Skool Daze, and Miy Edicasion...

The Map above shows The ‘Debry’ where I played as a child, and my Primary School. The school was located just beyond the Theatre Royal which is the only building in the area that hasn’t been demolished or completely changed since I lived in Stratford. The inserted photo shows the school building on the curve of Salway Rd.

Most of the earliest memories I have are ones which are almost impossible to date because they are isolated snippets. However the earliest may be from when I was only about two years old. I can recall looking across the living room of our house in Western St, Stratford and noticing that the air looked like a pale yellowish haze. It is possible that this was a result of the 1953 ‘smog’ which covered London and killed many people. Indeed, having had a bad chest throughout my life I do wonder if that may also been have caused by the London smogs of the early 1950s. However my father did smoke cigarettes, so perhaps they did me more harm!

I also can recall being in a small tin bath of warm water out in our back garden on a warm sunny day and looking up at the brick wall beside me. There I saw a ‘red admiral’ butterfly and remember deciding that “I really want to remember this as it is special!” Again, I must have been very young at the time. I know that I also cut my fingers badly one day because I still have the scars. I’d seen our cat in the garden and banged on the window to attract its attention. Did this so hard that the glass broke and cut me. I actually cut the tip off one finger and had to go to hospital. However I can’t actually recall this happening and only know about it because I still have the scars.

By the time I was old enough to attend the nearby primary school I can remember having a box of toys with the usual assortment of ‘Dinky’ model cars, etc. But the earliest toy I remember most affectionately was a simple ‘train set’ made from cast metal. The engines had no motors at all, so it was neither an electric set, nor a clockwork one. The locomotives, carriages, goods wagons, and even the track, were made of cast metal, much like the Lesney ‘matchbox’ toy cars. This meant they were all much cheaper – and smaller! – than the Hornby ‘Double O’ train sets and items which are still well known. To move the trains I simply pushed and pulled them around the tracks.

Examples of the kind of die-cast models which I had as my first – totally NON-electric – train set! They were sold under the ‘Lone Star’ brand name.

My Dad then found some money to get me my first electric railway setup. This was a German, Marklin-brand, engine and carriages with three-rail electric track to power it. It was very well made, but not really ideal for me because the locomotive and carriages, were all modelled on German designs, not British locomotives, etc. However at the time it was cheaper than the Hornby models, so were all he could afford at the time.

Later on he did buy me a simple Hornby train setup with one locomotive and a couple of passenger carriages, plus a loop of track and a transformer power supply. This was my grand Christmas present one year. I excitedly put it together on Christmas Day, but it refused to work! After some experiments I discovered that it would work if I only put the engine on the track – but when I added the carriages it refused to move. This was perhaps my first experience of diagnosing anything ‘electronic’! By trial and error I found that it wouldn’t work if the train on the track included a third (dining car) carriage that my Aunt Hettie had bought for me to go with Dad’s present. This was because she had in all innocence bought a ‘three rail’ carriage, and it has solid metal axles between its metal wheels. Not a problem for a 3-rail train, but the set Dad had bought me was the more modern ‘2-rail’ type, and the wheels of the dining car shorted out the electric power meant for the engine! Without the dining car all was well.

Despite my excitement at the time, in later years I came to realise that I had, in fact, enjoyed playing with the early cast metal model railway far more than the later electric ones. This was because it was cheap enough for me to collect a number of locomotives and lots of carriages, wagons, and track. As I result I could put together quite complex layouts, add in viaducts, bridges, etc, and run a series of trains around. The items were also quite robust so I didn’t need to worry about taking great care of them. Hence being ‘cheap as chips’ and easy to use made them a much greater source of enjoyment, despite the Hornby items being far better models in terms of showing what the original engines, etc, looked like. Sadly, these cast metal railway items seem to have been forgotten by model railway enthusiasts - presumably because they were so basic and simple. But for me, they were the most fun when I was very young.

