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A Shout From The Attic: School

...School was a necessary evil to be patiently borne, but I didn’t know why it was necessary... Ronnie Bray recalls his early schooldays.

For more of Ronnie's life story click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page. Read also his vastly entertaining weekly columns, Letter From America.

When I am asked which school I attended, I say, Spring Grove, and I suppose that on balance, I did go there, although sometimes I did not go there. The cinema exerted a tremendous influence on me from about twelve years onward. I would rather be in the pictures, or flicks, as we called the cinema, than in school. If anyone ever told my parents, they didn’t tell me, but in a non-conversational house that could not be called remarkable. As far as I am aware, no truant officer ever called at my home, 121 Fitzwilliam Street.

I got used to school without either enjoying it or recognising its place in the grand scheme of what we call Life. School was a necessary evil to be patiently borne, but I didn’t know why it was necessary. If only someone had explained, I might have….but probably not!

I was happy to leave school. In my final year, school had seemed somewhat friendlier, although I never had any special friends. I formed a mutual understanding with one girl. She had passed her eleven-plus examination at another school and, it was understood, had started grammar school, but found the work rather difficult, so she moved into our class and sat at the next desk to mine.

To say that she was a nice girl is to say too little about her. Eileen Wolfenden was very nice. She wore her hair in two long plaits and came from a well-to-do family who owned Jubb's printing company on St John’s Road, Huddersfield. We got on without being close, probably because I never ragged her about moving down a school. Some people are ready for kindness and it is wonderful when it arrives on time.

When the war came, I had been attending Spring Grove School on Water Street for about two years. All nursery attendance ceased. In the following January I was five and started in infants after a lapse of a few months. I suppose I ought to remember more about school than I do. I find it strange to listen to people talking in detail about their school years. I can only remember mine in broad sweeps, illuminated by occasional concrete events.

Overall, I did not enjoy school. Too much to remember, too many places to be, and too many people to please, many of whom appeared incapable of being pleased.

I do not remember anything about nursery school except that I believe I ran away on my third birthday. My memory may be faulty here and I may have been older than three. I may also not have run away, only got lost.

Arriving at school from Fitzwilliam Street by way of the Rifle Fields, I would have entered school by the infant's playground on Water Street. I remember finding myself up against a wall of interminable height, that I later discovered was one of the two giant Springwood railway tunnel ventilation shafts, and crying against it. Soon after, my sister René appeared with a chocolate aeroplane, and took me home. She remembers asking me, “What did you run away from your birthday for?”

It seems as if the only memories that I can trust with any certainty from my childhood are those associated with powerful emotion, as if all commonplace events made no impression.

Infants’ classes lasted for two years and always seemed cheerful. Do I remember a Wendy House, in which we played and expanded our imaginations? I recall being asked what the most popular children’s’ book was. “The Bible” I offered. The correct answer was J M Barrie’s Peter Pan. Did I really give such an answer at five or six? Was I really asked such a question at that age? I believe I was.

We played at omnibuses by putting our little wooden chairs in line. Someone played at conductor and we bought paper tickets with cardboard money. I can still see the golden and copper coloured coins. The printing was not quite centred.

In the afternoons, we would be put to bed in fold-out cots. My bed had a blue blanket with a rabbit appliquéd on it. I could never get to sleep, and I still have a time of getting to sleep during the daytime, so used was I to laying there, bored but resting.

Infants played in the girls’ playground. Older boys were not permitted to mix with girls at playtime.


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