See also School: Class 4
September 1957 to July 1958
I really started to enjoy school when I was in Class 4. This was due to the good offices of Mrs. Jackson, who taught us many, many interesting things. There were, of course, the three R’s, reading, writing and ’rithmetic, but much more besides.
I remember right from when I was in Class 7, that Steven related events from Class 4, including the story of Keenog Stan. It involved a traveller in a foreign country, who kept asking people, “Who built this?” or, “Who painted that?” or, “Who made the other?” and who kept getting the same reply: “Keenog Stan.” He thought that this Keenog Stan fellow must be very clever indeed; he did not realise that Keenog Stan meant, “I do not understand.” Anyway, eventually he met a man at an inn, and asked him his name. When the other replied, “Keenog Stan”, the traveller leapt up and embraced him, crying, “Oh! Keenog Stan! Keenog Stan!” and everybody thought he was crazy. So I looked forward to when I would get this story; and I did get it, in one of the readers that we worked through. There was also the story of the man who swatted six flies at one time, and he embroidered some sort of insignia that he wore: “Six with one blow.” And people treated him with deference and respect, because they thought it was six people he had killed.
We also sometimes had to read to Mrs. Jackson more or less privately at her table at the front of the class, to the left; and I remember once that it was my turn, and that I got stuck on the word “material”. I suspected that the pronunciation must be /məˈtiːrɪəl/; that was the only word that seemingly it could be, but why then was the “a” pronounced /ə/ and the /i:/-sound not spelled “E-E”? I didn’t have the courage to take a risk and say, “/məˈtiːrɪəl/”, but stuttered instead, “/mæ/—
/ˈmætə/—” and then fell silent, while Mrs. Jackson looked at me for quite a long time. “Don’t you know what it is?” she eventually asked, in a tone of surprise. “It’s /məˈtiːrɪəl/!”
It was in Mrs. Jackson’s class that we first learned to do what we called “real writing”, that is, joined-up writing as opposed to printing. To assist us in this, we were provided with sheets of paper, or exercise books, with double lines ruled on them. (Incidentally, I first came across the word “parallel” in Mrs. Jackson’s class; and indeed these books, or whatever, were ruled with horizontal parallel lines.) Mrs. Jackson would write the letter we were learning on the blackboard, and we would copy it down. We had to write each letter properly; there were no variations allowed. For example, one could not get away with writing an “o” as a single downward loop; Mrs. Jackson could recognise when that was done, no matter how cunningly it was disguised. Instead, in writing that particular letter, one had to lead up to it, then double back, starting off by retracing the original line but quickly leaving it to form the loop of the “o” till it came round and touched the original line once more, then one had to change direction again to do the tail-out.
I cannot remember much about arithmetic in Mrs. Jackson’s class. I imagine that we learned our multiplication tables: we did these all together by rote, starting at the twos and eventually reaching the twelves; but I cannot remember in whose class I was when we started them. One thing I do remember is mensuration: learning to measure the length of a line with a ruler. We were taught imperial measure, inches and feet, yards and furlongs and miles. To show us how to measure things, Mrs. Jackson had a great big ruler whose “inches” were about four or five real inches long; she would draw a line on the blackboard and then measure it with this great, unwieldy ruler.
All sorts of exciting things
As I mentioned earlier, Mrs. Jackson taught us many things. She told us about Egypt and its pyramids and the Sphinx, about the Nile and the flooding of its banks and the fertile strips along the sides of the Nile (whereas the rest of Egypt was desert), about its delta, about the sources of the Nile, the White Nile flowing from Lake Victoria, and the Blue Nile rising in the mountains of Abyssinia. I found the Nile’s delta rather intriguing; all the other rivers I was familiar with, had estuaries. We made a little model of a “shadoof” out of bits of wood and Plasticine: a pivoted pole with a weight at one end and a scoop at the other, used for raising water from the river into irrigation canals. Mrs. Jackson also told us about Mesopotamia and its rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates.
Mrs. Jackson told us about the River Amazon, about the jungles it flowed through, about anacondas and piranhas, and about the explorer Colonel Fawcett who was lost on his last expedition into the Amazon jungle.
