Re: Heber primary school memories
Posted by Wardy
19 February, 2009 23:21
OK here we go. But before I do let me remind you that these are my memories from he early fifties. Things were very different then and thankfully they have changed. I would like to warn you that there is reference to black people, there is swearing and there is mention of things that would be unacceptable in todays world, but this is how it was. If you think you may be ofended, please dont read this chapter from my book. If you enjoy the chapter let me know, I have lots more stories about the early fifties in Dulwich.
One memory, which will stay with me for ever, was my first day at school. I think it must have been on this day that I decided that school wasn’t for me and that teachers were only interested in kids that came from the posh part of town, kids that had dads who wore suits to work and spoke proper English. My dad was a builder and we spoke a language called Cockney – not very popular with teachers in those days, even though just a few years previously, builders, teachers and dads who wore suits were fighting side by side in a long and bloody world war. It seemed to me that the working class were not particularly well thought of by teachers and that teaching them was something they had to do, not what they wanted to do. Yes, even at the early age of five my thoughts on this subject were being formed. Maybe those thoughts were not particularly focused or mature, but those thoughts would stay with me for many years and mould me into a rebel throughout my school days and beyond.
It was 8am, some time in September 1955; I was up, dressed and ready for my first day at school. The school I was attending was Heber Road Infant School; it was situated in the next road to where I lived. A school uniform was mandatory at Heber Road and I had the complete kit – grey shirt, school tie, black shoes and grey short trousers; I felt very proud of myself as I looked in the mirror. “Come on,” said mum, “it’s time to go.” I hurried towards the front door; I couldn’t wait. We walked along the road and up the hill, and after a couple of minutes we reached the school gates. I think there was some sort of registration process – mum had to sign forms and was given some official paperwork. When all the paperwork was completed I was parted from my mum and escorted to my classroom.
It was here that I was to meet, for the first time, a most frightening creature known as a “form teacher.” Her name was Miss Hussey, a name that will stay with me for evermore. All teachers in those days seem to be a “Miss” and they all looked a hundred years old, but this woman, I am sure, was a hundred years old. I will never forget her; on meeting, she looked down on me and stared me straight in the face. I can remember thinking that she looked like my cat, Charlie. She had grey whiskers, just like him, and a round-shaped cat face with green penetrating eyes. I feel so ashamed for saying that; after all, there is no good reason for insulting my old and faithful cat – he was a lovely.
I instinctively knew that this woman didn’t like me – being in this class wasn’t going to be a picnic. “Right Ward,” she said, “sit in that chair and don’t move.” There was no introduction, no words of comfort and not a sign of a smile. I don’t know exactly what I thought at the time. What I do know is, my dreams of going to school, learning to read, doing sums and finding out about the world were completely shattered within the first few moments of meeting this horrible woman. Miss Hussey had a way of ensuring this and ensuring that any child who came from a working-class family would be reminded of their background on a daily basis. She wasn’t going let them forget that there were other children in the class that were better. Better because their parents were professional people, had their own business and lived in a better part of Dulwich. I hated this woman from day one and she still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth to this day.
I quickly got to know the rules of survival at school, the teachers not to talk too, the kids to steer clear of and the areas where not to play. Although I didn’t learn very much academically, I did learn a lot about people and their peculiar ways and opinions. As an example, every morning without fail Miss Hussey would walk around the class holding a perfume spray bottle. The bottle would be filled with a sweet-smelling substance; you couldn’t buy a can of air freshener in those days – such things didn’t exist. She would point the spray at each individual child whom she considered not to be worthy of attending the school. She would spray that child with the substance and say the words “Dirty child, smelly child.” Needless to say, I was one of those children who were sprayed regularly; actually I was sprayed every day. So what was the lesson I learned from this mindless act? Well, I was different – I was different because I lived in a rough street, my parents didn’t have fancy clothes and we had very little money, I would go nowhere in life and have nothing. As for the opinion I gained from this experience – people like Miss Hussey were sad, cruel and deserved a painful exit from this world for treating children in such a way. I probably didn’t think exactly like that at the time, but I certainly remember wishing that woman dead on many occasions.
