Monday, 27 July 2015

6: School

1) First day

We were looking forward to school. We had watched longingly as our elder siblings had trooped off with the other children down the road in the mornings, coming back for lunch with tales of playground fights and teachers and excitements beyond what home offered.

On that first day our mother took us, and we walked in certain we were going to like it there. The main thing I remember though is a wail coming from the next classroom, "I want to be with the twins! I want to be with the twins!" Our friend had been put in a different class to us. An outrage, something we weren't expecting. Of course we would be together and carry on as normal in this new and strange environment.

As it happened they relented and by the end of the day he'd joined our class, and all was well. School could  begin now.

2) The naughtiest boy and girl in the class

...weren't me. From day one I was miss goody two shoes, never wanting to get into trouble. But my mischievous twin and our friend seemed to seek it out. If not, deliberately, trouble always found them. Like the time they decided to write in big letters just because it was fun. That act of rebellion cost them a place on the Blue (top) table and they were demoted to the Orange (second) table for a week. But their biggest fall from grace was one activities afternoon. We could choose what activity to do, and there was always a painting table. On this particular day our teacher was making a mural so most of us joined in with that. My sister and friend decided they'd rather paint. So they started to paint a picture each. They gradually worked their way round the table, using up all the blank paper provided. Then they got bored. So they painted the table. And the floor. And each other. I can still remember the outraged shout of "What's this?" from our dragonlike classroom assistant. I don't remember the punishment that time, but they were in BIG trouble.

The next year we swapped classes and our friend was quite happy to leave us behind. From then on in, my twin was a rebel alone.

3) Reading

The summer before we started school, my elder siblings had taught us to read. They made us little books and we soon picked out the words with ease. Which meant when we got to school we raced through the reading scheme. We were happily equal, my twin and I and it never occurred to me that it would ever be any different. Until the fateful day when she jumped two books ahead of me in the reading scheme. And I cried all the way home. I was always two steps behind her at school after that. I got over it in the end, but it's quite  a hard lesson to learn at five...

4) Maths

I started off at school enjoying sums. I could add three pigs and five pigs and make eight. I breezed through subtraction and multiplication. But then one day I was given a sum I couldn't do.  For the life of me I couldn't see the logic of having 10 pigs dividing them by five and getting two. I tried and tried, but remained completely  baffled. From then on in, a hatred of maths was born, and a feeling that I was incapable of understanding it. My dad always said it was like a language, but it was one which stubbornly failed to make sense to me. Which is is a shame, because (not for the first time) I shut myself off from a subject which I can see has given my eldest daughter a lot of pleasure. Still, at least I managed to scrape an O level in it. But without those damned pigs, who knows what might have happened?

5) Playtime

We had an infant playground and a junior playground, divided by some steps going down to the junior one. It was an act of ultimate defiance for an infant to be seen in the juniors (our poor sister a whole year older spent the lot of our first year at school being sent back up to the infants till my mum came up with the wheeze of putting our intials on our school jumpers). The playground was a rough and ready place. There were fights, and misunderstandings, and the times you get left out of games. But sometimes it was fun, and then there was always kiss chase. Which we played endlessly, although I never quite knew whether I wanted to be kissed or not. Most of the boys back then didn't seem terribly kissable. Luckily before I found out, kiss chase came to an abrupt stop when the head teacher looked out of the window one day and saw what we were doing, just as I was about to get caught. I was never quite sure afterwards whether I was angry or grateful.
5: The Family Down the Road

1) First Friend

We  grew up in a leafy suburban street, close to the primary school we went to. As it was a catholic school, there were a number of catholic families in our road, who like us had a lot of children. Our best friends lived six doors down. They were a family of seven and the youngest three were close in age to us. (Exotically they had TEENAGERS in the house, who listened to pop music and came from another planet).

My twin and I were best friends with their youngest son. Before we went to school we were often in their house, which was bigger than ours and was on three floors. Which made it perfect for mountain climbing. The hours we spent playing explorers up and down the stairs, were our happiest times. Our friend's mum was very tolerant, often packing us sandwiches for our expeditions, and only scooting us out of the way occasionally if we were a nuisance, and providing us with Nesquik at the end of our games. Nesquik.We never had that in our house, it seemed like heaven.

It was established early on that my sister and our friend would be getting married when they grew up. Why or how, I don't know, and I don't recall that ever bothering me. But they were a natural fit, mischievous and always in trouble, while I tagged along behind in awe at their recklessness, and wishing I could be more like them.

Our happy exploring days eventually ended when we had to go to school. And to be honest, nothing has ever seemed quite as much fun since...

2) Orphanages

In the long summer holidays that seemed in those days to stretch on forever, we would get together in our friends' garden and play orphanages. They were pretty gruesome games from what I remember. Our friend's older sister used to be the head of the orphanage and would come up with terrible punishments for us if we had been naughty. So she'd make us line up against the fence and pretend to use the rake to scrape down our backs, or tell us we'd have to eat dog poo if we weren't good. There was something heady and exciting about the horrible ideas she came up with, and when we invariably escaped as part of  the game (going down to the local pond and sitting beside it pretending to row a boat to get away), I was completely caught up in the idea that we really were running away.

Our other games weren't quite as vicious as that, but orphanages has always stuck in my head. What possessed us to come up with something so nasty? We didn't have access to grim videos, and had perfectly lovely families. But there was something teasingly enticing about wondering about a world that wasn't as safe as ours. I suppose that's the point of childhood games,  you explore the dark while knowing you can go to bed perfectly safe and well.

We were lucky, privileged even. They were truly halcyon days.

 3) Mr and Mrs L

Our friends' parents were delighftul people. They never seemed to mind extra children in their garden. And absorbed us into their family as part of the furniture. Mr  L worked in the print, which fascinated me for some reason, as it was so different my dad's teaching job. He was also keen on gardening and had a proper shed, which we were allowed to use as a club house. He was a terrible tease and enjoyed pretending he couldn't tell my sister and I apart. He called us Virjulia and Gervinia with a twinkle in his eye. He was always funny and kind. Mrs L was brilliant too, seemingly calm, but running a household that included an invalid elderly aunt who we would go and see sometimes. Looking back I can see she must have had a lot on her plate, but she was always serene and kind, with a wicked sense of humour. They were delighftul people, and their house was a very special place. I remember it full of sun and laughter and life. A true testament to their kind and generous natures. They are both dead now, but I will remember them with fondness always.