Education: Passed/failed Barbara Trapido

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The Independent Online
Barbara Trapido, 57, is an author and former teacher. Her first novel, Brother of

the More Famous Jack, won a Whitbread award, and she has also been a Whitbread

judge. Her latest book, The Travelling Horn Player, is now out in paperback

Go to blazers: In South Africa, we didn't realise how privileged we were. If 90 per cent of the educational budget is spent on 13 per cent of the population - the white section - those state schools were going to be good. At Berea Road Primary School in Durban we wore violent grass-green uniforms with Panama hats, and the boys schools had blazers and boaters; when schools were out, it looked like Henley Regatta. I had never heard of God before; someone came into the classroom once a day and stuck pictures of Jesus on a green beige board. I was enchanted.

Sandwiches course: The school was entirely white and entirely female. My parents were recent immigrants from Europe, and I didn't understand the terminology. On my first day, when we opened our packed lunches, a girl said: "Would you rather a native boy (African) or a koelie (from "coolie", it meant Asian) made your sandwiches?"

Miss World was our oyster: Middle-class girls went to Durban High School, which was a state school but, with its rolling lawns, didn't look it. The school can claim Virginia Wade, the tennis player, and Pat Cavanagh, the literary agent. A Miss World was there too.

Cargo coolies damned: Up to Junior Certificate [GCSE] exams at 16, South African history was interpreted in a racist way. I can still remember our history teacher's notes which began: "The first shipload of coolies arrived in 1860. The first few cargoes were unsatisfactory and had to be repatriated." I think at Higher Certificate [A-level] we had to do six or eight subjects. We had to do Afrikaans, a compulsory subject right the way through.

First past the post: I said to my art teacher, that I'd like to go to architectural school and she said: "Women don't." So I went to do literature, my other great love, at university. The headmistress rang me up to say: "You have brought honour on the school; you have won an award for writing the best essay in the country." She asked if she could present it to me in a prizegiving but I said, with the usual 18-year-old graciousness: "Just put it in the post."

Sitting on a view of the bay: My father was on the staff of Durban University, and I didn't have to pay. The first-year class was huge as they let in anyone who could pay (although that in itself was quite selective) and people simply dropped out when they failed the exams. It was basically an all-white university. The centre where blacks had classes was down the hill in the middle of the bus station; the building for whites was on a hill with a view of the bay. By the early Sixties, practically anything that you did against apartheid was illegal. We all daydreamed about going to Europe.

Bachelor of Hearts: The teaching was good and I got a first. I had fallen in love with a young man who got the second-highest mark in the exams; I got the highest. A streetwise friend said: "You'll never get him if you beat him in essays."

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