Monthly Archives: January 2014

Z at school 9 – still sweets

We sometimes were given boxes of chocolates at Christmas.  Usually, they were Milk Tray, Dairy Box or Weekend.  Milk Tray was good, except for too many slimes (see yesterday).  I liked the turkish delight one, probably for the rose flavour – I still like Rose Pouchong tea.  Dairy Box had a lot of nut chocolates in, so went down very well.  Most, if not all of them were hard centres.  Weekend was a disappointment.  The fudge was fine but there was a nasty marzipan, I think, and some bright green number that I didn’t care for.  Overall, I think they were too sweet and not chocolatey enough.  We might also be given Roses or Quality Street – again, the former had slimes and I preferred QS, which had lots of toffee.

I liked those boxes of individually wrapped mini chocolate bars.  What are they called?  Inbuilt portion control too – I can eat a single chocolate or a couple of squares from a bar, but find it very hard to stop halfway down a Crunchie and no one in the world ever, surely, has succeeded in leaving half a Flake for the next day.

Although our post-Christmas chocolate eating was not monitored, there was an expectation that we would only eat a few at a time and make them last.  I remember once, when I couldn’t resist and over-ate, I put the wrappers back so that the pack would still look full.

I wasn’t very keen on plain chocolate in those days, probably because it is less sweet, though I prefer it now – also, a small amount is satisfying and, whilst I eat chocolate whenever I want to, I don’t want not to be able to resist eating more than I feel I should.  It was usually Cadbury’s – Milk, Whole Nut or Fruit and Nut, I didn’t mind.  Do you remember the advertisement? – a bar standing on its side with the wrapper torn and a glass and a half of milk being poured in?  If not Cadbury’s, it was probably Galaxy.

Did anyone ever explain why they renamed Opal Fruits? Starburst, I think.  Oh, and Munchies, what were they?  Chocolate around a filling of caramel and biscuit?  Rolos! Munchies were square, but Rolos were round, milk chocolate with a toffee filling.  Oh, and jelly babies.  Murray Mints (the too good to hurry mints), .

My Dutch au pairs used to give us presents for St Nicholas’ Day.  I have never been able to track down the lovely chewy gingerbread St Nicholas, though I looked when I was in Holland last September.  Not speculoos, they’re spice biscuits and crisp, not chewy.  They also gave us a big chocolate letter each – our initials, of course.  And a box of chocolates wrapped to look like Delft tiles – as we ate each one, we carefully re-folded the paper and put it back.

Z at school 8 – sweets

Because I never went sweet shopping on my own, any that I normally ate were an adult’s choice.  Those that were passed around at school were such things as – ooh, I think I’ll make a list.

Parma violets.  Strangely flavoured with the scent of violets, a small, convex disc.  They came in small tubes.

Love Hearts.  Also in a tube, a bit bigger discs in pastel colours and tasting of sherbet, each one had a little motto written in a heart shape.

Spangles.  Sadly, these are no longer made.  Square this time, in a tube, little boiled sweets, fruit-flavoured.  The tubes contained several different flavours usually, but I think there were individual ones too.  If they got damp or too hot, they stuck together.

Refreshers.  Sherbet discs, the size of Love Hearts but concave.

Hundreds and Thousands. Nowadays, you’d call them sprinkles and put them on cupcakes.  You got those weighed out by the quarter from a big jar.

Sherbet Pips/Fruit pips.

Sherbet Lemons.  Boiled sweets, quite sharp and acidic with a centre of fizzy sherbet.

Chocolate covered raisins or peanuts.

Various chews.  When my children were – well, children, they were penny chews but, as Sandy said yesterday, Black Jacks used to be 4 for a penny, and the pennies were pre-decimal ones too.  You’d have had 48 for a shilling in the early 60s, but that would equal 5 penny chews.

Oh, there are so many!  I’ll move on to those my mother sometimes okayed, or that came in selection boxes that I might be given for Christmas

Sherbet Fountain.  Now, that was one that was fully authorised.  Indeed, for a while it was a Saturday treat – no idea if my father ate one but the rest of us did.  A cardboard tube with a yellow wrapper, it was filled with powdered sherbet and you sucked it up through a hollow liquorice tube.  If the tube got clogged, you could blow or suck through the other end, but then it got clogged again because it was damp.  You can still get them, I see, but they’ve put a plastic cover over the liquorice stick.

