The first thing I did living with my mother was to join a class for Swedish exercises. A drill using wands, ribbons, clubs and hoops; now used in the Olympics but only beginning then. That was on a Monday. Tuesday was free but Wednesday was gym night. I was like a monkey on the ropes and rings. The horse wasn’t bad but I tripped merrily up and down the Bar. My sense of balance appearing again.
As I was still at school I was playing netball, La Crosse, (We had a Canadian gym mistress) hockey and of all things “baseball” as played in America. Not softball. Teacher was one girl among ten brothers and we had to play tough as she had. At sport I seemed to be expert. I held some kind of record for the long jump.
Then came the day I was asked to fill in for a girl taken sick. Of course I agreed and then found it was for the half mile. I ran it but couldn’t remember any of it. I came second but at the end just kept running and had to be stopped. I promptly collapsed and was carried to the pavilion where the school doctor saw me. After I could breathe properly I was sent home in a taxi with a note of instructions. The stuffing had been driven out of me and it was two weeks before I returned to school.
As well as sport I managed to get good reports each term and became quite a leader with a group of kids. We had religious instruction by a dear soul almost deaf and I’m sure short-sighted. We had to read from the bible and I would use my turn for a comic turn. My favourite was “The Lord said unto Moses come forth and he came fifth and lost his beer money.” There were so many other quips but I’ve forgotten them. This poor soul not once heard what was said and only rapped her desk for silence. The other problem teacher was a Miss Elderfield. She was called Elderberry, Berryfield or plain Field. Every time she would correct the speaker it only fuelled the game.
We even played tricks on her. Gluing her book pages together. Chewing gum on her chair. Even a basket of wet blotting paper balanced on the part open door so that it fell on her when she walked in. Why she didn’t report us we couldn’t understand. The next we knew was a new teacher as Miss Elderfield was in hospital after a nervous breakdown. We even had the gall to go and visit her with flowers and best wishes. Little horrors. We had caused it.
Of course I couldn’t keep out of mischief. An apple tree at the bottom of the school grounds overhung the boys’ school next door. It was an open invitation and I took and delivered messages for other girls. The boy I liked was an Indian boy and we really liked each other until his father stepped in and stopped our meeting.
Nevertheless we were quite a clever group and were always together. A certain girl was always currying favour with the teachers and spilt anything she knew to them. The trouble she got us into. She was always bringing flowers for the teachers, some quite costly blooms. One day we met her as she came in to school and grabbed the bunch of flowers. Imagine our horror to see a black edged card with “In loving memory” printed on it. We rushed her into the downstairs toilet and when she said her mother had given her the flowers to bring we stuffed soap into her mouth for telling lies. She confessed then that on her way to school she had to go through a church yard and had been stealing the flowers from the graves. The teachers had to be told and we marched her up to the staff room and dropped what was a social bomb. She vanished from that day and we didn't know what happened to her.
School was great. I found the work fairly easy to cope with and my marks were good. In maths I was always being told to be quiet because I would call out the answer without writing it down. A lesson usually started with a “Don’t answer out aloud, show me the workings”. English composition was my best subject. My English teacher encouraged me and later on had me write a play for “Open Day”. It was quite a success. Her brother was a well known actor and came down to give us lessons in acting. Lessons that stood me in good stead later in life.
There were some nasty moments of course. One was when Tony, a boy we went swimming with and who was always around, decided to show off to us girls. Three of us rode on the upstairs of the bus every morning. We could see more of the world up there. Tony on his bike road past the bus and held on to a chain holding an unsecured flap of a lorry at the back. It towed him along at a great speed. Suddenly the lorry he was hanging on to hit a bump. The tailgate flipped up and we saw Tony fly sideways into the path of on-coming traffic. A car went right over him, bumping over his head. We screamed and screamed. A man came up the stairs and gathered us up and then walked us to school. A teacher met us and the next thing was the school doctor talking and talking. I can’t even remember what he said. I could see his mouth moving but he didn’t make sense. We were all given a hot sweet drink and then sent back to our classes. I see the point now. Trying to get us back to normal. I was in a separate class so couldn’t see how the other two girls were faring. I only know I didn’t hear a thing the teacher was saying. There seemed to be a cloud over everything. Then suddenly my brain cleared and I knew Tony was dead. I just put my head down and cried and cried. After a while the teacher’s hand gently stroking my hair brought me back to awareness of the classroom. She, my teacher, told another girl to take me for a walk in the school grounds. How sensible they all were.
