As part of National Novel Writing Month, (#NaNoWriMo) I've set myself the goal of writing a 50,000 word novel (1700 words a day), consisting of short stories about my memories of primary school. Just so that you know, all names of people have been changed unless they are publically known. Each story is based on my own memory, so may not be an exact representation of events, especially since I am writing this over 40 years after things happened! But I hope you will enjoy each story all the same, and that perhaps it will spark your own memories of life at primary school.
When I was in Mrs D's class at primary school, my parents were getting divorced and this meant that life was tough at home, but that we also spent more time with our grandparents.
My mum got on very well with her dad, but her and her mum didn't really get on at all. Her mum always complained about her, said she was too fat, too lazy, too much of a pushover, and that she was a bit of a wet fish who let people walk all over her. That made mum very unhappy and all she ever did was try and please her mum all the time. Mum wasn't any of things, she was a kind hearted person who always tried her hardest to keep everyone happy and daily life as normal for us kids as she could.
But the situation made life very stressful, especially when granny came to visit, as the house would have to be spotless, and we would be made to dress up in our best clothes, and we always seemed to be in some kind of competition, my brother was the best singer in his toddler group, and I was always doing very well at school, and we had to have impeccable table manners and sit at the table in silence so we could be seen as well mannered.
No matter how hard mum and me and my baby brother tried, granny always found something to complain about, and mum always cried at some point in the day because of something that granny had said to her. I'm sure granny didn't mean to upset my mum, it was just that she wanted the best for her children, and sometimes her words came out wrong.
I didn't like it when granny said nasty things, especially about my dad, and I didn't like it when she made mum cry, because then I would have to look after mum and my brother when granny had gone and it was up to me to try and jolly mum up and stop her from giving up on her hard work.
But the best thing about the divorce, was that granny and granddad started to take us all on trips and holidays.
One day mum said we were going on holiday with our grandparents to a place called York. I had never been on a proper family holiday before, and I was very excited, especially as our mum's sister lived in York so we would get to visit her and stay in a guest house.
The next day in school I was talking to the boys at my table, and I shared with them the news that we were going on a holiday to a place called York. The boys thought this sounded like a great idea, and we were getting excited about what happens on a holiday. Maybe granny would buy me and my brother an ice cream, or maybe we would go to see some museums or things like that. Granny didn't really like ice creams because she said they were full of sugar and would ruin our teeth, but if we were really lucky she might just take us on a pub lunch.
We were learning about Vikings that lesson and my granny had told me that there were Vikings in York. Vikings were my favourite topic ever, so the chance to go to a place where they were was like a dream come true.
Mrs D must have been stood nearby when we were talking about York, and suddenly she got all excited and started to fuss about. Made me stand up on my chair, and tell everyone where I was going on my holidays.
I was very shy and taken aback by the sudden attention lavished upon me, and so Mrs D told the class on my behalf that I was a very lucky girl indeed and would be going all the way to America to a big and exciting city called New York.
I was a bit confused because granny hadn't said anything about it being in America, or about having to get there by airplane, or about it being as exciting as what the teacher was making out.
'Oh we're not taking a plane Mrs D' I managed to spit out in between her bursts of excitement.
'I think we are going in my granddad's car. He's going to buy some boiled sweets for us to suck on the way. He keeps them in a tin in the glove box, you know, in case anyone gets travel sick'. I did my best to try and clarify things but I wasn't entirely sure that Mrs D was taking this information in.
'Yes, yes, I expect he'll be driving you to the airport, you'll have to drive to London first, to the airport, and that is a very long way away' said my teacher.
Funny, you'd have thought that my granny might have mentioned us going on an airplane. She was usually a bit of a show off when it came to these things, especially if the neighbours were around or she wanted my dad and his family to be a bit jealous or upset after the divorce. Maybe she didn't realise where York was or how to get there, but she had always seemed very knowledgeable to me, and she was after all, a teacher, and not just a primary school like Mrs D, but a teacher of older children, in a secondary school, so she must know more than a primary school teacher, because they do more complicated maths and English and lessons and things in the big school with the older children.
I didn't want the teacher to lose her excitement since she seemed like it was the best news ever, so I decided to join in with her enthusiasm. 'yes, it's going to be really exciting', I said to the whole class.
'There are load of Vikings there, and a brand new museum called Yorvik where they pump actual smells into the museum, and you sit on cars that take you around the museum. I don't how they collected and kept all those smells from thousands of years ago, but my gran says you can smell the toilets and everything. And York is haunted too, with a big cathedral and old streets, and we are going to visit my aunty'.
Mrs D had become very quiet by now, and her enthusiasm had long since left the building. She now looked very angry but I didn't understand why, I didn't think I had done anything wrong. But for some reason I was now further down the food chain than I had been when the conversation began.
'You are going on holiday to York?' she said.
'Yes, my grandad is driving us there'.
'You stupid child, are you going to York or New York?' she asked.
