Chapter four, Good Old Stepgate’s

I think my sister, Iris, is quite right about her blood being 4% alcohol! No matter how much she drinks, it has no effect on her. Her memory is just as keen as ever.

But she suddenly changes the subject from the beginning of the war, to a time that I hardly remember at all, she starts talking about Stepgate’s school; we swap story’s, like me, she never liked school; Her dislike was mainly about the discipline, she was a very sharp girl and thought she knew better than the teacher’—She hasn’t changed, for all her 92 years she is as sharp as a pin.

As we talked, I quickly learned not to mention religion, although our family never regarded the Church as being important to us, Iris is now deeply religious, she even has communion in her own front room, I have noted that a lot of elderly people turn to the Church later in life—The Pearly Gate’s are just around the corner. But I was very surprised just how important it now was to her. She had previously been very dismissive of any form of authority. Which was why she never liked school in the first place, I suppose.

Although she had this belief, she was very left wing, she said Jesus was the very first socialist, this must have been a bit of a conundrum, for the Vicar when he came round!

She mentioned all the teacher’s names that she never liked, but they were some of my favourites. Perhaps I didn’t answer back like she did, and accepted everything they said as gospel, although I never really liked the place.

The teacher that I liked and disliked, in equal measure , was a teacher in the Juniors, Miss Williams, I liked her when she was was reading ‘Brer Rabbit’— she was a wonderful story teller. There was never a sound from the class, as we were all in the woods with this little animal. But if you were naughty, out would come her ruler, a quick slap on the back of the hand soon made you sit still and listen—the ruler didn’t really hurt, it just sounded as if it should have.

In our class, we now had some London evacuee’s, they were so funny they kept making the class giggle, they took no notice of Miss Williams., even during Gas mask drill— which we had to do every morning. One of the London boys made a very loud Raspberry noise, when he breathed out, then most of the class started to do it—the rubber mask was very tight on your face and if you breathed out very hard, it made a really loud raspberry. At first the teacher was slapping her ruler on her desk trying to make us stop, but we could see she was beginning to laugh, so we did it all the more.

School day’s, are supposed to be the happiest day’s of your life. I can’t say I was unhappy, but on the other hand, I was so glad to leave Stepgate’s.

The lessons were bad enough, especially English, so many odd rules that made no sense; maths, or sums, as we called them, at least had proper rules—now they are called mathematics, unless you are in America, then it’s called math, how odd, it must be so easy to have just one sum to learn!

It was in my first week at school, that I realised that children from other parts of Chertsey, had a special smell; from then on I seemed to be constantly envious of any other child who was different from me.

First of all, the smell, I was not aware that I had a smell all of my own (I bet others were very much aware) but I noticed that children from ‘the top of the town’ smelled of Lifebuoy soap, and some even, of Wrights Cold Tar Soap—my sister’s soap that I was never allowed to use but liked to smell. 

Shoes or boots were another source of envy, shiny brown shoes were a thing of beauty to me, but fancy being jealous of boots, so heavily encrusted with hobnails that the wearer walked like a zombie, and she was one of the girls! She turned out to be the schools champion sprinter, from all the muscles that the heavy boots developed, I suppose.

I can remember my first day at school very plainly, being passed over by my mother to Miss Payne, a big lady with ginger hair, she had me in one hand and Barbara Ward in the other, we were both crying.

Memories, in the Infant’s and the Junior schools are very vague, I think I was a dreamer, and not engaged with anything. But that day that Iris and I had been talking about, the beginning of the war, was like switch being turned on, I soaked up everything that was happening around me like sponge.

The stories that follow in my blog, are always of something funny or sad, they had a sort of ‘hook’ on my mind, with sometimes the most obscure details, other events are a feeling rather than a memory.

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