Some years ago I drove past my old  high school and realized I had subconsciously avoided writing a single word about my years there.  It’s not that I was particularly unhappy at  Ulverstone High, but  I was…well, virtually anonymous. I suspect the name ALLEN, Pauline  eventually faded from the registers, becoming  a  blank space between ABBOTT, Kenneth and ATKINSON, Elizabeth.

My best friend was Shirley, who I am ashamed to say I became totally dependent upon. Whenever Shirley was absent I had no idea which classes to attend, or where!  I spent the day hiding in the library.

High school library, my haven during physical education classes.

 I was not particularly good at sport either, but fortunately my friend was.  Often chosen as captain during our phys. ed. classes, she loyally picked me in  hockey and softball teams even though I  had little to contribute!    We once came first in a class badminton competition because Shirley returned every shuttlecock while I simply waved my racquet about.

Not surprisingly, teachers often confused me with others, with unhappy consequences. Take cooking for example.  My theory papers were brilliant. I knew all about pectin  in cherry plums and gluten in wheat. However, in fourth year  I  ended up  with 68% and the comment ‘Would be a credit student if she could cook.’  How unfair! My only disaster was allowing a batch of cream puffs to catch fire (I forgot to turn the oven off pre-heat).  It was Shirley who lost control of a pancake and tossed it onto Mrs Woods’  head.

When this article originally appeared in the local newspaper, cartoonist Jason Bugg drew the following picture to illustrate the pancake incident. It did make me giggle.

High school teacher  Mrs Woods. wearing her pancake hat!
Mrs Woods. wearing her pancake hat! Original cartoon in The Advocate.

It was Faye Johnson whose Bath buns dribbled off the workbench when she killed her yeast. However, all such  failures were mistakenly attributed to me.🤬 In the face of this injustice, albeit unintentional, I failed to thrive.   And yet it was at high school that my first literary spark appeared; prompted by my preoccupation with food.

Can I just add that during the current pandemic, and the surge in ‘iso-baking’ the old Central Cookery Book we used has become a surprise best-seller. CLICK HERE for the history of the book.


For some time a battle had raged over lack of patronage of the school canteen. I wrote  an article about the matter  (anonymously of course) for the school newspaper.  It was a spirited  attack on limited choices  and inflated prices etc. The article was published,  along with a comment from the commerce master, for whom the canteen was a pet project. He referred to the mystery  author as ‘a radical.’

Oh, the thrill of being labelled a radical! It was my finest hour. Unfortunately only Shirley knew I had written the piece. I could not afford to broadcast the fact, because I was close to failing commerce, surviving only by copying Shirley’s balance sheets. However, I embraced radicalism with the fervour of someone desperate for an identity. I wore my fringe in my eyes and my tie askew.

I took to writing poetry , and  submitted a truly dreadful sonnet to the annual magazine.  The poem explored the meaning of life, but was rejected because the editor said the wording was ambiguous. It was a blow from which I never fully recovered, particularly as I had signed it.  I spent the following year lurking about the quadrangle, never raising my eyes above my ankle socks. My  fear was that the editor, a top stream ‘brain’, would point at me  and quote the opening lines of my sonnet  between hysterical bursts of laughter.

But in my final report card my English teacher wrote;  ‘Pauline has very good ideas; when one can read them.’  Yes, well my handwriting  is still indecipherable, even to me..  My class teacher added; ‘It appears Pauline has some literary ability.’  I’m sure neither of them realized just how much those comments would  mean to me in the years ahead.  I am very grateful to them both.   And despite my undistinguished career, the old  school song  still holds true;




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  1. Oh, you raised some memories which I had thought were long buried in the recesses of my brain. I too was the invisible one at school, and ironically my best friend, whom I leaned on for everything, was called Pauline. If she was absent, I was lost. Thankfully she was rarely absent. But I took to hiding no in the library, but in the cloakroom. I would hide behind overcoats, raincoats, and satchels. I was truly a “no-body” in school. Destined, according to my teachers, to go nowhere except be a homemaker since I was good at cooking and sewing. All I can say is thank goodness some of us are late bloomers.

    • Pauline

      Oh my word Susan, I can’t imagine you being ‘invisible’. I have to say, the library was a bit more entertaining than your cloakroom! You certainly proved your teachers wrong, except re your cooking and sewing talents. I still contend that my cooking wasn’t that bad but as for sewing….I can barely manage hems and buttons.

  2. The handwriting thing rings true. I was once kept in (Latrobe Primary) to rewrite a story so the teacher could actually read it to mark it. She was a good teacher though. I dedicated one of my books to her.

    • Pauline

      My problem was that I was left-handed Sally, and of the final generation where teachers tried to force kids to use their right hand. It completely messed with my mind…and my handwriting! That’s my excuse anyway.

      • I’m right handed, but uncoordinated. Chronic tendonitis has made my writing even worse, alas.

        • Pauline

          I write so rarely now that putting message on greeting cards is real trial!

          • Indeed. Personal letters should always be handwritten, but what point if no one can read the message?

          • Pauline

            I haven’t sent a handwritten personal letter for a very long time. I think my friends and family are relieved,as they used to hand them around in a group effort to decipher them.

  3. Hi Pauline,

    Even though I teach English at the college level, I am still constantly amazed at home much influence a teacher can have on a person’s life. I was also directly led to pursue a writing career as the result of an English teacher’s comments. I had entered college, for the first time, in my late twenties-early thirties, and my first class was bonehead English and my college professor told me that I had talent and ought to pursue it. I did, and was professionally published six months later.

    Yet, in spite of my own positive experience with teachers, I am always still amazed to hear so many similar stories from other people. Seems to me that teachers should really be paid higher salaries because the impact they have on the lives of others cannot be measured.

    Smiles to you, Nancy

    • Pauline

      I agree Nancy, teachers deserve to be paid far higher salaries. I used to run writing classes for adults, and that was very rewarding. But to influence children in a positive way is extra special.

  4. A fridge magnet, given to me by a grateful parents say:

    • Pauline

      What a wonderful expression Annabelle, and how very true. You must have been one of the special teachers. xxxx

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