• harveyvickie

First day of school

Look, you all know me by now, I’m not one to moan – am I. Well to continue my ongoing whinge about the unfairness in our schools in the mid-fifties I have to tell you that I wasn’t impressed with the place from the start.

I mean, why would I have been? I was ripped from my mother’s bosom at the age of just four years and six months (actually, reflecting on that statement, it’s not quite true. At least two other siblings had taken my place on the aforementioned bosom by then). I was also torn away from Listen with Mother. The more astute among you will no doubt have noted by now that we didn’t yet have a TV. My Mum got one the day I started school! I was going to miss Eileen Browne and George Dixon’s renditions of nursery rhymes and stories for children at home. I was going to miss that famous phrase "Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin" but most of all, I was going to miss my afternoon nap.

Anyway, let’s cover a bit of my first day at school first. This started early morning whilst my elder siblings where already saying goodbye. I was allowed in an hour later because I was a newbie. I had on my elder brothers shirt and his first pair of short trousers held up with a pair of bracers, but they still came down to my ankles. It looked like I had long trousers on. My mum put her hand up each trouser leg and yanked the shirt down tight. Then she spit on her apron and wiped a smudge from my forehead. And that was me ready, including brand new shoes. That was one thing mother insisted on, she knew bad fitting shoes could cripple you.

It was time to go on a great adventure. As I clutched my mother’s dress, she held another younger siblings hand and another even younger sibling in her arms. We all climbed aboard the big Midland red double decker bus that pumped out its toxic fumes into the bus stop and the waiting passengers. I swear that driver was trying to kill us with engine fumes, none of the other passengers cared, every one of them was clutching a woodbine or a Park Drive and drawing on it incessantly.

Fifteen minutes later we alighted from the cigarette smoke-filled lower deck just a hundred yards from school. We crossed the road and walked on with my mother’s fifties flowered dress and petticoats flapping in my face, we waited by the gates, with other mothers , most of whom seemed to be with child, and carrying at least one other. Then a teacher appeared from a side door and rang a hand bell with great enthusiasm. One kid thought it was the ice cream van, looked up at his mother and asked if he could have a cornet.

In we trooped mothers and siblings, we were told to pick a peg for the duration, there were coloured stickers of animals by each peg. For some unknown reason I was into elephants at that time so I chose that one. Nothing to do with the fact that it was not only near the door but closest to the big cast iron radiator, my coat would dry out nicely on a wet winters day.

We were then told to say goodbye to our mothers, I turned to give mine a peck on the cheek but she’d gone. There was a bit of sobbing and a few tears – not from me I hasten to add – as we were all lead down a corridor that smelled musky, it had cream walls halfway down and bottle green tiles to the floor. We went into a classroom and I looked around, a sandpit, wooden blocks, a painting table, this school business wasn’t going to be too bad after all.

Now, where was I, oh yes, ripped away from my mum’s bosom at a very young age. My elder siblings had already taught me to write my own name and to read a little, so I was more than prepared for the teachers. I was really looking forward to meeting new friends in the black tarmac jungle that was known as the playground. But after just two days with my newfound friends something horrible happened! It turned out that my siblings had taught me too well and I was moved up a year.

Don’t believe all that fairy tale stuff about kids in those days being kind, gentle and not a bully in sight. I was approached in the playground by a couple of bigger lads in my new class and more or less told that should I ‘show them up’ in the classroom they would take my head from my shoulders and use it as a football, then dunk it in the foulest and smelliest boys toilet they could find, which incidentally was just a few yards from where they threatened me, I could smell it.

So like the good little dwarf specimen I was, I kept my mouth shut and never raised my hand, except of course when I needed to go and do the necessary, which, if I recall correctly, was far too many times. Within a few weeks I was back in the first year and basically labelled a dunce. My teacher who had announced to the headmistress that I was one year ahead, was made to look a fool and hardly spoke to me. She did however, give me my own space in the corner with a special Noddy hat. I could never understand though, why it had a big ‘D’ on it when I knew Noddy began with an ‘N’ But no matter, and believe me, it was better than the alternative.

One of the most unfair things I first discovered at a very early age was that they were going to learn me the three R’s. These were Writing, arithmetic and reading. Correct me if I am wrong here, but doesn’t just one of those words begin with the letter R? How was I supposed to learn when the teachers couldn’t even spell correctly?

But I have to say that the Infants school where I was to be imprisoned stationed for the next two and a half years was a great learning curve. I had only been there a few days when a girl with ginger curly hair and a permanently running nose approached me with a clenched fist.

Girl, You want somma this?

I looked at the dirty clenched fist that had something green on it and politely refused. Anyway, I was taught from an early age not to hit girls.

Girl. Well you’re gunna get it if you don’t give me a penny.

Me. I haven’t got a penny

Girl. Well you can eff orf then (Real word)

With that she walked away mumbling something incomprehensible. I must have been insane but I followed her. She turned around and glared at me.

Girl. What you effin want?

Me. Well, I hope you don’t mind, but I wondered what that word is you’re using.

Girl. What effin word

Me. That one, the one you just said.

Girl. I don’t know, my mam and dad use it all the time so it must be ok, now eff orf and leave me alone.

I stored the new word somewhere in the depths of my mind. I was always keen on learning new words. The bell rang and the rest of the day went without incident. At exactly 3.15 it was hometime. My sister was just down the road at the junior school and was waiting outside to walk me home.

It was a long way for little legs and took a good twenty minutes brisk walking trying to keep up with her. By the time we were walking down our entry I was really tired and grumpy.

Mother as usual was up to her armpits in soiled nappies so my sister made me a ‘piece’( a slice of bread and margarine with a sprinkling of sugar. I was starving.

Then my mum started to ask me how the day had gone, she was constantly bombarding me with questions, had I met any new friends, was the teacher ok?. It was then I remembered my new word, I told mum and she asked me what it was. I casually told her to ‘eff off’.

She grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and dragged me upstairs to the sink. She ran the water in the tap, got dad’s shaving stick and brush and swirled it around with an urgency. Then she offered the soapy contents to me.

Mum. Wash your mouth out!

Me. But what did I do?

Mum. I won’t have that sort of language in this house.

I swirled the foul liquid around and spit it into the sink.

Mum. There, it’ll be a long time before I hear that word again from you.

And it was, I never ever swore in front of my mother again. I abhor bad language to this day, there’s no need for it and most of the time.







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