I grew up at Leagrave. It is a suburb of the now enormous City of Luton. When I first arrived in Leagrave, aged about three or four, our road was made of pebbles and there were only about six houses down the street and then a very large house on the corner. The rest was fields.
Later police houses were built on the other side of the road. As children we were very disappointed to have police houses opposite ours, that meant we would have to behave ourselves!
I learned to swim in the river Lea. There was a small bend in the river where there were no weeds and the water was slightly deeper as well. Many children played in that part during the school holiday and at weekends. One day I was in the water on my own and I just began to float where the water was the deepest. It was amazing. I knew you could do what they called doggy paddle and so this is what I did. The deep part was only a matter of a few feet wide but nevertheless I swam. I went running home to my mother that day with great excitement.
Further up from the river Lea was a small library. I must have read just about every book on dogs that they had in that library. How to train dogs. Dogs that had mated with wolves. Wolves that had lived with families and any other kind of story that had a dog in it. I would often go to the library and find I had read all the books on the shelves and could not wait until they had a new batch in from another library.
One day I noticed a book called The Black Whippet. It was one of the most gripping stories I had ever read and I found it hard to put the book down.
At school we had what they called a private study lesson each week. We were allowed to read or do our homework or study for our GCSEs. This particular day I took my book along to read.
Have you ever been so engrossed in something that you were totally oblivious to anything that was going on around you? This was me, this day, in this private study lesson. The only thing was, the teacher, who normally either left the classroom or sat at the front of the class marking pupils' work, had decided we had all been naughty and so was giving a lecture.
I was so enthralled by my book that I had no idea what was happening.
The Black Whippet is about a little boy and his pet Whippet. The dog was a rag dog or racing dog. Everyone meets up in a field. People hang onto their dogs at one end of the field and the owner or someone known to the dog holds up a piece of rag at the other end of the field. At the whistle or word go, the person holding the dog, probably by the scruff of its neck and its tail, throws the dog along the track to give it a flying start and the dog runs full pelt to the rag and grabs it. Often the dog will be lifted up into the air or swung round, still holding onto the piece of rag.
The Black Whippet became a champion. The only thing was thieves were after him. The dog was completely black, with no other markings and so could easily be mistaken for or replaced by a similar dog. The young lad had a few scrapes with the thieves. Then, one day, the boy was in a part of the little northern village where he lived that had a number of alleyways. The thieves were at one end of one alley, the dog at the other end of another and the boy at yet another alley. The young lad pulled out his white handkerchief, waved it and his little Whippet ran full pelt into his arms, and only missed being caught by the thieves by the skin of his nose.
During this private study lesson at school, I had just reached the above part of the story. Then the teacher suddenly banged both his fists on the desk in front of me. My book went up in the air. I nearly fell off the stool and can assure you was in deep shock and could not comprehend a word of his rantings that must have gone on for another ten minutes.
This particular teacher had a large car, large house and large swimming pool in his garden. He would invite boys from the school to ride in his large car and swim in his large swimming pool. I doubt very much if this kind of thing would happen these days.
The head master at this school would tell a boy, in advance, when he would be caned for misbehaving. At the set time the whole school would be summoned to the hall and the boy or boys would stand on the stage and then be caned. On one particular occasion a boy took his hand away and the head master went berserk. On another occasion a lad was told to bend over and the head master must have noticed he had more than one pair of pants on or had padding. This sent the head master into a caning frenzy.
My Uncle was a teacher and for his first teaching appointment he was sent to a village school. On his first day he got there early and sat at his desk. He noticed a drawer underneath but it was fixed shut with a few six inch nails. The lessons did not begin until later that morning and so my uncle decided to get the nails out and open the drawer. Inside he found the punishment book. He said there were pages and pages of canings and lashings. One entry said something like twelve lashes for taking an axe to a desk. Another entry was twelve lashes for taking a knife to the head master.
©Barbara Burgess 2014
Image courtesy of James Barker / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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©Barbara Burgess 2014