I can still recall my first day at Berridge Rd. School. It was a Victorian mausoleum. During the First World War it had been used as a hospital for wounded soldiers. Some children were dragged in screaming, terrified of what was to come. Mam said I wouldn't get hit if I behaved myself. That was easier said than done.
The classroom had high windows, and exciting toys fastened to the ceiling. In the winter it had an open fire surrounded by a nursery fireguard. During the day, I think it was after dinner; we had to fold our arms on the desk and put our heads down to rest. I couldn't resist peaking, that earned a rap from the ruler by the beady-eyed teacher.
We were turned out in the yard at break unless it was wet when Miss "G" took her milk in the classroom. It must have been boiled for as she sipped flecks of skin lingered on her lips. I watched fascinated as her tongue flicked out from her snake like mouth to remove it.
"You," the ruler pointed my way. "What are you staring at?"
"Those," I glibly lied, pointing to the swing and rocking horse fastened out of reach. "Can we have a go now?"
"No you cannot."
The question was not answered unless "Hold out your hand" can be considered an answer. I never saw those toys brought down, they were just a few of the interesting objects one came across in childhood that mustn't be touched.
Mam noticed my reddened swollen hand. "What did you do to get that?" she asked.
"With you it's always nothing."
Later I heard her tell Dad, "They'll not get the better of her. She's as hard as nails."
She told my dad I was "a devil up the back". It was years before I knew what she meant but eventually I saw the similarity with "a pain in the arse".
My parents always assumed I deserved whatever punishment I got unlike one of my fellow pupils mother. I recall one morning we had a reading test. There were several words printed in large letters and placed in a ribbon along the wall. Miss G pointed to a word and then to a pupil. One girl was chosen to read Cat. She just stared and said nothing. I wondered why. Surely she knew she would get whacked. It didn't occur to me that she didn't know.
Miss G screamed at her before pointing to three more words. Then Miss G shouted at her and asked her what that was - pointing to the wet chair. Sobbing the child said she had running eczema. That sent Miss G into a rage and she whacked the girl's legs with the ruler.
That afternoon a beefy red headed woman charged into the classroom and attacked Miss G. while we all watched dumfounded and delighted.
I must have been a difficult child for I was regularly hit with the strap at school, usually for being late. We had a saying, "Tread on a crack you'll get a whack". All the way to school I tried to avoid cracks in the pavement but never managed to miss them all or the punishment.
At a very young age I made myself a promise, "When I'm growd up, I'll bash the teachers and burn the school down." But I never did, honest. Although I can't deny a sneaking sympathy for those who do.
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