And after Mrs Carling came Mrs Wright. She gave me a better mark for my holiday composition in 1976. She had been to France. I was in fact allowed to read it out in front of the class. A great honour. Naturally, I didn’t get the best mark, that was reserved for Susana Bryers, who had been to a Browny camp in South Wales.
Susana Bryers was head girl at our flea-pit private primary school. She was also a big wheel in the school Brownie troop, she was a chief elf or imp or gorgon or something. No coincidence between this and the fact that her mother was Brown Owl.
I never did the Brownies, or the Cubs. Big Bruv was a good Cub. He was a sixer or a seconder or even both. He got all his badges. Once in 1972, he went to a disgusting, damp smelling church hall in Iselworth and cooked breakfast for his cooking badge. A year later he also got his modelling badge when he made an Airfix kit of a DC47 (or DC3) Dakota. That was a brilliant plane. A plane that looked like a plane and still my favourite to this day.
So, Susana Bryers, who ended up as editor of the Sunday magazine for one of the big broadsheets, read us her account of the Browny camp. For some reason the centre piece of the whole composition was the morning that all the Brownies made flapjacks (very avant garde for Brownies in the mid seventies). The teacher gave Susana full marks because she had used the phrase « We thought that the flapjacks might be inedible » I must admit that was the first time I had ever heard the word « inedible ». I was impressed, it didn’t mean that I didn’t loathe Susana any less. Mind you, it was mutual. Susana was a sneak. That Christmas, when we all had to give a present to the teacher, Susana gave our the teacher a box of Basildon Bond writing paper, headed with the teacher’s home address.
Teachers got, and expected presents at the end of every school term. Luckily, mum was a teacher, and she had a whole stock of unwanted second-rate gifts given by her pupils, that me and Big bruv were able to offload on our respective teachers. I guess that the presents that we gave were already at least third or fourth hand by the time they reached our teachers. Mum always seemed to get notebooks or perfume from her kids – Yardley – the sophisticated fragrance of the early seventies. Of the hundreds of thousands of bottles of Yardley that got given to teachers, one of them must have got opened and used eventually. I can never actually remember any of my teachers smelling of Yardley. If it wasn’t perfume though, it was chocs. This was in the days before Mon Cheri and Ferrero Rocher. The choice chocs at this particular moment in time were Terrys All Gold. Though you’d only ever give a quarter pound box for your teacher.
This was where we learned to look at the importance of the sell by date. Never give a box of chocs that have gone past their sell by date. We did it once. The victim in question was a certain Mrs Cameron at Newland’s House Preparatory school. She was another of these early seventies primary school teachers who had just “slipped” into the job without any formal training or teaching diploma. It was Mrs Cameron, who on the day my dad died, made me stand in the corner.
Mum had gone to the hospital with dad. I had stayed home with Gran. When Dad eventually conked out, Mum came home and drove me to school, very late. She didn’t accompany me into the classroom to explain anything to Mrs Cameron, she just bundled me through the door, then ran off in floods of tears.
“Why are you late?” snapped Mrs Cameron
“My daddy died”
Mrs Cameron gave me a long lecture about lying, then made me stand in the corner for the rest of the morning as a punishment. That afternoon, we had an art lesson. I wanted to make a card for my dad. The futile gesture of a six year old who hadn’t yet worked out that his old man had just popped his clogs.
Mrs Cameron told me off again. I was supposed to be painting and cutting out a dinosaur to stick on a class wall display. Off to the corner again.
When my mum did eventually explain that I was actually telling the truth, Mrs Cameron just carried on as if nothing had happened. No apology. That year Mrs Cameron got the stale chocs. I hope they poisoned her.