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24 June 2009

Lucia Asked Me to Write About My Childhood
Because my peculiar childhood was antique-seeming even when compared to the upbringings of those similar in age (I was going to say peers, except that my peers are all those other brain drain children, some of whom I grew up with, and who lived unsettled and peculiar lives in multiple countries*), I think it would hardly be recognisable as childhood to people today. Part of it was because my 'rents were fair oddballs themselves, but at that time children were not considered at all in anything, and were closer in status to, say a dog.**

When I began school I already knew how to read (well, of course), and although I remember tons about the school I remember nothing about the actual schoolwork, which may be why. It was a one room schoolhouse called Pine Grove School, and the teacher was Miss Larsen. It had no plumbing, having "cloakrooms" on either side of the antechamber (boys' to one side, girls' to the other - perhaps girls on the right I think). Hooks for coats were on the inner wall with girls' to one side, etc. The desks were the old wooden type fixed to the floor on cast iron rails, with holes to put an inkwell into, and with the rich patina of hundreds of Canadian scholars' scratchings and ink spills. Each row was a grade, and Miss Larsen would give rows some page numbers to study while she turned her high beams on a certain grade, which involved, as I recall, students being required to demonstrate their knowledge one by one in front the teacher.

There was no misbehaviour to speak of. At that time (and throughout my school career) corporal punishment was meted out as teachers saw fit, and naughtiness at Pine Grove was countered by a few sharp raps with a ruler, on the knuckles for boys, or on the palm for girls. The school was heated with a little woodstove in the middle of the room. We had to walk three miles to school, or two and a half if we crossed the fields. My sister claims she and my brother had to drag me along, which I'm sure happened a few times as that's a tough routine for a small child. We had to take lunches, of course, and my mother would send potatoes for us to cook upon the wood stove, and Fizzies to plop into water. Whether that was normal or not I have no idea but my mother was innovative and free-thinking and would (always) come up with strange and creative solutions. At Hallowe'en, a novely to us, my mother sewed me a velveteen black cat suit with a tight-fitting headpiece with card-stiffened ears. My sister was a witch and I was her familiar, and I remember being reprimanded by the teacher for behaving like a cat at school. I also (though not at school) used to put my pyjama bottoms on my head, hop about, and claim to be a rabbit, so perhaps I R a latent furry.

That was the school where I told an older girl about a dream I had had (a giant daddy-longlegs came out of cellar door and father and brother battled it), not knowing it was a dream. She said, "I think that was a dream,"very kindly and just like that POOF I realised it HAD been a dream. I remember going off home with another child and the geese on her farm (I was bitten by a swan when I was on the Hamble Ferry when I was about two or three, and large birds made an impression on me). That was also the school where the boy was killed by the truck after sliding down the compacted snow wall thrown up by the ploughs clearing the road. We all did that, but he was killed - and traffic was so rare and the terrain so flat I can't quite imagine how it happened, but there you are. There was an inquest and the old children had to give their accounts. I'm not sure how old one could be there, but my brother was there and he's seven years my senior. I could rattle on for hours, but I shall move on, as indeed the family did when Avro went bust.

The next one was called Stone School (I think might be this one)(location as it is today), I believe in Georgetown, and it was not far from our house in a more edge-of-townish place (before that we were on a huge farm in the sticks)(I have a picture of it somewhere that I'm not in because I wasn't at school that day - who knows why - maybe that was the day my brother hit me in the head with his cricket bat). We had a circular drive and next door were the Worralls, who were friends of mine. Stone School was very small and I remember we were required to show our handkerchieves every morning; the boys would pull out their pocket lining to show, and got by that way. I was fascinated by a boy who wore his pyjamas beneath his clothes every day. I don't remember the teacher. It was my sister and me, my brother having gone somewhere else of which I have no knowledge. At one point an unwashed and unkempt gypsy girl with matted hair and vermin was seated at the desk in front of me for the very brief time she was there. Her name was Stephanie, and I associated that name with unpleasantness; my cousin's neighbours were very nice and I like them a great deal, so it was a terrific shock when I found out the mother's name was Stephanie. Ha ha, children!

My father and mother had absolutely zero interest in school, school doings, teachers, homework, etc. They never did, and years later I had to write my own excusing notes if I'd been ill, not because I wanted to, but because it was the only way I could acquire such a thing and regain entry to school (which I loathed but had to attend, and although I was good at it I would have known the same if not more by not attending at all). In a house full of books where knowing things was just the way it was, and because, as my pater said, English children learn by osmosis, school was actually a waste of time, but there you are. A lot of the BAD things I know I learned from school (about 50% I learned from my mother, though, so there you are again).

