When my child was younger she couldn’t get enough of my fascinating tales. “Say again how you messed up the ballet show!” she would cry, or “Tell me that slightly implausible account of how you met Daddy.” And I would smile, and pull her on my knee, and begin. “Once upon a time, a handsome prince saw a beautiful princess…” and she would be rapt, I tell you, rapt. Recently though, her intellectual curiosity about me has dissipated; now I am mostly just the annoying person standing between her and her DS.
However, she still loves to hear about my schooldays, treating the notions of logarithm tables and standing up for your teachers with the same forensic disbelief as once did I over the slates and bloomers of my grandmother’s time. Man of the House is accorded more respect, because his Glasgow alma mater used the belt for minor offences (“Tell about being walloped on the bottom, Daddy, for forgetting the date of Bannockburn”), while my jovial primary head-master threatened to cane us daily but never did. But even my less dramatic stories get an attentive audience.
My secondary school had absurdist rules about the necessity of wearing navy blue knickers, but we soon realised no-one was going to check and reverted to our usual Snoopy pants. There was a lack of pastoral care staggering to today’s children. An anecdote which interests Thing One concerns the time I was in a car accident on the way to school, when I was eleven. No-one was hurt, but the car was wrecked and it was frightening. “You’re late,” snapped my teacher when I finally arrived. I mumbled an apologetic explanation about the crash. “Are you all right?” she said briskly, and when I nodded, said, “Well sit down then,” and I joined the lesson, trembling slightly from shock. A modern child would be comforted, and checked over, and possibly offered counselling, and quite right too.
Thing Two recently did a school project on Tanzania. I remembered doing something similar, the most exciting part of which was my carefully coloured-in map of Upper Volta falling off the wall and being lost forever behind a dusty radiator. Thing Two’s teacher had arranged the classroom chairs to resemble seating in an aeroplane. The children all made passports, then they sat on the plane, and the teacher/air steward handed out sucky sweets to avoid ear-popping. When they ‘arrived’ in Tanzania, they changed into cool t-shirts and were given African food to try. “Is school better now or when you were little?” asks Thing Two, younger than his sister and still interested in my opinion. I tell him that it is so much better now, I could cry.
Beth Miller. Published in vivalewes.com and Viva Lewes handbook, September 2012