Chapter 3 - At grammar school
In September 1960, I started at an all-boys’ grammar school in West London. I travelled there by train, with one change in the morning and two going home, taking about half-an-hour. (My free season ticket proved very useful as it could be used at weekends too and got me most of the way into central London.) I soon got to recognise a number of regular travellers, either on my trains or waiting at the stations I used. A number of women whom I saw regularly were dressed smartly ‘for the office’ and usually in stiletto heels. One I well remember seeing most days when I changed trains was around 50, had ginger hair and invariably wore high black patent stiletto courts – at least 4.5” – although her gait was not very elegant.
The many students at any of the several colleges along my line generally followed the prevailing fashion, albeit often not quite so elegantly as those commuters in employment. The girls favoured pencil skirts and the boys narrow trousers, in both cases usually teamed with winkle-picker shoes. My school, although fairly relaxed in terms of ‘rules’, had a compulsory uniform and forbade the wearing such trousers or shoes. But a number of the boys did so and generally got away with it – a particularly popular style was the pointed Chelsea boot, typically with a high zipped or elastic shaft. The Beatle-inspired boots with Cuban heels (typically 2.5 – 3” high) appeared a little later, around 1965. One of my classmates wore a very pointed pair – but it was to be another 45 years before I got some for myself! I did however get some chisel-toed flat boots and side-buckled shoes, after I overcame parental objections, and wore them regularly to school. Many pupils from several other schools I saw frequently broke wholeheartedly whatever uniform rules applied – especially those requiring caps or hats to be worn. Some girls in particular endeavoured to wear tighter skirts, discreet make-up and jewellery, along with kitten heels – or anything but the prescribed flat ‘school’ shoes (with ankle socks for the younger ones).
I got to know most of West London well, as various school trips (and the weekly journey to the hated sports ground for an afternoon’s purgatory) took me to most parts. The sights and sounds of this cosmopolitan area made quite an impression, particularly that of the growing immigrant West Indian population. But this was not long after the Notting Hill race riots and discrimination was common and quite blatant. A number of the rather run-down tenements along Shepherds Bush Road, for example, clearly displayed notices declaring ‘No blacks; no Irish; no dogs’ to deter potential tenants. But those who had found a home there seemed generally colourful and cheerful, even if their houses and jobs were not. In the warmer weather, the women typically wore brightly-coloured dresses, teamed with hats and white stiletto courts, and their children usually looked very smart when in their best clothes for church or outings at the weekend. In my view, they set a good example which was not easy to beat.
School work took up much of my time, along with my essentially indoor hobbies - particularly model making and stamp collecting. There was limited opportunity for socialising outside my immediate family group, and both that and leisure trips were somewhat restricted in scope as we never had a car. However, public transport links were quite good and I made much use of them for weekend jaunts, by myself or with the family. We joined regular summer Sunday excursions by train to the Sussex coast and our annual fortnight’s holiday in an English or Welsh destination was invariably reached by train. Although these expeditions permitted some ‘girl spotting’ (and discreet heel appraisal), there were few opportunities to meet the girls themselves That situation prevailed, alas, until after I had left school, as I shall touch upon in the next chapter.