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Tuesday, 7 April 2015

A golden era indeed


I can fairly say la jeunesse dorée passed me by. It wasn't society's fault, you understand. Society had more important fish to fry, notably surviving a world war. Thereafter enduring war's endless consequences.

These days society recognises children are vulnerable and tries to compensate. In those days... I remember my first day at primary school. I'd lived a sheltered life, lacking nearby friends. As my mother left the school's main hall I began to scream. Perfunctory attempts were made to calm me, then Mrs Cox said, "I think we'll just leave Roderick where he is." And so they did, a small pile of misery on the rough wooden floor.

Had I been older I might have reflected on my good luck. Kids in the Warsaw ghetto were then definitely worse off.

Being a child denies you the bigger picture but small things leave a lasting memory. Post-lunch at Thackley PS children were made to slumber for half an hour. On two types of bed: one which allowed the user to hang off the ends of stretched fabric, the other an intractable, miniaturised wooden frame. I was tall for my age and I got the frame. I cannot remember sleeping a single minute. No one noticed.

Children who faltered with multiplication tables were smacked on the thigh - skirts and pants legs slid up to ensure proper contact. If you cried, the teacher encouraged the rest of the class to laugh at you. Which we all did. Five-year-olds!

Had the subject been raised the teachers' response would have been: I went through it and I'm OK. I agree. Dishing out punishment was then a pedagogue's perk.

Gilded youth? They say kids from wealthier families had even sterner educations.

4 comments:

Stella said...

"Children should be seen and not heard." I remember the first time my parents asked my opinion on something, I almost fell off my chair, but it did give me a feeling of pride, especially when they approved of my answer. As an adult, I once spent a week in the warm glow of two teachers who were nothing but affirming and encouraging. I thought "so this is how it feels to have supportive parents". I wonder what effect indulgence is having on the present generation, they seem suffocated by adults. For us, along with physical punishments came a great deal of personal freedom.

mike M said...

My first day of school went much as yours did, probably for the same reasons. I did find my way into a bright red wood stave "play" barrel, open on both ends. Better than the open floor. We too were forced to "nap"...this was in 1960 in the USA. I remember extracting one of my own teeth during such a period. Corporal punishment had fallen from vogue by then, making things more or less golden, depending on perspective. I imagine a few of my teachers felt over-reined, and remember one of my most mild mannered teachers (in 7th grade) snapping and beating a classmate with a hardcover book. A couple strokes to the back of his head, then a dozen more on his arms after he covered up. Both hands on the book, full wind-up for every stroke. She was a small lady, and a reading teacher.

Roderick Robinson said...

Stella/MikeM: Congratulations to both of you for shaping what you have to say. My aim was to stress the loneliness of being a child; the sense that - from within - childhood frequently seemed like "a condition", even an illness. Adults seemed characterised by their strength and therefore healthiness; I always seemed defective, prone to feverish thoughts and an eternal conviction of inadequacy.

I worry about those who talk about blissful childhoods. I don't for a moment think they are fibbing but I question whether they were ever aware of the hugeness of what lay ahead. Did it eventually arrive as a shock or might it never have arrived? Were they as adults still in a state of bliss? Was cossetted youth the best preparation for adulthood?

Did my parents ever ask for my opinion? I'd have to say no. When that moment arrived - if it arrived - I have to conclude I imposed it. After writing stories on my mother's double-keyboard typewriter (But at what age? Perhaps I was older than seemed the case) I presented them, I suppose, as evidence that I was capable of thinking. My mother reacted enthusiastically but perhaps saw it as a localised ability, something of a trick. Johnson's dog walking on its hind legs

I love MikeM's final sentence. Implying that reading could more or less get you anywhere but that not all these destinations were exactly congenial. I wonder too if the teacher's assault might have been seen as proof of power (actually comic power, here) but also a revelatory first step towards the adult world. Lose today, but eventually...

Avus said...

"Luxury!................."

Enunciated in the appropriate Yorkshire accent.