Saturday, November 14, 2015

Self-indulgent Saturday-Sunday # 2

Second chapter of bits and pieces from my life's pattern, just the bits which float easily to the top of my memory pool. Chapter #1 can be found here.

I find few really stand-out memories of schooldays in England in the 1940s and 1950s. First school was in Grandparents' village, during the war, the same tiny one-room school my mother had attended, with probably the same headmistress (head of only two): Miss White. I mostly remember learning to write there, using pieces of chalk on a little black slate. Writing the figure 8 caused me much angst, the rest seemed easy. Next came a junior school in Hull, just after the war had ended. From that school the clearest memory I have is of being taught to knit, then of knitting a coat-hanger cover with added bobbles dangling on a braided string. The bobbles were made from cardboard circles with a hole in the middle - re-purposed milk-bottle tops in fact. It was at this school that I received, along with a couple of classmates, my one and only physical reprimand in school - a slap across the palm of my hand with a ruler by the teacher, don't recall what we'd done to deserve it.

When my parents moved to a market town, around 20 miles from Hull, to establish their own bakery and shop I changed school once again. In the Church of England junior school there I met a friend with whom I'm still in contact from time to time. Our birthdays are just a week apart. From this school, at age 11, I took the exam then nationally known as "The 11 Plus". This exam decided which of us would benefit most from academic-type further education, and which from a more practical based curriculum. From the exam results it was decided I fit the former group. The following September I began 5 years at The Bridlington High School for Girls, some 12 miles from our town.

High School/Grammar School in England back then was quite different from High School in the USA. I'd venture that it was a much more serious undertaking for pupils. We experienced no such entertainments as Prom Nights, ego boosting graduation ceremonies, or undue emphasis on sport - just solid work and a high degree of discipline much of the time.

I, and others from our town attending BHS, travelled by train each day - which entailed a longish walk or bike ride to the home railway station, and another longish walk from the Bridlington station to school, in designated groups. All school uniform hats had to be worn on these walks - or else! We had strict uniform requirements in those days. The uniforms were not cheap, but of good quality. Bottle green, white and black were the school's colours.
Gym slips, shirts, striped ties, striped blazer (see below - dress tucked in knickers), sweaters, raincoat, woollen coat, scarf, hat (horrible hat), and summer dresses. Shoes were supposed to be of a certain make and style, but most of us managed to get away with alternatives. Gymslips had to be of a certain length so as to just clear the floor when kneeling. No nylon hosiery allowed, just white ankle socks in summer, brown knee socks or nasty, thick lisle stockings in winter. Oh, the regimentation of it all!

Our BHS school motto was Laetus Sorte Mea, which, translated = Happy In My Lot. We, pupils of the Bridlington High School for Girls, carried it on the pockets of our green/black/white striped blazers and a smaller version on our green, and hated, hats. Whether all of us were - happy in our lot - isn't known, for my part, I wasn't, not really, and certainly not all the time, though the experience did develop my self-discipline, I guess.

 1951, Bridlington beach
I wasn't happy at school in my early teens. A severe bout of tonsillitis with attendant burst ear-drum during the first few months of attending BHS kept me home for three weeks. I missed so much in both learning new stuff and making friends with new people that it took me years to catch up. I must have managed it, because once the smell of freedom came along some 5 years later, at age 16, I cranked up my game and came out of seven General Certificate of Education exams with flying colours - 7 for 7, one of only two to do so in my class.

 Mum and Me, School Sports Day, 1954-ish
Bridlington High School, for many years before World War II, had been a rather exclusive private boarding school for the daughters of the so-called great and good of the area and beyond. That changed after the war. Education moved on apace from those days of class segregation, but still retained academic and gender segregation. Gender segregation tended to lead to girl "crushes". In the absence of males, among either pupils or teachers, upon which our young female adoration might rest, we youngsters would find one of the senior girls to adore. My "crush" was a senior-six called Judy. She was brilliant at everything, all the time: sports, athletics, music, art, academic subjects - and funny too. She did a little ink drawing for me in my autograph book, of a Scottie dog (Scotch Terrier) wearing a kilt - my nickname in school was "Scotty". Since my day things changed again, and again education-wise, on all fronts without, as far as I could see, any improvement in quality.

