My School Days by Clifford Burgess
Today we feature another essay from the Darby and Joan Club competition entries of 1984
MY SCHOOL DAYS
By Clifford Burgess
I lived in the village of Marston when I began my schooldays. There was no school in the village so I attended school in the village of Worton about a mile away. I remember clearly setting off for school on the first day. I was dressed, I remember, in a knickerbocker suit and a shirt with a lace collar. My mother had arranged for an older child to escort me. There were two ways to school. One was “Round the Road” way as we called it. The other, the shortest one, was by the public footpath across the fields, one of which was called Prince Hill, so called, we were told by the elder children because it was here that Bonnie Prince Charles had hidden in one of the Oak Trees. Many times on our way to and from school we would stop awhile and try to decide which tree it was that had hidden the Bonnie Prince, but as time passed and we learned our history lessons we knew it was neither of them.
I remember too that I took a penny every day to pay for a hot cup of cocoa, which we drank with our sandwiches at dinner time. It was very welcome in the cold winter months. After a few years I became a very good reader. So much so that when the Inspector came, usually once during a term, I was chosen to stand in front of the class to read from a book. To me that was a great honour.
There were times of course when I got into mischief. I remember one occasion when I, with some other boys, stole some apples during the dinner break. We returned to school thinking that all was well, but it wasn’t – we had been seen by the owner. He came to the school and reported us to the Headmistress. He said that if we said we were sorry he would say no more about it. This we did, and he said that in future if we wanted some apples we could ask for them, not steal them.
The most wonderful experience of my school days was a visit to the “Great Wembley Exhibition”. Not only were we going to London, we were also going to have a ride on a train. I could hardly wait for the great day to arrive. We were taken to Devizes station; I don’t remember how. We boarded the train and set off and I remember gazing from the window to see places pass by – places that until now I never knew existed because until now I had never been beyond my own little world. We eventually arrived and I remember seeing for the first time black people and brown people and people of many nationalities and looking at the wonderful things they had brought with them. It was a wonderful but tiring day. The journey home was a very sleepy one.
I spent my summer holidays doing odd jobs on the Phillips’ farm. My favourite job was haymaking. I led the horse and wagon while the men loaded the hay, and when teatime came I sat in the hay and drank tea and ate cakes, which were supplied by Mrs Phillips. I think working on the farm was the early beginnings of my love for the countryside. I remember too the Sunday School outings; they were always to “Bratton Tea Gardens”. Our transport was by horse and a wagon, borrowed from the local mill. Planks were nailed across the wagon for seats and it was a slow journey but very enjoyable.
One day an aeroplane landed in a field on the outskirts of the village. I was playing nearby with some other boys so we ran to the field to have a closer look. As we approached the pilot met us and asked us if we knew in which direction Upavon lay. We pointed to where we thought it was, and he climbed into his plane and took off; as he flew away we stood watching and wondering if our directions had been correct.
We played football and cricket on the village green. Our football was usually a blown-up pigs bladder, it didn’t last long as someone would kick it too hard and it would burst. For cricket we used sticks for the stumps and a large stick for a bat. I remember being hit on the ankle once and having to spend a few days at home with a badly swollen ankle. One day I was jumping over a bank at the bottom of our garden where I disturbed a wasp’s nest. I ran home with the wasps chasing me and stinging me on all my uncovered parts. My mother treated the stings with the Blue Bag, which was the remedy in those days.
When I reached the age of eleven my parents told me that we were leaving Marston and going to live at Market Lavington. It was sad for me; it meant leaving friends whom I had grown up with and had spent so many happy times. No more would I play on the village green or ride my uncle’s horse, or search in the rushes for Moorhen’s eggs, or fish in the millstream with a stick, a piece of string and a bent pin hoping to catch something big but it was always a minnow. A large van arrived one day and took us and all our belongings to our new home.
I had not been at my new school very long before I realised that the Headmaster was a very strict disciplinarian. It was he who caned me the one and only time during my school days. The punishment was for talking in class, a thing he did not allow. I took great care not to be caught again. He was also a very keen sportsman; I recall one occasion when he was playing cricket with us – I tried to catch the ball but it slipped through my hands and hit me on the nose. The only sympathy I got from him was, “Why didn’t you bring your Grannies apron, you could have caught the ball in that”.
When I reached the age of thirteen I started working on Saturday mornings for the local butcher delivering meat, and sometimes I would make a delivery before school. One amusing incident I remember very well: I had made a delivery and was on my way home when the tyre on the back wheel of the bicycle burst so it meant walking back which in turn made me late for school. My employer gave me a note for the Headmaster explaining why I was late. He read it and then said to me: “You should have taken a string of sausages with you and put them on the wheel and rode back”.
My school days were now drawing to a close. I reached the age of fourteen in November and would leave school at Christmas. Like all other children I couldn’t wait for the day when I could walk out of school for the last time. How silly I was because I hadn’t been in the world outside for very long before I realised that my school days had been “the happiest days of my life”.