Liquorice sticks.  Hard and chewy – exactly the same now as they ever were – well, they were last time I bought them, which was a couple of years ago.

One of the few sweets that were weighed out at the sweetshop and I was bought sometimes was Aniseed Balls.  I loved them – but, of the ‘like it or hate it’ sort of taste, I usually am in the first category.  A small, hard ball, aniseed flavoured and very hard.  You sucked the sweet for a long time until you got near the middle, then you bit it in half and there was an anise seed to nibble.  You can still buy them, but they don’t have the seed any more, chiz chiz.

Polo Mints.  Well, the mint with a hole.  I seem to remember they were a ha’penny cheaper than other similar tubes? Tuppence ha’penny instead of thruppence, am I right?

Fruit Gums and Fruit Pastilles.  Again, my mother quite liked those and they did have fruit in them, so she reckoned they were the best of a bad bunch.  Fruit pastilles are still delicious, but they’ve ruined the tubes of fruit gums by making them much softer.  The originals still come in small boxes though, each flavour having a different shape.  They do actually taste of the individual fruit.

There were various chocolate bars, of course.  I remember you could still, back in the early ’60s, buy a Cadbury’s chocolate bar for 1d – a penny, that is, which is just under half today’s penny.  It was very small, obviously.  I loved nuts and anything hard and crunchy and was particularly fond of Fruit and Nut chocolate – still am, though I haven’t eaten any for several years.

Mars Bars, Milky Way – messy child that I was, I’d nibble the chocolate off first and then eat the middle, Crunchie, Marathon (now Snickers and not really approved of because peanuts were considered a bit Transatlantic and therefore not quite the thing).  Cadbury’s Flake – yum.  Maltesers.

Walnut Whips – now, they’re still about but they’re a travesty.  It’s a cone of milk chocolate, piped so it swirls, with a filling of – oh goodness, how would you describe the filling? A whipped coffee cream, very light.  It had half a walnut on top of the chocolate.  But the thing is, until about forty years ago, there was another walnut half on the chocolate base, half embedded, with the coffee cream on top of it.  And you ate the first nut, then gradually nibbled away at the substantial chocolate cone, licking away the filling, until you were down to the chocolate base.  Then you worked away with your front teeth at the nut and finally ate the base.  It lasted ages. Then they saved money by leaving out the second walnut and half the point was lost.

Smarties have been spoiled now.  The colours have changed – maybe they don’t have artificial colouring in now?  But they’re paler and dreary and the texture has changed in an odd way.  Or maybe I’ve grown out of Smarties.

Of course, I wasn’t allowed bubble gum and chewing gum was pretty dodgy too.  I finally learned to blow bubble gum when my children were old enough to teach me.

Sweets I didn’t like.  Not a big fan of Bounty bars.  Fry’s Chocolate Cream bar – dark chocolate filled with white fondant icing.  I disliked them enough not to bother eating them.  Anything with a gooey filling – still don’t like them, they’re known as ‘slimes’ in our house.  When we have a box of chocolates, the coffee, orange and strawberry slimes are always left at the end.  Of course, if it’s lovely real fruit purée in the filling it’s a different matter.  I hated Edinburgh Rock, which is tooth-hurtingly sweet.

Oh, back to those I liked … Butterscotch and any sort of toffee.

I’ll have to finish this another time, I’ve got to go out now.  The Cyder Club Wassailing, with a barn dance and hog roast and at least, as I’m the driver nowadays at night, I’ll have every excuse not to rot my innards with too much mulled home-made cider.


Z at school 7 – pocket money

Goodness, I wonder what happened on Wednesday – the number of visitors doubled and the number of pageviews shot up several times.  Must have been the alluring title of the post.  Today’s item of spam (I don’t often get spam comments through now, but the occasional ‘trackback’, which is a spam link, I suppose) came from France, I see from the stats.  I’ve only had 33 items of spam since moving here in August and used to get more than that every day, so I remain unfailingly grateful to Ronan for setting up this site.

