As you know, I am looking after two of my grandchildren for a couple of weeks. Lillian is 15, so she is perfectly capable of walking to school on her own. Gabriel is 7 and, as his school is over 2 miles away, he is driven there.
This morning it was raining ….. a sort of very persistent heavy drizzle with accompanying grey, cheerless sky ……… something the Scots rather descriptively call ‘dreich’.
So, everyone was rushing, trying to get out of the wet as quickly as possible. Cars were pulling up at the school gates and depositing chattering children. It seems that very few kids walk to school nowadays.
Cars were everywhere …… oblivious to others.
Pulling out of spaces when it really wasn’t safe ……. drivers wiping frantically at steamed-up windscreens because they just couldn’t wait the few seconds that it would take for the demister to work.
Children were carelessly crossing roads ………. excited to see their friends …..anxious to discuss their computer games and last night’s TV.
Mums were pushing buggies, filled with fractious babies and screaming at little Johnny to,
“Stay next to me…don’t run off !”
And in the midst of all this chaos, one dickhead parked on the pavement, beside the school ………
No ….. I don’t mean he had a couple of wheels over the kerb ……… that would have been bad enough. But this prat had his WHOLE FLIPPING CAR on the pavement …..right where children had to walk !
In the middle of the walkway ….the very place that should be a sanctuary; a safe place for kids; the disabled; mothers with prams and all the rest of the general public. I couldn’t believe it and mentioned it to a teacher, only to be told,
” Oh, they do it all the time ” …….. !!!!!!!!
I think I must be rather strange …….. don’t all agree at once !
You see, this afternoon, when I went to pick Gabriel up from school, I arrived rather earlier than intended. So, I sat in the car, in the sunshine …. the weather had improved …….. and waited.
And, as I idly gazed out of the window at the school and surrounding playground, I was immediately transported back to my childhood and thoughts of going home after a school day.
There I was, skipping along with my friends, satchel slung over one shoulder, laughing about some prank or discussing homework. Then I was walking up my garden path …calling out to Mum ….. “I’m home”. Going up to my room and flinging myself on my bed …… kicking off my shoes ……. flicking through the pages of a book ….. A little girl again.
This is always happening to me …………… I am perpetually being sent back in time. The slightest thing; be it a smell or a certain sound or perhaps just some peace and quiet and whoosh …..and I’m in the past. I can feel it ….. hear it ….. taste it ……. I’m practically living it. Mostly, I’m taken way back to childhood …. but sometimes to my 20s or 30s ……
I wonder what a psychiatrist would make of that ?
And here is a blog post I wrote a while ago, about my Junior School …….I hope you like it.
I have to smile whenever I see lines of cars dropping off children outside all the schools nowadays.
We walked to school when I was young. Not for us the luxury of being driven in a nice warm hatchback or ‘Chelsea tractor’. Back in the 1950s not many people had cars of their own and if they did, Mum certainly didn’t drive it. The cars were used for Father to ‘go to business’. Or kept in garages and only used for a Sunday drive up to the moors or to the seaside; where you got out, walked around for a while, maybe had an ice-cream and then went home.
So, from the age of 7, I walked to my little Junior School, which was over a mile away on the other side of Guisborough, in North Yorkshire.
Often I would go alone, but sometimes a group of us from the estate would go together. Skipping along in the Springtime; birds singing and daffodils nodding as we walked past neat gardens and clipped hedges.
Strolling along in the Summer in our cotton dresses, boys in short trousers; all wearing our Start-Rite sandals and navy cardigans, with the warm sun already smiling down on our backs.
Being blown along in the Autumn; with golden leaves swirling round us. In our brand new gaberdine raincoats that had been bought during the summer holidays. We collected leaves and shiny brown conkers along the way and had to run the last few yards before the school bell was rung by a teacher who would be standing in the yard, glaring disapprovingly at our tardiness.
In the Winter we trudged along, bundled up in our warm coats. Wellies on our feet, flapping at our calves and leaving bright red marks around our legs.
When snow fell we often arrived at school with boots full of snow and soaking wet socks. Soaking wet gloves and mitts too, from the snowball fights we held on the way. Often trousers and skirts were wet too; after we had fallen on one of the forbidden slides we made along the route.
The school itself, Northgate Junior, was old and quaint. It was built of huge, dark grey stone blocks and looked very forbidding with its tall iron railings enclosing a tarmac playground. The classrooms had high ceilings and equally high windows. They afforded no chance to gaze outside and daydream. I had to stand on a chair just to reach the window-sills when I was ‘flower moniter’, which involved changing the water in the many jam jars of wildflowers that were used in our nature studies. In the spring these same jam jars held tadpoles and in the winter it was holly and various berries.
Big cast iron radiators warmed the draughty classrooms and filled the air with the steamy, musty smell of hats, gloves, scarves and even socks, drying after yet another wet walk to school.
We sat at wooden-lidded desks; as many generations of children had before us. Desks with well worn tops, covered in names, carved into the wood and countless ink-stains, scuffs and scrapes.
Every morning we began with Assembly. The whole school together in the Hall singing “All things bright and beautiful” and “Morning has broken”. In the autumn it was “We plough the fields and scatter” and there would be a display of fruit and vegetables for the Harvest Festival. And, of course, at Christmas time the air was filled with earnest young voices singing carols and dreaming of Father Christmas.
