had also changed in appearance too. When they had visited almost a year ago I did not seem to have many problems, now it appeared that I had put on a growth spurt, but not gained much in general build, and was apt to be a bit of a nuisance. A change of job for my mother where she could take a little more time in my upbringing might be a good idea.
If my mother was her normal self, she probably agreed to everything they said and gave them the reassurance that she would do something about it, but as soon as they left the matter would be put out of her mind.
The decision to send me to a new school came about owing to a number of events happening at the same time. In December, I realised that there were some family problems. My mother had to return to London for a day to see her parents. My grandmother was ill and needed to be looked after; my mother went up to see how everyone was. For me it was a normal day at school; I would have liked to have gone up to London with her. In the evening, it was a real treat to be allowed into the main part of the house to have my meal although when I did go to bed, I felt a little lonely on my own, but being allowed into the main part of the house had made up for it. School the following day was fine; my mother had returned by early afternoon so life was back to normal. From what I was told, it appeared my grandmother was now out of hospital; two aunts were taking it in turns to see to her needs. It was hinted that we might have to move back to London at some time in the near future.
The deciding factor as to my future life occurred at school. I was reasonably happy, although I was not in any way brilliant at lessons; I was beginning to settle into my third school. Now I moved up to the middle class. Perhaps our lessons were more difficult, but these could be more fun now that we had a master teaching.
A few of us spent our time annoying others but that was part of the fun. During lessons, we thought it fun to see who could get each other in trouble, just minor things, but enough to keep each other alert. If we went too far we knew there would be severe punishment, but for minor incidents, having to stand in the corner or do extra work was as far as it went.
If I were in trouble at school, it was usually for fighting. My height made me a target for every smaller boy that wanted to prove he was the best at fighting. In the normal way, I would do everything to get out of a fight. Running off was possible up to a point, but the confines of a playground meant that escape was impossible.
When I became involved in a fight, my fists played little part in my defence or for hurting my opponent; I was more apt to kick any foe or wrestle anyone to the ground. This was more for defence than causing any injury; if their fists were not in use, then I was safe. If I had an advantage over my foe, it was the size of my hands. I had an extra-wide hand span and it was easy to lock both my hands round someone’s neck until they gave in. None of my foes ever managed this trick. Had I put my wide hand span to good use, it would have been on the piano, but there was no one who wanted to teach me.
If I was thought not to fight fair, it was using any method to win or draw. If a foe happened to put their arm or leg across my mouth, then there was a simple means of quickly removing it.
Teachers often put a stop to fights. For those that I lost I made sure it restarted at some later point. To the adults my size made me look like a bully, but I did not have the strength of those that were shorter.
The most recent of our deeds had happened during the last lesson of the day. With two of us mucking about for fun, my punishment was to stand in the corner, whilst my friend was sent to wait in the corridor. There was no other punishment given to us; as it was an art lesson, missing that was thought enough punishment.
At the end of the lesson, everything returned to normal. With the room tidied up, and final prayers said, we were released into freedom. The pair of us had a little pocket money so the intention was to head to the sweet shop to pool our funds to buy a quarter of sweets between us.
On going into the cloakroom to get my coat and boots, I found that my friend had spent his time in tying the belt of my raincoat to the metal coat rack. This was merely a delaying tactic that enabled him to gloat over his actions as he left. It was not a case of simply doing the belt up once around the rack – it had been carefully threaded several times around the pole using the full length of the belt and the hooks on my raincoat. Eventually freeing my coat and putting it on, I went after him, announcing what fate awaited him. For sport, he was a short distance outside the door, in readiness for the chase.
Having half a playground’s head start, I eventually found him waiting just beyond the school gates. The headmistress and our teacher were in the playground and witnessed my blood-curdling threats of violence as I pursued my victim across the playground.
Had the headmistress needed an explanation as to my recent action, our teacher might have mentioned that we had both been punished for some wrongdoing and up until this point we had been separated; I was apparently now going to even up the score. If our teachers had been at the gate end of the playground, they would have seen us happily going together to the sweetshop. With no further view of us from their vantage point, they could only wonder if I ever caught him up.
The sweets purchased, we spent a short while dividing the spoils up. There was enough of the bag to enable our two shares to remain in reasonably clean condition for the duration of our walk up the main hill. Often I did not go this way, as it was longer than my normal way up the footpath and across the fields.
A mouth full of sweets and the rest put safe, we set about our normal antics. We paid little attention to our surroundings; that traffic was using the road next to the pavement and grass area we were on was simply out of our minds, I was now busily threading the belt of my raincoat back into its proper location. Due to the more important matters of sweets, this had been delayed until now.
My friend was simply trying to annoy for fun. As I started to thread the belt, he would try to pull the original part out. Eventually the task was completed and the buckle done up; no amount of tugging could release the belt, pulling the belt and me round in circles was all that could be managed. The grass bank that we were on was quite damp, so only a little effort was needed to turn me into a type of roundabout.
It was not a fight but both of us were taking turns to grab each other; there was one final tug at my belt, the clip at this moment gave way and the belt slid out of the fixings around my coat. My friend went with it; nothing serious in our minds happened, and he ended up at the edge of the pavement, not even making it into the road.
A bus driver coming down the hill thought my friend was going to go into the road and decided to stop very quickly. The bus stopped a good distance away from us; neither of us was really going to take much notice of the bus stopping had it not ended up at a slight angle, preventing cars from going up.
From the driver’s cab came a telling off. Had we ran away, that would have been the end of the matter. With the cars that were trying to get up the hill now hooting at the bus driver, we stayed around to see if more events would unfold.
A small crowd soon formed; my friend was too busy wiping the mud off his coat to see the driver of the bus approaching. I did notice and beat a hasty retreat, leaving him to get the telling off. It was not really an act of cowardice; it was sensible in my mind to avoid trouble. Once at the top of the hill, I slowed down and then finished my sweets before returning home. My only thoughts were for tomorrow and asking him how much of a telling off did he get.
During tea, there was a knock at the door. My mother opened the door; it was the headmistress and someone else. I was eager to find out what it was all about, but as the adults wanted to be alone, I was sent to my room. Eventually I was brought back. It appeared I was being accused of trying to push another boy under a bus, although it seemed he would not admit I was trying to push him into the road. Several people had seen us struggling a short while earlier, and the driver of the bus had seen me at the side of the road letting the boy fall.
Three adults against one was unfair. I was never very good at explaining things at the best of times; now being accused of something I had not done, sent me into a rage. As they were not able to get any sense out of me, I was sent back to my room. The adults continued to talk about me for quite some time.
Finally they left. My mother tried to explain what she had been told. Her main question was why had I tried to kill the other child. I tried to put my side of events, it appeared that there were many others who had seen things a different way. Two of my teachers had witnessed my going for the boy, and several other people had seen us fighting. It would be best if I admitted what I had done, and get the matter sorted out. My final demands were that my mother should talk to my friend, and get his side of the events; he would be able tell her what had really happened. In my mind, we would go to school tomorrow, my mother would ask my friend what happened, and that would be the end of the matter.
Events however did not go as I expected. For two days I did not go to school, and at the weekend I was not allowed to go into the village. Other than visiting the farm next to where we lived, I was not allowed my normal freedom; even at the farm, I could sense that there was something not right. For most of my time I sulked indoors at not being believed. The headmistress and another adult paid a couple more visits; I was only talked to for a short while, and as I did not want to change my story, they gave up trying.
Monday came and I was again not sent off to school. On asking questions about when I was going to return to school, all I was told was that it would be when things were sorted out.
By the evening, events were starting to change. There was the hint from my mother that a different school might be best for me. As this idea had been proposed some time earlier, I agreed that I would love a change of school; if they were not going to believe me at this school, then I did not want to go back.
Eventually I was sent off to bed. The following morning I was still quite happy with the idea of a new school. During breakfast, it was explained that today we would be going into town to see about finding me a new school. Asking where it would be and how I would get to it. I was fobbed off with various excuses.
Mid-morning we set off by bus. As it was a school day the town seemed quiet; I was taken to a large building, there was a long wait before we were seen. First my mother went off to talk to some adults, and then I was brought in and questioned as to what had happened when my friend fell into the road. Until that moment the day had gone quite well. I now started to get angry and upset. I tried to explain that he had not fallen into the road. We had been playing on the grass bank and he had only landed on the pavement.
After a time my mother went in to see them on her own. Eventually she returned. All I could ask was when I would be going to my new school. There was a truthful answer of tomorrow, but first we would go home where more could be explained to me. I was eager to start a new school.
When we returned home a few more things were revealed to me. My mother spent some time explaining to me how my grandmother was ill, and that soon she might have to leave here and would have to look after her. Returning to the flat in London with me running about was not possible; my grandmother needed a large amount of quiet.
Apparently I was giving the authorities a bit of a problem over what to do with me. The Children and Young Persons Act of 1963 had recently changed the age of which a child could be thought responsible from eight to ten, it didn't really matter that I was only seven and almost eight, they were still deciding that a child of almost eight in their minds should account for their actions.
Unknown to me at the time, I seemed to be falling into the catagory of 'Out of parental control', it was true that I had more freedom than most children of my age, this was simply down to my mother working long hours and my lack of interest in staying in our sitting room for most of my free time. The headmistress at the school had probably been the main influence in the authorities for me going into their care, still having a system that took in children from the age of eight rather than the new ten years of age. To make it simple for them, the final paperwork would be completed in a few weeks time when I reached eight years of age.
