Reflective Moments.

a writing by Denis Barter

I have been enthused recently - of late before it is too late! - to reflect upon my life and what I have seen, done and achieved in my 87 years? After much deliberation, consultation to diaries kept for many long years, and evaluation - with help from my long time loving partner and ever supportive wife - Pauline - I have concluded that the basis on which my life really began to become of some importance, all stems from the day my village school mistress, Miss Reid retired and was subsequently replaced by Miss Miller.

I have mentioned Miss Miller before in some of my essays - Memoirs to My Grand Children - but truly, I have not given her due credit for the influence she has had upon my life. One that has been the mainstay of what came after she took over the education of a bunch of village brats, who had little to anticipate in lives which were affected by the war which was taking place in Europe. A time of deprivation, rationing and rules of survival which governed every citizen, even in our remote country districts! To sum it up, survival was far more important to the village populace, than education. Even though we were children, still we were expected to do our “bit” when needs demanded it! Harvest time in particular saw many of us in the fields working hard. Even extra vacation time was given us to help in this very important chore! Potato picking and gathering corn - wheat, barley and oats in particular - were all tasks we could undertake in some degree! I personally at the age of 11years, I led horses and/or cleared the chaff from under a threshing machine, as these were often chores allotted me. By far the worst was the lifting and “topping” of sugar beets! A back breaking task for anyone!

Miss Reid, was an elderly spinster and a strict disciplinarian, who ruled the ‘senior class’ those aged 7 to 14 - who attended the Dewlish two roomed classroom, with a no nonsense approach that was enforced without mercy! Her counterpart - Miss Welch taught the “juniors” in the other room. She was a sweetheart of a young lady that I met when I attended school on attaining the age of 4 years. By this time my Mother had taught me how to read and write which gave me a head start over most of my school mates,

Miss Reid was always ready with a ruler, Malacca cane, or simply her hard hand devoid of any tool, for punishment and this, accompanied a sharp tongue that allowed no reply! A manner which did not endear her to her pupils! Too old and too long in her job and probably received too little recognition for what had to be a most thankless task!

Today I pride myself on being a fairly intelligent and capable man, but when a lad of some 10 years, I found myself bored stiff with the village school curriculum, having raced through the limited number of primary educational tomes that could be found in our village school, but with another four years before I could officially leave school. Time hung heavily on my hands!

It was at this time, Miss Reid’s replacement - a Miss Miller - arrived on the scene. She was a teacher that was younger than Miss Reid, but possessed of a personality far removed from that of Miss Reid! Within days she had summed up the “potentials” of pupils now in her care, and fortunately for me, decided I was one of those who would benefit from a chance to be given the opportunity to go further! Much further than the village school syllabus covered! As a result, she entered me in the yearly contest for a Scholarship that would allow the winner to attend the Dorchester Grammar School. This was a school that catered for the wealthy, whose parents could afford the school fees. Far more than my parents could ever afford to spend on my education! The Scholarship was a hotly contested event with more than thirty pulpily sitting the entrance examination as I found out later! In an earlier Essay, I have already covered this, but briefly the end result was, the Scholarship I won, was the equivalent of four scholarships, inasmuch as it covered my tuition, transport, school uniform and text books! Everyone of which was required for me to attend the DGS. Without these scholarships, Miss Miller would never have persuaded my parents to see I was well suited for ‘continued education’ that far surpassed anything She and the village school could provide! On reflection, this important happenstance, proved to be the turning point in my life, and apart from the day I married my dear wife, has proven to be the most important and significant happening, above all others, in the way my life went from there!

From the first day I attended the Dorchester Grammar School, until the present day, education has been regarded as the prime essential that governed my life. It has provided me with the tools to investigate, research and explore life in so many ways! Had I not been fortunate to achieve entry to the DGS, doubtless, my life would have taken a far different course, from the one I’ve fully enjoyed!

