Saturday, 4 September 2010

Sepia Saturday: Learning Curve

Some readers will remember this post from last November. However, with some added visual fare, I thought it worth re-posting for Sepia Saturday.

When I attended my first school, I wasn't summoned by bells, but by a series of sharp hand-claps that echoed about the yard like mousetraps being sprung in quick succession.

My first school - Bishops Waltham Infants.

Each morning, the same ritual, we all sloped off, to our learning, reluctant to give up the magic qualities of the outdoors.

In spite of its tall windows, the interior of the school was dark and shadowy. So it was in relatively poor visibility that Mrs Woods and Miss Windebanks pooled their efforts to teach us. Theirs was a world of basic arithmetic, heavily crayoned artwork and good manners.

Singing songs always provided a welcome interlude and carols rang around the classrooms at Christmas with great zest and little harmony. But it was the nursery rhymes that I liked. You know, those with the lifetime guarantee. Often, we would sing of things we could do on a cold and frosty morning. In turns, we all got to nominate an activity before singing a solo about it. Being a country boy, I once offered up the way I took 'pot shots' at wood pigeons on a cold and frosty morning. It was the truth, but I was punished for not choosing something more wholesome, like shoe cleaning.

First school photograph (even I can't believe this is me)

At playtime, what joy it was to get into the fresh air once more. Away from the after smell of school meals, chalk-dust and a classmate whose terror of the learning process drove him to incontinence.

Suddenly the world regained its colour. We were a squadron of fighter planes under the command of Graham Wyatt, the policeman's son. Taking off from beneath the heavy limbs of a great yew tree, our arms outstretched and ready for combat. We weaved and dodged, looped the loop with blood curdling cries and crashed with alarming regularity, only to rebuild seconds later for another sortie. Our cannon fire was inexhaustible and deafening.

We watched, intently, from the playground, when the doors to this undertaker's workshop were open. What were those men making, in amongst the clouds of flying saw dust? Big boxes, but for what?

I like to think that I was a reasonably brave lad then. I shrugged off cuts and grazes, and never even withered under the glare of Mrs Woods. But I did fear a visit to the outside lavatories; those wooden seated conveniences housed in ancient, creaking cubicles. In summer the fuming disinfectant was totally overpowering and cracking open the latched doors resulted in partial asphyxiation as the evil odours wafted up and smothered your face. Calls of nature were inevitably postponed.

In winter the story was equally harrowing. Crossing the yard through the elements, we endured the damp and icy winds that rattled the roofs of the outhouses. Those who had been brave enough to make the journey returned with blue legs and chattering teeth that only the glow of the coke stove could cure.

Gradually I gained valuable knowledge. I learned the art of cutting out. Indeed, I managed to cut every other square of an intricately patterned pullover my mother had knitted for me. I learned that the school dentist was a faceless gentleman, who sat with a blinding sun behind him while he probed about inside my mouth with painful metallic instruments. I learned that it was not prudent to put plasticine up my nose and that to ask a teacher to extract it was more painful than the dental examination. And I learned that to become infected with ringworm by a favourite puppy resulted in an instant loss of friends. So began my formal education.

24 comments:

  1. Oh this was a wonderful read. Those outside lavatories! I laughed and nearly cried for that boy. The smells, the tastes..I loved it all. I will probably be back to read it again.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am still laughing - not at your photo as you look such a lovely young boy - but at the things you learnt. I can relate to how imprudent it was to put plasticine up your nostril as I did just that but I inserted a camellia bud, my older brother and sister told me it was a good idea. I needed to go to the Dr to get it removed!! Oh I did like this, I loved hearing about your early school life, thanks so much for a good read.

    ReplyDelete
  3. That brought it all back! Especially the lavs and the dogfights,

    ReplyDelete
  4. What a lovely post - how well I remember those school smells and the horrors of the outside loos - and how vividly you've brought it all back. I think all children stick things up their noses at some point - I stuck a bead up mine!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wonderfully rich memories which also took my mind back to my school days. All sorts of things sound almost unbelievable now : there was an air raid shelter in the school field and we would pass the time playing WWII games in the school yard.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wonderful post! I felt for you and your little blue legs. And what a little dude you were! That hair!

    ReplyDelete
  7. What a nice read, put me into your past. I enjoyed it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. A lovely and heart-warming read for Saturday, Martin. I, too, remember my first days of school... and my first school. And reading your memories brought mine back into the front of my head. You are so lucky to have these photos of your first school. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    Nevine

    ReplyDelete
  9. What a great account. A lovely read. It reminded me of Lorna Sage's autobiography in which she talks about her school in a similarly evocative way.

    ReplyDelete
  10. So maybe it wasn't the terror of the learning process that drove your schoolmate to incontinence. Sounds like it might have been terror of the loo-just like you.
    I just love your curls. Do you still have them?
    This was so fun to read.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Your mother must have been furious, after all that work. Were you punished?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Ah, Martin, I almost felt like I was there. What a wonderfully written post. I think your mother should have been thrilled with your first school photograph. Was she? You look very British (at least my idea of British from old movies) and very kissable.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I love the school photo...those curls! Very handsome. And watching the men make caskets...oh my!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thanks everyone. I re-visited the school late last year. It now serves as the village library. It was strange to walk around the playground that seemed enormous all those years ago. The little flint-stone wall, that kept us safe, is still intact.

    Fran - Lorna Sage is sat on my bookshelf, waiting for her pages to be turned.

    Barbara and Nancy - Alas, photographs are the only proof, now, that I ever had those curls.

    Meri - I don't remember being scolded for my wayward act. My mother was probably in shock.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Delightful post! The wisdom you gained during those years is definitely noteworthy.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I missed this first time around--a wonderful piece of writing; really evocative of another time.

    ReplyDelete
  17. This is such a wonderful tale of truth. It is amazing how we can relive those days with clarity and you shared it in a way that I felt I was there.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hi Martin, You are are a very good Tusitala recalling your first school experiences. Children took the first school adventures very stoically, it had to be endured, after school all was forgotten. You looked like a little angel with your beautiful hair and big eyes. Your mother probably thought differently when you cut up the jumper. Memories we chuckle now about and wonder how we could stand it.

    ReplyDelete
  19. You were adorable with a mind keeping track of all the details. Wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
  20. A great read, but I'm so glad my first school memories are not quite so grim!

    ReplyDelete
  21. I love reading your Sepia Saturday stories, Martin.

    I remember using an outside toilet until I was eleven years old. You took me back there, spiders and all. lol

    ReplyDelete
  22. Thank you for taking us along on your trip back to grade school. Oh to be a child again, and not to have to worry about "formal" things!

    ReplyDelete
  23. That brings back memories for me too. Don't remember a dentist - but we had regualr visits from the nit-nurse. And oh, that horrible little bottle of (warmish) milk to drink every day!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Good capture of childhood. It's not always fun and games. There are always things that puzzle and things that terrify.

    ReplyDelete