THESE ARE SOME OF THE CERTIFICATES THAT I GAINED. I TOOK MY FIRST PITMAN SHORTHAND EXAM AT 90 WPM INSTEAD OF THE USUAL 50 WPM. I ALSO TOOK THE RSA SHORTHAND EXAM EXAM AT 60 WPM AS IT WAS CONSIDERED HARDER THAN PITMAN. MY LAST EXAM WAS 120 WPM.
I took my 11 plus and only myself
and another girl whose mother was a widow, passed. The education from my previous school had stood me in good stead.
school uniform had to be bought from a specialised shop in Chatham and nowhere else. It was very expensive. It comprised, a pleated skirt with a white vest top attached to it. A light blue checked short sleeved shirt (for the 1st, 2nd
& 3rd years), jumper, blazer, bowler hat, airtex sports shirt and navy blue knickers and raincoat. The navy blue thick knickers doubled up for sportswear and right up until then end of the 5th form we would be out playing sport in
One of the tennis courts backed on to the road leading to the college that had just been built
and the boys going there must have thought they had hit the jackpot, see all these fully developed girls running about in their underwear. Eventually, a wrap over sports skirt came in to being. We obviously wore socks first of all
but in the 4th and 5th year you changed to a pink checked short sleeved shirt and straight skirt, together with 50 denier stockings, held up by suspenders. We used to run down the grassy hill from the school to catch the bus and one day I slipped,
tried to stop and ended up grabbing my friends suspender and rolling down the hill with it in my hand.
The cost of kitting
me out was going to be £13.00. My mum had nowhere near that amount of money and she was turned down for a uniform grant. Eventually, my granddad paid for it, but it was at nearly at the end of the school holidays and all that was left of
the pleated skirt "dresses", was one that was too short for me. So instead of going to school and growing into a uniform, I had to attend in one that I was growing out of. There was defintely no money to buy me two of anything, even if they had
had anything left.
Before the bowler hat came in to being the year that I started, a skull cap had been in use which
was pinned by hair clips to the back of the head. We had to wear our hats to and from school and always be on our best behaviour in our school uniform. One morning in assembly, one of the older girls came in with blonde bits in her hair,
not stripes or layers, but big blobs of blonde, which was just coming in to fashion. She was hauled before the whole school and told what a state her hair was and then told not to come back until it was back to its normal colour which she did.
The difference with a grammar school, probably even now, is that no parent would jeopardise their daughter/son's place by being obstructive.
arrived at the Grammar School, I qualified for a free bus pass as I lived so far away and free school dinners. I used to go and sit on the big girls' tables as they were all watching their weight and I got more food. My commerce teacher always
instilled in us that you should always be honest and hand things in. He was handing out the dinner tickets one day and he gave me 5 extra by mistake. Remembering his words, I handed them back to him and he didn't even look up to see who I
Although I passed my 11 plus, I did not find it easy at school. I could never do arithmetic. At my junior
school in Luton, we had an arithmetic test every week, adding, substracting, dividing, long division etc. I was always the last to finish and would still get them wrong, although I romped away with reading, writing and comprehension.
I have never taken an exam in maths. Yet later in life I was budgeting hundreds of thousands of pounds, etc, all with the aid of
a calculator. Whenever I try any of the tests nowadays, I still can't make head nor tail of them. I add up with fingers and take away. Don't get me started on Jane with a bag of sweets, giving some here and there, how many did she have?!!!
I settled in with my more well off classmates. The only girl to pass with me never actually arrived at the school because
she and her mother moved away, so I had to meet new people and as most girls lived in the vicinity and I was well out of the way from it, I didn't spend time with them after school. I managed to get by making people laugh, not intentionally, I may
add and this took the attention away from my uniform and lack of material items the others had.
When I first started,
the school went to see the Passion Play in Oberamagau, Bavaria, every ten years. I would fall into the catchment period and could start paying in to it in instalments! We didn't have enough money to buy a passion flower, let alone go to Germany
for a Passion Play and all the extras that would entail. Many years later when my daughter was at school, I was talking to one of her classmate's mums. She asked me if my daughter was looking forward to going with hers, to China. I was gobsmacked,
I knew nothing about a trip to China. When she came home from school, I asked her about it because I always said she was to take every opportunity that came to her. "Oh, yes", she said, "the class is going next week, they started paying instalments
when we started at the school". "Why didn't you tell me about it, I would have loved for you to have gone", I said. "Oh no", she replied, "I didn't want to go and when they asked me, I said you would never be able to afford to send
Up until the age of 14, I struggled with subjects at school, except English and History.
I was top of the class in English, but the English teacher had such high standards, an A- is about the best you could ever achieve. She was an exceptional teacher. When she retired, when I was nearing the end of the 5th form, a new English teacher
arrived, with a bit of a modern outlook, it seemed.
