"I Remember"

"I REMEMBER" - 1918-1924

WHEREVER and whenever Old Esthameians, of my generation at any rate, meet together - and they are apt to meet in the most unlikely places and at the most unlikely times - the talk will inevitably turn upon the "Tech." and, almost inevitably the memories conjured up by that magic formula, "Do you remember?" will be pleasant ones.

Now why is this? It is, of course, almost a truism that with advancing years one remembers only the pleasant things of one's school days - that one tends to forget the occasions when school was a place of unbearable tedium and unutterable misery, when one's fellows seemed to be drawn exclusively from the lowest form of animal life and the Staff - well, perhaps the less said about them, the better! But somehow that does net seem to apply to the "Tech."! At least, not in my case. Searching my memory diligently for faults, I find that I have nothing but pleasant recollections. This is, I think, due to the fact that the old Technical College and Secondary Day School for Boys and Girls (what a sonorous ring that title has!) was in its essential quality a happy school. I do not mean that the Staff were early exponents of the "Play Way" in Education, or that we were in any way pampered or had life made particularly easy for us; far from it. I think it was simply that we liked being at the "Tech." We liked our fellow pupils - even though, at times, we girls deplored the peculiarly juvenile sense of humour of our masculine counterparts - for the "Tech." was a Dual School - and we liked the Staff. Admittedly, we liked some of the Staff more than others and there were times when even our idols turned out to have feet of clay - notably on the days when our homework was not up to their preconceived standards of perfection, or when our praiseworthy endeavours to introduce a little light relief into the monotony of school life met with little or no response from their adult minds. Still, we enjoyed school and, looking back now at those days immediately following the First World War, I realise that we were lucky in having a Staff of men and women of deep sympathy and understanding, with a sense of vocation and integrity of character which we were, at that time, too young to appreciate.

Now, what do I personally remember of my days at the "Tech."?  I cannot remember when I first became "attached" to the School, for that occurred the day I was born. I was, I believe, the first baby born to a member of the Staff after the opening of the School and there were tales, how true I cannot say, of the wave of excitement that ran through the School when the news leaked out, "Andy's got a daughter". I remember very vividly my first day as a pupil when I arrived,  attired in all the glory of the official uniform, navy blue gym slip, red serge blouse, black woollen stockings, plaited hair, straw hat with a School band and badge and gloves (shades of Ronald Searle!). Yes, hats and gloves were compulsory wear in those days and woe betide the luckless girl seen -inadequately clad- by one of the ladies of the Staff.

What of my other memories? They are far too numerous to be given in detail, but here are a few highlights:

The assembly of the School in front of the Town Hall steps at 11a.m. on  11th November, 1918, to hear the proclamation of the Armistice by the Mayor: looking at an eclipse of the sun from the School playground and being issued with pieces of glass especially "smoked" in the science lab.; acting in School plays, and being thrilled even then by the dramatic power of a Fourth Form girl in a gym tunic, delivering Lady Macbeth's Sleep Walking Speech - and not knowing that that Fourth Form girl would later achieve world-wide fame as Greer Garson; climbing into the Geography room by the window in an endeavour to be there before "Fatty" - and then climbing ignominiously out as we met his irate gaze! Playing the hymn for School assembly with the piano surrounded by sixth form boys and then rising for the prayer with a clatter as the chair rose too, attached to my plaits; or the time when the tone of "Onward Christian Soldiers" wheezed out as if played on a broken down harpsichord until the tissue paper was removed from behind the hammers; devouring hot doughnuts at the Interval - surreptitiously obtained by the sixth form boys from the shop "across the road"; experimenting in the physics lab. in the basement, and the day when we swept up the mercury and replaced it in the Boyle's Law Apparatus, dirt and all - no doubt to the alarm and despondency of the next batch of experimenters; doing sixth form work at the table by the White Staircase, and conducting chalk battles with the boys across the staircase itself, until they were brought to a sudden end when Mr. Barker himself stepped into the line of fire; School photos - long panorama ones which call up such nostalgic feelings now: hockey and tennis at Barking Rec. or Beckton; the Bazaar, to which we owe the Memorial Club House; the first mixed party to celebrate Peace - surely the most silent gathering of boys and girls ever assembled; work and play, serious discussions and frivolous jokes - all these flood my memory when I think of the "Tech." as I knew it over thirty years ago.