She told us stories from Greek mythology, of Perseus and the Medusa, and Andromeda, of Pegasus the winged horse (I got my Grandad to fasten some tinfoil wings on a model of a farmyard pony which was kept at their house), of Jason and the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece, of the Twelve Labours of Hercules, of Ulysses and his journeyings from the Trojan war back to Penelope in Ithaca, of Aeneas who landed in Carthage, and of Queen Dido who stabbed herself when he left her, — and many more: the more I think about it, the more names and half-remembered stories come back to mind.
When I was reading Keenog Stan and other stories, it seems to me that I was sitting at a desk — and were they single desks? I remember double desks in Classes 2 and 1, but not in Classes 4 and 3. I was sitting at a desk near but not next to the partition wall which was to my right, about halfway between the wall to my back and the teacher’s position. I must also have been sitting there when a girl called Alison caught my attention and imagination, for I remember how I turned round to see her, and she was on or near the back row of desks, halfway or towards halfway across the room.
Mrs. Jackson was talking about Switzerland and the fact that they spoke French, German and Italian there. Alison had lived there, and Mrs. Jackson asked her to say something in one of the languages. There were smiles and blushes before she spoke a few barely-audible words, and then when Mrs. Jackson asked her what it meant, she spoke shyly and equally briefly in English.
I don’t recall ever having noticed her before, but here she was, and clever too! She was fair-skinned, rosy-cheeked, with shortish fair hair.
-  She was fair-skinned, rosy-cheeked, with fair hair: When we later got the Magic Robot quiz-game, the girl pictured on the box-lid reminded me of Alison.
She must have left shortly afterwards; she must only have been in England (or at any rate in Thornton) temporarily, for she was only with us in Class 4. Perhaps our reason for learning about Switzerland just then was that she had lived there and was shortly to go back again.
Before I mention the name Alison again, a number of things require introduction.
Rainmac and the Jake Lads
The first relates to my teddy bear Rainmac. How or when he got his name I can’t remember. Steven’s teddy had the more conservative name of Mr. Teddy. Perhaps when Steven was naming it, I thought that what he chose was a bit boring, so I came up with the silliest name that I could. Anyway, the name stuck, and indeed has done to this day. Incidentally, Steven and I thought that Mr. Bastide, who taught Class 1, looked a bit like Mr. Teddy. We had a third teddy which belonged to both of us, called Graham Teddy.
-  Graham Teddy: I have already described him in The children in Fairfield Drive.
Rainmac — 2011 photo
See also My friendship with David Jones: “The Game”.
Now Mr. Teddy and Graham Teddy were both good, but Rainmac was very bad. He went off and joined the Jake Lads, who were the “baddies” in my imaginary world. He did turn good at one point, or more than one, but later turned bad again. He killed a million people. I drew pictures of him shooting people, including one which Steven maintained was impossible because Rainmac was standing behind the person being shot, yet the bullet struck him at the front; the path of the bullet was indicated by a line. I was adamant that the picture was all right; after all, I had drawn it easily enough. I also drew a picture of him shooting down Flash Gordon’s space ship with a small cannon; I was running out of paper, though, at the right hand side, so although the gun barrel was pointing up at an angle, the shell went up almost vertically. The cannon stood on some kind of tripod, and Rainmac was standing to the left of it, a little figure with its arms outstretched (teddies often have their arms outstretched). With one paw he operated the cannon and with the other he shot someone with a pistol; he was really bad! One such picture was one which I drew on the back of some cardboard from a Quaker Oats box; I remember that the cardboard from Corn Flakes cartons was grey, but that from Quaker Oats was white and thus more suitable for drawing on. On the piece of cardboard from the other side of the box, I wrote some text: “Rainmac is very bad. He has shot a lot of people, even though he knows it hurts a lot.” This was an early concept, based on my observations of TV Westerns; people more often than not survived in these after being shot. The mass homicide perpetrated by Rainmac was probably a later idea.
Later on still, Rainmac finally became good permanently. (How his rehabilitation into society was possible or permissible after he killed a million people, I don’t know.) He became best friends with Flash and Dale (we’re talking now, though, about 1961 or thereabouts, because he was also pally with Andromeda and Fleming from the BBC television science-fiction serial A for Andromeda).
