A Very Clear Choice

E43AEED0-3C3A-4948-8D96-AC45DC31E674I began attending Fareham Park School half way through my first year as a junior in January 1969. Those months were a blur with the only thing of significance that shone through was reading about the Griffins. I loved these books and they grabbed my attention. I believe I started a game on the playground as I got bored at playtime. One had to travel only on the painted netball lines and could only change directions at a junction. When I played this with friends, then one would have to try and catch the other person.

I was in Mrs Harts’ class for the second year of junior school and have only two memories …. the blue National Health Glasses I had to wear to correct my stigmatism and the boy who sat next to me who always seemed to step into dogs muck and then scrap it on the bar under the desk. It smelt foul and it was very unpleasant not just for me but for the rest of the class. I remember Mrs Hart getting very upset about the smell. We were told to own up to who had stepped in the dogs muck again. No-one put their hand up. So then there was the search at the end of the day. Mrs Hart went around table by table, searching and letting the table go. We were always the last table. The boy would get yelled at. Maybe she wanted him to own up at the beginning for surely after repeated performances of this, she would know who had done it? I would sweat it out, hoping that she wouldn’t think that I had done it (although I think I did do it once by accident). Funny how I would think that I would be in trouble for something I hadn’t done. Maybe I got into trouble at home a lot for things that I was supposed to have done? I do remember the boy’s name but I wouldn’t like to hurt his feelings.

Life in Mr. Hebron’s class in the third year of junior school was going along well bar the milk that we had to drink before going out to play. Oh that milk was so foul. It may have been cold when it arrived, but by the time we had to drink it, it was warm and oh it made me gag! I think it was the result of a National Programme to ensure good nutrition for all children. I was fortunate in that my parents were able to provide good food for my sister and I and that was one of their priorities. Other children were less fortunate; their parents had other values and the paycheck was spent down the pub before the bills were paid and the family was provided for. The idea to help provide some of children’s nutritional needs in school with the Milk Programme and free school dinners is admirable. I advocate the community helping each other and not deserting the people in times of need.

Playtime was fun. With the other girls in my class we played two ball on the walls of the school; continued to play the ‘line’ game on the painted netball courts on the playground; and learned how to clap our hands in different ways with each other at the same time as singing small songs such as:

“A sailor went to sea, sea, sea,
To see what he could see, see, see.
But all that he could see, see, see,
Was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea.”

This one ditty was pretty apt as we lived in community where a lot of the men were in the Navy. We were used to our dads going off to sea or being deployed in Scotland or Plymouth for periods of time.

Then half way through the year, things changed. They changed because I made a choice. A choice that I would not change if I had the opportunity over again. A new girl came to school – half way through the year – just like I had in my first year at junior school. She and her family had moved into the area. Others seemed uncomfortable around her. She wore glasses. She was socially awkward at the time. She sat at our table. I think I was conscious of how other people felt around her, but I did not feel that way. Something inside of me knew that something was going to change if I continued to be friendly to her and become her friend. However, I felt like it was the right thing to do.

So one day we suffered at our table trying to down that warm, off-tasting milk, chatting, and then went out to the playground together. As we walked out, the girls that I had always played with me, hindered our path and confirmed my gut feeling that things were not going to be the same ever again. But you know, I have never regretted that decision to make friends with the ‘unpopular’ girl. She was an excellent friend whilst we lived in Fareham and then went our separate ways after college. My only regret is having lost contact with her when I moved out to the States. I moved and then moved again and she was moving at the same time and we lost each other’s address. I wish she had written to me at my mum’s address as Mum still lives in the same home we moved into in 1969. Her parents had moved away from their home and I didn’t know where they had moved to.

My friend and I hung out together even when we weren’t in the same class. I went around to her house often. We would type on our typewriters writing story after story together and then reading them to each other. I was fascinated by the organ in her house. She lived near Blackbrook Park which was a decent walk from my house. It was safe enough in those days that I could walk to her house by myself at a young age. There is no way I would ever have let my children do that same walk on their own at the age that I was doing it. My friend had two older sisters that were twins. They were about twenty years older than my friend. Both her sisters and her mum were very eccentric and flamboyant. Her dad was a quiet man. It was quite intriguing to me to watch them interact and a little intimidating as I was not used to the behaviours and didn’t really know how to respond to them.

