When I went to secondary school, a girls’ grammar school, we had the usual array of subjects – English, French, History, Geography, Science, Maths, PE… At the end of the first year we had to choose a further subject, either German, Spanish, Latin or Domestic Science. I desperately wanted to learn German – I had a book of birds with the names of each bird written in English, Spanish, German and Italian – and hoping it would help me, I learned all the German names… which unfortunately now I have forgotten!
I put my first choice as German, second Spanish, third Latin and said I absolutely and utterly did not want to do Domestic Science. To my great disappointment I was put in the Latin group, the ridiculous reason being I was not good at spelling (untrue) and Latin was easy to spell… and is German not? Is Spanish not? So I was put into Latin.
Our teacher was a dear old soul… when I say old, I actually mean old… she was my aunty’s teacher (who went to the school in 1935, and she was old then! Our teacher was a real dear, but pretty hopeless… in my first term of Latin I got glandular fever and was away from school for six weeks. Glandular wrecked my ambitions as a swimmer, and wrecked any chance I had of succeeding at Latin.
Over the next few years I worked harder at Latin than any other subject – and I was a very studious and hard-working school girl! However I could make no sense at all of it, I was totally baffled, and my exam results showed it… 11%, and then 8%… My mum, who was extremely shy and quite nervous, even came into school to ask if I could give it up… but no, no I could not – and when it came to the time to give up a subject, I was forced to give up science (even though my dad was a scientist and would and could have helped me)
I struggled on; then eighteen months before we were due to take our public exams our sweet but useless teacher left, and a new teacher came. She was young, she was amazing, she was very strict, she came from New Zealand… Her name was Mrs Stanton – although with her accent we heard it as Mrs Stenton who taught us Letin.
She was a fantastic teacher… suddenly I grasped it! Suddenly I understood! My results improved – to 38% then to a magnificent 56%! I’d worked so hard! I’d made so much effort! Mrs Stanton had gone above and beyond to help me!
I took the ‘mock’ exam… not brilliant, but I would pass!! The headmistress, the vile old cow (sorry, but she was) told me she was not going to enter me for the exam… Once again my mum went to see her – and no doubt was treated with disdain… I was not allowed to take Latin.
Two years later when I was thinking about going to University to study English which I was so passionate about… guess what… in those days you had to have Latin to be accepted! I didn’t even get an interview at any of the thirteen universities I was able to apply to, let alone the offer of a place. When my results came out, I did not even get through clearing (when Universities match up available places with people needing them)
Somehow or another, and I didn’t know then and don’t know now, the new Manchester Polytechnic came across me and I was offered a place there. In actual fact, it was the best possible result for me. An amazing place, stunning lecturers, great course, life-long friends, a city I fell in love with…
It’s funny how things work out – and even though I wouldn’t swap what happened, I still have this utter fury that I was treated as I was by that despicable headmistress… and even more, that I can’t speak German!