Writer Philip Whiteland, of Doveridge, shares early memories of his school days in Burton.
IN my last column, I was bemoaning the fact that the uncles in my family (and it was always uncles for some reason) used to say: “You should enjoy your school years, Philip, they’re the happiest days of your life”.
My views on school didn’t really change dramatically from when I was five – and they were pretty dismal then.
About three weeks into my formal education, I apparently decided that I didn’t want to participate any more.
I can actually remember something about this and I think the problem was that I suddenly realised I was stuck at school until I was at least 15.
As this seemed like a double life sentence, with no chance of remission, I determined that they could stick this idea.
It wasn’t school per se that I didn’t like. I quite enjoyed learning new things and being creative. I just wasn’t all that keen on other children, particularly in any number.
Therefore, one Monday my poor mother found herself dragging me every inch of the way from our house in Anglesey Road, Burton, to Uxbridge Infants School, with me screaming: “I don’t want to go to school, I don’t mind being a dunce.”
This was in a vain attempt to refute mother’s dire warning of what would happen if I didn’t attend school. As the idea of anyone “making a scene” in public would have mortified her, I’m quite sure she would have hated this.
Apparently, she delivered me to the reception class teacher saying, “he’s been a very naughty boy,” and the teacher held her hand out to me and said, “Oh, he’s not been naughty, have you Philip?” and I took her hand, smiled winsomely and trotted into school as if nothing had happened.
As you may have gathered from that little scene, I was something of a “goodie goodie” at school. Therefore, on the very few occasions when I was on the receiving end of some punishment or other, it was always to the delight of my much-chastised schoolmates and to my absolute horror.
The first occasion that I can clearly remember was when one of my junior school teachers asked me how many three-ha’pences there were in a shilling. I know that this will sound like a Mensa question to anyone who didn’t spend their childhood trying to make sense of a currency system that had 12 as the basic unit, instead of ten.
Therefore, to translate, she was asking me how many one and a half old pence there were in a shilling (which contained 12 old pence). If you could answer that conundrum today in junior school you would probably be awarded a degree.
Unfortunately, my infant brain had interpreted “three-ha’pence” as “threepence” (they sounded quite similar), so I answered that there were four. When she told me I was wrong and asked me to try again, I couldn’t see how it could be anything different, so gave the same answer.
She clearly thought I was being stubborn, told me off for sticking to my answer and punished me by keeping me in at playtime so that I could consider my response and repent my evil ways.
Of course, the fact that I wasn’t at all happy being in a maelstrom of children meant that missing playtime was no big deal at all.
In fact, it was a blessed relief. The main problem was that, even in the quietness of the deserted classroom, I still couldn’t see how my answer was wrong and had, therefore, worked myself up into a right state by the time that the rest of the class came back, smirking at my fate.
Fortunately, the teacher must have calmed down after a cup of coffee and a No 6 Tipped in the staff room (it was always a permanent fog in there), and actually sat down with me to go through the sum once more, whereupon my misunderstanding came to light.
At the time, it was the injustice of it all that really smarted – and it would again in later years, as we’ll see next time.