We moved into 36 Hatherley Road, Reading, in 1955, when I was three years old. Redlands Primary was a few minutes’ walk away, so it was a no-brainer that I should study there. I did so from 1956 until 1963, when I passed my 11+ and qualified for Stoneham Grammar School. Stoneham no longer exists, but Redlands is still going strong in the same old red-brick Victorian building. Now I am 67 and have many memories of my formative years at Redlands.
One’s first day at school is supposed to be an unforgettable rite of passage, but the only thing I remember is my father’s advice to put my hand up if I wanted to ask a question. I cannot remember the name of my first teacher, or much at all about my first few years at Redlands; the memories, though, of my last years are stronger.
The teachers I remember are Miss Holt, Miss Sven (a very tall Norwegian woman), Miss Gregory, Mr Price (my favourite teacher of all time whom I have written a separate essay about), Mrs Griffiths and the Head Teacher, Miss Miles (who married and became Mrs Krasnopolsky). I also remember the secretary, Miss
Miss Gregory is connected in my mind with one event. I desperately wanted to go to the toilet – not for a Number I but a Number 2 – and she would not let me leave the classroom. I was too young to tell her my bowels were bursting, so I shat in my underpants. I walked home in disgrace, nursing a large turd, half expecting it to spill out onto the pavement for all to see. Tearfully I told my mother what had happened, and she, of course, visited the school next day to complain. I expect Miss Gregory apologized, but I was too small to know.
Mr Price was the solitary male teacher at Redlands - a wise and inspirational bachelor whom I have celebrated elsewhere. I remember him most because he instilled into me, and probably others, a love of nature. Nature study was a major part of our education under Mr Price. I took great pride in my nature book, where I recorded the daily weather, wrote about birds and butterflies and sellotaped tree leaves and flowers onto the pages. His classroom was filled with newts, tadpoles, water beetles, insects and stinkhorn toadstools.
As a reward for good work, he used to take us to local ponds to collect specimens.
One of my only criticisms of Mr Price would be his handling of the house point system. House points were awarded for good work and effort, and the houses (I forget their names) and points were on display for all to see. The problem was cheating. Mr Price operated a trust system whereby students were allowed to add their own points to the house tally. Students took advantage of this and added points when they thought nobody was looking. I saw a girl do this once. She brazenly added several points to her house’s tally, making a mockery of all my, and everybody else’s, hard-won points. I took great pride in my house’s performance and it pained me to see a girl cheat in this way. I should have told Mr Price but I didn’t. I was too young to tell him that a better system would have been to keep the house point list in his drawer, where nobody but he could alter it, and for him to add on points whenever they were earned. He could have announced house point
standings every so often.
I was in Mr Price’s class during my final year, the year of the all-important 11+. Looking back, I don’t remember our class doing any special practice for this crucial exam; perhaps with more practice I would have achieved a better score and earned a place at the prestigious Reading Grammar School just around the corner from our house. I remember finding the 11+ quite easy, but my problem was speed – I was a meticulous but slow worker, and I doubt if I fully completed any of the 11+ papers. As it turned out, I did well enough to attend Stoneham Grammar, where I excelled, but I often wonder how my life might have changed if I’d received better 11+ coaching and attended Reading School.
I vividly remember the day when the 11+ results were given out in class. Each student received a brown paper envelope. It was well-known that a bulky envelope indicated great success - a place at one the premier secondary schools (Reading School for boys, Abbey and Kendrick for girls). A less bulky, but still substantial, envelope indicated moderate success – a place at a second-tier school (Stoneham or
Ashmead for boys). A slim brown envelope indicated failure and a place at a secondary modern (Alfred Sutton for boys). Heather McRae, who was a less serious student than me but very bright, received a fat envelope inviting her to Kendrick. All of my male classmates received thin packages, dooming them to Alfred Sutton. I knew that at least one of them would be relieved: Kevin Payne had told me he dreaded not going to Alfred Sutton, because it would mean saying farewell to all his Redlands classmates. As soon as I received my package, I knew I was not bound for Reading School or Alfred Sutton. My parents did not complain about my comparative failure to gain acceptance at Reading School; they may have been secretly disappointed, but at least I was bound for Stoneham Grammar, a selective school, where I would receive a good free education up to the age of 18, something they’d never had back in Ireland.
