Things Were Different In My Day

Things Were Different In My Day

Status: Finished

Genre: Memoir



Status: Finished

Genre: Memoir



It's not a cliche but things were different in my day. Different does not mean better.
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It's not a cliche but things were different in my day. Different does not mean better.

Chapter1 (v.1) - The Atom Bomb

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: January 29, 2017

Reads: 34

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Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: January 29, 2017



"You are late !"

The first three words said to me at my new secondary school. Words spoken by Mr Wallbank, Stan Wallbankm  woodwork teacher - self-appointed deputydeputy head and an all-round and mean and nasty man.

I burbled something about the 'bus being late to which he said, "Well hurry up and get in here !"

That was September 1962, I was eleven years old.  I'll tell you more about that day, Stan Wallbank and all that followed but first let me take you back to another September. This one in 1956 when I was only five years old.

Although it happened just over ten years before I was born, the explosion of two nuclear bombs on Japan was fresh in the memory who had been around at the time. Even as an infant I knew what an atomic bomb was, I knew Russia and America were likely to drop them on one another within the not too far distant future. My friends and I were not concerned about Russia and America we had our own Atom Bomb to worry about, one far more dangerous !

Mrs Attwood, our first year infant school class teacher, was The Atom Bomb.  One hundred and sixty-seven years old, about five foot nothing in height, grey hair tied back in a bun she was a dragon and an atomic bomb. She had been in teaching since Adam was a lad and still she had no mastered the skills needed to educate those in her charge.  In her defence many teachers back in 1956 did not have these skills.  Education was monochrome and not just the white chalk on the blackboard. Teaching meant handing out facts and information, terrorising children into remembering them and leaving it there.  Explanation

and encouragement were words not in the average teacher's vocabulary and understanding. Certainly not in the Atom Bomb's.

One morning she drew a question mark on the blackboard then rubbed it off before starting to tell us what ever it was she wished to impart.  I had never seen a question mark before, it was not part of the alphabet as I knew it.  I put my hand up to ask whet this strange thing was that she had put on the blackboard. When she ignored me I spoke and asked. The Atom Bomb exploded !  She walked to stand in front of me then gave me the biggest slap across my face she could muster.  I did not cry but I learned that a child in Mrs

Attwood's class was not expected, was not allowed to ask for any explanation or clarification.

I wonder if parents realised what the standard of teaching was.  Most children from middle-class families could read before they started school.  I came from a middle-class home and I could read.  In 1956 there was little interaction between parents and school, they shared the child but did not share anything about that child's welfare or educational achievement.  There were no parents evenings, there never was one at any time throughout my entire school life.  In my infant and junior school there were no reports to be taken home. These did appear when I attended secondary school but they were only a single sheet of paper where teachers could write a single sentence for each subject. The Atom Bomb did not teach me to read, I could read simple words and sentences before I joined her class.

In 1956 there was no such thing as induction to school, no taster sessions, no gentle start.  One day you were at home, a carefree child, the next you were a school pupil. Parents dropped their children at the school gate, they were forbidden to cross the threshold. By the time I was six I was walking to and from school myself, no child had his or her parents take them to school after this age.  Children were forbidden to take books hoe from school, not that in Mrs Attwood's class there were many books.  We wrote with chalk on mini blackboards.  I'll tell you more about them in a moment.  The only book a child had was a reading book. If a parent wanted their child to read to them at home they had to go and buy a copy of the book.  There was in Birmingham, which was not far from the town where we lived, a shop by the name of The Midland Education Centre.  If parents wants to hear their children read and even help them they had to buy the books from there.

My first reading book was buff brown in colour and called NIP AND FLUFF.  Each page contained line drawings of a dog - NIP and a cat - FLUFF.

Small sentences then told of the activities of this canine and feline duo.

Here is Nip. Nip is a dog.

Here is Fluff.  Fluff is a cat.

All very exciting.

It did not take me long to finish the Nip and Fluff book.  My father then had to visit The Midland Education Centre to buy a home copy of my next reading book. DICK AND DORA. Same format, same words but this time with the boy Dick and his sister Dora. Throughout my now long life I have never known a girl or woman whose unfortunate name was Dora. We never knew what the Atom Bomb's first name was, I wonder if it was Dora.