This same hall doubled as dining room, when tables would be laid out ready for lunch. This was delivered in huge aluminium containers, by a man in a van. I suppose the meals came from some central school kitchen somewhere, as our school had no facilities for cooking food. But we never questioned where it came from, we just tucked in ! It was all plain wholesome food; warming and filling. There were no fancy salads and pasta and pizza were unheard of ! And there was no choice ! This was the 1950s and we ate whatever we were given or went without !
The cane was still in use, though, luckily, I was never on the receiving end of any corporal punishment. But many of my friends were sent to the head-mistress to receive their ‘chastisement’. Sometimes teachers would rap an offender across the knuckles with a ruler, but we accepted it. If we transgressed, we knew what to expect.
We learnt our ‘times tables’ parrot fashion; reciting them every morning and we had a spelling test every day. Rules of grammar were rigid and bad handwriting was severely dealt with; the offender being made to write out whole passages from a book until the teacher was satisfied with the result.
Dyslexia was not know about and I suspect many children were labelled ‘Stupid’ and practically discarded, simply because their problems were not recognised and dealt with properly.
But, in spite of all the strictness, school for most of us was a happy, safe place.
Playtime was a vital part of school life and we were turned outside to play no matter what the weather was like.
There were no playing fields or, in fact, any grass at all at our school. Just the cold, hard, tarmac ground. Here we played hopscotch and skipping games and ‘Queenie, Queenie, who’s got the ball’. The boys played with marbles or had conker matches or pretended to be the ‘Lone Ranger’. We played tag and ‘Farmers in the den’ and girls did handstands up against the walls; their skirts hanging down over their faces, displaying their regulation, sensible blue knickers, complete with handkerchief pocket !
Sometimes, in the summer, it was so hot that the tarmac began to melt and we had to suffer the wrath of irate Mothers who had to try and remove tar stains from socks and dresses and boys trousers.
This playground was also where we held our games lessons and Sports Day. Running and jumping in our vests and knickers; the boys in their vests and short trousers. We all wore our normal school clothes and little plimsolls; there were no special trainers or any logo-ed sportswear !
If you tripped or slipped and fell, you got grazed knees and elbows and the teacher would lick her hankie and rub the hurt area and off you went !
Each class appointed moniters and you got a special badge to wear and felt very important. These moniters were assigned little tasks, which were carried out seriously and diligently. The milk moniter helped to distribute the bottles of milk we had at morning break. The crates were delivered early in the morning, usually before school had opened and were always left in the same place. This meant that, in the winter, the milk was often so cold that the cream had frozen, lifting the little foil tops. However, in the summer, the milk had been sitting in the sun for hours and was warm and often had a most disgusting smell. Either way, we had to drink it ! The Government gave it to us free and we were told there were starving children in Africa !
One of my favourite tasks was Blackboard moniter. This meant I had to clean the board whenever the teacher asked and I took great pride in rushing to the front of the class and carefully rubbing till every bit of chalk was eliminated.
I also had the real fun job of ‘banging’ the blackboard erasers. Out into the yard I would go, then I would bang the big wooden, felt covered blocks against the wall to remove all the chalk dust. On windy days the dust flew everywhere and I often spent the rest of the day covered in a white haze that followed me where ever I went !
We were taken for ‘nature walks’, walking in a neat ‘crocodile’, two by two, down country lanes to look at birds and plants. We were well behaved on these outings, no pushing and shoving or messing about ……. we didn’t dare ! Retribution was swift and harsh and also meant that you would not be allowed on the annual school trip.
These special trips were usually to Whitby or York and were so enjoyable and informative that both places have remained in my heart and I visit them whenever I can.
I loved that little school and when I passed my 11+ and went on to Grammar School, I knew it was all due to the strict work ethic drilled into me by the teachers.
Yes, we learnt by rote and yes we were dealt with harshly if we transgressed. But the lessons I learnt have stuck in my brain and I still remember the ‘times tables’ and spelling rules and ‘i after e’ ! Good manners were applauded and there was no ‘answering back’. We all knew our boundaries and how far we dare push them.
Now, when I look at today’s youngsters, with all ‘mod cons’ and every learning aid; computers and the world wide web and I see their bored, blase faces; their lack of respect and discipline; I ask myself ……..
” Were we happier ? ” …………………….
I think we were, but no doubt you will all have your own opinions.
Incidentally, on one of my visits to Guisborough a while ago, I revisited my childhood.
I went to the house where I used to live and then I thought I would retrace my route to my little school. My husband was with me and as we walked along in the early summer sunlight I told him of my many memories. Time seemed to slip slowly into the past and I was that young girl once again.
As we turned the corner and approached the school railings I was dismayed to see a huge empty space. The railings were still there but the little school no longer existed. There was a forlorn pile of rubble in the playground that had once been filled with children’s laughter and weeds and clumps of grass poked through cracks, where once there had been classrooms.
I shed a tear for my lost childhood. Now I only had my memories.
A passer-by told us that the school had been demolished some time ago. It was too small and out-dated. A shiny, new school had been built. Much bigger, with huge windows for more light. It apparently had large, integrated class-rooms. Computer rooms and playing fields. A sports hall; vending machines and a self-service canteen. She kindly gave us directions to this all singing, all dancing, wonder of modern education.
We did not seek it out…………………………………………………………………..
This was first published on http://tearosesmusings.blogspot.com on 18th September 2011