I don't do sewing these days. It's not that I can't, you understand - it's just that I don't. I can take up the hems of trousers to make them shorter, if the occasion demands. I can sew on a button, properly, so that it doesn't come off again.
But I'd never sew for pleasure, and I'm sure that a lot of that is due to how we were taught sewing at school.
There were two Domestic Science teachers at the Girls' Grammar School that I went to and they were called Miss Scary and Miss Evil.
In a sort of minor twist on getting the criminal to build his own scaffold, the first thing that Miss Scary got us to make was our cookery apron, to be used in the Terrifying Cookery Classes run by Miss Evil.
The apron was made of cotton, large and white with lots of straps and loops and it had to have a front facing in House Colours all neatly sewn on. The Houses were Stuart, Tudor, Plantagenet and Windsor. I was in Stuart, which was yellow. So a yellow gingham
facing. Our summer dresses were gingham too, in house colours. Strangely, I retain a sneaking affection for gingham to this day, which slightly worries me.
Once you'd got to grips with the treadle sewing machine, and spent weeks doing hems on all the straps and loops, and sewn on the facing crooked and taken it off again and sewn it on again straight, then you had to use it for the subsequent cookery lessons with Miss Evil.
You had to turn up with it, neatly washed and ironed, every week and woe betide you if you ever forgot the blasted thing. Detention, lines, and if you were really considered criminal, an Order Mark.
I don't know what happened if you amassed enough Order Marks - - ritual humiliation in front of the whole school, I expect, because that was the kind of thing they went in for.
I never found out. I never got an Order Mark and I never forgot my cookery apron. Firstly, because I have a good memory and I had enough sense to use it for self-preservation, and secondly, because even in those days I had learned to generate a spurious air of Respectability and a good front of appearing to be doing whatever I was supposed to be doing, whilst reading Jackie
- beloved teen mag - under the desk.
In those days it was expected that everyone could sew. For P.E. (ie Physical Education), we had to wear a polo shirt in our House Colours - yes, yellow, in my case - with your name embroidered on the front in chain stitch. It was just expected that you would turn up with this done - - because it was expected that you'd have a nice middle-class mummy at home who would embroider your PE kit, and who would wash and iron your Important Cookery Apron.
In my case, I was fine with all this nonsense - didn't agree with it, but I could cope with it. I found school annoying in many ways, and even in those days I disliked many aspects of it: but on the surface, which was what mattered on a day-to-day basis, I fitted in with it fine as I was a natural grammar-school swot from a reasonably well-off family, and I lived just a ten-minute walk away.
And, of course, the sense of order was comforting. This was how things were done at this Girls' Grammar School. This was how they had always been done, and how they always would be done. It was all carried out with supreme confidence by a staff of Educated Ladies.
But now to my darker point. This was not a private fee-paying school - it was a state grammar school. To get in there, all you had to do was apply and then pass your eleven-plus examination. So, theoretically, any girl could go there if they did just that.
But, in practice, things didn't quite work that way. I remember Brenda Johnson. Johnson was not her real name - though I remember that too - but her name was indeed Brenda.
She was there in my first year at the school, when we were eleven. She came from a big family in working-class Harehills: the rest of us lived in more middle-class parts of the city. Her parents had sent her to the school - - but didn't have enough money or resources to provide many of the uniform items. She lived in a house that lacked a washing machine and an iron.
So she didn't have a polo shirt in House colours with her name embroidered on the front.
Rather than wondering why this should be, and then making further enquiries, and perhaps even - heaven forbid! trying to help - the staff just gave her hell about it, week after week. Why did she not have the correct PE kit? Detention! Lines! Order Mark! Firing Squad!
Eventually, Brenda could stand it no more and, in a most cack-handed bid to solve the problem, she stole someone else's polo shirt from the changing rooms.
It was the right colour - - but, of course, it had someone else's name on the front.
What could be done? In desperation, Brenda tried to take out the embroidery with a pair of nail scissors.
Of course, she was caught. Who knows what her punishment was? Detention for the rest of the term, probably.
She left at the end of that first year. I never found out what became of her, though I have never forgotten her and the unjustness of how she was treated.
Ahh, the old grammar-school system. Many mourn its passing. How well it worked. What an excellent education. What glorious opportunities it gave.
In the case of the one I went to, though, there was one proviso. You had to be middle-class.