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Monday Memories – Beginnings #8: Big Changes

At the beginning of 1954 I had chicken pox. In addition there was heavy snow in the hills of the Welsh border. So I did not return to school until about three weeks after term started. I got off the Green Line coach at Fairmile, crossed the road and commenced the walk through the woods to the school. It was a frosty, foggy morning and nothing about my surroundings seemed familiar. I should quickly reach a small lake called Black Pond. Summer swimming parties and winter skating took place on this lake. I knew it well, as well as the route from it to school. Where was it?

I must have taken the wrong path from the road. I returned to the bus stop, sought an alternative route into the woods. Once again it seemed wrong and when I again failed to find Black Pond I began to panic. Had I got off at the correct stop? I mentally retraced my actions. It took a long trime to admit to myself that perhaps I should not have crossed the road. It could do no harm to cross back and try a path in the opposite direction. It was with considerable relief that I came to Black Pond as the fog finally cleared and the sun began to shine.

A small lake with still water reflecting a clear sky
Black Pond, image from wildswim.com

The previous summer, 1953, a boy a couple of years older than me got into difficulty whilst swimming in Black Pond and drowned. The school management decided that an on-site swimming pool would be an asset. At about this time the trustees were concerned about dwindling finances and made the decision to close the sister school for girls in order to reduce costs and raise capital. For a while boys were assigned to voluntary duties; in the kitchens and undertaking some of the cleaning of classrooms. We already made our own beds and swept and dry mopped the dromitory floors, daily.

Another voluntary task, scheduled to take place at times otherwise set aside for sports, was the digging of the hole prior to lining with concrete to create the swimming pool. The school buildings and grounds had previously belonged to another school and already possessed an indoor swimming pool. This was, I assume, too expensive to operate and had been boarded over to create a woodwork room with an art studio above.

In the summer of 1954 I came down with pneumonia. It began as shivering on a hot summer day. I spent a few days in the school sick bay followed by 3 or 4 weeks in hospital in Kingston-upon-Thames. This lasted beyond the end of term. I remember arriving home to the cottage in an ambulance. I have no particular recollection of the journey from Kingston to Hereford – I assume someone must have put me on a train and arranged for it to be met by the ambulance.

Scene in a hospital ward from the 1950s
A 1950s hospital ward like the one I was in in July 1954. Image from uk.images.search.yahoo.com via Artman on Pinterest

Of my stay in hospital my most vivid memory is of being thumped on the back daily in order to loosen the mucus from my lungs. That and the mound of fruit left by visitors – staff from the school, my mother’s cousin and, I suppose, people visiting other patients who took pity on this sick child a long way from home. When I was due for discharge I remember two women, nurses or nursing assitants, sorting through, removing the uneaten rotting fruit. I well recall their disgust at the waste.

For Reed’s, the new injection of funds arising from the closure of the girls’ school enabled the construction of a new, two storey, teaching block. Once that opened the old classroms became year group common rooms where we stored our books, did our “prep” (homework), read, argued and, occasionally, fought. For lessons we carried our books to the teaching block.

At home in the Christmas/New Year break in the winter of 1954/5 my mother announced that she was pregnant. The father was a local man who was seeking a divorce from his wife. He was 12 years older than she and they were looking for a house in the village where they could set up home. By the time I came home for the Easter holidays he was making weekly visits on Sunday afternoons and evenings, cycling from the village to the cottage. He was still living with his wife who was, we were told, making life difficult for him, refusing to grant him a divorce despite his blatant adultery. This was before divorce laws were liberalised in the UK.