I was going to write about all the teeny weeny schools I've been to, but am tired, however I went to um... Glen Mills School, which was four rooms, I think - I can't really remember. After that I went to a two room school in Chester Springs, the name of which escapes me, but was atop a little hill and not far from where I lived.

Ugh, tired.

However I should add...

I know people now don't understand, but we weren't leaving anything, we weren't joining anything: we were entirely self-contained and completely separate mentally, in much the same way as a deep space explorer is just going somewhere, not becoming something else. But, as I said, people these days don't understand, so I will leave that alone, along with the other things no one now will understand and that I never speak of.

* My brother said once he and a pal were on the Kowloon Ferry coming back from school when a stranger began talking to them, and he said, "I'm English, then moved to Canada, and then to the United States, then Hong Kong, then back to the United States, then to Hong Kong again," and his friend said, "I'm English, then went to South Africa, then back to England, then to Australia, then came to Hong Kong," etc. - as my brother said, typical of English children you'd meet abroad at that time, but the tourist was flummoxed.
** I don't mean pampered modern dogs that are given operations if they need them, so perhaps the dog analogy doesn't work now. Closer in status to... uh... someone else's children.

posted by - 10:05 AM

thanks Os - fun to read! hope you do some more sometime.
Yes, more please! Especially what people no longer understand today and that you never speak of.
/me shakes her fist.
Blimey Os - only 16 or so years seperate us in age, but your experiences of growing up are so far removed from mine to be unrecognisable outside the pages of USA frontier history.

Oddly enough, after a TV prog last night about homelessness in the UK, we (i.e. the office) were discussing how grateful we all were for our upbringings and although they were all very different, we all said that they made us who we are today. This is obvious and only odd in so much as it sort of touches on your post.

Another odd thing (this time odd as in just random thoughts popping into my head) is my decided lack of childhood memories. I can remember stuff, but like photographs really. And not that many. I think my short-term & long-term memory got together at an early age and agreed to be merged into a medium-term memory.

I think my overriding feelings of growing up - and these are probably still mine today - were of being happy & safe but never ever knowing why things happened or how. I've never known what the flip I am here for. This has been a significant itch all my life, but one I've learnt to ignore in the last 10 years.

Still, I wish I had a purpose. Or a skill - I mean a reall skill, a good skill. They don't teach you that at school. But at least I have Mrs Pender to thank for my love of ladies in high heels. I learnt how lovely an ankle and calf can look, that's for sure.

Well, my father was an aeronautical engineer, and there was no aircraft industry to speak of in England at that time, and no aircraft industry in Australia at all, so that was Right Out.

Avro Canada was a cutting edge place - witness the Jetliner and the Arrow - but it's still not quite understood what happened. The Canadian government was to buy Arrows but opted instead to buy an American missle that filled the same slot but left Avro hanging out to dry.

It was a sudden thing - almost everyone was let go on Black Friday and the Arrow prototypes were chopped up into unrecognisably tiny pieces. No one who knows why has ever told why.

As well as aeroplanes tugging on one side, we had horses on the other, so we lived far from the madding crowd, always.

I did like Canada so it was too bad, but after a gap (I don't remember what is inbetween) my father was hired by the vertical lift division of Boeing, Boeing-Vertol, which had been Piasecki Air.

We weren't happy and safe, and I for one had no clue what was going on and I just tried to stay out of trouble which was very difficult since even the WORDS one spoke although somewhat the same, were enough different that I'd be marked off on school essays as being wrong when in fact I was right. Ugh. I tried to blend in outwardly while remaining myself inside.

That resulted, more or less, in living entirely outside time.
Well, that may be a bit of an exageration (an artist's job description!) as I think everything was destroyed out of a fear of Soviet spies having infiltrated. The government dropped the project because, supposedly, they wanted to save money, and of course they did but how much the decision was influenced by international politics is anyone's guess. The Canadian aircraft industry went from cutting edge to flatline overnight and the American aerospace and aeronautics industries picked up a lot of very brainy engineers.
Change is a very strange beast - we are dealing with it (as ever) at work as people move offices, posts are re-defined and so on and so on. People's reactions to change as adults seems to almost match those of children.

I remember growing up and being terrified of the IRA, the Welsh nationalist and not having a job when I left school - the 70's were, frankly, a shit time to be a kid in Lancahire :)
Birthday cake candle here ... I have finally read your account of childhood school! I will recount some of my childhood experiences, to share and compare, on my blog.
I went to at least 13 schools, so that wasn't "school," just a tiny bit of my career as a student. I always hated authority, so school was agony.
I was (and am) a lazy fucker so hated school too.

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