It was considered important children knew their alphabet.  Yes I agree with that and the Atom Bomb's way to teach it was clever, probably the cleverest thing she ever did in her entire career.  I am not sure how many children there were in our class, I remember there were forty-two in my secondary school form, but in the Atom Bomb's class there must have been more than the 26 letters in the alphabet. Only twenty-six of us were involved in this project, I have no idea what happened to the rest of us. We were each handed a white apron which hung over our necks and fastened with ties behind our backs. On each was stencilled a letter of the alphabet.  I was letter E.

We all stood at the front of the school hall wearing our aprons then one by one stepped forward and spoke a line.

  1. - was an apple pie.
  2. - bit it.
  3. - cut it.

I can't remember what D did.

E - that was me - enjoyed it.

Just as I have forgotten what D did so I have forgotten every other letter.  God alone knows how The Atom Bomb managed to work into this alphabetical presentation such letters as X or Z !

I never heard the word Mathematics or Maths until I started secondary school. In my early years we did not do Maths, we did sums.  There were adding up sums and there were taking away sums.  Later we would do sharing sums and timesing sums.  In Mrs Attwood's class we did not write on paper, far too expensive to waste such a resource on children.  Food rationing in post war Britain ended in July 1954, the mindset of waste not want not was firmly fixed in minds like The Atom Bomb's so in her class NO PAPER was the rule.  We did our sums on pieces of wood measuring about eighteen inches by twelve inches.  These had been painted with a black matt paint.  We wrote our sums on these, we copied them down in chalk from the big blackboard at the front of the class then wrote in our answers. When we finished we would line up to present our work to The Atom Bomb for her to mark, a tick for correct and a cross for wrong ! I knew I had all of my sums right so lined up I the slight hope that Mrs Attwood would smile or even say well done.  I held my chalkboard close to my chest, I did not want anyone to see the answers and copy them.  I held it so close to my jumper that when I reached the front of the line I presented The Atom Bomb with a blank board, my jumper had rubbed out all of my sums and my answers.

Education was, as I have said, black and white.  Literally and metaphorically.  A good teacher was someone who could keep discipline in the classroom, any learning that took place was secondary.  In post-war Britain, even ten years and more since VE Day, times were tough.  Teachers were not well paid and education a low priority.  There were not enough teachers for the number of children in the country so the government set up what it called an Emergency Training Programme.  Instead of taking three years to train a teacher everything was crammed into twelve months. A bit like it is today in the twentyfirst century where we no longer train teachers but take anyone with a degree and pop on top a tiny, tiny bit of classroom training. The Atom Bomb, of course, was not emergency trained, she had been standing at the front of a classroom since the First World War, probably the Boer War or even the Crimean War.  Teachers were not obliged to retire when they reached a certain age, they were encouraged to stop on until they dropped.

The Atom Bomb had within her class two children who were mentally handicapped. One was the son of the local doctor and one the daughter of the local vicar. Even for the most skilled teacher trying to do anything with these two in a normal class of children would have been hard, for The Atom Bomb it must have been impossible.  These two were left to do their own thing, to amuse themselves and not bother their classmates. There came the day when the boy, David was his name, did his thing in the drinking fountain in the boys toilet.  Putting a drinking fountain in the toilets was not the best architectural design and I guess David just confused it with a urinal.  The poor child was given the most severe telling off and two prefects from the school's senior year were placed on sentry duty to make sure nobody drank from it.

As teachers were emergency trained so our school was emergency built. Land was not in short supply so the school stood on an extensive site.  The buildings were prefabricated and thrown together as quickly as possible. The walls were metallic on the outside with some form of fibreboard on the inside. Within this fragile construction were thick, heavy doors which when shut shook the classroom and those on either side. The three infant classrooms were on one side of the building with a corridor leading away to the centre of the school where there was the hall, dining room, headmistresses office, secretary's office and medical room.  The corridor then moved on to the four classrooms of the junior pupils.