“Flash and Dale”
“Andromeda and Fleming”
After he turned good finally, Rainmac became involved in space travel. The Crocodiles too had their organisation for the exploration and colonisation of other planets, but when they insulted Rainmac, who at the time was in rigorous training for a mission in space, suggesting he might turn bad again, Rainmac stormed off in a pique. He got permission from the police, and staged a successful take-over bid for the Crocodiles’ organisation. (At the time, I didn’t have a very clear notion of what a take-over bid was; it seemed to me that a company just walked in and took over the other company. So it seemed reasonable to suppose that some authority would have to be granted for them to do this; the only authority-figures I knew at this time were the police.) The combined operation was called Rainmac-Crocodiles, or R.C. for short.
Steven once went through a phase of drawing maps. He would trace them out of an atlas and when he drew the final outline, because the fine detail of the original map was missing, he would make his outline a bit wobbly so as to suggest the irregularities of the coastline. I recall a particularly fine specimen of North America that he drew, all done up in water colours (which I, incidentally, was not adept at using at this time; the work always seemed to become blotchy when I tried to paint. I preferred coloured pencils instead, even though I found that shading large areas with them became very tedious).
The craze rubbed off on me to some extent, but I went on to do maps of fictitious places. One was from a Treasure Hunt competition for some breakfast cereal or other. Inside the box was a full-colour treasure map, with the Sweatwater River (no delta) and other geographical features with pirate-style names that I can no longer remember. I traced a number of copies of this map, all emphasising different aspects of the country. (This would seem to require a deal more sophistication than I was capable of at the age of seven, so maybe my recollections are sweeping forward in time somewhat.) In my imagination, it was on a different planet and presumably landed on by visitors representing either Rainmac’s or the Crocodiles’ rocket organisation.
Another map, this one being completely out of my own head, was of a country called Fairymoon, which may have been on the same planet as the treasure-map country. Only the western part was depicted (though at some time, Steven drew a separate northern — and, perhaps, an eastern — extension to it). It was drawn on the back of some wallpaper, pale coffee-coloured and embossed, I think, with flower patterns. It was 7 or 8 inches from top to bottom and wallpaper-size in width (20 or 21 inches).
To the left was the sea, and there was a bay called Bouch Bay and a large river. I have a picture in my mind of an estuary opening into Bouch Bay, but I wonder: wouldn’t I have made it have a delta? In the book “The Water Babies”, which I received as a seventh birthday present, I started a map, presumably depicting the route of Tom’s flight, when he “plunged into the river that ran through the green meadows.” On the map, this river has a delta.
In the book “Mountains and Valleys”, which I received as Second Prize in Class 5, on the last page and inside rear cover, where the world appears opened out on three contiguously-drawn aspects of the globe, I have added on the central one showing Africa the Nile with its delta.
Click on image to enlarge
Perhaps, though, there was both a river with an estuary and another with a delta on the map of Fairymoon, as appears on the illustration on the inside of the front cover of the book I purchased around that time, “Icebergs and Jungles”.
There was a city located on the river near the bay, but I can’t remember its name and unfortunately the map is now lost. The map was added to over a long period of time and eventually became quite creased, dog-eared and fragile. I believe it was a project which I carried out at Nanny and Grandad’s house, when Steven and I visited for dinner and tea on Saturdays and tea on Thursdays; at any rate they had similar wallpaper there.
There was a long railway running west to east which could have been modelled on the Canadian-Pacific Railway (or the Trans-Siberian), and many towns were linked by it and others appeared alongside it. One of these towns was called Alison. Here is the connection between my first mention of Alison and all I have said between then and
now. The model for that may have been Alice Springs in Australia.
- The Fairymoon-map project lasted a long time, so the question suggests itself: Which Alison is the eponym of the place
name on the map? For when I was in Class 2 (1959-1960) there was a girl called Alison King in Class 1. Also, I remember that I learned about the Canadian-Pacific Railway when I was in Class 2. So, did the similar railway in Fairymoon link up with Alison, or did Alison spring up after the railway came? Or when did I first learn about the Trans-Siberian Railway?
