During the war, if bombs were exploding, we hid under our little desks
MY only claim to fame is that I was born in the year 1933, when Adolf Hitler was voted into power in Germany. I sincerely hope that there are no other similarities between us!
The year 1937, when I was aged four, was a sad one for me because I lost two of my playmates, who died from diphtheria, although not at the same time. No antibiotics at that time.
We lived in Longfield Lane, Ilkeston. My father had transferred with his job as an insurance agent from Staffordshire to Ilkeston.
The local sanatorium, to which those with potentially lethal diseases were sent, was on Longfield Lane. It may seem morbid but I did so want to see my friends before their inevitable demise.
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By climbing on the fence, which surrounded the sanatorium, I could see into the ward and see them for the last time.
Before the onset of this dreadful disease, the young girl, who was a year older than myself, had said to me: "When we are grown up, we will get married."
When I informed my mother, I could not understand the hilarity induced by this important news. In both these instances, I had been playing with the two children the day before they were taken ill. No inoculations in 1937, so I must have been born lucky.
In September 1938, I began my formal education at the Church of England Kirk Hallam Infant School (now a private house). A very small school, two small classrooms and the inevitable outside toilets.
The head teacher was Mrs Shorthose, a round, happy, delightful lady. The only other teacher was the Welsh Miss Challoner.
If the weather was fine and warm, lessons were abandoned and we were taken for "nature walks", which left me with an abiding love of natural history, be it birds, insects or mammals.
When I was aged six, I suddenly was able to read and write, which again produced a lifetime of enjoying reading newspapers, magazines and books (very rarely fiction).
We were taught to read by using phonetics, which, in my opinion, is the only way to learn to read quickly. As soon as I could, I joined the Carnegie Library in Ilkeston.
During most of those childhood years, we had very severe winters, when the snow was as deep as I was tall. No excuses, we fought our way through snow drifts to get to and from school.
The milk in small third-of-a-pint bottles was put around the pot-bellied stove to thaw before we could drink it.
Then, in 1939, the Second World War began and veterans of the First World War, like my father, who never totally recovered from his dreadful experiences from 1916 to 1918, were appalled and apprehensive.
At the school, there was not enough space to install an air-raid shelter, so they built one in the grounds of the church, about 50 yards away.
This resulted in a somewhat bizarre procedure. When the air-raid sirens sounded, and there was no obvious "noise of battle", we walked to the shelter. If the anti-aircraft guns were firing or bombs were exploding, we hid under our little desks. What the modern health and safety zealots would make of this arrangement one can only wonder.
In 1940, on Quarry Hill, on my way home from school, I was stopped by what I can only describe as a "foreign man". He asked me if I would like some chocolate, to which I initially demurred.
He produced a bag of chocolate, in very peculiar, irregular shapes, and, with chocolate and sweets being severely rationed, I accepted. It tasted unlike anything I was familiar with. He then asked me the way to the "bomb factory", which was in the Stanton Ironworks, in the valley below.
We had been taught about "spies" and I deliberately sent him in the wrong direction. I ran home and informed my father, who became quite agitated.
Then two men arrived wearing civilian clothes, who closely questioned me about my meeting with the foreigner and complimented me on my initiative in giving him wrong directions. What I have never been able to ascertain was, was he a spy?
On the approach to Kirk Hallam, after passing the Beauty Spot on the left, was the farm house owned by the Pounder family, which was hundreds of years old.
It became a victim of "progress" later, to make way for the Kirk Hallam housing estate. The Beauty Spot was owned (or leased) by the Holland family. It provided a "lake" on which you could hire a rowing boat for nine pence per half hour, or one shilling for an hour.
Also, you could buy a day's fishing. The little shop sold ice-cream, sweets and fizzy drinks, that is until the war when rationing began.
In 1942, a shock to my system, came when I transferred to Kensington Junior School, in Ilkeston.
I was then exposed to "town boys", who seemed to be much more worldly than I had previously experienced.
They made fun of my accent, which was not "Ilsonised". To further explain. My parents came from Liverpool and Wallasey but did not have the noticeable Liverpool accent.
As a result, my sisters and I did apparently speak differently from the broad "Ilson".
Even worse, we lived on Longfield Lane, the edge of town, with only fields beyond our house, which, to my amazement, was regarded as being "posh".
Then, in 1944, we took our 11-plus exams. To my acute dismay, I did not get to the grammar school, as most of my friends did, but was sent to Hallcroft Technical School.
Part of this placement was due to a new assessment which had been carried out to "stream" those with signs of technical inclinations, to have a technical education.
It was, with hindsight, the best thing they could have done. The headmaster, Austin Nash, was a dynamic one-man educational visionary, way ahead of his time but, at the same time, a ruthless disciplinarian, who wielded a leather strap with utmost vigour.
I was lucky, or was I good, in that I never did experience the "strap". During the winters, the heating regularly failed but we simply put on our overcoats, hats, scarves and gloves and it was lessons as usual.
In 1949, I took the Northern Universities School Certificate, obtaining good results in eight subjects and a distinction in art.
Again the modern students would be horrified on the conditions of passing these exams.
You had to pass in English, maths (including calculus) or science (chemistry or physics, we took chemistry and physics), a minimum of six subjects, or fail.