I remember one occasion when Miss Hussey was talking to some of her favourite kids about illnesses – I don’t know why she was having this conversation, she just was. Desperately wanting to prove myself in some way, I joined in the conversation, saying that I believed that there was a plant to cure every illness, such as eating a daffodil could cure a cold. Now I probably gave my opinion in more childish terms – I was only five years old – but the reaction of Miss Hussey was out of all proportion. She threw her hand to the back of my neck and, bending me forward, she slapped the back of my legs over and over again. I can remember each blow of her hand like it was yesterday. I had never been smacked before; it wasn’t a nice experience and it hurt. After pounding my legs several times she pushed me out the classroom where I remained for the rest of the day, in Miss Hussey’s words, “for being stupid”. I stood outside that classroom trembling with a horrible burning pain in the back of my legs, but the real pain wasn’t in my legs, it was in my heart. All my expectations of what I was going to achieve and do at school had vanished. I hated school; I just wanted my mum.
I often think about that day and what I said. I think it showed an intelligent child, a child that had an opinion probably beyond their years. Needless to say, here we are years later trying to save our rain forests because, amongst other things, there are plants and trees in that forest that may cure all sorts of diseases, including the common cold; So, up yours Miss Hussey; I was right.
Not all teachers were like Miss Hussey; some were almost normal and some I believe may have actually liked me. I had one favourite teacher whose name I believe was Miss Allen. She stood out from the other teachers because she was very young and always had a smile and time to listen. I can remember having music lessons with her and enjoying every moment. We would sing songs like “Bar Bar Black Sheep” and “Simple Simon,” songs that if sung today would bring the race discrimination board and the disability discrimination people down on you like a ton of bricks.
Miss Allen had her own child attending the school; I think his name was Paul. I can remember wishing that I was Paul and that his mum was my mum. There wasn’t anything wrong with the mum that I had – I loved her very much – but I was conscious that she was somewhat older than most other parents. You see, my mum gave birth to me at the age of forty. This may not seem unusual in today’s modern world with career-minded working mums giving birth in later years, but back in the early fifties most mums had finished giving birth in their early thirties, having started in their very early twenties or teens. My parents’ ages would prove to be a big factor in my growing-up years, one that would give me many embarrassing moments. Perhaps I should explain. When I say “embarrassment” I mean just that; I don’t mean I was ashamed of my parents – just the opposite, I was proud of them both. I was embarrassed because in my immature mind I felt that my mum and dad were too old compared to my friends’ parents who all seemed a lot younger. It was silly and selfish, I know, but that is how I felt as a child and for many years as a teenager. To say differently would be a lie.
Another teacher that I must mention is Miss Bromley. She was a spinster who lived with her mum in Dulwich Village. Miss Bromley never actually took me for any lessons, but she would always talk to me. She seemed like a lady who should have been married with children and not looking after an aged mother. I suppose she must have lost her way somewhere in life or got caught in a conscience trap where she felt she couldn’t leave mum.
Silly, I know, but I remember Miss Bromley almost every time I button my shirt. Let me explain: I could never button my shirt; I always got the wrong button in the wrong hole. Consequently one side of my shirt collar would always be two inches higher then the other, making me look like I had a shoulder deformity. In other words I always looked completely lop-sided. Miss Bromley was for ever re-doing the buttons on my shirt. One day she said “Eric, come here.” She was probably the only teacher to call me “Eric” – all the others called me “Ward.” She took me to one side and explained that if I started from the bottom of my shirt, putting the bottom button in the bottom hole, then all the others would fall in line. I remember her words to this day, hence, I remember Miss Bromley almost every morning.
One of the good things about going to school was the free school milk. Every child, every day, got milk that we drank straight from the bottle – no fancy paper cups or plastic containers. However, I do seem to remember being given a paper straw. Could you imagine today giving five year olds glass bottles to drink from? Not only glass bottles but milk that was full fat and non-organic. Modern mums and dads would go completely barmy.
