Early Education Part 2

June 20, 2007 at 12:12 pm Leave a comment

Extra-Curricular Activities


Initially at least (!) my mom and dad had a great desire that my sister and I should do better for ourselves, better than themselves. School and homework came first and foremost in our childhood. Homework had to be completed before any of those childish luxuries such as TV, food, or playing could be enjoyed. Parents’ Night was an annual highlight in the family calendar. School reports were scrutinised. How horrified my poor parents would have been to have discovered the number of times that I copied my maths homework on arrival at school on Monday mornings. Sorry guys. But, I am very grateful that my mom and dad pushed me to be academic.The copying didn’t really matter in the long-run. It was mostly laziness. I was bright enough, and polite enough. I had the capacity to succeed academically. And, I was helped by a healthy dose of competitiveness towards my sister. My sister, J, is 18 actual months and only one academic year older than myself. She was the first of our family to go to university. She went to Grammar School before that. And, yes, I competed with her for academic honours. Boy, did I compete!

battleBooks (not surprisingly), board games and quiz shows (perhaps more surprisingly) played a big part in my education. There were always books to read – history books (ancient picture books in their own right, handed down through the generations), story books, albums as stocking fillers (Beano and Dandy eventually gave way to Battle and the Fantastic Four), comics (I had a favourite uncle who had travelled the world as a Royal Marine Commando, via the Korean War, who gifted me his collection of American Marvel Comics – Daredevil, The Mighty Thor, Iron Man, The Fantastic Four, Hercules, Spiderman – they were all there), and, of course, my sister and I had our own library cards if we ever ran out of things to read. We never did. Admittedly, J’s choice of reading matter was always a little more high brow or grown up than mine. She was reading James Harriet (and always laughing out loud, which I found very, very irritating) while I would be helping Spiderman in his battles with the Green Goblin.

Incidentally, my classic collection of comics – which included a first edition of the original Batman series and must have numbered several hundred in total – failed to survive one of my mom’s tidying sprees in my early teens. They were thrown away. I imagine that they would have been worth a small fortune to a collector today. Thanks mom! Pay heed all teenage boys – tidy your own room!

Comics always did seem to get me into trouble. At the age of 11 I was caught shoplifting comics from our local paper shop by the owner. It was one of the most humiliating and devastating experiences of my early years. My mom cried. My dad cried. My grandma looked at me disapprovingly. This was further evidence, if my parents needed any, of how carefully balanced I was on that tightrope walk between a career in Middle Management and a life of crime. Nowadays, my comic is FHM (For Him Magazine). Ah, Kylie……………

Sunday Quiz shows. Sunday lunchtime meant roast meat, roast potatoes and parsnips, two veg, gravy, mint sauce for lamb, horseradish or mustard for beef, apple sauce for pork, stuffing or cranberry for poultry, all washed down with a glass of lager and lime, often home-brewed by my dad in a big yellow plastic bucket, or, in latter years, a bottle of Blue Nun or Black Tower. Sophisticated, eh? Anyhow Sunday lunchtime was interrupted by the 1.30 showing of ‘University Challenge’. The original and best ‘University Challenge’ that is, with Bamber “bouffant” Gascoigne. Sunday teatimes turned into ‘Sale of the Century’ with Nicholas Parsons. My sister and I often did better than the contestants. How different our lives could have been if kids like us had been able to take part in the actual quiz . We would now be surrounded by caravans, fondue sets, fridge freezers, drinks cabinets, juicers, stereos, and, brand new cars……………

Later, in the evening, came ‘Mastermind’. The original and best with Magnus Magnusson. Boy, were his parents imaginative when it came to choosing names or what! I enjoyed the general knowledge sections much more than the specialist topics in things such as “Outer Mongolian Floral Exhibitions of the Late Eighteenth Century.”

‘Ask The Family’, ‘Blockbusters’, ‘Blankety Blank’ (I know, I know). The 1970s and 80s were a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of quiz-show opportunity to test a developing mind such as mine. And, when they brought out ‘Trivial Pursuit’ I thought I had found absolute heaven. It has got to the point that family and friends refuse to play ‘Triv’ with me now unless it is a new edition and they are able to witness its removal from the cellophane. This is because I would spend many a happy hour in my youth, card by card, question by question, learning and memorising the answers. I am still pretty damn useful in a Pub Quiz!

