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A Shout From The Attic: Dear Old Alma Mater?

...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...

Ronnie Bray is far from rosy-eyed as he recalls his school days. To read further chapters of Ronnie's life story click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page. Read also his ebullient weekly column Letter From America.

* *
With various readings stored his empty skull,
Learned without sense, and venerably dull.
Charles Churchill


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, gone to a 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 who 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 and crying against it. Soon after René appeared with a chocolate aeroplane and took me home. She remembers asking me, “What for did you run away from your birthday for?”

It is a confusing memory but when one does not have much memory of the early years, it has the status of a significant one. 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 to lie 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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