We jumped forward a bit yesterday, if only by a year or so. I started school in January 1952, as five was the usual age for this. I’m rather embarrassed to say that it was a (shhh..) private school. I’m even more embarrassed to say that my parents chose to do this having visited the local primary school and seen “grubby children with runny noses”. So they chose to spend £3 a term for me to attend St Patrick’s private school, with a total school population of around 30. I hold one of my first actual memories (not just something I’ve been told about) from that day. I picture myself sitting at a desk, having been given a box of letters and told to learn them. I must have enjoyed it, as I announced to my mum that “I think I’ll go again tomorrow”.
The 50s progressed – I’m sure that anyone who is reading this will be glad to hear it as the 50s seem to have gone on for a very long time. School was school….. I think I mostly liked it although I have one distressing memory of being hit on the hand with a ruler for something I hadn’t done. I have always thought that my lifelong hatred of injustice stemmed from this. I also remember being embarrassed at the age of seven for being the only person in the class who still believed in Father Christmas. I once sang “the Owl and the Pussycat” at a school concert but only after I had lost my nerve and recited it. I can still remember the teacher stepping forward at the end of the recitation and saying “And now Anne is going to sing it”.
After a couple of years tucked away in a tiny building next to the church in city centre Bradford, the school moved quite a distance away to Heaton Mount in Frizinghall. An Italianate-Baroque villa built in 1866 must seem a strange place to house a primary school but it was certainly a wonderful environment for those of us who went there – except, possibly, for the school dinners which were about par for that time. With huge grounds, we had plenty of space to play and our classrooms were the high vaulted rooms and fabulous glass conservatory. I certainly blossomed there, to the extent that, by the time I was nine I was being put forward for my 11+. But that’s getting a bit ahead of myself.
I should add here that throughout my school life I was taught by nuns who, by and large, were a set of wonderfully kind women, some of whom would have been leaders in their field of expertise if they had not gone down the route of a religious calling.
At home, dad continued to be busy in the shop and I remember him constantly leaving the table at meal times to go and deal with customers. By the mid 50s he had decided that the roads were too busy to make driving out on a Sunday an enjoyable pastime and we changed our focus to gardening. Now, I blame this activity for my lifelong hatred of gardening (you may already see a pattern here of my early experiences influencing my adult life). It may seem a bit pretentious to talk about owning a row of houses – but we did. These were tiny terraced houses in a village called Wilsden surrounded by farms and countryside and at various times, they were owned by members of our family. By the time I was born the family had all moved away and most of the houses were rented out. My father appeared to own the whole row of four houses as I used to go with him to collect the rent. I will always remember that at one house there lived a little girl who had a doll which was almost the same size as she was and oh how I wanted a doll like that! I never got one. The bottom house was empty and this was our base for gardening Sundays. Number 1 Norr Green Terrace was a very strange shape. The rooms were not square but the house tapered away so that the back rooms upstairs and downstairs were just tiny triangles. We kept our gardening equipment there, including a miniature plough. My heart sinks even thinking about it. Just below this house was a small field where we did most of the gardening and there was also an orchard at the top of the row, where we grew apples and soft fruits such as gooseberries and raspberries. (I mustn’t forget to mention a row of outside toilets next to our field). So, every Sunday, we would spend our afternoons ploughing and hoeing and weeding. And this was a man who spent Monday to Saturday selling and repairing bikes, recharging batteries and doing various other repairs and a woman who spent her life running around after him, her child and her mother-in-law. At one point I amassed a fine collection of worms in a jar but, other than that, I was mostly bored. So bored that one Sunday I released the handbrake of the car so that it began to roll down the hill towards a road and a wall with me in the driver’s seat and grandma in the back! Mum and dad raced out of the field; mum went flying full-length and dad just managed to open the door and apply the handbrake again. I don’t remember what was said. I don’t remember what was grown, either, other than potatoes and they stick in my mind because the seed potatoes were laid out on the upstairs floor of our gardening house.
Holidays were taken at what is now Flamingoland but was then a very pleasant country house hotel called Kirby Misperton Hall. It was run by a couple called Colonel and Mrs Stone (isn’t it strange how you remember little details like that) and over the few years that we visited, mum and dad seemed to become quite friendly with them. Not that dad was there much. He would take us one weekend, go back to open the shop in the week and return the following weekend. One year, Mrs Stone even suggested to my parents that I could come and stay with them on my own at some point if I wanted but that never happened. (I’m not sure it would have done given my aversion to being left anywhere without at least one parent!)