How about time out of school during those years? More crushes - on a few males, any who made me laugh went immediately into my "A-list" of crush-worthiness. Proper boy friends? Some. One, who lasted more than a couple of dates, a couple of years in fact, I'll call him GB. His birthday was in late January like mine, but he was a year or two older - and an only child as was I. GB was a farmer's son, very shy, nice looking, rode a motor bike or drove his Dad's Hillman occasionally. His Dad, the farmer, sweet guy, would come to our bakery from time to time, made friends with my parents. When the idea of an engagement (GB and me) came up it was time for yours truly to bolt and run. Being a farmer's wife had no place in my plan for the future; this plan had few ideas of what I wanted, but some very definite ideas of what I didn't want.

Shortly after GB's reign I remember going to a New Year's Eve dance at the Town Hall with a girlfriend. I wasn't much of a dancer, went mainly out of curiosity and to wear a nice new pink dress. A slightly older guy kept asking me to dance, I eventually accepted and did my best to shuffle around the floor with him. His name was Paul (how odd that I still remember his name!) He was probably in his mid-20s, horn-rimmed spectacles, not unattractive, but dark hair receding a wee bit. A gentle fellow, very nice. He was, he told me, a teacher. Oh dear - I was very silly back then, didn't want anything to do with that either! Paul tried to contact me via my parents several times afterwards but I didn't want to know. I often wonder how things might have turned out if I'd been a better friend to him, maybe even leading to...whatever.

Roads not taken! As Edith Piaf used to warble so prettily "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien"

(To be continued)


mike said...

Adolescence is such a strange stage of life for most, with the bio-physiological changes that move us into adulthood, and consequent social expectations. Our adult predecessors trying their best to guide the ducklings to the pond of regimented adulthood. I didn't attend private schools, but dress-codes were pronounced and enforced, the McCarthy era of rabid conformity and stiff penalties for the misfits, my contemporaries all wore the same styles, but were allowed freedom of color choices. No jeans or T-shirts unless worn under a shirt. Unlike today, there was only one style trending at any given time: shirt (plaid, pin-stripe, button-down, fly-away collar, etc), slacks (pleated, cuffed, etc), jackets (wind-breaker, suede, velour, etc), or shoes (side-saddle, wing-tip, penny-loafer, etc). My mother purchased most of my clothing at thrift stores, so I was never in style and usually appeared in fashion-wear more suitable for someone 30 years my senior...LOL, to which I was delegated to the pile of lost souls by my classmates, but I wasn't alone. My sisters fared better, because my mother sewed theirs. Peer pressure was stifling when it came to outer conformity. An observation I made was that having the latest clothing style accouterments allowed one to feel superior and punitive toward the lesser fashionable, particularly if the underling had any personality quirks...high-fashion provided a level of protection against personality disorders.

Making matters more stressful, I was not a group-sports kinda guy. I went for wrestling, gymnastics, and track, which were not too popular at that time. I was a book-worm, nerdy, and excelled academically. Just a couple of friends that were similar to me...birds of a feather...and we accepted each other wholly, without qualifiers.

I thank my lucky stars that I was the oddball and had to find my own level of comfort as an independent refugee from the well-dressed, socially acceptable. It led to new vistas of personal realization and self-acceptance, though the process was painful and I had no say in the matter. Group-think doesn't work on those that are not a member of the group. A very basic, inherent flaw of humans is to gauge and place valuation upon presentation and image.

In an ironic twist of fate, as I entered my later teens in the mid to late 1960s, I was already very different and immediately fit-in to the radicalization of the Uranus-Pluto conjunction that was upon us. The socially acceptable conformists were denounced and ostracized. Revenge was mine.

“Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.” Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

We all obviously made it through those years of becoming young adults. Thanks for sharing your introduction to adulthood. I don't perceive you as a conformist. When did you first realize tradition didn't cut it? You mention that you escaped potential relationships, but you did cave later. Was that your last attempt toward compliance? Is this revealed in "Self-indulgence Part 3"?

Twilight said...

mike ~ Oh - it's good to read your experiences of a similar time in your life - thank you!

Like you I didn't have a circle of friends at school, there were times when I felt like a complete loner, and times when being so must have singled me out by those in charge as being independent (or something) and I was, more than once, made "class monitor" or other such responsibility. My best friend hadn't passed the 11-Plus exam but after another year went on to Art School in Hull, so we lost touch almost entirely. Also, coming from outside of Bridlington, I was already something of an outsider - the majority of pupils came from Bridlington, or nearby villages.

I don't recall thinking in terms of being conformist or non-conformist back then, mike. I just did what came naturally. I felt like an odd-one-out a lot of the time - wasn't good at sport or athletics, or gym (a little overweight back then, but that changed - I saw to it that it did!)

