Saturday, 20 January 2007

Teachers 2

I can't move on from this subject without recording the debt I owe Joan Webber, my kindergarten teacher. I went to school when I was only 3, my mother being driven insane by my early ability to read the Radio Times and incessant questions about "what does this mean". Evidently I came home from school one day and said "Mummy, what's 'phenomenal'? Mrs Webber says I'm phenomenal."

It was later explained to me that Mrs Webber used to impress prospective parents at Whitelake by making me stand up and then saying to them "listen to this little boy read, and he's only five ...". She was mortified when I turned six and her viral marketing scheme collapsed.

But boy, did I love her and would jump through any hoop to win her approval or an extra large red tick in my exercise book. I was so tick-hungry that I even asked for homework which wasn't given out in kindergarten. With the help of therapy I have ultimately forgiven her for, when doling out the instruments from the box which contained the tools of our 'Percussion Band', she never, EVER, gave me the cymbals - something I was itching to play and at the time insufficiently assertive to request.

Her amplitude was always covered in some floral yardage probably sourced on Urmston market, and in looking at old school photographs she seemed only to own one dress pattern as in each successive year she appears in a different version of the same style.

But look at this picture, taken one dappled afternoon in about 1958

It's another planet. The Clarks' sandals, the girls' gingham summer dresses and hair ribbons (although Jean Tate clung defiantly to her barathea gymslip even when the sun was melting the tarmac on Flixton Road) and the ties and socks from Horne Brothers in Manchester all define a simpler and a gentler time, and my innocence.

It's an idyll.

Below, I'd credited Mr Buttery with inspiring me to the drama. But I'd forgotten a production of "The Wind and the Sun" staged in the front garden of Whitelake School and directed by the aforementioned Mrs Webber and her young sidekick Miss Kershaw into whose tender cardigan-shouldered care I graduated aged six. Whether for my latent acting ability, or because I was her favourite, I was The Wind. In a dark blue velvet cloak made from the old dining room curtains and as I remember still with the rufflette tape and some hooks attached.

There's got to be a line about Gone With "The Wind", but I'd struggle to frame it.

I can actually identify more than half of the children, including Susan Stephenson, the tallest one and daughter of my mother's best friend - we were paraded in parallel prams - and my first girl-friend Terry Barlow to whom I was engaged when we were six. I had good taste, though. Michael Billington who is the only member of my class to be in touch through Friends Reunited says she was the prettiest.

Feel free to try and spot me: there's only nine boys, so you've 11/1 odds.


  1. I remember Mrs Webber, about five years after you I think.

    I thought she was an utter monster.

  2. Sorry to hear that - I don't think I was unusual, since most of my class seemed devoted to her, but she did favour the brighter children.

    I've separately learned that Mrs Webber attended my first birthday party (I mean when I became aged one) so must somehow have been a friend of my mother's which perhaps explains the favouritism.

  3. Hi,

    Just stumbled across you site by chance. I was at Whitelake in approx
    1965- 1968.

    All I recall of Mrs Webber was shouting. I think there was some familial connection with the Wesleys, Mr being the headmaster.

    Anyway joan was indeed a child hating monster from what I remember, thank God for Mrs Bamford

  4. Hi, i was there just after you i think. I new Mike and Carl Billington and Martin Ferrario for a short while before he left. My names, Barry Borgen, oh yes i bumped into Terry Barlow, who'm i also was at school with, in Altrincham last saturday and yes shs is still pretty! I missed the Mrs Webber teaching experience as i did not start there until i was 11 but Mr Wesley was a vast influence me and as a result i pursued a career in Art and graphics and now have ended up as a teacher at Trafford College

    1. Hey Barry. If this finds you can you drop me a line? I was on your design course around 98-99 - mature (lol) student. Got a question for you. Cheers. Mike Batho

  5. @ 15 July - Mrs Webber was Mrs Wesley's elder sister. It sounds like she went through some kind of sea-change in the 60s, perhaps she was becoming tired of teaching.

    @ Barry Borgen - how wonderful to know Terry Barlow hasn't lost it, if you see here again, please send my regards, and introduce her to the blog! I left when I was 7 so missed Mr Wesley's tutelage, although I remember him as a well-respected Headmaster.

  6. I remember Mrs Wesley as comparatively sophisticated - I told my parents that children in her class 'learned to play the tape recorder'. She taught only the 'older' groups and I once had to take a note up to her classroom and they made a huge jazz joke out of my asking if it was 'behind the Green Door' which was a popular tune in 1956 ... possibly one of the reasons I never grew to like jazz or being made fun of :-)

    Because I left Lancashire in 1960 aged 7, I never matriculated beyond Miss Kershaw's where I remember the open fire, and the milk crates in winter with half an inch of cream sticking out of each bottle where they'd been frozen on the doorstep, and Miss K putting them in front of the fire to warm. Although I loved the fresh cold milk, I've always hated it warmed ...

    I remember the 'bars' on the windows, one-inch ramen or some similar feeble timber painted yellow like the window frames and only nailed lightly in place so am sure they wouldn't pass any 21st century health and safety assessment. And the fact that the sashes were broken in the windows so for ventilation she propped it open with a hardback book.

    I remember the tuck shop Mrs Webber ran every morning, boxes of mint imperials, other sweets and red and silver foil covered Munchmallows which are still a nostalgic indulgence when I get the chance.

    I remember school dinners - and the whiff of gas and roasting from the back right-hand room off the hall where the ladies cooked every morning. Corned beef with cabbage, funny not-quite-crisp tiny chips, little yorkshire puddings dusted with sugar, and beakers (which we weren't allowed at home because my mother thought anything plastic was 'common') of orange or blackcurrant squash.

    God, that little sugary yorkshire pudding is so Proustian I may have to make a batch and see if I can regress further ... :-)

  7. Do you remember the outside lavatory which, I seem to recall, was completely covered in cob-webbs? What about the derelict stone barn?
    I too remember the frozen milk. It all seems so Dickensian.

    What about going upstairs to "do your duty"!?

    Are they all dead now?

  8. What duty did you have to go upstairs for? I don't recall a stone barn, but yes the toilet block was a bit spidery ...