Sweets were mentioned in a comment – h’m.  I didn’t eat many of them when I was small.  My mother didn’t approve.  She didn’t often eat sweets herself (with a few exceptions) and didn’t buy them for us.  Neither of my parents ate puddings either, and she didn’t make cakes.  The baker’s van called round and a cake was sometimes bought, but not as a general rule.  And if you’ve been reading (and you can’t have missed it, not in this country anyway) all the articles advocating the elimination of sugar from our diet and that of our children, please consider that human beings are born with a liking for it.  Human milk is sweet, much more than cows’ milk.  That a lot of sugar is added to processed food is certainly true and it’s one reason I don’t buy the stuff – I’ve been reading labels for over 40 years, it wasn’t news to me.  I’d rather give a child a cake or some sweets and know they’re eating sugar than buy a supposedly savoury item that’s had sugar and other junk added to make it palatable.

Anyway, back to olden times when Z was young.  This post is entitled ‘pocket money,’ but I didn’t get any.  I blame my sister.  When she started school, my parents decided it was time to give her pocket money, so she was given some (I don’t know how much, a penny? A threepenny bit?) every week. But after a while, it was observed that there was no evidence that she ever bought anything, nor had any money and enquiries were made.  It transpired that a small con-man was sitting next to her on the bus and telling her a sob story about how poor his family was – and she, being a sympathetic and evidently credulous child – handed over her cash.  So they stopped giving her pocket money and never started again, neither with her nor with me.

And frankly, I think it was poor parenting.  An explanation of why she shouldn’t have done it, a trip to the shops on Saturday to monitor her spending, buying a piggy bank and posting the money in every week – any of these would have started to show her the value and the pleasure of having, spending and saving money, but I think they just ducked out, and they used it as an excuse never to revisit the matter, not because they couldn’t afford to but because they didn’t bother.  If we needed or wanted anything, we could ask – but I was the most undemanding child and hated asking anyway, so I rarely did.  I remember once at school, a teacher was dismissive of a drawing I’d done in pencil and suggested I do it in felt pens, and I didn’t feel able to explain that I didn’t have any and had no money to buy them with.  Of course my mother would have bought them, but I’d not have dreamed of asking.  I wasn’t at all deprived, but I had few opportunities to buy what I wanted for myself, it was all my mother’s choice.

As a child, I craved sweets and can still remember how I longed for them.  My mother didn’t disapprove of ice cream, now I think of it, and that was allowed, and I snaffled the occasional sugar lump, but actual sweets were a rare treat.  Some children seemed to have inexhaustible supplies and were generous, but I couldn’t take something I was not in a position to offer a return for.  I do remember (this is a first, darlings, I’ve never told this to anyone before) occasionally finding a dropped sweet in the playground and, if it wasn’t too dirty, picking it up and dusting it off and eating it.  Awfully disappointing if it had been found by ants first.

The result of having so little cash was that I was extremely canny with it.  Much later, when I had a Saturday job, I never ran out of money.  I had a simple rule – I didn’t buy anything that cost more than half of what I had.  If I wanted something, I had to save up for it, so wasn’t inclined to fritter money away, but by the time I had enough to pay for the desired object, I often wasn’t that bothered about owning it any more.  My only other rule was to contribute to the housekeeping.  By this time, my father had died and my mother had been left with a hugely reduced income, once Death Duties had been paid (money was deemed to be the husband’s in 1970 and she was taxed heavily – no tax-free inheritance to the spouse in those days) and I used to buy a little food treat every month when I was paid.  I might buy a bunch of grapes, some steak or good cheese, something we couldn’t usually afford.

A thoroughly rambling post today, but I’m going to reminisce about all those sweets next, I think.  Whatever happened to Spangles?

Z at school 6 – play

I was disappointed to have had my speaking part taken away from me in the first school play.  Not that I said anything, of course.  And I think there was a play every year, though I don’t remember anything about them and I was still not trusted to speak.  I progressed through the classes to Junior 3 and then skipped a class – Junior 4 was the Remove, which the school used flexibly.  Most children went into the class but those who were old for their year (your school age was determined by your birthday and 1st September was – and still is – the cut-off) might miss it out.  Three of us went straight from 3 to 5 – my birthday is September 10th, Lynn’s is the 24th and Julia’s is December 10th.  Later, Julia’s parents wanted her to go to the Grammar School and she had to spend an extra year at the Convent, as she was too young for the first year there.