I escaped those relationships I realised wouldn't be what I needed. I kind of knew what I wanted and needed, or thought I did, and it wasn't to be found anywhere nearby. I'd have to get away - but it'd take time. I suppose I coasted for a few years... Part 3 isn't written yet, but it'll have to include my eventual escape to what I saw as freedom. :-)

Sonny G said...

oh my, this is so much fun for me and now Mike is adding a glimpse too.. Ya'll made my Saturday and I thank you..

Wondering now if this is why/how we found each other here all these many years and experiences later.

I too ran away from serious relationships//3 of them// to guys my parents thought would be perfect for me~! They probably thought that cause they'd have to worry less about what I was going to do next lol..

I was an absolute rebel . I fought tradition and all the outta, woulda, shouldas that existed :) There was one young man in particular that wore on my nerves severly.. He had the unmitigated brass to ask my parents if he could marry me and they said YES , but he'd have to ask me before it was a done deal. I said HELL NO, not a chance, no way~! The rest of that story is long and very very painful so I wont mess up your day with it.. I was only 15- but again, they thought he would give me stability and that I'd give up the notion of going HOME to New YORK as soon as I could be released from the evil grip of School, where I remain certain that I knew and still know more than they could ever teach me.
I had 6 glorious, fun filled, free, non traditional years during which I loved whomever I choose, whenever I choose and moved on when I felt like it.
age 24, I was with child and so I began what I think of as my 2nd lifetime among the 5 I feel I've had during this earthly existence.
to be continued:)

Happy Saturday and thank you both again.

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ Oooh! Good more life experiences! Yes this is the way to go - thank you, I enjoyed reading your contribution!

Yes, odd that we found each other - maybe the slightly odd ones recognise other slightly odd and rebellious ones, or , as they say, "it takes one to know one!" I mean "odd" in the nicest possible way of course.....of course! :-)

It's strange how we thought we knew, yet didn't really know, what it was that we wanted for ourselves in life, with so little experience to go on.

I look forward to reading more of your 5 lives next time! :-)

mike (again) said...

Movie project, "Later That Same Life", about a man interviewing himself 38 years later, "You did WHAT with my life?":

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ What a good idea that is! Something along those lines could make a decent TV programme... a bit like that British series "7-Up" we've mentioned it before, where a group of kids at age 7 have been monitored at intervals of 7 years - they are now approaching retirement (or retired). It must have been a weird experience for each of them - and communally too, to watch how others' lives had developed.
Thanks for the link.

anyjazz said...

You are so lucky to have these memories of your young life. Good or bad, the details have remained with you clearly enough to assemble now an absorbing account of your youth. Perhaps the traumatic events of the war years were etched a bit deeper for those living on the coast of the North Sea, than for those also born in the late ‘30’s but growing up instead in the middle of the wheat fields of Kansas.

My only clear childhood memory of anything associated with the war was watching the B-17’s bank into a turn over my house after taking off from the Smoky Hill runway, about three miles south. There were ration books which I thought was just another kind of money. And there were the “tinfoil” balls which I loved making but had no idea of their purpose. And I remember when the ancient WW1 tank disappeared from its pedestal in front of Memorial Hall in town. I wondered what use they could make of that old machine.

Early childhood memories of significant events in my life are almost nonexistent. We recently drove through the tiny farming community where I would have attended 2nd grade and I couldn’t even find where the school might have stood. Even pictures of myself from those years do not recall anything for me. The most significant memory for me was probably when my 4th grade teacher, Miss Lindeman taught me how to listen to music. She said, “Listen for the raindrops and the thunder.” And I did.

Looking forward to your next installment.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~ Thank you for your contribution of youthful memories. I have gaps in memory too, I think these occur mainly when there was nothing to worry our young selves unduly about, so any faintly drawn memories have been overlaid by later more concerning ones (at the time).

We didn't do tinfoil balls - hadn't seen tinfoil back then, I do remember picking up lots of strips of silver paper, silver on one side, from the fields around Grandparents' village. I think these were dropped by planes, something to do with radar, but don't recall the detail....oh yes and the barrage balloons -never did know what they were for, but Wiki tells me ....

A barrage balloon, sometimes called a "blimp", is a large balloon tethered with metal cables, used to defend against aircraft attack by damaging the aircraft on collision with the cables, or at least making the attacker's approach more difficult.

You've reminded me too of the government's collection of iron and steel to re-cycle and go towards making weapons and ammunition. All the iron railings around gardens, houses, business buildings and parks etc were removed, leaving just tiny stumps. When I was old enough to notice this I asked about it, then tried to imagine what it all had looked like, around where we lived, before removal of the railings. I clearly remember that now. :-)

Your music teacher did you a great favour! There's a guest post of yours about it - remember?