When I was six my father, who at that time was a driller with United British Oilfields of Trinidad (UBOT) at Point Fortin, was moved to Penal and was able to get a house for us just outside the village. This was 1951 and Trinidadians were not allowed to live inside the English petroleum camp nor were their children allowed to go to the English school there.
I was duly enrolled in the village primary school, a school bag was found and every day I was packed off to “school.” This meant walking by myself along a busy main road, crossing it and finding my way to the residence of the lady who ran the “school.”
There were about 15 of us and we all sat down under the lady’s house at two tables, three to four on each side. I was intensely disliked by the other boys because I was the only one with shoes. As we sat and swung our legs under the table, bare feet would clash with stiff new shoes. Accusations would ring out and it always seemed the lady would take the barefoot side.
After some months of this, daily tears and refusal to leave home, my father was able to convince the English that his son was healthy enough not to contaminate their lily white children and permission was given to allow me into the camp school.
And this was a school. There was no comparison. Even now thinking about it, the poverty of the village school, the barefoot children, the dirt floor, the lack of reading material, the slates upon which we practiced endlessly copying “abc” and adding up 2 plus 2 and reciting the multiple tables, 2 times 2, 3 times 3...the boredom, the poor, tired face of the lady!
And here I was in a large, well-aired upstairs room with lots of open windows and a smiling teacher who smelled like my mother. I had my own covered desk, where I left my books, an ink-well with pen and marvel of marvels, lots of coloured chalk. Each child also had their own blackboard, plastered to the walls of the room, and we were allowed, nay, encouraged to spend part of each day to draw and colour our own creations.
Mine was HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar, because of course we were being taught English history, glorious tales of English bravery against the slimy, brownish, evil-looking Spaniards and frog eating Frenchies and I gloried in drawing and colouring the great ship, studded with cannons belching fire and brimstone as Nelson lay dying on the deck under the blue, white and red Union Jack.
Years later I would make the pilgrimage to Portsmouth to see the grand old lady and see the very spot where Nelson fell.
What great times! What a difference! School that you could enjoy. My parents were even able to find a lunch box for me, all the other children had one you see, and Mummy duly made small lettuce, cheese or egg paste sandwiches, crusts removed, for my lunch.
My other memory of that school was of the day the King died. I had no idea who he was but he was great and we had was to stand at attention and silence for five minutes sometime in the morning because for some reason the time was different in Mother England and it was afternoon there. And the story of how the angels came down to earth to fight the bad Germans at his request, was repeated more than once
Later on I realised that my lovely teacher had apparently confused World War 2 with World War 1 or was it deliberate? I’ll never know but my, how clean she was and how well she smelt whenever she leaned over me and said, “David, your handwriting is so good!”
Such were the ways by which Imperial Britain controlled the minds of the children of their colonial subjects. But we never got a house inside the camp not even when we moved to Point Fortin.