My birthday is at the end of May, so I just missed out starting school by my fifth birthday, which was the usual starting date. By the time I did get to school I was almost six years old. It was exciting as well as frightening. I did not know at that point that my hearing had already been damaged, since this was four years after the measles. I remember asking my mother once I was an adult, if anyone was aware of my hearing problems. She said no but did describe me as a “bit of a yeller”.
On my first day my elder brother took me to school with instructions to make sure I was alright. We travelled the couple of miles or so to the town centre where the parish school was located. I rode on the cross bar of his bicycle, speeding down the relatively steep hill on the way. After our arrival he left me at the ‘bubs’ room and told me to stay there until we were called in. Even though I was a very boisterous child at home, my social skills were sadly lacking and I was very shy out in the world. I come from a large family so had plenty of siblings to play with, and because I found it difficult to make friends, did not seek out other playmates.
As a parish school, all the teachers were nuns of the order of St. Josephs. In the early 50s the adage of ‘children should be seen and not heard’ was very much in force, as was corporal punishment. As long ago now as it was, there are still some incidents that I remember vividly. The first was in my very first class and maybe even within the first week. Shy as I was I definitely did not sit up the front, but rather hid myself somewhere near the back of the room. On this occasion the teacher/nun had already warned everyone about speaking in class, but I had not heard her clearly. I asked the girl sitting next to me what was said. The nun, of course, heard me and called me up to the front of the class. There I was told to put out my hand, whereupon it was lashed with a cane. The canes were made of thin bamboo and had the capacity to inflict considerable pain.
I was shocked and horrified and probably burst into tears at this unfair treatment – unfair to me anyway. This was also a time when explanations of behaviour were regarded as a mere ‘excuse’. Children were rarely listened to and were expected to not speak unless told to.
Like my other siblings I was endowed with plenty of brainpower. I remember the very first reader we had – something to do with John and Betty and Spot. In spite of our difficult family circumstances, our mother actively encouraged us with our learning. She had been required to leave school early to get work and always regretted it. Homework for us was a priority, reading encouraged by an excellent collection of books at home for us to read. Anyway, back to John and Betty and Spot. I was just learning to read, which I accomplished quite quickly. It only took me 2-3 weeks to finish this primer, whereupon I asked my teacher for another book only to be told that this was it for the year.
All my life I have found that once I have read a book, I generally have no further interest in it. There were too many other books out there in the world for me to explore. It is only occasionally that I re-read books and only if I had particular enjoyment from them. I was too young to join the local library (you had to be age 7) and the school did not have a library of its own. As a little Gemini, my mind was constantly looking for further stimulation, so the thought of being condemned (as I saw it) to rereading about John and Betty and Spot for a whole year was almost too much to bear – it was SO BORING!