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.
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