School Days And Tony

Article written by Robert Crook

I then went to the Harvey Grammar School. All went well at first, but then I ran into great difficulties. We were expected to do quite a lot of homework. This I found so difficult, having over thirty visitors in our house all the summer, and never having my own room. My room was my mother’s kitchen, which I so often had to share with others. This room was also a bathroom. We had a big zinc bath covered with a large tabletop, which had to be removed when we had a bath.

 The bath had an outlet to the drain, but we had to fill it with a short hose and buckets of hot water. Running a bath was quite a lengthy job. Having nowhere to study was perhaps the reason that my favourite subjects were metalwork, woodwork and art, which required little or no homework. I must confess, because of this I was never happy at the school.

I passed in eight subjects in the matriculation examinations, including art, metalwork and woodwork, but failed in a compulsory subject, French. This meant taking all the subjects again the following year. The thought of this worried me, and I because quite ill. I had a series of boils on my neck, and finally had a carbuncle that nearly cost me my life. The district nurse visited me twice each day. My doctor game me a letter for the school to say that I was unfit.

One bit of joy for me was that, in order to rejuvenate me, Nurse Peel, the district nurse, persuaded the family to let me have a dog. Nurse Peel had a lovely Airedale dog called ‘Veka’ (VE for her friend, Vera and KA for her own name, Kathleen). Veka was very obedient, following her everywhere without a lead. Of course, there was not so much traffic on the roads in those days. The nurse knew a breeder of thoroughbred Airedales, and at the time he had one puppy for sale. It was the last of the littler and unfortunately had an operation for in growing eyelids;

Which left a small scar above each eye. Because of this, the dog could not enter competitions, although very soon the scars were covered with hair. We named him ‘Tony’, but I cannot remember why.

In the first week, he ate all the brass buttons off my school blazer, and had a lovely chew at my Bible. Not a very good start, but he soon calmed down when we gave him an old slipper to chew. Veka was very obedient, and was of great help in training Tony. With a short leather strap attached to Veka’s collar at one end and Tony’s collar at the other, they used to be taken out. Veka would never go into the road, so Tony was complete safe, and soon learned that the road was out of bounds.   

I soon felt very much better after having so many long walks. I never had to use a lead, as he always walked to heel. Often, when walking with Tony but ignoring him, he would gently bite your hand – I suppose to let you know that he was still there. If you stopped to talk to someone, or look into a shop window, he had the habit of putting his paw onto your foot – perhaps knowing he could relax in the knowledge that he would soon know if you moved!

We could never train him to accept the dustman, for as soon as they arrived he was on his guard and would bark. I am sure that he had been frightened by one of the dustmen in the early days.

My mother or I would regularly give him a bath – the thing he hated most in the entire world. At the sound of water going into the bath, he could never be found. Often we would find him upstairs under a bed. Even the word ‘walkies’ would not get him out – so a little force had to be used. Once in the bath, although shaking, all was ok. We could never understand this fear, as he loved swimming in the sea.

I was then about seventeen, and was selected to go to college to study to become a teacher of my three favourite subjects. After an interview at Maidstone I obtained the necessary grant, but in only a matter of weeks the Government cancelled it. At that time, many grants were cut, and all teachers had salary cuts. I was very disappointed, and decided to leave school and find a job. My mother could not afford for me to go to college. At the age of eighteen I saw an advertisement in the local paper for a rating officer’s assistant with the Sandgate Urban District Council at a salary of £1 per week.

I collected three testimonials and applied. There were four on the short list, and we had to appear before a committee of about ten councillors. It was quite an ordeal, but I received a letter the next day to say I had been selected, and to commence duties on 13th May 1933.