I left school at 15 with no exams !!! ...there I said it!
On top of that I actually didn't go to secondary school very much at all!
But when I was there I loved learning . I'm sure most people remember big events at school , I remember individual lessons or moments of praise,
one of my biggest memories was of a detention given to me by my RE teacher Mr Martin, not for being naughty but for missing so many of his lessons by being off school...in this detention he spent the whole time one on one going through what i missed.
Although I was a thin and sickly child that wasn't always the reason for my staying home , I was the eldest daughter of 5 children and my Mum worked very long hours in a cinema she started in the early morning cleaning the cinema inside and out she would pop home (as it was at the end of our street) for an hour then go back glamed up to usherette and sell the icecreams ,pop home then go back for the evening shift until very late to work the box office and kiosk.
Dad was a lorry driver who also worked long hours but he was home every evening, dad didn't do housework or cook Dad would mend stuff and watch the telly,he likes a fag but never drank.
They both worked hard to keep stuff together.
But it was left to me to fill the gap like looking after my brothers and sisters ,housework ,laundry,popping to the shops.
I was no Cinderella and I was very loved , it was just a case of needs must to survive back in the early 60s.
But in the evenings or weekends I would escape into my own little world, although I had friends I would play out with,
I loved my own company I would take myself of to the local library and read or would spend what seemed like hours hiding in the big flower beds of the local council estate pretending to be a fairy from an Enid blyton book, or
enhancing my collection of paper dolls with outfits made from leaves and milk bottle tops.
One of my greatest achievements was to be given a swimming prize at primary school for swimming a width of the pool, the prize was a years pass to the local baths with a free towel every visit ...I used that pass so often at the end of the year I could swim a mile in a session. I was proberbly the cleanest kid on the block back then.
As I grew a little older around the age of 10 my mum got me a job in a hairdressers called Lunas in Munster Road Fulham I would do jobs like cleaning the sinks and filling the shampoo bottles but every now and then I would get to clean the hair dye off of the ladies hairline using cigarette ash!! And damp cotton wool ...cant see anyone doing that now days. I also baby sat for the only west Indian couple in our street and the mum taught me to crochet and make pig trotter curry, She also took me for my first visit to Shepherds Bush market when she shopped for shiney coloured satins to make cushion covers which she embelished to sell. back in the 60s the market predominantly served the west Indian community.
I was really starting to develop a passion for fashion and crafts and although there wasn't the money to buy clothes the way there is now, it didn't stop me dreaming, I would draw and create designed from nothing using feathers plucked from my pillow or rolled up toilet paper to create the texture I wasn't able to draw. I was given an early version of fashion templates for either Christmas or birthday (which I still have) which kept me amused for hours. When a new shirt factory opened near my house I would search their rubbish for fabric scraps to make dolls clothes, all of this was self taught as mum couldn't sew ,but she always encouraged me to try everything and anything. She used to say I was artistic but so was she in her own way.
I remember being very little and coming home to tell mum that she had to make me a white Angel costume for the school nativity ...mum said she could make one from crepe paper as she couldn't sew, the school wouldn't let her , she would have made a great one with sticky tape and paper...I still remember the humiliation of being laughed at by the whole audience as I was the last Angel on stage wearing a large granny petticoat someone had donated with tinsel tied around my waist ,you could see my vest and knickers through it , luckily my Mum wasn't their as she had to work.
I think the shame of that made me make sure my kids never went through the same and they had the best costumes ever !
Anyway I only had some Sundays to myself,after any errands had been done every now and then I would wander down to South Kensington to the museums and spend a few hours there drawing.you could pay a penny and hire a clipboard with a couple of sheets of paper a pencil,rubber and sharpener. I can still remember drawing a little roe deer in the natural history museum.
But best of all was the fashion gallery in the V&A , it wasn't like today with the constant changes and exhibitions. It was static and fabulous and I feel more accessible to everyone than it is today...I don't ever remember all the security guards,I would just stroll in and wander ,I can't see them letting a lone child do that know,can you?
Being allowed the freedom to wander around London either with my friends or alone throughout my teenage years was my education into the world of fashion and life.
I remember doing a history project at school which I called 'fashion between the war's where I traced and coloured in a fashion template in the middle of each page and wrote around it, being dyslexic I would write very small in turquoise ink hoping the teacher didn't notice the spelling mistakes, and I would tear out pages and start again if I made a mistake .i remembet my teacher loved that note book and I never did get it back !
I left school at 15 with no exams and a cookery book ! as they weren't expecting much from me .
At 15 I went through different jobs (you could jump from one to the other back then very easily) starting with the GPO as a trainee telephonist, I did a short stint at Biba in Kensigton, perfectly fitting their recruitment requirements of pretty, skinny, undernourished looking, shop assistants, and I was with them when they moved to the big super store, wandering around that store when it was being created is a treasured memory ,absolute bliss ,
but by the age of 16 I was a hairdressers apprentice in the Kings road working for ginger group wearing second hand 40s clothes and adapting cheap high street fashion to fit my 'vintage' style and although I failed needle work at school I always had a go at making small changes to make sure I was different to everyone else. I was having a ball. My style was I thought classy and grown up 1940s mixed with a little 50s ,clothes were easy to find in jumble sales and second hand shops there were no such thing as vintage shops or even charity shops back then, there were still a few things in the back of mum's wardrobe I could pinch and mum always encouraged me, she had the most amazing style and elegance even if she had nowhere to go. One of my greatest finds was 2 boxes of Keiserbonda seamed stockings for 10p a pack ...I bought both boxes and wore them all 😉
Things developed like this for me until I got married and had my children,
I never stopped wanting to learn and attended all sorts of classes including going back and getting my English and Math exams , when my youngest son started nursary somebody told me about a costume course at uni !
Me doing a degree?
I found out that I would need to do an access course before I could apply so I did a GCSE in design and got my first A and and access course in art and design,
I would have been classed as a mature 'widening participation student'! coming from a working class background with no other family member before me ever having attended higher education.
I got a place at uni with 3 small children still in school and I thrived on it loving it so much I passed with flying colours and now teach technically on that same course for over 20 years , and 2 of my proudest moments were getting my PGCE in Higher Education
and being the first ever senior technician in our school to recognised with 'the white square award' by the students for outstanding teaching 😁
The performance course itself has changed beyond recognition in a good way, much more intense and academic but my passion for it is still there.
I often wonder how different would things have been if I took the standard route ? Going to school? getting exams!!? going to college or uni at an early age?
I got my education originally by just being me ,being inquisitive and passionate about the small world around me,without the internet and being dyslexic! By being allowed to form my own opinions on what I liked as a subject .Just a little girl full if self doubt with a lot going on around me, but still willing to search out places and experiences around to enhance my dreams.
The moral of my story is , There is no right way to do things, no right education ,just be open enough to learn from your experiences, life and the people around you but don't let them tell you what to do ,think for yourself,don't compare your self to others, because we have all had different influences that make us who we are , following a crowd gets you lost ,break loose and find your own path and you will learn something along the way ..and maybe put the phone away for a while and live at the real world.