Monday, 16 September 2019

Sixty Years On

It was on (or around) this date 60 years ago that I arrived, a tenderly reared lad of but nine summers, in the suburban demiparadise where I have been securely rooted, off and on, ever since.
  My mother had secured me a place in the local state primary school, though the headmaster (a large plump man who, I noted, kept a hacksaw in his study) was clearly reluctant to swell the population of his already bursting-at-the-seams institution. I joined a class of 50-plus coevals, and soon discovered that I had a very strange curriculum to contend with. Having until now been educated at a cosy little prep school (whose uniform, embarrassingly, I was still wearing), I was used to learning Lat, Fr, Geog, Hist, Geom, Algy, ect, ect (as Nigel Molesworth would put it), but now I discovered that the most important thing, the one thing, the sine qua non, was to master the approved Surrey County Council italic script. And so a titanic struggle ensued, involving the purchase of a pen with a kinky nib to cope with my curious lefthanded grip, and much laborious copying out of words and passages. Eventually I was able to produce an acceptable semblance of S.C.C. italic and could embark on this next, rather undemanding phase of my education. 
 The huge class was presided over by a formidable woman of ample build and mighty bosom who, with the aid of a weaponised wooden ruler, singlehandedly maintained order and, greatly to her credit, managed to teach us to a level that, in some areas (grammar, punctuation, spelling) was about on a par with today's undergraduates. To my horror, I discovered that this strange curriculum also included, of all things, Country Dancing (Strip the Willow, etc). Such was my complete ineptitude in this essential life skill that I was finally allowed to sit it out and man the Surrey County Council gramophone.
 I passed through all this, as through just about everything else in life, in a state of utter bewilderment mingled with ear-burning embarrassment, but I went along with it, having no choice. And there were compensations – not least, Gurls! Yes, half my fellow pupils belonged, I was delighted to see, to a sex with which, until then, I had had all too little contact. I plunged into this new world of boys and girls with alacrity, making new friends of the opposite sex (we didn't have genders in those days, except in Lat, Fr, ect) and enjoying many a spirited game of kiss chase in the playground.
 But back to my first day. When the final bell rang out, I fell in with a little gang of boys who constituted a loose-knit 'tree climbing club' devoted to climbing all the trees – from veteran Spanish chestnuts to half-grown newcomers – in Carshalton Park. They knew every tree, had given names to many of them, and had worked out just how to climb each one and to what height you could go before things got really dangerous. They also knew where every bird's nest was (including, in those days, owls' nests) and where to find frogs, newts and other attractive wildlife. On a mellow sunny September afternoon, this all seemed to me like a little taste of paradise, and I arrived home at the end of that day happy to discover that I'd fallen on my feet. I just loved this new place.
 And, 60 years on, here I still am.


  1. I'm trying to learn Hungarian by reading in parallel Hung/Eng texts The Pal Street Boys by Ferenc Molnar. If you haven't come across the book, it is a good one, and there is a beautiful passage in it about the place in Budapest where the boys of the title play that I think might remind you of the childhood scenes in Carshalton Park that you so beautifully evoke in this post. I'll type it into my blog some time (in English).

  2. Thanks Zoe – and good luck with learning Hungarian! Isn't it said to be the hardest European language? Apart from Basque perhaps...

  3. Ah the things I don't know about you Nige! Gorgeous post - I can think of a certain descendant of yours who would probably love a gramophone to man during the obligatory school rugby! If only it demanded a soundtrack... the tree climbing club would be right up his street too.

  4. Ho ho – maybe he could hang around in the goal mouth with his fellow refuseniks and run the other way if anything happens. That's what I used to do (when I cld get away with it)...

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