Books My Mother Gave Me: Down With Skool (Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle) Book Review

Published October 28, 2013 by ElisaChristy


Yes, that is how they spell ‘school’ in the title of the book. In fact, this book is full of spelling (or speling as they put it) and grammatical mistakes, it is probably quite a good book for teaching children how not to spell,  or at least it worked that way for me.  If you know ‘skool’ is a wrong spelling, then it widens the chance of you getting it right.

“On the right is the fire escape which props up the skool i think or the skool props it up i am not sure.”

The book was written in 1958, which explains some of the more old fashioned things about the boarding school of St. Custard’s, such as there being Latin lessons and the use of canes. But, interestingly, even reading it now, it does not seem so old fashioned as to be incomprehensible, at least not to me anyway. The school is obviously a school and Nigel Molesworth, the almost illiterate narrator, tells you all about the school from his point of view. The teachers are still teachers, the school dinners are still disgusting, and Molesworth himself seems to want to try to avoid doing as much work as possible by annoying all the teachers in various ways.

'Canes I have Known' by Nigel Molesworth

‘Canes I have Known’ by Nigel Molesworth

“Headmasters are always proud of their skools and think they are the best in the world in britain in space or at any rate better than the nearest one in the districk.”

While the constant bad spelling may have taught me how not to spell, I’m not sure the same could be said for the abbreviations. When I was read this book as a child, there were so many abbreviations for words, and I had no idea what half of them meant, so couldn’t elongate them in my head. Reading books can be stilting when you’re unsure what half of the words are.

“I am quite unable to inform you molesworth for what purpose the Gauls wished to attack the ditches. The latin is correct. That sufices.”

The book has a lot of cartoons in it, which makes sense as it was written by Ronald Searle – a cartoonist. If you read the book as a child, it is entertaining to find that all schools up and down the country are pretty much the same. As an adult, it can transport you right back to the boredom of double maths and help strip away some of the nostalgia you may have for your school days. With some slightly macabre humour thrown in this definitely makes it worth a look, even with the abbreviations.

There are other books in the series all narrated by Nigel Molesworth, but this was the only one in the series we ever seemed to own.


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