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.