Miss Miles, the Headmistress, was very strict. She used to take whole-school assemblies, and on one occasion, during a silence, I farted loudly. All the girls looked in my direction, and I was mortified. Miss Miles may have
known it was me, but all she said was: “Whoever did that is a very rude person.
” Miss Miles taught sparingly, and I remember her being very critical – unnecessarily so, I think – of my writing. But it is for the annual Safety First (road safety) competition that I chiefly remember her. This was open to all Reading primary schools, and Redlands won it in 1960 and 1961. I was never in the team but was a reserve and, as such, I had to attend the after-school drills that Miss Miles put us through in her quest for perfection. At the time I remember thinking that a Safety First competition should not take precedence over everything else, but in the mind of Miss Miles it did. She drove us mercilessly to memorize the rules of road safety, and I found the whole thing rather boring. I was in love with books and nature, not with whether one should walk on the left or the right side of a country road.
A great friend of mine at Redlands was Tony Mrowicki, a Polish Roman Catholic. We were altar-boys at St William’s, played table tennis at St William’s youth club,
and we used to go for nature walks in Whiteknights Park. He was a year my senior but we were, for some time, in the same class. My best school memory of him is the play we wrote about the destruction of Pompeii. Dressed in togas, we performed it in front of the class. A masterstroke was to have a boy, Trevor Mills, do a commercial for Daz washing powder in the middle of the play. The text of that play has disappeared. How I wish I had kept it.
Philip Rhys was another classmate and pal. His father was Minister of the ugly old Presbyterian chapel – long since gone - on the corner of Craven and London Roads. Philip and I used to spend a lot of time together, mainly at his rather grand house in Denmark Road. He was the only other boy invited to Pamela May’s birthday party – the photo of which I treasure.
Other notable Redlands classmates were Michael Abery (who became a Hell’s Angel and a tree surgeon and who fell to his death while pruning a tree), Geoffrey Fanstone (who lived in Hatherley Road and was my best friend for
a year), David and Jill Gardiner (who also lived in Hatherley Road), Pamela May (whose father had a photography shop on Erleigh Road), Carol Wade (who lived opposite us), Roger Prior and Alan Clarke (tough boys from the Cardigan Road area), David Kimber (a fine cricket batsman and footballer – famous for his barging ability - who went on to Reading School), David and Margaret Turvey (Margaret is today a teacher at Redlands), Colin Tassell (who attended St William’s Youth Club and still lives in the area), Kevin Payne (our star footballer and fast bowler), Peter White (with whom I had one of my few serious fights – Mr Price having to stop me from tearing out his hair – and whose house, on the corner of Erleigh and Alexandra Roads, had an apple tree that yielded the most exquisite Cox’s Oranges) and Rosemary Jennings.
Rosemary Jennings blossomed into one of the most gorgeous women I have ever beheld. She was older than me by a couple of years. She lived in Addington Road in a house which bordered ours and whose fine old cooking apple tree overhung our garden, in season giving us many windfalls. She and her
sister used to tease me over the garden wall. At school I remember her for two remarkable things. One day, in the playground, in front of a crowd of cheering girls, she fought and humiliated a boy, Hugh Bullen, who had been making a nuisance of himself. A girl beating up a boy and making him cry was unheard-of. And then, one lesson, she and Mrs Griffiths performed a card trick. Mrs Griffiths told Rosemary to concentrate and name the suit of the cards that, one by one, she was laying face down. Rosemary guessed right every time. I, and the other spectators, believed we had witnessed a supernatural feat, but I guess it must have been a set-up between teacher and student.
