In the U.K., from 1944 to 1976, children of school age were required to take an examination in their last year of primary education in order to ascertain admission to various types of secondary school. This was known as the “Eleven Plus” All children aged 11 and 12 were required to take this test and the results would determine which school they would be attending for their senior education. Children who failed to gain a 25% pass mark were assigned to what was then known as Secondary Modern schools.
So, having successfully passed this test, I was allocated a place at a grammar school not too far distant from home. Dad and Mum were presented with a list of items required to kit me out in the uniform. Once again, I do not know how they managed to do this as it had to be purchased in one particular shop that specialised in school uniforms. I am sure it cost an absolute fortune.
I said in one of my earlier posts that one of the biggest shocks I received on arriving at grammar school, was the realisation that all the girls were of equal or higher ability than myself. I had always been told at junior school how clever I was and how I would “go far”. The latter statement transpired to be somewhat prophetic as I have certainly travelled far and wide in my life.
So, here I was, standing in the cloakroom on the first day of term in my brand new first-year’s uniform of black gym slip, square-necked white blouse, three-quarter length grey socks and shiny new shoes, wondering where I should hang my coat and beret, when I was tapped on the shoulder by a very nervous girl who asked if she could be my friend. I said “Yes” and we remained good friends right up until I left.
It was all so exciting and the building seemed so HUGE. I had never seen anything like it in my life before. There was a lawned quadrangle which, I discovered within the first hour, was absolutely forbidden territory except for sixth formers. (I was to learn a lot more of the perks rewarded to the sixth formers as time went on!). This hallowed area was surrounded on four sides by windowed corridors consisting of classrooms and laboratories. My head was spinning and I was convinced that I would get lost if I had to find my way round unaccompanied by either Prefect or Teacher.
I soon settled in to the daily routine and was enjoying the new subjects that I hadn’t encountered in my junior school days; sciences and languages, pottery and art in a proper art studio.
I was not the perfect student, though, and, to my shame, I was very often in detention. Every morning in Assembly, the Head Teacher would read out the names of girls who had won “House Points” to be added to whichever “House” they belonged to. But, alas, she also read out the names of girls who had been given “Order Marks” and these were deducted from the House total. My name was on the latter list more often than the former!
Discipline was very strict and there was one golden rule – No Talking in the Corridors. The problem was that I couldn’t stop chattering! (Not much has changed in that regard!). Unfortunately, this behaviour was reflected in my exam results.
I found out fairly recently that Julie Walters, the British actress, also attended this school, albeit eight years after me. If you get a chance to read her biography you will find inside a photograph of her school report. This could have been one of mine! “Must try harder”, “Insufficient homework submitted” , “…. could do better.” I now wonder whether there is a generic report for pupils who are not “super-stars” at school!
And then there was sport! Not being very athletic, and hindered by my short stature, I wasn’t too good at sport. This was called P.E. (Pretty Exhausting!!) but the gym mistress gave no quarter and I had to “do my best”. This was, of course, never good enough and in summer or winter I dreaded the lesson. Very often I would be singled out to perform a new “exercise” on the ropes or wall bars, and it was pure torture. I am convinced that our gym Mistress had a huge vicious streak!
Dream on, girl!!
Our summertime sport was tennis and I was unable even to hit the ball over the net, let alone into the opposite corner! I loved the actual game and wished, oh how I wished, that I could have enjoyed playing. Ultimately I was assigned to being a ball girl – but where would the players be without the ball girl? In winter it was hockey and I hated it! I’d get “thwacked” and bashed, hit by the ball, and tackled most cruelly, but, again, no quarter was given and I had to compete.
(Incidentally, during my basic training for the W.R.A.F later on, I was amazed when we were told that we didn’t have to attempt anything we didn’t feel comfortable doing in the gym. WOW! This lady should have been my P.E. teacher!!)
Senior school was a real struggle for me and I was delighted when, due to a house move, I left at the age of fifteen, having completed four years there. I left without any qualifications but I have no regrets on that score. I attended evenings classes for the next three years, where I learned shorthand, typing and English grammar, ending up with good grades in all subjects. This was an amazing time of learning about what I really wanted to do with my life – secretarial work. And that is exactly what I did for the next 40-odd years!
Sometimes we have to go through terrible times in our lives but I now realise, as a Christian, that God is able to see us through these difficult experiences. He is always there and knows every single thing about us.
The following is taken from The Message Bible. It’s written in everyday language to make it easier to understand. If you don’t know it, I urge you to take a few minutes to read it.
(A psalm of David)
Verses 1- 6:
God, investigate my life; get all the facts first hand.
I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too –
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful -I can’t take it all in!
Verses 7- 12
Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute – you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.
Verses 13 -16
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God -you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvellously made!
I worship in adoration -what a creation!
You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.
Verses 17 -22
Your thoughts -how rare, how beautiful!
God, I’ll never comprehend them!
I couldn’t even begin to count them – any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!
And please, God, do away with wickedness for good!
And you murderers – out of here!
All the men and women who belittle you, God, infatuated with cheap god-imitations.
See how I hate those who hate you, God,
see how I loathe all this godless arrogance;
I hate it with pure, unadulterated hatred.
Your enemies are my enemies!
Verses 23 -24
Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong – then guide me on the road to eternal life.