(This was published in Family and Friends from Shanghai and Hong Kong an open group on Facebook)
I started my secondary school education at St. Joseph’s College in Kennedy Road. St. Joseph’s is a Catholic school and most of the teachers were Brothers. In those days corporal punishment was still permitted and unlike KGV, where only the headmaster was allowed to wack the students, in St. Joseph’s any of the brothers could punish the students they deemed to have been naughty. The punishment itself was not severe and the sting of the teacher’s ruler on the palm of the hand soon faded; what hurt me more was the fact that we were never told the reason for our punishment. Every Friday morning the form teacher would call out a list of names and we would step out to the front and await our turn with the ruler. One of the brothers was particularly sadistic and it came as no surprise when, one day one of his student victims placed a hypodermic syringe under the cushion of his chair. I will leave his reaction to the reader’s imagination. Needless to say he didn’t get much sympathy and the only reason no one laughed was because of the threat of future punishment.
St. Joseph’s was then, and is today, a school with an enviable scholastic record and they didn’t have the time to commit to slower students. After a trying year my parents transferred me to King George the Fifth and then the fun started.
I was initially placed in Form 2E until the school realised that they didn’t have enough students to justify an additional class and we amalgamated with 2D, my first promotion!
I was not a very good student. It seemed that as soon as I started making progress in any one class or subject they would transfer the teacher. The next two years were a series of failures to which my parents became accustomed to.
Then I started writing and everything changed. I found that there was something I could do in life better than anyone else.
At the end of every school year the teacher would stand up at the head of the class and read out the class positions. In a class of an average of 22 students I usually came 22nd and then suddenly it was the end of Form 4. The teacher, a kind lady whose name I don’t recall now stood up at the head of the class and started announcing the positions. It was customary to start at the last place and work towards the first. Accustomed as I was to being number 22 I was surprised when my name wasn’t called. We progressed to 10th and then 5th and then 2nd and lo and behold to everyone’s amazement (including my own), my name was called. I remember that the teacher asked me how I felt. I recall that I just sat there opening and closing my mouth for a few moments before muttering something like, “OK”.
The Headmaster in those days was E.W.D Gore, known affectionately to his students as ‘Egore’. Egore was so impressed that he wrote a personal letter to my mother congratulating me on my progress and saying that I shouldn’t put off my small setbacks. In this case the small setback was getting 2 out of 200 for my maths test. They gave me one mark for turning up and another for getting my name correct.
For what it’s worth I finally got an O Level equivalency in maths when I was 44 years of age.