Schools went back last month and anyone with school-aged children or relatives will hopefully find that they’ve settled nicely into the new term and are probably already counting down the weeks (maybe even days) till half term.
My question to The Write Romantics this month is therefore school related: School days: love or hate? What are your fondest and/or worst memories of school?
For me personally, school days were mixed. I have vivid memories of certain parts of primary school: bad moments such as throwing up all over the carpet in reception class before the older kids came in for singing practice, constantly being told off and made to stand in the corner of the room in top infants, being asked to sing Abba’s ‘Super Trouper’ in a class talent show while my friends danced to it then completely blanking on the words and sobbing my eyes out (we won; sympathy vote!), and the boy over the road pinching my hat on a winter’s walk home and making me cry. I also have positive memories like winning a pencil case in the school raffle, building a fort on the playing fields in heavy snow, being fascinated by The Plague and The Great Fire of London, and acting in a school play about The Palace of Versailles. I’d probably say that infants wasn’t good and juniors was.
My comprehensive days weren’t good at all although I did have a small group of very good friends, some of whom I’m still good friends with although we don’t live close so thank goodness for Facebook. I enjoyed the variety of subjects, especially when we got to pick our options, but I hated the other kids 😦 I was bullied. I was the fat kid (although looking back at photos, I wasn’t really that fat which makes me so mad because it’s been a life-long issue for me thanks to those school days) and I was bright. We were streamed so I got bullied by students in the lower streams for being in one of the top sets and bullied by everyone else for my weight. A nasty rumour went round school about me too which wasn’t true but it haunted me for three years and made my life hell. I couldn’t wait to leave. (The picture is my form in 5th Year. I’m front right. As you can see, I’m far from fat but I believed I was enormous).
College was OK. I went to a technical college to study a BTEC instead of sixth form to do A Levels. I loved the subject, I didn’t love the commute to another town, and I was a bit lonely as none of my friends went there and I felt a bit left out when I’d hear about their exciting time at sixth form. If I could do it all again, though, I’d still do the same thing.
University was mixed too. My first year was pretty good. I could just about do the subjects and I made a few friends but it all fell apart in my second year. I couldn’t do some of the compulsory subjects so had to spend hours pouring over books trying to understand the basics. I’d also made the mistake of staying in Halls with a close friend but he got in with a clique who rejected me because I spent so much time studying and all my friends who’d moved out had moved on with their lives and didn’t need me. I’ve never felt so surrounded by people yet so incredibly alone. Thankfully I had a year out and it was the making of me. I loved my job, had two great house-mates (pictured either side of me in my graduation photo) and a great social life with the other sponsored students and graduate trainees. I returned to uni with a fresh approach to learning and friendships and I had an amazing time. I just wish I’d known at the start of uni what I’d known in my final year as things could have been very different.
Over to the others …
Harriet says …
I was a painfully shy child, and as an only child who had never mixed with more than two or three other children at a time, school was far more traumatic than it should have been, especially at the start. Things didn’t improve much as time went on. I remember crossing the junior school playground with my mother one afternoon when all the others had gone – why we were still there I don’t know – and the headmistress, a tyrant if ever there was one, came over and spoke to my mother. She then spoke to me, and I froze. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak, and no matter how much Mum urged me to say something, anything, I just couldn’t. I got a telling-off for it, but that was my mother all over. She was embarrassed I suppose.
Being the way I was, I was desperate to melt into the background and be the same as everyone else. When it came to reading lessons, I could already read fluently and had been able to since before I started school but when it was my turn to read I would stumble over a few words on purpose so that I didn’t appear different from the others. And another daft thing, for some reason I had trouble identifying my own possessions and when a scarf which had been found in the playground was held up in front of the class, I didn’t recognise it. It was only when I went to put my coat on later that I realised it was missing, then had to confess, red-faced, to my teacher face that it was indeed my scarf.
I was lucky enough to go to an old-style grammar school where the teachers were dedicated and passionate about their subjects, and I still recall vividly many of the actual lessons. I remember our English teacher, Miss Egan, leaping in her lace-ups from one side of the dais to the other to demonstrate parts of a sentence; the smelly Biology lesson when we, pointlessly, dissected a herring; the fruit salad I made in Domestic Science using plain tap water as I hadn’t been listening when we were told to boil it with sugar. I remember it all, which goes to show what a wonderful education we had. None of us appreciated that at the time, of course.
