I remember my very first day at school
aged five. All the kids and their mums were standing around,
waiting to be enrolled onto the register to start their very
first day. Many of the kids started crying and were throwing
tantrums when their mum's finally left to go home, leaving them
there on their own. I was put into Miss Moy's class, who was
the infant's teacher. The classroom had folding canvas camp
beds, which we had to lie on during our mid-afternoon sleep.
We were given our own individual cloth bag that had wee animals
and other pictures sewn onto them, so we could identify them
as our own. These all hung on the wall by a coat hook to keep
our belongings in.
Later on, as older kids, I remember when
we were dished out the cod-liver oil capsule and also how, after
they were given out, at two to each child, the playground was
covered with these spat out golden brown capsules, great to
squash under your shoe. I also remember the sad polio epidemic
and the dreaded polio shots that we lined up for and received
in our upper arm that ached for ages afterwards.
recall Mr Bull, the headmaster, a large and intimidating man,
who always wore his trademark large blue and white spotted bow
tie and a flower in the lapel of his blue pinstripe suit (he
lived up on Grossmont Road in a big old house overlooking Winn's
remember the school assemblies every morning in the hall and
the hymns we sang, with so much gusto, accompanied by the piano.
One morning at assembly Mr Bull summoned me to the front, because
I'd been talking to a mate. For this offence, and in front of
the whole school, he commanded me to spell “Elephant”.
Highly embarrassed at my predicament I began with “E.L.E...F”.
and the school hall erupted into laughter. I was so embarrassed,
I felt as if the ground had opened up under me and, very red
faced, I was told to return to the assembly.
assembly we all were assembled into lines of our class. We stood
whilst we sang. Occasionally, a child would faint and fall down.
This was not too uncommon in those days of poorer families when
some children didn't get enough. We'd sit while we listened
to speeches and so on. Whilst we sat we fidgeted and as the
floor was a wood pattern parquet floor you were in danger of
getting a splinter in your backside.
well remember the wee fella who had to endure being forced to
stand on the teacher's desk at the front of the class while
she removed a splinter, with her tweezers, from his bare bum
on show to the entire class; of both boys and girls! I never
ever complained of having a splinter at school after that and
I would endure it until I got home for mum to remove it.
dinners were held in the assembly hall. We sat at long folding
tables and benches. The smell of overcooked boiled cabbage was
always thick in the air. The duty teacher would patrol the dinner
tables and if you didn't eat enough dinner you couldn't go up
for your 'afters' (pudding). There was always usually 'seconds'
if you wanted more to eat. Some times I stayed for school dinners
but most often I went home for a meal.
pig bins were always a smelly sight, lined up out the back of
the kitchens in the playground with the slops of the school
meals and kitchen waste. This was collected to feed the pigs
kept up at the back of St.
Nicholas Hospital. I have heard that one boy would
scoop some of this mush from the bin and plop it in the playground,
as if he'd been sick. He would then be allowed to go home early.
But he got caught doing this trick once too often and was punished
for his deceit.
school was over for the day there was an evening teatime function
if you wanted to go. I think it cost about 6d to attend. It
was like a club and was held in the assembly hall and the adjoining
classrooms. We could do art or play games, and we had cocoa
and jam sandwiches for tea.
I made a picture out of pieces of scrap coloured cloth, which
were glued onto some cardboard paper, and some weeks later I
was told that my picture had been selected to be exhibited at
an art exhibition in Central London. I went with my parents
up to London to see it there, proudly displayed, hanging on
the wall with my name beside it.
remember the two separated playgrounds, with the wooden door
in the wall between them; one playground for the infants and
one for the bigger older kids. Also the boy's toilets, next
to the girls, by the front gate, on Gallosson Road where we
boys held fiercely contended competitions to see who could pee
the highest up the urinal wall. (If you were too clever at peeing
too high you could get your own back!)
while the girls were playing at their skipping games, I noticed
three pennies on the steps where the girls had tied their skipping
rope to the railing. I picked them up and went out of the playground
to a shop on the corner of Orissa and Conway Roads where I spent
them on three ice lollies. When I returned back through the
school gate I was questioned by Miss Simms, the playground supervisor,
about the money. I told her that I had picked it up from off
of the stairs and had spent it on the lollies, one for my sister,
one for a friend and one for me. I was taken up to the Headmistress
and was given a lecture on theft and was then put in the cloakroom
and made to stand there and watch the ice lollies melt away,
which seemed to take flipping ages.
later my mother had to visit the school for some small reason
and she then came to our class to visit me. I was called out
to the classroom door and the teacher spoke to my mother. She
asked my teacher how I was getting on and she replied that I
was getting on fine, except for that thieving incident!
“ What thieving incident?” was my mother's shocked
The teacher gave her a brief explanation; so from my mother
I got a loud telling off and a good clout round the ear 'ole,
in front of the class who, of course, were all watching us intently.
Fifty years later my younger sister, Ann, says that it was her
that took the money, quite innocently; she thought she'd found
it and gave it to me; but I'm blow'd if I can remember that,
talking about getting belted, I remember when we were being
taught how to speak 'proper' English. The teacher would correct
us when we dropped an 'H' or said “fred” instead
of “thread” and so on. Well, I mean to say, our
natural accent was 'Cockney' just as plain as a Welshman has
a 'Taffy' accent and a Scouse has a Liverpool accent and so
on. So there we all were, trying to talk ' properly,' just as
the teacher insisted we should.
Try as she might, she couldn't get us to speak the way she wanted
us to pronounce things, or should I say “Fings”.
