Memories from my School Days
It’s June 2020, we’re in the middle or possibly just at the beginning of a pandemic, who really knows for sure? Whilst I am enjoying many aspects of being at home, I do miss certain things, my work for one. I also miss many familiar sights and sounds that give a sense of time and routine to my day. I miss hearing and sometimes seeing the loud screech of the brakes of the yellow school bus as it stops outside our house to pick up the kids in our part of the neighborhood. I can tell the time within just a few minutes by the sound 7.00 am for the high school bus, around 8.00 am for middle school and 8.45 am for elementary kids, the same can be said of the drop off times in the afternoon.
I no longer have kids in school but I remember those moments of rushing to get out the door in time in the morning and then waiting outside chatting to neighbors that became friends while waiting for the afternoon drop offs, until it became uncool to be seen having your mom at the bus stop. Those days are long gone but there are so many good memories. We were lucky enough to live on a corner and have a kind bus driver so if my son missed the bus on the way into the neighborhood, they would stop on the way back out to pick him up.
This got me thinking of some of my schooldays, here are just a few random memories, not in any particular order. I am fifty five years old so this is from sometime ago.
I remember walking at least half an hour, maybe longer to school and back from primary school days until going to secondary school several miles away where we needed to get a bus, we had to pay each week for a bus pass. In the early days I would hold the side of my brother’s pram each day, my mum walking there and back twice a day. No wonder there were so few children overweight in those days with all the exercise we got.
I felt nervous but excited going with my mum to the only shop in town which sold the uniforms for the local school. Even at that really young age we had to wear the school tie and have the school’s badge sewn onto our blazers. I wore a grey pleated skirt, white blouse, one for each day of the week, white ankle socks and sensible sturdy shoes which we bought from the Clarks shoe shop in town. You could tell when it was nearly back to school time after the summer holidays as the shops would be filled with parents and children trying on clothing and placing orders. Often, we had to order our sizes several weeks ahead of time due to stocking issues and to allow the mothers time to sew our name tapes into each item of clothing. A job I really disliked when I had my own children starting school, I have never enjoyed sewing and was overjoyed at the invention of iron on name labels.
I enjoyed the younger years at school for the most part especially art classes, until secondary school when my art teacher Mr. Frost held up one of my pictures in front of everyone and laughed at it saying how stupid it was. I hated art classes ever since that day. English and gym class were also fun for the most part. I loved sports day where we were divided into teams and competed in all kinds of activities and races. I was always good at long jump, high jump and longer distance running on the track, not that I enjoy running now. I loved the three-legged race where one leg of each of two participants were tied together with a rag, we had to loop arms and match our pace perfectly to be able to run without falling over. My friend Karen and I were a good match and won most of the time. The sack race was also fun, climbing into a scratchy old sack, holding it up around your chest and jumping/falling/hopping your way to the finish line. I think now these races may no longer be allowed after several injuries over the years including broken bones and concussions!
The egg and spoon races were always fun, balancing a wooden egg (which replaced the real eggs after a few years) on a spoon and fast walking/running to the finish line. I used to practice in our garden on evening s and weekends with hard boiled eggs and most times went away with a ribbon of either first, second or third place. My friend Karen and I competed for years for first place in the mile run, she was always just a little faster probably due to her long legs and tall skinny frame. In high school I came third in the Cross-County Championship in long jump, high jump and the mile. It was an exciting day and I was so thrilled to have made it through to this event.
I remember school yard games of British Bulldog (like Rover Rover in the USA) which often had to be broken up by teachers as it got too rough, it was always boys against girls which was unfair as the boys were often stronger and the smaller weaker kids would just get trampled trying to reach the wall on the other side of the playground and not be “last” and out of the game.
I remember French skipping with elaborate jumping routines which I would practice for hours at home with a long loop of elastic tied around a couple of trees in the garden. I loved the regular skipping games, there were always several of them going on at any one time at the longer lunchtime breaks. Football (soccer) was always being played on the school fields as long as they were not too wet and muddy kids were allowed to wander even along the trails at the edge of the fields until the teacher on playground duty blew the whistle, this meant that everyone had to stop where they were, stay perfectly still and quiet until each class was called and we filed in as a neat group. Most of us were really careful to not whisper or get out of line, fearing the wrath of whichever teacher on duty, some were kinder than others. There was however always someone who would get called out, often the same boys who certain teachers seemed to dislike or hold something against. Sometimes this would lead to them being yanked out of line by their ears and sent to the head teachers office for a warning or even a caning.