Yes, WWII had a great effect upon my life, as it did on everyone who lived through it! In light of later events, its timing could not have been worse, for so many, including myself! Although the war was ended by 1946 when I left DGS, despite the threat of danger now over, there still remained a great degree of austerity. This along with rebuilding the Nation, saw few changes made to the educational system, that had allowed educational standards to stagnate for many years. It was only later, when the Labour Party took over the reins of power, that sweeping changes were made to the firmly entrenched rules and standards, and education, as a right expected was given to all children, no matter the financial circumstances of their parents. This was still some years away when in 1946 I passed the necessary examinations and had qualified successfully for either Oxford or Cambridge in the University Entry Examination! As a result, such luxuries as “Free” education at either - Cambridge my preferred University - were not a practical possibility for me, and so this privilege - university - was denied me!

Whether a continued education would have benefited me further? I will never know, but suffice it to say, the degree of education I had already received, from dedicated and skilled teachers, set the foundation for my future. An education that has been continually augmented - time and time again, by a series of opportunities that came my way! Ones which I have always readily and greedily accepted and exploited, for they have allowed me to live a full and eventful life, that has been full and certainly interesting, to say the least!

Education has always been an important and essential need for me. Thanks to the high standard of teaching, to which I was exposed and privileged to receive, along with the attention teachers paid to their pupils, I can say there are few situations encountered, which have ever nonplussed me! Over the years I have enjoyed knowing and working with, people of many ranks! With time spent in the company of Dukes, Duchesses, Diplomats, Earls, Ladies, Lords and Senior Company officials to name a few. Moreover, thanks to my education, I was able to join the Royal Navy in a capacity which brought me into contact with a number of those highly regarded people, such as Presidents and Prime Ministers. Admittedly most of my dealings with such people, were through my work. But because of my work at the time, and the security risks involved, I was one who remained in the background whilst others put their name to the work I was assigned. All this was unbeknownst to the recipients! Nonetheless it was a role I could accept, and carry out with competence and complete confidence, thanks to my education!

I have also learned that “circumspection” in all matters, is an important asset, inasmuch as ‘knowledge’ per se, can be a powerful and deadly tool unless employed with critical discretion! A fact that Twitter Facebook and other such site, subscribers would do well to remember, before they disclose personal and confidential details, to all and sundry! The resulting fall-out can be extremely embarrassing and costly to those who seek to impress others with some ‘silly’ exposure of their intimate details.

So many aspects and experiences that have influenced and made a huge difference to my life, have been experienced and enjoyed thanks to the education I received. Visiting foreign countries has always been another exciting, learning time for me. From my travels in Japan, the Far East through various countries to Hong Kong. In months spent in Singapore, India, Aden, Malta and in later years, the Caribbean, USA as well as several South American countries including Brazil - it being the last visited - all have been experiences in life, that have added to my learning. Thanks to my education, I have continued to be interested, fascinated and understanding of so many different cultures and customs, far different from those I knew and practised in my earlier days! Education has also taught me to keep an open mind on whatever I witness, and not be cynically critical of what I do not understand! This has proved to be a primary requisite, and an essential trait! It also reinforces the all important factor of one’s need for a good education, which has made it possible for me to see the world in a different and more tolerant manner from that, which I had once regarded as the norm!

Allowing oneself to witness, understand and absorb what might be thought strange - even alien at times - is an essential trait that serves to improve one’s understanding of the world around us, and the peoples of many different nationalities with whom we come into contact!. Today we may well live in a cyber world with electronic devices at our fingertips, which purport to make life more enjoyable and acceptable, but frankly my personal opinion is, that education, is the all important useful, and desirable asset when put to good use. Without it, our ability to think and decide for ourselves, what we must do, will be an exercise in futility! As seemingly takes place everywhere today! Commonsense is an allied trait which too, is often sadly lacking in today’s world!

For the time being, I will leave this dissertation here, as I collect my thoughts before continuing on with what is, and has been in essence, an essential and all important influence in my life. Subsequent experiences have time and again proven that “Education” comes in many guises, and when recognised, then seized by willing hands, will always been seen as one of the most valuable assets in life. Given the ability to see and grasp any opportunity offered us to further advance our education, the result will be a fuller and more enjoyable life lived and enjoyed! Of this I am certain.

Rhymer. January 26th, 2017.

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