Some of us did manage to successfully carry out demands, but
some unfortunates just couldn't, try as they might. When they
kept getting it wrong they were then ruthlessly punished by
The boys would receive a hard smack across the knuckles with
a ruler, and the girls were required to stand on their desk
seat and received a hard smack on the thighs of their legs.
Despite the punishment that these kids got, they still could
not pronounce certain words just the way the teacher insisted
they should, much to her great despair.
She'd ask wee Charlie to stand up and say, “Thirty Feathers.”
Poor unsure Charlie would timidly reply “Tha, Tha, Firty
Frail little Rosemary would be asked to say, “Harry's
Father Threads Three Threads”, then with her tiny frame,
she'd draw in as deep a breath as she could and then rapidly
reply, “Arry's Fa'fer Freds Free Freds”!
Years later now, Cockney is finally a recognised legitimate
language, an accent widely spoken without the bad connotations
that it generated back in those far off days of the 'Queens
English' as being the only correct way to speak.
I've had trouble with being self conscious sometimes, when I
speak in certain company, simply as a direct result of this
stupid bullying that we kids received, all those years ago at
Primary School. However, I feel all right nowadays if I come
out with something like, “Firty fousund feafers on a frushes
froat” or “Bread an' bu'er in the gu'er”!
incident that I recall was when one of the horse-drawn milk
floats overturned in Bebbington Road at the side of the school.
The noise was, as you can imagine, very loud indeed as all the
glass milk bottles, along with the wire milk crates, crashed
onto the road as the float tipped over when its wheels mounted
the kerb. The horse must have got spooked by something. The
milkman eventually unharnessed the frightened horse and walked
it up and down the road until it calmed down. What a mess there
was strewn all over the road: broken glass, tipped over crates
and milk running in the gutter. All the kids' faces were pressed
against the windows of the classrooms that looked out over the
remember one day whilst walking home after school as we walked
up Orissa Road alongside the back of the old Beasley's Brewery
buildings. I heard the loud throbbing sound of lots of aeroplanes'
engines. I looked excitedly up and saw the planes; they were
all flying in formation. Suddenly, two of the planes collided
with each other and then, it seemed in slow motion, wings and
pieces of fuselage broke off and began to fall, spinning to
earth, followed by the two planes. Being a young child, I wondered
if what I was looking at was for real. Later on, though, the
evening papers were full of the tragic story, with big headlines
reporting this spectacular air accident. From memory, I believe
that one plane crashed into the Thames and the other into the
Plumstead Marshes, with the loss of at least one pilot's life.
the gate on Gallosson Road one afternoon there was parked a
rag-and-bone man. He had plastic bags, each with a goldfish
swimming around in them. He said to the kids that if they brought
him some clothes he'd exchange the clothes for a goldfish. Well,
the result was that many kids went scampering off home, soon
to return with their 'good' clothes and (remembering that many
kids didn't possess any or very little in the way of spare clothing
in those days), this was without their parent's knowledge or
approval; and swapped the clothes for the goldfish! This led
the school to tell the children that they must not do this,
and that they must not deal with this trader; and he was told
by the school to go away; and he was never seen again in the
remember the Harvest Festival, when we took some produce along,
if we could, such as spuds or a cabbage; and how it was all
piled up in the assembly hall with the storks of corn. The celebration
then got under way with your usual singing of such hymns as
'We Plough the Fields and Scatter' and 'All Things Bright And
Beautiful'. I think the produce was later given to a home or
Also, I think that this was the time that they judged which
child had grown the best nasturtium plant from seed that they
had been given many weeks earlier. I always had a go, but I
never managed to win. I loved their patterned leaves, and the
orange trumpet-shaped flowers of these so easy to grow plants.
now and then the 'Nit Nurse' would do her rounds of the school.
When she got to our classroom we were all told to line up: boys
in one line and girls in another.
We then slowly filed towards her as she closely scrutinised
each child's hair and head for these pesky little passengers.
Her nimble fingers and extra fine metal comb moved deftly and
efficiently as straight-haired and then curly locked youngster's
heads were pushed this way and that as each head was inspected
for immigrants. Then, wet-haired and with cold disinfectant
dribbling down your neck, you were done and the comb was dipped
back into the deep beaker full of that strong-smelling chemical
and disinfectant, before the next child's turn.
year would bring with it another cycle of seasons. Every day
we walked to school and back and often to and fro at dinner
times as well; we thought nothing of it then; you just did it,
and in all weathers and in all seasons.
The other seasonal things came and went as if by magic, such
as the marble season, where you played marbles at school or
along the gutters all the way home, being ever mindful of the
drains. The cigarette card season, where you flicked your 'fag'
card up against the wall, with the fag card nearest to the wall
being the winner, and then they took all the other cards. The
conker season, when you went over to Bostall Woods, to try and
find the biggest, and shiniest, dark brown horse-chestnuts.
Then, with a meat skewer, you drilled a hole through the centre
of the conker and threaded a string (a bootlace was best) on
to it. You then did serious battle with your opponent, each
taking it in turn to hit the conker which you held up for your
opponent to hit and try to smash and break it. If you broke
your opponent's conker you won and it became a 'Oner'; if your
opponent's conker was a niner (nine victories) you took his
score and added it to your total and it became a tenner and
so on. There were many tricks used at trying to harden conkers,
such as soaking them in vinegar and/or baking them in the oven.
younger sister Ann says that when she used to walk to school
and back on her own she was absolutely terrified of the big
tall brewery chimney that used to belch clouds of black smoke.
I only found this out from her around fifty years later on;
amazing what went through us Common kids' minds in those now
distant far-off days.