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.
Throughout my life I always feel like I have been misunderstood and taken the wrong way, when I have only ever had the best intentions at heart. It is the worst feeling ever.
One of my earliest memories of this was being in our classroom in primary school, and painting pictures. I was a member of the school choir, and it seemed like our choir sessions just happened randomly, out of the blue, and every so often, a child from another class would arrive in our classroom, deliver an important message to our teacher, and we would be summoned to rehearsals.
On this one occasion we were called to the school hall and were told to be there as quickly as possible. So we downed our painting things and rushed along the corridor, entered the hall, and were put in our respective places, some children standing on the wooden gym benches, like me because I was small, and the bigger and taller children standing on the floor at the front.
We promptly began our singing practice, some children shouting more than singing, and the naughtiest of us changing the words, just to see if the teacher was paying attention. There was something about choir singing that meant that you were told to smile as you sang, even though you didn't feel like smiling, it was hard to sing with your mouth stretched like a frog's face, and there was no one watching you perform anyway.
Part way through this rehearsal I suddenly realised that my hands were covered in paint, and I was terrified in case the teacher, a lady I did not like as she was very, very strict, found out and told me off. So I decided to use my initiative and thought that I could fix things so that I wouldn't get in trouble.
I swished my tongue around my mouth, made a big ball of saliva, and spat on my painty hands. But this wasn't any kind of paint. It was the kind of paint that teachers mix up from powder, with water, and as soon as you paint with your wooden brushes, it runs everywhere, then dries, and cracks, and eventually falls off whatever you have painted it onto. By now the paint was dry and cracking on my sweaty little palms, but as soon as I spat on my hands, it turned back into gloop and the paint looked even worse.
Now I really was worried because we were told to hold hands with the people next to us, and my hands were now really, really painty. I knew things would be worse for me if I got paint on anyone's clothes and if my neighbours held my hands, one of whom was my arch enemy Hannah perfectly annoying pain in the bum, then she would create a big scene and I would be sure to get a whack on my bum with the slipper from the headmistress. There was only one thing for it.
I cautiously raised my hand so I could ask the teacher if I may be excused for a minute so I could go and wash my hands in the cold, white ceramic basin in the toilets, with their green paper towels. But the teacher was ignoring my hand and me because she was far too busy being organised and telling people in the choir what to do, which made me feel even more anxious because now things were getting desperate, so I had to speak up to get her attention. Eventually she snapped at me, 'not now Sarah', 'hold Hannah's hand and stop bothering me' or something like that.
'But miss, my hands...'.
The teacher ignored me. She didn't like the council estate kids at the best of times but she definitely wasn't in the mood today.
I had no choice. I would have to hold Hannah's hand, so I did. Hannah screamed a high pitch scream that immediately silenced everyone as the sound reverberated around the walls of the school hall. Now we were both in for it.
We were called to the front of the choir, in front of everyone, and the teacher screamed at us, and especially at me as a 'disgusting child'.
'Why didn't you wash your hands before choir, why are you covered in paint? You are an absolute disgrace Sarah Weldon. How dare you come to my choir in that state'
I tried to explain, but it was no use, we were going to be in her naughty book in her office now, and Hannah was angry with me too for getting her in trouble too even though it wasn't really my fault. It wasn't me who had screamed and hurt the teacher's ears.
Hannah was supposed to have a solo part in the choir concert and now it looked like she might be dropped and excluded altogether, along with me. Who cared about the concert, it wasn't like my parents were going to be there. I never asked to have a lovely voice, or to be selected to sing in this stupid thing. My jaw was already aching from smiling so much, and my throat was sore from all that rehearsing. It was just assumed that I would be a member, no one actually asked me.
Hannah and I made our way as quickly as possible along the corridor to the girl's toilets, the ones that were always clean because everyone avoided them. They were right next to the headmistresses office, close by the staff room so the kids were too terrified to use them even if they were desperate for a pee. If you used them you were sure to get nabbed by a teacher for some task or other if you were spotted. But now we had no choice as the only other option was the outside ones, which was out of bounds during lesson time, and in the other block where the younger children were.
I was worried that Hannah would pinch me like she usually did or beat me up in the toilets, and my eyes were stinging with tears. I only ever cried when I was really angry, I rarely cried when upset. Even today, I only cry if I am really, really frustrated and angry and I feel like someone has been unfair. That makes me even more angry, and then I cry more, because I wish my body wouldn't let me down like that. How can you have an argument with someone and get your point across if your eyes are so full of tears that you can't actually see, and your voice goes high pitched and so start dribbling and your throat closes up and really hurts. How is that an evolutionary thing, why would nature do that, how is that survival of the fittest, it serves absolutely no use at all. Crying gets you nowhere in life. But I was struggling to hold back the tears because I was so mad at that stupid teacher and that annoying girl Hannah. I wished I was back in the classroom with the rest of the kids right now. Painting lovely bright colours on my easel and lost in my own happy thoughts.
We washed our hands, made our way back to the choir and I did everything I could not to draw anymore attention to myself. I felt angry and humiliated. I had tried to use my initiative in cleaning my hands, I had raised my hand to go to the toilets to wash, and I had not been given a fair hearing. Now everyone would look at me and not speak to me because I was a terrible child. My stomach sank, and suddenly the happy tunes of God and religion just seemed empty. 'All things bright and beautiful' (apart from Sarah), 'all creatures great and small' (apart from Sarah). I didn't like being in the choir anymore but there was no opportunity to not be in it, even the kids who had lost their voice still had to show up, and you could tell they were just miming.