The Boarding School before I went into The National Children''s Home
December 1964 Age 7 years, 11 months.
My arrival at my new school was a little frightening at first. Everyhing about my arrival had happened so quickly.
On arrival at my new school, the first person I met was Matron.
The first thing was to have a look at the possessions I had with me. It was explained that a few items like knives and cigarettes were not allowed. It was mainly the older boys who seemed to have those, but to make it fair all of us had to follow the same rules.
Now I was taken to a small side room. If I ever wanted to find her, this was where I should first come. When she was not on duty, there was another lady whom I also should address as Matron. Any problems other than matters to do with lessons, I should come to see either of them first.
My bag of toy cars was put on the table, sorted through; there appeared to be nothing that I should not have. Next Matron asked what I had in my pockets. One by one, everything I possessed was checked over; my mother had done a thorough job of removing any non-essential object from my possession before we left. I was now told that I could leave my bag of toys and raincoat here for the moment as I was just in time for lunch. When that was over my clothes and which dorm I was going to be in could be sorted out. I followed matron along a corridor and was shown where the boy''s lavatory was. There was a mention that a good wash of my hands was required as an inspection was often made before we sat down to meals.
Soon cleaned up I was escorted to the dining room; an orderly queue was forming close to the door. I was taken past the queue; several boys of around my age were near the head of the group. Matron singled one boy out and suggested that he should look after me during lunch, and then bring me to her afterwards.
With that I was left alone with all the other boys. The nearest boys soon asked my name and how old I was, within moments it was worked out that I was the third youngest, the three of us would become eight the following month.
The main conversation was on the food, most days it seemed to be all right, Mondays were the worst with liver at lunchtime. Soon in a similar fashion to ordinary school lunches we had our plates full and were sitting down at a table.
My main question was how many boys are there at this school. I was now told that in our lower form there were eleven, with me it would make twelve, in the middle form there was about fifteen and the upper form had eight, it was best to keep out of their way, as they could bully at times.
Everyone wore grey shirts with grey pullovers, I stood out a little although my jumper was grey, I had a white shirt on. The main conversation turned to what I had done to get sent here, eventually they persuaded me to tell them that the adults had accused me of trying to push a friend under a bus. I was asked was there much blood, they seemed disappointed when I explained that my friend had fallen onto the pavement and the bus had stopped some distance away.
Those that were close to where I was sitting explained why they had been sent here, one set fire to a barn, another kept running out of schools, one of them did not get on with his parents and there were several other reasons that seemed similar to mine, it was just that adults did not seem to believe what we ever told them and did not like the mischief we got up to. The two boys that were younger than myself had come here a month ago. I was told by them that they liked this place more than ordinary school.
Lunch was over, it was explained that our lower group had it easy after lunch, it was thought that we should have a quiet time after a meal, so we were encouraged to go and read for a while before going outside to play, the middle and upper forms have half an hour of chores to do before they are released. It is nothing very major, the dining room needs to be cleaned up and the upper form is normally in charge of the washing up.
The others left us I was now taken by the boy who introduced himself as Martin took me in the direction of where matron might be found. He mentioned that I might get a little confused over names. Whilst the boys and matron will normally call you by your first name, the other staff and the teachers will use your surname. When Martin learnt of my surname, as it was one of those that was equally used as a Christian name he thought that there would be no problems for me, with some of the boys when their surnames are called out, it can lead to a bit of fun.
Matron was ready and waiting for us, I was asked had I enjoyed lunch, compared with some school meals that were cooked in bulk, I replied that the meal had been fine. Matrons main aim was to kit me out with most of the clothes I needed, it was explained that I would not have to carry all the clothes in one go, just enough to be going on with, with name tapes to put in each garment, new boys could cause a lot of work, but it was far easier than trying to match up unknown items with their rightful owners, if I ever had something with either a loose or missing tape I should tell her before it went into the wash. Looking at my height it was remarked that some of my garments could easily find their way into the middle dorm. Martin stayed with me while various measurements were made, there were comments that I was like a bit of a beanpole, a belt would be one of my main needs as school shorts came in regular sizes.
Soon a pile of vests, socks, shirts, together with plimsolls, shoes, wellingtons, jumper and a host of other items soon began to pile up. Matron explained that the new clothes were either for schooldays or if we were taken out, our play clothes usually were clothes that had been grown out of by other boys, if we did have a bit of a ruff and tumble then allowances could be made when things eventually became a little worn.
I was now asked to change completely into a fresh set of school clothes, it was explained it was far easier to look after our clothes if we all were wearing the same items at any one time. Each garment on had its blank name tape lettered with my surname and my first initial, followed by the letter L, matron mentioned that if anything fitted when you went up to a higher dorm, there was extra space to replace the letter, it made sorting our clothes far easier. Once dressed and matching Martin I was told that would be all for the moment, when tea was over we should both return, most of my clothes would be ready to put away. There was the sound of a bell ringing at some part of the building, from the look on Martin''s face he was either worried that he would be late or disappointed that our leaving matron was at the same time that afternoon school started. If there was anything to put a smile on his face it was when matron asked that I be shown around the school, it might be easier to show me around whilst the others were in their own form rooms. If he was asked why he was not in lessons he should say that he had matrons'' permission to be out. Martin was asked was there a spare bed in his dorm if there was I could have that. I was led off at top speed, once out of earshot, I was thanked for getting him out of lessons, as it was games on the playing field today, not one of his favourite subjects.
As I was led around the building it was explained that it was really divided into three separate parts, the top two floors were for the staff, unless we were invited personally by the staff we should not go up the main staircase to their part of the building.
I was led part way up the staircase to the first floor; this was where the dormitories and sickroom was. If there was any pleasure it was that matron was going to allow me to be in his dorm, which would even up our numbers, as our lower dorms were in two sections odd numbers could be a bit of a problem when it came to chores.
We went along a corridor I was pointed to two rooms, that was where one of the masters on night duty would sleep, when we misbehaved in the night anyone on duty would soon come and sort us out. If there were any major problems during the night, it was their rooms that we should knock on first.
Next was the middle dorm, this was one large room, once you were nine you would be moved up there, at the same as you moved onto the middle form for lessons. Next came the other lower dorm, our two dorms were almost identical so matron could have put me easily into that one. I was now taken into the dorm I was going to be in, Martin pointed to his bed, then to a bed next but one, which would be mine. Everything in the room was identical, by each bed was a chair, which had a small mat in front and between every other bed was small chest of draws and in each corner a large wardrobe. Play clothes went in the lower draw, school clothes into the top draw of the ones I was to use. The wardrobe was for best clothes that might need hanging up, play coats and the like were left down stairs when we came in.
Clothing that was for washing was to be put in the wicker chest at the end of the corridor before we went to bed.
We left the dorm, I was now taken to the rooms we could use when we were not in lessons, these were all on the same floor, I was told that the general rule was that during lesson time you were to be on the ground floor, if you were indoors and not either at lessons or doing chores you were to be on this floor.
It was explained that the adults had an easy method of making you remember the rules here, minor items and it was one stroke with the plimsoll on your hand, anything more then it was one on each hand, after this it was lightly that the cane would be used or several hits with the plimsoll on your rear, one or two hits simply sting anything more and it will start to hurt.
I was now shown the library, when you wanted to read books or comics this was the place to be, there was the system if you had comics once you had read them you were to leave them in the library for others to read rather than to put them away with your toys, when they had been well read and become tatty matron will throw them out. When you find a comic with a coupon or other item you wish to cut out, even if it is your own comic you must write your name on the front of the comic and the page number where the coupon is to be found, you will be allowed the item when all have read the comic, as well as your name you have to put a number by your name to show if you are the first to request something to be cut out. This seems the best way to prevent the comics falling to pieces before all have read them.
Next was the activity room, each of us had a locker where our own things other than clothes are to be kept, only the staff really have the right to go into your locker, but don''t tell on any of the older boys you find hunting through or your life will be awful a short while later. Now I was shown where the bathroom and showers were, in the evening if you are either filthy or scheduled for a bath you normally go in pairs, with two baths matron thinks it is safer in pairs as you can watch out for each other.
In the mornings we all have showers, the water was normally only warm at that time of the day, the upper and middle dorms go before us, so we have to be quite quick if we are to be in time for breakfast. I was now shown the upper bogs, paper was normally in each, but before you sit down just make sure there is some. It is the same for the downstairs ones.
The upper floor dealt with I was now taken down the side flight of stairs, these were the ones we should normally use, they were stronger and did not echo so much. There were three main form rooms, the upper and middle forms were in use so we did not spend anytime near the doors, I was taken to our room, it was empty it appeared that our form mates were on the field.
Martin told me that if you were on the field either at games or play you normally wore your hobs, these were the shoes that had the hard toecaps and the solid soles, those were more up to kicking the ball. When you came in from outside they had to be taken off, for indoor use you would normally wear either shoes during the day or once tea was over plimsolls could be worn, on a dry day it was all right to wear plimsolls on the hard ground.
The form room I was going to join was just like any other school room I had been in only here there were fewer desks, I was told that you mainly sat in pairs, when you were troublesome you would sit on your own at the side of the room, then you were more at risk from a hit with the plimsoll as you were right next to the side alley where our teacher walked up and down.
Out of the form room and I was shown where the staff had their offices, the worst room to be sent to belonged to the man in charge, unlike a normal headmaster he is on duty all the time. We appeared to be lucky at the moment as often during the afternoon period he was away from the building. I would probably meet him at teatime, he appeared to be very strict but really he was the best of the teachers, if he punished you it was only when you were really bad.
