My first day at Lyndhurst Road Primary school is still remarkably clear in my memory. Mrs. Hall, the Headmistress, led me to the door of the reception class and delivered me into the care of Miss Luff. I was lifted up on to the splendid rocking horse at the back of the classroom while the rest of the kids in the class looked on with a mixture of envy and sadness. If going to school meant cantering through the day on this magnificent beast, then life had indeed taken a turn for the better; growing up looked to have some merit.
That delight was to be short lived and as several more new pupils joined the class it became clear to me that the rocking horse was only ever used for the initiation of a new inmate. For the rest of its miserable existence, that wretched horse stood idle, aloof and gathering dust at the back of the class of five year old kids, coming to grips with the rude awakening that arrival at school provided.
It wasn’t long before we were all growing up together. We mixed powder paints for art lessons while the ‘Ink Monitor’ was trusted to mix the powdered ink for the inkwells. We learned ‘Marion Richardson’ script and came home with blue ink stained fingers and clothes. We played what would now be condemned as politically incorrect games in the playground, choosing members for our teams through the use of politically incorrect rhymes. We even danced the polka round the school hall in ‘Country Dancing’ lessons while Miss Whymark wound up the clockwork gramophone with its single solitary 78. On Monday mornings at 10:00 o’clock we joined in with the rest of Britain’s kids when the school ‘wireless’ was tuned to ‘Singing Together‘ on the BBC School’s Radio service.
All that singing practice led to the establishment of the school choir which shared the stage at Portsmouth Guildhall one winter evening with the Milton Glee Club and the Southsea Silver Band. We were lined up, centre stage, resplendent in our grey shorts & skirts, white shirts and green school ties. In my best boy soprano warble, I sang ‘Adam lay e-bounden‘ as a solo and, suitably embarrassed, was wheeled out by my parents at every opportunity to repeat the exercise to visitors that Christmas. My father, an accomplished tenor in his own right probably hoped in vain that I’d follow in his footsteps. While sorting through his bungalow a few years ago I came across the Portsmouth News photograph of the Lyndhurst Road School choir at that Guildhall concert. When I find it again I’ll update this post with it.
And then there was Mr. Bennett, whose approach to maths lessons frankly terrified me. With hindsight, I should have seen that as a portent and been much wiser in my subject choices in later life. Continuing on the subject of terror, how could I forget ‘Miss Geens’, the dinner lady. That woman used to lean over me and demand that I eat my stewed plums and tasteless watery custard, despite written protestations by my mother (a State Registered Nurse) to say that I was allergic to the bloody things. Within minutes, I’d be bright red, itching and a picture of misery. Setting aside the tinned plums, the culinary depths plumbed by that school ‘custard’ was only surpassed by the scoops of school dinner mashed potato*.
Just when it all became too much fun, we were gently but firmly shoved into the Eleven-plus mincing machine. To add to the pressure, my parents decided to enter me for the entrance examination for the local private Grammar School. Their investment in private maths tuition over a few winter evenings fell on stony ground when my first experience of a ‘real’ examination gave me my first exposure to differential calculus at the age of ten – clearly a trick deployed by PGS to favour the parents who paid for their little darlings to attend their private junior school. Undeterred, I moved on to the Portsmouth Northern Grammar School in September of 1963 where I thrived while the old friend from Lyndhurst Road who’d beaten me to the single PGS scholarship place sadly crashed and burned.
Looking back on Lyndhurst Road as a start in life, I could have done far worse. Apart from the country dancing and the choir, those schooldays also introduced me to a completely fresh musical experience. A class mate lived next door above the ‘tuck shop’ where one day after school I first heard the Beatles. It was 1961 and they’d just released a cover of ‘Ain’t She Sweet‘, a single on the Polydor label.
Fifty seven years ago, the Beatles are long gone and I’ve still a fair way to go to grow up.
* A few years later, I would meet their match in the form of dried cabbage, dried carrot and dried egg but at least the circumstances justified the diet.