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Last month I reached the grand age of 75, so I am now one of the “vulnerable elderly citizens”  (almost as beloved of politicians as the “hard working families!”)

My first gift was a free TV licence from the government

On the Sunday before my birthday we visited our local stately home with the family and had a splendid cream tea in the Orangerie. (Gracious living at its best)

On the actual day Jennie gave us a birthday party tea, complete with balloons and hats!

Two days later Jennie and I went to see an excellent production of “War Horse” at the Millennium Centre.

When I see 75 written down it looks so old. Inside I still feel 35, still 8st  with all the energy I had then. Sadly I am no longer 8st and though the spirit may be willing the body is not and as for walking miles forget it!

Can it really be 70 years since the little girl with two fair plaits eagerly joined the mixed infants at Bentinck  School? I was the youngest of the family and all the cousins and had been so envious of my brother and cousins when they went to school.

64 years ago that same little girl walked along the boulevard,proudly wearing the scarlet and grey uniform of the grammar school.

56 years ago I started my Nursing training.

52 years ago I visited Norway for the first time and so began about 10 years of sharing my time between England and Norway.

The first babies I delivered will now be over 50, I wonder how they have lived their lives.

48 years ago I had my great adventure on the Bergensfjord.

41 years ago I married JW

35 years ago I had my lovely daughter, Jennie.

Since then the years have just telescoped into one another and Jennie is grown up with a family of her own and my grandchildren are growing up at a rapid rate. I do have one consolation in that my 2 year old granddaughter is a carbon copy of her mother so I have the joy of those early years, (which flew by so rapidly)  all over again.

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My friend Valerie died suddenly at Christmas.

We first met 60 years ago in the second form at the Manning School in Nottingham. In our first year we were separated into four forms purely on the initial of our surnames, and then in the second form we were streamed on our first year exam results, and Val and I were luckily put in the A stream and soon became friends.  We eventually discovered that our fathers had been schoolfriends too and had started work together.

Val had lived in the same house from birth, which was less than a mile from the house I first lived in, but we had moved into town when I was about 2-3 years old. We were also born in the same week in July 1939 so if you believe in astrology we should have had very similar characteristics. No!  We could not have been more opposite!

We shared similar appearance, similar height, build and colouring, but there the similarities ended. Val was quiet, studious and never in trouble. I don’t think she ever had a detention or skipped her homework. This makes her sound a bit dull but she wasn’t. She had a great sense of humour, but was just a bit quieter about it than some of us!

She was one of the few people who were happy in their own skin from a very early age and had no great ambition to change things. I always had dreams of travelling to the places I had dreamt about, and when I decided to become a nurse I had no ambition to climb up the career ladder to become a Matron (then the top rung), just to be a good nurse and use it to travel!

Valerie left school when she was sixteen and went to work at a bank, which she enjoyed and then one year later she met Derek there  and they were “an item” from then for the rest of her life. They had a long courtship while they saved up to buy their first home, got married and had two sons. She was contented and, as far as I know, never regretted her choice.

She was quite bewildered by my period of wandering and used to tease me that she had a separate address book for me. I had six different addresses in Birmingham while I was training, then three in Geilo, one in Oslo, three while I did midwifery training, Edinburgh, Peebles,North London, South London, West London, Nottingham, North Kent, West Wickham, West Wales where we stayed for 20 years! and finally here in Cardiff! Val lived in two houses all her life. Her parents’ house and the house she and Derek bought!

Despite the different paths we took we both ended up happily married with lovely families and contented with our lots.

Although we had not seen each other for some time, I shall miss her letters and news of her family and friends, but I am glad that I have such happy memories of our schooldays together.

When 1950 came along the adult population were probably quite fed up as rationing was still in place and the golden future they had been imagining would come when the war was over had not yet arrived. Things were easier, but of course, the country was nearly bankrupt after the war and there had had to be much rebuilding, of  both the bricks and mortar structure  and the social structure. We had already got the new health service and welfare system and educational opportunities were open to a wider section of the population.

I was very happy in 1950 as I had achieved my long held ambition to gain a place at the Manning School. I had longed to go to this school for as long as I could remember. I used to gaze at it on our Sunday evening  perambulations on The Forest. It was a long, low modern buiding by the side of  The Forest. To the front were the tennis courts and to the side  playing fields. The school was approached up a shallow flight of steps flanked on either side by a colourful shrubbery, and I thought it was the most beautiful school I had ever seen. 🙂

I envied the girls in their smart grey and scarlet uniforms and vowed that one day I would wear that uniform.

