“Possunt quia posse videntur”
I arrived at Hermitage House sometime during either January or February 1958, having begun that same Spring Term attending Frogwell Primary School in Chippenham.
I was ill-equipped both materially and psychologically, my incomplete school uniform offset by an excess of emotional baggage.
This was a situation which I fear led to something of a scene while still in the company of my mother on the steps just outside the school in Portland Place, where the somewhat daunting Headmistress, Miss L H Bobers, found herself forced to adopt a rather more conciliatory manner than was generally her custom.
I wonder if there is anyone who could help me fit teachers’ names to the initials on my two reports?
In addition to our Form Mistress, Miss M Matthewson, who taught Reading and Number, you will see there is SKE¹ against Writing and Games, while Art, Craft and Story Work are each signed off by JK². I assume MB (Singing) to be Miss Burnham, who played the piano at morning assembly and prayers.
My Form was Transition, located on the west side of the ground floor. The room itself was shared with Kindergarten, their designated area being defined by bright blue metal desks.
As far as I can remember, there were just two infants at the time, whose names (I think) were Darcy and Dexter. They were, however, joined on at least one occasion by me – as a result of infantile behaviour.
I note that according to my Craft report, “stitching of even length has proved rather difficult.” Who said equality was a modern concept?
Writing and Spelling
One day a dreadful furore broke out because somebody (hard though it may be to believe) had written something nasty on the lavatory wall.
Having agonized long and hard over the matter, I have decided to throw caution to the wind and risk the immediate closure of my entire website by revealing the uncensored content of that three word message as being I hate you.
Before very long, slips of paper were handed out by our Form Mistress and we were instructed forthwith to write down those precise words. It was a remarkably transparent plan to reduce the number of possible suspects by elimination of those who could not spell correctly.
Unfortunately, this had its worrying side because, although I was completely innocent regarding the illicit inscription, I did happen to be above average when it came to spelling. As things stood, I was afraid of finding myself unjustly included within a dwindling band of potential perpetrators who would doubtlessly then be lined up for the next level of interrogation.
It was paramount to demonstrate a distinct lack of ability, but the problem was I could see little room for manoeuvre within the three words available. To begin with, no-one could possibly misspell the pronoun I. Furthermore, decades before the invention of text-speak, nobody who had both attained the age of seven and remained in full time education would offer u in place of you. That just left hate, itself only a slightly better candidate for corruption. In desperation, I settled for I hait you, and duly handed in my paper.
Later that day, the dreaded Miss Bobers entered our classroom in order to hold a whispered consultation with Miss Matthewson as to whether their experiment had borne any fruit. Apparently it had not, for an inability to spell correctly had been demonstrated by only one pupil.
Luckily, it did not take much effort to make myself look small, while, on the positive side, this sorry episode at least ensured I would not be tempted to list Criminal Mastermind among my potential future careers.
All I can do now is to hope that (at the very least) this section of my narrative is free from typographical errors.
Reflecting upon my days at Hermitage House, I must suppose that the following incident almost certainly came about due to the distinct lack of boys and had nothing whatever to do with my amiable personality and potential manly good looks. Yes, well, I might have known. Perhaps I should explain…
There we were, our Class waiting at the foot of the stairs in an orderly fashion, when a girl wearing a yellow cardigan suddenly looked me straight in the eye and told me that we were going to get married.
Now, this came as something of a shock, not only because, as far as I knew, we weren’t all that well acquainted, but also because I was fairly sure that this was a subject upon which two people usually agreed.
The young lady (whom I shall refer to as Anne) remained adamant even when I contradicted her. I began to feel more threatened than by having another boy’s fist shoved in my face.
There followed a growing disagreement about future marital arrangements until I realized there was a distinct danger of things escalating into a full-blown row of the sort only mummies and daddies had. Such an outcome would merely serve to demonstrate to the onlookers just how suitable we would be for one another and thereby seriously undermine any support for my own point of view.
Although uncomfortably aware that something needed to be done quickly, I knew it would be wise not to invoke any names such as Juliet, Louise or Rachel (alphabetically or otherwise), since in all probability I would then find myself on the opposite side of exactly the same type of argument, which at that precise moment would be singularly unhelpful. Furthermore, I could not realistically even mention the senior girl who would often look at me in a curiously indefinable way no-one else ever did, for I didn’t even know her name.
As things stood, I’m sorry to say, I was compelled to resort to meanness.
Forthwith, I began unjustly attributing to Anne all the negative qualities I could think of, until she finally desisted. I have always felt remorseful about that.
Occasionally, I still find myself worrying about Anne, afraid lest she has led a life of self-enforced seclusion for quite the wrong reasons. When this happens, I attempt to console myself by considering that in all probability she would have completely forgotten about the incident by the following day and has never once thought of me since – yet somehow this particular idea never turns out to be so very comforting after all.
Therefore, against the copious amount of sage advice I received when I was young, I have determined to adopt a middle of the road position. Nowadays, I try to imagine Anne as content to give a quiet, reflective smile about the matter, before settling back into the arms of the affluent and charming prince who I so unselfishly left her free to marry and with whom she has no doubt Lived Happily Ever After.
At the end of the Summer Term my short stay at Hermitage House was over, but at least on this occasion, unlike when leaving Frogwell, I was afforded the opportunity to bid farewell to my closest friends. Indeed, the fact that my grandmother urged me to do so is something for which I have remained forever grateful.
I had started 1958 still in the Infants section of a Chippenham Primary, spent rather less than two full terms at a predominantly³ girls’ school in Bath and would shortly be propelled into yet another different world – this time that of Walton Lodge, a boys’ boarding school in Clevedon, on the Somerset coast.
¹ I have since been advised that SKE was Miss Eck.
² For JK I have been offered Mrs Kelso.
³ The age range for girls was 5-14 while that for boys was only 5-8, resulting in a ratio somewhere in the region of 4:1.
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