372 Merryhills Primary School, part 3

I can remember quite a number of my class-mates, but most of them reappeared at Enfield Grammar School, so I’ll mention them when I come to that. One of the others will appear as we visit the Junior playing-field.

But first the Infants playing field. This was a metre or so above the level of the playground. I can remember a spectacular flower-bed on the slope. There were some flowers we called Red Hot Poker, which apparently is the correct name (unless you prefer Kniphofia Tritoma – Wikipedia has a splendid picture under this name); lupins; and what we called Granny-jump-out-of-bed which were actually bindweed and probably shouldn’t have been there.

The playing field itself was featureless apart from a strange half-buried mess of concrete and wire in the south-west corner, near the playground. This I now realise was some reinforced-concrete structure which had been demolished but not removed. What the Health and Safety people would say about that now doesn’t bear thinking about.

Enter Peter Woollett (apologies to him if the name is slightly wrong, also apologies for what I’m about to say). He was a surly, ill-tempered boy, and he bullied me in fairly minor ways for quite some time. He only did this at school, although he lived in Trentwood Side directly opposite the bottom of our road. I actually used to cross the road to avoid passing in front of his house.

Eventually my parents got tired of hearing my tales of woe concerning this young chap and urged me to stand up to him (as parents do). In the event we did in fact come to blows, on the Junior playing field. I managed to do enough to reduce him to tears, which pleasantly surprised me; whereupon the aforementioned Mr. Noble intervened and parted us. He (Woollett) never troubled me again. I was quite pleased with my efforts but also worried that I could be violent enough to have that effect. I think it’s the only time I have got into a fight.

Not long after that I worked out that the best way to deal with bullies was not to react at all; if I gave them no satisfaction they got bored and left me alone.

Peter Woollett didn’t appear at the Grammar School; he may have moved away, or perhaps he failed the 11-plus exam (see below).

It was of course a mixed school, which the Grammar School was not; the girls and boys didn’t mix very much, and although I knew the girls’ names at the time, I’ve mostly forgotten them since. I can remember one girl with blonde hair who was cleverer than any of the boys; I can remember my near-neighbour Joyce Clarke though we didn’t hobnob at school; and I remember Barbara Gross, who was, believe it or not, the only black pupil in the school. We didn’t particularly notice this or remark on it, no more than on the fact she was unusually tall; she was just there and that was that, and she was popular with the netball players.

Other than in Northern Ireland there aren’t many people around now who can remember the 11-plus exam; in its day it caused as much stress and anxiety as SATS tests do today. As I recall, it was not a test of knowledge but of intelligence, rather like the Mensa test. Almost all of us passed, and almost all of us went to the Grammar School (boys) or the County School (girls).

And now, at the risk of trying your patience, I shall have to move on to a fourth page.

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