Lockdown Number Two

On the 5th of November, we begin a second national lockdown in England. Once again, bars, pubs, hotels, and restaurants will close. Only essential shops will remain open, and travel will be restricted to work, food shopping, child care, and some emergencies.

So far, it is planned for a period of at least 28 days, but there is no actual time cap if the current high infection rate continues.

To many, this is frustrating. Small business like hairdressers and beauticians have just got going again after the last time. Some entertainment venues were hoping to open in time for Christmas, but now that probably will not happen. Gift shops, toy shops, card shops, and many others reliant on the huge spending boom before Christmas are likely to go bust, with their biggest trading period of the year cancelled.

Some believe it is necessary, to slow the alarming increase in ITU admissions, and subsequent deaths.

But if so, why are schools and colleges remaining open? You tell people that they cannot visit an 80 year old grandmother, or go and have their hair cut on a one to one basis, but it is okay for your child to attend a school with perhaps a thousand other children every day, possibly bringing home the virus to the rest of the family.

To say that Boris Johnson has handled the pandemic badly is an understatement.


I have been following the blog of Jennie Fitzkee for some time now. Jennie is a teacher in America, and she teaches the youngest children during their earliest experiences of school. Her posts are truly inspirational, and I would love to have had a teacher like her. https://jenniefitzkee.com/

Reading about her class often makes me reflect on my own time at school in London, so I thought I would write about that today. When I started school in 1957, I was five years old. I remember I didn’t want to go, unlike some children. I didn’t fancy having to do what I was told, or be surrounded by strange kids, and adults who might tell me off. I was an only child of course, and used to a fairly easy life. But I had to go, and my Mum took me along to that first day at Deptford Park School.

(Photo copyright Stephen Craven)

The huge Victorian building was scary enough, and I held on tight to my Mum, shedding lots of tears. But when I was escorted inside by a kindly lady teacher, I soon settled down. Inside the classroom, there were lots of things to do, and I noticed a small wigwam had been set up in the corner. I crawled inside there, and hid for as long as I was allowed to. But school wasn’t so bad, and I didn’t need to be dragged there the next day.

Not long after I started, my parents moved. It was a relatively short distance in the same area of South London, but the school catchment area was different, so I had to change schools. After just getting used to one, I had to start all over again at a new one. Not much past six years old, I was transferred to Alma School.

(Photo copyright Stephen Craven)

It was another old Victorian School, but I was ready this time, and not nearly so frightened. And there was a bonus in that many of my new neighbours went there, as did one of my older cousins. I settled down very quickly in that school. We still had an outside toilet block, (it was 1958) and I was now having school meals at lunchtimes too. We had free milk back then, and had to help to fill the inkwells on the desks, as we still used ancient ‘dipping’ pens, with metal nibs. Most of the teachers were quite old. They didn’t just seem old, but were actually old. Much older than my parents at least. I learned the basics of writing in a joined-up way, and how to write an essay. I was taught numbers, sums, and times tables, learning by rote and repetition.

Discipline was strict. Talking in class was frowned upon, and bad behaviour could be punished with being caned across the hands. We were a little afraid of the teachers, to be honest, and also scared that they would tell our parents if we were naughty. There was still a morning assembly every day, as well as compulsory sports and gymnastics every week. By the time I was almost eleven years old, and ready to go to the school where I would stay until I was seventeen, I had won some prizes for writing, and developed a pretty good relationship with quite a few of the teachers. I also had a group of close friends, and was sad to discover that none of them were moving to the same school as me.

In 1963, I went to Walworth School, an easy walk from where I lived.

Although this had some Victorian buildings too, it also had a modern central block, recently built. As you can see from the photo, it was rather out of place, looking like a 1960s office block, in the middle of the main school.

I have written before about how great that school was. The young teachers with fresh ideas about education, and a wonderful attitude to the children in their charge. The enthusiasm, the urge to inspire the pupils, and to develop young minds. I was lucky that I made that choice.

It is almost fifty years since I was last a schoolboy, but I never forget the time I spent at school, the teachers who taught me, the buildings, and the unfamiliar surroundings that became such a familiar part of my life. If you are at school now, cherish it.

They will be the best days of your life, if you let them.

Fireman Pete


Looking through all the photos on my computer today, I came across this photo, taken by a colleague using my mobile phone. ‘Fireman Sam’ is a popular children’s animation programme in the UK, so I thought the title of this post was appropriate.

When I first moved to Norfolk, I wanted to do some voluntary work. I started off as a cycling safety instructor, working odd days in the local school to teach the youngsters how to cycle safely on the road. I then noticed an advertisement in the local newspaper for volunteers to work in the Community Safety section of the local Fire and Rescue Service. With my former connections to the emergency services in London, this seemed a logical step, so I applied. After a short interview, I was accepted. They sent me on a training course and supplied uniform and travel expenses to use my own car.

The main part of the job was checking and installing smoke alarms for the elderly and disabled residents around the region. Working a couple of days a week, I would call on five or six houses, and make sure that they knew about fire safety precautions, as well as installing the alarms, and giving advice. This was all provided free of charge, and I thought it was a very worthwhile part-time activity. I was later asked to participate in the Schools ‘Fire Experience’ programme. We had a large portable cabin that was rigged with assorted fire hazards. This would be placed in a certain spot, and children would be brought in from all over Norfolk for a ten-minute ‘experience’ and instructional talk.

As the climax of the session, the lights would go out, and fake ‘smoke’ would be pumped in, alongside a recording of smoke alarms going off, and the distant sound of sirens, indicating the arrival of help. Inside the cabin, other volunteers would instruct the children to keep low, shout for help, and wait for assistance from the Fire and Rescue Service. Before all this happened, one of us would be hidden away in a small cupboard outside, waiting for the moment when we would crawl into the cabin. Helmet torch shining, visor down, breathing apparatus attached, we would shout for the children to use the emergency exit. Some of the smaller children were actually very scared by it all, and it was just as well that they always had a teacher to accompany them.

I did enjoy my time doing this, but it unfortunately became very repetitive when you were doing the same thing five times an hour, for four hours at a time, over three days. Being shut in the cupboard for most of the time wearing all that gear was also quite uncomfortable! I carried on for quite a long time, until rumours circulated that the funding would be pulled for this the following year. Having done my bit, I resigned from the job, and began to concentrate on writing, and different volunteering opportunities.