The lady that gave out the milk was Miss Wellington. She was a stout lady, about sixty years old (that’s very old when you’re only five). Miss Wellington had red rosy cheeks, grey hair and a very firm voice, but somehow you knew she was kindly. Looking back, I think she probably had a dry sense of humour and enjoyed the company of small children.
Miss Wellington was also responsible for dishing out cod liver oil. This horrible-tasting substance was given daily to children who were considered malnourished in some way. They were usually children who came from large families; I’m talking large, upwards of ten kids in one family.
One girl, Shirley Osborn, had sixteen brothers and sisters. Smelly Osborn was her nickname and she did smell. Kids from large families usually did smell and always had dirty necks, but the big giveaway when it came to being dirty was when we had physical education or PE as it was known then. PE required that you undress and come out of the dressing room wearing only a pair of shorts, no trainers, or plimsolls as they were called then. It was here that you got a glimpse of real dirty kids, long toe nails full of dirt, heals that were caked with grime and black between their toes. You must understand that it wasn’t the fault of the child or the parents, but with such a large family and probably no bath in the house, there was little chance of them ever seeing a bar of soap or clean water. Just imagine trying to wash all those children every night before going to bed. You would need to start at tea time and you probably wouldn’t be finished until midnight. No, it was a lot easier to let the grime stay were it was and take the rude comments once a week at PE. It’s horrible of me to say this, but I was glad there were kids like this – it gave me a feeling of not being quite at the bottom of the pile. After all, I didn’t need the cod liver oil tablets and my feet were usually reasonably clean.
Talking of kids from large families reminds me of Douglas Elstone. Doug was one of my mates at school. It didn’t matter to me that his neck was dirty and some days he was a bit high. I don’t mean high on drugs, I mean high from various body odours, as every so often they would whiff up from some part of his body.
He came from a family of fourteen, not including his mum and dad. I will always remember the somewhat adventurous times when visiting his house. In addition to having all these kids in the house there were also dozens of cats, and I mean dozens. Everywhere you looked there were cats, under the chairs, in the cupboards even in the outside toilet. One of the things that brought me endless enjoyment was to rattle a spoon on a plate and to see all these cats come running from every direction imaginable; the room would be full to the brim with cats of all colours and sizes. Needless to say there was no such thing as cat litter in those days or cat trays; you can imagine the state of that house with all those cats crapping in every corner of every room – it made Doug smell almost sweet.
On a brighter note, he was a good mate and his mum and dad always had time to talk. On reflection, I suppose his dad had time because he never ever went to work; he just sat in an old worn-out chair reading his paper day after day.
A friend that stayed with me for many years throughout my school days was Ronny Pace, “Pasty” as he was known. He started school on the same day as me and we both had the pleasure of having Miss Hussey as our teacher. Pasty lived a couple of streets down from me. He lived in what we called an aerie. An aerie was a basement flat – why they were called aeries I don’t know; they just were.
Pasty’s mum and dad were very strange. His mum was always poorly dressed but his dad was reasonably smart. Their house still had blackout blinds. These were blinds that were used during the war to block out the light when German aircraft were overhead; the war had been over for ten years. His dad propagated cacti – he had hundreds.
The thing I remember most about Pasty and his family is that for many years they lived like church mice, then one day they suddenly packed up and moved to a house, which they bought for cash, in a very expensive part of Dulwich Village. I never did find out where the money came from.
During our early days at school, Pasty bonded with me and wherever you saw me you would see Pasty. We would walk to school together and walk home together, but you would never see us together outside of school time – Pasty was never allowed to play in the street like other kids. It may seem normal nowadays to keep your kids in, but in those days it was very un-normal; kids always played in the street.
One of the great things about school was the girls. Yes, even at that very early age I was interested in girls. I’m sure it wasn’t anything sexual; I just knew they were different and sometimes I felt something inside me that said “one day you will appreciate girls”.