As I say, Rosemary was a beauty. I was too young to appreciate her womanly attributes (girls then being to me, in the immortal phrase of Laurie Lee, no more than ‘makeshift boys’
), and I had yet to learn the facts of life. When it became common tittle-tattle that a Redlands girl (I forget who) had allowed a boy to insert his willy inside her, I wondered how such a thing could be possible.
Bullen, the victim of Rosemary’s ire, and his brother were West Indians. In the 1950’s Reading was still largely white and British. The great influx of Indians and Pakistanis had yet to happen. The only non-British students at Redlands that I recall were the Bullen brothers and a boy from Tristan da Cunha, one of the 264 individuals evacuated following the volcanic eruption of 1961. Today Redlands is a multicultural school where over 40 languages are spoken.
So what was Redlands School like back in the days of Harold Macmillan? It was traditional, well organized and pretty good overall. We were drilled in the basics of English and Arithmetic (the word ‘Maths’ was not used, because we did no Algebra or Geometry). We chanted our tables – “Eleven twelves are 132, twelve twelves are 144…” The other subjects studied were History, Geography, Music, Art, P.E., Handwork, Handwriting and Nature Study. There was no Science. I received a free bottle of milk every day. The teachers were benign, and Mr Price was a superstar who opened my eyes to the wonderful world of nature. With hindsight, my only gripe is the lack of preparation for the 11+. If as much
effort had been put into preparing us for this vital exam as was expended on the comparatively trivial Safety First competition, I might have gone to Reading School and saved myself two hours of travel time each day.
The Redlands playground was cramped, too small for a proper football game, but we boys used to kick a ball around anyway. We also chanted dirty songs. The two I remember are: Buffalo Billy had a ten-foot willy So he showed it to the girl next door. She thought it was a snake And hit it with a rake And now it’s only four foot four.
and ... In the northern gaol They hang you by the nail And they draw dirty pictures on the wall …
The rest of it is rather rude.
Sport was an important part of my Redlands life. We used to go for weekly swimming lessons at Arthur Hill’s public baths in Cemetery Junction. I was a hopeless swimmer, but at least I learnt how to swim a width doing breast stroke.
I much preferred football and cricket to swimming. Once a week we
boys would troop down to Palmer Park to play football in the winter and cricket in the summer. I am not sure what the girls did. I was a handy footballer and played full back for the school team. Mr Price gave me orders to kick the ball as hard and as far as possible towards the opponents’ goalmouth. He once told me how useful “my big boot
” had been during the season. I have one embarrassing Palmer Park memory: when I completely forgot the rules of football and gathered the ball in my arms, thus conceding a penalty. Funny, isn’t it, how embarrassing moments stay etched in the brain?
I was an avid football fan from an early age. Jimmy Greaves was my hero, and so Spurs was my team. I remember when they pulverized Atletico Madrid 5-1 in the 1963 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final. I came to school after hearing the result on the morning radio and shared my delight with friends in the playground. In those days there was little televised football and certainly no live coverage of European matches. I had never seen Atletico or Real Madrid play, but the legend of Real was
well-known to us through newspapers and football annuals. In my innocent mind, Atletico and Real Madrid were one and the same - mythical, magical super-teams – so it was unexpected and wonderful when Spurs thrashed Atletico. I remember a boy in our class, Roger Prior, saying that his ambition was to play for Real Madrid.
I was a better cricketer than footballer. Never comfortable batting against a leather ball (as opposed to a tennis ball), I was, however, an accurate bowler and a good fielder. I suppose I would have been classified as an all-rounder, a bits-and-pieces player. In a typical game I would score 6 runs, take 3 wickets and hold 2 catches. In one school match a batsman hit me for some boundaries, and a voice from the spectators was heard shouting: “Keep that bowler on!”
, whereupon Kevin Payne, our star bowler, approached me and said: “I’ll get that batsman for you.
” Yet another unforgettable embarrassing moment.