Life went on and Tony faded away. The three of us still rode the bus on top deck. We played “Pinging”. With an elastic band and small wads of paper we fired at people on the pavement and thought it enormously funny when they jumped around to see where it came from. Not once did a pinged bod’ look up. It was great fun until a policeman stepped into the line of fire just as I pinged at a man. The wad caught him smack in the face and without hesitation he jumped on the bus step and queried a group of boys inside. My heart was in my mouth, visions of jail and handcuffs, flew through my head. He didn’t come upstairs but the fright was enough to stop our game.
One day I was late leaving school and had the upstairs of the bus to myself. I was sitting half way along on the left. The whole episode is so clear. A man at the next stop came quietly up the stairs and sat behind me. When the bus started he tapped me on the shoulder and said “Excuse me. Have you ever seen this before?” I turned and looked down but all I could see was a white shirt hanging down. A hand came out and grabbed the man’s collar and yanked him out of his seat. His trousers fell to his ankles and after gathering them up the conductor bundled him down the stairs. There was much ringing of the bell which was a signal to the driver that help was needed. The driver ran to the back and then went back to driving and then pulled up beside two policemen. They stepped onto the bus and after a few minutes one of them came up and asked for my name and address. Then he wanted to know what I had seen. As I told him the conductor was so quick all I saw was a white shirt. He patted my arm and said “Thank heaven. I don’t think you will be needed and won’t hear from us.” Well I wondered what all the fuss was about. How silly I was. I didn’t learn until many years later.
One funny thing. I didn’t tell my mother of either happening and she didn’t ask me. The Tony happening must have left me looking pale but no, not a question at all.
I did manage to get the teachers to let me open “My shop”. It was only a table with bars of chocolate and chips. Shades of the hotel. Another girl helped me and the teachers were quite impressed with my stock checking and ordering. Good old Fred.
The girl helping me was my good friend Renee. One thing I insisted was no credit. That was final. I could see chocolate bars being eaten and then being denied. Oh no!
Renee was my age and had a brother a lot older. Her mother was the biggest snob I ever knew. Always talking about named people that I really don’t think she knew. It was impressive at the time. Now the brother was too uptight to have anything to do with us but one night, when we were alone with him, we decided to teach him a lesson. Renee heated up her mother’s curling tongs and we held him in a chair, threatening to burn him if he moved, and curled his hair. We thought he would be angry but after looking in a mirror he laughed and enjoyed the joke. He must have been impressed because a few weeks later I called for Renee and her mother opened the door just as he walked past. He had curlers in his hair. He looked sheepish and his mother told me to go away. Well, what about that.
All this time I understood my sister was training to be a dressmaker. She was very good and at one time made clothes for royalty, Princess Marina. It was a good trade and later her family always had up-to-date clothes.
Renee and I were good friends until the daughter of a diplomat of some kind came into our classes. Pansy was a nice girl but very shy. One weekend after her arrival I was told Renee had gone away. On returning to school Renee told me she had spent the weekend at Pansy’s home. That was fine but Renee’s mother had sent a message to me. “Don’t come around anymore. Renee has other friends.” I was devastated. I couldn’t believe Renee would dump me like that. It was only too true and I learnt not to trust people.
The biter was bitten. For all her high and mighty airs her children failed her. Renee became, as her mother said, personal secretary to a quite well known man. Shortly thereafter one could see she was pregnant. A baby girl I think. Renee committed suicide after the birth leaving her mother to care for the child. Meanwhile the brother had been caught in a burglary. He was serving time in prison. It must have been one of many because of the length of the sentence. I felt so sorry for that sad woman.
Moving on, although I didn’t realise it, I was about to experience my first date...