One of the things that I remember doing at school with my friend was sitting on the field in the summer near Fareham Park Infant School and eating our packed lunch. She always had two or three packets of crisps with her and she was always generous enough to share with me. My mum only bought plain crisps then; sometimes cheese and onion crisps or salt and vinegar but mostly plain crisps. I have recently realized that my mum actually likes plain, lightly salted crisps the best as that what she buys as a treat for herself when she comes out to stay with us. Now that I have twigged that they are her favourite, I get them in for her. My school friend though introduced me to smokey bacon crisps, prawn cocktail crisps and Bovril crisps. It was very exciting to me to try these. Crisps are one of the things that I miss very much in the States. The chips out here don’t have the same texture or flavour.

I remember sitting on the grass in the playing field eating Bovril crisps with her the day after my mum had had the birds and the bees chat with me the night before. I was ten years old. I remember feeling quite bewildered and unfocused that day staring at others playing on the field but not really seeing them, thinking that what my mother had told me was quite bizarre and could it possibly be true? I think my mum had had to have the ‘chat’ with me because that year, we had several movies at school ranging in subjects from accident prevention, germs, and having babies. Actually the films were really good and I wish my children had seen them. I still am conscious of not leaving things on the stairs in case someone falls over them going up or down and all the germs that one can leave on a dish cloth!

My final year at Fareham Park Junior school saw me in Miss Trill’s class as a fourth year. Miss Trill, who was affectionately called ‘Bird Seed’ or ‘Budgie Seed’ was an older lady about forty (well that’s what she seemed to be to me). She had very dark hair and I was a little afraid of her. I learned a few years later that she had married which was a great surprise to me. I must have had some presumptions about who is marriageable for it to have been such a surprise to me. I’m quite embarrassed to have had those thoughts all these years later for why shouldn’t she have the chance to be happy? In that class, I remember a humanities system that we used. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was colored coded. As you got through the levels in each colour, you moved onto another colour with a greater degree of difficulty. You had to read the text on the card and then answer questions on it. It was nice to get onto the levels that were a little more challenging, but I also remember getting stuck and not having a resource to go to understand it. Miss Trill was a little bit fierce. I remember once that we were being taught how to address envelopes. She taught us that it had to be the following format:

Mr. and Mrs. intials surname
number and name of street

We were tasked to address the envelope to our parents. I checked my work two or three times before I stood in the queue to show Miss Trill. I was pretty shocked and humiliated for her to tell me that it was wrong. Mystfied I returned to my desk. I read it and reread it. I couldn’t see where it was wrong. I knew I had to go and show her again and this time try and ask her how it was wrong. So shaking, I stood in line again. She was very quick to tell me that it was still wrong. I disliked the sharpness in her voice. But I had to ask. I knew that she would be annoyed. I plucked up my courage and asked her what was wrong with it. Sharply she looked at me and said ‘You have put ‘Mr’ twice’. I was stunned. Why hadn’t I seen that I had done that? I walked back to my desk very cross with myself, very embarrassed and humiliated. Let’s just say that Miss Trill’s voice was loud and sharp. How could I have missed that? Once back at my desk, I looked at the envelope again. I got ready to correct it. But I looked at it and looked at it. I could not see that I had written ‘Mr.’ twice. Then the lightbulb went on! My dad’s initials are M.R. That’s why it looked like I had written ‘Mr’ twice. So now I have to line up again and let this scary teacher know that it is correct! I know I was shaking in my shoes …..

The fourth year also brought more recognition of being part of a team. In Fareham Park Junior School, each class in each year were divided into a team which were named after the patron saints of Britain: St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland – colour blue; St. David, the patron saint of Wales – colour yellow; St. George, the patron saint of England – colour red; and St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland – colour green. Each of these patron saints have a day during the year when they are remembered. If you were in the Brownies or the Cubs, you could wear your uniform to school on those days. I was always in St. David’s house during my years of school. Some students were put in different houses during their sojourn there but I was always in St. Davids. And St. David is who I supported. We worked in teams getting house points for work that we had done. During my years, St. Davids and St. George were always the top two houses for points and were always in competition with each other each week. Even in sports we were in our teams. I kind of let my team down in PE as my arms and legs don’t seem to coordinate unless I’m in the swimming pool. We played a lot of rounders. I remember sports day. I also played netball.

