Sunday, 18 September 2011

Chalk Dust

 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 50s not many people had cars of their own and if they did , Mum certainly didnt 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 icecream 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 . 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 and 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 inkstains , 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 Santa Claus .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 . 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 50s , and we ate whatever we were given or went without !

  Teachers were strict and the cane was still in use . Luckily I was never chastised by cane ....... or ruler , which was another favourite weapon of  headmasters and teachers alike  , but many were  !  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 , for 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 . The boys played with marbles or had conker matches  . 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 and 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 didnt 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  " tables " and spelling 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 todays youngsters , with all  " mod cons "  and every learning aid , computers and the world wide web and I see their bored , blase faces and their lack of respect and disipline 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 we walked along in the early summer sunlight and I told him of my many memories  and time seemed to slip slowly into the  past and I was that young child 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 childrens 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 pulled down some time ago , it was too small and outdated . A new school had been built , much bigger with huge windows for more light , large integrated classrooms and computer rooms and playing fields and a sports hall , vending machines and a canteen . She kindly gave us directions to this all singing , all dancing , wonder of modern education .

           We did not seek it out  .............................................................................


  1. you again have me remembering my school days, the fact that they were in the same era helps! you paint the picture so beautifully....

  2. oh how lovely!!!! Like Filine9, you have taken me back to my school days too. Days where I felt safe and happy, at school, where we were all the same and life was fun. I remember the long walk to our school and the things we got up to on the way (nothing bad, just being kids!) Thank you for reminding me of the good part of my childhood! Just how a good blog should make you feel - happy!!!!

  3. I'm just getting round to reading all your posts, got a bit behind. This is wonderful to read, I went to school '69 and 70's and things were still the same then. Your descriptions took me right back in time. I still cannot stand warm milk! Thank you xx