My first love was Elsa Marion. Elsa was adopted and lived a few streets away from where I lived, in a very neat and tidy house. She was an only child. I can remember being fascinated by her curly hair, glasses and clear skin. I loved Elsa so much that I let her hold my pet dog Peter, a privilege only given to the few. I don’t remember much more about Elsa; I don’t think we kissed, in fact I’m sure we didn’t – after all, at the age of five kissing was only for sissies. I had a lot to learn.
Thinking about Peter, he was my pet black and white mongrel dog. I only had him for a short time. I came home one day from school and he was gone. Mum told me he had gone to a big farm in the country. I obviously know now that he was taken to the pet shop and sold, but as a child I believed my mum and dreamed of Peter running across open fields and playing with the lambs. The truth is he was probably sold by the pet shop for medical research as many animals were in those days.
My early memories of school are somewhat bitty; I remember some things and other things I can’t. I suppose at such an early age one only remembers the things that are funny, frightening, hurtful or different, and, believe me, things were different in those days.
I hade been at school for about a year – it must have been about 1956. Now, I want you to imagine that you are about six years old, you live in Dulwich, London and you attend a very large infant/junior school. Now this is the part where you really need to use your imagination; there are no black children. In fact you have never seen a black person in real life. The only black people you have ever seen were in a film at the pictures – films about Africa or the Congo. Usually these black people wore very little clothing, had disfigured ear lobes or noses, painted their faces and jumped about waving spears. You may consider my comments as racist; sorry, but that’s how it was; black people had no part in my life or that of the people who lived in my community.
Now imagine my surprise and absolute astonishment when one day my form teacher brought into the classroom two black boys: John Series and Patrick Jackson. Both were to attend our school. Everyone in the classroom was amazed to see black people in real life; you could hear their reactions. I can say with all honesty that at this point in my life there was no question of racism or hatred for another race or colour; I was, as was every other child in the school, truly intrigued by their colour and features. However, there was a downside to all this. As children we were told that if you ever saw a black person you should rub their hair for good luck. Yes, everyone in the school, all five-hundred kids or more, believed this to be true. It was a complete nightmare for John and Patrick; every day they would be chased by dozens of kids wanting good luck. They spent most of their time running away or locked in the school bogs. Eventually kids got tired of chasing good luck and left John and Patrick alone. They were to become my very good friends for many years.
If you were to ask me what I learnt in my early days at school, it would be hard for me to give an answer. Thinking about it, and not wanting to be negative, my answer would probably be, “the things I learnt and never forgot have been of no use to me throughout my adult life.” As an example, pissing up the wall, yes, this was a great pastime and if you could become champion you were someone to be reckoned with.
The school toilets were situated outside in the playground. They were typical of school toilets in those days: smelly, always wet and never warm. However, there was a good side to this; teachers rarely entered and the walls were painted matt black. “Why is matt black good?” I can hear you say. Well, if you piss on matt black it shines so you can see where you have pissed. Let me explain: When I was a child at school there were competitions between boys to see who could piss up the toilet wall the highest. By having matt black paint you could see exactly where you had pissed without any argument from others. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit this, but I am still proud to this day of being one of the pissing-up-the-wall champions of the 1950s. So proud in fact that in later years my talent landed me in an Egyptian prison, but that’s another story.
Let’s get back to John and Patrick for a moment. They were cousins, born in Brazil, where apparently both their parents were killed in a car crash. As a result they were shipped off to England to live with their nan.
One of my earliest memories of meeting their nan was one Friday afternoon after school. They invited me to their house: a large semi-detached property in Lordship Lane, Dulwich, just a five-minute walk from the school. Now remember, I was a white kid who until recently had never seen or mixed with black people. My diet was stews, bangers, fish and chips and liver and bacon. I had never heard of or seen boiled rice. My rice came as a creamy desert; I never knew it could be eaten as a main meal. Curry was a word I had never heard of and a smell I had never experienced. As for chickens, they were bought from the local butcher, “dead”. Note that I say local butcher – supermarkets were non-existent, and they weren’t to come about for many years.
