From the moment I got my first record player, along with a big box of singles, I loved listening to music. Often I would sit at the piano in the front room, where all the silver cups Dad had won at bird shows were displayed, and pick out a tune or two, rather badly by ear. We listened to the radio a lot when I was small too and the songs of the sixties evoke many memories. Mother and I would waltz around the bedroom singing along to Englebert Humperdink’s Last Waltz and Mother would often make me sing Those Were The Days or Sing a Rainbow to her. In the summer of 1972, though, a pop song captured a moment in time for me like no other had before.
It was a Thursday night and I was hoping David Cassidy would be on Top of the Pops with the Partridge Family singing Breaking up is Hard To Do. Now I couldn’t tell you whether they played it or not because the number one song in the charts quite literally stopped me in my tracks. That song was School’s Out by Alice Cooper and the strange dark haired man, all in black, with thick black makeup around his eyes was like nothing I had ever seen before. When he ran a sword across his throat at the end of the song I could hardly believe my eyes. The lyrics of the song couldn’t have been more relevant. The summer holidays were just beginning and I had left my junior school for the very last time.
Until now school had been minutes from home, just across the Main Road. My new school involved a bus ride. It was also a girl’s school so things were going to be very different. That first morning, I stood at the bus stop clutching my twelve pence bus fare in my hand feeling very apprehensive. The long summer of roaming the streets and riding my bike in jeans and t-shirts was over. The new school uniform, grey skirt, pale blue shirt, maroon tie and jumper, felt strange, scratchy and a little too big. Most of my friends were going to a different school in Bitterne Park and I was all alone at the bus stop, afraid I’d miss the stop at the other end and worried about the big new school where you had to move around to different rooms for every lesson.
Moments before the bus arrived another girl dressed in the same school uniform dashed across the busy road and stood, slightly breathless, by my side. It was Liz, the girl who lived at the top of the Crescent. Although we’d known each other most of our lives, gone to the same schools and even gone to swimming lessons together for more than a year we weren’t really close friends. We’d never been in the same class and we’d rarely played together outside of school. The Crescent was an odd place like that. Basically it’s a huge circle on a steep hill and the children who lived on the side at the top of the hill and those that lived on the bottom side might as well have lived on different planets. This was the day that changed forever.
Liz’s blonde curls were darker now, more brown than blonde, while my poker straight hair was, if anything, lighter from a summer spent out in the sun. Her eyes were dark while mine were blue and she was a little taller than me. She seemed a lot braver and more worldly wise than I, although, inside I’m sure she was just as scared of what lay ahead. On that bus journey we discovered we both liked David Cassidy and thought Donny Osmond was a bit of a goody goody, read the same girls magazine, Mandy, and liked Enid Bylton’s Famous Five, the Narnia books and Alice in Wonderland.
We got on that bus as mere acquaintances and got off ten minutes later outside the big new school as best friends, Of course there were no smart phones back then and neither of us owned a camera or I’d probably have hundreds of photos of her. As it is, I have just three, taken in a photo booth soon after we left school for good. She kept the other three from the set of six.
Together we walked into the huge school hall where hundreds of other girls were slowly gathering. It seemed odd to see no boys and many of the other girls already knew each other because they’d gone to the same junior school next door to this one. Liz and I stuck together, slightly bemused by the size of the place and worried about what lay ahead. The hall was far bigger than the one at our old school. It had long windows down each side and a stage at one end. Crowded with so many girls on this warm, late summer day, it seemed stiflingly hot and noisy.
After a while a group of teachers came in and called for silence. Then they each took turns to call out a list of names. As each name was called, the girl in question had to line up behind her new Form Teacher. When my name was called by a thin, stern looking woman with short dark hair, I reluctantly left Liz’s side. The names were called in alphabetical order so I was one of the first. The time between Marie Haley and Elizabeth Telford, seemed interminable but, to my relief, her name was eventually called. We would be in the same class, at least for registration and the first lesson each day.
Once all the names had been called, our new Form Teacher led us through the building to our new Form Room. It seemed a long and confusing journey, down a corridor with windows looking out onto a large empty playground, around a corner and down another, darker corridor until, finally, we reached our new classroom. I was sure I’d never be able to find my way on my own.
In the classroom there were wooden desks arranged in groups of four. Liz and I staked a claim to two desks near the window, with our backs to the view of the playground. The two desks in front of us were quickly filled by girls we didn’t know. One was short, like me and had a huge cloud of unruly light brown curls, almost like an afro. She said her name was Brenda. The other girl had long brown hair and a soft, kind face. Her name was Georgie.
Our new Form Teacher was called Miss Tuckwell, a rather unfortunate name with endless possibilities for jokes. This is possibly why she was so stern. Stern enough that none of us even considered joking in the slightest.
My memories of the rest of that first day are fairly hazy. We had timetables showing where we were supposed to be for each different lesson. Somehow we got from class to class without getting lost, at least not as far as I recall. There were massive cloakrooms with rows and rows of hooks. One classroom was a gigantic green corrugated iron Nissen hut with a scary looking boiler in the corner that made odd noises and didn’t really work.
In junior school we’d had one new teacher to remember each year, now there were so many I was sure I would never remember all their names. Today I recall some while others escape me. Miss Tuckwell was, as far as I remember, a science teacher as well as our form tutor. Another science teacher was Miss Cook, smiley and kind. Her friend, Miss Anthony, was the art teacher. Mrs Onions was old, grey and slightly bent, she taught music. French was taught by a welsh woman called Mrs Griffiths, small, neat and fair, and Mrs Seagrave, dark, slightly scatty and actually French. Mrs Hebblethwaite, young and almost trendy with long brown hair, taught R.E., Mrs Neary, small and dark, P.E. The maths teacher was a young man called Mr Miller. Some of the girls had a crush on him, but I hated maths too much for that. The geography teacher’s name escapes me but she was very stern and had a habit of throwing things like blackboard rubbers across the classroom at us.
My favourite was Mrs Simmonds, the white haired, slightly chubby English teacher. All my life I’d loved reading and writing, she was an inspiration. She introduced me to Shakespeare, the classic poets and gave me a list of children’s books I ought to read, including some, like The Hobbit, I had not encountered before. She taught me about similes, alliteration and onomatopoeia and told me my face was far too expressive for my own good. She was right about that, I never have been able to hide my feelings.
At the end of the day Liz suggested we walk home instead of catching the bus.
”That way we’ll have twelve pence each to spend in the sweet shop on the corner.” It was, I had to admit, a brilliant plan and one I’d never have thought of on my own. “If we leave a little earlier tomorrow we can walk to school too. Then we’ll have twenty four pence each to spend. We could probably get chips for lunch.”
In the space of a single school day I’d gained a new best friend, one who came up with genius plans, could add up and was probably going to lead me astray. What I wouldn’t give to have her leading me astray now…
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