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
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.