Tiber Street school was special to us kids in that it not only provided us with an education,but it was also open as a play centre in the autumn and winter evenings.It was a pleasure to go there of a night time,there was none of the rigid discipline of the classroom,we played organised indoor games, had drawing lessons,or just simply sat and listened to stories being read by teachers.
Miss Bell ,the headmistress,was given to enthusiasms,she loved organising concerts or displays.Every May Day a Maypole was erected at the top of the playground and selected boys and girls were chosen to enact the Maypole dance.This was a rather intricate affair,ribbons of red ,white and blue, were hung from the top and the boys and girls each held one of the colours.
They were taught to dance around the pole in opposing directions,skipping and weaving as they went.this was done to the sound of music played on an old wind up gramaphone.When the dance was ended the pole was covered from top to bottom with a red, white and blue pattern.
It took days and days of practice,I was removed from the team because I kept going the wrong way.
For Christmas '49 Miss Bell decided to put on a concert,in fact a N****r Minstrel Show.Hard to believe now,given the way Lodge Lane is today,but way back then, we didn't even know the word racist.
A group of boys were chosen to be the minstrel choir and dance chorus,and I was picked to in it.Al Johnson was a very popular entertainer at that time and we all ,the minstrels that is,thought we were going to be like him.
We were given several songs to learn,which we did at home,and had to rehearse some simple dance and comedy routines at school.
I spent hours practising Swanee River, Poor Black Joe,By the Light of the Silvery Moon and several others.Whenever relatives came around I was hauled out and told to go into my routine.
Come the day of the show the minstrels had to take their pyjama trousers,a white shirt and their Dads hat(I was lucky mine had one ,a green trilby)
the teachers had made us colourful bow ties,and blacked our faces too.
We lads were thrilled with our reception,and, when the show was over,went home still blacked up.All we got was nice smiles from passers by and pats on the head from old people.I shudder to think what would happen if a child walked home like that now.
We had an Indian boy join our school that year,the only Indian boy I had seen before was Sabhu, the young star of Soldiers Three,Jungle Book and The Drum.So this boy was invested with an aura of glamour before we got to know him.The Head Mistress had him on the platform and introduced him as a boy from the Indian Empire, and she let him tell us about the village he was from.He was a great story teller,I can't remember much about his village,but I remember the tale he told about the day a lion attacked his father.
We were spellbound as he told of finding his father clamped in a lions mouth,it was was dragging him by the shoulder, away from the farm.The boy picked up his fathers knife and slashed the lions nose,causing it to drop his father and flee.He was all of 9 years of age.
Another pupil from a far away land joined our class that year,a beautiful freckle faced girl with auburn hair.She was from California and I developed a massive crush on her,the sound of her voice,her lovely white teeth,and that sunny complexion, she was so different from any girl I had ever known.
She was to remain unaware of my affection because I would get tongue tied whenever she was near.
When 1950 dawned, Miss Bell informed us in assembly one morning, that 1951 was going to be an Historic year.The government had decided that there was to be a Great Exhibition, like the one held a 100 years ago in London.
Tiber Sreet Primary School was going to play its full part in the proceedings.
This was going to be different from the May Day ceremonies, grander than the school concerts. This was going to be an occasion that people would remember for the rest of their lives!!
When Miss Bell pronounced her ishes ,the school obeyed!!
Ideas were called for,discussions took place throughout the school,what kind of display would Tiber Street hold?
At length ,it was decided to build a battleship in the playground,it was going to be called HMS Britannia.We kids were imagining that the yard was going to look like Cammell Lairds.
She had to have a screw loose,build a Battleship in the playground.
And then slowly the plan was given form,we children would be the battleship!
The outline of a ships hull was drawn in chalk in the middle of the playground.It was huge,at least to us kids it seemed huge.Whole classes of children were needed to stand along the outline of the hull,forming two curved lines from stem to stern.We were to be the ships bow, sides and stern.The superstructure was going to be built out of boxes or tea chests and would be painted grey.Canvas sheets were to be made and would be painted to look like the hull of a warship.we kids were to hold this in place.It sounded fantastic and nearly every day we were lined up in battleship order and made to practise moving in line like a ship under way.It was very hard trying to maintain the shape as we moved,but this was early '50 and we had nearly a year to practise.Most dry mornings would find us in the playground,all holding hands to keep the line intact,trying to sail gracefully across the yard.One of the older girls was chosen to play the part of Britannia,she would be sat atop the superstructure,with a shield and trident, just like the one on the penny.She took no part in the rehearsals yet, for the boxes had not yet been produced to make the upperdecks.
We may have been unable to add up or do long division ,but by the arrival of the summer holidays in 1950 we kids could match the grenadier guards for marching.
This summer promised to be our best ever for Mum and Dad were going to take us all on holiday to Llandudno.We were excited as could be for this was going to be our first holiday as a complete family......................................