In this occasional series I will mine a few memories which may eventually end up as a sort of dodgy memoir. I stumbled into the 1960s aged 3 and a few beats. Here I explore my nursery schooling and getting to grips with reading…
At three years old, I went to the same nursery as Gordon. Housed in a large rambling Victorian villa with even larger garden, this establishment was run by Miss Stark, whose only features I recall were dark hair and brusque skirts that swirled a lot as she hurried past or behind. I expect she was caring, and friendly even, but back then children were to be managed, not enjoyed. I was pliable, willing to please and I’d do anything not to be that child singled out for anything, especially the one stood in a corner. I’ve always abhorred corners…
There are still school reports from those days which suggest ‘Geoffrey comes into his own at playtime’. Not the most studious student then, but that may have been an early example of what was to follow until I was 16 and Gordon went to University. The invidious comparison. He was an early adopter of the educational benefits of reading anything and everything. I suspect I was either normal or slightly slow in the reading department, but since I was from the same gene pool and hadn’t read Tolstoy before primary school, people made those judgements. Of course I didn’t have a chip on my shoulder. A chip! Ha! A whole bag of bloody potatoes.
At three I knew none of this and, equally true is the fact no one meant any harm, nor did Gordon encourage it or try and take advantage of it. It was just there.
I do remember a few small details about Miss Stark’s. There was an indoor slide made of leather for days when we couldn’t go outside to play. There was an ancient gardener who was something like Mr McGregor from the Peter Rabbit books who must have had a role somehow as I can see that craggy, dusty face still. And there was a large hall with coat hooks and a wall of cubby holes for shoes and, in wet weather, boots.
Those were happy days. One other parent owned a large open topped car and once mum, Gordon and I were driven to some woods a mile or so away to play. It was the first car I remember going in – we didn’t own one until a couple of years later – and, I think, had running boards. The day was sunny, I have no idea who the child was whose parent took us – probably a friend of Gordon’s – but it seemed momentous.
Of lessons, therefore no memory remains. I approached education tangentially and with suspicion, I suspect. No point rushing…
In my family, reading has always been considered a skill to be acquired quickly and enjoyed ravenously. The fact I did neither for a long while, perturbed my parents and, if ever I showed the slightest inclination to enjoy – or even pick up – a book, it was milked to such an extent that any enjoyment was sucked out of it. I do recall a Rupert Bear annual in 1960 – for some reason, it being such a nice looking number appealed to me. Of the book, one other memory remains: a double page in the middle, printed in black and white. If you loaded a paint brush with cold water and carefully moistened – read ‘soaked’ – the page it revealed the colours that had been impregnated into the paper. Let’s face it, this was 1960 and that was the equivalent of being given a VR head set for Christmas.
Somewhere along the way, in the first half of that decade, I joined the family cult, The Readers. I developed my love of Tintin – there was a toy and bookshop in Caterham Valley where I remember eying enviously a Tintin book and saving up my pocket and Christmas money to buy one. Eventually I fell for the joys of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and the Secret Seven, but the first real books I read and enjoyed were, sadly ones whose titles I cannot recall. They were mystery stories, where the mysteries were ‘happenings’ and based around a rather cosy family. In one a set of footprints in the snow go one way and stop at a sort of weird ‘E’ shape. No one can work out what happened as there are no footprints leading away. It seems, in my memory, to have been the business but I expect they were rather trite and simplistic; just what I needed and the only reason I fell for them was Gordon read at least one to me. I have him to thank for that, not that I did, naturally.
Mentioning money reminds me of the Post Office. If we received money for any reason, other than pocket money, we were ‘encouraged’ to put it in our Post Office Savings accounts that had been set up at birth. When I say encouraged, I mean ‘left with no choice’. Mum was adept at making such things seem like an adventure, a trip into the otherwise closed adult world. It’s not as if the interest rates were exactly spectacular and if we drew out the money, it was always with some ‘approved’ purpose in mind. The withdrawal would always – it seems to have been that way – via the medium of a postal order. Such exciting pieces of paper were rare events and delightful to hold.
I must have learnt about money fairly early in that, unlike telling the time, I have no memory of it. Indeed my earliest memories of learning involve the tedious repetition of various times tables. We may have been financially incentivised to learn our tables which would explain why I remember them. I was certainly incentivised to learn how to tell the time as my maternal grandmother – my Gran – promised us a watch once we could. That was one of those very exciting moments, the gift being handed over at a railway station for some reason.