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Autobiography

Infants’ School

(Text as at 12/08/2007 10:17:46)


I went to an experimental school – the Park in Doncaster. At this stage my mother, despite being a teacher herself, let the teachers do the job of teaching, which they seem not to have been very good at. The school provided all sorts of opportunities for creative play, with the result that my creative skills advanced apace, whereas the optional 3 R’s languished somewhat. Possibly as a result, I learnt to read rather late, and was always a slow reader when this skill was compared with my other excellences.

The school had in the playground what seemed like an enormous climbing frame in the form of a pirate ship. All things no doubt seem enormous to someone 3 foot tall, but I think it was an amazing edifice, as it had several stories and a crow’s nest. No doubt such items are banned on safety grounds these days. Probably rightly so, as play was unsupervised and children were rumoured to have fallen off the thing, with dire consequences for their physical and mental well-being.

At this time my younger brother (one of the banes of my youth, though he seems to have rehabilitated himself remarkable well as the years have gone by) was at the co-located nursery school, having been sent there at the age of two to allow my mother temporarily to return to teaching. I have a pleasurable memory of him clinging desperately to the side of an indoor slide having not done as he was told and nearly fallen off. However he was easily plucked off to safety by a teacher, so his life was presumably not in danger and the image I have of peril is presumably another distortion of tinyness.

Before I forget, one of the high points of my formative years (sometime during junior school) was when my then detested brother was once mistaken for me and forced to eat a plate of school gristle that I’d left. I can remember watching the episode through the canteen window with a feeling approaching rapture. Thankfully he didn’t find out about the source of this discomforting experience until we’d grown up, by which time his horror and disgust had worn off somewhat.

On the plus side, my artistic abilities were noticed early, and I was allowed to attend the clay and wax modeling classes at the Park Junior School while still in the Infants. I was again spotted as an expert modeler some years later, when at St. Peter’s RC Junior School in Gloucester, and given my own exhibition during parents’ evening. I specialized in dinosaurs at the time, the anatomical details of which are not as well known to the general public as the average mammal, and allowed one more freedom of expression.

Anyway, nothing remains of all this, which is a shame, as one item was of great quality for one so young (presumably age 5). It was (I claimed) a fox’s head, but it looked rather like an anubis. It was made out of papier mache, appropriately painted and glazed, and had once been attached to a glove-puppet. It was such a beautiful object, and survived into my adulthood, though is now lost, that I wonder whether I received help in its manufacture. However, I think not as I can remember the art teacher remarking on its un-vulpine appearance. I did make another, also deceased, about age nine, but this was a much inferior creation, due to the hardness of the wax I had to use at home as against the wonderfully malleable stuff used previously.

The only other artistic undertaking I can remember from this time was being asked to do a collage for a Royal wedding. It was supposed to be of a castle, for which I had a fascination, and which were easier to do than palaces or people. The wedding in question was presumably that of Princess Margaret in May 1960, so I’d have been six.

Anyway the idyll eventually came to an end, probably because we moved house out of the centre of Doncaster to Wheatley Hills. To assuage a flood of tears on leaving my last clay modeling class, to the sniggers of the assembled Juniors, I was allowed to take away a huge dollop of brown modeling clay – riches beyond imagining. Unfortunately, it ended its days going ever harder on a shelf out of reach in the pantry at home. Apparently it would have spoiled the kitchen table. I greatly resented this brake on my creative endeavours.

I was then sent to a much more serious RC Infants / Juniors at which the fraternal force-feeding mentioned above took place. Apart from that, I have no happy memories of the place. I can remember being forced to do homework and play football, neither of which enthused me.

Instead of kicking a ball about like a proper boy, I’d been taught to knit by my grandmother, and spent some time knit-one-pearl-one’ing jumpers and other raiment for my teddy. These diminutive garments were immensely intricate, right down to the pockets and handkerchiefs. As far as I remember, this was my sole departure from appropriately masculine pursuits, and one not that uncommon, though rarely admitted.




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