1. First Day
It was really odd, that day. After six weeks of forget-about-it school holidays, I was confronted by the fact that, on Monday, I started at Wolverhampton Grammar School.
I had “passed”. That meant I didn’t have to go to a Secondary Modern School like my cousins and most of the kids in our street. It must have been a good pass, too, because The School was the best boys’ school around. Not for me the Municipal Grammar, the Technical High or St. Peter’s.
Before the Eleven Plus exam – which I’d sat at ten – parents had to fill in a form giving their choice of school to which they’d like their offspring to go, assuming that the kid had amassed the right amount of marks in the exam.
St. Peter’s School was where Mom would have liked me to go. That caused me to lie. You couldn’t get to St. Peter’s – which was one step above a Secondary Modern – unless you went to church regularly. Mom told me that, if I was asked at Christ Church School if I went to church, I was to say we went to St. Andrew’s. They would know the truth, of course, if I’d said Christ Church– Headmistress Winnie Evans and her cronies went there every Sunday and a variety of other days.
The Technical High did as its name implied: taught boys and girls the sensible things they’d need for a working life. The Municipal Grammar was said to be “just another school and not as good as Wolverhampton Grammar”.
Wolverhampton Grammar had, not long since, been brought into the revised education system. I was too innocent to understand the implications of that when I started there – but I soon found out.
It would have taken two buses to get there: one to town, one out of town. Then it would be the same two routes back. And Mom and Dad couldn’t afford the fares. In those days, no State help was available. They couldn’t afford school dinners, either (for which I became extremely grateful – the stink of them was enough). That meant I became “a Sandwich Boy”. A few steps down the social ladder, that was.
The other thing we couldn’t afford was an authentic school-uniform. A posh shop sold them at high prices. Mom took me to The Red House in Queen’s Arcade which did an unauthentic, cheap version. The only thing which she paid full price for was the embroidered badge for my cap.
To add to the expense, the first uniform was only good for the first year, the year known as “The Remove”. I had to wear a grey jacket, grey short trousers, and a plain red cap with the badge sewn on. After that, I would go into a navy-blue jacket, grey long trousers, and a navy-blue cap with a red line round it with the badge sewn on. Mom drummed into me that the wretched badge must be looked-after through my entire school career. It was transferred from cap to cap. I still have it: a rather tatty thing it is, too.
Mom had arranged with Mrs. Ault who lived in Leicester Street that her son, Godfrey, should take me to school with him. On foot, of course. It was a three mile jaunt for me, a little less for him. He was eighteen months older than I, and he knew it all.
We got there on that first stomach-churning morning, having talked about nothing all the way fromLeicester Street, round theWestPark, down Middle Vauxhall, across the busyTettenhall Road, upLarches Laneand onto theCompton Road. When we got into what I then thought of as the playground, Godfrey just left me and disappeared to see his friends.
I was unimaginably lonely.
The Remove lads were eventually herded together and marched, in some sort of military two-by-two, from the main School block. We went along the side of the playing-fields and down to “the mansion house”. This was a big old stone place built in the 1870s (I think I remember the date over the main door). It was a draughty building with heavy doors. Any noise was magnified by echoes.
There were, I think, four classrooms there, but a couple of those were used by Big School boys who came down for the lesson and went, noisily, back afterwards.
Ron Merritt, clad in the bat-like gown which all Masters wore all of the time, was our Form Master. He seemed to be permanently angry and spoke, as all Masters seemed to, in a posh BBC voice with an almost-stammer. I feel he did not like teaching. He told us how he expected us to behave and threatened caning if we did not.
There must have been lessons on that first day, but I do not remember anything about them. I was thinking of home and of four o’ clock when Godfrey Ault would walk me most of the way home, leaving me at his house in Leicester Street, and I would walk up to see Mom who was cleaning at Christ Church School.
We were given “Prep”. That was what it was called at The School, a left-over of the time when it was totally filled with paying pupils. Today, it’s universally known as Homework. I resented the fact that I had to spend two and more hours doing schoolwork in my own time.
I knew, as I had known at Christ Church Junior & Mixed Infant School, that this snobby place with its posh-sounding Masters was not the place for me.
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