Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Rose Hacker, 101-year-old columnist

'I'm completely uneducated'
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The Independent Online

Rose Hacker began her fortnightly column for London's Camden New Journal last year, when she was 100. She was a designer for her father's fashion business and later did voluntary work for the Marriage Guidance Council. Her 1960 book for teenagers, The Opposite Sex, sold 250,000 copies, and she wrote her autobiography at 90

I'm completely uneducated: "autodidact" is a nice word. In 1909, when I was three, my parents took a cottage in Horsley, Surrey, right next to the railway station. The stationmaster's daughter took me by the hand along the side of the track to school. I remember picking big daisies for the teacher, and I also remember a rocking horse – if you brought a farthing in your hot little hand, you could have a ride.

When I was five, we moved to Brondesbury, in north-west London, and I went to Wycombe House School. It was called a "school for the daughters of gentlemen", but in fact we weren't because a gentleman didn't work for his living and our fathers did. My memories of the school are mostly of my friends – some remained friends for life. Someone recently rang me to say, "I believe you knew my great aunt", and I remember her well.

Another friend, Vera, lived up the road, and we were inseparable. We walked everywhere together (twice a day to school, because we came home for lunch). That's why we have lived so long. I don't think the next generation will live as long as us.

I admired the headmistress, Miss Spencer-Smith. I copied her way of blowing her nose. She blew it with two hands, really cleaned it out; I still do. Miss Sutton – we called her Smuts – was an excellent maths teacher, but she stood very close when she told you off and spat at you as she spoke, so you backed away.

Miss Hilliard taught me poems that I still remember. Now I try and try to learn a poem, but it won't stick. She also taught me to keep a " commonplace" book of quotations. On my 100th birthday, I had a book printed of the quotations that I'd collected over the years. She gave me a real love of poetry; teachers can have such a powerful effect.

I was always reading, and my parents put me on my honour not to turn on the light and read after 10pm. One night, there was bright moonlight, so I was reading a book on the window ledge. My parents came back and saw me. I nearly fell out of the window. I said, "But I didn't have the light on!".

I never did any work but I always got prizes. I suppose I was one of the bright kids who picked things up. My mother asked Miss Spencer-Smith not to give me any more books as prizes, so she gave me a purple sewing-box. I wanted to throw it at her.

Another time, I was caught reading a book under the desk, so at assembly, the headmistress announced: "Nobody is to lend Rosie any book because she doesn't know the proper time to read." You never forget these things.

When it came to doing Matriculation [O-level equivalent] at 16, I failed maths, which was my best subject. I was very conscious that there were boys staring at us as we walked into the exam, and I fell flat on my face. That's probably why I failed.

I didn't stay on and take it again because I thought I was going to go running away to be an artist or a musician in Paris. (When I got married, I was always going to go to university – but I never did.)

In the end, I went to the Regent Street Polytechnic for business training. I never went to the shorthand and typing lessons, but I did go to the commercial French and German and accounting. I got a prize, three books of Molière plays beautifully bound in red leather.

Then, in 1924, I went to St John's Wood art school. My mother was shocked to the core: "Boys and girls sitting together and drawing naked people!"