Intelligence is often born of imagination. Well, I think so at least. Or, I imagine so. We had lots of opportunity to exercise our imagination as children. Unlike today, batteries were rarely a requirement on Christmas mornings in our house. We got toys that you played with and which required imagination. And, they were proper toys too, unlike today’s namby-pamby, left-wing-politically correct, toys. Girls got dolls, dressing-up things and making-up things. Boys got guns and plastic soldiers by the bucket-full, cars, and Action Man. Admittedly, Action Man often got called upon for a date or game of “Happy Families” with my sister’s Barbie or Cindy until such time as Ken arrived on the scene. But, he didn’t seem to mind quite so much as I did at the time.barbie

And then there was the computer printer paper – the old green, striped stuff with perforations at the edges. Dad used to bring tonnes of it back with him from work as a treat. Whole evenings would be spent drawing on the stuff. Matchstick soldiers would be lined up against each other (Brits and Yanks versus Germans and Japs – very xenophobic), alongside planes, cannons and tanks. Guns would have dotted lines protruding from barrels to indicate being fired and to identify a hit on their target. A veritable Lowry’s Apocalypse. My side always won.

“Connect 4”, “Mastermind”, “Battleships”, “Scrabble”, draughts, chess. Ours was a home full of toys of a sensible and educational nature. They helped to stretch a developing mind and to nurture an intelligence in its infancy. They were helped, no doubt, by oily fish in regular doses and sheep’s brains – one of the less pleasant side effects of the arrival of our first chest freezer in the 1980s and the “economic good sense” of buying a whole lamb from the butcher! As a child you just have to trust your mom about such things. Either that or grandma’s threat of serving leftovers up cold for breakfast. I was never very sympathetic towards the one about feeding the starving children of Africa for a week on my scraps from just one meal though. I would have sent my scraps to them, gladly.

And sleep. Lot’s of sleep. We were children with a regimented bed-time triggered by the end of various TV programmes – a particularly sly ploy from our parents to avoid the usual pleas of “just another 5 minutes!”. We were allowed an extra 30 minutes or an hour at weekends and during school holidays but, otherwise, it was off to bed early and “don’t you come down stairs again or there’ll be trouble!” Sleep, apparently, is an essential ingredient to nurturing intelligence. Of course there were times when I would sneak to the top of the stairs and catch glimpses of illegal TV shows through an ajar door and the bars of the stair banisters. Yes, there were summer evenings spent with my head peeking through bedroom curtains watching the world go by. But, generally, as a young child at least (when it is most important I am told), I got plenty of sleep.

Many a summer day was spent re-enacting the “Battle of Britain”. This game involved chasing my cousins around the streets of Erdington (home) or Pype Hayes Park on our bikes, or, doing a whirling figure of eight in front of the paper shop and the greengrocers. Or, many a pistol made out of two fingers was used in a game of “war” fought in a series of back gardens. As boys we were fairly proficient at mimicking the different sounds of rifles, pistols, exploding grenades and machine-gun fire: “Ra ta tat ta”, or “Brrrbrrb”, or “Ch ch ch ch”. We were the kings of onomatopoeia. My cousins lived just up the road from us and their back garden was separated from grandma and granddad’s garden by the garden of a friendly neighbour who either didn’t care or couldn’t stop us from climbing over her fence as we invaded one or the other of the families’ gardens. It was a very safe outdoor environment in which to play. That is not to say that paedophiles and child-snatchers did not exist on the streets of Birmingham back in the 1970s and 80s. We just never knew about them. There was not the same media hype or attention as today. Of course there was poor old Mad Ernie. Rumour was that Mad Ernie had suffered shell shock (whatever that was!) back in the war. Small children would chase poor Ernie down the street shouting: “The Germans are coming! The Germans are coming!”. Ernie would turn on the kids and throw stones at them. Hence the nickname. Sorry Ernie.

csarletEven time on the toilet was spent stretching the imagination. No not as you may think (not until later at least) but as commander of a starship sat on his bridge single-handedly protecting the Federation of Planets and Mother Earth from hoards of Imperial Stormtroopers. “Star Trek”, “Star Wars”, “Battlestar Galactica”, “Buck Rogers”, “Space 2010”, “UFO”, “Captain Scarlet” – this was a sci-fi age and my imagination was filled with it. And, it gave me something to do while sat on the loo……carrie


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Early Education Part 1 Early Education Part 3

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