A couple of weeks ago I found out that Father Christmas wasn’t real, but Mr Ellis, the school inspector. Where did this definitive proof come from? It was in the written records of the village school that I attended from the age of five. On reaching its 100th year, this venerable establishment threw open its doors to all old pupils. Some seemed very old indeed.
The staff and governors kindly opened the school on a Saturday. The children had made colourful displays, record books dating back for 100 years were available to peruse and even a traditional lunch provided. Not the dreaded mince followed by blancmange that looked pink and tasted pinker, but a tasty shepherds pie and butterscotch tart. Yum!
I stood in my old, shrunken classroom and read the school records with much pleasure. My Dad was mentioned several times. As the local forester he delivered the tree for our Christmas carol concert. I can remember being very proud when he arrived in the National Trust Landrover, a huge Norway spruce poking out of the back.
My big sister found an entry that stirred guilty feelings. Her best friend had been punished for, “Extreme rudeness to a teacher…”, Over 50 years later she still cringes. On Valentine’s day she’d dared her best friend to ask their young male teacher for a kiss. No kiss was offered but the friend got two strokes of the cane instead. It seems incredible now.
Neither of us were ever caned in school but we were both smacked with a ruler. Surprisingly, I don’t remember being troubled by physical punishment. It was a fact of school life and infinitely preferable to writing lines or having to stay in at playtime. In our rural school, surrounded on three sides by beautiful countryside, I remember sitting in class watching kestrels hover over the downs and longing to be free like them. I hated being indoors.
There were a few people we remembered at the reunion. Some very different, some hardly changed. Often I recognised a smile or laugh rather than a face. It was and still is, a very happy school. Though I’m puzzled by the smartly dressed middle aged gent who greeted both of us fondly. When we obviously didn’t recognise him he looked wistful and said, “Oh I remember you both so well. You’re the M..… girls. You lived in the woods.”
I left that school at the age of eleven with a greater knowledge of tree and plant names than I did of maths. I’d read Jane Eyre and Treasure Island and had a sketchy knowledge of British geography. I knew that Sussex was named after the South Saxons and Dorking after the Dorks. I’d also picked up that girls didn’t need careers, only husbands . It took a few years and some hard knocks before I realised they don’t teach you everything in school.