And that year there was a production of Alice in Wonderland.  I was dainty, winsome, had long blonde hair which was often worn in an Alice band and my teacher reckoned I had some acting potential, so the obvious casting was … the Walrus.  And I know I’ve written about this before, so sorry, dear longest-term friends.  Angela was the Carpenter – I said the other day that she was one of my best friends, but she didn’t miss form 4, so we can’t have started school together – her birthday is June 24th.  H’m.  I know she is a few months older than I am.

I remember wearing baggy trousers, a red and white striped t-shirt and braces, and a big droopy moustache that tended to drop off after a few minutes’ speaking.  But I prodded it every so often and it was fine.  And I was too – I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Angela’s father was the school caretaker and a very good carpenter, which might give the clue to why she was cast.  A very nice girl called Jill played Alice.  She was a boarder, popular and attractive and also kind.  We weren’t particular friends – being bright, good at games, outgoing, she was more inclined towards the less anxious and quiet people than I was, but it didn’t affect her personality.  We lost touch after school, but I saw her death from cancer at the age of 49 in the paper and was very sorry indeed.

Small children from the kindergarten class played the oysters and trailed around behind us on the stage.  I was in my element – I loved the book already.  I know it’s more fashionable not to enjoy Lewis Carroll nowadays, but it was a more innocent time.  I thought Alice herself was a touch pert – she answered back in a way I’d never have been allowed to – but I liked the odd, surreal, macabre, and I enjoyed wordplay.   I also liked Alice’s independence, being something of a loner myself (yes, I know I was a peculiar child).

There were two performances and, on the first night, the most outgoing and naughty boy in the class, Vincent, who played the Mock Turtle, was the one who got stage fright and dried up for a few moments – he recovered and it all went very well – of course it was well received, it was our parents in the audience. Vincent was also being put forward against type – he was considered unreliable but the teacher reckoned he needed to be trusted.  She was very good, I wish I could remember her name.  But it was my last bow – the senior school didn’t do drama and we never did another play.  A pity really, I think it would have been good for me.

Z at school 5 – fun and games

This isn’t about school really, I thought I’d delve into the world of party games.

Admittedly, I found parties a bit of an ordeal, at least in prospect.  Having to spend an afternoon joining in was not easy for me and meeting my friends’ parents was a test too.   But I think I enjoyed them once they started.  Some of the party games are still played, I know, but I’m not entirely sure about others.  The same with nursery rhymes – I sang them to my children all the time, but I don’t think my grandchildren know nearly as many.

Some that are still played are the ‘when the music stops…’ sort.

Musical bumps – when the music stops, everyone drops to the floor.  Last one down is out, until there’s only one left.

Musical statues – exactly the same except the children freeze and the first to move is out.  This can be better if there are a lot of children because several can be out at the same time.  The more fun-loving ones make a point of dancing exuberantly so that they have to remain with their limbs akimbo.  The competitive ones are more conservative, because they can freeze their position longer.

Musical chairs – one fewer chairs than there are children, until there are just two children and one chair.  You need a sturdy chair, two hefty kids landing on it almost simultaneously can test its joints.

Pass the parcel – wrap a small present in lots of layers of paper.  As the music plays, the parcel is handed from one child to the next as they all sit in a circle.  When it stops, the child holding it can take off a layer and the very last child keeps it.  Nowadays, there are usually additional small gifts, such as a balloon or a sweet, between the layers.  It’s up to the person managing the music to make sure that everyone has at least one go, which can be difficult if there’s a competitive grabber.

Then there are others for where there’s more room and the parent doesn’t mind having children rummaging through the house.

Hide and seek – can be a straightforward version, with everyone hiding and one person looking for them, or Sardines, where one person hides and each child joins him as he discovers him, until there’s one person looking for all the other children.  This works well in the dark.

