I was just 11. My first year at Grammar School. My parents had sacrificed to buy the uniform from Wards, the only supplier in town. As well as blazer and tie and cap there were shirts and socks and new shoes – but that was just the start of it. Gym kit, rugby kit and cricket whites too. I can remember parading, a reluctant model, for relatives. Partly because the uniform was so expensive and partly because I was so small (but expected to grow) my parents sensibly bought my clothes a couple of sizes too large for me. My blazer came down well over my bottom, and the shorts (obligatory for the first two years) came below my knees.
In those days everybody walked to school, or everyone from Stowmarket anyway, many kids arrived by coach from half-way across the county. It wasn’t a terribly long walk, especially if you took a short cut across the field at the back of our house. Well, 1963 was a cold year. In fact, one of the worst. It started snowing in early January and continued through to April. And when I say snow, the recent dusting in England is simply nothing compared to the snow we experienced that winter. My sister and I were stranded for two days at our Aunties.
But it was walking to school I remember mostly. Unlike today, the school never closed. Teachers and pupils were expected to attend despite the weather. Almost every day there was fresh snow, and even in wellies the snow would still get into your socks and feet. The roads were barely gritted and the cars struggled and skidded, or simply gave up. But most families didn’t even have a car. Everyone walked. I can remember cliffs of ice, snow and black frozen slush along the roads as we trudged to school. It was so deep that my shorts were often sodden too.
We even played football in the snow a few times, running around simply to keep warm, no idea who had the ball even. And then showers of scalding hot water and trying to dry ourselves with tiny towels and clambering into still damp clothes.
There was a huge slide in the playground which became a rite of honour. We would run over the compacted snow and jump onto the patch of ice, surrounded by a crowd of cheering kids and even a few teachers. There was no attempt to stop us or to salt the ice slide even though most of us went down it on our bottoms.
It seemed a never-ending winter but somehow we got through it. Nowadays most kids are driven to school and are kept in the classrooms whenever there is the mildest flurry of snow in the air.