Elephants in South London

Elephant with red ribbonI started at Dog Kennel Hill Primary School in South London in January 1960 when I was four and three quarter years old. The playground was split into two sections, one for the infants and the other for the junior girls. The junior boy’s playground was on a lower level, separated from ours by wire fence.

At playtime, junior girls did handstands up the wall, showing off their navy blue knickers, played French skipping and bounced tennis balls, encased old stockings against walls and under their legs – lethal if you got in their way.

Three large chestnut trees divided the infants and junior girls, with benches around each tree. In the autumn, these trees rained down conkers and green prickly shells. Jackie Bunn and Angela Hellawell were my best friends. We played fairies and witches around the trees and if you sat on the bench with your feet off the ground, crossed your middle and forefinger and said, ‘Vainlights,’ the witch couldn’t catch you.

There was a shed at the edge of the playground and the junior girls would put on dancing and singing shows. Infants were only allowed to watch from a distance.

On Fridays mornings, an elephant travelled across the front of the shed. This elephant was huge; it was grey with an ornate seat covered in black, red and gold.

To get a ride on the elephant you had to earn a cardboard old penny from your teacher. Finally, I managed to produce a piece of work good enough to earn a penny. At playtime I queued with the other infants eager to hand over my penny to the fourth year junior girl. Just before the bell went it was my turn.

I truly believed I was going to get an elephant ride. I went inside the shed. The elephant was a hardboard cut out and you rode it by walking along behind it, holding a metal bar at the back as you walked the length of the shed. They hadn’t even bothered painting the back of it.

The desire to win a penny in class was never the same again and that was my first realization that life could be deceptive.

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