I think I first met Miss Read when my mother borrowed her books from the library. Years later I acquired a number of first editions but got rid of them in one of my purges. The problem was that the later books were dull and I’d forgotten how interesting the first ones are. Recently I picked up a bundle of the latest paperback reprints and just yesterday I felt like a re-read. When I first read the books, the social history aspect of them passed me by completely; they were just pleasant country stories. Now I see how uncosy they actually are: some children are ill treated, sanitation is poor, expectations low, an elderly spinster teacher faces a bleak future. Miss Read had forty children in her school, whereas I went to a school with more than forty children in each class. My late husband, though, went to a school just like the one at Fairacre. Poor little boy, he was so much cleverer than all the other children that he had to be in a special class all on his own. His mother, uncle and grandfather all attended the same school.
I don't have a date for the picture but I'm assuming before the First World War. And here's the next generation:
One of those little boys was my husband's uncle; he was killed in the Second World War, aged nineteen.
I also went to the same (town) junior school as my mother and was even taught by the same teacher. Her name was Miss Winchester and I can see her now: thin, with crisp grey hair, glasses and a very dry manner. There was no nonsense with her but she was kind to us. Every afternoon ended with a prayer (just like Fairacre!) and she would say, ‘If you wake up in the night and you think you want Mum, just say this to yourself.’ She retired as I left the school and my mother, as a parent and a former pupil, was asked to make a presentation at a leaving ceremony for her. Miss Winchester wore a rather swish dress made of that shot, shiny fabric that looks green in one light and red in another. We never gave a thought to our teachers’ lives outside school but now I wonder what she did with herself after retirement? She’s still remembered, anyway, as I’m sure ‘Miss Read’ is by those she taught.