A bell was rung in the corridor; this was the signal for our fifteen-minute afternoon break. It was best it seemed to allow those from the other to forms to gain their freedom, if we came out into the main corridor, as I was new here they might want to pick on me to see if I was any good at fighting. If I proved early on to them that I was not going to challenge them in any way I would be left alone after a couple of days. Their favourite trick it seemed was to hit you gently each time they passed, if you did nothing then soon you would be ignored, retaliate in any way and you will always be in fights.
The main corridor went silent after a while, it seemed safe to leave, I was now shown the remaining rooms on the ground floor. Soon there was the sound of the others returning to their rooms. Martin decided that the rest of the afternoon could be spent showing me the grounds and where I was not allowed to go.
We headed back to matron it seemed it was best to ask her permission to go outside as really her intention was that I be shown around the building. With no lessons indoors it could not really be suggested we join our own form. Matron gave the idea for a tour of the grounds her blessing, we were handed some of my outdoor clothes, these had been named up, if we were heading outside it would save her a journey.
I was soon told what the remaining clothes were for. There were two raincoats, the new one was for if we were taken out of the grounds, this should be hung up in our wardrobe, this task could be done later, the older raincoat was for when we went out to play, when it gets muddy it was best to wipe off any excess mud before hanging it up, they were never meant to be spotless, but if too dirty you will be in trouble, the hob nail shoes were for football and general playing outside in, both these and the school shoes had to be cleaned by supper time, they would be inspected after supper, if they are found to be dirty they will be taken away for a day and you will have to wear wellingtons, do this twice in a week and you will get a whack and loose your shoes for a whole week.
I was shown the other type of play clothes, when it was cold it was best to wear your combined jacket & trousers, these were known by all as suits. They were nice and thick so often you did not need your coat, as the trouser parts are long they are far better than shorts. If everything is clean you are allowed to wear them indoors. They go into the wash only on a Saturday night, so don''t get them in a state before that if you want to stay warm.
We both changed into the suits, Martin suggested that they might give me a little more padding when the older boys found me later, if you get a whack on the rear by the staff the pain was less so there were advantages to changing into them once lessons were over.
Martin suggested that wellingtons would be the most comfortable things for me, as the hobs took a little getting use to.
Once outside I was taken completely around the building, we avoided going close to the two forms that were having lessons. Although we did have permission to be here, it seemed it was best that we did not draw attention to ourselves.
The main warning I was given was not to go on the fire escape, it was all right to be on it if there was a fire or we were having a fire drill, but at all other times if you were spotted on it you would be punished, this could vary from a couple of hits with the plimsoll if you were on any of the first few steps, to the cane once you reached the first turn or above. On the doors that lead to the escape you could open the door without any key, but once the door was opened it was impossible to shut the door without the key, that only matron or the teachers possessed.
The boiler room was our next stop, in the morning the upper boys have the chore of moving the coke from the main store to the area near to the boiler for the amount that was for that days use, the other chore is moving the ash from the bottom of the boiler, the grounds man normally rakes it into a pile first thing in the morning, so when they come to move it, the ash is either cold or only just warm.
Sometimes matron or the teachers will tell you to bring odd boxes of rubbish down here. If you are caught with something you should not have often you will be taken down to the furnace and made to put it into the fire, at that point you might get a whack. I was told that most of the clothes that I had changed out of would soon be put on the fire by matron, it stops us getting hold of them if we are planning to run away. If we are missing they will know exactly what we will have on.
The kitchen was next, the cook or one of the helpers occasionally took pity on you if you offered to do any extra jobs for them, odd slices of cake could sometimes come your way, both the matrons however do not like you begging in that way.
The playing field was now visited, we avoided the frozen group that were kicking a ball about at the far side of the grassed area, if we were spotted we might be requested to cheer our form at their game. The small wooded area was in my mind not that special; Martin mentioned that in the evenings it could be a little scary if you were out on your own, I was use to larger more remote woods.
Most of the trees had been fully conquered; to make it even easier several small pieces of wood were nailed to the larger trees to make the first part of the climb very easy. There was a long thick rope hanging from a main branch, I was told that to prove yourself the older boys would see if you could climb to the top of the rope, if you can reach the top there is a branch that is easy to step onto, then you can either climb down the tree or use the rope. If they do challenge you try to be one of the first to get up the rope, they think it is fun when they get to the top branch to pee onto the rope, then it is almost impossible to climb the last few feet. Once however you could prove you could climb you would be allowed to use the full area of the wood, a few of our form have not yet managed it.
Martin told me that he only succeeded on his third attempt.
I was challenged to an attempt, however even if I did manage, it would not count as there were none of the upper form to witness my attempt. In one of the woods I played in I had managed to fix a small rope to a tree, it was not as long as this one and the diameter was far less.
With raincoat and boots it was not really the best clothing for rope climbing, but I attempted to see if I could climb this rope. The wide diameter of the rope made it far easier than I imagined, within moments I was a good way up, my real reason for not going further was that once at the top I did not really want the climb down and without shoes I was not too sure of the grip I would be able to manage on the way down.
Martin was pleased at my attempts and told me that at the first opportunity there was I should try it for real.
It was now decided that we should be heading back, school lessons would end soon, there were a few chores to do before tea, if these were finished early it would give me time to meet the others before we sat down for tea.
Once back indoors I was shown how our outdoor clothes should be kept. There were roughly three areas, one for each of our forms. If any one part became untidy it was quite easy to find the culprits. Our raincoats were hung up normally for two of us sharing a peg, there were a few extra pegs over in our area, until this point Martin explained that he had managed to have a peg for himself, but I might as well share it now.
The system worked most of the time without problems, if you hung up a wet coat on top of a dry one it can cause problems, we are meant to take them down to the boiler room if they become too soaked to dry off for a while but few ever bother. There was no problem remembering where to hang my coat, Martin had managed to get one next to a small pillar so it was a little protected I was told from the regular battle that takes place if everybody is hunting for their coats at once. I followed martin to the boot cupboards.
There was a row of wooden cabinets along one wall, unless we are actually putting something away they are meant to be closed, there are some slats in the lower parts of the doors to let air circulate to dry anything off that gets a little damp. Each of us had our own section, I was found an unused area in the cabinet next to where Martin kept his things, all of us in the lower dorms had the cabinets at the far end of the row, this was simply down to luck as we don''t get trampled on by the older boys.
There was a set routine how things were to be arranged Each of the cabinets had three shelves, the top one was for our two pairs of plimsolls the indoor pair go at the front and the games pair at the back, the middle shelf has our school shoes at the front and our hobs behind, the lower shelf was for our wellingtons, the older boys also put their football or rugby boots on that shelf as well, but thankfully in the lower form we don''t do that much sport. Martin showed me the tables and where all the cleaning rags and polish were kept, with my school shoes only having an hour or so of use it was simply a light polish to return them to as new condition, the hobs needed no attention, and mud on our wellingtons had been wiped off on the long grass before we came inside, Martin had little to do on the polishing side, he told me that normally he did not wear his hobs, he disliked football so most days if he went outside he put wellingtons on.
At the end of the day we are meant to have cleaned everything, most of us do this once tea is over as it saves time before bed if there was anything good on the T.V. Forget to do this and you will be in trouble, on most evenings there is an inspection, they don''t bother opening all the cupboards they just do a random selection. Anything not to their liking will be taken out and put on the side table for all to see.
We changed into plimsolls and went in search of the others, who had come off the field shortly before we came indoors. Once afternoon lessons are over there is a short break before tea for the lower and middle forms, the upper form will be getting the tea set up, although it is a chore, they get to select the larger slices of cake and the like for themselves.
Soon I was introduced to those in the lower form; it appeared that to the other I would be able to fit in, some boys when they first arrive spend the time balling their eyes out. I was taken through to the room that our lower form and the middle group used for activity periods, Martin took me to my locker to make sure the few things that we mine were still where we had left them; none of my new friends had made any claims.
With Christmas being close all it seemed were looking forward to adding a few more things to their own collections. I was told that parents are allowed to send us certain toys and things, but the school also provides a few Christmas presents to each off us, the better behaved you are the chances of getting to choose early from the selection. We all get fair shares though.
A bell was rung, this it seemed was the first bell for tea, it gave us all a chance to tidy away anything we had out and to visit the bogs before sitting down, the next bell would mean that we were meant to be lining up by the dining room, be late for that and you might find you have to sit next to the adults or the older boys. Our lower and middle group were soon in an orderly queue, it was explained that for tea it was often bread and jam, cake, and something to drink. Most days we get a hot tea; it might be sausages or something of that nature, two days a week the cook has an afternoon off so we get cold teas. As you go in, take a plate and two slices of bread and one slice of cake, later on if you want more bread you hold your hand up and one of the older boys on tea duty will hand you an extra slice, most of the time two slices is all you need. We get a supper before bed so there is no need to eat a large amount unless you are starving. I followed the others into the dining room, the slices of bread already had margarine or butter on them, unlike my mother''s thin slices these were very large, if my mother had been cutting the bread it would have been quite easy to get two or three of her slices from just one of the slices the school provided. A single slice of cake was now placed on top of the bread as we filed through, to drink there was either tea or orange squash, I was more than happy to find squash, tea was never something I really liked.