Medical room, every school had a medical room. It was more important than the secretary's office and possibly more important than the headmistress's room. It was in the medical room that Nitty Nora made her visits and the Dentist did his evil work !

My mother always called her Nitty Nora but to we children she was just the nurse.  Several times a year she would visit the school and set herself up in the medical room. We children were then lined up to have our hair inspected.  She would vigorously run her fingers though our hair, lifting tufts up as she exposed it to see if we had any nasty little creatures living there.  To the best of my knowledge she never, ever found any.

Nitty Nora did not wear gloves as would a nurse today and never washed he hands between checking the hair of one child and the next.  I liked Nitty Nora, she was a nice lady and the sensation of her playing with my hair sent tingles across my scalp. What I did not like were the times when the school dentist took up residence in the medical room.  My bad experience with the dentist came when I was six years old.

I am not sure if the dentist was paid extra money if he took teeth out of a child or not but the numbers he decided needed dental work was colossal. I was one of those for whom he decided the removal of two milk, or as we called them, baby teeth would make it easier for the big, or adult, teeth to grow.

In the 1950's there were two forms on aesthetic a dentist could use: Cocaine or Gas.

COCAINE - YES the now illegal Class A narcotic the mere possession if which today could earn you up to seven years in prison. Cocaine was injected into the gum to numb sensation and allow the dentist to remove teeth without causing any pain.  I never had such an injection but guess it sent the patient along a psychedelic journey where the dentist could do what ever he wished without the patient being in any way aware.

GAS put the patient to sleep, a bit like aesthetic is used in hospital during an operation.  The gas was nitrous oxide or better known as laughing gas. I did not laugh when I had my two teeth removed. Even as a six year old I was able to understand that I had not been given a large enough dose to render me unconscious. I remember the dream as I first went under, swimming colours of orange and blue. When I awoke the dentist was standing over me, my mouth was full of blood and I was in terrible pain. My mother could hear the screaming in the waiting room and hoped it was not her son making such a noise.  It was !

That was the last time I went to the dentist for sixty years. I was sixty-six the next time I allowed anyone inside my mouth.

There was another medical experience I can recall from my early childhood, I do not know what it was about but let me tell you what happened. There were two of us involved, myself an a boy by the name of Steven who lived opposite. Once a week for about six weeks we were taken to a clinic, stripped to our underpants then placed on chairs with an ultra-violet lamp playing on our bodies. We were given dark glass goggles to wear and left alone together in the room. After about fifteen minutes a nurse would come in, turn us round and re-set the lamps so the light shone on our backs. What medical condition we supposedly had I have no idea.

Every child who had caring parents would be given certain health providing nutrients to supplement their diet. There was a daily teaspoon full of cod liver oil - revolting ! More tasty was rose hip syrup.  I can guess but I have no real understanding as to what these substances were supposed to do in order to aid health and growth.

There were certain childhood ailments we all caught at some time or another: measles, mumps and chickenpox. I had them all. The one we feared was scarlet fever, I never caught that. Polio was frightening, I knew children who had, had polio and were left unable to walk properly.  It is now supposedly eradicated from the world but cases do arise from time to time.

I could not walk properly, or so I was told. I had Pigeon Toe.  Supposedly my feet pointed inwards when I walked.  It was not a problem to me. I have no idea if my feet still point inwards or not when I walk, I could not care now and I could not care when I was  child. I was teased by others my age but I was more than able to deal with that.  I was given exercises and had inserts in my shoes but these did no good.

Enough of this medical talk, back to Mrs Attwood's classroom.

There were two times in the week which stood out as special times, so special I remember them clearly. The first was a lesson called cutting up boxes.  We used to take to school old cardboard boxes, toilet roll tubes and so on. Once a week we would cut up these boxes, glue bits and pieces together then paint the results. Invariably I made either spaceships or robots. Yes cutting up boxes was a good time.

On a Friday we were allowed to take a toy to school. In the afternoon we were allowed to play with that toy.  I don't remember what toys I took with me but do remember these were good times.

The summer came and with it the end of my first year at school.  I had survived The Atom Bomb.

You can read my diary at

You can read all of my stories at


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