The highlight of my entire schooldays has to be meeting my three friends, Val, Angie and Marion, in the second year of grammar school. They were my soul-mates, my saviours, the sisters I never had, and we’re still friends now. Last time we were together, we realised it was fifty years since we left school. Fifty! We toasted the occasion with a bottle of Prosecco on top of the wine we’d already had. Any excuse!
Jackie says …
The lesson I liked most in school was art. it was not because I was any good at art, in fact I am embarissingly bad at it, I can only do Noddy cars and seahorses. But our art teacher, Mrs James, was really cool and loved her art so much that she painted her own canvass’s when she was teaching us, leaving us mostly to our own devices. The art shed was at the bottom of the school garden and this particular summer, we were shoo-ed out every lesson so Mrs James could paint and smoke in peace ( she really did smoke in class!) We spent the art lesson’s practising levitation, Ouija (we had to huddle in Mr Mountford, the handyman’s shed, as it was dark) and fainting. Levitation scared the hell out us because it appeared to work, Ouija board scared the hell out of us because we didn’t know my friend Helen was pushing the glass to write BANSHEE. We didn’t know what a banshee was, so it must have been a real banshee writing it! Fainting (you know, where you breathe deeply for 20 and then stick your thumb in your mouth and blow hard) actually did work and scared the hell out of us because we kept thinking we were going to die. It was the best summer ever and we were really sad when Mrs James suddenly left, mid term, never to be seen again.
Helen R says …
I’m one of those people who loved their school days. I didn’t love every subject – maths and science were enemies – but I loved being there in that environment with friends.
I’ve overheard so many mums talking about results for this and results for that and perhaps I should be more worried about the academic side of my girls’ schooling, but for me, the last thing I say in the morning when I drop them at the gate is ‘have lots of fun’ and the first thing I say at pickup is ‘did you have a good day?’
High school was the most fun I think…I valued the independence of walking to and from school each day, meeting friends afterwards, the whole future ahead of us. My only regret is that I didn’t pursue writing earlier, but then again, without the business degree I wouldn’t have made the choices that have ultimately led me to the life I lead today, and I don’t think I’d have it any other way.
Because I’ve always been a bit of a girly swot I generally loved school. I went to a very old fashioned all girls grammar school in York. The school was in a large Victorian house with lovely grounds and pretty much entirely staffed by total eccentrics. There was a geography teacher who had toy bunny rabbits that she talked about as if they were real. If she was cross with you she’d say, ‘Pinky bites’ referring to her rabbit called Pinky. There was a male teacher, who had unfortunately lost a leg to Polio, and who was banned from teaching Latin after he threw the board rubber at a girl and it hit her. Allegedly she chucked it straight back! However, we was still allowed to teach history which must have made him less irritable because he never threw the board rubber in any of my lessons.
In many ways it was an education from a much earlier time. I was taught Latin (which I was terrible at and really hated), to play tennis (also very badly) on the grass courts in the grounds and treated as a ‘young lady’. The lack of boys meant that only the fast girls (and I definitely wasn’t one of them) had boyfriends.
I’ve had an idea recently for a book that would use all of this wonderful material but I think I’ll have to tone some of it down because people probably wouldn’t believe it really happened. It was a huge influence on me because, for all its faults, it had an ethos that women could achieve anything they put their minds to. To remind me of that the mug that they gave me when I left still stands on my desk.
Rachael says …
Love them or hate them, school days are the best days of your life, or so we are told. For me my primary school days weren’t much fun. My family moved every couple of years and this meant new schools and new friends. But my secondary school days, or high school as it’s now known, were much better. I still have contact with friends from school, despite having moved away from the area and my ‘best friend’ visits each summer with her family. It’s wonderful to be able to just pick up with her as if we saw each other just the other day instead of months ago.
One of my favourite memories was hanging out in the school corridors, chatting and catching up with friends. I loved English lessons, because they were in the school library and I could spend time surrounded by books. I also loved science and home economics, which today probably go under a different name. I hated, with a vengeance, sports. Why would anyone want to go out in the cold and wet, armed with a stick and whack a ball around? As you can tell, hockey was my least favourite sport, closely followed by cross-country.
Jay says …
Did I love or hate my school days… Well, I suppose it was a game of two halves. I loved primary school and really only have good memories of that, apart perhaps from Nitty Nora the flea explorer… In my last year there, I had the most marvellous teacher, Mrs Muldoon and a wonderful best friend Claire, with whom I’m still in touch. I remember doing a puppet show, I was the fairy godmother, and we made the puppets ourselves from paper mache, string and scraps of fabric. Through my rose-coloured spectacles, the puppets looked incredible and the show was a triumph – although I’m sure the reality was somewhat different!
