From the age of five I attended St Clare’s Catholic Primary School in Blackley. At that time the church was little better than a Nissen hut but the American born parish priest Father George had great plans for a new church which eventually came to pass. However, in the fifties the primary school suffered a great deal from overcrowding. My class had fifty four children and most of the other classes were the same. When my father came to visit once he was appalled to discover that there were two classes of a similar size sharing the hall, divided by a coat rack – the noise level of one hundred or so seven year olds must have been pretty astounding.
We weren’t a rich family but neither were we poor. We lived in a semi close to Heaton Park Road and rented it for 32/6 pence each week. Sacrifices were made to send me to the prep school of the grammar school that my father had attended, even though it entailed a two bus journey of over an hour to Fallowfield on the opposite side of Manchester. At first I travelled most of the way with my elder brother Bernard who had made it to Xaverian the hard way – via St Clare’s and the 11 plus. After a few weeks I made a couple of friends who lived on the north side of Manchester and we usually caught the same bus from Piccadilly bus station.
St Clare’s was a tough school. I had been bullied on and off for about three years until my brother negotiated some protection – how I have no idea – and two boys he knew used to accompany me at dinner times which helped a lot. I think I must have been quite a sensitive child and doubtless a worrier which may also have helped Dad in his decision to remove me from the cauldron of fear that was my school experience up to that point and which deserve a separate post.
On my first day at the Prep I went into a room which I remember resembled a conservatory with a great deal of glass and a piano. It doubled as the music classroom. It was the first day of my first term and I was nervous to say the least. Then I heard a teacher shout ‘Vicky!’ and a boy smaller than me started to run towards him and they hugged each other. This was a sight that never left me. This school had people who actually showed affection rather than the scowls which were the usual exchanges which took place at St Clare’s. This was a different school, different people. It could almost have been a different planet.
Over the next few weeks I realised that there were the offspring of some very prosperous middle class families with fathers who were doctors, dentists and so forth. But there were many boys like myself whose families made sacrifices for their children which were almost unbelievable. I never felt that I was looked down upon because of my background – it was never an issue. But for years I was always acutely aware that I felt out of place for most of my working life in a ‘trade’ . Only later did I feel this had been because I had had a taste of a different kind of life which for whatever reason, I could never join. It was, of course, a complete illusion.