Murder in the dark – each child is given a card, which they mustn’t show anyone.  One is the murderer, another is the detective.  The lights are turned off and the children scatter.  The murderer taps one, who screams and drops to the floor.  The detective then has to ask questions to try to get evidence and solve the crime.  I enjoyed that game, as I remember.

If you have a big room, there’s Grandmother’s Footsteps. where one child stands with her back to all the others and at the other end of the room.  The children try to creep up to her and she swings round periodically and tries to catch them moving.  A variation is What’s the Time, Mr Wolf? where the question is asked and the Wolf says an hour – “It’s three o’clock” means that they can walk forward three paces.  When he judges that they’re getting close, he shouts “It’s dinner time!” and turns and tries to grab a child as they all run away.  Of course, if he misjudges it and someone touches him before he says it, he loses.

Blindfold games – these can be active, such as Blind Man’s Buff, where the blindfolded child has to try to catch the others, or quiet, like Pin the Tail on the Donkey.  Each child in turn is blindfolded, turned round three times and then pointed towards the picture of the donkey on a board.  They try to judge where the donkey’s tail will go and pin it, the spot is marked with the name and the closest at the end wins.

They don’t all have to be competitive, there’s Follow my Leader, where everyone goes in a line and the one in front has to be copied by everyone else, running, hopping, clapping or whatever.  Or Simon Says, where the leader (adult or child) gives commands to the others.  If he starts “Simon says…” they must copy him, if he just gives the command they mustn’t.

There are team games, like Oranges and Lemons, which I described yesterday, or relay races, which can have various tasks (such as dressing up, hopping, throwing a beanbag at a target) as part of them, or there are obstacle races, either individually or in teams.  Some involved passing objects from one to the other, such as a balloon without using your hands, or a dried pea using a straw.

Small children used to have singing games, like The Farmer’s in His Den.  They all were in a circle around one child, the Farmer, who chose a wife after the first verse, the wife chose a child, the child chose a nurse, the nurse chose a dog.  It should end with “We all pat the dog,” but it was often prolonged by the dog choosing a bone, when all the children patted the bone (or rather the child playing it), which is a bit odd really.  There are lots of singing games, I’ve forgotten most of them.

Older children who were reasonably biddable and good at concentrating might play Kim’s Game, which comprised looking at objects on a tray for a minute or two, then it was covered and you had to write them down.  I was pretty useless, being very unobservant.

I’m losing track.  You might have an object put in a bag and each child has to feel it and write down what they think it is.  A few of those should be a bit startling, such as peeled grapes or cooked spaghetti, some should have to be carefully felt, such as a screw or a bottle opener.

How am I doing here?  Are these the sorts of games you used to play or organise?  I think Pass the Parcel is still a given – every party I’ve ever known has that, largely because it engages everyone all the time and makes all the children sit down.  You have to be good at marshalling children whilst engaging their interest – it’s no wonder many parents hire an entertainer or have an outing after the first time.  The party bag thing can get competitive, too, if you don’t watch out.


Z at school 4 – games

I remember so little about those early schooldays, which probably means they were pleasant and uneventful.  It’s the unusual or dramatic that stands out in the memory, isn’t it?  I remember a friend and me playing kiss chase with two little boys called Michael and Arthur (we did the chasing and kissing, though I don’t think they were averse to being caught), I remember playing hopscotch and elaborate skipping games, but not much else.  My particular friends at that time were Julia, Angela, Julie, Jane and Lynn, though she joined the school a little later.  We were nice, ordinary little girls, rarely in trouble, all quite bright and I wasn’t shy with my friends, reasonably outgoing if fairly quiet.

In class, I rarely put my hand up or volunteered information and would even pretend not to know an answer to save drawing attention to myself.  I expressed myself only in writing.  I must have been hard work to teach because I gave nothing to the class at all.  Music lessons – which meant singing, it wasn’t for some years that the school had a music teacher who encouraged the playing of instruments – were worst in that respect because I never joined in.  I opened and closed my mouth, but never made a sound.  I have no idea whether the teachers knew that or not, but I was never challenged.

