Monday, July 20, 2009

In which the past came back to haunt me..

I do not have happy memories of my first secondary school. From September 1970 to May 1974 I was one of the ‘scholarship gals’ (ie I passed the 11+) at Northampton High School for Girls.

It was at the time a direct grant school which meant that whilst it was mainly a fee paying school, under sufferance they would accept a limited number of pupils who did not pay because that way they received some additional funding from the government..

Some of the girls there had been in the school since they were kindergarten age. To say it was a culture shock for those of us joining the school at age 11 is an understatement. I remember a uniform and equipment list that ran to three pages in length. This included both outdoor shoes and indoor shoes, as well as regulation navy blue knickers. All items (knickers included) had to have our name tag sown in them – it must have taken my mother the best part of a week – and yes we did have regulation inspections to ensure those tags were there. Yes – they did inspect our knickers too for goodness sake.

Two memories of my first year – or should I say my Upper Third year (how jolly hockey sticks does that sound?) stand out. One was from our Speech lesson. Yes – they did attempt to teach us how to speak. Only aged 11 I didn’t quite get that bit. We had to learn a poem for homework, and come back and recite it to the class. I learnt ‘I remember, I remember, the house where I was born.’ Word perfect then, word perfect now - it has stayed with me. Anyway, one line in particular stays with me about how the sun never’ brought too long a day’. I had to say that over and again and simply did not understand what the problem was. With the benefit of some wisdom acquired over my years at that school I later learnt the problem was my Northamptonshire accent – with particular reference to my ‘A’s’. ‘ Aaaa Daaaay.’ I also learnt that according to the teachers ‘Off’ was pronounced ‘Orrrffff.’ I did not previously know that!

The other memory was of Writing class (Writing AND Speech!). We never had lined exercise books as lined paper was unladylike (and more expensive). Anyway week in week out my writing was marked B+. Until that was, the day my teacher found out my parents had a pub and thereafter my writing was B- every single week.

We used to get a coach to our sports fields as they were some distance away. Unbelievably, what ever year we were in, we had to get changed into our gym kit on the coach. I don’t think that would happen these days!

I guess one either conformed at the school or one rebelled. I was in the second category, and by my fourth year (Lower Fifth) my card was well and truly marked. My physics report that year noted ‘Jane makes absolutely no effort’. Although it didn’t seem it at the time, my parents moving us to Skegness was the saving of me academically. As a new girl in what was happily a normal fifth year as opposed to a stupid Upper Fifth I got down to work and did well. That would never have happened at Northampton.

So having said all that, why on earth did I find myself on Saturday afternoon at a High School reunion? And how come I enjoyed myself so much? It was all girls who had been in my year. It has to be said that some have aged somewhat better than others. I did feel pretty bad assuming Judith D must have been an old teacher but I think I talked my way out of that faux pas. It was interesting to realise that most of them had hated the place too. Always fun to find yourself with people with whom you share common experiences from the past and to see old photos – I did have the widest pointy collars in the whole world (surely?), and the shortest skirt no question. Looking though at letters sent home that inexplicably some people had kept and brought along it really did reek of a bygone era. One letter warned girls to keep their purses with them at all times as leaving them in the cloakrooms provided ‘Temptation for the weak minded amongst our community.’ The thought that I ever received a letter written in such a style makes me feel far older that I thought poor Judith D actually was.

But all in all, a great afternoon, and hopefully some old friendships have been truly revived once again.


Lucy said...

Yes, that sounds very much like my old Alma Mater, Dover Grammar School for Girls: I would never be tempted back there for a reunion. But, I was, of course "disgustingly disloyal", in the words of the Headmistress, by the fourth form and left after the fifth. Yes, the act of wearing gym shoes to Speech Day somehow revealed the irredeemable blackness of my heart ....

Yorkshire Pudding said...

When you were in Hull, you must have passed Hymers College - the direct grant school for boys. Being a clever little sod, like you I passed the 11+ with flying colours and earned (was punished with?) a scholarship to Hymers. My experience there seems very similar to yours in Northampton but unlike you I would never, ever return for a reunion. The hatred I felt for that place remains undiluted through the years. Just as Skegness saved you, so Beverley Grammar School saved me re. my A levels. If I hadn't gone there I might have had to become a knickers inspector in a girls' school or something equally mundane!

jay said...

Oh, my goodness, did that bring back memories!

I was sent to an all-girl High School when I passed my eleven plus, and it didn't take me very long to get over the feeling of elation. My time there was miserable. We didn't have speech lessons, but we had Classics and Latin, and only the serious underachievers got to do Domestic Science. The uniform thing sounds just like Northampton. I was telling my son and his girlfriend just the other day about Mrs Pipe, who doubled as gym teacher and biology teacher and had a piercing upper class accent and a nose to match.

Many was the time I stood in the inspection line-up and had my non-regulation purse belt twanged by her (they were NOT meant to be elasticated) or got hauled up for wearing my outdoor shoes inside, or some other heinous offence.

Yep, we had our regulation navy blue knickers inspected too. Sheesh. They'd never get away with it these days.

John said...

Clearly that education has stood you in good stead, though, J.J. The quality of the posts at this blog alone must be the result of those Writing classes. ;-)

I would have loved to have gone to an all-girls school.

J.J said...

Lucy - I am shocked beyond words - You wore gym shoes for Speech Day!!!

YP - I know exactly where you school was. Actually I know where both of them were. I loved visiting Beverley (such a nice girl that Nellie).

Jay - you remind me about my Latin classes. I was full of enthusiasm for the first week of Latin - but the dull beyond belief teacher soon knocked that out of me. I never got much further than Amo, Amas, Amat. Erhh- what comes next?

John - the girls at my school would have loved to have had you.....

Karen said...

I went to a comprehensive school, although why I am called that I'm mot sure. It was full of people who weren't as fortunate as me, people that you would call "rough" or "from the wrong side of the tracks". I wasn't very popular as I was clever, but popular enough in the clever crowd. To do well at this school you had to want to do well, as there were plenty of disruptive pupils who simply weren't interested in academia. A vocational course would have suited them much better. I actually got on better with the "rougher" girls in my year (the ones who smoked, would probably get in fights and often tell the games teacher to fuck off) than the ones who thought of themselves as "it" (think they're gorgeous, always worry about appearance and make fun of you if you're wearing the wrong sort of trainers/top/pants etc). In fact sometimes if the it girls tried to take the piss out of me the rough girls would tell them to stop bothering me. Which they would then do as one of them wasn't nicknamed Tank for nothing!

I've made it sound like a terrible school, it wasn't, just some of the pupils. Most of the teachers were very good and helped get me nine GCSEs and go on to do A Levels, which I had to do elsewhere as they only taught 11-16.

J.J said...

Karen - sounds like a wise move to get on well with the rougher girls - especially the one known as The Tank!