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.
Ms B was the Headmistress of Ferndown First School, and though I had never crossed paths with her, she terrified me. Mainly because of rumours that she kept an old slipper in her room that she used to hit naughty children with. Corporal punishment was still legal back in the 1970s and 1980s!! If the kids were talking about it as truth, I wasn't going to doubt them and risk a whack on my bum!
I only remember two times that I went to Ms B's office, and it was always a palpitation making moment, and I kept a close eye out for evidence of blood and skin on the carpet, for sightings of her cane, or of her slipper, or other weapons against children.
Her office looked so lovely and light, and full of warmth but her reputation was terrifying, and the fact that her office looked so friendly only made things worse in my mind as she clearly was trying to hide the horrors of what actually took place in her office. I imagined lines of naughty children, white faced as they waited for her to smack their bum or hand with a ruler or cane, or a slipper.
The only time I went to her room was for sewing lessons or recorder lessons. Sometimes we would sit and sew fabric material teddies with big stitches, or we would play black and white plastic recorders. I didn't enjoy either session and I certainly didn't find these opportunities creative.
In sewing, a lady, usually a parent who had volunteered to come into school, usually my friend Fay's mum, would give you a pre cut template that you were supposed to draw around, and then cut out your fabric, and then sew, and stuff.
But for the most part you were told you were doing it wrong or you weren't neat enough and the lady took it off you or had already done everything for you.
There were no opportunity to use your imagination and every teddy would look exactly the same. You had to use this fabric for the bear and this thread for sewing. We were creating as if working on a production line at a factory. I wanted my bear to have personality!
But that wasn't allowed. Instead, each session you would find a pile of half made bears, supposedly named but invariably the names had come off them, or people had grabbed them so fast that you always ended up with the reject in the pile, the misshapen bear, that suddenly became yours even though you knew it wasn't.
All arts and crafts sessions were like that. And then your name would get added to a finished product and you were supposed to be all proud and excited about it as it went on display or you took it home at the end of term.
I found these sessions disheartening. It was always survival of the fittest and the bigger and taller kids or naughty ones with no manners always got there first. It was the same when it came to paintings, marbling work, baking bread hedgehogs, or making models from clay or papiermache. You never ended up with your own thing you made, but someone else's rejects.
Recorder lessons you blew the same note over and over again, and you were never allowed to think for yourself or to just explore and play and get to have a feel for the instrument. Worse still, each recorder would usually be filled with someone else's old spit, since no one bothered to wash them or to think about things like hygiene. No wonder we all shared our bugs and were sick! I didn't like the sensation of a crust on the mouthpiece of my recorder, so I spent most of the lesson sticking my tongue down the mouthpiece and chipping off any nasty crust with my teeth, then wiping the bits on my hand, and my hand on my dress. By the end of the lesson I felt a great sense of achievement as finally the recorder tasted like my own and now felt clean...at least until the next class arrived and had to blow into it. Sometimes, if you were very unlucky, you would pick up a recorder that was so full of spit, that as you played, it would drip onto your hands and clothes. And your hands would feel all sticky. All I wanted to do after those recorder lessons was to go to the toilets and wash my hands and face with nice clean soap and warm water. I didn't like second hand things, and I decided that one day, when I was a grown up, I would have new things and I wouldn't let anyone else use them. That way they would feel clean and smell and taste and feel like they belonged to me. It was bad enough at home, sharing everything with my baby brother and his snotty nice and inability to keep food in his mouth, but he was only a baby so I understood that it wasn't his fault. I longed for a slime free life!
Much of school was like that for me. It was just boring and dull and I soon learnt that imagination and creativity was frowned upon. They just wanted to create robotic children, who were all exactly the same. There seemed little point to me in having children at school when you could just invent yourself a robot instead. Asking questions about how things worked or why they did, just got you into trouble and made the grown ups angry.
I felt like I didn't fit in at school, and that I was living a lie, trying to pretend to be something that I wasn't. Ashamed of being myself. And it made me feel constantly guilty and like I was about to be in trouble for the slightest thing. So much so, that whenever we sat in assembly, numb bums on floors, cross legged until we could no longer feel toes for the pins and needles, I would have feeling of dread in my tummy, especially when the words 'somebody has.....'. were boomed across our heads.
I would rather have stuck my hand up in the air and owned up and said whatever had been done had been done by me, and to take the punishment for it, than to suffer that anxious moment of silence as no one owned up to whatever crime had been committed.
Sometimes I worried that maybe even though I didn't commit the crime, maybe I had but just didn't know it. What if I had been sleep walking, or done it whilst under a spell? I always questioned myself and I always felt like it was my fault.
Had I encouraged someone else to be naughty without realising it??? I was forgetful, maybe I did it and I just forgot that I did it? And the more I tried to look innocent, because I was innocent, the more I felt like I looked guilty and all eyes would be upon me. I wouldn't look anyone in the eye, and I tried to be invisible whenever I walked past a teacher on the way out of assembly, much as I do today when walking through those security machines at the airport or when walking past a policeman in the street.