We arrived at John and Patrick’s house. As they opened the door I was hit by a smell which made me want to run for my life: it was terrific. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the smell of curry, my favourite food today, but back then it was repulsive. I walked into the hallway trying not to breath and desperately wanting to gag. Here I was greeted by their nan.
Their nan was a very old lady, about five feet tall and very thin. Her smile intrigued me; the few teeth she had were so white against her black skin. She had a squeaky laugh, wore a pinny, head scarf and plimsolls (plimsolls are probably best described as the original trainers).
Going into that house, breathing in those smells and meeting their nan was an experience of a lifetime. It was like going into a different world; nothing could be stranger or so I thought until we reached the kitchen.
I could hardly believe my eyes. Under the sink, tied to a water pipe, was a live chicken. Being an inquisitive boy I said, “Why have you got a chicken in the kitchen?” Their nan gave a squeaky laugh and said in a very strong Caribbean-type accent, “Dis is me dinnor for Sunday.” “How can you eat the chicken? It’s alive.” She laughed again. “Not for long,” she replied. “Come with me.” We all, including the chicken, went into the garden. Nan went half way up the garden path, stopped, waved the chicken around whilst chanting a few strange words and then calmly and without warning cut off the poor @#$%&’s head with a rusty razor blade. It may seem strange, but I wasn’t shocked at seeing the decapitation of the chicken, but I was mesmerised at seeing the chicken run round the garden minus a head. I remember looking at the chicken’s head lying on the floor with its eyes still open, looking at the chicken running around with no head, looking again at the head and then again at the chicken. I must have looked like one of those nodding dogs you see in the back of cars. I couldn’t believe what was happening.
Can you imagine what would happen today if a small child was subjected to such a thing? Social services and animal rights people would have a field day; the TV would probably broadcast it as a child caught up in a satanic ritual.
Sunday lunch for me was never to be the same after that day; I would always look at my dinner plate and remember that chicken running away from its head.
At the age of about seven I was becoming a bit of a sports fanatic; I liked boxing, wrestling, swimming and running. Being very tall I was always picked by teachers to run in school races on sports day and enjoyed racing against other kids in the street.
On one occasion, at the end of a school day, I was walking from the school across the playground to the school gate. A class mate, whose name I can’t remember, asked if I wanted a race. “Where to?” I asked. “To the corner shop at the bottom of the hill,” he replied. Running to the bottom of the hill involved running to the bottom of the playground, through the school gate, across the road and down the hill to the corner shop. “Okay,” I said, and off we went. I remember in absolute detail the next few tragic seconds. I knew I could beat him, but in my little head I wanted to let him get in front and at the last moment, just as he thought he was going to win, I would push forward and beat him at the line. I had seen this done by professional runners like Roger Bannister and for this race, in my imagination, I was Roger Bannister.
Just before we came to the school gate I let him overtake me. He shot past, went through the gate and ran into the road. At that very moment there was a tremendous thud; he had been hit by a motorbike and sidecar. He was dragged yards along the road, his body bashing up and down on the tarmac as he was pulled along. People were screaming and running about in panic. I stood for while looking and wondering what to do. I can remember hearing my heart pounding against my chest.
An ambulance eventually arrived and he was rushed to hospital. Nobody asked me what had happened and I never volunteered any information; I probably thought I would get into trouble. The injuries to his legs were so bad that he never returned to school and I never saw him again.
Looking back you could say his unluckiest day was my luckiest. If I hadn’t decided to let him get in front I probably wouldn’t be writing this book today and you probably would never have been born – it would have changed my life completely. I often wonder who I should thank for allowing me to be here today: him for suggesting the race, me for letting him get in front, or Roger Bannister for giving me the inspiration to think I was a professional runner.
I can’t go through the process of thinking about my early school days without mentioning Mr Easter or Easter Egg as he was know to all the kids. Mr Easter was, to me at the time, a very old man, grey hair, wrinkles and a very gruff voice, always smartly dressed with a pocket handkerchief in his jacket top pocket. He was the headmaster of Heber Road School and he ruled with a rod of iron.
