My Life Story (2 of 4)
Chapter 2 - Growing up
I was nearly four when my younger sister Joan was born in July 1943, although I was not aware this was actually happening.
My parents arranged for me to start school at Markhams Chase in the September of that year. My sister June would lead me by the hand and introduced me to the short-cut across the cornfields in St. Nicholas Lane.
Piano lessons also began about this time, with Mrs Sparrow who lived on St. Nicholas Lane, near its junction with Basildon Drive. Lessons were enjoyable and I gained a proficiency certificate for the keyboard and in reading music. This came spontaneously to me, as books and reading were part of life at home, as was playing the piano which stood by Dad’s armchair in the one living-room. My eldest sister Olive also attended lessons with Mrs Sparrow and whilst she was receiving her tuition, I would sit outside on her doorstep or the kerb waiting for her to see me home.
These music lessons are decidedly more memorable than those received at school, except for an attempt in the infant class to draw a vase of flowers from those displayed on a table at the front of the class. My result drew no praise from the teacher, who screwed up the paper and told me to try again. I never have learned to draw!
However, I did discover an unexpected talent. In preparation for Sports Day my class were all taken to the right-hand side of the school field, lined up, and told to run towards the school playground when the teacher said “Go”. This felt like a treat, so, on the command, I began running as instructed. Halfway towards the playground I felt all alone, and, fearing that I’d done something wrong, stopped running and looked back. The rest of the class were still running, but some distance back – my sprinting days had begun! On Sports Day I duly won my race, and every year after that throughout my school days, both at Markhams Chase and Laindon High Road.
I cannot remember actually learning to read, certainly not at school. As my father’s profession was a compositor, books and print were part and parcel of our home life. Also, three older sisters ready to read to me helped in absorbing the printed word. There was no testing of one’s ability on beginning schooling at that time, but it became apparent to the teacher that I was in advance of most of the other pupils in the class. Because of this I was asked to sit with one or two slower readers, particularly on a sunny day on the school field, listening to them read, helping when they faltered over a word or two. My first experience as a teacher!
Another area where I was more knowledgeable was music. Again, this played a large part in our family entertainment. The piano was a feature of our living room and was in constant use. Unlike learning to read words, I can remember learning to read music with Mrs. Sparrow – theory being part of each hour’s lesson, with homework!
At school the air-raid shelters were still in use and I do remember the class being despatched there at least once. It was of course much larger than the Anderson shelter dug into our back garden, and less of a squeeze! I do remember us using the shelter, but I think more often than not, the dining room table served just as well. The shelter remained in our back garden for a while, but eventually my father dismantled it although the dug-out hole was left and became a place for us to play ‘house’.
My father, having been blinded in one eye as a child (by getting too close when his grandfather was doing some woodwork), did not serve in the war, but was part of the local Home Guard. He later told us tales of guarding the “Fortune of War” on the Arterial Road, with just hoes and rakes for weapons. They did eventually obtain guns, but, at first, no ammunition! As he worked in London he also joined a fire-watching group and, so he told us, saved many theatres from burning. After the war this tale was often used by him to get us tickets to shows and plays in the West End of London!
I have only a few faint recollections of any celebrations of when the war ended in 1945, only that my father began to bring home some rather strange (to us) fruits. For example, a banana, which was mashed up by Mum together with milk and probably sugar, so that there was enough for us all to taste. I also remember eating a peach for the first time and thinking that it was bad in the middle when I encountered the stone! Rationing of course remained in place and the limitation this placed on the amount of sweets we obtained from either Boon’s opposite the Police Station at the Hiawatha, or Pelhams, further along, towards the High Road School. I’m sure it has resulted in still having all my own teeth today!
There were no holidays away from home for us during the war, but a great treat was to spend some time with our Nan and Grandad, William & Winifred Sumpter, (right) who lived next door but one at “Alema”. We were only allowed to go there one at a time, which meant a great deal in a household of 4 and 5 children.
I do have a vivid memory of spending about six weeks confined to the bedroom when, one by one, we all succumbed to first measles, then German measles and finally Chicken pox. I remember the large bed in our back bedroom being littered with books and jigsaw puzzle pieces as Mum sought to keep us quiet and herself probably sane. The three youngest in the family would occupy this big bed, with the next eldest having a single bed in the same room. The eldest had a single bed in the small back bedroom all to herself! As we grew up though, a double bed was put there which the eldest two occupied.
Before moving up to a Junior class at Markham’s Chase School, I was required, together with Ruth Pasco, Alan Grindle and Robert Davies (I think), to have another year in the Infant section, due to starting school a year earlier than I should have done. No reason for this was given and we all felt that we must have done something wrong. I remember some pupils at the time such as Alan Wickens, Margeret Frisby and Pamela Wood – other names from that year escape me, but in the class to which we were allocated, there was Dorothy Pepper, Christine Clark, Brenda Anderson, Jean Reeve, Rosemary Grainger, Kathleen Rowe, the Clegg twins, Janine and Jennifer, Joyce Tyler, Joan Powell, Dorothy Matthews, Geoffrey Newman, Albert (?), Alfred (?), Reggie Daniels, John White, Terry Willetts and Peter Clayton.
