Memories from a Romany Childhood P3 by Chris Smith

28 April 2020
Chris Smith stops in front of a car smartly dressed ready for school

This week we are pleased to bring you the third story in the series ‘Memories from a Romany childhood'  by Romany Musician and previous TT manager, Chris Smith from Herefordshire  

Hardly anything lingers in your memory as much as a feeling of injustice........writes Chris Smith. I began my school life aged 5 at the village primary school in Yarkhill Herefordshire. I only recall two teachers, although there may have been more that have been lost from my recollection over the intervening 54 years. Miss Preece the headmistress, and Mrs Pitt who taught most of our lessons. 

The walk to school took around half an hour, and the parents in the village took turns in escorting us kids each morning and afternoon. I always preferred it when Mrs Beebee was the escort. She encouraged us to store our school shoes in our bags and to wear our wellingtons, allowing us to walk in the brook when the water wasn’t too deep in the spring and summer months. I loved the smell and feel of katkins brushing my face from the overhanging trees.

Yarkhill school back in the 1960s
Yarkhill Primary school back in the 1960s

I was a quick learner, quicker than most of my classmates, and consequently finished my work before the other kids of my age. So I would often be admonished by Mrs Pitt for staring out of the windows in a wistful way, longingly waiting for the school bell to ring so that I could begin the journey home. 

For some reason, the fact that I found the lessons easy, seemed to infuriate Mrs Pitt and she appeared to enjoy calling me out to the front of the class on the rare occasions I made a mistake in my work. If I did make an error it was usually in a maths lesson and almost invariably because I had misread a question or was distracted by one of my classmates.

Chris Smith and his best friend at the time Stevie Walters
Chris Smith and his best friend at the time Stevie Walters

On this particular day, after handing in my work first, Mrs Pitt looked pleased that she had an opportunity to call me to the front of the class and exclaim that I had done my sums wrong. I was told off in front of the whole class, and while everyone watched, she took her long wooden ruler out of her desk drawer. She held my left hand out in front of her and smacked it several times, hard with the ruler.

I bit my lip and tried not to show any emotion as tears welled in my eyes. She then glanced at my work again and a look of surprise and disappointment crossed her face as she said “Oh, You have got it right!” She then looked me in the eyes, and I observed a slight look of shame cross her features, before saying, “Well, those smacks will have to do for another day”.

Chris Smith and his mam Elizabeth Betty Smith
Chris Smith and his mam Elizabeth (Betty) Smith

I walked slowly back to my desk rubbing my hand, which was red and stinging with pain, without saying a word. I just couldn’t comprehend why she hadn’t apologised to me for her error. I made sure after that experience, to take more time over my work, even though I didn’t need it, to ensure Mrs Pitt never had an opportunity to treat me in such a manner again. I learned a lesson that day, but not the one that she intended.

Main photo: The young Chris Smith ready for school.  All photos featured are (c) Courtesy of Chris Smith