In 1973, I started at Manor Field Primary School, which is in Burgess Hill, a rapidly expanding town in mid-Sussex. My family had moved there from neighbouring Lindfield and my mother and step-father had just bought their first house. My mother had married her second husband Colin the same year. I joined the infants department aged 6 years old. I have few memories of this year but I do recall being lead by my mother on my first day to the school office. I was six years old. A year later, I joined the junior school where my first form teacher was a Mrs Randal. She was probably in her sixties at the time. She told us once that we should always look at the world around us because even on the most mundane day, there should be interesting things to see. She was talking about being observant and studying the world around us. Someone had taught me some basic yoga and I remember sitting in a cross-legged position with both feet up on my thighs. I was showing off but I was always finding ways to get the teacher’s attention. I suppose I was bored.
I had a friend called Nigel who was always getting into trouble. I don’t know why I did this but one day, I scratched his name on a desk and went and told the teacher that he had done it. The readiness for her to believe me was surprising.
I remember that one thing we used to get up to was climb up into the roof space of one of the old buildings during playtime. That was near the main playground. Ice would form on the playground in the winter but we were not allowed to skate on it. I remember athletics on the sports field and a pair of big trees that grew close to the entrance to them. Other memories are of playing stool-ball on the recreation ground and fire practice with a hand wound fire alarm.
In the second year, our form teacher was a Mrs Maize and Mr Simpson. We were a large class hence the two teachers. I remember cookery lessons in the second year (we had to wait for our turn as there was only a small room and a big class of us). When it was my turn, I was disappointed that it did not involve any cooking. We made a sweet out of condensed milk and coconut. It was coloured with food colouring and cut into little squares.
In the second year, I remember one afternoon asking to use the toilet. I needed to do a number two. The teacher told me to wait and I was too shy to ask again. I soiled myself and after school, my mother and step-father picked me up and we went on a drive to collect meat from a butcher they always went to. My mother noticed the smell and I recall her then saying that perhaps it was the smell of the meat. After we got home, I then owned up to it, much to my embarrassment and had to clean myself up in the bathroom.
Then in the third year, we had a very kind teacher called Alan Barker and a Mr Lee as well as a Mr Souter from Scotland. Mr Barker was a kindly teacher, who must have been in his late fifties at the time. I saw a mention of him on the Friends Reunited website maybe ten years ago so he was still alive then. He played the piano and took us for music lessons. I remember him commenting that I did not stammer when I was singing. Mr Souter devised a punishment for us involving sitting against the wall in a seated position without a chair. We must have been a noisy class. We also had a retired teacher for a bit – a Mr Gumble, who told us his wartime stories. He talked about the food they used to get in the army. Apparently, they used to get steak so often that he got fed up with it.
In the final year, we had Mrs Watson who told us that she had taught in Botswana. Mrs Watson, quite a young teacher, took an interest in my welfare when, in 1978, I was about to move to live with my dad. She asked if I was sure that was what I wanted. As it turns out, I wish that I had listened to her.
We had a field trip to a farm out Hassocks way in the third or fourth year. At that time, there was a row of prefab classroom running along the side next to the park. School dinners cost 12 1/2 p. The headmaster at that time was a Mr Coward. I can’t recall seeing him much around the school though. Other names I remember are a Mrs Cole, a very strict playground monitor, Mrs Davies , and Mrs Poland who taught French. I remember studying French in the third year.
My memories are mostly happy though I do remember being bullied by one teacher, Mr Lee, who would pick on me with a comment about a TV advert of the time to make the class laugh at my expense, since I was shy and withdrawn. I also recall being shoved violently by him when asking him a question. A comment he made to my mother at a parents evening was “At first, I thought Alan was backward but then I realised that he is very intelligent.”
Assemblies then still involved singing hymns – such as “Morning has Broken” and others. We used to have sports days out in the big field at the back of the school. There was a pair of tall trees – growing side by side close to the entrance to the field. The fire alarm was a hand-wound bell. Assemblies were held in the large hall near Junction Road by the Infants School. I think we probably only had them once or twice a week. I don’t remember there being assemblies taken by classes – they were generally assigned to a particular teacher to give.