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As Time Goes By: High School Girl - Part 2

...In the Gym, divested of gym.slip, in blouse and navy knickers, I finally managed to turn myself upside down on the wall bars, to leap over a horse from a springboard, and to heave myself agonisingly half-way up a rope. It was a lesson not eagerly anticipated...

Eileen Perrin recalls her high school does in vivid and appealing detal.

To read earlier chapters of Eileen's enjoyable autobiography please click on As Time Goes By in the menu on this page.

Our five years at Highbury Hill High School for Girls, being taught by what I now see as first class teachers, passed slowly.

At fourteen we had to choose between Biology and Chemistry, between German or Latin and we were only offered a chance to do Greek in the Sixth form. Understandably I chose Biology and Latin and have never regretted it. The fascination of discovering words of English and French derived from Latin constantly delighted me and helped me to understand all three subjects much better.

Throughout school a multitude of new words were added to my vocabulary, such as osmosis (Biology), alliteration (Poetry), isobars (Geography), logarithms (Arithmetic), subjunctive verbs (Latin), and minims (Music).

In the Gym, divested of gym.slip, in blouse and navy knickers, I finally managed to turn myself upside down on the wall bars, to leap over a horse from a springboard, and to heave myself agonisingly half-way up a rope. It was a lesson not eagerly anticipated.

None of our small clique of Louie and I, Elsie Knight, Pat Capell and Joan Reynolds relished physical activities and I suppose that’s why we were friends for so long. The five of us always did our homework by ourselves and never cribbed from each other, but rather waited, secretly hoping to learn we had more marks than the others. Louie had been always top in Arithmetic and Maths; I always top in Composition and English.

We did try to help each other in understanding how to decline and parse French and Latin: a mystery to us. We must have been regarded by other girls as a very uninteresting goody-goody group, who every Friday in turn, gave each other a list of ten general knowledge questions, culled (in my case) from an old copy of Pears Encyclopaedia. We enjoyed doing this for many months and learnt a lot of strange facts from it.

In 1937 when King George 6th and Queen Elizabeth had their coronation, a party of girls from school, including me, were taken to stand on the Embankment to watch the State drive. The long procession was preceded by the magnificent drum horses of the Life Guards, the Blues and Royals on horseback, then all the Guards regiments, the mounted Royal Horse Artillery, the bagpipers of the Black Watch and the Cameron Highlanders all in kilts, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Gold Coast regiment with red fez, short gold-embroidered jackets and khaki shorts, then the Anzacs - Australians and New Zealanders, and the Ghurkas, interspersed with battalions of Royal Marines, sailors, airmen, and then there came Indian princes, gorgeously attired in silks, with jewelled turbans, wearing swords, riding by on magnificently caparisoned horses. Lastly the gold State coaches carrying the King and Queen and the two young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, followed by horse-drawn carriages carrying dignitaries from countries round the world, including King Haakon of Norway and the Queen of Tonga.

A day to remember!

In the Upper Fourth form, being interested in stamp-collecting, one of the teachers gave us the addresses of pen pals overseas, and I remember writing to Ishmael Ashong on the Gold Coast and Salvino Boffa in Malta. The African boy was soon asking me if I could send him a football and a gold wristwatch. The stamps were non-existent and I stopped writing.

I was still writing to Vivi (his nickname) Boffa, and at the end of the war, when my new husband Leslie Perrin’s aircraft carrier H.M.S.Ocean called at Malta to pick up troops returning to the U.K. When Les went ashore he went up to Casal Paula to meet him.

Three years later, in 1948, when Vivi came over to England he met my husband again with myself and our baby son of a few months old.

Salvino had qualified as a doctor and came to live and practise in the north of England where he married and had children of his own. We lost touch, but in 2006 I traced his medical practice and had an e mail from his grandson, telling me that Salvino and Paula his wife had lost their lives in a motorway crash a few years back. I still hear occasionally from his grandson Jeremy.

At school my favourite lessons were Biology, Poetry, Geography, Art and Cookery. In the Biology lab. where we had to wear coat-overalls we sat on high stools and cut up earthworms, dissected primroses, passed round jars of horrible abominations in pickle, and learnt the secret of osmosis with an egg membrane.

Sad to say, Miss Youngman our Art teacher was unable to inspire me to anything much.

Our beanpole-tall Poetry teacher would glide into the class-room, books tucked under her arm, eyes fixed on a point above our heads, and immediately start to write a poem on the board which we had to copy and learn by heart. From the top of her untidy bun of pepper and salt-coloured hair to her large flat suede brogues turned up at the toes, she was our Miss Stephenson known affectionately as Billy, after ‘Puffing Billy’ the train.

The short Geography teacher had ginger hair and the chalkiest fingers I had ever seen. She carried large rolled-up maps which she would sling over the board where they invariably slid down whenever she tried to show us two maps at the same time, using the prevailing winds and isobar map side by side with the geological map of the world and demonstrating the formation of Earth’s surface.

I liked cookery lessons with Miss Mason on Friday afternoons. We took home our offerings to Mum and Dad. Many’s the lemon meringue tart I made later from the recipe copied down in the notebook which I still have. The other dessert using meringue was Queen of Puddings. Mum had me make one to show off to my godmother when she came to dinner. Oh, the horror when the dish tipped as I took it from the oven. Half of it landed on the coconut mat on the kitchen floor. Our guest had not yet arrived, so Mum helped me scoop up most of it and returned it to the dish.

Our Music teacher was Miss Benson, and I recall the headmistress coming in to listen to us singing the Soldiers’ Chorus from Gounod’s Faust. We were taken to the Albert Hall to see the full production of Faust, including a beautiful moonlit ballet sequence.

I still remember the prize-giving-day concerts held in the Northern Polytechnic in July, when every teacher wore the black gown she had graduated in at university. The teachers acted as ushers showing the parents to their seats.

Entertainment would encompass a selection of typically English songs, including those from Edward German’s Merrie England ‘Oh peaceful England, while thy watch is keeping’, and ‘The Merrie Merrie month of May’. We also sang ‘I vow to thee my country’ and of course ‘Jerusalem’. However, on one Prize-giving Day the Sixth Form sang Schubert’s famous song ‘The Erl King’with words by Goethe in German, with the beseeching ‘Mein varter, mein varter’.

The proceedings would begin with a resounding ‘Gaudeamus igitur, iuvenes dum sumus’....sung by the whole school. Similarly at Christmas end-of-term , on the last day after Assembly we sang the Latin ‘Adeste Fideles’ – O Come all ye faithful - by heart.


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