She actively allowed the older girls to call her by her first name
if they wanted to. However, when I gave her some of my work to mark in pencil because I had forgotten my pen, she wouldn't mark it. We used to be taught in some of the classrooms in the Crimea Wing which was used as a hospital during the Crimea
War. The floor was stone and if you stood up to acknowledge the teacher when they came in to the room, the scraping noise was so bad, it made your teeth go on edge and your ears hurt. It was the only room where we were told that we should remain
sitting. As the new English teacher walked in, we sat still, she erupted in fury because we had not stood for her. She calmed down when it was explained why. My point is, she wanted this pally pally outlook, but she was actually
worse than some of the older teachers, when it came to etiquette.
Eventually, we had to choose our options. I
knew I would never get many qualifications in Science, Maths, and Geography. I wanted to do shorthand and typing which is what the school offered as well. I would have never qualified for university because I would have to get 5 'O' levels and
2 'A' levels in the core subjects to qualify. Entry was certainly much stricter and I think, for the better then. Even if I had qualified, there would have been no money to send me and my mother was of the opinion that it was more important
for boys to get qualifications, which seems all the more strange because she was a qualified shorthand typist before she got married.
I studied French as one of the subjects for the first few years at school. I could understand simple words, table, chair, window, door etc, but could not make any sense when trying to learn sentences. I never did any of the experiments
in science classes, because the cleverer girls got chosen for that. However, one day our teacher told us that we were going to learn chemical symbols and how they were were added together, ie, H2O = Water (2 atoms of hydrogen and 1 atom of
oxygen. She taught us the symbols first and that showed how they were added together. After this she gave us some questions to answer. Well strangely enough, I just got it from the beginning. An example was calcuim carbonate
CaCO3 (1 atom calcium, 1 atom carbon and 3 atoms of oxygen). I put my hand up with the explanation. Since it was a very rate occasion for me to ever try to answer questions in science lessons, she asked me. I explained it to her correctly,
her face looking quite amazed.
Then she asked us how we would add to various symbols together to make
a formula, ie, sulphuric acid. It comprises SO3 plus H2O (water). So to get the answer H2S04, you add 1 atom of sodium and 3 atoms of oxygen (SO3) to 2 atoms of hydrogen and 1 of oxygen, (H2O) = H2SO4, two atoms of hydrogen, one atom of sodium and
4 atoms of oxygen. My hand went up again and I gave her the right answer. In fact, I don't think anyone else got a chance to answer as she was obviously witnessing a major miracle with me romping along with the answers. It never did make any
sense to me as to why I couldn't add up or answer other questions, but I felt a like a genius after my first ever physics lesson!
I had to fight very hard to get my place in the shorthand typing class, which I would study for the next 3 years. They had wanted to put me in for CSE’s,
which many of you who did ‘O’ levels would know, they were not worth the paper they were written on. I protested when one of my classmates was accepted and her spelling was atrocious, and I got my place.
Unfortunately at my school there were O Levels, A Levels and RSA. The RSA's were looked down on by the school. The CSEs were reluctantly used as a last resort and I wasn't even good enough to take
one of them in maths. It was drummed in to us that unless we got an Grade A or Grade 1 in a CSE, which was the equivalent to a Grade 3 or Grade C O Level, we would never get anywhere in life!
A lot of the girls who didn't go to university after their O and A Levels came back again to do a crash shorthand typing course with RSA’s and they ended up going in to secretarial work like me. At the end of the school year, the
names of the girls who had been accepted to prestigious universities were read out. The girls who secured jobs as bilingual secretaries were read out, they were usually the O Level or A Level girls who had studied a language.
So was the name of
the girl who won a Gold Medal in shorthand. My securing a job in a local engineering company in the Export Department wasn't worth a mention.
It was also why they were
willing to use our secretarial class as guinea pigs when they changed an O level from the Oxford Board to the AE Board as an experiment, the result of which you will read later in this chapter.
If anyone was snobbish, it was the school!
It was one of the best decisions I ever made to do secretarial training. The minute I started
in my shorthand class, I just got it, like I did with the physics. It just came naturally to me, and I romped away at it. However, the shorthand teacher did not like me and so when she asked if we got it all down and could read it back, she asked
her favourite pupil and the one who was struggling to make head of tail of it. In the end, the class used to tell her in unison that I had got it all down and she would reluctantly ask me. I started my first exam at 100 wpm, instead of 50
and it was RSA as well as Pitman’s. Pitman was the name of the shorthand and their exam was easier, so you could get higher speeds. RSA was the name of the exam for shorthand and was harder.
ironic thing about my time with the shorthand teacher was that when I started my first job, her son was my first boss and told me his mother told him all about me. I never found out what she had said to him!