I can also remember that one day my Dad brought home an old wind-up gramophone. This was quite an impressive model that stood on legs like a fancy item of Edwardian furniture. It was decorated with inlaid woods. You lifted the top as a lid to reveal gramophone, and it had two doors at the front of the body of the unit which acted as a sort of ‘volume control’. It could only play the old ‘78 rpm’ discs and was entirely acoustic. The internal horn terminating on the front, just behind the doors. I assume he got it because they were now old-fashioned so it was cheap enough for him to afford. Quite simply, we didn’t have much money, although I didn’t realise it at the time.

I wasn’t aware that the streets we lived in had come to be regarded as ‘slums’, or that we were ‘poor’ because we were no different to any of our neighbours or friends. Fish don’t really notice water, its just there. During my earliest years we had a (valve) radio which I used to enjoy listening to, but we didn’t get a TV until my step-brother, Alan, gave us one when I must have been about 10 or 12 years old. Having listened to the wireless set I wanted to have a small transistor radio of my own. Initially, my Uncle Frank, who worked for the GPO made me a simple ‘crystal set’ which worked without any need for batteries or a mains supply and could be listened to using a pair of headphones. That let me enjoy ‘modern’ pop music which didn’t interest my parents. And as cheap transistor radios became common I was finally able to get my Dad to buy me one - a ‘Benkson’ brand (Japanese) cheap radio. Which I still have! This sounded far better over headphones or an earpiece than the crystal set.

During most of the period from about 5 years old until I was about 13 or 14 I was more likely during the week to be at home, not at school. The primary school teachers were generally very kind. But I was often unwell, and I also disliked school. This was for a mix of reasons that it hard to untangle now, and worried my parents at the time. One factor was that for many years no-one realised that I am very short-sighted.

My primary school operated on the old system that ‘better’ students were given desks at the back of the class, and the ‘poor’ or ‘disruptive’ ones given desks near the front. Not knowing any better I assumed that all the other kids had eyesight that was no better than mine. Thus, to me, the obvious reason for this arrangement was that ‘clever’ kids didn’t need to see the blackboard as clearly as dimwits like myself, and that all of us were struggling to some extent to see what was written on the board! As a result I usually couldn’t really see what was written very clearly and found it hard to understand. I was also frequently unwell and off school because I didn’t feel well. Which meant I kept missing lessons and fell behind for this reason as well.

Fortunately for me, my Dad believed that a good education was important – if only because he’d never had a chance to get one! He knew that his chances in life had been handicapped by a lack of education. And by this time my eldest step-brother, John, was well on the way to becoming a successful professional engineer having gained a technical education whilst serving in the Royal Navy, and then going to night schools to learn more and become qualified in engineering design. As a result, right from when I was very young, my Dad used to read to me, and encourage me to read. From his point of view what mattered was that I should enjoy reading, and read as much as possible. So he didn’t try to make me read any specific kind of books.

For him the equation was simple: the more and wider I read, the more I would learn. Even a ‘poor’ book might introduce me to some new words or ideas, so was OK. Being at home a lot, this suited me nicely. I got into the habit of borrowing books from the local library in Water Lane – which was also near to the school where my Mum often had a job as a ‘dinner lady’. Unlike the school blackboard, I could hold a book close to me and I could actually see what I was reading! And I got to choose what to read!

I quickly found that my main interest was in topics like science and engineering. And I discovered Science Fiction in books, then in magazines! A great many of modern books labelled ‘Science Fiction’ are actually what I’d describe as fantasy. They contain little or no science, nor even internally coherent pseudo-science. But back in the 1950s and 1960s there were a number of people with a genuine background in science or engineering who wrote SF stories which tried to ‘extrapolate’ from what was scientifically known. As a result, the SF of the period made the cutting edge of science accessible and interesting. The plots also tended to employ a ‘problem-solution’ way of thinking and were about devising neat ways to deal with problems. Hence I learned far more about the nature of the Scientific Method than appeared in the simplified school textbooks of the period which dealt with science largely in terms of its history and ‘learning equations and laws’.

