My East End Schooldays
by Les Pedrick, Harpenden
I’m not an Academic or an Intellectual or any of those posh or slightly scary sounding things.
During my working life, I didn’t move mountains, so why should you listen to anything that I have to say? There’s probably no great reason, except………..
Ah, I do still have your attention. I’m glad and hope that you might just learn a few things from my schooldays. Even though they seem an eternity away now, I still have some memories that I’d like to share with you.
My school wasn’t for the crème de la crème. It was a backstreet comprehensive in London’s East End. The kind of school where there was a firm pecking-order based on muscle, not intellect, and you knew who not to make eye-contact with.
Yes, it was tough. But Langdon Park’s saving grace was its teachers, though what agonies they must have suffered daily trying to impart learning on largely unresponsive ears, I still can’t imagine.
The people I really want to tell you about were Miss Farren, Miss MacDonald and Mr Surridge, my English teachers. Have you ever wished that you’d said something to somebody at the right time? Well, I wish I’d said to all three of them what a fantastic difference they’d made to my life
Neither Miss Farren, nor Mr Surridge were young when they taught me and Miss MacDonald was just a few years their junior. So it may be, by now, that they reside in a better place. If there is a heaven for exemplary English teachers, they deserve to be in it.
So what great gift did they pass on to me? Simply, it was a love of the English language written down. Young people today may be lucky enough to travel the world in their formative years. But that incomparable trio of teachers took me to California with John Steinbeck, to the South Seas with Joseph Conrad and to various points in-between through a host of other authors and poets. Those teachers were the navigators on my literary voyages. I think back on them fondly.
They also tried to teach me English grammar and I spent the next twenty years or so atoning for my lack of attention to “the rules” and teaching myself to be better at them. I learned later than I should that these rules are the key to fully appreciating what you read and in making your own writing fully understood. If this narrative should fall before young eyes, please do better than I did in studying English language’s structure.
And, for what they are worth, these are my final words of wisdom to pass on. Never, ever, underestimate the value of reading. Books are your windows on the world, your counsellors and the inspiration for your own creative thoughts. They can educate or give pleasure; move, amuse or stimulate. They will last you a lifetime and you will always find something new in them.
I wish you joy in your discoveries. I’d love to make mine all over again.