Maureen Potter And Plasticine

This morning I took the Kindor Gardens route to South Wimbledon, turned left into Kingston Road, right into Russell Road, left into the Broadway, and back to Links Avenue by the Mostyn Road route.

From a balcony in a block of flats in Morden Road, a pair of foxes and their cubs were surveying the  traffic.  A little further on I passed Watch Me, our favourite Sri Lankan restaurant.

In Russell Road I paused outside St. Mary’s Primary School and pondered over my early years of education.  It being half-term, I was unable to gain access, which was a disappointment.  The school I knew, of much smaller proportions, of course, than I remembered it, has been extended and altered.  The playground area, scene of the greatest horror; the greatest deviousness; and the greatest triumph of my primary school years, was now a block of rooms.  To the right the main building had been extended and there was a new structure alongside it.  There is a modern main entrance, above which lies a bas-relief in memory of Father Rankin S.J., who was, in my day an influential Jesuit and possibly Auntie Gwen’s favourite priest.

My greatest primary school shame occured after Mrs Chapman’s lesson at the end of the day.  There had been a spate of lost coats.  These were suspected to have been stolen.  I went to my peg and found my coat missing.  Full of trepidation, I reported this to the rather frightening teacher.  I was told to sit down at my desk and wait.  Off she strode to fetch the caretaker..  Together they scoured the buildings for my clothing.  Whilst they were gone, and it was growing gloomy in the otherwise empty classroom, I had a terrifying thought that set me aquivering.  The clouds were darkening in Mrs Chapman’s face as she returned without the coat.  What I said next brought on the thunder.  Bottom lip trembling, ‘Please Miss’, I blurted.  All female teachers, married or not, were ‘Miss’ in those days, and Ms had not been coined.  ‘Please Miss’, I repeated, ‘I’ve just remembered.  I didn’t bring my coat today’……………  The calm after the storm was deadly.  Mrs. Chapman never bothered to send you to Miss Bryant for the cane, she administered a few hearty slaps herself.  At least they were on the palms of your hands.  Perhaps it hurt her more than it hurt me.  Then I had to go home and explain to my Mum why I was late.

Mr. Hyde, on the other hand; actually both of them; wouldn’t hurt himself with his method.  He used the flat of a ruler on the backs of your fingers, whilst clasping them to keep them still.  With his dark hair and visage; his hairy nostrils and digits; and his fearsome eyes enlarged by thick lenses, he looked every bit the alter ego of Dr. Jekyll.

Miss Flaxman favoured a barrage of energetic open-handed blows on the backs of your legs.  A large red-haired amazon, I don’t think she ever took her coat off, for it always seemed to flap about when she stung your calves.  She had to bend down to reach small legs, which meant her head was a bit close so you had to try not to fart.  The strange thing about these latter two is that they would steam into you until they were exhausted.  His nostrils would flare and flare, and she would become redder and redder in the face.  Their breathing would reach a crescendo and eventually quieten, when they would stop.  Rumour had it that they were what we now call an item.  Perhaps these performances reflected a certain amount of sexual frustration.  They were Catholics, after all.

Corporal punishment takes me to my greatest deviousness.  Mrs. Braniff, unusually for her, had decided to send me to Miss Bryant to be caned.  Perhaps she had dished out her own quota for the day.  Well, I didn’t fancy the cane, so I nipped round into a corner of the playground and hid for what seemed a reasonable length of time, after which I returned to the classroom hugging my hands to my sides.  I suppose I thought that if I was sussed I’d only get the cane anyway.  Actually, to my great surprise, I got away with it.  In the words of the the song, ‘I disremember what’ my misdemeanour had been.

I don’t want to give the impression that all my teachers were vicious beasts.  Miss Downs deserved her own post on 25th May.

My greatest triumph was the heroic fight recorded on 10th July.

Now to my greatest horror.  This was my first day.  My grandfather had taken me to school, and, cock-a-hoop, I strode in, waving him goodbye.  I had a new set of clothes and was embarking upon a new adventure.  Then I turned the corner into the playground…………….  It was full of screaming children, including girls, and most of them were much bigger than me…….. I got home to Raynes Park before Grandpa.  There are no words to describe the absolute terror represented by these dotted lines.  I was off like a shot.  I suppose I must have got the bus, but I really don’t remember.  The next image I have is of bashing on the front door until Mum came down to me.

