Social media has so many downsides that sometimes we forget what it’s really good at; namely bringing people together and helping people to reconnect with their past. Last week someone posted a picture on a Facebook group that I follow, showing the teachers at my primary school in the early 1970’s. When I think about the 70’s, I think about nylon, Angel Delight, Spangles in a selection box that no one wanted, the Osmonds, my Mum’s fur coat selling of smoke from the pub, making toast on the Parkray Fire because of the Three Day Week.
I grew up in quite a large village and yet there was very little to do there really. The 1970’s were a period of social mobility and many people moved to live in the village where I grew up, because they wanted the best for their children’s futures. The local primary school had been pretty small and had suddenly had to deal with an influx of all these new children. It had an annexe, about a mile and a half away, which was made from disused cow sheds, or so we were told. We would go there for three years in the juniors until they had managed to build a big extension onto the original school. Those were the days when you drank milk from a bottle, ate cornflake tart, sang hymns very loudly and learned your times tables so well that you could shout the answers almost as a conditioned reflex.
I did not start school until I was five. I was born in August and so I went straight into Year 1. However, I had spent five years at home with my Mum and I could already read and write. I was so desperate to start school, that even when my parents tried to tell me that I might be forced to eat fish for lunch, I refused to heed their warning and chose to stay all day. I loved school. I loved going in the library and reading all the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I loved poetry, and even though I was utterly useless at it, I loved art.
My Mum still has a lot of the original stories and poems that I wrote. One story I wrote in Year 2 was about Square robots taking over the World. My Year 2 teacher was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She had naturally long blonde hair and clear crystal white teeth. We sometimes would be allowed to sit on her knee and touch her hair. You couldn’t do that now, but I remember feeling so special because of it. There was no creepiness about it. You admired and loved your teacher so much that you wanted to get close to her. Mrs Bradshaw was only twenty-six when she taught us. It was the Summer of 1976 when it was a real scorcher of a year and there was an influx of ladybirds everywhere. Mrs Bradshaw had books on royalty that she had made, and I loved looking through them. Mrs Bradshaw enjoyed reading my made-up stories and she told me that she believed that one day I would write books that people would love reading. “Mark my words, you’ll be on Jackanory one day.” she would say.
We had a very bizarre Headmaster, Mr Sharad. I think his Mum was very well connected in the village because I can not for the life of me understand how he would ever be employed as a Headteacher. Mr Sharad chain smoked; in his office, in the playground, in the classrooms, even in assembly. He would walk into our classroom and say, “Filthy habit this.” He would then proceed to cough into a white handkerchief and show us the mucus. Mr Sharad would also come into lessons unannounced and proceed to lecture us about something. Most of his discussions went off on a tangent. So, you would start off discussing cloud formation and then end up with a demonstration of corporal punishment. You could see the class teacher sigh with exasperation as he started one of his monologues. He had had polio as a child and so he always walked with an unusual gait. I remember my brother did a good impression of him, when he would perch on a desk and let his legs swing seemingly with little control.
For my last two years, I had a wonderful teacher named Mrs Feast. She was over six foot high and as I was really tiny, I was quite afraid of her. Mrs Feast was very strict and when I first discovered she would be my teacher, I was terrified and of course, really upset. However, Mrs Feast taught me so much. We did so many different subjects, especially lots of history, and we even learned country dancing. Mrs Feast pushed me to learn more than any other teacher. She let those of us in the top maths set play stocks and shares. We would be given an imaginary amount of money and choose to buy shares. Every week we would check the Financial Times to see if we had made a profit or loss. We also ran a tuck shop, buying in the biscuits and selling them for profit. I can still taste those custard creams now. In my class there were twenty-nine girls and eleven boys. Yet Mrs Feast managed our learning really well. She had us all on different tables according to our ability, carrying out different work. The lower sets would concentrate on simple maths skills. The top table would learn algebra and equations. I had started out disliking Mrs Feast but by the end, I loved her, and I still consider her as one of my best ever teachers.
We did a production every year and that was probably when I realised how much I loved acting and dressing-up. I learned to play all the recorders because of Mrs Feast, and I was in the school orchestra, going off to many local musical events. There was the annual school trip to Hampton Court or even as a huge treat in our final year, Alton Towers.
In 2004, my son followed in my footsteps and attended the same school. My daughter was there for a year until we moved to Yorkshire. Much of the school had remained unchanged; the smell of disinfectant, the curtains in the Hall, the classrooms, the library and yet it looked much smaller. Sadly, one too many broken limbs meant that the giant concrete submarine in the playground, that had been so integral to our playtimes, had to be knocked down and replaced with much safer play equipment with a wood chipping floor.
When my daughter went through her primary school years, she was so like me, that it was as if I was reliving those years myself. Seeing the photo of my old teachers the other day, took me right back to my primary school days and I realised how much I owed that school, not just for what it taught me, but also how it shaped me as a person. So many of the things I learned to appreciate at primary school, I still enjoy now; reading, history, music, and poetry. “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man”, so the saying goes. There could not be a greater truth. Although perhaps instead it should read, “Give me a girl until she is eleven, and I will show you the woman.”