There was a moment filled with regret this evening. I did look for Miss Rabbage in the past, maybe ten years ago or more. Perhaps I was just too late, perhaps if I had been more diligent, perhaps if I had just asked more people, I might have found her. Not finding her in the telephone directory, I assumed she had died long before. This evening, in the village cemetery, I found her memorial stone at the plot where ashes are interred. Miss Rabbage had only died in 2003, a year before this blog began.
The desire to see Miss Rabbage was born of nothing more than a wish simply to say “thank you,” to acknowledge the formative role she and her colleague MIss Everitt had played. It is forty-five years since I left High Ham Church of England Voluntary Controlled Primary School where Miss Rabbage and Miss Everitt comprised the entirety of the full time staff.
Miss Everitt, was there from 1947 and taught for thirty years until her retirement in 1977. Miss Rabbage retired in 1972, at the age of 60; had she been a teacher there during the war years? They were questions that an eleven year old would never have thought to ask for fear of a slap for being cheeky.
Teaching at the school was never exciting, but it was solid and it was lasting. The daily recitation of the times tables in the infant class created a capacity that has never declined – anything up to 12 x 12 and my response is instant and automatic. We were expected to answer without needing to think. Spelling was based on textbooks called “Word Perfect”. There were sixteen words set from the book each Monday and a test each Friday morning. Sixteen correct out of sixteen earned a gold star; fifteen out of sixteen and the star was silver; much below twelve, and Miss Rabbage was not pleased.
Miss Everitt taught her own infant class and taught “nature” to Miss Rabbage’s junior class’ – we would have to sketch sepals and petals and stamens and label them neatly. Miss Rabbage taught us ancient history – there were charts on the wall telling of Sumerian civilisation; and taught us modern history – we once had to draw slips of paper with the names of people in Victorian times about whom we were to write a project, I drew Disraeli, but being unsure of who he was, swapped with someone who had drawn Shaftesbury, they got a much more exciting subject!
There was pressure to work hard and to do well. Never having the tidiest handwriting (I reverted to printing when I was fifteen because my joined up writing was so bad), I dreaded the handwriting classes where we were given inkpens and books from which we were to copy copperplate script.
There were moments of respite: programmes to watch on the school television; BBC Schools broadcasts on the radio, particularly “Singing Together”; our attempts to play recorder, (‘Every Good Boy Deserves Food’ might have meant something to someone who could hear the difference between the notes E and D); art classes taught by Mr Shield, who came one afternoon a week and who had been in an RAF bomber during the war and whose passion in life was his pigeons.
Of course, if asked, there would not have been a day when I could have told anyone what I had learned, but we learned, and we learned, and we learned.
Standing at her grave, there were wilted flowers that someone had placed in a vase on the memorial stone. Perhaps some fresh flowers would be a part-atonement for failing to say “thank you” during the three decades she lived beyond retirement; failing, until this evening, even to know that her name was “Eileen.”