The Worst Time In My Life

My years at school from 11-18 were by far the most unhappy in my life. My school work and my love of music were the bright spots in my life. This is the short list starting with the mildest up to the worst of my distressed state.

  • A cold and uncomfortable and constantly untidy house.
  • Getting to school in overloaded buses and trams with bad-tempered conductors twice a day there and back.
  • Having no-one to talk to about what interested me except for some company with my sister.
  • The constant squabble about money between my parents.
  • My difficulty in dealing with the bodily change in my adolescence.
  • My feeling that I must take full control over myself with no guidance whatsoever.
  • My fears for my brother who was an unusual child from the time he was born.

Because of my intense sensitivity I was so upset by what was going on in the war, especially in the concentration camps, that I often wondered whether life was not worth living when such dreadful things could happen.

There were three levels of state schools. I was in grammar school, where the aim was to get as many pupils as possible to university. Mary went to commercial school, The Palatine School for Girls, otherwise known by the pupils as the Pallyringworms, where the children were mostly trained as secretaries or nurses, although a few managed to get to university and teacher training colleges, which then ran two-year courses. Mary went to Goldsmith’s College before it became a university and Colin went to senior school where only basic learning was given and all the pupils left when they were fourteen. They had to get anything they could find to earn money.

Since, as any sensible person ought to know, teachers are not necessarily the best judges of intelligence, Winston Churchill and Einstein, for example, were not recognised for their genius in their early schooldays.

Mary and I went on the same bus to school and then we parted company to get on different transport. Mary and I were very different people, I loved to do my homework but she would do as little as she could get away with. Mary went upstairs to sit with her friends, all squashed together on the back seat copying each other’s homework. I sat downstairs on my own with my finished homework tucked in my satchel and a pious look on my face.

Getting on to the bus was a feat in itself. Every conductor’s priority was shouted out as the doors opened. “Forces first, workers second and schoolchildren last.” Their priorities were right in view of the fact that winning the war was the most important thing.

Everyone was overworked in those days. Bus conductors were always bad-tempered. The women were the worst. They wielded their power officiously and without pity. We often had to stand waiting for several buses to go past, full up, before we could get on. We had to do this journey, to and fro, twice a day, because there were no school dinners until after we left school.

Sometimes Mother had dinner on the table and other times she did not. More than once we found her sitting there, the breakfast things still on the table, in a trance, trying to work out where the money had gone. More than once we ran off to get some food so that at least we could eat something before getting back to school. We had to ask the shopkeepers to put the money on Mrs Barker’s slate. They all knew Mother, some way or other she always managed to pay her debts, but the shopkeepers always grumbled.

Mary and I learned a good lesson. Both of us manage money well and never, ever did we get into debt or borrow money from other people. My psychoanalyst, many years later, told me that a bad example could be just as useful as a good example.

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