There were no set places to sit down at; we simply took the next available space at the tables. As we grouped together in the queue it meant that friends could normally sit together for most meals.
We sat down and remained silent for a short while until everyone had their food. Grace was now said by an elderly man, this was my first view of the headmaster. When the grace was finished we were allowed to start, talking was allowed providing it did not get too loud. When I had first arrived there had been some fear of my new surroundings, but really it was just like ordinary school.
The others soon explained how the daily life went on. Around seven we would be woken up to go for our showers, the upper form start at six thirty and the middle form at six forty-five, so normally they are finished by the time we get to the showers. Once we have dressed and made our beds and checked the room is tidy its breakfast, that is at seven thirty for everyone. At eight breakfast things are tidied away and its chores for three quarters of an hour. Us lower group have the nice chores, cleaning the bogs, showers, baths and filling the laundry tubs. We normally do the chores in groups of four or six; you do a month at each chore, so as not to make it too boring. The middle form normally to the sweeping and polishing, the upper boys do the washing up and the boiler room.
The work is not that hard, school starts at nine, we have a short assembly and any announcements are made, lessons normally start at nine thirty so on most days we have a little free time once assembly was finished. I was now told it was important you visited the lavatory before the lessons started, unlike ordinary school, the staff here do not like you leaving the form room once the lesson has started, they think you might be up to mischief or run away.
Life here I was now told was not all bad, we were given rewards for either good work or good behaviour, this was a small bar of chocolate at the end of Friday afternoon to the best work of the week in lessons, or from Matron on a Sunday morning to the best three in the school over chores that had been done during the week. The chores were not really difficult just a little cleaning, there are members of staff that do most of it, we are set chores just for something to do. On a Saturday we all get a small bag of sweets.
When you finished your tea you waited until everyone at your table had finished then you were allowed to leave, dirty things were placed in neat piles. Some of the older boys would do the final clear up. Our lower form did not have any homework unless it was set as a punishment, so we were free to go and watch the television until the middle and upper form came in and took the best seats over, they would also choose which channel to watch. If there were found to be any arguments then the set would be switched off for the rest of the evening. If you were not watching television there was the choice of either staying in the activity room or outside, it is not much fun in the winter as there is little to do, but when the summer comes there plenty of fun.
I was taken back to matron to see about my the rest of my clothes, I was now introduced to the other matron, it appeared that all my clothes had been dealt with, my only task would be to keep them in good order. With us now free I was taken to the small hall where the television was. A range of chairs were grouped so that the first twenty or so had a good view of the set which was put up on quite a high cupboard to give those seated in the rear rows some chance of seeing a picture.
Television was something I had not seen for over a year, the last opportunity had been at the first school I had been at, then my age meant that only for a short while after the news had finished was I allowed to watch. Our bedtimes here depended on which form we were in. Our group would be turned out at seven thirty, on Fridays and Saturdays it was eight, it did not matter if the programme had not finished those were the times we left, the middle form was half an hour after us and the upper form half an hour later. If we were dirty it was a bath, otherwise it was a good wash and into bed. When we were in bed we were allowed to talk until the lights were turned out, it was then to be silence, we could get away with whispering but if caught talking it was normally a whack with the nearest plimsoll.
Slowly the older boys came in, it seemed it was best to give up our seats and slowly move further back; eventually matron came in to call us for bed. I was asked by her if I was settling in; I appeared cheerful enough to be allowed to go off with the others. None of our form thought they were dirty enough to need a bath, when the games lesson had finished it appeared they had been directed to the showers. Martin and I simply grouped ourselves with the others when matron came to see if there were any candidates for the bath.
Supper came when we had all finished our wash and had put our pyjamas on, all of us were identical in our blue and white matching sets, our dressing gowns varied in colour, but for the most they were fairly thick in type. I found that the collar part itched my neck where the pyjamas ended.
Soon we were in the dining room; supper was the one meal you did not sit down for, as the tables were laid out for breakfast and the floor clean, making it untidy was not allowed. The small area where we were confined would soon be made tidy by the upper form when they had finished. Supper it seemed varied as to what the cook felt could be used up. Often it was toast and jam, but we might get beans or something like that if one of the large cans needed to be finished up. In a way having supper first meant that if there was something left over we would get it. If we took too long over supper, then the time we would get called for bed would be brought forward in the future.
Teeth done and the lavatory visited we headed for our dormitory. We soon were in bed, I was asked by the boy next to me if I was going to find it odd having to sleep with other boys, I mentioned that I had already been at a school where I had shared a room with another boy. Matron paid a final visit to see that we were settled and the lights were turned off. If any other adult had to come in it would be the master on duty tonight, there were often odd visits during the night just to see we were not up to any mischief, in the normal way the lights will be left off, he will have a torch, so don''t be afraid if it gets pointed in your direction, it will be just to check that there is someone in the bed.
If you are up to mischief, you will be made to stand in the corridor until it is felt you will be quiet for the rest of the night. If you get a whack you will be taken into their room, that way your crying will not wake up any others. If there are no others around, starting to cry just before you get hit might get you off the punishment.
Today had been such a change, I was not really afraid of this school, but I soon put my head under the covers, although I was not crying out loud, I was a little unhappy that I had been sent here for not doing anything really wrong.
The start of the new full day came suddenly, I was used to waking up to almost silence, if the weather was windy there might be the sound from the trees, but other than that nothing really to hear. A few of the others were awake; chattering was slowly starting from various parts of the room. It might be still dark outside, I had no idea what the time really was. Thick curtains stopped most signs of daylight from coming through.
The boy in the next bed said that we could pair up for all chores as it was easier. Alan it seemed had just turned eight, birthdays here are nothing special, the school give you a small present and your parents can send small items to you.
There was a loud bang of a door opening; I was told that this was Matrons way of waking those who might be asleep; it saved her from going from bed to bed. There was a friendly greeting to all of us to get ourselves up and ready, if there was encouragement it was that anyone not out of bed in the next ten seconds would be tipped out.
All of us were soon out, at this point we were allowed to open our curtains, a dull day it appeared was waiting for us, but as the sun was not fully up it might be better later.
I followed what most of the others were doing. The blanket and top sheet was pulled back, slightly rolled so that the bed had a chance to air while we went for our showers. I watched as Alan pulled his top sheet and blanket completely off and placed them on the side chair, another boy opposite us was doing the same. There was a bit of a joke from him that if you don't soak the top sheet it does not have to be changed. The others did not seem to take any notice of what they were up to. Alan gathered up the lower sheet and a small piece of blanket that had been underneath his lower sheet from the bed, and with the others and myself left the dormitory; we took our towels, our dressing gowns were taken with us but not worn, I was told that after our shower when we have dried ourselves, if you then put your dressing gown on it will keep you warm.
We all went into the shower room, Alan deposited his sheet and pyjamas in an open wicker basket in the corner which already had a few sheets inside, he told me that we would take it to the laundry room later. Until this moment I had only had a quick look inside the shower room. Soon we had put our dressing gowns on a long bench and taken off our pyjamas.
One of the boys told me that matron would be along in a moment to turn the water on, we have to stay in the shower area until she decides we have had long enough, she threatens to just turn the cold water on its own, but has never done that yet.
I followed the others into a small walled area, those from the other lower dorm were already there. It was not too cramped, if the was any shoving it was more in fun than anger. Originally the showers area looked to have been designed for a few to take individual showers, but the shower heads were now directed into the centre of our group.
This had been my first opportunity to be with a group of boys of my own age where no adult supervision seemed to be around, suddenly one of the boys started to pee, unlike the ordinary boy''s school lavatory where there might be a game to see who could get highest up the wall, in this shower area the aim was more to see who he could hit. All of us including myself now joined in. this it seemed was a regular morning event. Matron knows what we are up to but does not say anything, she hopes we get tired of silly things and just aim at the floor. We are allowed to do this as it saves her having to supervise us visiting the main bogs first thing in the morning, if we are all in the shower room she does not have to look for stragglers. If you do need to go and sit on the lav first thing you will probably still be in time for your shower.
Suddenly the water came on; a cheer went up from the others. Warm rather than hot, we soon were fully soaked, a single bar of soap was passed around our group, there was not really the aim of using it to keep clean more the fun of who could squeeze it into the air for the next person to catch. The water eventually was turned off, matron controlled the water from outside the shower room, it appeared that we had to shout to tell her it was off.
Drying ourselves off seemed to be done in record time, if there were any parts not fully dried putting on our dressing gown without any pyjamas solved that. Alan said he would show me where the linen cupboard was, while the others headed back to the dormitory I followed Alan down a side corridor. A large cupboard contained various sheets and blankets, if we were cold at night it was all right to take an extra blanket the following day.
I was warned that when you were in the middle or upper dorms if you wet the bed matron would give you a light hit with the slipper or cane when you got up, the older boys had told him that in never really hurt, but it was not someting he was looking forward to when he moved up next year. For some of the others in this dorm, they wet their beds when they hear matron wake the older ones up, it's the sound of the hits and not wanting to go for a pee whilst the older boys are about. The other time is if you go to the single night lav next to the upper form, if they are there smoking, just return to your bed, they would torture you just for fun.
Breakfast started as soon as our first chores of tidying our dorm had been completed. As we lined up in the queue for breakfast the rules were explained. There was a bowl of porridge for each of us, there was the choice of brown sugar, golden syrup or black treacle to add, if you finished the porridge you were allowed a bowl of corn flakes and either hot or cold milk, but only if the porridge was finished. Unlike other meals where it might be possible to get a item you did not like much taken off your plate by a friend, there was no luck with porridge, if you do like it however you can have an extra large bowl and go without the corn flakes. To add to my porridge I chose brown sugar, but as there would be other days ahead there was a choice to be had. Warm milk on corn flakes was something I did not fancy, even drinking warm milk seemed to sickly for me.
