I started at Bath Street School in 1945 when I was five, then I went to Manvers from the age of eleven. It was a good school – strict but fair. There were a lot of women teachers because the men were still in the army. I can always remember the caretaker – his name was Mr Walker, a portly bloke. Every Friday I used to help him pick up the chairs and put them on the tables, then spread sawdust on the floor and sweep the classroom. He used to give me a couple of pence and I used to nip down the shop on Handel Street to buy an iced cake for twopence.
I went to Greenwood Infants and then Greenwood Junior School – I absolutely loved the infant school, it was a beautiful place. It was next to a youth club called the Oliver Hind. A brass band used to rehearse in there and I really wanted to go in and have a look – it just sounded fantastic.
The headmistress at Greenwood Infants looked very regal, very beautiful – she wore silk shirts with big pussy bow ties and lots of make-up. She used to smell absolutely divine and I was so happy when she used to come and sit on our table for dinner. I can’t remember her name, but there was another teacher called Mrs Retzian – I think she was Polish. It was quite unusual to have anyone with an accent at school in those days, so she fascinated me.
None of my family were raised to think that education was important – for the women it was all about leaving school as soon as possible, finding somebody who could provide financially, getting married and having a baby. For the men it was about getting a job that provided you with the most money. All the men in my family worked in mining and demolition. Looking back now, I missed out on a lot of opportunities in my earlier adult life. I was brought up with plenty of beliefs about how to raise children that aren’t necessarily even legal today. I was frequently hit at home and teachers still hit children in my day. There are lots of things that I’ve had to reassess, but I’m sure those things came from a place of love.
In the late 1930s I used to get the trolley bus from Trent Bridge to Sneinton and we’d pass by the Ragged School. I thought, “What on earth’s a Ragged School?” Of course it was for poor children who couldn’t go to ordinary school because they didn’t have no shoes and they were probably very dirty. I think the school had closed down by then, but the building was still there.