Early Education Part 1
On the whole I enjoyed my schooling. And, when I didn’t enjoy it I was at least sufficiently scared enough of a particular teacher, prefect or other dealer of retribution not to rebel against the System. And so I was pretty good at “knuckling down” and “applying myself”. Also, the status and accolades that accompanied my academic success helped to keep me motivated. Being good at something is very rewarding. My first memory of “school” was a brief one. I guess I must have been aged just 3 or 4 when I went to Raddlebarn Road Playgroup in Selly Oak – which would probably be called a “Day Nursery” today. It was just up the road from the off-licence managed by my mom and above which we lived. And what a small world. We recently re-visited the “Threshers” on Raddlebarn Road – it was a “Victoria Wine” in our day – as my youngest sister-in-law lived in the same street while in her final year at Birmingham University.
I only remember visiting the playgroup one time. I came home distraught because I had not been allowed to wear the batman cape. I have always been a wannabe super hero. The trauma of it all. I hope it didn’t have a lasting effect. Perhaps I should consider suing? In any case, I don’t think that I ever went back. But, this may have had more to do with the fact that we moved to Erdington on the other side of Birmingham at about the same time. Erdington was not as posh as Selly Oak but was much, much closer to dad’s work at Fort Dunlop.
Come to think of it my memories of the off-licence could be indicative of the “late starter” of my families new academic mythology. Recently, my family have begun to describe me as a “late starter” at school. This was not my recollection. My recollection is that I won maths and English prizes while at junior school; I passed my 11 plus and so attended a local grammar school where I was top of class every term throughout my 7 years there; I took two “O” levels a year early, and passed; got straight “A’s” in my “A” levels and won a scholarship to Oxford University. Late starter my eye!
Admittedly, the “potty training incident”, which pre-dated even the off-licence years, was not the most promising of starts. I had a slight mishap which required cleaning up. My mom’s back was turned for just two seconds and she found me, still sat on potty, glugging back a bottle of Domestos bleach. Kills all germs dead, or so the advertisement used to claim. But not this kid! There followed a trip to the local hospital and the pumping of a tiny stomach but all was well in the end. But, I feel this is less indicative of a “slow starter” than it is of my early inquisitiveness and willing to experiment (and a later ability to drink hard liquor!).
That said, I certainly was not demonstrating much intelligence in those first tender years in the off-licence. There is an old family cine film, subsequently converted into video, which shows how I used to peel off the wallpaper in my bedroom from the wall alongside my bed. Presumably the wallpaper paste contained some valuable nutrient that I was otherwise lacking (so, intelligent after all). It probably saved my life by fending of the growth of the “auburn” gene that my mom passed to my sister, who has passed it on to both nephews. If not for the late night snacking on wallpaper I might have been a “Ginga”. What a lucky break!
There are other old stories from the off-license of me being “a little devil” for constantly stuffing full rolls of toilet paper down the toilet. There are faint memories of falling down the stairs while wearing a pair of mom’s high heels. I cidents of cross-dressing are thankfully few and far between in my personal history – although I did once skipper a rowing eight at Oxford called the Transvesteight. But, it was for charity!
More scarily, there are recollections of far more dangerous pastimes than this. My dad once caught me feeding bits of the frayed landing carpet into the electric bar-heater at the top of the first flight of stairs (In later years, when alone, I would often amuse myself by picking my toenails and flicking them into the gas fire in the lounge to watch them catch fire and burn away to nothing. I am a fire starter. Twisted fire starter!). Also, I remember quite clearly being thrown across the living room once, while mom was asleep on the sofa. I had been fiddling with the electric plug socket, edging it out little by little until it would spark and fizz (if you are interested, you can get a very similar if somewhat less dangerous effect with a pull-cord light switch). I must have got one hell of an electric shock. In retrospect, it seems that I was lucky just to survive past the age of 3!
Well, let’s assume my early years at the off-licence in Selly Oak were a mere aberration. I can remember only a handful of similar stupid episodes in later years, such as setting off caps (little exploding caps for toy guns) with a glass jam jar. I still bear the scars on my hand today!