Breakfast finally over we set about the morning chores before school started. Alan selected me for his group, I would spend the rest of the month on laundry chores then we would swap over to bogs. If you were on laundry duty is was slightly different to any other chore, we did part now and part during morning break, it was not unfair as we spent the same time in total as the others.
Our group formed, most went off to the laundry room, Alan explained that it took only a couple of us to collect the sheets, if the others go off to run the cold water into the tubs we get the first part finished early. Once back at the shower room we gathered up the sheets and pyjama trousers from the basket. If the basket was ever full it was necessary to take the basket down to the laundry room, at other times the sheet that was the driest was selected and everything bundled into it. If the driest sheet was used, if you had to put the bundle down whist it was carried you did not pick up any dirt from the floor and matron would not do her nut. Soon the bundle had reached the laundry room, pyjamas went into one tub and the sheets plunged into two other tubs of cold water, once submerged that was the chore finished for the moment.
At our morning break we had to return, let this first water out, fill the tub again and let it run away, then put all the damp sheets into the big copper where one of the staff would fill it with hot water. That was the chore finished. Sunday is the worst day everyone has a new lower sheet on that day, most of the two lower forms wet the bed on a Saturday night as they know the sheets will be changed without been embarrassed in any way over the matter, the older boys will spend Saturday night lavatory as they have spent any pocket money on cigarettes that afternoon, not a place to visit if you want a happy life. If the top sheets are in clean condition in the winter months they get used as lower sheets during the second week, in the summer both sheets get changed on a Sunday. It takes two separate goes to do the sheets.
Freedom without others before school started was ideal for visiting the library, any new comics would have been put out unless they had just been received personally by anyone, the school purchased some of the more educational or story type comics for us, but as these were the more expensive types they were always welcome.
Lessons at the school seemed odd, with so few of us in the form room, the teacher could either spend time watching what you were up to or get through the lesson without really checking on what work you had completed.
For most of our lessons we would have one teacher, he came to the school only on days that we had lessons, unlike the other two teachers and the headmaster he did not live in the building. I was told that the main advantage to this was that he did not normally know if you had been in any trouble. Often if punishments had been set for you to complete and our teacher gave you an additional punishment you needed only to do one.
It appeared out teacher could on occasions appear stricter than the others; this was simply due to him favouring to give us a whack with the plimsoll than having to see that we completed extra work that was set.
Over the next few days I found lessons rather boring but easy enough to do. I resisted the temptation to cause a nuisance at this early stage, as it was rarely that a morning or afternoon was completed without someone getting hit with either the plimsoll or the cane, it was easy to see that these punishments were not done with any real force, once his back was turned it was often the grin on the face on the one who had received the punishment, showed that it had not really hurt.
The actual time that we spent in the form room was less than the other schools I had attended. If time was allowed for the morning and afternoon breaks plus the lunch period. There were the two afternoons that were devoted to sport and the single afternoon when we were taken outside on what appeared to be a nature ramble, although we were really allowed to run about and have fun. The actual amount of written work that we did in our work books was quite limited, which I found was ideal.
The Sunday before Christmas we were taken into the main town to attend a carol service. For those that wanted to go there would also be an opportunity to visit church for a further service. It appeared only a few names went on the list for that event, even with the promise of a little extra treat for all that were well behaved. Having been give our Saturday sweets, this offer of an extra treat was not really enough of a reward to sit through another church service.
Saturday afternoons were spent by going on an organised walk around the local lanes, it appeared that in the summer months we were taken out for longer and were given the freedom to run about, during the winter the walks took less time due to the weather.
Christmas 1964 - Age 7, but almost 8.
Now that school was over that staff appeared were more relaxed to our behaviour. As long as we did not do anything really wrong or made it look as if we were trying to cause a nuisance it appeared that we were allowed more freedom.
With our numbers slightly reduced, chores and other activities were changed slightly. With no lessons to attend there would be more freedom for us. The staff decided that occupying us with chores was a way of preventing us getting into mischief.
Our lower form now had the boiler room duties added to our morning tasks. Once we had done these we were free to do as we pleased until lunch time. The boiler room chore was regarded by us more of a pleasure than a chore. As the form rooms were not in use, heating to some parts of the school had been turned down quite low, this meant that less coke was needed and for us less to move from the main store to the daily store area. The warm ash was fun to play with, some minor dust clouds were caused as we broke up the clinker into small chunks, but as we left the area clean there was little sign of the short period of fun we achieved. Ash when taken out of the boiler room was to be spread on various paths, small piles were located at the end of the drive in case there was ice, but most was available for us to neatly distribute on the ground, to us this involved throwing a shovel of ash into the air trying to cover our friends in dust.
With the aim of spending as much time out of the way of the staff as possible, if we did get a little filthy then there was plenty of time before lunch came to get presentable. The few older boys that were still here decided that some of the chores were to be avoided if possible. The staff were a little more easy on us when it came to checking that chores had been completed to their normal high standard.
Two days before Christmas and out thoughts on chores did wander a little, one of the form rooms had been allocated to take the Christmas presents the school was going to give to us, these were unwrapped but just out of clear sight from standing outside the building, the door was locked to prevent us getting in from inside, on a far table we could see a selection of wrapped presents, these we knew were from our parents and relatives, but as to how many we had each was simply unknown.
There was an unwritten rule that was made by the older boys that you had to obey. If it was possible to get into trouble, it was your duty to get told off and be punished, any boy who was good all the time deserved to get beaten up.
As punishments of all kinds were dealt out, one seemed actually to welcome a master using some minor form of punishment on you, to save been thought of by your friends or the older boys as been too good.
Christmas at my new location seemed to offer far more excitement. None of our age group really admitted out loud that there was no Father Christmas. Matron had seemed to quash any ideas of our non belief with the words that those who don''t believe in Father Christmas won''t be disappointed if he did not leave them any presents. This did not seem to apply to the older boys who we knew had firm ideas on where all toys came from.
Once the school term finished our numbers thinned out quickly down to a total of twenty. The two upper dormitories were soon combined into one room. Our lower dorm numbers did shrink a little, not really enough to give the impression of an empty room. Matron decided that our dorm could now have our rival dorm joining us two extra beds were brought in. For us it was ideal, the spaces between each bed shrunk a little, talking when lights were out was much easier.
Christmas Eve had all formed into one group at the end of the afternoon. Presents provided by the school were now given out. Two tables were covered with a range of unwrapped toys books and other items. To make it reasonably fair each of us would be allowed to take one present from each table. The order it seemed was based on how we had behaved during the year. For those of us in the lower form, it was how we had behaved since arrival. Although during my lessons I had been reasonably well behaved together with a friend there had been a possibility that we had been in minor amounts of trouble. Slowly the line formed as names were read out. If there was any surprise I was not at the end of the line but nicely in the middle.
We slowly moved forward, all eyes were on various items in the pile, at odd moments there were groans from those still in the queue, when an item they wanted was selected by someone earlier. When my turn came I was quite happy with a pen set and a model car. Those at the end still had reasonable choices. When all had selected two items there were still several toys left, these it appeared we could have on merit according to our behaviour over the next two days. Limiting this to just two days gave us something to really concentrate on.
After a short carol service we were released for a while. There was a second treat for us later. As it appeared that bringing Father Christmas to us would be difficult, this was not actually explained fully by the staff, there was to be a film show once tea was over.
Tea today was not really a rushed affair, the greedy members of the group did not bother asking for extra slices of bread. Before the meal finished there was an announcement made that we should all visit the lavatory before we went and sat in the hall, they did not want any continual disturbances with us moving about whilst the film was on. If we asked questions about what films we were going to see, the adults wanted to keep this a surprise.
All of us were involved in the chore of cleaning the tea things away; if one group was delayed it was thought to be rather unfair. As we went in to the hall we were handed a small brown bag, sweets were normally only handed out on a Saturday, now we had an extra selection of a few boiled sweets, a small bar of chocolate and one gobstopper, this appeared should last us the rest of the film once the bag of sweets had been eaten.
The staff did have some say as to where we sat, this was done more by size than age, I was quite lucky at getting a seat where none of the older boys were in front, but just smaller boys who were not in the way.
A cartoon started the show off and then it was total anticipation as to what the film was. The adults were hinting that it was going to be Snow White or some other film that whilst it would be a treat it was not really a choice we would have made. Once the titles were up it was soon realised that they had been teasing up, A War film featuring plenty of action was although not really a subject I was keen on it was better than something aimed more at girls.
Other than cheering and other excitement we remained well behaved thought the film. Once it finished there was the thought that it would be best if we all went to bed at this point. Minor groans came from the older boys, but as they informed us that normally on the breakfast table on Christmas Day we would find a small present from the school. All it appeared wanted the following day to start as soon as possible. Even as we arrived at the bathroom at the same time even us younger ones seemed to get an equal share in turn to use the sinks. Matron decided than none of us had managed to get dirty enough to warrant a bath. We could guess that the sooner we were all in bed the sooner the adults could start to enjoy Christmas without us.
We were told by the few that had been here last Christmas that if matron found that a parent had not sent a present or the present that had been sent was rather minor, the school would add something to make up, on Christmas Day everyone even if they had not done well in lessons would be happy at breakfast.
