When I was about 10 I was one of 30 children chosen to spend a week away from school, a week centered around the town of Hythe.
I remember the high drama of the draw for places, which took place in the school hall. My friend Johnny Grimes was drawn out fifth and several other boys from the year above me but who I knew well were also drawn, so the relief when my name came out 26th was enormous.
I ran home to tell my mother. I am sure it was not the news she wanted. I only realised recently just how tight money must have been in our household. But I was still allowed to go.
Before we went, we all had to prepare a cover for our workbooks for the trip. We were supposed to do this during lunch breaks, but this meant missing valuable eating and football playing time. It took the lead teacher, Mr Chapman, forever to persuade me to do it – which he did by asking anyone in the dining hall who had not started their cover to raise their hand. I was the only one (and no, this isn’t the ‘shame’ moment!).
The trip itself was my first time away from home without another relative being present. I was extremely happy, but wet the bed every night (nope, still not the ‘shame’ moment’). This was a problem, because every night Mr Chapman came into the room I shared with five others and sang one of us a ‘lullaby’ – the song ‘Golden Slumbers’, but with much bouncing of the bed and shaking of the occupant. Fortunately, he only got around to my song on the last night, and in some respects it could not have been more appropriate!
The other thing I remember about that trip was that it was the first time I became aware that the rear view of an adult female was quite something. The two lady teachers on the trip were Miss Law and Miss Lawson, both new to the school and both, in retrospect, very young (scary though it is, they were probably only about 25). I remember walking through the streets of Hythe in single file, slightly mesmerised by the view of Miss Law’s jeans-clad behind a few yards in front of me.
What else do I remember? I remember going on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway. I remember being the only one brave enough to go close enough to get a photograph of a nesting swan. I remember a trip to Dungeness lighthouse, which not only caused my lifelong fear of heights, but was where we discovered that we had been given cold (though fortunately cooked) steak and kidney pies for lunch (I ended up with seven of them). And I also remember a visit to the town hall in Rye, and the skeleton in a cage that they had hanging there.
My last memory, though, is of the final morning. Throughout the week, there had been a competition between the various rooms to see who would have the tidiest room over the week. We were marked every evening, and on the final morning. By the end, my room were neck and neck with the boys in the room next to us, and one of the girls’ rooms. We cleaned that room from top to bottom. We cleaned places that had not been cleaned before. We, a bunch of 10 and 11 year olds, moved the wardrobes and cleaned behind them. And, when we saw Mr Chapman showing our room to the girls, we knew we had won. Whether it was the thought of beating our peers, or the girls, or just the big bag of sweets we each got for winning, it was a powerful thing.