The Manning School
Life changed for me when I finally went to the Manning school. For the first year I was desperately miserable even though there was no corporal punishment which I thought meant complete licence.
I had never before felt so completely isolated. At "Berridge Road School" I received admiration and sympathy from my peers when I got the strap or did anything wrong. We were united in hating the teachers here it was different. These girls wanted approval; they knew the school ethic and accepted it. I was a fish out of water. For the first time I learnt that my family background was something to be despised.
We wore school uniform, which the government today believes is an equaliser. That I suppose might be true if every child's uniform was brand new. Our uniform was a grey reefer outdoor coat, a grey blazer with the school badge, a grey felt hat with red and white hat band, a red and white ribbon tie, grey gymslip, grey blouse, grey stockings, thick grey bloomers, (which later we dubbed passion killers), black outdoor shoes plus black soft leather house shoes to be worn in indoors and plimsolls. A satchel was a compulsory part of equipment together with a geometry set and a fountain pen. A hockey stick was useful but not compulsory as they could be borrowed.
We were also informed that in summer we could wear dresses, white with a red print, which were available ready made from the school outfitters who also stocked the material by the yard. For summer a white panama and the blazer were compulsory and a tennis racquet recommended.
The uniform could be bought only from the school outfitters and the cost was so astronomical that I'm sure if Mam had priced it before accepting the school place I would not have been allowed to take it.
The High Pavement boys' grammar that my brother Harry went to had not been so rigid. They wore grey shorts and white shirts that could be bought anywhere. I think Mam made the blazer and bought the top pocket with the badge embroidered on. Harry did have to have a satchel, rugby boots and shirts, boxing gloves, plimsolls and maths equipment but the gloves and maths sets were birthday and Christmas presents and the satchel, a real leather one, was bought second hand. I don't know whether he met up with the same snobbery that I did but I think he found it easier to conform for when I told him how the teacher had jeered at me when I said my Dad was a bus driver (she asked if he drove down "ice and cream" which she said was the way I pronounced my district of Hyson Green) he told me he had said his father was a confectioner.
My blazer was new and bought far too big to allow for growth. My blouses were second hand and had become yellow and to add to my humiliation Harry said he could manage without a satchel now so I inherited this dark shabby objected with huge light stitching on the corners where the local cobbler had repaired it.
I developed a chip on my shoulder so when I found myself placed in the bottom form I was convinced it was because of my family background, especially as I thought my classmates were pretty thick even though they knew many things I didn't for example at the end of term the teacher had them playing "hangman", a game of which I had never heard and they also had anagrams to solve; again I had no idea of what we were supposed to do.
One of my biggest disappointments was the French lessons. I had picked up a spattering of French from my French grandmother but none of this was acceptable to my teacher. The words I knew she said didn't exist. I can only suppose Momma spoke a patois and indeed Granddad often said she spoke French like a "Flemish cow." The result of this was that I became utterly confused and no longer attempted to speak French at all not even to Momma.
Dad had always taught us to stand up for ourselves, "Don't come and tell me someone has hit you or I'll give you another. Give as good as you get." he would say. So it was natural for me to lash out when another girl played practical jokes on me such as sticking my desk lid down, filling my inkwell with blotting paper, shaking her pen to add to the blots on my homework, tearing my books and finally putting a drawing pin on my chair.
I attacked her and threw her out of the French windows, which fortunately were open. My teacher called me a "gutter snipe." I was sent to stand under the dome until the headmistress called me into her room.
The dome was in the centre of the school. Under it was the head's study and the secretary's office.Sooner or later the head would emerge and order me into her study.I did not help my case by remaining mute when ask to explain my behaviour.
In the Hyson Green code you didn't "tell tales." We had a rhyme that we levied at any one breaking the code:
"Tell tale tit,
Your tongue will split
And all the little doggies
Will have a bit."
I despised my fellow pupils who tattled to teachers.
My parents were sent for and I was threatened with expulsion if I didn't mend my ways. My parents were both angry and alarmed. They told me that if I was expelled it would ruin my baby brother's chance of receiving a Grammar school education. That alone would have been enough to bring me to heel but the school imposed its own form of punishment. I was put on report, which meant I had to have my form teacher sign a weekly report to certify that I had behaved myself. Nor was that all. There was a house point system and until I came off report I lost points for my house.