Matron paid a final visit after lights were out just to see that we were not up to any mischief, then we were left alone for the rest of the night.
Christmas Day came as a surprise to us all. None of us in our dorm had been at this school last Christmas so all we had learnt up until now was from the older boys.
We all seemed to wake up at one point, the noise we started to make, roused the rest of the dorm within seconds.
Looking on the floor a brown paper bag had been left by the foot of each of our beds. Inside was an apple, orange and a few sweets. A small duplicated note said that we should stay in our rooms until we were called, if we were going to eat the orange could the peel be put inside the bag.
Eating any food in the dorm was a treat. None of us felt the need to wander out of the dorm to see what other events were lined up for us except for a few of us who visited the lavatory at the end of the corridor.
When eventually matron came, there was the instruction that there would be no chores for us today except for moving the coke to the boiler room, the ash could be left.
The morning shower and dressing was completed in record time. We had been told by the older boys that some presents would be waiting at the breakfast table. Our beds were made to a reasonable standard but would not have passed the normal inspection by matron.
Our snack before breakfast did not seem to spoil our appetites, possible the instruction that when we had all finished our breakfast we would be able to open the single present that was in front of our plates. These we were told was a present from the school. In this case they had chosen what they thought was appropriate for each of us. We could exchange these gifts between our friends if we liked, but any bullying or the like was to be reported.
If there was a slight delay before we managed to get at the presents it was having to wait for a few of the older boys who had the duty of serving the breakfast, there had been a slight delay in them starting.
Finally every plate was clean and we set about opening our present.
A set of various games was not a present that I had ever received before, as I was often on my own before coming to this school there had been very few chances to play board games. Now I would have several of my friends close at hand to play with, looking around our group there did not seem to be anyone else with a similar present.
If there was a disappointment it was our lower group that was sent off to do the boiler duty, whilst the middle and upper forms could go off to play. If there was anything unfair it was the headmaster deciding that only four of us were needed to move the coke. I wondered if his decision to pick Alan and Michael together with another of my close friends as well as myself had he realised that a small slightly troublesome gang was forming, although not totally up to mischief we needed to be watched.
The coke was moved in record time, we did make the pile for today up to the required size, had we cheated and the boiler gone out today, we could bet that tomorrow would not be that much fun.
When we returned indoors matron suggested we had better hurry along to our form rooms as presents from parents were waiting for each of us, the rest of our form had already started to open their presents.
I was quite pleased with the present from my mother, a colouring set with some liquid ink coloured pens was ideal if we were to be indoors over the holidays.
If any of us were disappointed not to be with our parents and jealous of those that had gone home, we did not seem to show it. During the holiday this did not really feel like a school, it was just a friendly group with the challenge of the adults to watch out for. To me this was the best Christmas I had ever had. Other than getting the plimsoll a couple of nights ago, few of us had really been in trouble.
The adults came round to see that we were all happy, toys now had to make their way to our lockers, there was the encouragement for all of us to go outside and have a run around, they would all like to see us with good appetites ready for our Christmas lunch.
If there had been six inches of snow on the ground for us to play in Christmas would have been really great, but we just had to put up with the normal cold morning as most others had been. One game of football was organised, two of the older boys wanted to have the chance to try out their new leather footballs, to a few of us they resembled exactly the ones that the school used in lessons, why they should think of the new balls as something special we did not know.
If the game was slightly uneven in numbers it was that it was the lower dorm against the remains of the middle and upper dorm, we did no want to totally out number them so a small group of four of us disappeared into the woods. Even with our suits and raincoats on it seemed cold, taking our raincoats off so that we could join in the football was something we did not want to happen.
The woods with just us in was more fun than normal, there was no need to look out for missiles and other things coming down to hit you from above. Quite a long game of hide and seek was played, this only came to an end when we realised that there was no sound coming from the field. Getting to the edge of the wood the grounds were empty, We were sure that the bell had not been rung to let us know it was time to go in, one of us was sure to have heard it.
We did get up quite a speed crossing the grass; the normal rule of not going across the football area was simply ignored. Before we arrived at the door we had the view of the dining room, all the others were sat down at the tables, it was not a case of them waiting to start the meal, all were already eating.
With our coats off we were clean. All of us needed to go and wash our hands; the various branches and wood we had used in our play were not something that would have passed a hand inspection. Our route to the boys'' lavatory meant that we were not seen until we were presentable.
Going into the dining room whilst everyone was in the middle of a meal was not something we really wanted to do, had it been a ordinary meal then missing it rather than admitting our wrong doing was something that we might have done. Christmas lunch was something that we must not miss. Entering the room quietly there was no escape, all the adults were seated and in the middle of their meals. There almost seemed to be a chorus from them asking where we had been.
With enough noise going on from the others it was necessary to go right up to their table to tell them we had been in the woods and had not heard the bell rung.
We were waiting for at least one of the adults to shout at us; all we were now told was that the bell had not been rung as all of us were thought to be playing football. Only when everyone had sat down was it realised that there were a few short, rather than send out a search party it was decided to let us make our own way in. If we had been any longer there was a good chance that we would have missed our lunch.
Instead of been sent to join the others we were now told to bring a chair each to their table. As the staff had been served last, our portions could come from their selection.
Sitting at the adults table we now found did have a few advantages, we might not be able to talk as much as we liked, but the food was far better. The Christmas meal was turkey. On the staff serving plate was just the white breast meat, in large slices, this was better than the selection of meat that our friends had been served with, extra roast potatoes now came our way, I was happy that for vegetables, sprouts were not simply put onto my plate.
As school meals went this was the best one so far at any school. Christmas pudding was also an extra treat for the four of us. While the ordinary tables had their puddings served from one big tray, an individual pudding was put on this table. Our friends at the other tables were too busy eating their pudding to notice the headmaster pour something onto this pudding.
I was quite use to watching such a pudding then being lit, but for my other three friends this was new and a little strange. There was a comment from one of the matrons that perhaps she should fetch our portions from the main container. The headmaster decided that as it was Christmas it was not going to do us any harm as long as we did not have too much.
In the normal way Christmas pudding was quite rich, with the headmaster in a good mood, perhaps giving boys of seven and eight the staff pudding was unusual. I could taste the brandy, with my mother''s job I had already found that ends of drink bottles an interesting find at the end of the meal before they were put in the bin and had already several preferences of types of drink.
There was a final grace, there was now the instruction that we should all go and do something quiet for the next hour or so. With our meal just eaten they did not want any of us feeling unwell.
Having our meal at the teachers table we knew our friends would now want to tease us any make our lives a misery as were appeared not to have been given a telling off for arriving late. We headed off to the dormitories where we might not be found straight away. We could have gone into our own dorm but we would soon be found, the others having played football might be going to change their clothes.
The other lower dorm was our hiding place; those that had been moved into our dorm had all their things moved in with us, there would be no reason for them to return here. It was not that we were scared of our friends, but having got away with one matter so far a fight or the like we might not be as lucky.
Having become use to small amounts of alcohol, I was quite ready to feeling slightly sleepy, the extra amounts of food today meant that the suggestion by matron that we find something quiet to do, in a dormitory with the beds not been made up, simply lying down on them to rest, did not seem wrong. That the four of us were soon sound asleep proved that if the teachers wanted to keep us quiet, staff Christmas pudding could be one way. We eventually woke in time for tea, our friends had now forgotten about lunch and when we reformed up nothing was mentioned over our disappearance over the last few hours.
Once tea was over we returned to our toys before matron came to drag us off to bed and what we thought an earlier bedtime.
Boxing Day and everything returned to normal, chores were slightly extra as those that had not been done yesterday had to be caught up with. The day soon passed with everyone possessing something new there was plenty to keep us amused.
One event that took a whole day of our holidays. We were to be featured in part of a television programme about children growing up.
The parts of the programme we were to be in, showed us at play and doing chores. Most of the morning was spent with some of the boys endlessly kicking a football into a goal. I spent most of my time watching the adults at work.
The afternoon was with us showing how well we completed our chores. The older boys were shown polishing the floor, followed by matron shouting at a couple of us younger ones about walking across the floor and us not getting it dirty. The other chore we did was to keep making our beds to make the dorm look perfect.
If there was a disappointment it was that the film was going to be shown on television late in the evening in a few weeks time, we would all be in bed.
The day was fun, it would be something to tell the others when they returned after their holidays.
The holidays were soon over, school and the work in our form rooms was tackled once again.
1965 January and my eighth birthday
Birthday''s had never really been a special event for me, as it came so soon after Christmas with most of my Christmas presents there was also a birthday card, any present was to cover both events. It really was my mother who provided any real birthday presents.
My friends had told me that on your birthday, the rest of the school will sing Happy Birthday to you at morning break when you get your milk and biscuits, there would also be a bag of sweets given to you, the idea was to share them out, the staff make sure that there is enough for everyone unless some of the older boys have taken a couple each there will normally be a few extra that close friends might get as an extra.
Since arriving here I had witnessed two birthday events, an extra sweet at the morning break was simply an extra treat, it seemed on occasions that if two or more birthdays occurred on a single day, only one bag of sweets was provided, the extra sweets left over at the end had to be equally divided, matron however saw to it that a good number of extras were added on those days.
At morning break I was given the out of tune song, this appeared was uttered as quickly as possible to allow the sweets to be given out. I was not really unhappy that no presents were given to me, however before I managed to get outside I was stopped by matron who told me to come to her room when tea was finished as there was a small present from my mother.
