At some point, possibly when we still lived in Bradford, I was entered for my “scholarship” (more recently the 11+). As I was still aged nine when we moved to Bingley, I think it was possible that the local authority was one step behind and not aware of our move out of their area. Anyway, when I was around ten years old, I took the scholarship in Bradford, only to be told that, as we now lived in West Yorkshire, I had to do it again under their regime – in Wakefield, a town that I had barely heard of, let alone visited. The test was done (several of us had been “crammed” in the art of answering these IQ related questions) and duly forgotten. Then, one day, I was informed by one of the nuns that I had passed and was despatched home in the middle of the day to tell my mum the good news. Like most people we didn’t have a telephone in the house. For some reason I must have knocked on the door. I remember my mum answering it (although I don’t remember whether she was wearing her morning or afternoon clothes) and looking utterly horrified when she saw me standing there. She thought something terrible had happened – as if I had been sent home to tell her that I had been expelled or had developed a contagious illness during the morning. I said “I’ve passed”.
And so, that’s how I came to have a place at a grammar school in Bradford, starting in September 1957.
That summer, mum and I went on holiday to Bridlington, with mum’s sisters, Violet and Bessie and their respective husbands. We stayed at a boarding house run by a pleasant couple who had recently come to England from South Africa. (It was well before I understood anything about what was happening in South Africa, so no questions were asked). Staying at a boarding house involved going out after breakfast and not returning until tea-time, whatever the weather. (Tea-time, by the way is when we northerners eat our evening meal, known in other parts of the country as dinner or supper. We eat our dinner in the middle of the day. Dinner, known elsewhere as lunch, was generally our main meal of the day and the meal at the end of the day was lighter. We often ate supper too but that was a snack during the evening, when we got hungry again, because our “tea” was not very big, I suppose. That makes perfect sense to me but I understand if others find it confusing!).
The meal to which we returned was usually the sort of food which got England a bad name in les cuisines, les cucines and die Küchen of Europe (and no doubt prevented our entry into the Common Market until the 1970s), such as boiled ham and limp salad. There was no choice, so you either liked it or lumped it! There was never any venture into Afrikaans cuisine which would, I’m sure, have sent the guests running for the hills. We arrived on Saturday and on Sunday we would walk along the promenade and the sea but custom dictated that we weren’t allowed to actually step onto the beach until Monday. This branch of non-conformism robbed me of a day’s digging, paddling and sand-castle crafting.
The uncles would stride out wearing jackets and flat caps. The only nod to informality was to lose their tie and wear an open-necked shirt. I think the jackets might have come off on the beach and I do recollect the odd handkerchief with knots tied at the corner, being used as headgear. Anyway, it was lovely that they took mum and I under their wings and they were there to comfort her on the difficult first anniversary of her husband’s death. I can still picture us, walking along the promenade arm in arm, our photos captured by one of the seaside paparazzi who promised to develop the photo on the same day and then displayed it in a booth for all the world to see. I think there were two of these holidays.
And so, in September 1957, I embarked on my time at one of Bradford’s most sought-after single-sex grammar schools. Sadly, I think I peaked at 10! Although my GCE results were OK, my A Levels were dire (probably due to choosing the wrong subjects) and I had to pick myself up again when I left school. For that reason, if for no other, I have been a lifelong advocate of further study and I am happy to remind parents and children alike that there is a hell of a lot of life still to go after you leave school. So, if you didn’t achieve what you (or others) thought you should, you shouldn’t despair but grab all the opportunities for study as they come along, whatever age you are.
I saw Stephen Manderson ( aka Professor Green) on BBC Breakfast this morning. He was urging people to take and print photographs of their loved ones so that they have something to remember after that person dies. He very movingly reminded us that this can happen a long time before you expect it to and that you can’t do anything about it then. He wishes he had more photos of himself taken with his father who, sadly, took his own life at a very young age. It’s an important message, Prof Green and, although we do have family photos going back to before WW2, I’m writing this blog because you can’t ask questions either!
People of my parents’ generation were far too zipped into secrecy and thinking things shouldn’t be talked about. That is how I came to miss out on big chunks of my family history.