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Jul 2009 Journal

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No needles, please!

Reader, I married him! But not without first telling him two facts about me that I felt he ought to know before we got hitched. One, I couldn’t cook. Two, to avoid sleepless nights, I needed to read in bed. I wasn’t much of a catch but he accepted both. In return, he asked only for one thing: I was never to knit in his presence - he couldn’t stand the clicking of knitting needles. I stared at him and laughed and laughed until I cried.

From the age of five, I yearned for school. ‘I’m bored’, I’d say. ‘What shall I do next?’ and ‘When can I go to school?’ I wasn’t quite six years old at the beginning of the school year in September and, in order to be admitted, I had to satisfy an official at the local office of the ministry for education that I was mature enough to start school. Trembling, I presented myself. He asked me my name and how old I was and where I lived and I had to tell him the colour of various marbles. ‘Yes’, he smiled at the end of the interview, ‘You are quite ready for school.’

My teacher was called Frau Pekarek. We had to call her Frau Lehrerin and had to stand when she entered the classroom and every time she addressed us. She called us by our surnames.

I was a model pupil from the start. In my fear of being late, I chivvied the entire household out of bed half an hour earlier than was necessary. The school opened at a quarter to eight for the start of lessons at eight but, on most mornings, clutching my father’s hand, I would be pacing up and down outside the school at twenty to eight. It was one of my ambitions to enter the classroom before anyone else, and the sound of my solitary footsteps on the creaking floorboards gave me a delicious sense of righteousness.

School was exciting - most of the time. I still remember our primer with the red apple on page 1. A for Apfel. My application in all subjects was overwhelming. And indeed I learned to read at record speed (and was never bored again). No one could beat me at spelling and my compositions were read out for all to hear. I got the top grade (1) in all academic subjects but …

It soon became clear that I had been born with two left hands. I was clumsy beyond belief. My handwriting was among the worst in my class. As for my drawing, the teacher would look at my exercise book, hold it upside down and ask ‘What is this meant to be?’ and wouldn’t believe it was meant to be a horse.

Frau Pekarek took us for all subjects except needlework and, while she was prepared to make allowances for my weaknesses, the needlework teacher was not - and you couldn’t really blame her. The facecloth I was knitting for a whole year was as black as ink and damp with my tears of frustration. She gave me a 3 in my school report and said I deserved a 4, the fail mark. The disgrace of it almost broke my heart.

I never got the hang of crochet either, and the only skill to do with needles I ever acquired, taught me by an aunt with the patience of an angel, was to darn socks. During our early married life, in austere postwar London, I would darn my husband’s socks while we were listening to the Saturday Night Play on the Home Service.

When I had stopped laughing - and crying - I was able to promise my husband-to-be with an entirely clear conscience that I would never ever trouble him with the clicking of needles.
 

 

Edith Argy

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