I also learned touch typing. The manual typewriter had no letters on the keys, so you had to learn by touch, which is so easy if you persevere with it and saves such a lot of time. I never liked
it as much as shorthand, but now I would struggle to remember all the shorthand symbols as it is not really used now. Typing just gets faster with use. I had to learn how to set a letter out, proper paragraphing, knowing what forms of address to
you, ie, Dear Mr, - Yours Sincerely, Dear Sir – Yours Faithfully. We even used Esquire then, omitting the Mr if it was used. I had to centre headings, by starting in the middle of the page and back space once for each two letters.
Menus are a good example of this. Tabulation which would give you equal columns took a lot of counting of letters and making spaces using a pen or pencil which was put in the little hole in the plastic over the body of the letter and then turning the
platten, (typewriter carriage) up and down or across accordingly.
We were taught to type to music and the fastest record that we graduated to was The
William Tell Overture. When we were all typing in time to the music it was quite an impressive sound!
Most important of all we used to have to be able to spell,
or know when to look in a dictionary when we weren’t sure. This stood us in good stead as a lot of bosses couldn’t spell and never mentioned it if we had corrected some of their spellings when copy typing.
Last year I was talking to a young woman who was a secretary for a solicitor. I asked her how they were taught to touch type now. “I don’t know”, she said, “I just look at the keys
and use my fingers, the computer sets it out and corrects the spelling!”
I studied O Level English and British Constitution which I loved. It was
the history of Parliament throughout the ages. I used to come top of the class in it. Everything else was RSA, Civics, English, Geography, Commerce and Bookkeeping. Unfortunately, as with the Maths, I couldn’t get bookkeeping and so
opted out of taking that exam.
Because I was in the Shorthand/Typing Class, we could not study English Literature, O Level or RSA, but had American Literature
classes, which did not have an exam at the end of it. This was a great pity to me because I loved every minute of it and came 1st in a class exam.
struck with the O Level British Constitution. We were tested on old exam papers every week and I did very well. The week before the exam, our class was told that we wouldn’t be doing Oxford O Level BC which we were used to but AEB O Level
BC which we had never heard of or studied for. When the paper was put in front of me I could have cried and I think I probably did. There was no parliamentary history in it, ie, Prime Ministers, 3 Line Whips, Bill of Rights etc, it was all
local government, which I was studying in Civics but bore no relation to anything I had studied. When I spoke to the Oxford ‘O’ level classes and they told me the questions they had been given, I knew every answer.
The AEB ‘O’ Level was an experiment by the school and unfortunately, I had to pay the price.
I carried on with advanced shorthand in to the Lower 6th and Upper 6th. We practiced at 200 wpm per minute, which made lower speeds seem a doddle. I got RSA qualifications in Audio Typing/Typing/Shorthand
Typing/Geography/Civics/English and an O Typing/Shorthand Typing/typing/Geography/Civics
and English and an O level in English. Believe me, the RSA English was just as hard, or even more, as the O Level .
The RSA exams were held in the evening, so we had to come back for them. There was no study leave or day off
I was never good at sport and I hated hockey which was always
played in the cold weather and if you got hit by a hockey stick it was very painful. We played tennis and I could serve but that was about all. The wealthier girls would have their own posh rackets. I had to rake through the school’s
racket box and invariable ended up with one with broken strings.
As we had no transport my mum never really came to see anything I was in so one day I brought the little girl
I used to babysit to come and see me and her dad dropped us off. Afterwards, she ran ahead of me down the hill and one of the problems with my eyesight is that I can’t see in pitch black conditions if I look head on. I couldn’t see
her anywhere and was desperately searching for her. Eventually, I found out that she was at the police station and her dad was coming to collect her. That was the last time I did that. She didn’t tell them that she had run off and I
got the blame for losing her.
When I entered the Upper 6th, I was voted in as Form Captain. I organised the goods from the Harvest Festival by giving everyone a list and
they picked from it what they would bring. This worked really well and I have often used this method in every day life.
I suggested to the teacher that we go on a field
trip to Margate and she surprisingly, agreed. All the class got on the train and when we got there, we picked up some shells, seaweed etc and took photos of rock pools. As soon as we had done this, we headed for Dreamland. When it was time
to get to the station to catch the train back, I had a heck of a job rounding everyone up, although we were only a very small class, as they were all off chatting to boys!
schooldays eventually had to come to an end. I had never wanted to leave and used to stand in the final assembly every year singing Jerusalem and then Lord Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing, Those Who Here Will Meet No More, watching the leavers bawling their
eyes out and glad it wasn’t me. On our last day, some of the class went down the town in the lunch hour and into a pub. One girl came back so drunk, she attracted the teacher’s attention. Our whole class was banned from the main school
assembly and we had to have it in the gym in absolute disgrace. It didn’t have the same feel to it and I didn’t cry.
It was such a shame that it had to end