R is for Recreation

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When I was a kid we had plenty of time for recreation.

Television didn’t arrive in Brisbane until 1959 and, even then, was limited in programming and broadcast times. So, unlike today’s youngsters, much of our time was spent outdoors.

My parents decided, when I was about eight years old, that my recreation periods should have some semblance of organisation.  I found myself learning to play the piano, attending elocution lessons and learning to play tennis.

Piano lessons took place before school on a Friday morning.  This meant that, by the time I had had my lesson and walked from the teacher’s house to school, I missed the Friday morning school assembly.  I didn’t mind that.  Assembly or “Parade” involved the entire student body assembling in class groups on the parade ground at the front of the school. We did this every day, weather permitting. Each class of about 40 students stood in three straight lines, in the ‘at ease’ position, feet apart and hands behind backs, until called to Attention.  Then the National Anthem would be played, the flag unfurled and the Pledge of Allegiance to Queen and Country was recited.  After the Headmaster made any necessary announcements, each class would make a smart right turn and march like soldiers to the classrooms.  Anyone not marching properly would be chastised, with the whole class likely to incur a lunchtime marching practice.  Oh no, I didn’t mind missing out on assembly.

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I quite enjoyed my piano lessons and kept it up for about six years before the work load of high school and the advent of the Beatles caused me to lose interest.

Tennis lessons were fun too.  Once I had learned for two years, I realised I knew enough to enjoy a game but that I was never going to be the next Wimbledon champ.  Why waste my Saturday mornings and Mum’s money on the lessons for any longer?  Anyway Saturday mornings were when I made my extra income from collecting bottles. (See I is for Income.)

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Elocution lessons were an after school event.  On a Monday afternoon I was to walk to the teacher’s house, have my lesson with about six other kids, and then walk home.  Elocution lessons were, according to my mother, supposed to teach me how to speak “like a lady”. These days I guess they would be called speech and drama lessons.

I was a shy child. Within my family I was fine, but in the world at large I felt very small. I lived mostly in my own head, in the world of the stories that I read. In that world I was comfortable and capable. I would have loved to have been popular and to have been the centre of attention and have had heaps of friends.  I looked at some of the girls at school who seemed so self assured and I would wonder why I couldn’t be as relaxed and confident as they were.  I tried to melt into the background so that nobody would notice me, because I felt there were always eyes upon me, judging me and finding me wanting. When I met new people, I had a tendency to put my head down and speak to my shoes. When I had to present a project before the class, I would be physically ill beforehand.

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At elocution lessons I was given a role to play.  I didn’t have to be me. I could be this new character and it was wonderful.  At the end of each semester we put on a performance for the parents. I just loved it.

Later, when I was a teacher (yes…me…the kid who used to throw up if I had to stand before the class), I used stories and drama as a base for many of my curriculum units.  I found that, just as it had for me, the drama brought quiet strength to the shy students and allowed them to show themselves to the group without being judged.  The children loved it and threw themselves enthusiastically into their learning. It was a most successful method of engaging my students.

I did, twice, skip elocution lessons. I spent the two shillings Mum had given me to pay for the lessons on a bag of lollies, and met my friend Carol in the park.  We sat there under the big Moreton Bay fig tree and gorged ourselves. I was caught, of course, and threatened with immediate removal from the class.  Yikes!

Those lessons were a drain on my free time, but they gave me something far more precious.  They gave me a sense of Myself.  They helped me to see that I could be whoever I wanted to be.   I was still shy. I was still awkward and self-conscious, but I could step into the world with more confidence. Many times I approached difficult situations as if they were roles I had to play. After a while, I would find that the mask of the actor would slip away and I, myself, was coping with the situation.

To this day, I give thanks that my mother made me take those Elocution lessons and I hope that, for her sake, I speak like a lady.

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8 thoughts on “R is for Recreation

  1. I think I was nine when the first television arrived in our house – a massive box with a tiny nine-inch screen. That would have been 1958 or 1959. The only time I ever had a birthday party was for my tenth, in 1959. I had, I think, five people over. They came, not for me, but for the TV – we were one of the first in our street to have one. No elocution or piano, but I do have memories of carrying a cello home every Friday afternoon and back every Monday morning (two miles each way). I was not a large child, and the instrument was at least as tall as I was. I can certainly identify a great deal with much of what you describe so well.

    1. Oh dear, I am imagining a little boy walking along with a cello on his back….sort of like a turtle. At least I didn’t have to bring my own piano to my lessons.

  2. We (me and my twin sister) did drama lessons for a while as children but, being an introvert, I didn’t really enjoy it. My sister, being the opposite, loved every minute of it. I don’t know why we stopped going, but can remember being relieved!!

  3. This is really interesting! I love learning more about your childhood and also about Australia’s history… school’s changed a lot since then but it’s nice to think it was once so structured and sort of dignified. Plus it’s funny that the teacher who made us stand straight and silent for our parade, disliked her own just as much! 🙂

    But WOW, I did NOT see one thing coming – Mrs G… SHY? :0 I will never forget your classes and even that Grease rendition (play) you organised which both V and I were in! You truly DID bring out confidence in the shy kids and knowing you in reverse (you teacher:me student) I can hardly believe that someone so wonderful, with such radiating warmth could have ever been shy. I’m glad you took those elocution lessons! I guess they are responsible, in a way, for creating everyone’s fave teacher!

    1. Totally blushing..why thank you, Miss Lena. Believe me when I tell you that there were many times when I was having to stand out there in front of a huge audience to get THE PLAY done each year that I was shaking in my shoes every bit as much as the kids. Having said that though… I just love the feeling of elation and achievement afterwards.

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