Naturally Mum calmed me down and returned me to the torture chamber.  She may have fed me, may have accompanied me on the bus.  It’s all a blank, not even a blur.

I was presented to Miss Mulvaney.  Miss Mulvaney smiled, took my hand, and led me into her classroom.  ‘We are having plasticine this afternoon, and here is Maureen Potter to look after you’, she said.  I was flabbergasted.  There, beaming in her half of our joint desk, sat the most angelic creature I had ever seen.  She had a lovely round face, the image of which I cannot conjure up, but the impression of which has remained deep in my heart.  As this motherly child took my hand my stomach leapt.  Not for the first time that day, but this time it was a wholly different sensation.  I was in love for the very first time.  Miss Mulvaney knew what she was about.

We enjoyed the plasticine too.  Why is it, incidentally, that however bright the original colours are, this material always turns brown?

After a massive Sainsbury’s North Cheam shop in preparation for the Thompson family Firs weekend, Jackie and I returned to Morden and had Moby Dicks at the Morden Superfish.  We couldn’t eat a sweet, Jackie in particular thinking that the Spotted Dick on offer would be one dick too many.  I drank a glass of Pinot Grigio and Jackie a Carlsberg.

42 responses to “Maureen Potter And Plasticine”

  1. […] A neighbouring case to the one that held the chain contained early writing implements.  The steel-nibbed pens reminded me of those with which I had learned to write at primary school.  Desks had notches for ink wells into which we dipped our pens.  One summer I injured my right hand.  I don’t remember how, but I most certainly do remember being made to write with my left hand until the other one recovered.  I am of course not alone in having, during that era, had to go through that particular form of educational torture.  Nor of the others mentioned on 1st November last year, when I attempted to entertain with tales of my primary school years. […]

  2. Your truth hits home much more viciously than my story…IT was teachers like that, those that abused rather than disciplined , they were the catalyst for teachers being unable to lay a hand in restraint today. I love the line ‘Idisremember what’ my misdemeanour had been’. SHOULD have been a halloween tale rather than an actual occurrence. 😢

  3. Derrick, I had a hearty laugh reading your adventures about the first day in school. Your invocation is remarkable, hanging on to the residues of memories. It is amazing how through the ever thickening mist of time there are moments that still sparkle in our hearts like stubborn stars in the night sky.

  4. Holy moly. I hope my babies never went through any of this. It’s a wonder you are sane. Was Maureen Potter that sweet thing that was holding your hand in that recent photo you posted? My internet skills are not up to figuring out how to reread that post – but it was within the last month, for sure. It was a pic. of you and the whole class, and you were in the front row (as should be).

  5. Corporal punishment was very common throughout the world… Growing up Asian, my elders except my mom often made remarks that I should spank my children instead of talking to them… As a fully trained Early Childhood Educator, I know the long term benefits of talking … I am still extremely close to my little ones who are almost as tall as me now..

  6. Ah, the good old days. Teachers who shouldn’t have been let near kids. I went to C of E schools so wasn’t subjected to the discipline of a Catholic regime. This gives me less material for my early years reminiscences…

  7. Oh my goodness, what a riot!! I loved reading your memories -and relish your sense of humour, Derrick. Thank you for this link! What an unusual early childhood experience you had! <3

  8. Dinner looks very British, like Fish and Chips on a plate, but what is that green stuff?

    How much times have changed? When we were children, teachers were allowed to discipline us, today a teacher would get fired, perhaps even arrested.

    • The green stuff is mushy peas – dried peas boiled into a mush, sometimes with added mint – still a traditional accompaniment.
      Even in those days a teacher at my Grammar School was fired for beating up a boy. Thanks a lot, Bridget

  9. I hope the days of corporal punishment are open. I can’t imagine punishing a child for forgetting that he hadn’t brought his coat! Horrible. I never sent children to my dept. master when I taught in Australia once I heard him caning a student in the hall. He actually had broken blood vessels in his palms and fingers afterwards. Just criminal.

  10. I wonder if they realised they were being cruel? Were they all trained to behave this way towards their pupils?
    I don’t remember anyone ever receiving such punishment in my primary school – high school, however, was a different kettle of fish. Speaking in class earned a caning from the headmaster, and if no one owned up, everyone in the class received the punishment.

      • My brother and I and my sister-in-law were also at the same school and like you we’ve sometimes talked about the harsh punishments handed out to us.

        Oh, and thank you for your thank you note.

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