I was the very opposite of a team player.  If the majority did one thing, that was quite enough to make me do the other, not that I was a rebel at all.  For example, at parties … one of the games that was usually played was Oranges and Lemons.  If you don’t know it, the players sang it, with two children holding their arms up to make an arch and the others filing through.  The verse is

Oranges and Lemons,Say the bells of St. Clement’s;
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s;
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
When I grow rich, Say the bells of Shoreditch.
When will that be? Say the bells of Stepney? I do not know,
Says the Great bell of Bow.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed!
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head! Chip chop chip chop!

At the last four words, the arched arms were brought down to catch a child, who was asked whether she preferred oranges or lemons? She whispered her answer and was sent to the back of the child whose team that was.  It was sung repeatedly until every child had been caught and at the end, the two teams had a tug-of-war.

Of course, since oranges tended to be the more popular, being sweeter, I always chose lemons.  That this generally put me on the losing side didn’t bother me at all, I had little competitive spirit and what there was channelled only into me reaching the standard I’d set myself.  It was a game, it didn’t matter.

Z at school 3 – mostly milk

We had out own playground at the back of the school and the senior schoolchildren used the bigger front playground.  In those days,  there was free school milk, which was ghastly.  It’s an under-appreciated factor in Margaret Thatcher’s electoral success, that the children from whom she *snatched* free milk were heartily grateful to her, even as voting adults, because  they loathed the stuff.  It was delivered in third of a pint bottles and you drank it straight out of the bottle with a straw.  I think the bottle caps were made of cardboard.  None of that would have been a problem if the beastly stuff had been refrigerated, but it wasn’t.  It sat at room temperature for two or three hours before being doled out and there was no choice but to drink it, warm and cloying and, in summer, perilously close to being off.  I was talking about it right at the end of last term to my lovely retired Headteacher, henceforth known as Sean, who admitted he’s never been able to stomach milk since.  We agreed that we can add a splash to cereal but have to eat it quickly and leave any surplus.  I drink black tea and coffee, he drinks neither at all.

School lunches, which I know I’ve written about before, were not particularly appetising either on the whole, except the puddings, which were delicious.  But many of you will remember what I said about that – I think telling you about my early lunchtime experiences was rather long ago, and I am starting from my earliest schooldays, after all.

You’re probably heartily fed up with me for reminding you I was shy.  But lunch was served in a large dining hall at big tables, each seating at least ten.  Eating with that many people was impossible and I didn’t do it.  As I said, though normally biddable, I was immensely stubborn and, the first day, I just sat there.  Not allowed to leave the table before I’d eaten something, I just sat there until the bell rang and I went to afternoon lessons.  Sad to say, I can’t remember anything of the solution the kind nuns came up with, but my mother did.  She discovered that I was being taken aside into another room and given milk (out of the fridge) and chocolate finger biscuits – this is what nuns ate, behind the scenes, no doubt.  Who told tales I have no idea, but someone did and my mother put her foot down.  Left long enough, I’d see sense and eat when I was hungry.

No, I wouldn’t.  I just sat there.  It’s not as if I wasn’t getting breakfast and dinner, after all – but I was a tiny, thin creature and the lovely nuns were anxious.  And some bright person found a way round the problem.  A kind older girl, probably one with younger siblings, sat with me and persuaded me to eat.  I do remember that – she put food on my fork and even fed me, I remember her encouragingly saying “down the red lane…” and I was disarmed into obedience. And, of course, it wasn’t long before I ate my lunch by myself.  The youngest children ate first and had the earliest playtime, so my friend, whose name I never did learn, was probably disappointed when she arrived one day and found I’d eaten and left.  She was so very kind and I don’t ever remember speaking to her again.  I’m so sorry.  I still remember her gentle persuasiveness and that she gave up part of her playtime 55 years later, little as I appreciated her at the time.

Z at school 2 – the first day, twice

I might well have told you about the day I started school.  It was a false start as it happened, and there was an odd fact that I’d never understood until Wink explained, not too long ago.

We had moved up from Weymouth to Oulton Broad and I was enrolled in the local Convent school.  It was on Lowestoft seafront – the convent itself had previously been the family home of my grandmother’s family and the school, an imposing building on five floors plus a basement, was next door.  My birthday is in September, so I started school a few days later.