Secondary school I wasn’t a big fan of. I went to an extremely competitive all girls’ grammar and I was in no way enough of a high flier to stand out. That said, I made some more great friends, including one of my now best friends, Sarah. Here’s a photograph of us then and now. We used to get the train in together and got up to all sorts, including strong arming John Cleese for an autograph and, on another occasion, almost getting arrested by the railway police – until we bribed them with Maltesers!
Sharon (in her first official WW as a Write Romantic) says …
I loved school! Well, mostly. Primary school was lots of fun. We were mostly taught in ancient white prefabs with huge old boilers in the middle of the classroom. When it was particularly cold we would pull up our chairs and gather round the boiler to keep warm while the teacher read to us. Sometimes, on very wet days, bits of sodden clothing would be draped on the fireguard to dry! I doubt that would be allowed these days and I believe the prefabs have been pulled down which is a shame. The central part of the school was a newish, brick-built, one storey high building. This housed the hall where we’d have our daily assemblies and perform our plays and carol concerts. There were other classrooms in this part, too, with big french windows that opened out on to a lovely garden. In warm weather the windows would be wide open and I used to daydream, gazing at the rose bushes and the cherry blossom trees and making up stories in my head when I was supposed to be doing sums.
Every week we had a spelling competition and we each had to ask another pupil a word that they had to spell correctly. If they spelt it incorrectly they were eliminated. One week a brainy boy decided to test me and asked me to spell miscellaneous. As the whole class gasped, I thought, is he mad? I remember my lovely teacher smiling and nodding at me encouragingly and saying, “Go on, Sharon!” So I did. I still remember the relief when I got it right! We had a lovely library at the end of the building which was where I discovered pony books. We also had a year of various fund-raising activities to raise enough money to build a swimming pool in the grounds, which we did. A local news reporter from the Calendar television programme came to open it because he was engaged to one of our teachers.
I remember the autumn being really exciting. We’d go outside and collect fallen leaves and conkers to make displays for the classroom, and of course there was all the fun of Hallowe’en to look forward to. Christmas at primary school was fantastic. We’d decorate the classrooms, make a postbox for everyone to bring cards and presents for their friends, file into the hall each morning where the usual hymns would be replaced with those fantastic carols. The fourth-year juniors (the eldest ones) would perform a Christmas play each year and when it was our turn we did an interesting one written by one of the teachers which combined Oliver Twist with A Christmas Carol. I remember rushing home from school in the dark, having stayed late for rehearsals, walking along the banks of a drain as a short cut, mindful of the parts that had crumbled away and all too aware of the scurrying sound of rats. I definitely wouldn’t want my kids coming home from school in those circumstances!
Lower High school wasn’t much fun, except they had the most fantastic library, stacked to the rafters with pony books. From the second floor science lab I had a fabulous view of ponies grazing in the fields, so that got me through. Upper High School was great. It was built in the grounds of a grand old house. I loved that building. It had once belonged to an important man in the area who had actually survived the Titanic disaster, and I used to love walking into that huge hallway, climbing those stairs, my hands trailing along the bannisters and sweeping up to the landing where – you’ve guessed it – the school library was now situated! I used to sit in that library looking out over the grounds that was now a school playing field and imagine the people who’d once lived there. We weren’t allowed in the main house much. It was the base for the staff mostly, housing the staff room, offices and headmaster’s room. Only a maths room and a library were for our use so I only got to go in there occasionally but it was always worth the wait. I was a bit disappointed to find the library didn’t have any pony books, though. I started to look for other things to read and, remembering the name of one of my mum’s favourite authors, I selected The Dwelling Place by Catherine Cookson. I was soon hooked! I did try Barbara Cartland but couldn’t get to grips with her heroines who were always gasping and swooning.
I had a major crush on the English teacher at the Upper School. He was always so complimentary and encouraging about my work and I just fell for him big time. I even wrote a poem for him once and persuaded my friends to give it to him. He was very kind and patient with me and I’ve never forgotten that. He really made me believe in my writing ability so I have a lot to thank him for! For a short time we had a school newspaper, and I volunteered to help out. I ended up writing most of the articles, helping to print it out, harassing other kids for their contributions, making up the shortfall when they didn’t bother, coming up with ideas for the next issue and then traipsing round the classrooms selling as many issues as I could to uninterested fellow pupils. Needless to say it didn’t survive long. Ah well. Happy days..
What about you? We’d love you to join in and tell us all about your school days. Did you love them or hate them? What memories have lingered with you for life?