When I was young, local library membership only provided me with four library tickets of my own. But I realised that I could also get four tickets in my Mum’s name, and another four for my Dad! I was then able to borrow up to twelve books at a time. Sitting at home I would often read more than one book per day. Indeed, when I didn’t go out and play on the bombed out ‘Debry’ area behind our house I would read two or even three books a day. Although I didn’t have much money I was also buying some books. Initially these were second-hand paperbacks for 3d or 6d (old money!) each, which were cheap enough for me to afford. These were mostly from a table outside “Shinglers” the local rag-and-bone secondhand shop on the corner of Angel Lane and William St. However on one memorable day I was walking through Angel Lane market and discovered a stall selling second-hand books and a copy of the American SF magazine, ‘Analog’.

The above shows the front cover of the first SF magazine I ever bought. Plus an example of an early advert for ‘Operation Fantast’ which produced a stream of second-hand SF books from the USA.

By this point I knew that far more SF was available in the USA than in Britain, but it was almost impossible to find here, and I had no idea how anyone might import a copy. Particularly if they were children who only had a few shillings to spend. But there on the stall was a copy of the main American SF magazine. One whose policy was to publish a mix of ‘science fact’ along with the ‘science fiction’. And which carried many stories written by successful scientists and engineers. I still have that particular copy. It is the January 1963 issue which features James Blish’s “Life for the Stars” on its cover. This, and some of the later issues I found at the market were all the ‘British Edition’ of Analog which omitted some of the items from the American magazine. But it was still an exciting discovery! And other magazines I found later on the market stall carried adverts for a British company called ‘Fantast’ in Wisbech which specialised in selling American SF books as well as British ones. This prompted me to write to Fantast asking for a list of what they had for sale, and began a relationship with Ken Slater who ran the ‘shop by mail’ that lasted for decades.

Each month from then on I’d get a set of ‘roneoed’ sheets listing hundreds of – mostly second hand – books. Many at prices I could afford, and most of them not officially published in the UK. I would then send back a letter including a postal order, and duly got a small parcel of books a week or so later containing more treasure – SF books and magazines with yet more of the heady mix of ‘hard SF’ and real science articles. Ken’s shop was actually the output end of a bigger ‘Operation Fantast’ run by SF enthusiasts. This worked in much the same way as American popular music had found its way to Britain, carried across in a suitcase by people working on the ships that regularly crossed the Atlantic. One of the crew on a ship would go ashore in the USA and buy a lot of SF books/magazines, bring them back to the UK, and sell them to Ken, who then sold them on to his customers. It may seem strange, but this stream of books made a far bigger contribution to my enthusiasm and understanding of science than all the textbooks in the schools! It also included books that illuminated how technology interacts with society and economy, and human behaviour. That things more generally did not always have to be as they were. That changes would occur, and both thought and action might be required to decide which changes we wanted to choose as improvements, and what to reject.

More fundamentally, it made me aware that science and engineering were a matter of how you approached thinking and considered evidence, not simply one of learning how to use some equations or remember some standard ideas. In particular, it showed that our understanding of how the universe behaves was continually altering and improving as the result of the discoveries we make. And that this often depended on improvements in engineering that enabled us to build equipment to try previously-impossible experiments or make novel measurements that revealed when an old idea had to be discarded and a new one adopted. A lesson which I never saw in any of my school textbooks on physics. One that made physics into a fascinating and exciting adventure of discovery and surprise. And one that gave me an interest in engineering as the best way to get things done.

