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How has growing up in Suffolk changed since the 1960s?

PUBLISHED: 11:55 05 March 2019

Terry Hunt goes back to the classroom for a rather different sort of history lesson

Many years ago, when I was young and foolish (as opposed to old and foolish) I thought I wanted to be a teacher. Fortunately for all concerned, it didn’t happen.

I would have been an absolutely awful teacher, and I have the greatest admiration for those who forge a successful career in the classroom.

One of those is my daughter, Harriet, who wanted to teach from a very early age. She now works in a primary school in east London and, even though I say so myself, is very good at her job. I mention all this because, just recently, I finally had the chance to revive my long-lost teaching aspirations – with my daughter’s class.

It started with a phone call from Harriet.

“Dad, we’re looking for someone old. We want you to talk about the differences between when you were growing up in Cretingham in the 1960s and growing up in east London today.”

So, always happy to help, I found myself in front of 30 six-year-olds, trying to explain what life was like half a century ago in a tiny, isolated Suffolk village.

It didn’t get off to the best possible start. Harriet asked the children how old they thought I was. A little lad at the front was bursting to give the answer.

“98, Miss.” Charming!

They were shown old photos of Cretingham – pink-washed cottages, some of them thatched. One of the pictures showed the idyllic setting where our family house was, nestling between the village church and the picturesque River Deben.

It was when I started talking about what life was like back then that I began learning. It started dawning on me just how different their upbringing was compared to mine, and how much life had changed.

I told them that we didn’t have a phone in the house, and on the rare occasions when we needed to make a call, we made a half-mile trip to the village phone box. No mobiles back then . . .

The biggest shock for them came when I told them that we didn’t have iPads. Cue a collective gasp of shock. How on earth did we survive?

We talked about how few cars there were back then, and how sparse the bus service was. All this in stark contrast to their busy, bustling, urban life.

Cretingham Primary School, before it closed in 1964, had a grand total of 11 pupils, aged between four and 11. My daughter’s school educates nearly 1,000 children.

I really enjoyed my time in the classroom. The children were engaged, interested, and well behaved. I hope they learned something. As I’ve already said, I gained a lot from the experience.

The contrast between my deeply rural 1960s Suffolk upbringing and their childhood in 21st century east London is obviously vast.

They have all the facilities, all the mod-cons, all the convenience of living in a big city. We, on the other hand, had the beautiful countryside and the freedom to enjoy it.

Being a country boy, I know which I prefer. But I would never presume to impose my views on youngsters living a city life. Both lifestyles have pros and cons.

And teaching? I’m still convinced I would have been a disaster!


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