Shared Memories: ‘Big School’ by Maureen Kershaw

Do you remember your first day at ‘Big School’?  The immaculate uniform, the slightly tight new shoes and the beret worn correctly – probably for the last time before being reduced in size and clamped to the back of the head with hairgrips. Either that or it would be – with any luck – left on the bus. The leather satchel, shiny with stiff buckles holding a wooden pencil case, geometry set and ruler, to be returned home  with books for ‘backing’.Old wallpaper would be brought out to cover books or if the design was an embarrassment, then brown paper would suffice. Thoresby was a high achieving School but not for me. It wasn’t their fault but mine. A few months in and I soon realised it was a mistake. English Literature started – and ended – for me with The Wind In The Willows, as did Poetry – or ‘Pertry’ as pronounced by Miss Davenport who lived opposite our local Co-op. English Language I enjoyed and Maths but as for Geometry and Algebra? Many an evening was spent in tears trying to make sense of homework.To this day I’ve never had cause to use Algebra and only recently did I answer (incorrectly) a Geometry related question in a Zoom quiz. French I enjoyed, History I hated. Physics & Chemistry I couldn’t be trusted with lighting the Bunsen Burner, and anything to do with P.E. or Netball and I was out of there with some excuse. Housecraft was OK, learning how to starch and iron a tray cloth (how useful ever since!) and prepare scrambled egg on toast to eat off said tray. Sewing was OK when starting with the Cookery apron and cap but inserting sleeves neatly into a blouse was beyond me so I hid it at the back of the cupboard, presumed ‘lost’. Art classes were held at the College of Art annexe on Cookridge Street; my only memorable work being a drawing of a group of Leeds Rugby League supporters. Whether it was requested I don’t know, but that’s what they got. Swimming was at Cookridge Street Baths and as I wasn’t believed I could swim the required length, I took the exam again so now have two Elementary Certificates, from different Schools. I should have won a Bravery Award for the wearing of the hideous maroon swimming costume.

The end of year Report didn’t read well but it was hoped that the 2nd Form would hold more promise – sadly it didn’t. Our Form room was next to the Music Room and instead of learning my class work I listened – through the wall – to  music lessons and  learnt the song “Wander Thirst”. Before a History exam which I was totally unprepared for and worried about, I planned with Patricia who lived opposite me and was in the 3rd Form – to nick off school! On the morning in question we set off at the usual time but instead of the bus to Town, headed for Headingley Station where we caught the train to Huby. A pleasant walk up to Almscliffe Crag where we ate chocolate bought from the Village shop. Uniform blazers had been removed leaving us in our Summer dresses which got a trifle wet with a sudden shower but were dry again by the time we caught the train back to Headingley. So far so good. On leaving the train we made for the bus terminus at Queenwood Drive and who should be sat in the driver’s seat of the No. 7 to Hunslet? – Patricia’s Dad!! Oh it was all going so well until then. The secret out, Mum and Dad agreed if I was so unhappy at School then it was time for action. I did feel very guilty though as the uniform had cost a fortune. Maybe that had been the attraction of Thoresby. Headmistress Miss (Violet) Walker (or Auntie Vi as she was nicknamed) in her understanding of the situation, allowed me to leave at the end of Term and after Whitsuntide, I returned from whence I came – Brudenell – but not the Infants this time.

Any novelty of going to Brudenell soon wore off. I still detested History but enjoyed French taught by Miss Bennett. The white haired Teacher with a large kiss curl on her forehead, had taught my sister years beforehand but whereas Barbara was made Head Girl for her outgoing personality, I was the opposite. When sitting with the girls, I listened to their talk but rarely joined in, so quiet and shy was I then! Two of my disasters in the Cookery classes were the addition of too much alcohol in a Christmas Cake which  was foul – the other being the making of toffee. The mixture burnt at its crucial stage and had to be binned, with the resultant smoking dustbin seen across the playground. P.E. didn’t fare well either. Running up to the wooden horse at such speed I didn’t have time to put my hands on the handles and over I went. Many stars were seen as I sat on the floor before being sent home with instructions to get it checked out. A fractured elbow! At least it got me out of P.E. and Games. The dreaded Hockey was played on Bedford Field, a short walk away from where I reside now. As we walked to the playing field my friend Jackie and I, on more than one occasion, as the last corner was turned, would revert back and run to the bus stop. We caught the bus to Town and headed for Vallances by the Market, where we’d listen to the latest ‘Hits’ in the listening booths! I don’t know how we got away with it, but we did.

School never held any interest for me and there were no Exams to sit before leaving at age 15. I just wanted to be working and after a successful interview on a snowy January day in Kirkstall, I left School at Easter.  At least I can remember that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066, but I don’t think I’ve ever been asked for that date in a Zoom quiz – shame.

Lovely Maureen, and there is still time for the Battle of Hastings question 🙂, until next time…..