It was true that I was missing my mother, but the events at school and the number of things that could occupy our time more than made up for it, originally I had been told that after about a month I would get a visit from my mother, when this would depended on how well my grandmother was and if my mother could get the time off.
The day of freedom passed quickly enough, I had told a couple of friends of matron''s request, when I went to see matron, there were two friends waiting to see what was waiting for me. As well as a present from my mother the school also provided a small present. Although matron already knew what present had been provided by the school and had been told by my mother went the present was sent, I still had to open them in front of matron, it was a good safeguard to stop someone else claiming it as theirs and to give matron one last check that I was not in possession of something I should not have.
A toy lorry from my mother and car from the school was great, there was an extra present if I wanted it, later on when I visited the quiet room and library I would be allowed to select one book from the new assortment, this would be mine until I had read it completely, then it was to be left in the library for the others to read. I emerged from matron and soon found my friends; the safety of the locker was the best for the two vehicles that did not have any battle scars upon them. If you possessed new or special cars it gave you priority in any organised game when several of you wanted to play with the model cars at one point, how a lorry rated in order I would have to find out. The final chores of the day were completed; the weather been fine allowed us the freedom outside until it was time to come in for bed. Darkness outside at the school was no obstacle to play, there was some light spilling from the lower windows that illuminated the area where a football game could take place, but the main grassed area and the woods were in complete darkness except for any moonlight on cloudless nights. With the boundary of the school well defined providing we did not cross it or go into areas that were out of bounds, playing in the dark was quite safe, if we were a bit stupid and ran too fast then if we did trip over it was our fault. As I was already use to a far more isolated location, that there were plenty of my friends around there was no fear of going into the wood where a few of the older boy''s might be at play, some of those from my dorm had not yet picked up enough courage to venture alone, but in groups most managed to conquer any fear. The signal for our first group to go in was two rings by matron of the hand bell, around half an hour later the bell would sound three times to signal the middle dorm to come in, when it rang four times the upper dorm were to come in, this was also the signal that the lower dorm should now be retiring in the direction of their beds. If you were late, if it was just matron around expect some extra chores to be found for you the following day, if it was one of the other staff, it would be a couple of hard swipes with a plimsoll.
The school was fun; it was too easy to get caught up in events that were going on before realising that trouble was ahead. During lunch there had been a comment by one of the middle form to one of the older boys, a very small amount of mashed potato soon landed on the shoulder of the younger boy, in retaliation a similar size portion was aimed back, from where our group was sitting we had a very good view of it sailing through the air and missing the intended target. A small area on the wall now had a blob of potato. There was no retaliation from the older boy, as he had been missed he had won the challenge. If he did need to even up the score then once lunch was over there would be plenty of opportunity. The potato on the wall could wait until the meal was finished; getting up now to clean it up would only draw attention to the matter. Normally during lunch we were left alone by the staff, other than odd instructions to keep the noise down and eat all that was on our plates the meals was uneventful. How a member of staff decided on this meal to come over and check on us was not know, it was not that we were making any extra noise or anything like that. The blob of potato was soon spotted; that the master used his brain was to decide which area the potato had come from meant that one group were soon in trouble. There was the normal question put to us of who threw it, but like normal, there was little chance of anyone owning up at this stage. The group that had their backs to the wall had to be innocent, it was someone facing the potato had to be the guilty ones. If he had looked closely at the potato he would have seen that the blob had not hit the wall directly but had hit at an angle, this would have ruled out those sitting directly opposite, but to him it was those that were sitting opposite that were responsible. Our small group were now singled out. The guilty party had to be one of six of us, questioning us as to who it was simply bought silence from us. If we had spoke out that it was one of the boys further up the table we might get out of trouble, however questioning that group might reveal the reason why the potato was thrown in the first place. Getting a boy from the middle form into trouble if it saved you from punishment might be worth it, getting a boy from the top form into trouble as well would not be something that we would dare attempt.
All that we could do was hope that as he was unable to find the guilty party, some group punishment of extra work might be set, even getting a couple of whacks with the plimsoll was preferable to get beaten up by one of the older boys. We were given one last chance to admit our guilt; silence was demanded by all of us. The master left us. If there was relief from the middle form it was that we had not said it was their group, they knew we never would have dared accuse any one person of the crime, so as a group they were out of trouble. We even thought that was the end of the matter, as no punishment had been set and a plimsoll had not been demanded so that an alternative punishment could be given out we simply congratulated ourselves at staying silent. Where silence had originally been demanded we were now talking, our freedom was short lived. The master now returned with the most hated object in the school. If there was encouragement for us to name the guilty party this was it. It would simply take a direct question to one of us to name them, even the boys in the middle form knew that we would give in under this threat. No opportunity was given to us, the cane was now used as a pointing device, two points were decided upon, those of us sitting between the two selected points were now ordered to stand and face the opposite way. My position was second in, so I could not really think I was unlucky at been asked to stand, it was the boy next to me that felt the worst as he was one away from freedom. It was our hands that had to be held up; it was all over quickly, one on each palm. That really stung, this was the second time I had received the cane, this time a well aimed blow hit on each occasion. It was a matter of seconds from the point it hit to when our tears started. The room had been in total silence for the event, all we had been able to hear was the cane hitting the palm followed by a slight sigh from those seated behind us. Once over the simple order was given to everyone to finish off their meals. We sat down still in tears. The rest of the meal was spent without any talking, trying to finish our puddings was no fun at all. Once out of the building we compared the coloured wields that had appeared on each of our hands. Whilst getting into trouble was part of life here and when you were punished it was for something you had done wrong, today it had just been unfair.
The other time the cane had been used on me was during a lesson. Ink pens were used by all of us, in our form we were only to use dip pens, once we were in the middle or upper forms we would be allowed to use fountain pens if we possessed them.
The filling of inkwells was a privilege to be allowed to do; as you filled all the inkwells up at the side table it gave you the chance to select the inkwell with the least amount of blotting paper inside for your own use. Once the inkwells reached the inkwell container they stayed there until the end of the week.
None of us knew how the contents of an inkwell managed to get on the floor, if it was a bit of fun between two of our friends they were not admitting it.
It was our fault that once we spotted the ink on the floor we had not wiped it up, but if anyone was seen to be wiping up the ink they might get the blame for spilling it.
Walking around the room, we did tread in it by accident. There were no actual ink foot prints leading to any one desk, the amount of ink was not anything major it was just that we had spread it across the room.
For our punishment the plimsoll could have been used, but it might simply be due to the actual mess that we had caused that the cane was felt more deserved.
All of us were lined up against the wall, one by one we had to come forward and bend over. Two hits were applied to each of us on our rears. It stung; the next instruction was to sit at our desks. Once one started to cry it was felt all right for others to join in. The ink could stay on the floor until the end of the day; it was to be cleared up in our own time.
Once we were in bed, other than visiting the lavatory at the end of the corridor our room was still. On a few nights, on heading out of the dorm I found a few of the older boys in the night lavatory. I took the advice of the others and headed back to my bed. For a time I would lay in bed wondering if it was safe to get out of bed to see if the coast was clear, but often I was not able to wait any longer and just wet the bed.
The number of wet beds we had at the age of seven and eight was probably far more than ordinary boys who were not in a school like this. As long as we sorted out our own sheets, nothing was said by matron. There was just the thought for me that in a years time, would I be able to stop wetting the bed and avoid the cane. As we would be thought of as an older group, leaving our beds should not be that much of a problem.
I would normally wake up when one of the masters came round during the night just to check that everything was fine, if you stayed still you were ignored, once he had left I found it quite easy to get off to sleep again. Our dormitories had reverted to their normal form now that those that had been away over the Christmas period had returned.
There was to be a night fire drill. This we had all been warned of during the day. With the cold winter weather and the decision that we should form up outside it was felt that as it was not going to be a total emergency some extra comfort could be given to us. Matron decided that if we were going to be wandering about the grounds on a damp and cold night plimsolls and dressing gowns might suffer from getting dirty.
We were all prepared with our play raincoats and wellingtons in our dormitories before we went to bed. When the bell was rung sometime at night we should quickly slip these two items on and head in an orderly fashion to the emergency door. Once down the fire escape we were to group up into our forms so that a check could be made that we had left the building.
We were eager for the event it was simply down to the hope of something interesting happening, a small fire in one of the form rooms would have added to the event but the whole matter went off without any problems. The staff decided that if there was ever a fire during the night we should be able to get out of the building without any major problems. If we did cheat without matron knowing, it was once we went to bed all of us had put our socks on, this was something that we would not have been allowed to do during the actual drill.
The following night if there had been a hope of an actual fire or second drill none came, if there was an event, it was a fight between one of the boys in the middle dorm and one of the boys in the other lower dorm.
It appeared it had been noisy enough to get the master on duty out of bed and into their room. With the noise, both our dorm and the other dorms had left our beds to see what was up. When a check was made to see who actually was wandering about by the master, as we were out of our beds we were as guilty as those that had been involved in the fight.
Both our two lower dorms and the middle dorm were now ordered to stand in the corridor; if there was an additional punishment it was that we had to stand barefoot on the cold linoleum floor. The upper dorm had managed to all get back into bed when they had been checked.
Our punishment was not meant to last for long; once the two fighters had received the plimsoll and we had quietened down we would be sent back to bed to remain totally silent until the following morning.
