Revisiting the past: ‘dame school’.

I occasionally search desultorily for some of my childhood memories in one form or another. A search for mentions of my ‘dame school’ in Bukuru, Nigeria, threw up a surprise result today, in the form of a book written by a fellow pupil with whom I must have overlapped for just a few months. I’ve now bought the book and shall enjoy reading it, assuming that my increasingly rusty German holds up. I was particularly delighted to have a reply to my message to the author, the only other former pupil I’ve come across.

School badge, 60 years on!

In the preview shown in my search, two key chapters for popped up for me; Mrs Prescott’s Academy and Stormclouds over Bukuru. The first of these reminded me of the front-room school this little, but formidable lady had set up, housing some 40-odd children from three to thirteen or so, with Mrs P dotting around from one to another. Author Nicola Vollkommer Sperry recalls some deterrents I’d not remembered, such as a plastic ruler wielded on transgressors, or, the ultimate deterrent of Mr Prescott’s slipper hanging on a nail! As I don’t recall them, presumably the deterrent effect worked! Nicola tells an amusing tale involving some impromptu art work in Mrs P’s garage.

I recall being very scared one day at the school, as a fellow pupil took great delight in telling us littl’uns that the sun was going to disappear. Once en route home and duly consoled, I learned a bit more about eclipses!

One of the highlights of the school week was at end of play on Fridays (school was morning only) we were allowed to browse Mrs Prescott’s bookshelves and borrow a book, to be taken home and devoured – I was an avid reader. For some reason The Wheel on the School remains imprinted on my brain; I still have a fondness for the book discovered there.

Other random memories include the cry of ‘Team lines’ which was the call we all echoed as we ran to line up at the end of break on the garden playground area. At least, I did, after my first day at the school when I thought everyone was shouting ‘Tea lies’ for some unknown reason!

Another odd “snapshot” remains in the memory bank, of us all lined up as for our return to class, and receiving vaccination jabs (with ever-blunter needles in those days). How we didn’t all get tattoed at the same time with all the laterite dust in the air, I’ll never know!

Dealing with so many children on an individual basis must have been a challenge, especially with limited resources, but I was introduced to French lessons there, aged 6 or so, and to be fair, my experiences with ‘Madame Souris’ there effectively saw me through my first year or so of French at secondary school several years later with little effort!

We went to visit my former teacher at her home near Blackpool when they returned from Nigeria, in about 1967. We walked down the path at the side of the house, a bungalow, I think, and peeped in the window in passing – there was Mrs P at the sink in the kitchen, at about eye level with me (aged about 12). We knocked on the door, and I looked straight ahead as it opened, expecting to see this impressive, tall presence that I recalled – and had to look down a good foot or so, at a trim little lady with a sedate blue rinse! Clearly it was her personality that loomed so large.

The other, much more sombre, chapter mentioned above recalls a dreadful incident during 1966, that I had heard about but not witnessed, and which I’ll pick up in another post. In the meantime, here’s to you, Mrs Prescott!

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