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
At Brighton And Leaving England
This was a period when I had to stop dreaming and grow up. It was a bad time for us financially. Johannesburg was hit by a slump just after my father, who was a barrister, had decided to start a practice of his own and matters for the next two years became very straitened indeed. My mother's eldest sister was very well off and helped us during these years. After my grandmother died we had always spent Christmas with her, first in a large house on the hill and later in her beautiful home near the Heath in Hampstead. We had such happy times there and I am glad that now, when I was sixteen, this time of obligation and forced gratitude did not spoil the affection I had for her and my cousins, nor has it shadowed the happy memories of the schoolroom high up in the sky where Ruth, my youngest cousin and I played so busily with her toys.
The first thing mother did in the slump, was to return to England with Muriel, my sister. Muriel who had never before left my mother, pluckily took a post as governess to some children of friends. She said she could remember being naughty herself and that it made her understand children; certainly she managed them easily and they were fond of her. My mother then took rooms in Brighton so that Mary could stay at her special school without the extra expense of her boarding fees. I had to leave Ewhurst and join them in Brighton and go to the high School there. I minded leaving Ewhurst but understood it was necessary. Yet because the shadow of the Bramley school still stayed in my mind, I dreaded the High School. That at least was wasted fear. I was lucky in joining the school there when there was an outstanding head mistress as well as a gifted history mistress. Both had Oxford degrees. It was due to the latter that History rather than English became my particular study. Miss Hiley had a sense of humour and made her subject live.
For the first time in my life people began to interest me and I made there two friendships that, except for my divided life, would, I think, have been lasting. Curiously enough the two girls, Christine and Margaret, were not themselves intimate. I started in the same form as Margaret and we were drawn together but after a few weeks, owing to a mathematical test paper, I was sent down a form. At Ewhurst we had pursued the subjects we liked best and now I paid for my neglect of mathematics but I was perhaps specially well grounded in English and History and at the end of that first term got a double remove into the same form as Christine and got to know and like her without losing my friendship with Margaret. Christine's mother was the widow of a judge and her eldest brother was in the Navy. I never saw him but I liked her youngest brother, although all that I remember now about him is a vision of him dancing round a November bonfire singing 'mon cher mons', his atrocious pun on Germans. Christine was brilliant at school, both at lessons and at music. I can see her now, rather small and slight, with her pointed face, dark hair and large green eyes, sitting at a grand piano which quite dwarfed her, perfectly quiet and composed, playing a concerto, accompanied by an orchestra.
She lived near the edge of the Downs and on Saturdays we often went for walks together, returning tired but happy to her cosy home and the gorgeous tea her mother would have ready for us, with ham and eggs and watercress added to satisfy our enormous appetites. I wonder if they ever guessed how much their quiet family life meant to me.
Margaret was the fourth of a family of ten. She was original rather than clever and was the moving spirit of a magazine we ran, called 'The Waste Paper Basket'. I envied her ability to illustrate her own stories. I remember how I laughed at, yet admired her sketches of bank holiday types. I still hated crowds but she would walk through the middle of them, watching and enjoying them. I believe she had a touch of genius but if so, it was quenched, for she died a few years later from an accident climbing a mountain somewhere in East Europe where she was doing some kind of work. Her father, a doctor, was an agnostic and rather scared me. Her mother, although sharing his views, was most loveable and I think they were one of the nicest and happiest families I have ever known. I became almost one of the family and when my mother returned to Johannesburg, went to live with them while I worked for an entrance scholarship to Oxford.
If the Bramley days before my father left, were the happiest, these were the most interesting. I was absorbing new ideas all the time, reading everything I could lay hands on, gaining a lot from Miss Hiley, who, besides lending me books and letting me exercise her dog, instilled into me a desire for university life.
The hard times we were going through had drawn the family closer together. My mother said she leant on me in those days, although except for an optimistic outlook there was little I could do. Then unfortunately the church was the source of a breach between us. I had liked going to the very high church of St. Michael's with her. It had a magnificent organ and a fine organist. I enjoyed choral celebration and the services in which the congregation did not press upon me, or sing violently in my ear. Then I felt I was going for the pleasure of music, without accepting the church's creed and this did not seem honest to me, so I gave up going. It became a source of bitterness between us. Mother had no understanding of my feelings, and thought I was infected with a false intellectual superiority and I was unwilling or unable to explain.
The months before I left England were not happy. I did not win a scholarship but was told I was first in the list after the two successful candidates, who were both from other universities. It was their last chance of going to Oxford. On the other hand I was still at school. This, I learned, had carried weight, but I knew the surmise was wrong and that it was my last chance too. Later I was sent a letter from the warden to say that my work had shown sufficient promise to gain me a vacancy at Somerville the next year if I could take it. There were no normal vacancies that year. Then my school offered me a small scholarship and my aunt agreed to look after my vacations and hope raised its head again. There followed a time of painful suspense before I received my parent's decision. Expenses, I found, was not the major obstacle but they felt if they were to make the effort to send me to Oxford, it would not be worth while unless I took up some career afterwards and they were not prepared to give me up to that extent. It seemed to me a futile but unanswerable argument. My father, to soften the blow, suggested that when I had joined them in Johannesburg, I might work in his office. He thought I should find it interesting. It is curious how small a thing put out the last light. Hitherto I had come top of every history exam but when the results of the last exam came out, I was second by two marks. I still remember the lump in my throat as I smiled and congratulated the winner and the effort made to discuss the paper with her before I could get away. She was a nice child, the daughter of a Dean and assured of going up to Oxford if her work was up to standards. My misery was not due to jealousy, I think, because I have always realised that no new affection alters an old relationship. To lessen or strengthen affection must lie between the two concerned and I knew Miss Hiley had done all that she could for me. But I was conscious of failure and that last small incident seemed so unnecessary. It was not a good finale to school life, so I turned to South Africa, losing all that I cared for most, friends, work and the English countryside, or so it seemed to me then.