In reality it was only an hour or so before the first group were due to get up. If there was luck it was that we were not made to and start a chore of some kind at this moment.
Standing facing the wall in absolute silence was impossible. There was an order that when we could be seen to be silent we would be allowed back to our beds. It took one of the boys from the middle dorm to ask if he could use the lavatory, this appeared broke the silence and meant that we had to wait for total silence for a short period again.
It was either tears or giggles that soon broke the silence at the far end of the row, the teacher who was at our end wasted no time in getting to that end of the line to see what the noise was about.
A puddle had formed on the floor; this had soon run by the feet of others in the line, they had decided to get the culprit in as much trouble as possible by making a noise. Our end of the line was soon sent to back to our beds, from what we were able to hear once the safety of our dorms were reached was that the plimsoll was been used on several boys, none of us could get off to sleep we just talked quietly until it was time for us to get up.
Settled in school
The school morning had started as normal, with breakfast and chores over, there were the few minutes of freedom before school officially started. As we formed up for assembly matron asked me to come to her room before I went into lessons. My only thoughts were that some item of my clothing must be lost or some chore had not been finished.
When I did go to see matron, I was told that I was to leave this school and return to my mother, this was a total surprise. Nothing had been said in the letter that I had received from my mother a few days ago.
I was taken to see the headmaster, he seemed to confirm that I was to now leave the school. He hoped I would be able to settle back at school and that during my short stay here I had been happy.
A flood of tears by me was not something that had been expected by the matron. To return to my mother was something I did want but I was happy here, there were friends around me all the time, apart from the older boys who could be bullies at times, life here was fun. School was stricter than my other schools, but things were fair; with only boys here we seemed to be treated in a much more even way.
Matron took me out of the room explaining that I would have to gather up some of my clothes to go home with and that there were the toys in my locker that needed to be collected. My locker was dealt with first, everything was neatly packed into a small box, I was asked had I borrowed toys belonging to any of the others or had any other boy had something of mine, but every toy that was mine was inside the box. In the dorm I was now told to change into my white shirt. A small suitcase was next to my bed, matron now started to fill my case with a selection of clothes from the draws, I was told to take my best raincoat from the wardrobe, she wanted me to look smart when I returned to my mother. Whilst Matron carried my case down stairs I was left with my box of toys. I was taken to the main hall. The car would be ready to collect me soon, it was best that I went and visited the toilet. I was asked was there a friend I wanted to say goodbye to before I left. It seemed odd that I was not allowed to see the others to let them know I was leaving, Martin seemed my best friend, but I hoped Alan would understand that I had to make a single choice. Whilst I went to visit the lavatory matron went off to find Martin. When the pair of us met up, it seemed that he was equally surprised that I was leaving so soon after arriving here. Matron soon parted us and I was left waiting in the hall alone to be collected.
Compared with ordinary school, it seemed we were expected to act in a much more responsible manner, but life was not that bad, as there seemed almost the challenge that although you did not aim to be naughty there was fun to see what you could get away with. Apart from being one of the youngest and having to keep out of the way of the older boys it had been quite good.
If I had stayed there for more time I might have found the lessons the worst part, but simply here for the last full week of school before Christmas and the first week of school in the New Year, as several of the other boys had gone away for the Christmas holidays it had meant that some rules were a little relaxed.
When I left there and returned to my ordinary school. My mother suggested that I did not tell anyone about my few weeks away, if I was asked about not been around, I should simply say I had been on holiday and should leave it at that.
The reason that I could leave the school, was simply down to my version of the events that happened before going to the boarding school were now believed.
A lady that had been in the sweet shop when we had both purchased the sweets had seen that we were happy together. When she found out that we had been accused of fighting and I had tried to push the boy into the road, she had spoken up and mentioned that we had left the sweet shop on good terms sharing the sweets out.
The information of what really happened came available a few days into my stay at the boarding school. It was decided to leave me there during the Christmas holidays as it was not certain if my mother would be able to look after me if I returned at that point, as she might been called back to London at very short notice to look after her mother.
I think this one month in my life, was where everything change for me. It was from this point on, I understood that adults could not be trusted. From the age of eight my innocent childhood came to an end.
Once back with my mother. It was suggested by her that I did not tell anyone about my few weeks away. If I was asked about not being around, I should say I had been on holiday and leave it at that.
On returning to the school in the village, there were now a few weeks of what seemed ordinary school. There were changes in my free time; I was still allowed to walk to school on my own. After school I was now always met at the gates by my mother, and had to walk home with her. Going out to play with my friends did not happen now and none of them came to visit me.
At school, I was not very happy; I missed the fun of boarding school. During lessons, I did not really take much interest in what was going on around me. At playtime, I was kept indoors, and allowed to read books of my own choice, whilst the others were out at play. My unhappiness with school resulted in wet beds on most nights, and back to the plimsoll from my mother. There was the warning that now I was eight, she might have to think about using the cane instead of my plimsoll if I wet the bed.
During my time at boarding school, my mother had prepared for our return to London. Throughout our stay, we had accumulated quite a few possessions in excess of the two cases we had arrived with. As our return journey was probably by coach and train, our possessions needed to be reduced to a similar amount.
My mother had been ruthless with my things, it was with the thought that I had either grown out of many items of clothing and toys or they would have little use in London. There was never the case of my clothing or toys having any major value; in many instances they had come from the local jumble sales. Our distance from the centre of the village meant that it would be difficult to pass items on. The bonfire at the end of the garden took anything that could be burnt; with the isolation of the house, refuse collections were always a slight problem.
The few metal cars I had left here had been put safe whilst I was away. I did not really miss the small number of other toys or books that were too bulky to take back to London. There was one item of my clothing that I was angry about that was missing; it was that my mother had put my riding boots on the bonfire, as they would not be needed in London. My anger resulted in a trip to my bedroom and a couple of hits with the plimsoll.
Once the clothing I brought from the boarding school was added to the clothes that were ready for my return to London, there was now a selection of best and school clothes, and one set of respectable play clothes. On my last few visits to the farm, I managed to ruin the set of play clothes together with my school shoes and a duffel coat. The day before we left, after a few final hits with my plimsoll, I was made to take all the clothes I had ruined down to the bottom of the garden and arrange one final bonfire. Such a major clear out of my clothes and possessions was not really needed in the end. Instead of travelling on our own, an uncle came over to take us in his car.
Back to London
I was happy at the age of eight in returning to London; soon I was settled into a new school. The large size was a little frightening at first, simply being one of the youngest but there were plenty of things to do, and I was quite happy for most of the time.
I was in trouble with one of the teachers at lunch break. A few of the older boys had decided to fill the sinks in the outside lavatory block with water and let them overflow. The plugs to the sinks had long ago vanished; all the sinks plugholes were filled with scraps of paper to stop the water running away. When the sinks partly filled, the paper would start to rise, allowing the water to run away. Extra pairs of hands were needed to keep the basins filling. I had come out of one of the cubicles and found myself with the instruction to help them.
As it was a chance of mischief, I became an easy member of their gang. With all the taps running at the same time, the flow of water was not that fast, slowly the sinks at the far end started to overflow first. The older boys were hopping about trying to keep their shoes or plimsolls from getting soaked; like the younger boy at the next sink, we did not have these problems as we wore wellingtons. We were too busy watching the others to notice a teacher enter. If we were unlucky, we were the nearest to him and had continued to hold our wads of paper in our sinks as he walked behind us.
The six of us were removed from the lavatories in seconds. It was a quick march to the main building and the Headmaster’s office. Waiting outside the office took forever; the teacher had gone inside to report our activity. The older four were trying to frighten the pair of us, mentioning that he normally gave out harsh punishments. Our conversations ended at that moment and we were beckoned inside. There was little chance given to us to explain our actions; as we had all been caught flooding the floor, there was little we could have said to clear our names.
The instruction to hold out each of our hands was given by the Headmaster. I was the second to be dealt with; it was one stroke on each hand. We were soon in tears. The older ones did not reach this stage, but as soon as they had been given the cane, it was clear to see it had really hurt. There was one final instruction for us not to be caught messing about again and we were sent on our way. The four older boys rushed off, probably to boast to their friends about their latest deed. The two of us younger ones headed to a quiet area to be out of attention of any of our friends, so that we had a chance to hide the fact we had been in tears. We were still looking for trouble and headed back to the lavatories to see how soaked the floor was. There was little to see as the slight slope of floor had solved the problem of the water that had overflowed from the sinks, I had made a new friend.
At afternoon lessons in my class, I was able to show off the red mark on each of my hands. My status was going up in their estimation. To be given the cane in the first year of primary school meant I was high up in the league of crime. When I returned home, I did not say anything to my mother about getting the cane at school.
Living conditions in the flat were not ideal for a small boy, who was perhaps a little energetic and at times could get in the way. I thought everything was running smoothly, the only slight problem were a few wet beds. I was not punished now I was back in London, my mother possibly didn't want me crying and disturbing my grandparents, my only punishment was that I would not get any sweets that day.
I was quite happy to have come back to London, but this did not last for long. My mother announced that I was going to live in the country with other boys and girls of my own age; I was told that the new boarding school would be friendlier, as I would be living with just six other children as part of a family.
I don’t think the words ‘Children’s Home’ were ever uttered; if they had, I might have taken immediate notice and made more of a fuss. As I was told my aunts and uncles lived quite close to my new home and they would be able to visit me, I did not offer any protest. I was even looking forward to the move.