This process was helped along a few years later when my other step-brother, Alan, gave us a TV set. This was mainly used for the family to watch TV in the evenings. But broadcast TV was very different back then. There were only two TV stations being broadcast - BBC and ITV. And they only broadcast a standard schedule of programmes from the early evening to late at night. However I discovered that they also transmitted “broadcasts for schools and colleges” during the daytime. So I began to look and found that, yes, this included programs on science and engineering! As a result I added watching these to my reading whilst I was home during weekdays. Quite a lot of the material I watched was aimed at much older students, nearing the end of secondary school or for students at colleges of further education, etc. Not really knowing that the material was “too advanced” for me, I watched it anyway. And was fascinated, particularly by the experimental demonstrations.

The result is that the combination of illness keeping me away from school, and the ability to read at home and watch those programs set me free to learn more about the topics I found most interesting. Yet when at school I did poorly in the exams because I had either missed the lessons they were based upon, or not been able to see the blackboard clearly during the early years.

Eventually I happened to be at primary school when someone came to test the eyesight of the children. The result sounds like a joke, but is genuinely true in my case. When it was my turn I was told to go into the school hall. There I was told to stand on a chair and read the first line on a chart attached to the wall. I stood on the chair and said, “What chart?” ...

Shortly after that I was given an eye-test and some glasses which revealed the world more clearly. It was too late for all the lost learning at school. But it did reveal that I could actually see the stars for myself! Until then I was used to seeing the Moon on a clear night, but had assumed that the stars weren’t visible from where I lived. However I discovered that ‘The Debry’ was actually a surprisingly good place to be able to see the stars.

At the time, London streetlighting wasn’t as bright as it became in later years. But in most places the combination of streetlights and stray light from houses and shops rendered the stars invisible. However I found that if I sat or laid outside the fence at the end of our garden I was shielded from being able to see any house or street lights. My eyes could dark-adapt and at least some stars became visible. From then on I often sat out there at night gazing up at the stars, and wondering about all the possibilities e.g. Man going into orbit, to the Moon, and perhaps to Mars. And wondering if there was life on other planets orbiting some of the stars I could see. This interest being fed by the science fact and science fiction I was now avidly reading as the ‘space race’ began.

The above shows some excerpts from my early diary. Alan is my step-brother. Hettie was my ‘Aunt’, although she had no formal relationship at all with my parents. She was one of the women who had remained unmarried as a result of the number of men who had died during World War 1. Instead they helped to care for the children of friends and became regarded as an ‘aunt’ just as if they were a blood relative. She used to visit at least twice a week and play with me or help look after me when I was a young child, simply for love, not money. Many other women of her generation did the same for many ordinary families. But are now, sadly, largely forgotten.

I was given the ‘Five Year Diary’ as a present at the end of 1964. In general I didn’t have much interest in writing a diary. But this did prompt me to try keeping one for a few months. Looking at it now gives some clues to a few events. One being my interest in the space race prompting me to note missions like the first crewed Gemini mission. (Actually Gemini 3, but noted as ‘I’ in the diary because it was the first one with a crew.) Also the Ranger and Voskhod probes. The comments in February about the ‘new school’ refer to my move from the old Victorian ‘Whitehall’ secondary school into the School’s modern (in the 1960s!) new building. The other painfully obvious fact demonstrated by the excepts was my utterly dreadful spelling, etc!

Back in the 1950s and 1960s I doubt that most people ever even encountered terms like ‘dyslexia’ or ‘autism’. Chances are that anyone who had the symptoms would’ve simply be regarded as ‘thick’, ‘backward’ or ‘difficult’. However, as a child, and ever since – despite having now written a great deal which has been published – I have real problems with spelling. And although I can read quickly, with good comprehension, I often fail to ‘see’ simple spelling or grammatic errors in what I’ve written. Even when I am searching for mistakes I’m sure will be lurking and obvious to other people!

Is this ‘Liz Dexia’? Was it caused by my having poor eyesight for the early years of my life and simply not being able to see the blackboards at school? I can’t tell. I did learn to read quickly and effectively when I had access to books on that contained material I found interesting. But that doesn’t seem to have fixed my struggle with spotting errors in what I have written. So I can now only wonder if this would have been helped if I’d had that first eye-test and glasses years earlier. Or if a teacher had wondered why I seemed not to do well, and investigated. Which makes me wonder how many other people miss out in similar ways.

