Some children have difficulty in grasping the basics of education. This was when I and a few of my friends realised that school was a place where we did not want to be. Playing truant was much more to our liking.
It all started in earnest with the arrival of the evacuees from London. It would never have been possible to do before then, even if we were brave enough to do so. Chertsey had a very keen school board man—as we knew him. If a child did not answer when the register was called in the morning, he would be on his bike with the list of homes to visit. This was quite a deterrent, a visit from him was a serious affair, it could even result in a summons. The first thing a parent would know about it would be when he knocked at the door with his clipboard in his hand.
Come the war everything changed, the classrooms were overflowing with the new kids from London. They were streets ahead of us in how to be naughty—street wise you might say. One of their tricks was skipping school and we quickly found this quite exciting. The school board man, who I think was a retired Army officer, soon found there were not enough hours in the day to check on every child. We soon took full advantage of this and we would stay as far away from the school as possible. The perfect place was St Anne’s Hill, the place was full of kids doing the same thing.
When I think about the many hours that I spent up the ‘Hill’, with a good number of other children, and obviously completely unsupervised, it is wonder that we all did this unscathed. Of course, it was inevitable that we would be found out sooner or later but during the war there more urgent things for the grown-ups to worry about.
At first, I liked school it was all story telling and drawing but when the lessons started, I wasn’t so keen. I have always thought that being so close in age to my brother Don—just 13 months— made me lazy. He was a very bright boy and I just let him think for me. So, when I started school, I was behind in everything. I soon became the dunce of the class, although I didn’t have a pointed hat with a big D on it, the teachers made me very aware of it.
I was only able to read the captions in comic books and even those not very well. I remember very clearly the day I first read a full story, it was in the ‘Hotspur’ comic, The Man in The Iron Mask—I was eight years old! Some of the children could read before they started school—which today is quite normal. But at our school it was unusual, but this meant children were either bored because they already knew the lessons or because like me, they had no idea what was going on.
I find it funny that after all these years I enjoy writing—but I still don’t read many books!