I don’t think it entered my arrogant little head that I would not pass the 11+ exam, after all my boy cousins had gone to High Pavement (the boys grammar school) and my brother could have gone  too if he had not insisted on choosing the People’s College (technical college for the building trade)

I must admit that it was not  academic leanings which attracted me, just the school and the uniform. 🙂

It was only in later life, when comparing my education with others, that I realised just how fortunate we were at the Manning. We had a wide education, not only academic subjects, but such diverse subjects as domestic science, arts and crafts and music. Everyday from 4pm-6pm after school activities, ( sports, drama, Guides, orchestra etc.) were available to those interested, all run by the staff in their own time.

Many of the teachers were unmarried middle-aged and elderly ladies, who belonged to the generation where so many of their male generation had been lost in the carnage of WW1. It is only with hindsight that I realise what a brave fight they must have fought to get their university education, which probably explains their frustration with us when we didn’t work hard enough took our good fortune for granted.

The mood of the country was lifted in 1951 by the Festival of Britain. This was a very popular event, not only the exhibition itself, but all the local events it spawned. In Nottingham I was lucky enough to be given a place in the ballet, which was performed in Wollaton Park. We spent a very enjoyable summer rehearsing and then did several performances in September. The Park had been transformed into a magical place with coloured lanterns and giant swans were manufactured which floated across the lake in the background.

In 1952 we were all very sad when King George died suddenly. He had been a popular king and Britain was still very patriotic.

In 1953 we had the spectacle of the coronation. There were street parties and celebrations throughout the country and the newspapers were declaring that this was the dawning of the new Elizabethan age. Everest was conquered in the same year and there was optimism in the air. This optimism continued into the next year when rationing  was finally over.

When my friends who had stayed in the secondary modern schools left in 1954 (aged 15) there were plenty of jobs for them to choose from. In Nottingham the biggest employers were Boots, Players, Raleigh, NCB and textiles. All these firms offered further training for those interested and many provided social welfare facilities such as sports clubs etc.

At the technical colleges and grammar schools the earliest leaving age was 16, and most of those I knew went into office jobs, banking, insurance or, for those with a scientific leaning, into laboratories.

I think  about  a third of us stayed on in the 6th form until we were 18. I had suddenly changed my mind about teaching and decided to pursue a nursing career and got myself an interview at the Queen Elizabeth School of Nursing in Birmingham, which had a very good reputation. I was lucky enough to be accepted for a place in the school starting January 1958.

There were fewer university places available then and they seemed to have more lectures than today’s students, but at least they did not have the financial worries the students have now. Tuition was free and grants were quite generous and covered normal living expenses. They got nearly as much in grants as we were paid during our training, plus temporary jobs were available during the holidays to supplement their income. Most of them lived in Halls and those who lived out usually lived in lodgings ( presided over by matronly ladies of varying amiability!)  

Those who were intending to teach in junior or infant schools went to training college for two years, again living in college halls. I don’t remember anyone living out in flats—much less mixed  flats!

There have been many changes in education over the last half century, both good and bad.

 I think we were a very obedient society and probably quite naive. The age of majority was still 21 and we seemed to have a longer childhood than todays children ( or even previous generations had been allowed). Due to all those years of rationing we were glad to have new clothes and, since no one knew about designer labels, we suffered no problems  of peer pressure on that score.

Todays children, especially girls, have a far greater choice of career and more career guidance. There were still many people around then who thought it a waste to educate girls, luckily my parents did not hold this view and I had the same opportunities  and support as my brother.

I have just written a birthday card to one of my oldest friends, Patsy. When we moved house and got our possessions into some sort of order, I discovered that I had a large supply of pristine birthday cards. I decided, a bit late in the year, that I would send cards to all my old friends; this being the year that we reach our three score and ten. I am now searching my memory for dates of those for whom I have addresses and Patsy is the first on my list.

When we were 15 years old we moved from the Guides to the Cadets. This was a school company and  was  quite small, about a dozen, and most of my closest friends were members. 

We were like the big sisters of the guides and went on camping holidays with them and helped supervise the working patrols and days out. We had a Captain, Mrs Gill a science mistress and two lieutenants, Miss Davis, domestic science and Miss Rutherford, maths. We were divided into two patrols. We were the Wombats, which had been renamed in honour of our first patrol leader an Australian girl.

