The Teaching Autobiography, Contents: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Photo 1 Photo 2 Photo 3 Photo 4
When my father went to South Africa the pattern of our lives changed. Muriel took over the old schoolroom, so we no longer shared a bedroom. We were both sent to a school in Bramley which I did not like at all and the culminating misery of that period was our being sent to that school as boarders for six weeks while my mother went to Switzerland.
I was irked by never being alone there and by the boredom of the school walks, because even when we broke ranks beyond the village no one was allowed in front of the two leaders or to get behind the mistress in charge. I was constantly in trouble, getting conduct marks for not keeping unaccustomed rules. This hit hard as one bad conduct mark prevented our going out at the weekends. There was one Saturday when I knew we were to be invited to tea by Mrs. Arbuthnot who lived at the Manor House with her three sons and four daughters. These were grown up, between the ages of twenty and thirty but they were fond of children and we were very attached to them. The eldest played the violin and often formed a trio with my mother and another friend who was a cellist. These three were the centre of a musical group and during the winter held a musical afternoon once a month to which Muriel and I were always invited.
This particular week at school, I tried desperately hard to keep out of trouble but fell to the temptation during one of these walks to hop over a hedge to see if some primroses were out and was caught getting back. My partner who knew all that was involved, begged me off the dreaded mark. Then the very next day I fell a victim to a mistress whose duty it was to see that we did not talk in a certain passage. We usually got one warning but that day she called two of us back to ask if we had been talking. I was not sure if we both had, but unfortunately knew I had and received the dreaded black mark. This mark was usually given in assembly as 'disobedience' but in a vain bid for mercy I anxiously reported it "for talking in the silent passage". There was a ripple of laughter but no mercy. It seemed to me such a small thing to have such a terrible effect. Nevertheless on that Saturday afternoon, with an exceedingly bitter heart I stayed in to write detention lines in a bare schoolroom while Muriel and my friend, sad but powerless to help, went to my birthday party without me.
When I was fourteen my mother, taking Muriel with her, joined my father in Johannesburg and I was sent to a very different school. It was an unusual but very good one at Ewhurst, a remote village eight miles from the nearest railway station. It was run by a Mrs. Hannay, the widow of a former vicar of Ewhurst and her two daughters and in addition a resident young music mistress. There were two children of seven, one a grandchild. The rest of us, about a dozen, ranged from thirteen to sixteen and were mostly the children of parents who lived abroad. We played tennis and the older ones joined the Ewhurst Woman's Hockey Club. I learned to like hockey although games never much attracted me. I was not homesick there and settled down easily under management that resembled our own home discipline.
The school consisted of an ivycovered brick house, facing a country road, which was joined by coveredin passages to two cottages facing a lane at right angles to the country road. It was to me most attractive. Mrs Hannay was dignified, a little stern but kind. The fact that she was on friendly terms with most of the local landowners was lucky for us, for it gave us the privilege of rambling almost anywhere. There was only one restriction, two had to go together but this comparative freedom well contented me.
Ewhurst lies, I think, on one of the loveliest corners of the South counties. Sharply behind the school rose Pitch Hill (844 ft) with its heather and bilberry covered crown. It came to have such an attraction for me that I climbed it almost daily. From its top could be seen a wide view across the Weald to the distant line of the South Downs which rimmed the horizon. This view, like the sea, was never quite the same but was changed by the time of day, the weather and the seasons. In summer we sometimes walked along the top of this range to hear evening service at Holmbury St. Mary's and once we went for a picnic to Friday Street, also along this range, which I think ends in Leith Hill.
I have never forgotten the first sight of that village as we tumbled down a steep sandy path through heather and pines to come suddenly into this hollow with its handful of rose brick cottages among the fruit trees in their gardens, set against a background of oaks. In front was a green meadow sloping to a large sheet of water that filled the rest of the hollow. It glowed like a jewel in its sombre setting of pines and instantly I lost my heart to it and decided to live in one of the cottages when I grew old.
There are two other pictures belonging to Ewhurst, a meadow where daffodils grew wild all over it and into a coppice which bordered a stream, golden trumpets catching the sunlight wherever you looked. The other was down our own school lane where in a steep bank over a stream grew hundreds of snowdrops in massed clumps, their fragile blooms unbelievably beautiful among the dead leaves, frozen grass and slush of February.