The Joy Of Learning

I turned up for my first day at grammar school in my brand new uniform. The colours were navy blue and light blue. The hat had a Russian look: a round cap with a tassel on the left resting on my shoulder.

The class years were divided into A, B and C. I was put into B. My teacher, Miss Hughes, was sallow and looked tired. Everything she did and said was laconic.

First she took the register. She not only asked for our names but also what sort of work our fathers did. My magic camera was ready poised to inform me why this was necessary. I soon found out. She made no responses to most of us but I remember three in particular. The first was “Oh you are the doctor’s little girl” . The second was to me “Ah you are an evacuee and your father is a Civil Servant” and then she passed over very quickly the child who said her parents ran a fish and chip shop. The tone of voice said everything. This was my first encounter with social snobbery. I realised also that there was some status accorded to the Civil Service about which I knew nothing except that we had very little money. At that stage in my life I was beginning to understand that the reason we were poor was because my Mother could not manage money.

Miss Hughes then distributed books to us all. I was amazed at the great pile placed on my desk, and they were all brand new including a water-colour paintbox. And all for me! I loved painting and looked forward eagerly to get going. We also had exercise books of different kinds. I couldn’t wait to start my lessons. We had rough-note books to put down our ideas and homework books for keeping track of what we were doing at home. We were told to write only with fountain pens and to be very careful not to spill ink into our desks.

After all the dreary stuff in primary school I could now get down to brass tacks: real learning: geometry, algebra, Latin, French and English grammar. I looked forward to homework and often did more than I was asked to do.

Miss Hughes did not comment on my being an evacuee. At that time I was probably the only one. Soon after, more arrived and when there was enough of us, we were put into an additional Class 1 X. I soon knew from my maths lesson that X is an unknown quantity and indeed we were. I was only in that class for less than two years. At that time most people believed the war would soon be over and we foreigners would return to where we came from. Of course this would not happen. I was at last in a group I could get on with. We were all outsiders. The most outsider of all was Rosalind Keil who was Jewish and had come to England from Germany some time ago with her sister but without their parents. She must have learned English long before because she had no foreign accent.

Rosalind and I shared a common love of writing stories. Together we produced a class magazine. Rosalind wrote a never-ending story where every instalment left the hero (or heroine) in dire straits. I wrote bits and pieces including advice on make-up. Everyone in our class read this work and waited eagerly to get the next one. There was a sense of camaraderie in that group that I had never experienced before.

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