Every morning there was a school assembly where we prayed and sang Christian songs. I suppose in today’s modern Britain, with our multi-cultural society, this would probably be considered improper. Anyway, Mr Easter would always stand right at the front of the assembly and sing as loud as possible while rigorously waving a musical conductor stick.
It’s not very pleasant and undoubtedly not complimentary to him, but my only real memory of Old Easter Egg was of one morning when he was in full song in front of the whole school. He was throwing his arms in the air, pacing up and down full of confidence. Suddenly a large lump of yellow phlegm popped out of his mouth faster then a lizard’s tongue. It slithered down his chin for a moment before he quickly sucked it back in his mouth. His face went red and we all giggled out loud. From that day on Mr Easter never seemed to sing quite so loudly or be so prominent in front of the morning assembly – poor old sod.
I spoke earlier about being tall and always being chosen for running races. Another sport I was always chosen for, mainly because of my height, was the hop, skip and jump. What a @#$%& waste of time that sport was – no purpose, no meaning and certainly no enjoyment. Despite my protests, year after year I would be selected for this nonsense activity and year after year penalised for not winning.
I could never understand why so-called educated teachers consistently chose a child to represent the school in an activity that the child clearly had no interest in or intention of winning.
One sport I loved and was extremely good at was swimming. I could swim at the age of four and was competent to swim in any depth of water and dive from diving boards at the age of just five, but I was never chosen to swim for the school. No, this activity was, in those days, considered a privilege and a privilege that was reserved for the chosen few, those children whose parents turned up for parents evenings and helped at school bazaars or ran school committees.
I know this may sound like I’m bitter, but it’s true – that’s the way it was and I, like other kids, accepted this as part of life. There was us and there was them; they had the cream and we had the scraps. Thinking about it, I don’t suppose things have really changed that much today or ever will.
A very clear memory of my early school days was the build-up to the Christmas break. The school was putting on a fancy-dress party and all kids were instructed to turn up and to make sure they were in fancy dress.
There was a prize for the best entrant – I can’t remember what the prize was, but I wanted to win. Unfortunately, mum and dad didn’t place a lot of importance to the school’s request and on the evening of the party I was without a costume. I was only a little chap, probably about six or seven and I wanted to go and I wanted to be dressed-up.
After lots of tears and moaning my mum gave in. “Okay you can go.” “But what as, mum? I haven’t got a costume.” She thought for a while: “I know, come over here,” she said, beckoning me to the fireplace. I walked over to where she stood; she bent down to the fire grate, placed her hand in some soot and proceeded to spread this all over my face. “What are you doing, mum?” “Don’t worry,” she said, “you will look fine.” After plastering my face with black soot she went into her bedroom and returned with an old frock and a head scarf. “Put those on,” she said. “Why? What am I going to be?” “You are going to be a ‘Cool Black Mamma’, that’s what you are going to be.” To avoid any mistakes, mum also hung a large cardboard sign around my neck with the words “Cool Black Mamma”.
I walked into the school as proud as could be; I kept thinking how much I looked like John and Patrick’s nan. Everyone looked at me and the more they looked the more I smiled, smiled that is, until I looked at the judges.
I said earlier that black people were relatively rare when I was a child. Unfortunately on this particular evening rarity had been excused; yes, you’ve guessed it, one of the judges was as black as black could be. I don’t know what my thoughts were at that particular moment, but I would imagine they were something like “Well @#$%& my luck. On all the days to meet a black man, I have to go and pick this one.” Fortunately I had no need to worry – I won the contest; the black judge thought my fancy dress was great and very original.
