Erin's Journals

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Just a thought… What’s a week-end? [Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey]

The question was posed by @ThatEricAlper this past week: what happened to you in grade school that you remember to this day?

There are a great many things. There were the awful occurrences of bullying (a girl named Susan who would wash my face with icy snow when I started grade 5 in Alberta, a girl with whom I eventually – and successfully – made the effort to become friends) and the wonderful moments like making my drama teacher pee herself laughing at a mime sketch.

But the answer that I gave was a misspelling that I’ve never forgotten.

It was the word “rhythm” which is ironic because that’s the failed birth control method my Catholic parents used, resulting in four children! I have never forgotten the order of the consonants in that word. Anyway, my lack of rhythm got me bumped from a spelling bee. Maybe it contributes to my crazy eye for misspellings to this day?

There was an incident that comes a close second, though, and it also comes from being a newbie: not just in a school, but in a country.

Miss Bridger was a spindly, humourless and brittle woman who taught one of the forms I attended (rather than grades) at Fox Hills Junior School in Bracknell, Berkshire, UK. At the time, I thought she was about 86, but she was likely in her forties.

I have good memories of those days that year, most of them strangely centered around food: little glass bottles of milk for each student, with a foil top that hid a delicious, thin layer of cream on top; ice cream that was served in a cylindrical paper roll at lunch. Custard (the Bird’s Eye type) that accompanied nearly every meal we had at school, and the mandatory learning of “Hot Cross Buns” on recorder.

But again it was a spelling test that stands out most clearly from those days in Miss Bridger’s class. As she paced the aisles between neat rows of desks, she dictated the words we were to spell.

“Aeroplane. Aeroplane.” (In my memory I hear her voice as that of Dame Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey.)

I reluctantly rose my hand and said, “Could you repeat that?”

She said “aeroplane” again. I shook my head, not recognizing the word she had said.

“Don’t you have aeroplanes in Canidder?” (And yes, that’s how she said Canada. I remember it that clearly after all of these years.)

Of course, I spelled it arrow-plane and, you guessed it, I got it wrong. What we call “airplane” is called an “aeroplane” in the UK. Lesson learned.

So here’s the big question: after all this time, why do these moments stick out in our minds? Is it because the hot flash of humiliation that I felt that moment comes back in HD clarity? Perhaps.

I don’t remember the words I spelled correctly that day, but I am reminded of the wisdom of the Dalai Lama who said, “If you lose, don’t lose the lesson.”

Spell ya later. If you would like to add the word that caught you up, please join the conversation at

Talk to you here tomorrow!

Rob WhiteheadSaturday, May 2, 2020