Kingsbury County Days

In 1954 I passed the eleven plus exam, a bundle of tests which, according to Tory MP David Davis “rescued a generation of underprivileged children”. Even at this tender age we all in our last year at Fryent Junior understood the what was going on, and many feared the consequences of failure. I can’t remember much about the tests themselves, and I was surprised that I passed, as I suspect did my parents.

I know my Mum and Dad were pleased, especially as I had missed best part of a year’s schooling when I nearly lost my eyesight when I was eight. I learned later that for Dad, Grammar School entrance was a pretty big deal as he had always resented having been denied the opportunity himself in favour of one of his three brothers.

I remember the impact of my attainment on my Dad’s meagre wage packet, which immediately arose from the need to kit me out with an expensive uniform, only obtainable from a posh tailors shop in Golders Green which enjoyed a monopoly supplier arrangement with Kingsbury County Grammar, the school in London NW9 which the local education authority had selected for me.             Continue reading

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New Zealand days – part 2: Dargaville

 Check out the story so far

1967

The stocky man who met me at Dargaville bus stop introduced himself as Maurice Fitchett, senior master at Dargaville High.  During my so-called teacher training course in Auckland I had already picked up the post-colonial feel of New Zealand secondary educational system, but that brief experience had not prepared me for Maurice Fitchett, nor, as it turned out, for the disciplinarian culture of schools such as Dargaville High. I have to admit that I was taken aback. Elsewhere this was the swinging sixties, but even though horses had been replaced by cars in Dargaville main street, Maurice, both in appearance and bearing, could easily have been cast in a period movie set in the 1860s.

Actually he didn’t say a lot on that occasion; he had been delegated to meet me off the Auckland bus and take me up to Dargaville High School, to be interviewed for a job as a French and English teacher. Understandably he wasn’t giving much away. But as meet-and-greet exercises go, it left much to be desired. Some corporate pride and enthusiasm might not have gone amiss, and when I was ushered into the headmaster’s study I was probably a bit disconcerted, which may have been deliberate I guess.

Fortunately the mood changed for the better when headmaster George Ball and I got down to the business in hand. We got on like the proverbial house on fire. Continue reading

En Marche!

The recent success of M. Macron and his party En Marche! brought to mind my own entanglements with the French since I first went on a school trip to Paris in the late fifties. Standing on the deck of a Newhaven to Dieppe British Railways ferry, my first visual impression of France was of a gendarme standing on the quayside at Dieppe, sporting a machine gun. The second mental snapshot was of a group of French women washing clothes in a river, seen from the SNCF steam train to Paris.

Still a teenager, at last I was quite literally en marche, (on the move) having saved up for this trip from my earnings as a Saturday boy in Woolworths and Boots the Chemist. I think it cost around £25.

Those first brief images still exist only in my mind, but are as vivid as photographs. Later that week one of the French teachers on the trip asked me why I wasn’t taking photos. I did have a Boots camera, and I had taken a few black and white snaps in Paris, but the real reason for not snapping further was that I could only afford one roll of film and it had run out. Rather than admit that, I pompously answered that the best photos are the ones in your brain, just to shut him up. As it turns out, it’s true, at least for me, but not much use for anyone else I guess.

The idea of the school trip was that we could practice our conversational French. Needless to say that didn’t happen much, but for me it was the start of a love affair with France and the French. I just loved being in Paris – people effortlessly speaking French (how did they manage that?), actually sitting outside cafés, riding the Metro, smoking Gauloises, drinking red wine and wearing fashionable clothes. I had seen pictures in books and even the odd French film, but suddenly this was the real thing. Marianne made Britannia seem rather boring. Continue reading

George Boole update

I have written before on this blog and elsewhere about the father of digital technology, George Boole, maths genius and son of a Lincoln cobbler, who had his own school near Lincoln Cathedral. Dave Kenyon, co-founder of the Lincoln Boole Foundation has been in touch about another success in his campaign to raise awareness of this great thinker. Dave writes:

The Lincoln Boole Foundation is pleased to announce the upcoming installation of a large commemorative plaque in the centre of Lincoln at the junction of High Street and Silver Street, just yards from Boole’s birthplace. This high-profile memorial has been given the blessing of both City and County authorities. Its size and position will make it arguably the highest profile memorial plaque in the city – as befits the inventor of digital logic. Continue reading

Fryent days

Do you remember your first day at school? I do, or at least I think I do.

Here is what I think I remember:

I am sitting at a desk in a room with a lot of other kids, many of whom are crying, and I am wondering why they are upset. The room has a blackboard at the front and the walls are decorated with brightly coloured pictures. Out of the windows I see a field, with houses in the distance. On each desk is a slate, in a wooden frame, with a kind of pencil made of stone or something. Some kids seem to know what these are for, and are using the strange pencils to scribble on the slates.

A nice lady stands at the front and is talking to us and showing us how  to draw on the slates. Pretty soon I notice that one boy is hiding his slate as he scratches away, occasionally looking round to see if we are watching him. Then he stops and holds up his slate, saying something like “See, I can do real writing. If you can’t do real writing you’d better learn fast or you’ll get the cane.” I am not convinced. After all, I have seen the real thing, and he’s an idiot anyway who I recognise from the prefab estate. Continue reading