The other wonderful thing that I liked to do in junior school was country dancing. We used to do it in class and then they had some extra time to do it at lunchtime. It must have been after everyone had had their school dinner though. Now school dinners, that’s another thing. I got chosen to help serve the school dinners. I loved it when I was putting the jam or sugar on someone’s rice pudding, but felt awful when I had to serve out the mince. The mince at school was terrible. I don’t know how they could cook it so badly. It made me retch. It was even worse that the warm milk! I helped serve schools dinners during my fourth year. During that time, the school kitchens were renovated and they had to bring in an outside caterer. Now their food was totally amazing and I often would go up for seconds. Because I served school dinners, I also got to have a school dinner free. This meant a change from the sandwiches that I used to bring in – or worse yet, the cold toast and jam. I don’t know why my mum would think that cold toast with jam on it would be tasty. I have always liked hot toast and still do. Love my food hot not tepid! Or in the case of toast, cold …..

Anyway, back to country dancing. I loved to do the Victoria Reel and the other dances. Because I was tall for my age and there were a lack of boys, I often had to be the boy in these dances. But I loved to dance them. There was something satisfying about dancing with a group of people in a systematic way.

The final thing I thought I would mention about junior school was that we took the eleven plus. For those of you not familiar with this, there was an intelligence test that was given in the fourth year of junior school. From the results of this test, students were then filtered into three types of school. If you did well in the test you went to grammar school when you left junior school. If you didn’t do well in the test, depending on other aspects of the score, you either went to technical school or to secondary school for the next five years. I did read somewhere sometime that there was another test given earlier in junior school so that this combined score contributed to the decision of where your post junior school education were be. The tripartite education system had been existence since the mid 1940’s. I do remember sitting in the school hall taking this examination.

Now I could get on my hobby horse about this, but I will leave that for another time. Suffice it to say, that I would have gone to the grammar school if they hadn’t built the new Fareham Park Comprehensive School. I’m actually glad that I attended this school and this type of education as it suited my learning style and my personality better. We were the first year through this school and the school was being built around us as we went. This was really good for science as teachers could dissect the rats that they caught on the building site (so glad they didn’t ask us to do that)! We were quite fascinated with the pregnant rat. We also got to see a pair of cow’s lungs; and thank goodness for clarinet lessons – as I missed them cracking open the fertilized eggs and seeing the headless chick running around. I felt so sad for the chicks that died and the cut up rats.

We had sky blue PE skirts, tracksuits, white collar tops for PE and black leotards for gymnastics and dance. We used one of the larger classrooms for PE. By the third year we had the gym, the running track and the dance/drama studio.

Have to say that my time at Fareham Park Comprehensive School was pretty boring! Most of the time, I read the book that I had brought in as teachers struggled to make my class quiet enough to teach. I was in K through out my five years there. My friend was in P.

The first couple of years there were fine, but by the third year, I was getting bullied. Girls from my class would wait for me and try and push me down the stairs and hit me with wooden spoons in cooking. My mum came up to the school and had a word with my tutor. She told them that I would only take it for so long and then I would probably lose my temper and someone would get hurt and she didn’t want me to get into trouble for that. I’m thankful for my mum’s confidence in me but I wouldn’t have actually lost my temper because I wouldn’t have really known what to do in those kind of situations. I knew that I didn’t want to go to school and that I was frightened and had no control over the situation. I was so glad to move on from that school and go to college. Academically it was more satisfying and I felt safer. Ironically, the girls that bullied me were the first ones to come to me for help when we were doing our ‘O’ levels and CSE’s.

Sadly, the bullying has appeared in its multiple forms again and again in my life. Even this last year, it has reared its ugly head in the workplace. I know that wherever I go, it will happen again, so this time I am not going to run away from it and am endeavoring to change my behaviour in response to it. Again, another clear choice. Hopefully, it will have excellent benefits as did my choice to be friends with the girl in my third year at junior school.

(First published March 8th, 2018 in Spanish Views – Spanishviews.weebly.com)


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