Monday, November 30, 2009


When I call the bank, I am usually asked a "Security Question". Although one of these questions is usually "What was your mother's maiden name?", that is not the only question. I am asked what was the make of my first car, what was my father's second name, and what was the name of my first school?

It occurs to me that these questions are not exactly PC for orphans, those who never knew their father, or the poor folk who never owned a car.

My first school was Micklefield. This was a small private school for girls and small boys. My elder sister had been attending this school for about three years, when I first went there in 1932, at the age of five.

Every morning, our chauffeur (Frank Coles, but never addressed by the gentry by his first name) would bring my mother's car around, driving it from the garage onto the main road, drive it a couple of hundred yards south, enter the estate again through the southern entrance to the driveway and bring it around to in front of the house. My mother would take over there, and drive the two of us to school. Within a year, my younger sister would be born and may also have started her school days at Micklefield several years later.

When giving road directions in the UK, it was commonplace to use the names of pubs to direct people. Across the road from the head gardener's cottage was the Beehive, and further up the road into town was the Angel. My mother would drive up the hill (a wonderful place for tobogganing during the brief winter snow season) and enter the High Street shopping area. We would go past one of our favorite haunts, the Ancient House Bookshop, still in business when I was last there a few years ago. On our left was the well established store known as Northover's, which rather strangely offered furniture, white goods, and funeral services. In those days, one could drive through the tunnel which took the road under a small hill. Nowadays, the tunnel has been blocked off, and to get to the North one must turn left down a shopping street, past where Lloyds bank is and the wonderful toy store (La Troube's) stood. I can still remember the names of some of the establishments, including our grocery store, Napper's.

In those days my mother seldom went shopping, in the way that most of us do today. She would order what she wanted on the phone, and the goods would be delivered later the same day. Handwritten entries were made in an account book, which was delivered to us monthly. When they arrived, my father would sit and complain about my mother's allegedly expensive buying habits, and write checks. This was a world without credit cards, but one did not need to pay cash if you were known to the store.

Just passed the grocers, one would need to turn right, eventually reaching the point where in the old days one emerged from the short tunnel.

Turning north, my mother would drive over what was known as a gated "level crossing", as a grade crossing is known in the UK. Reigate station was on the right, and soon thereafter we would turn left, and we children would be dropped off in front of Micklefield.

I started off in Kindergarten, where I was often bored, as most of the children were learning to read. My sister had taught me to read and I was already pretty good at it. Another boy and I were allowed to play a card game, in which one had to match words to pictures. The only problem I had with that was matching "boy" to the child, and "lad" to the youth. I don't remember very much about the lessons, except that we studied pre-historic times, and learned how our ancestors would trap animals by digging a large hole and covering it up lightly with branches, etc, so that the future food would fall into the hole, where it could be dispatched.

I was soon moved up to the next form (grade) - British children in private schools were promoted when ready, and not arbitrarily by age. I found that most of my fellow students were still learning to read, and a very kind headmistress allowed me to sit in her studies, and read aloud to her. The book was Kingsley's "The Waterbabies".

These memories, and many more, of Micklefield came flooding back when I recently found a copy of a history of the school, published at it's 75th anniversary, in 1985. The school had waxed and waned over the years, but was thriving then, as it is now. My dear relative through marriage, Jane Lindsey-Renton, worked at Micklefield until her recent retirement.

Soon the school which gave me a good start will celebrate it's centenary. These days, I am torn between the American public school system, where my beloved wife served until 1983; the virtues of the right kind of home schooling, now being enjoyed by two of our grandchildren; and the elitist private school, like Micklefield, which I was fortunate enough to attend.

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