Overall, I only have a few isolated recollections of my primary school. One teacher who had been on holiday gave all of the kids in her class some sweets she had bought from a vending machine in Italy. This was a double-amazement at the time, the first remarkable thing being someone who had actually been abroad! The other was that the sweets came in a series of joined wrappers like a streamer and she’d explained they were sold by length out of the machine. I think it was the same teacher who bought each of her pupils a small Christmas gift. Mine was a ‘Matchbox Toy’ of an AA rider on a motorcycle-sidecar combination. I can also recall a treat we had on occasion. This is when the class would be shown a film as an alternative to normal classwork. This would be a short black-and-white film, either a comedy or a cartoon.

I only have a very brief, snapshot-like, memory of taking my 11+ exam. I had no idea this would happen or what it was about. I’d been off school, ill, when most of my class had sat the exam. So I and a couple of other children who’d also missed it were taken to the Headmaster’s study and were given it there. The questions were puzzling because I’d never seen anything like them before and I wasn’t able to ask what kind of way we were expected to answer them. Whereas in later years it became common for parents and even teachers to get children to practise taking exams of this kind and improve their ability to get the ‘right’ – i.e. expected! – answers. I duly ‘failed’ the mysterious exam. This was no surprise to my teachers given my poor record at the school. And despite fanciful attempts to pretend the 11+ was somehow a magic way to select ‘types’ of children, it was, in reality, a ‘pass’/‘fail’ dividing line in many people’s lives.

Most of the children from my primary school who’d failed their 11+ went to Stratford Green secondary school which was just a short walk away. However I and my parents decided I should go to ‘Whitehall’ school instead. This was in Forest Gate, near the railway station. The reason for this decision was that my Mother’s parents lived in a council flat nearby, so I would be able to go there for my lunches and they could keep an eye on me. Hence it was more convenient than home because my Mum would be out during the day working as a dinner lady at some other school. What made it even more convenient was that Stratford station was so close to our house and I was given a free season ticket to be able to travel the short distance from Stratford to Forest Gate. I suspect by this time my parents also knew our home in Western St was to be demolished, and they had in mind that we should try to move to one of the Council flats in the same block as the one where my Mum’s Grandparents already lived. Hence going to Whitehall made sense if we were to move home to Forest Gate as well.

The above shows the location of the ‘old’ Whitehall school. The new school buildings were constructed just to the East of this. This replaced the houses and streets just to the left of the old school and the area looks very different nowadays.

When I started at Whitehall the school still occupied an old Victorian-era building with a playground on the roof. The roof was used by the older pupils while the younger ones had a small yard around the base of the school building. The roof playground had tall spike-topped railings around its edge to prevent children from falling off the roof. But this did not prevent some of them from occasionally lobbing something over the railing to see if it might cause, erm, ‘surprise’ when it arrived in the lower playground! Later on we all moved into the modern school building that had been constructed beside the old one. This was rather better as a place to work. If my diary entries are correct, the move took place in February 1965. By that time we were living in a Council flat nearby that was a short walk away.

As with my time at primary school, during my first few years at Whitehall I was often absent due to illness. The school ran a ‘streaming’ system that divided the pupils up into classes nominally sorted by ability. And I was placed into the ‘C’ stream – i.e. assumed not to be a total idiot, but with little prospect of learning much or showing any talents. In most subjects this was spot on, I must confess. I was useless at subjects like art. If I drew a cow it would look more like an apple. This was made worse by an art teacher whose teaching method was to throw a cricket ball at anyone who seemed not to be working! Control methods employed by the teachers varied a lot. There was one who would grab a child by the hair above the ear and use this to drag them painfully to their feet if he decided they weren’t working or behaving properly. I think he was dismissed at some point for the way he behaved. Alas, as exampled by the diary excerpts, miy speelink was stil awfl so Inglush wasn’t my best subject, either. Although I was avidly interested in science, in the low stream we weren’t actually taught much real science, and the maths was just basic arithmetic ‘sums’ during the early secondary school years, hence pretty boring.

