Although all three of us boys started off our school days at Thornhill Road School, (Islington) for some reason Mum moved me to what was then called Sebbon Street School but later the name was changed to William Tyndale School. (Next to Islington Town Hall). I can truthfully say that I did not enjoy the harsh régime of those days. So here is one little boys story.
Whether it was my bright ginger hair, or my glasses, or the fact that I was smaller than most of the other kids, I was picked on from day one. As a consequence, I used to keep very much to myself at dinner times and playtimes.
One particular day, still seethes in my memory. It was the usual practice that the “dinner van” would deliver the children’s lunches in large metal boxes, at the time of the morning play time. The food was then unpacked and left to reheat in large ovens in the school kitchen. Anyway on this one particular day, I was in class just after the morning break was over, when the classroom door literally burst open and the deputy head mistress started pointing and shouting at me! “Get out here Davis, at once” she screamed. Too shocked to do otherwise, I just sat there. She (I think her name was Mrs. Helmer) was obviously in a very frightful rage, she rushed over to me and pulled me by my jumper, through the classroom, down the corridor, to the chair, outside of the headmasters study. Traumatized by now, I managed to blurt out between anguished sobs the question, “Please Miss – what have I done wrong”? “Don’t you dare try to get away with it, by pretending you’re innocent Davis”, she said and looked like she was about to grab my hair – teachers could slap, or slipper any pupil in those days. “You can’t get away with pretending not to know what you have done because everyone saw you, and recognized your very distinctive ginger hair”. I was so very very frightened that I could feel both my legs shaking and the truth is my asthma was bringing me near to fainting. Mrs. Helmer instructed that I should sit there until Mr. Fitzpatrick had finished taking down the drivers statement. After which it was very likely that I would be caned severely, my name entered into the “black book” and she hoped I would be immediately expelled. I was 8 years old, and terrified.
When finally summoned into Mr. Fitzpatrick’s study, by the intercom light changing from red to green, my legs could hardly carry me. My eyes immediately saw the cane and black book, laying on the window sill. Again I felt I would faint. It seems a ginger haired boy had run in front of the dinner van that morning in playtime and had caused the driver to crash into the wall. Did I “understand how serious this was” I was asked. “Please sir” I managed to stammer, “I didn’t run in front of the lorry this morning or at any other time ever”. I don’t know if it was my wide eyed innocent look, or the knock on the door when Miss Reason came into the study and said that “she did not believe it was me, as I would normally be seen to be sitting all alone and never running about in the playground”. She then mentioned the Irish boy Michael Devlin who also had bright ginger hair and would get up to as much mischief as possible. Mr. Fitzpatrick then appeared to grasp what he was being told and simply said “Get out” and as I was going back to the corridor, I was told “ to thank my lucky stars” and returned back to my classroom with Miss Reason’s arm round my shoulder. She was like an angel coming to my rescue and thereafter I respected her as a truly nice person .
As I grew a little older, I moved class to be in Miss Latham’s . She had the most terrible reputation and I was sure she was going to eat me alive. A formidable woman, (I would guess now, she was in her late forties then) she would always wear tweed skirts and jackets and always had her hair tied very neatly and very tightly tied back in what was called in those days “a bun”. You might not recognize the term “Chalk and Talk” but that is the way we were taught in those days. Miss Latham did not have an endless amount of patience, if she explained what she had written on the board once and any child in the class was not taking sufficient notice….. She would literally jump up and down on the spot, stamp her feet, and scream at the offending child until her face was a deep red. Would you believe I really did try not to get on the wrong side of Miss Latham? In fact, I tried so hard, that Miss Latham not only made me the “Milk Monitor” she also gave me the extra responsibility of delivering her swimming certificates to other nearby schools in the area. I have already mentioned that I was not a popular boy, as I was often picked on by others.
You may be surprised to know that in my days at school (a while after the war) a number of children were recognized as suffering from “Rickets”. This was caused by a lack of calcium, therefore the Government used to supply every child with a third of a pint of milk every school day. Chosen as “a sensible boy”, It was my job to take a crate of milk to each of the infant, 1st and 2nd year classes, before assembly and stand behind the milk table and give out the bottles of milk to all the other bigger children after assembly. Now, how the fashion started I cannot tell you, but all the big boys who had a hard reputation to protect, would rip off the milk bottle foil lid and tip the bottle up to swallow the contents in one gulp. They seemed to just open their throats and pour the contents straight into their stomachs.
At the beginning of one particular week, a notion came into my head that I might get my own back on some of the bullies that picked on me. So on one Monday morning I secreted four bottles of milk behind the big cast iron radiators that were in the hall, right behind where I stood at the milk table. By Wednesday, the milk had not yet turned solid, but it was decidedly rancid. I managed to retrieve the four bottles and placed them in amongst the others and with my innocent face on and very dexterous hands, I managed to give out two of the bottles to Spencer Doe and his equally odious horrible chum, Frank Ibottson.
To my great shame, I watched with the greatest pleasure, as both of them in almost unison, decided they would out drink each other! The bottles contents went down with alacrity, they came up again with each kids breakfast even faster. Of course teachers were very concerned to see two children gasping and retching and immediately stopped me from giving out any more milk. I expressed my concern that children in the 1st and 2nd years might also be experiencing “BAD MILK” and offered to run quickly to each class room and tell the teacher that they should not let any pupil drink their milk, if they had not yet done so. About twenty minutes later every undrunk bottle had had its foil lid removed and was smelt by a teacher. Can you believe they found two more bottles that were clearly old stock!!!! Do you know, in one day I had got my revenge on two odious bullies and stopped the silly habit of “out drinking”? Everyone after that, used to smell their milk before putting it into their mouths. I went home with an inner glow that day.
I used to act as Miss Latham’s personal postman. Schools within a five mile radius would receive their swimming certificates in a brown envelope carried by me each week. The strange thing is, I never did tell my Mum why I would be out of school (wandering the streets) for about 5 hours every week. I was (in 1954/5) a big fish in a little pool. To my great shame, I started to bully a much younger boy called Simon King. I would get him in the boys bogs and punch him mercilessly until he cried. I am dear reader very ashamed of some of the things I did and urge you not to carry the baggage around with you that a guilty conscience like mine has to think back on in the dead of night.
Come near the end of junior school at William Tyndale I had to sit the dreaded 11 plus exam. It was true for me, that failure of this examination had a very detrimental effect on my future. My parents, put a very brave face on my failure, they said it didn’t matter, they said, there are still thousands of opportunities open to you, but I knew……………… I was a failure.