A Knight’s Tale (22: But A Little Boy)

Some time after arriving back home, I was to experience my first day at school. There was, of course, no such thing as pre-school in those days.

This was probably my greatest horror.  My grandfather had taken me to school, and, cock-a-hoop, I strode in, waving him goodbye.  I had a new set of clothes and was embarking upon a new adventure.  Then I turned the corner into the playground…………….  It was full of screaming children, including girls, and most of them were much bigger than me…….. I got home to Raynes Park before Grandpa.  There are no words to describe the absolute terror represented by these dotted lines.  I was off like a shot.  I suppose I must have ridden on the bus, but I really don’t remember.  The next image I have is of bashing on the front door until Mum came down to me.

Naturally Mum calmed me down and returned me to the torture chamber.  She may have fed me, may have accompanied me on the bus.  It’s all a blank, not even a blur.

I was presented to Miss Mulvaney.  Miss Mulvaney smiled, took my hand, and led me into her classroom.  ‘We are having plasticine this afternoon, and here is Maureen Potter to look after you’, she said.  I was flabbergasted.  There, beaming in her half of our joint desk, sat the most angelic creature I had ever seen.  She had a lovely round face, the image of which I cannot conjure up, but the impression of which has remained deep in my heart.  As this motherly child took my hand my stomach leapt.  Not for the first time that day, but this time it was a wholly different sensation.  I was in love for the very first time.  Miss Mulvaney knew what she was about.

We enjoyed the plasticine too.  Why is it, incidentally, that however bright the original colours are, this material always turns brown?

This photograph portrays the school with extensions, as it was in 2012. Note the traffic calming additions on the road. Nick-named ‘sleeping policemen’ they were unheard of in the 1940s.

There is a modern main entrance, above which lies a bas-relief in memory of Father Rankin S.J. who was, in my day, an influential Jesuit and possibly Auntie Gwen’s favourite priest.

The schoolroom in The Priest’s House Museum in Wimbourne which we visited on November 23rd 2013 reinforced my memory of that first day of my formal education.

As we will see in good time, the cane hanging over the blackboard was an authentic touch.  The previous day’s date, in fine copper plate handwriting, was inscribed on the blackboard.  The plastic pencil container on the teacher’s desk was perhaps an aberration.  What fascinated me was the pairs of desks, which enthralled two small children who, having visited earlier in the week, had brought their parents back for a second visit.  Their eyes opened wide when I told them I had sat beside a lovely little girl in one of those very same desks when I had been but a little boy.


  1. Oh, you poor kid! I certainly hope your little guardian angel kept you from being caned. I remember when my mother took me to preschool for the first day. I proceded to vomit all of the table in front of me. That was the end of preschool for me. Mummy concluded I wasn’t ready.

  2. Funnily enough – perhaps it was the ‘done’ thing in those days – I was also introduced to plasticine on my first day of school. It was a calming moment in a day during which I had no clue what was happening around me as everyone spoke Afrikaans! After that I would view with a degree of excitement when the metal sheets and large balls of (now) grey plasticine were placed on the veranda outside the classroom to soften in the sun.

  3. What a vivid memory of the first day school and all! I remember the only two on my first day of school; my mom holding me wearing the dress she made and so many kids in the classroom that overwhelmed me.

  4. That is a beautiful story, Derrick! Miss Mulvaney was right on the mark what you needed! I did not have pre-schooling either, but was thrust into 1st Grade. My mother had walked me there, and stayed for a short while. The classroom full of strange children were singing their ABCs, and I had no idea what was going on. I looked back at Mom in terror. What had she done to me? No sweet little boy or girl to share a desk or enjoy plasticine with. Eventually I adjusted.

  5. Our first day at school can be quite terrifying. Lucky you to have had Maureen Potter to make you feel at home 🙂 Oh, the “wild cane” as we called it! I had no idea that it was a British colonial import.

    1. Thanks a lot, Andrew. One of WP’s latest blips is that I couldn’t comment on your original post. This is what I tried: “An excellent, memorable post, Andrew.”

  6. You’ve given us such a vivid picture of your first day at school, Derrick. Thank goodness for your teacher and Maureen Potter!
    I can’t remember my first day of school. My little sister and I both went to nursery school and kindergarten–private ones, as was our first grade, since we were too young for the public school. There was another pre-school that we attended for a brief time. My sister was very unhappy, and so my mom visited. She said it was absolutely silent, and she realized how wrong that was for a school with young children, and she immediately took us out of there. No canes though in any of my schools. ?

  7. Derrick, did you really go directly back home as soon as you arrived at school? That is so funny in retrospect. I can’t imagine the terror to make you do it though. So glad you survived the torture chamber with your angel of mercy. I had to look up plasticine – never heard it called that. My first day was either terrifying or boring, because I can’t remember it at all.

  8. Miss Mulvaney was a wise teacher. I’m glad she found just the right spot for you. I don’t remember plasticine, but I did enjoy clay days.

  9. OH, my! Poor little you! 🙁 I’m so glad Miss Mulvaney and Maureen helped you! 😉 🙂
    The photos are wonderful and hold memories for you!
    Our school system did not have kindergarten (parents had to pay to send kids to pre-school and kindergarten, and mine couldn’t afford that) So at age 5 I went right into what we call 1st grade.
    Too long a story to tell here…but sadly, my first grade teacher was abusive…verbally, emotionally, etc. 🙁
    That first year of school was so traumatizing I grew up and became a Kindergarten teacher. I wanted to give every student in my classroom a loving safe fun happy first successful year of school! 🙂
    (((HUGS))) 🙂
    PS…I don’t know about Plasticine. I imagine it is like Play-doh or clay. Always fun stuff! 🙂

  10. That is quite a story, both funny and heartbreaking. It certainly illustrates how children can feel terror as keenly as any adult. Yay for Miss Mulvaney and Maureen Potter!

  11. I ran away from school too, not on the first day, but at some point during the first term. The teacher set the class to chase me like a pack of hounds, but I was a lot quicker in my younger days !!!

  12. Oh this brought back memories for me too. We had those same wooden desks over here in Australia. They must not have thought to change the design! Running away from school is quite impressive! But of course, the return was swift but the outcome was much better, from the sounds of it.
    I am with you on the plasticine, it is a mystery, as it all turns grey here not brown!

  13. That is a very beautiful memory indeed. I wonder where that angelic friend of yours might be. Needless to say, it sparked memories of my own.

  14. I ran away from home and found my way to school several times since around the age of three. I wanted to be at school with my brother. So, my first day was the fulfilment of my dreams. Two years later we moved house and that ruined everything.

    I am eager to have a catch up on this series having fallen behind. I can’t find a list of your blog posts so please could you let me have the link to number six please and then I can figure out from there exactly where I should be. Thank you, Derrick

  15. I’d never heard of Plasticine, and wondered if it’s similar to our Play-Doh. Indeed it is. Plasticine is oil based, while Play-Doh is water based. That means the Plasticine remains malleable, while the Play-Doh tends to harden. They’re otherwise mostly the same.

    I ran away from home once, but I never ran away from school. I loved it from the beginning. When I began kindergarten all of the mothers came with us and spent a few minutes before leaving. Then, I remember finger painting, a reading circle, and cookies! What’s not to like?

  16. Mix any colours together for long enough – and yes they turn brown – want it to be black – mix a lot more… For some reason, my skills when I was a wool/silk dyer – I could mix my colours and never once created brown or black this way – overmixing or more colours than I should. Apparently, it was a skill, and people at times came to my home to see what they could learn…

    Maybe you need to buy some Plasticine and see for yourself what the colour mixing can do…

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