I did very much enjoy the music classes, though! Not because I had any talent, or indeed the patience to learn to play an instrument. The early music lessons at Whitehall introduced me to ‘classical’ music, and I was drawn into it. Up until then the main music I’d enjoyed was the predictable ‘pop’ music of the era. My earliest enthusiasm being for The Shadows, followed by The Beatles and other groups as they appeared. But to this I now eagerly added a great deal of classical music. The music teacher, Miss Weinberg, would often put on an LP of something like a Mozart or Beethoven symphony and allow us to listen. Many of the children may have found this boring, but I would sit and listen, spellbound, to all the new sounds. Apart from this I plodded on in the ‘C’ stream, not really getting anywhere with other subjects.

I was always puzzled and irritated by history or geography because – as taught at the school – these were simply ‘lists of facts’ with no real attempt to make any structural sense of them beyond some stories. What I found odd can by typified by saying that I’d always thought it would have made more sense if the ‘Kings and Queens of England’ had been named in a more logical way. i.e. None of this daft varying their name from one king to the next. Instead, have all the Edwards in order first, then all the Henries, etc. Alphabetical and then numerical order. and give them, say, a decade each on the throne! That way it would be much easier to memorise their names and dates. Having these hop about made remembering them a real pest! But then, why learn all the names of the longest rivers when you could look them up in a book? It seemed to me just an exercise in pointless memorising what was already known with no real logic! Whereas science was about discovering new knowledge and putting it into a logical relationship so you could work things out, not have to memorise a muddle of details!

However then came one day that totally changed my life. Our maths class was given by a temporary teacher, presumably because our usual one was unwell. He gave us a test and I duly worked out the answers, completing the set of questions long before anyone else in the class. I then did what I usually did when this happened and looked out the window while I thought about something else. The temporary teacher noticed I was looking out the window and told me to “Get on with the test!” I explained that I’d finished. So he came and confirmed this was true. He noticed that I’d answered the questions correctly, and asked me if this was usual. I said it was. After the class he must have checked and found that – when present – I’d done well in maths tests.

I’m not sure what else he may have done, but the result was that shortly afterwards I was abruptly moved to the ‘A’ stream. In the first maths test I had there, I came second from being top of the class, and some of the other pupils there looked at me as if I’d dropped in as a surprise visitor from Mars! The teachers - particularly those for Maths and Physics – now saw me in a new light. Sadly, the teacher who had spotted that I was able to do well at maths left after a short time, and I never saw him again. Frustratingly, nor can I now recall his name or what he looked like. This is a shame as I’d love to be able to thank him for what he did because it had a major impact on my life from then onwards. I have a vague recollection that he was Canadian. But I may be imagining that.

Following this development the Physics teacher, Mr Green, and the headmaster, Mr Rose, decided that I was probably capable of passing an O-Level in Physics at the end of my 4th year – i.e. a year earlier than the norm for the school. At the time the main academic exams were the old A- and O-level GCEs. But a growing unrest about these had also brought in the newer CSE exams which were aimed at providing a wider set of pass grades to enable students who might fail an old O-level to gain a graded qualification. (These exams were changed / incorporated later into the GCSEs.) The assumption being at the time that GCE was for ‘academic’ students – in particular ones who might go though ‘sixth form’ and take A-Level GCEs as exams to qualify for University. Whereas the CSE results might help an employer choose between applicants for a job more generally. Hence in this context, my being able to get an O-level in Physics a year early was regarded as an unusual event for a ‘secondary modern’ school like Whitehall at that time.