For me, writing compositions proved was an easy and enjoyable task, whilst arithmetic was different. At the end of each year’s tests, those marks always affected my position in the class, being placed, usually second or third behind Reggie Daniels, the son of the local cobbler, who lived on the High Road, just beyond Victoria Road, towards the station.
Mostly I walked to school, cutting across the cornfields on Nicholas Lane if we were late. It was towards the end of the war I think, that a bungalow on a road off Nicholas Lane, as it went up the hill from the High Road, was damaged, with the back half seemingly completely destroyed. Having a look was probably just such an occasion when I would have been delayed getting to school! Some time after the war, a bus was provided. This would wait on Nicholas Lane at its junction with the High Road, until it was time to turn the corner to the bus stop at the “Hiawatha”, where we were all waiting. I remember one occasion when the road was icy and, as the bus (just a single decker) came down the hill to turn right towards the bus stop, it turned over. I remember taking my younger sister Joan by the hand and went back to walking. Occasionally Mr. Daniels, Reggie’s father, would see us and give us a lift in his pony and trap.
The first holiday we had as a family was at Butlins in Clacton-on-Sea in the summer of 1947. My only memory of this is of my sister June, who attended Palmers School for Girls in Grays and had been taught to swim, deciding that it would be a good idea for me to learn as well. Her method however consisted of pushing me into the pool – I would tell you it was the deep end, but another sister, Jeanne, who pulled me out, is certain it was only the shallow end, as she would never have ventured into the deep end! Joan and I were entertained each day in the younger children’s activities arranged by the ‘Redcoats’, and we would be put to bed early while the others enjoyed the more adult dances and concerts.
My youngest sister, Vanessa was born in March 1948 to my utter amazement and, on being informed of the arrival of a baby sister the following morning, asked “why do we need another one of those?” Despite it being felt that it would be kind to offer her to my mother’s younger sister who was childless, Vanessa remained with us. I think it was probably about this time that Joan started school and I was charged to seeing her safely there and home. This caused me some concern which Miss Burge helped me to overcome. Joan was rather wilful and I was worried that she would not obey me when holding her hand to cross Pound Lane. Somehow I was not so worried about crossing the High Road. Occasionally, I would meet Miss Burge on the way to school and she assured me that she would see that Joan held my hand when necessary. As it turned out, there never was a problem!
My time at Markham’s Chase School came to a close in July 1950 in Mr. Wiggins’ class. Other teachers I remember are Mr. Devine, Mr. Finnegan (?) and Miss Burge. I was a successful member of the school netball team, in the position of either Shooter, or Wing Attack, I think other girls in the team were Brenda Anderson and Joyce Tyler, although I can’t be sure. We did win some games, but one I remember particularly was against Canvey Island school, where some rough play caused us a few problems, and injuries!
Having been prevented by parental request not to take part in the 11+ exams, my schooling continued at Laindon High Road Secondary School. Children from all the primary schools in the area attended here if they were not placed in either a Grammar School or Technical College. It was where my two elder sisters went to school, although they were both now out at work. I was placed in the ‘A’ stream with Miss Jollyman as my first teacher. Once again I was in the First year’s netball team, being one of the tallest girls at the time, only Pat Hutchins was taller. However, by the time I left school I had not grown very much taller, so ended up one of the smallest! We made our own navy blue skirts to wear, which was probably the only item I successfully completed in Mrs Gay’s needlework class. Quite a disappointment to my extremely adept mother and grandmother! I think Mrs. Gay also took us for cookery, where again I was not very talented, except for making bread. Her husband taught geography and we delighted in his many tales of distant lands as he took us on his ‘magic carpet’!
In my second year at the school, the class teacher was Mr. Bear, who taught Physical Education. My academic subjects took second place to athletics and I achieved some success for the school in being selected for the County team to represent them in the 100 yards sprint. Up against a wider and more competitive range of athletes, I only managed third or fourth place.
My particular friends in the second year were Pat Hutchins, Jack Baldwin (who gave me my first kiss!) and Robert Davies. On one hot summer day we were frustrated at being in a stuffy classroom, so decided to collect all the ‘window-winders’ throughout the school. I’m sure this was not the only prank we got up to, but it felt like fun at the time! The third year was my last full year at the school, and with Mr. Lane as class teacher. He taught mathematics and again I became frustrated (as I’m sure he was too!) with being unable to write down a method for achieving a correct answer – well, they were usually guesses! However, the correct answer achieved no marks without the method also given.
I used to walk home for my lunch each day and, in February 1952, the Headmaster Mr. Woodward had announced in the morning’s assembly the death of King George VI. At lunchtime I rushed home to tell my mother the news, and was quite taken by surprise when she burst into tears. She had obviously been busy working at home and not switched on the radio.
There were no school trips during my time there, apart from travelling to away netball games and athletic events. At playtimes it was either ball-games in the playground, skipping or football with the boys. This was probably under sufferance, but the attraction was that it was not really allowed! There were hockey games lessons as well, but as a winger, I did not enjoy constantly being tripped up as I sped past the defence – hockey sticks hurt!
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