At high school I remember one unfortunate boy, a regular at the head teacher’s office standing outside the door talking to two police officers. While going for one of his regular visits for disobedience and being caned the headmaster got so worked up, he had a heart attack and dropped dead! At the time it was a whispered rumor going around the school until we filed into the lunchroom to eat that day and saw the officers outside the door and a small group of teachers crying together. Looking back now I realize how traumatic an event this must have been for the poor kid. His name was Nigel, always in trouble for something, he didn’t deserve that awful experience and I wonder what effect this event had on him over the years.
Talking of Nigel, I can still picture his face, he was often angry, and I wonder now what his homelife was like to make a teenager quite so disturbed. In comparison most of us had it easy I am sure. One day during our Home Economics class (learning to cook) the teacher had left the room for just a few moments; Nigel and I had been involved in some kind of argument. In retaliation I poked my finger into the icing of his masterpiece of a finished cake, not enough to really notice, I was too fearful of him to do any lasting damage. A few seconds later back at my own baking station a sharp knife flew through the air missing my head by just a few inches, I still remember looking around in disbelief seeing the knife handle still quivering with movement, stuck in the door frame just behind me. I still recall the sound of it flying past my ear and the “thunk” sound it made as it embedded itself into the wooden frame.
The class all looked around in horror, seeing the knife, looked back at Nigel, who walked over to the frame and pulled out the knife, walking back to his station in subdued silence. He knew he had gone too far. Just then the teacher walked back into the room, no one said a word to her about the incident, we all knew it would be more than serious and must have been afraid of her anger, knowing that Nigel would be in really serious trouble this time. The incident was whispered about for a few days in the playground and over lunch times but then forgotten, I hadn’t thought about it for years until just now. I never did tell my parents as I know they would have been into school to complain and demand punishment for Nigel. I guess both Nigel and I were very lucky that day. Needless to say, no one ever dared to touch his creations in class again. Today if that happened it would be a very different story, I hope life went better for Nigel after leaving school, that he was able to shake off the “bad boy” label that had been put on him.
Nigel was also one of the leaders of the small group of kids who would loiter around the back of the bike sheds during the longer lunch breaks we had then. Whichever teacher was on duty each day would always take the time to wander back there to break up the group. There would always be someone on “watch” looking out for the teacher who would run back to raise the alarm so cigarette stubs could be quickly extinguished and hidden. Often kids would be forced to empty out their pockets, if banned substances were found they would be ordered to the head teachers office for the inevitable lecture or caning.
My favorite class was Rural Studies where we learned about plants, wildlife and gardening etc. I loved the school gardens we dug out from scratch and looked after for a couple of years, growing vegetables for the school kitchen. We would have been right in line with what many schools are trying to reintroduce today. At the time my dad started and owned a local garden center, I was always top of this class and the teachers favorite. My love of gardening is still alive and well today.
My least favorite class was math, I was never very good at it, probably in part due to never having a kind and fun teacher. I remember the deputy head teacher taught math in secondary school, Mr. Ingham I think his name was, he was very strict and would throw a piece of chalk or sometimes even the heavy wooden chalk erasure at anyone who was not paying attention in class. Another math teacher had unusually long nails, to get everyones attention he would scrape them down the full length of the blackboard making a terrible screeching sound. We would cover our ears and complain loudly.
At the end of our time at school there was no graduation as there is in the States although I think many schools in the UK have now introduced this tradition. We did have a party for the afternoon on our last day with the hall/lunchroom being turned into a disco, loud music blasting, food was brought from home to share as well as some provided by the lunch ladies. It was an odd feeling leaving school, saying goodbye to friends you had known for years. I’m in touch with a handful of them via Face Book now but occasionally wonder what some characters got up to and what paths their lives took.
I am sure there are many more school day memories lurking inside my head, but for today I will close. For the most part they are good memories for that I am grateful.