Our first year at the secondary school was a boys only class and I came top. Mabs recently gave me the book I was allowed to buy as a prize. She didn’t know how or when she’d acquired it. Being a few months older and having been through the last year at elementary school twice may have helped. From Year Two classes were mixed with the boys sitting down one half of the classroom and girls down the other. I was then beaten into third or fourth place in term exams by girls. Everybody knows that girls are brighter than boys. In fact I could give them a run for their money in subjects like English and History but I was consistently bottom of the Art class and some of them were quite good at it. We also spent a week each term in the woodwork sheds whilst they did Domestic Science. I would spend the whole week measuring and cutting out a piece of wood. The teacher was hopeless and should never have been made a teacher. He had a big dent in his head where he had a metal plate from a war wound and was said to throw chisels at boys although he was bad tempered and eccentric but never violent that I can remember. One year he put me on cleaning up some rusty old pieces of equipment because he said if I did anything else it was a waste of good wood. I actually quite enjoyed doing something useful instead of proving yet again how terrible I was at woodwork.
Naturally I got very low marks for art and woodwork and this dragged down my form total.
I’ve mentioned before how I grew up in the long shadow of World War I. Our very nice female English and History teacher lost her fiance in the war and never married. There were a lot of women like that. There was a change of head teachers whilst I was at that school. Les was also there in a top form. I don’t remember that the first teacher died. Just a new teacher arrived. There were no commemorative services etc. A few years ago Les explained something that I didn’t know. The first teacher was found dead in a brothel in Derby.
The new man had lost a son in the war. Armistice Day with its two minute silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month was very much a big thing. At school we had a special service each year. The Head used to get through it very well until it came to a particular verse in Oh God Our Help in Ages Past: “Time like an ever-rolling stream/Bears all its sons away/They die forgotten as a dream/Dies at the break of day.” At that point he broke down. It was very moving. I personally thought that was a rather beautiful verse but it was cut from Armistice Day services in later years. They said it wasn’t correct. They weren’t forgotten. We shall remember them etc. What rubbish! Who remembers Bowman Smithers killed at Agincourt? Captain Fitzgibbon killed in the Wars of the Roses? Sergeant Jenkins who got hit by a cannonball at Waterloo? There’s still a handful of WW1 veterans surviving but even their children are disappearing fast. On my way to and from Lane Cove I pass a plaque commemorating an officer killed in France in 1917. I wonder if there’s any relatives still in the district? Certainly nobody who knew him personally. Apart from that plaque he’s forgotten.
Back to our early days in Nottingham. There was another remarkable coincidence here. Dad’s elder brother, my uncle Art, was either already in the city or arrived there about the same time. Dad was taller than his brothers. Most of the rest were fairly small and that included Art. When we first arrived he was the Assistant Official Receiver into Bankruptcy. He was later promoted to be the Official Receiver. Results of bankruptcy court proceedings were reported in the local press from time to time. He was always concerned that those reports should include his name.
I don’t think my parents held their inlaws in high regard but they were very kind to me. Art and Louie had no children of their own and they used to invite me to spend weekends with them. I don’t know where they lived originally but they bought a new house opposite the railway station in an outer suburb called Burton Joyce. They called the house Newlands (new and Lander get it?) I wonder if the house is still there and still has the original name and if so do the present owners know how it got that name? They were slightly higher up the social scale than we were after our years of financial struggle, better class of soap in the bathroom etc. Uncle Art and I worked on the front garden when it was new.
Les and I were over there once and we were playing Lexicon with our aunt and uncle. That was the forerunner of Scrabble and had playing card size cards with letters on them instead of Scrabble’s smaller plastic tiles. There was the letter F. My aunt added u-c-k to it. I daren’t look at Les in case I laughed. My uncle had been in the First World War and undoubtedly knew the word and if I laughed he would know that I knew it. “I don’t think that’s a word, Auntie.” She was sure it was so I had to go through the motions of looking in the dictionary for it knowing that it wouldn’t be there. Eventually she removed the cards “I was sure it was a word. A fuck, it’s some kind of bird.”
She would have been in her 40s at that time (1934?) so how come she had never heard it? Not surprising, really. Women didn’t swear and men didn’t swear in front of women. If a fairly mild swear word like Damn! Or Bloody slipped out they’d apologise and perhaps laugh it off with ”Pardon my French.” The BBC in its early days was pretty strict about the need to keep up standards. For many years radio newsreaders were expected to wear evening dress at the microphone. Every so often people found ways through. There was a song: “With her head tucked underneath her arm/She walks the Bloody Tower.” There actually was a building of that name in the Tower of London so the BBC was powerless to ban it. Marriott Edgar who wrote some very popular Lancashire monologues had one based on a historic incident and called The Burghers of Calais. The leading citizens of that town offended the king who ordered that they should be hanged. Queen Eleanor pleaded with him and their lives were spared. Near the end of the monologue comes: (in a Lancashire accent) “King, King, she said/You can’t let these poor Burghers hang.” Collapse of BBC officials again. next