My first day at school

25th August 2000 at 01:00
The traumas and joys of starting school, as told to Pamela Coleman


Presenter, 'Countdown'

According to my mother, I cried all morning for a week when I first started school, but I don't remember that. What I do remember is that my first school was a kindergarten in what seemed like a wooden shed in the garden of a big house, overlooking a cornfield in the village of Baildon, near Bradford in Yorkshire. I remember listening to Music and Movement with Margery Eele and Singing Together with William Appleby on the radio.

We had an Elsan lavatory. one day I put a doll belonging to one of the girls down the bowl to cheer up a girl I was friendly with who was in tears. It cheered her up - but I made a lifelong enemy of the other girl. I can still remember their names: Sheila Briggs was the one who was crying and it was Felicity Norris's doll I put down the lavatory. I also remember Richard Whiteman and Dudley Robinson, and Olwen Hailey who was the bank manager's daughter.

We went on nature walks and looked at flowers in the country lanes and caught tiddlers. I liked the teacher, Miss Betty Waudby, who became a friend of my mother's and used to come for tea. Apart from the incident with the doll, I think I was a pretty well behaved child. My mother says I was terribly shy and didn't speak much until I was five. I've made up for it.


MEP for South Wales East

My grandmother lived next door to the national school in Holyhead in Anglesey, and on my first day I went to her house to have a cup of tea before joining my brother who was already in the juniors. I wasn't nervous about starting school.

The reception class teacher, Miss Morgan Jones, was very large and very cuddly and very nice. This was in 1949 and there weren't a lot of sweets about and my eyes immediately fell on a big Kilner jar of dolly mixtures, which was sitting on the mantelpiece. There was a fire in the grate and the milk crate was on the hearth to keep the little bottles of milk warm and the room felt very welcoming. There was also a rocking horse and one of those tubular steel rockers in which two children sat, one at each end.

At the end of the day you got a sweetie if you'd been good, and most children were good in Miss Morgan Jones's eyes.



My twin sister, Velda, and I started school together at St Matthias primary in Hockley, Birmingham, which doesn't exist any more. When the time came for Mum to leave us with the teacher, Velda started crying and she wouldn't stop. Eventually she was moved to another room because she was causing such a disturbance.

I thought school was fun. I remember making a little building with building blocks and being surprised that all we did was play, because Mum had said you went to school to learn.

Velda and I were the only two black kids in the school, which frightened me a bit. After a while, when we could still hear Velda crying in the distance in some far corner of the school, the children asked me if she was my sister and I totally disowned her.

It's really weird the way things ended up: she really liked school later on and I hated it. She did well and I was the one who rebelled and got expelled.


Chairman, Childline

I was two-and-three-quarters when I started school and it was a traumatic time. I did not want to go and on the first day sat very gloomily on the steps outside the house. My mother took me. I didn't scream and kick, I was just terribly miserable.

I know everybody is hugely in favour of pre-school play groups and nursery schools, but I remember thinking that making things out of egg boxes was pointless. I sent my own children to nursery school at three-and-a-half and I think that is a better age to start.

For the first three or four weeks at school I painted nothing but black pictures, which reflected how I felt at the time, and it was regarded as quite a breakthrough when I put my first dab of colour on the paper. Later on, however, I was one of those children who was very happy at school.



Until I was eight I went to a school run by the vicar's wife at the vicarage in Lelant in Cornwall. I started when I was four and I went with a neighbour who was four-and-a-half. We walked all the way there, up through the village, down the main street and up the drive to the vicarage, a lovely old Georgian house with long French windows which opened out on to sweeping lawns.

There were no more than six of us, including Timmy, the vicar's youngest child. We did lots of reciting and learning by heart and I think I learned to read there. I remember learning A A Milne's poems, especially the one where Christopher Robin goes "Hoppity hoppity hop" on the paving stones. We had milk and biscuits and came home for lunch. I remember my time there as fun, especially playing in the lovely garden which seemed very large.


I remember my first day at school very well because I was so nervous. We were all immigrants and about half of us were jewish. We could speak English, but we'd talk among ourselves in Yiddish. Looking back as an adult, I think it must have been quite difficult for the school to cope with this religious culture which had descended on them with all the problems of food rules and religious holidays, and people who were often quite paranoid and ready to read anti-Semitism into everything. This was at the time of the rise of Hitler and fascism.

The teachers were all so nice I can recall their names even now. There was Mrs Bowyer, who was my class teacher, and the headmistress, Mrs Gardner. For a penny a week we were given a spoonful of malt, which I loathed, and a spoonful of cod or halibut liver oil, which I also detested, and I remember the nurse coming along and using a rather sharp steel comb, examining our heads for lice, which mortified me.

The thing I remember most, however, is the fury I felt towards my mother for sending me to school that first day in a handknitted gold silk suit, which was probably designed for the occasion. It was appalling as far as I was concerned and the cause of teasing by the other children, so I tried to hide behind a drainpipe during playtime. I had the idea that if I couldn't see the others, they couldn't see me. It was a long time before I forgave my mother.

Many, many years later when I was interviewing a new secretary, I realised that she had lived on the opposite side of the street to me when I was a kid in Whitechapel and had taken me to school with her little sister when I was five. We have worked together for over 20 years. If she remembers the suit she has never mentioned it.


Novelist and former Beirut hostage

When I was held hostage I tried to remember my childhood, but I could never get beyond the age of eight or nine. I remember my first day at secondary school because the school was about four miles from where I lived in one of the tiny back streets of Belfast and I took a bus to get there. It was the first time I'd travelled on a bus without my parents.

All the lads in the street who were also starting at the school were with me and although I knew their faces, I was aware there was something different about them. What was different, I suddenly realised, was that we were all wearing school uniform.

Everyone was apprehensive about starting a new school and there was an incessant din on the bus of boys talking and shouting. The school colours were orange and black - the badge on the jacket, the turn-down tops of the socks, the tie, the piping along the grey v-neck sweater you had to wear - and that and the noise the scene reminded me of a swarm of bees or wasps.

Brian Keenan's novel, Turlough, is published in October MARTINA COLE

Writer and prison visitor

Starting school was a red letter day for me. As the youngest of five, I saw it as a sign of growing up. I travelled to Holy Cross in South Ockendon, Essex, on the school coach and I adored my uniform. I had two checked dresses, one green and brown and one blue and brown, with elasticated ruching at the waist, and a new pair of shiny black shoes. I also had a straw boater, but nobody seemed to wear the school hat.

My brother Tony, who is two years and one day older than me, was with me, as was my sister Loretta who is four years older than me. Tony looked after me for the first couple of days, until he lost interest. A girl I knew, called Gillian Green, was in the same class and we sat together. We looked very much alike and kept changing places to confuse the teacher.

Martina Cole's latest novel,Two Women, is being filmed for television

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