Personally I couldn't have cared less and made no attempt to earn points by taking part in house activities which I regarded as childish and akin to the kind of activities I had done in Brownies ( a short lived membership). In any case the extra curriculum activities for the most part took place during the lunch hour and I was needed at home to help with dinner that we took at midday. This was usually a fry up unless Mam had cooked tripe or we had fish and chips or pie and peas from the chippy.
My classmates made their feelings known by sending me to "Coventry" inspired by the girl I had quarrelled with and the "School Girl" stories they read. I don't think it was because the girl was popular that she was able to influence them but because she was a bully. She didn't physically attack anyone but devised tricks and methods of getting them into trouble.
During my period of "Coventry" only one girl in the class spoke to me. Her name was "Ellen" and I have the feeling that she was an orphan at any rate her uniform, like mine, had seen better days and she too had suffered being held to ridicule by certain teachers.
I wasn't at all grateful for her attention, I told her to join the others less she too got sent to Coventry. In a perverse way I enjoyed my martyrdom and incurred more displeasure by "showing off" asking questions with a double entendre.
The gap between my upbringing and that of my classmates was brought home to me in "hygiene" lessons. We were asked how often we took a bath. There were some who bathed once a week and they were told how essential it was to wash all over everyday. Then the teacher asked if there was anyone who didn't have a bath at least once a week. I put my hand up. I think she was disgusted but I thought it a joke when she asked, "how often?"
"Never," I replied.
The class gasped and she said she would talk to me later. I didn't get chance to tell her about the weekly wash down in the copper.
Until these hygiene lessons I had never owned a tooth brush but afterwards I plagued Mam to buy me one. "Momma" had lost all her teeth and I didn't want to finish up toothless.
Most of my schoolfellows were bussed to school; they lived in more affluent parts of town except for the girl who had been my friend at Berridge Road School. She was in a higher class than me and she had abandoned me before we left Berridge Rd. It was shortly after we were both thrown out of the Girl Guides. To this day I don't know why but the manner of ditching me was terribly hurtful.
My neighbourhood friends turned against me calling me "A Grammar School Snob". The isolation of the school day made playing with Johnny, my baby brother, all the more delightful. His face lit up as he held out his arms to be picked up for he spent most of the day in his pram. Often in the afternoons I returned to school with a damp patch on my gymslip.
And then Johnny got scarlet fever and it was my fault.
Once again I prayed long and hard, promising to be good if only "He" would make Johnny better. Guilt smothered me like a heavy blanket and yet how could I have known that danger lurked in the unkempt yard next door?
The house and shop next door had been empty for a long time. Grass grew between the yard bricks and although the yard smelt fetid we didn't mind, it was our secret place. Why oh why did it have to be Johnny that caught scarlet fever why couldn't it have been me?
For two weeks I had to stay away from school and all my books had to be stoved. Both Harry and I had throat swabs taken, he was clear but they said I was a carrier.They took Johnny away! Mam didn't want him to go to hospital but again Dad overruled her because, according to the health inspector, if he stayed at home the shop would have to close.
For the first few days no one was allowed to see him and after that parents could view through glass. One day Mam came home sobbing. Johnny had seen her and cried to come to her. The row she had with Dad was long and bitter every wrong word he had ever uttered was thrown in his face:
"You'd never let your wife go out to work, oh no. If I'd took a proper job like our Vi I could have looked after my baby."
All their quarrels ended with Mam shouting, "You're a liar, you're a bloody liar," and Dad saying "You lying bogar you." This was so habitual that in later years Harry and I chipped in after the first "Liar" and finished it for them. Fortunately they had a sense of humour and although they tried to hide their smiles it took the heat out of the squabble.
Johnny had been in hospital for two weeks when Dad told us cousin Jean had been admitted to hospital with scarlet fever. She was two years younger than me and an only child. Her mother was one of Mam's sisters but their house was in "Forest Fields" a district bordering on Hyson Green and considered up market although their house was a two bedroom terrace type, it had patch of garden in the yard. Jean had to go into hospital because her mother had a heart complaint and wasn't considered strong enough to nurse her at home.
"Well," I said, "I never give it to her."
I hadn't played with Jean since we left Bateman St. and we ran round with ribbons on sticks in support of our parent's political candidate.
The doctor couldn't have considered the trauma he caused when he told my parents that the fever germs had incubated in my throat and that I had passed them on to the baby. If he died it was my fault I reasoned as I sobbed myself to sleep. To add to my misery I had pains low down in my belly.
The bleeding started in the night. "My thingy's started" I told Mam. Some sense of superstition forbad me to use the only word I knew for my condition. I was cursed enough.
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