I had been taken shopping for the uniform of course, but even the smallest size was big on me.  A good deal of taking in happened and then I was dressed up, complete with tie and blue serge hat and put in the back of my mother’s elderly Daimler.  What I have never understood is why Wink was not with us, but apparently she stayed down in Weymouth because she was happy at her school there.  She lived for the week with friends and at the weekend with our grandfather.  When she came up for Christmas, however, our parents decided she really must live with us after all and arrangements changed.

So, it was just me, all dolled up in oversized navy, and my parents. I was a passive little girl on the whole, lived in a world of my own so wasn’t too bothered about what was going on around me – unless I didn’t like it, when the extreme stubbornness of the quiet child became evident.  From the leather back seat, I heard my mother say “Well!  It’s not very welcoming, you’d think they’d have opened the gates!”  I suppose my father went to try them, because the next thing that was said was, ‘Um, what’s today’s date?”

My mother never lived down taking me to start school a day early.  So, I was taken home again, and, uncomprehending but not unhappy, put back into uniform the next day.

There were seven forms in the junior school  Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, and Junior 1 to 5.  My form, Pre-K, was downstairs in the basement – in fact, there were stairs up to the ground floor, if that isn’t too self-contradictory, so only half the storey was below ground level.  I think the building had originally been a hotel and there were two staircases, with the two halves of the school mirror images of each other.  Pre-K was down the right-hand staircase.  The music teacher’s room was also down there, where she taught piano.  I can’t remember her name, she didn’t ever teach me because my piano lessons were with two private teachers.

I can’t remember my first teacher’s name, sadly enough because I liked her.  She was gentle and kind, with lovely soft skin.  I remember going into the room for the first time and being looked at by everyone.  I doubt I said anything all day.  Certainly, I didn’t eat any lunch.  Which is a tale in itself.

I enjoyed school, though.  I can’t remember whether or not I had yet discovered I could read, but I loved books more than anything (anything inanimate, obv).  I liked arithmetic too and probably most subjects, though I still hardly ever said anything, certainly never aloud in the classroom where everyone might hear me.  One to one with the teacher, I’m sure I did.  I remember standing next to her while she checked my work at her desk – we went to her, not her to us – and thinking how very soft and downy her skin was and wanting to kiss it to see what it felt like.  I didn’t, of course.  She struck me as very young, by which I probably meant younger than my mother, who was then 35.

Z at school 1

I’ve mentioned before that I was an acutely shy child, though few of you really believe it, but all the same I was assigned a speaking part in the school play.  I was very small, I’m not sure if it was my first year or the first year in the main school rather than the kindergarden.  The play was Snow White and I was to be a rabbit.

I was quite pleased at this and, funnily enough, not at all scared at the thought of speaking out.  It’s the acting thing I suppose, many actors say that they are only confident when playing a part.  However, my teacher thought again, even before the first rehearsal and decided I wouldn’t have the confidence and made me a tree instead.  You know how, when Snow White is lost in the forest and she’s frightened by all these menacing trees towering above her?  The idea was to wave our arms about as if blown by the wind.  Of course, this was impossible for a thoroughly inhibited little girl whose only confidence was the use of words.  Even now, I’d feel a complete twit, the only difference being that I don’t care.  So I stood there, refusing to move.

“I’m going to be a bush,” I told my mother.  “I hear Z’s going to play a bush rather than a rabbit?” she said to my teacher – the tree incident had affronted me so much that I hadn’t even mentioned it. “Oh, a pretty flowering shrub,” said the teacher awkwardly – anyway, my part, along with another silent little girl, was to kneel near the front of the stage during the scene, doing and saying nothing.

Worse was to come.  After the performance, a teacher came and asked me if I’d had an accident? No I hadn’t and fortunately I was startled into saying so and not, for once, too shy to speak.  But a puddle had been found where I’d been kneeling and it was thought I’d been frightened into incontinence.  At least my kneel-on part had been early in the play – worst of all would have been to kneel in someone else’s puddle.  I was immensely polite with iron self-control and I’m quite sure I’d have knelt there regardless, not to spoil the scene, and gone and quietly mopped myself up later.  I wouldn’t have cried.  I never cried in public.