Miss Everitt was never rash

Miss Everitt came to mind today. It is 18th January, the day when the church remembers the Confession of Saint Peter, Peter who once put on his cloak before jumping over the side of a boat into the water.

“What sort of person was Peter?” asked Miss Everitt one day when I was in the infants class at High Ham School.

“Please Miss, he was rash”.

(Where did a small boy of seven, maybe eight, years of age, in a tiny rural community, learn a word like “rash,” if not from the teacher?)

“Yes, he was rash sometimes.  Anyone else, what other things would we say about Peter?”

Arriving in her blue Ford Anglia each morning, bespectacled and stern, Miss Everitt took education seriously.  There was never homework, but there was hardly need for it.  The school day for infants ran from 9.15 until 3.30.  Apart from breaks, the day was filled with active teaching, there was rarely a moment to drift, rarely a moment when concentration was not demanded.

Miss Everitt would have “ladders” on the mantlepiece, league tables formed from cork board in which labels were pinned, your name could go up or down, according to how well you were doing.  Never being at the top, the ladders were never very encouraging.

A friend had cardboard football league tables with the clubs’ names being printed on labels with tabs that could be inserted into the slits in the card after each Saturday’s results.  For some reason we had a bizarre, and utterly irrational, dislike of Charlton Athletic, about whom we knew nothing, and would put them at the bottom of Division 4, regardless of the result.  There would have been a desire at times to similarly manipulate the classroom tables, but one would not dare have touched anything; Miss Everitt would know if something had been changed and would know who was responsible.  Miss Everitt always knew who was responsible, no matter what the misdemeanour.

More encouraging than the tables were charts with spots, the spots being earned by attainments, though fifty years later, it is hard to remember what the attainments might have been. Encouragement was not a quality that was in plentiful supply, doing one’s best was the default position for being in Miss Everitt’s class.  If there were the slightest suspicion that maximum effort had not been applied to the completion of a piece of work, Miss Everitt would express her disapproval in forthright terms.

There was little patience shown towards those who did not meet expectations of literacy and numeracy.  One pupil, almost a year younger, but in the same academic year, was told in no uncertain terms that the work that had been done was not comparable with that of others in the group.  It seemed unfair when watching at the time, it seems even more unfair five decades later.  To be spoken to about work, when one had tried. was bad enough, to be spoken to in front of the whole class must have been a painful experience.

Perhaps the regime was harsh, stories from those in later years suggested a mellowing with the passing of time, but there are no memories of anyone being slapped and hardly a memory of a raised voice.

Trained in the 1930s, Miss Everitt was a teacher of a former age.  The world had changed beyond recognition during her classroom years, but the lessons she taught have endured through many years since; including the story about Peter jumping from the boat.  Over fifty years later, it still seems rash to put on one’s cloak only to jump into the water.  Miss Everitt would have had a word with him about such silliness.

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Somerset’s tsunami

The school humanities club today dealt with the tsunami of 30th January 1607. The waters hit the low-lying Somerset coast with such force that they swept fourteen miles inland, reaching Glastonbury. The Polden Hills became a peninsula and High Ham became an island. A contemporary account suggests a disaster of with devastating consrquences.

“Newes out of Summerset shire

In January last (towards the end of the moneth,) the sea at a flowing water meeting with Land-floudes, strove so violently together, that bearing downe all thinges that were builded to withstand and hinder the force of them, the bankes were eaten through and a rupture made into Somerset-shire. No sooner was this furious invader entred, but he got up hie into the Land, and encountring with the river Severn, they both boild in such pride that many Miles, (to the quantity of xx. in length, and 4 or 5 at least in bredth) were in a short time swalowd up in this torrent. This Inundation began in the morning, & within few houres after, covered the face of ye earth thereabouts (that lay within the distance before named) to the deapth of xi. or xii. foot in some places, in others more. The daunger that this terible tempest brought with it wrought much fear in the harts of all that stood within the reach of it, but the sudden and strange cruelty of it, bred the greater terror and amazement. Men that were going to their labours were compelled (seeing so dreadfull an enemy approching) to flye backe to their houses, yet before they could enter, death stood at the dores ready to receive them. In a short tyme did whole villages stand like Islands (compassed rounde with Waters) and in a more short time were those Islands undiscoverable, and no where to be found. The tops of trees and houses onely appeared (especially there where the Countrey lay lowe,) as if at the beginning of the world townes had been builte in the bottome of the Sea, and that people had plaide the husbandmen under the Waters.

Who would not have thought this had bin a second Deluge! for (at one time these inhabited places were sunke cleane out of sight. Hunsfielde (a Market Towne in the sayde Shire) was quite drowned. Grantham a village utterly over-flowne. Kenhouse another village covered all over. Kingson a thyrd village likewise lies buried in salt Water. So (besides other small cottages standing in vallies) is Brian Downe a Village quite consumed. Adde unto these peopled places, the losse of Marshes, Corne-fieldes, Pastures, Meddowes, and so forth, more then can bee numbred: the misery of it no man can Expresse.

In this civill Warres betweene the Land and the Sea, many Men, women, and Children, lost their lives: to save which, some climbed uppe to the tops of the houses, but the rage of the merciles tide grew so strong, that in many, yea most of the Villages aforenamed, the Foundations of the buildings being washed away, the whole frame fell down, and they dyed in the waters: Others got up into trees, but the trees had their rootes unfastened by the selfe-same destroyer, that disjoynted barnes and houses, and their last refuge was patiently to die.

A lamentable spectacle was it, to beholde whole heards of Cattle, struggling for life with the flouds, Oxen in great numbers were caryed away with the streame, and looked like so many Whales in ye Sea: their bellowing made a noise in the water as if it had bin a tempest, and that the Sea had roared. The flocks of Sheep that are utterly destroied by this Land-wracke are innumerable, none knowes the losse for the present but the owners of them: But the whole land wil I feare feele the smart.”

