1964 was a very eventful year. My schooling had been for the most part, a disaster.I was born in August so was one of the youngest in my year. Aged ten I sat the mock eleven plus exams and I came thirtieth out of a class of thirty-two. Not to worry, my mother was a member of ‘The Girl’s Guild ‘ a church organisation possibly formed during the war but by the 1960’’s chiefly devoted to competitive embroidery (‘Did you see Mrs Brown’s casting off !’) and Mrs Clarke, my headmistress, was also a member. One day at school I stood open mouthed in her office being given a talking to about pulling my socks up ( hey were usually round my ankles!); at home I was promised a bike if I passed.(Perhaps because my dad was laid off soon after I never saw that). Not only did I pass but I passed in the year when something called The Mason Plan was being phased in and the eleven plus phased out; they had raised the pass mark so that that year fewer than half the usual number went to the grammar school. In consequence, someone had suggested that since we must be clever we should take O Levels in three years instead of four. I was at sea. Career guidance consisted of being asked aged eleven, ’What do you want to do when you leave school,’ and replying, ‘I want to be good at cooking and sewing like my mam.’ ‘Well then,’ I was told ,’You must take Domestic Science, Chemistry, Physics and Biology.’ I pointed out that I was best at Art. They conceded,’ Do Art then instead of Biology.’ By my sixteenth birthday I had a place at Zion Hill Domestic Science College in Bath. I chose there because of its supposed art bias (more later).
Sixteen, broke and never been kissed etc. What to do? My Saturday job was the answer. For two years I had worked in the art department of The Midland Educational in Leicester. I reasoned that I could work for a year and make lots of money before college. The first Monday smashed that idea. The shop was empty. ‘Do something,’ said Pauline, the boss. I pointed out that there was nothing to do. ‘See that lot, dust them,’ she gestured towards at a stand displaying some best sellers like ‘The Chinese Girl’ and ‘The Orchid on the Steps.’ I lasted a day before returning to school.
That year schoolwork fell into place. It had previously all been a muddle and mostly a failure. The following summer I returned home from a stint working in a canning factory to get my results. That was when I realised that I wasn’t thick and that I could have gone to university.
I realised a lot that summer. The canning factory in North Walsham employed over a hundred male students from across England and Scotland and there were thirteen ‘girls’. In the canteen one day the ‘boys’ announced the winner of their most attractive girl survey and it was me! And I had travelled to the canning factory with three school friends who I considered way out of my league. They were beautiful, clever and since fourteen had not been strangers to the back row of Hinckley cinema. So, during my last week in Norfolk I discovered boys.
Meanwhile back in Earl Shilton the eleven children from our three semis had been growing up and many had left home. Albert and Ethel Ridgeway next door had more time on their hands and took to driving out at weekends, sometimes taking mam and dad with them. On a whim one Saturday one of them suggested that they look me up in North Walsham. Not finding me at my digs and learning that I had walked to the coast they sought me out. On the beach I was wresting with a medical student from St Andrews. . Apart from a chaste kiss with David from stationary at The Midland Educational this was my first sexual experience. and it was torn apart by an, ’Ey up, I’d recognise those legs anywhere.’
I got the sack from the factory when they discovered that I had lied about my age. But what did I care. I had met John who drove an ancient Austin Princess and on the drive down to London I sat with my feet on the dashboard. London! I had only been there twice, once on a factory outing when I was small and once on a day trip from School. His mum lived in Muswell Hill and the day after we arrived we went to the shops so that he could buy me a present for my eighteenth birthday. ‘Stay there,’ he said and I did for a short while but wandered off full of the wonder of it all and was instantly lost. Fortunately he had an unusual surname and I had his phone number and some change. I struck lucky at the third call. In retrospect I have often struck lucky.
In the Autumn I left home to study Domestic Science at Zion Hill But things had changed, I had realised I wasn’t so thick and had spent the summer mixing with university students. After four days, during the long awaited lecture that might reveal the college’s art bias, (it was about the good design of wooden mixing spoons) I walked out and handed in my notice. The principal had the good sense to quiz me and arrange for me to transfer to Newton Park Teachers Training College to study English and Art (there was a shortage of art teachers at the time so it was a fast track into secondary school art teaching). During the first year I lived in a women’s hostel and hated it but I made friends with Sue from Watford. I was not happy. College and my living arrangements were a huge disappointment but I hid this. The following is the only surviving letter from this year.
Saturday, Autumn /Winter 64
Its Saturday night once again . Auntie Sylvia has been for tea and now –together with mam, they have left for Millfield leaving me on my ownio. Me, I’m just off for a Sports Mercury then for a quick bath and then once again. On my ownio for the rest of the evening. Chris has gone to Leicester to see City play Manchester United and by now no doubt by now feeling pretty sore about them since City have lost five nil. He’s going to Broughton Astley after the match to a ringers ‘ meeting so possibly the music of the bells will soothe his savage breast. Although he’s excellent and really clever in peel , the other sort of belles , the ones with an ‘e’ at the end don’t seem to appeal to him. Wish they did-one with a nice tone , but nonetheless he’s a right good lad , steady and purposeful.
I’ve been busy all morning putting in quite a few necessary winding up jobs in the garden, clearing the ground of pea straws and stripping the cold frame.-putting new glass in etc. Also fixing the bird box and doing jobs for Auntie Win-repairing her back gate which had become stuck. I was going to do it one way when mam’s ever alert eye hit upon a better one . She was right too and Win, observing, remarked , ’Isn’t she marvellous, always got a job situation weighed up ’She surprises all of is with her adroit adaptability to cope with almost any contingency and I think we can all be thankful for such a blessing of good fortune , don’t you?(I mustn’t let her read this )
Well here’s me fresh from my bath. , back again to you in your Bath. Brrr! The weather has turned sharply cold although it is glorious weather. The wireless speaks of snow in the north and coming this way, so its me for the fire bucket. I’ve had a very hard week on afternoons . I feel that trade isn’t so good and with the change and transition to the Bentley machines I told you of , the work load has passed on to us. I had a talk with the manager on the question of my retirement –if he’d keep an eye open for a lighter job if such an opportunity arose and he said he would. I don’t however place much reliance on that since everybody is so busy in the firm to remember. But I’m not necessarily tied and I’m keeping an eye open for any likely eventuality while meanwhile it’s as you were for me.
And now to wind up. How about yourself? You’re so often in our thoughts and we hope that all is well with you. Settling down nicely and that nasty cold better. Let’s be having a cheery letter from you. You don’t realise how it makes the old “Braeside” heart tick and our own problems seem to become of no significance as a result. Xmas will soon be here , although I wish they didn’t come so quickly . When I think of what it says on Sapcote church clock…’The Hour is Coming’ I feel I’m not quite ready for the sermon it envisages. Love once again and safe keeping always, Dad.