So, as if for someone who hates change, my son leaving school, my parents leaving my childhood home and me leaving my job weren’t traumatic enough, my old, beloved primary school, Jericho, decides to celebrate its 50th birthday by getting knocked down! So off I trotted a few weeks ago to an open evening to celebrate its half century with one of my oldest friends with whom I’d made plenty of memories in the soon to be demolished building, although she didn’t seem to remember anything!
Walking into every classroom evoked a warm and happy memory. I could see myself sitting with wavy pigtails, wearing some immaculate, patterned dress accessorised with long, white socks and unscuffed leather T-bar shoes from Clarks. Unfortunately time has weathered my recollections too but here are my top ten (because I’ve struggled to even remember that many) of my time at Jericho. In no particular order and definitely not chronological!!
1. Playtimes and PE before health and safety ruined everything. Handstands against walls. Leapfrog (friend broke her arm) British Bulldog. Conkers. Pirates ( friend took chunk out of her toe after dropping balance beam on foot). Roaming freely anywhere in our outside shoes. Piggybacks. French Skipping. Sloping playgrounds. Swinging on railings.
2. Tea duty. Feeling ever so privileged if it was your turn to collect the teachers’ mugs. Sometimes they still contained warmish tea or coffee – imagine the outcry now. With your partner, you pushed round the tea trolley feeling like king of the world. You would then spend an eternity washing those cups in lava level heated water because nobody above the age of 11 had supervised you filling the sink. Whilst washing (or drying if you’d lost the argument) you would spend every available moment scanning the staff room for extra information about these extraterrestrial creatures who taught us. I have never taken as much pleasure in washing a cup as I did in those days. The staff room was next to some sort of balcony which could only be accessed by steps. Or you could climb out of the window. One day I stupidly did, only to be caught by a teacher. Cue my second trip to stand outside the headteacher’s office. After I’d finished the washing up of course!
3. Tidying the book cupboard. I’m starting to think we were being used as unpaid lackeys back then! But again, this was a treat! Going into a small, windowless cupboard full of books was deemed one of the best things ever. Again, I think we probably muddled up the books just so we could miss an entire lesson rearranging them correctly.
4. Planting trees. There were no SATs so my overriding memory of Year 6 (then Year 4) is of being taught how to make a square of clod with a spade, remove it, plant sapling and cover. We did it in all weathers. I seem to think I did it everyday for weeks. It was probably a couple of afternoons. But imagine my horror when on returning to the school this month, I saw that a temporary car park had replaced said trees!! However, I can still plant a sapling to the highest level when required!
5. Getting into trouble. There was a healthy fear/respect of the headteacher. I stupidly retaliated when a friend threw a beef hula hoop at me ( what a waste!) just as Mr Gate turned round to see the whole thing. I was sent to stand outside his office ( I can’t remember if I was allowed to finish my lunch) until he had chance to see me. And there I stood. As children filed past me in the corridor, they all commented on my future fate. Phone call home! Ruler! Cane! Or even worse…. no more tea duty! As it was, he left me standing there, imagining all possible scenarios, right up until the end of lunchtime. He calmly approached me, uttered “you silly girl “ then disappeared into his office. That was it?! Really?! But it worked. Because I never did anything to upset him again. Well, I always checked he wasn’t looking. And in those days your friends or peers didn’t tell on you!
6. Nitty Nora. The Biddy Explorer. You never know what she’s going to do next. The yearly visit. The sickening fear that maybe you had finally caught nits from the only girl in school to ever have them (if in fact she ever did. I’m not sure it was ever proven). The shame it would have brought on your family if some eggs were to be discovered! Given my mother’s obsession with cleanliness, I would be the last person to ever have them. But that fear never goes away. And as a teacher, I find myself gingerly stepping away from children who have tiny, moving objects dropping from their hair and running for the hills!
7. Theme days. Roman day involved wearing a bed sheet and lying on the floor eating grapes. This image is ingrained in my psyche so I will now never forget the eating positions and dietary habits of Roman ladies! If a real Roman had found a time machine and travelled 1900 odd years to the future, I’m sure he would have found himself right at home in Jericho Primary School’s library that afternoon!
8. Just learning for no apparent reason. Not to reach some magic expected age related number. Not to fulfil some required percentage set by suits in Whitehall. Not to tick all the boxes of some unrealistic National Curriculum. We read, did some Maths, had spelling tests, learnt our times tables and wrote stories. And we turned out ok. One of my favourite memories of my last term was being told we could do a project on anything we wanted and we were all given a rectangle on the display board to create art work for our chosen topic. Fuzzy Farrell was one clever teacher that term. No planning. No real marking. And the kids did the display board for him. When they weren’t busy planting trees of course!
9. School residentials. Going to Gillerthwaite as a 9 year old for one night seemed like the ends of the Earth! But it prepared me for a week away the following year in the North East. Friends falling out of bunk beds. Reversing the charges to call home to say you’d safely arrived 6 miles away. Not going to sleep on the first night. Losing spending money the following day as a result. Invariably lots of rain. Buying tat souvenirs for my mam. Teachers strangely thinking kids wanted to see herring guts lying on the floor or wandering along a cliff edge to just turn around and walk back again. In the rain. Fantastic times.
10. Being a dinner server. Everything happened in the last year. And somehow being an unpaid slave AGAIN was the pinnacle! Taking snotty nosed infants to choose their dinner, teaching them to cross their knife and fork to show they’d finished then cleaning up the carnage they’d created once they’d buggered off outside. We were the bees’ knees. Or just very, very gullible!
That, in a nutshell, was primary school for me and my friends. And we wouldn’t change a single thing.