On the map of Fairymoon, there were a number of towns with the element “LLan” in them (erroneously, from the standpoint of Welsh usage, written with two capital L’s), including one called simply “LLan”. The question therefore is: What is the earliest date when I encountered the name-element “Llan”? When did I first go to Wales? In
The Cooper Diaries, Sunday 9th June 1996, when I was back home in Thornton, looking through old documents, I wrote:
- There are thank-you letters from Steve and me to Nanny and Grandad Paine dated “10th June”. Steve’s is written in ink; mine is joined-up writing in pencil. I learned joined-up writing in Class 4 (Sep. 1957–Jul. 1958) and started using ink in Class 3 (Sep. 1958–Jul. 1959), so I have dated the letters 10 Jun. 1958. Nanny and Grandad had been on holiday in Germany and had brought back a musical roundabout [carousel] which played an abridged Brahms’ Lullaby, so that was the occasion of the thank-you notes. In my letter I mentioned having been to Pwllheli [in Wales], so that was presumably when we first went to the Butlin’s holiday camp there. We subsequently, I think, went to Butlin’s, Filey, and after that back to Pwllheli. Nanny and Grandad sent a postcard from Germany to us c/o Butlin’s, Pwllheli, but the postage stamp with the postmark’s date has been removed; I have dated this 1958 on the basis of the above evidence.
I rediscovered my letter (though not Steve’s), back in Thornton again in November 2011.
- I conclude, tentatively, therefore, that what I have written in the main text is correct, and that the Class-4 Alison was the inspiration for the place-name on the map.
“Jonah” — March 1958
It was while I was in Class 4 that the comic-strip Jonah started in The Beano on 15 March 1958, and it ran until 8 June 1963. Jonah was a character with goofy teeth who because of his clumsiness would sink every ship he set foot on. Later on, he didn’t even have to bungle anything for a ship to be sunk; his very presence was enough to create a disastrous panic among the others who were on board. “Arrgh! It’s ’im!” they would cry.
I took the character over in my imagination. I wrote: “Jonah was very clumsy and sank a lot of ships. But then he stopped being clumsy and started to be careful…” He formed a group of people called the Jonah Lads, who were the “goodies” in my imaginary world, just as the Jake Lads were the “baddies”. Their sphere of activity was not just restricted to planet Earth, for just like Rainmac and the Crocodiles they had a fleet of rocket ships. I once made a pencil drawing of a great battle full of these rocket ships, which were bullet-shaped with tail-fins and had guns sticking out of them. I used to fancy that the Jonah Lads always won in their battles with the Jake Lads, and while they killed many Jake Lads they themselves never lost a man. In this picture there also appeared the flying city of the Hawkmen from the Flash Gordon films.
As a model of Jonah I took a little metal
OO-scale figure from our electric train set. As with all such models (whether model railway figures or toy soldiers) I imagined that they came from Fairymoon, which was populated with races of little people of different sizes.
I came top of the class that year, which was a wonder because although my work was accurate and neat, it was slowly and meticulously written. I remember, in one of the examinations, Mrs. Jackson was standing over me, giving me a little more time, but urging me to finish. Was this the February one? My school report for February 1958 states: “During term he has been rather slow at completing his exercises, and whilst they have been beautifully done I do think a little more speed will be essential later on.” It makes no reference, though, to slowness as a problem in the examination: “John’s work in the examination has been of a very high standard and he fully deserves his position.” The July 1958 report simply states: “Excellent work in all subjects.”
Wednesday 23 July 1958
Despite my slowness, I did come top, and I received as first prize a fairly large but very thin, colour-illustrated book “Ships For Discovery and Adventure”. On the first page is stuck a label, typed (and not centred very well):
Church Road County Primary School,
Class 4 — First Prize.
23rd July, 1958.
Perhaps Summer 1958
There was some task that we had to perform, and as a reward, Mrs. Jackson would send the one who did it the best a postcard from her holiday in Norway. I suppose that this occurred towards the Summer Holidays when the school would break up for six weeks, though I suppose it could have been a winter holiday in Norway that Mrs. Jackson went on, or an Easter holiday.
I was the lucky one who got the black-and-white picture postcard. And I was surprised to note that Mrs. Jackson’s own “real writing” wasn’t like how she had taught us in class on the blackboard; a number of her letters were shaped differently.