To do this, however, I had to fit learning the O-Level material in with the rest of my 4th year classes, etc. In particular, Mr Green arranged that I could do a series of teaching laboratory experiments by myself, in the ‘prep room’ at the end of the Physics teaching laboratory. He would set and mark my written work, and say what experiments I should do in the prep room whilst he taught other classes. Looking back now I fear that the modern ‘elf and safety’ inspectors would go ballistic at some of the experiments I then did without any immediate supervision!

Some included making some simple ‘valve’ electronic circuits using a system designed to allow circuits to be assembled without any soldering. The system was essentially a wooden board with a set of places where vertical spiral springs could be attached. Metal wires could then be pushed between the turns of these springs to connect items together. Components like valves were mounted on their own small boards with springs. The arrangement means that circuits were very easy to construct. But it also meant lots of bare metal wires at voltages well above 50 Volts! Another experiment used a spark induction coil to generate a high voltage and power a variety of gas discharge tubes. Each tube was filled with a different gas at low pressure. It would light up, allowing the student (i.e. me!) to use a grating spectrometer to measure the spectrum and distinguish one gas from another. This required even higher voltages than the valve circuits! Fortunately I survived this process, learned a lot, and thoroughly enjoyed it. But I have my doubts that any teacher today would dare to allow someone of my age to do these things without their direct supervision. I’m glad I was able to, though.

Mr Green was actually a chemist, not a physicist, but had failed to get a degree because he’d become too distracted by involvement in politics, etc, when he was at University. So whilst he was helping me he was also studying and going to Birkbeck in the evenings to gain his own degree.

In parallel with this, my interest in music had continued to grow. Here I wasn’t alone and during my last year or two at Whitehall school we were given a choice between subjects like woodwork, metalwork, or music. I was one of those who chose music. As a result I could spend much of Wednesday afternoons at school learning about, and listening to, music. Miss Weinberg also would continue to play record requests for a time after the school day ended. This gave me a chance to hear more music. In addition she began organising occasional trips to concerts for a small group of interested pupils. These were mostly to the ‘South Bank’ halls like the Royal Festival Hall, etc. So I started being able to hear real live acoustic musical performances. These trips continued throughout the rest of my time at Whitehall, and for a some time afterwards and are one of my most enjoyable memories of my time at school.

In my last year or two there I was also appointed as one of the school librarians. This was great as it gave me a chance to help choose the books to be bought, and let me have my own pick of the ones I wanted to read. It was also decided to start a school magazine and I was asked to write an article for it. Unfortunately the result didn’t please the Headmaster because I wrote one that took a critical, agnostic, view of the possible existence of God. This really wasn’t the kind of thing he wanted appearing in a school magazine. But it did appear, having been toned down, erm, ‘by request’...

I did succeed in getting a Physics O-Level at the end of 4th year. And I then managed to get some more exam passes at the end of 5th year. This included a Maths O-Level, along with an assortment of CSE subjects, including Music, Chemistry, and Technical Drawing. But I failed to get an O-Level in English Language. This wasn’t a surprise, although it was a disappointment. However it had been decided that I should be given the chance to take A-Levels. The problem being that at the time Whitehall school had no 6th Form and couldn’t provide me with the required teaching. So it was arranged that I should go to the East Ham Grammar School for Boys to ‘do’ my A-Levels, and I transferred there after my 5th year at Whitehall.

I continued to keep in contact for the following few years with both Miss Weinberg and Mr Green. I went on more trips to the South Bank. And even when I later started as an Undergraduate at QMC and he had moved on elsewhere Mr Green would send me the occasional letter of encouragement and advice. Between them, those three teachers – the unknown one who noticed my maths test performance, Mr Eric Green, and Miss Weinberg changed my life. Each of them is an example of how a good teacher can really make a difference to the lives of others. So I shall always be thankful for their help.

Jim Lesurf

6400 Words

28th Aug 2020

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