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From my sister’s house . . .

There is a familiarity in the drive from Ilminster to High Ham, even on a winter’s night. The village of Westport is always sleepily quiet. It was intriguing to discover when once reading Bradshaw’s canal guide that a waterway had  carried laden barges from here down to the River Parrett, from where the produce went to Bridgwater and then the sea. The canal is still visible, the hump-backed bridges that cross it are still intact.

Hambridge has many family memories. The village hall was the venue for receptions and parties; caterers providing whatever fare might be required. Ireland seemed a strange place, having wedding receptions at hotels. Charles Marson, the Christian socialist and folk song collector, was vicar of Hambridge for years. I have tried to visit the church a number of times, each time it has been firmly locked. There is no sign or memorial to the famous onetime incumbent.

The main road is reached at Curry Rivel. The fleet of red and white school buses that emanated from the village would bring hundreds of children from the district to the secondary school at Huish Episcopi. The drivers were familiar faces to successive generations of pupils. Of course, they had surnames but to those boarding the buses each day, they were always “Mike,” or “Fred,” or whatever, even the owner and boss of them all was never more than “Jack”.

Langport is our home town. Its single medieval main street would have once provided shops selling everything one could desire, then it fell into decline, until enjoying a great revival in recent years. Langport once had its own bank and in Walter Bagehot, author of The English Constitution, it produced a writer who made a lasting contribution to political life. At the top of the street, a ninety degree bend once passed a television shop. A clear memory from childhood is the first colour televisions appearing in the shop in the late 1960s; vast, bulky boxes the price of which far exceeded the pocket of a working man.

Passing the former premises of Kelway Nurseries brings memories of two summers spent working in the fields there. The company has moved up the road, and is still present at the Chelsea Flower Show each year . Heading toward Somerton, we branch left to join the road that leads to High Ham and to home. Venturing through the gateway at the ninety degree bend on Field road would be to walk on the site of a Roman villa.

All is changed, and yet nothing has changed. Look up into the night sky on a winter’s night, and Orion and The Plough are there- definitely unchanged.

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Games with dice

The dice were £2 for a pack of twelve in one of those stores where £2 is a lot to spend. Deciding that at least eight pairs of dice would be necessary for an ordinary class, I bought two packs. I need no longer pester a colleague from the maths department each time I want dice to use with a game to be played by students. Unlikely as it seems, dice and counters and a game, where the first person to reach the end is the winner, was effective in encouraging learning. Each time particular squares were landed on, an information card had to be picked up and read aloud and all the players had to write down what the card said. Of course, the information might have been simply printed on photocopied sheets and the students might then have pasted these sheets into into their books, saving the hassle of organizing them into small groups, handing out the equipment for the game, and ensuring that they were actually recording what was read from the cards, but how much interest would there have been and would there have been any possibility of the buzz and laughter that filled the classroom for fifteen minutes?

Teaching has become intellectually, logistically and physically far more demanding than in former times. To stand at the front and talk, as did teachers in former times is no longer an option, nor is sitting at a desk while students work silently from textbooks. Students who are used to living in a multi-media and interactive world do not learn in the ways to which their counterparts in former times were accustomed. The exams they face are significantly harder than in former times (Year 7 classes approach history in a way I did not encounter until A-level or even university days, studying sources and drawing inferences are the norm now). The ways of learning are very different from the past. Persisting as though the culture from which children and the levels of understanding expected of them have not changed demands either a disciplinarian approach, in which strict control is maintained and students learn very little, or brings a slippery slide into disciplinary problems. The best way to teach, and to keep order, I have learned, very slowly, progressing no more than one millimetre at a time, is to try to create an environment where students are so engaged with learning that  they have little inclination to mess about. I shall look for further opportunities to use my dice.






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Leftover food

Christmas was not a big thing at the Christian school I attended on Dartmoor. Strict evangelicals, they presumably regarded Christmas with the suspicion that Puritans had shown it for centuries. They might reasonably have pointed to the fact that the early church had not celebrated Christmas and that the story was a conflation of different bits of the Bible. We never sang Christmas carols, nor did we hear tales of shepherds and wise men. The one song we did sing was “We wish you a merry Christmas” and at the conclusion of whatever play we performed at the end of term we were sent home with a Christmas pudding each, cooked by the staff of the school kitchen.

I remember coming home with my Christmas pudding at the Christmas holidays in 1974 and being take aback when it was set on the top shelf of a cupboard; Christmas puddings, it seemed, needed time to develop their best flavour and it would be kept for the following year. When you are fourteen years old, the idea that something might be kept for a year before being eaten seemed, at best, eccentric. At least a decade must have passed before the pudding was eaten at Christmas of 1975.

Christmas puddings can, respectably, be put away until the coming of the next Yuletide, other foodstuffs have a shorter shelf life. Making a mug of tea this evening, I opened the cupboard to search for something sweet to eat. Dundee cake and stollen remained. Mindful of having put on weight in the past month, the Dundee cake seemed the less calorific option. Stollen would have been preferable, but there is almost a sense of expanding as you eat it.

Chocolate and biscuits from Christmas still remain. Undoubtedly, the story is similar in countless other houses; leftover food is plentiful.

What is the purpose of the massive expenditure on food that we are still eating weeks later? How much of it goes past its “use by” date and ends up in the bin? Even at Christmas, how much cooked food went uneaten?

There is a collective madness about it all, a compulsive desire to spend huge amounts of money on food we will never eat seems to take hold of the country. How many bags of almonds and Brazil nuts are bought for no reason other than it is Christmas? How many people finish the nuts they have bought?

In retrospect, puddings that will last until next year seem sensible.


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