You see in those days things were very different – the black and white minstrels were well known and loved by huge audiences across the world, black people were always portrayed in cinema films as servants or piano players in bars, and Robinsons Jam had a picture of a “Golly” on the jar, known by everyone as a “Golliwog”. By the way, the black and white minstrels were white singers who painted their faces black, their lips brilliant white and wore black frizzy wigs and white gloves; Golliwogs were fictitious characters that were black with curly hair, big white eyes and wore stripped trousers. You’ll never see things like that today, and that’s probably not a bad thing.
One of my great passions for many years as a child and as a teenager was acting. Acting to me was so natural; when acting I could be anyone or anything. I had no fear of performing in front of the class or performing at home in front of visitors; I could stand up at any time, anywhere and act – I loved it.
Whenever the class teacher asked for someone to come to the front and act out a character, I would be there, and all the kids in the class would call out “Come on Wardy. Get up and act.”
Unfortunately for me, although I had an acting talent, and believe me I really did have talent, I was never asked to perform in any of the school plays. Parts in school plays were always reserved for the well-thought-of kids, regardless of their acting ability. I remember year after year watching the school plays and thinking how much better I could have played the part if given the chance. Year after year I saw the same old faces up on that stage; the school prefect, the deputy school prefect, teachers’ children, kids from smart areas and kids whose parents were professional people. I never saw any kid from my street up on that stage or any kid that came from a large family, regardless of their acting ability.
After all these years I don’t want to believe that those teachers were selective or prejudiced in their choice of children for the school plays, but surely the ability to act doesn’t depend on one’s background. I can only sadly conclude that they were indeed selective and they were prejudiced.
School holidays were something that I longed for. In the holidays I could be free of those teachers and all their silly ways. Free that is except for one year when all children were called back to school because of a polio outbreak. Polio was a horrible disease that could leave children paralysed from the waist down or at the very least crippled and having to wear an iron leg brace.
The government of the time decided that there was to be a mass inoculation of all children which would be carried out at local schools. I was taken by a neighbour, a lady who owned the corner shop, to the school for my inoculation. I can see it to this day; there was a long line of children stretching all the way from the school playground and along the pavement outside the school. I had never had an inoculation or injection as we called them, but I had a good idea what it was all about.
It seemed an endless queue and the more I waited the more fearful I became. As I got closer to the table, set up in the playground where the injections were being given, I could see the odd child fainting as the needle was pushed into their arm. I remember thinking that I wanted to go home and take my chances with polio rather then have that done to me; even the thought of a leg iron seemed a better option then that injection. The needles of the fifties were unlike the needles of today – they weren’t disposable, and they were a lot thicker and were used until blunt. My only hope was to be lucky enough to get a sharp one.
Finally it was my turn. I looked up at a rather fierce-looking lady; she made no eye contact as she concentrated on refilling the syringe. She grabbed my arm, plunged in the needle and the rest is just a blur – I can only guess I got a blunt one. I woke up in the house of the lady that took me. I felt cold, sick and I promised myself I would never have another injection in my lifetime; it’s a promise I kept until I was in my mid-twenties.
I could gabble on for hours about my days at Heber Road School, after all I was there for six years. However, I’m going to leave the school with one last memory, to me the most exciting memory of my days there. I say the most exciting, exciting only from the eyes of a child. I was about eight years old at the time; I hated school, hated teachers and the system, so imagine my delight when one day the school burnt down.
It was the evening before the start of a new term; I was indoors playing with my toy soldiers when I heard the sound of a fire engine. Fire engines didn’t have sirens in those days; they had bells which were hand-operated by one of the fire crew pulling on a small rope. I ran outside to see people rushing towards Heber Road. “The school’s alight,” they cried, “the school’s alight.” I joined all the others and made my way quickly towards the school. Its not something I am proud of, but, I will remind you again, I was just eight years old, and fire engines and fire were exciting enough, but to see the fire engines outside my school and to see my school ablaze was almost a dream come true. Every window had flames bellowing out from the broken pains of glass and thick smoke pushed its way through the roof tiles – what a sight. Surely this would mean the end of school for evermore; it could never be rebuilt. Unfortunately, or should I now say in my more mature years “fortunately”, the school was up and running within a couple of weeks.