Well now, that was a complicated question. I didn't know there were two places with similar names. I had never heard of New York. I'd never even been to London before, at least that I could remember.
'I'm sure my granny told me we were going to York'.
Mrs D was bright red and looking very mad indeed.
'Get back to your work' she screeched through a very tight lipped frown. And that was it, my moment of fame and glory had vanished as quickly as it had arrived.
We did go on our holidays to York, and it was amazing. We went just as the Yorvik Viking centre opened, and a man called Magnus Magnusson read lots of facts about Vikings to us through a loudspeaker in the back of the moving chairs on the tracks around the museum.
I imagined Magnus Magnusson with his funny accent, sat in an office, reading a script all day. How did he read so perfectly, and without any mistakes. He sounded very cheerful, especially if he had to read the same thing over and over again. I wondered if he ever got bored? Could he see me if I picked my nose?
I stuck my second finger up a nostril and dug around for a bit. Luckily the museum air was warm and dry, so I managed to find a large green, dried out bogey, but Magnus Magnusson said nothing. Maybe he was too embarrassed or shocked to say something. Instead he just continued to read his script. even when some people complained about the smells being turned up too high, and when some people on another train carriage were sick, he kept on reading. What an amazing guy.
The museum train took us right past the old fashioned Viking toilet and a model of a Viking man having a poo, with his face all wrinkled up as he clenched his bum. He looked like he was struggling and there were sound effects of a man struggling overhead. It was very lifelike. Then the cart turned around another corner, and we smelt wood smoke and the sound of crackling twigs as the cart drove through the inside of a Viking house. I wanted to go around on that cart again and again, taking in something new each time. I so wanted to be a Viking.
We were one of the first people to visit the Yorvik museum and we were lucky because we got there early. The queue was all the way down the road by the time we came out and people already looked a bit fed up at waiting so long.
That was one of the advantages of having a granny who frowned upon anyone staying in bed 'all day' as she called it, even if it was only 7am. No matter what time you might get up in the morning, granny always delighted in letting you know that she had been up the longest. Often for hours and achieved a lot before we had even opened an eyelid. She seemed to think it was a kind of competition, but no one else wanted to join in and beat her.
I was not a natural morning person and I'd much rather have stayed in bed, at least until 7am, but the good thing was that it meant we always got to fit a lot of things into the day, especially on holiday.
At the end of the cart ride, we left Magnus Magnussen chatting away to the people waiting to jump into the cart as soon as we had got off. At least the seats would be warm for them still. There was a man making something near the shop and granny let me stand on a wooden box so I could watch a man banging metal with a hammer as he made a Viking coin. And then he gave it to me to keep. It had special Viking writing on it, called runes, and it was the best thing I had ever seen. I decided to teach myself the Viking runes, and I learnt how to write my name. Sarah looked much more interesting written in Viking language and it was like joining a top secret club because only people who liked Vikings would know what it said.
Another evening we went on a ghost walk of York with a man dressed up in a funny costume, and learnt about all the ghosts and where they lived and who had seen them. Ghosts must be real then, I thought, otherwise why would there be a tour and how would so many people have seen them if they didn't exist, especially the Roman soldiers marching along the street. We learnt about Romans in school so I knew they must have been real. I had always loved a good ghost story and I loved telling them to my friends too.
Whilst we were staying in York, a fire broke out in the York Minster, the day after we visited there. It was on the television news and everything. A lot of the beautiful wooden carvings on the roof had been damaged according to the news, and no one knew how the fire had started. It was obvious to me.
We had been to the Minister on our ghost hunt, and learnt about a lady ghost who lived in the minister who was unhappy. The tourists had laughed at what the guide said about her, so she must have heard and been upset and started the fire because of that. But no one seemed interested in what seemed perfectly logical to me. Clearly it was the ghost of the lady who started the fire, and I wasn't going to believe otherwise. Far more likely for a ghost who everyone knows is unhappy, to start the fire, than for a child to start a fire on purpose, that just made no sense at all.
I felt bad about the fire, and I worried in case maybe I had somehow started it, and maybe I would get sent to prison. What if I had upset the ghost by going on the ghost tour, or dropped a piece of rubbish from my pocket without knowing, or touched the wood or statue even though it said 'do not touch'. What if I had sleepwalked at night, and now it would be captured on television and everyone would watch it and see me in my nightie, walking around like a zombie and seeing light to the Minster? Worse still, Mrs D knew I was in York, so what if she told the police I was there, and then I would go to prison for pinching Hannah too.
I wanted everyone to shut up about the fire at the Minster, everything felt like it was my fault these days, especially when it came to my parents arguing and splitting up.
'You are just like your father' my mother and granny would say if I was naughty. I didn't know what to say to that. I couldn't help the way my face looked, and anyway mum was the one who made me in her tummy, what was I supposed to do about things, I was only a kid. If the grown ups couldn't fix things, how could I.