A bizarre sporting memory from Redlands is of boxing. One day, completely out of the blue, Mr Price had the bright idea of handing out boxing gloves and letting us choose our opponents. I chose Richard Cairns, a sweet-tempered
unathletic boy, because I thought he would be easy to hit and would not hit me back. I suppose Richard could have refused to box me, but he didn’t. I hit him many times in the face, and he laid not a glove on me during the 60 seconds or so that we “fought”. I have no recollection of a second boxing lesson. Perhaps there were parental complaints, or perhaps Mr Price reconsidered. A very strange interlude.
My years at Redlands were peaceful, productive and happy. I was one of the best students, and my parents were proud of me. The short walk to and from school was a godsend. During my seven years there, I had very few bad experiences. The toilet fiasco with Miss Gregory was one. Another was my fight with Peter White. Another was my very public fart. And then there was the time I was thrown out of the choir. One singing lesson, the teacher asked who was singing off key, and the girls all pointed at me. I could not disagree, because I have always been a tuneless so-and-so, but I was embarrassed to be thus publicly cast aside.
I still have
some of my written work from Redlands. When I sold the family house in 2017, I sifted through the contents of my bedroom, deciding what to keep and what to discard. I had stored a lot of my Redlands stuff in a cardboard box and threw most of it away – projects on history and geography handwritten in royal blue fountain-pen ink and many other impersonal writings. But I decided to keep some of my diaries, because they are a precious record of my early life. The election of Vice-President Nixon, my visit with Dad to the great Russian exhibition at Earl’s Court in 1961, Mr Price’s pond expeditions, our school trips to the Job’s milk factory in Didcot and to Huntley and Palmer’s biscuit factory in Reading, sailing down the Kennet on the Enterprise barge, our family holidays to Hayling Island – all of these are recorded in neat handwriting in my Redlands exercise books.
And then there are the school reports which testify to my youthful genius. The earliest one I possess is from 1959, when Miss Sven taught me. It is lacklustre – all C grades.
The following year, 1960, when Mr Price was my
teacher, I achieved B’s in Reading, Written Expression and Art. All the rest were C’s. One of Mr Price’s comments, for Written Expression, is worth quoting: More reading of literature, instead of reading science books all the time, would help his vocabulary. We must not be too narrow in our approach to the English language.
And his overall comment on me as a student was: Kevin tends to remain up in the clouds. He must attend to the everyday tasks of learning his tables, his spellings, and the basic rules of number, as well as indulging in the higher flights of fancy.
For some reason my conduct that year, according to Mr Price, was only “quite good”
– not very good or excellent, as in all the other reports.
In 1961, when Mrs Griffiths was my teacher, my marks soared with B+ grades for Handwriting, Written Expression, Arithmetic and Nature Study. And she commented: Writes quite a good imaginative story.
In 1962, still with Mrs Griffiths, my grades hit unparalleled heights with A’s in everything except Handwork, Music and P.E. One of Mrs Griffiths’ remarks was: He is a very pleasant boy and
has made a very good job of the milk distribution.
In my final report, in 1963, back with Mr Price, my grades were not so spectacular: I received A’s only for Reading, Handwriting and Arithmetic. Perhaps this was a psychological ploy to stop me being overconfident, or perhaps Mr Price was a harsher taskmaster than Mrs Griffiths. Miss Miles, the Headmistress, made a comment underlining the slowness which probably scuppered my chances of a stellar 11+ result and a place at Reading School: Just a little more speed and confidence in tackling difficulties!
Ah, those were the days! Redlands Primary was less taxing than Stoneham Grammar, where the competition was fierce and where I received copious homework. Redlands was a short stroll from our house, whereas getting to Stoneham involved a walk to the bus stop, a long bus journey and then a brisk walk to the school building. Some of the subjects were new – Algebra, Geometry, General Science - and there was no Nature Study. The biggest difference, however, was in the teaching. At Stoneham there was a different teacher for each subject – a gallery of individuals ranging from extremely competent to uninspiring, slipper-happy and downright useless. I missed having a single good teacher teaching us everything. I missed Mr Price.
(You can read my tribute to Mr Price here: https://www.travelblog.org/Europe/United-Kingdom/England/Berkshire/Reading/blog-966380.html
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