Bad table manners

18th November 1994 at 00:00
My primary school moved into a new building in 1968: a palace with indoor lavatories, eye-level windows, funky noticeboards and tables to seat six. The 11-plus class had just one year in which to learn the interactive and collaborative skills that we had neglected in all those years of sitting in rows (TES, October 21).

Suddenly, we were no longer individuals but sixths of a sextet. In the first flush of the group revolution, we worked, ate lunch and filed in and out of class as a unit. My tablemates seemed like a random selection, but it surely wasn't coincidence that we were all workers: self-motivated and considered capable of managing the voyage of negotiation, compromise and powerplay mostly unsupervised.

The problem was that we were stuck with each other long after the novelty had worn off, like the dinner party from hell where there's a huge row and then nobody can get a taxi home.

A polite and well-spoken young creep who would never have hacked it as class bully, romped home as table bully. Despite being fat and no good at games, I had escaped bullies' attention in the wider world of row seating but fell into the victim slot in our new social microcosm. The creep quickly recruited two sidekicks: the remaining two, formerly friends of mine, wavered for a barely decent interval before following the herd.

Escape from my tormentors was almost impossible. Making friends outside the group was difficult - they were all in someone else's group. I don't think eye contact was a big problem - kicking, pinching and book-grabbing distance were what mattered now. And spitting distance: I'm proud to stay that I wasn't a passive victim and I learned to spit and run on the stroke of 3.30.

I enjoyed doing the 11-plus because of the peace and quiet, and couldn't wait to get to grammar school, where we sat in strictly alphabetical rows, for more of the same. Five years with the back of Bradshaw's head between me and the blackboard was a blessed release. I couldn't say if I did any more work, but I no longer dreaded getting up in the morning.

Geraldine Brennan survived group and row seating in Liverpool in the Sixties and Seventies

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