We wore a slightly different uniform from the guides, a navy skirt with a lighter blue blouse and a white tie. The tie was in the shape of a triangular bandage, which had the practical use that it could be of use an emergency, but I was never called on to put it to that use. We also wore a navy woollen battledress and changed our guide berets for a stiffer beret styled hat. We met on Friday after school and were allowed to wear the outfit instead of school uniform on that day.

As well as the guiding techniques we practised we also learned a bit about leadership. This must have worked a bit as some of the ones I stayed in contact with through the years joined the WI and all of them were either treasurers or presidents of the local branches and some served on county committees. I guess we were all “joiners”

We tended to be friends outside the guiding community too and went on hikes etc at weekends. On our last Easter holiday we had a superb holiday Youth Hostelling. We must have covered many miles around Derbyshire, exploring the villages and moorlands. In those days you had to travel to YHs under your own steam,  by foot, pedal or boat! They were very cheap, but you had to cook your own food and do a small task towards running the YH each day. This varied a lot from hostel to hostel, some more demanding than others.

Several of us had birthdays in July, so we decided to combine forces and have a grand hike. We each took an ingredient for the campfire cookery, sausages to cook on sticks, potatoes to bake in the fire etc. My contribution was a cake, baked by my Mum, and Halina took punnets of strawberries. We had the route planned, the campfire site earmarked and our bags packed. We assembled at the bus station for the first stage of the journey on that beautiful summer’s day, and then watched in disbelief as the skies changed from a cerulean blue to Paynes grey and the thunderstorm started!

My brave friend, Vera, immediately invited us all back to her house to cook and devour our food. She lived nearest, and her mother was out at business all day 🙂

We managed to have a memorable birthday party (we did clean up the kitchen afterwards!)

We have stayed friends over all these years,though scattered geographically. Most of us have stayed in touch with a few of the others but, through the network we hear about the others,  sadly two of them are no longer with us, both of them taken by ovarian cancer. I am hoping via Patsy’s contacts we can all be linked by post in this particular year at least.

Last week I heard an item on “Word of Mouth” on  radio 4 where Michael Rosen was visiting the Dagenham Park community school. He had heard of a new activity in the after school club, learning Latin! This was very popular with the children and they were far more animated about it than we ever were!

It was only after I left school that I realised what a useful asset we had been given. Latin is the root of many foreign languages, but it impinges on so many other areas too,  not only medicine, horticulture,law etc. but  also logic and maths.

The children are being taught in a completely different way from the methods used on us. They are not taught declensions etc. but learn about Roman life and history, which seems to bring it all to life.

I have heard that there are moves to put it back on the curriculum, led by the Cambridge School of Classics, but there is a great shortage of Latin teachers, 65 left  and there are only 35 in training.

Latin was a minority subject even when I was at school (in the 1950s). We were not graded until the 2nd form and all did French in the 1st form, in the 2nd form only the A and B streams did Latin. In the 4th form we had to choose arts or science, so half the students left the Latin classes. In the 5th form we had further choices as we prepared for “O” levels so a few more gave up Latin. In the 6th form I think there were only about 4 girls doing “A” level Latin.

Our first Latin teacher was quite literally “of the old school” She had taught at High Pavement when it was a co-ed school and then, when my school, The Manning School for Girls, was built in the 1930s she moved to that. There was a small group of these elderly teachers, who had been there since the early days and they were very similar, dedicated single ladies, dedicated to their subjects, who stood no nonsense and, somehow, instilled knowledge into our unwilling brains by sheer willpower! It must have worked because I can still hear them when I think about their subjects, 50 years later.

Miss D was a shortish lady with grey wispy hair taken back into a rather untidy bun, which shed hair pins when she got excited. She always wore tweeds, summer and winter, and sat with her knees apart showing the elasticated bottoms of her pink silk bloomers.  She bellowed out the declensions etc. so that they could probably hear her in the next classroom. We used to giggle about her behind her back but we did respect her really, not so the strange young lady who replaced her when she  retired. She was straight from university and decided on the “matey” approach, but children will always take advantage of weakness, given half a chance, and we had no respect for her and I lost any interest in the subject and did just enough work to get me through “O” level, and then gave it up.

It was only in later years that I appreciated the values of learning Latin and was quite disappointed that it was no longer being taught in Jennie’s schools, so I hope it will make a comeback and will be in place when my grandsons go to secondary school, though this may be a vain hope here in Wales as they teach their own ancient language, Welsh, which even its most devout defendents cannot claim helps with logic!