diamond geezer

 Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Sorry, it would appear to be anniversary week this week. And I'm not finished yet.

It's 40 years ago today since my very first day at school. Not nursery school, because I'd been going up the road to play in the sandpit for a couple of years before that. But proper big school where all the old kids went, some of them even six or seven years old.

To start with I was only invited to go into school for a couple of afternoons a week. There was no mass enlisting of the nation's pre-infants into full time education in those days, oh no, we were generally left free to toddle about in the garden and go down the shops with our mums. But I was permitted admission a few months earlier than most because I was a precocious little thing, and going to school meant I could ask lots and lots of questions to somebody who was actually paid to answer them.

It wasn't far to walk, just a minute up the road and a couple of minutes down. Obviously on that first day I was taken by a parent, but within a few years I'd be allowed to walk home at lunchtime all by myself. You allow a six year-old boy in shorts to do that today and social workers would be down on you like a tabloid headline writer.

My teacher was called Carol, although I only ever knew her as "Miss" at the time. She welcomed me to the school and led me past the coathooks out of sight of my anxious parent. Had I realised what my mum was thinking I'd have turned round and said "Don't worry, I'm not planning on bursting into tears the minute you've gone, although obviously I still love you very much" but I didn't.

My new classroom was big and broad and tall. They no longer build classrooms like these Victorians spaces, all echoing chambers with tall windows, and hard to keep heated during the dark days of winter. There were lots of drawers around the edge of the room, some for scrap paper, some for scissors, and one of which was destined to be mine. I was a bit miffed that Miss had already written my name on it in chunky bold marker pen when I was perfectly capable of writing my own name unaided. Precocious, yeah.

I was taken over to sit next to a girl called Marianne. Such a very 1960s sort of a name, not that I realised this at the time because I was into nursery rhymes and not waspish folk singers. I wasn't initially very chatty with my new friend, sitting there in her polyester blouse and grey skirt, but within a year she'd be inviting me to her birthday party. We spent much of the afternoon bonding over a jigsaw. It wasn't the most academic start to my formal education but, despite this early setback, I still managed to knuckle down and gain a place at university several years later.

My teacher didn't attempt to teach me phonics, or assess my nascent ability against centrally prescribed Early Learning Goals. However, I was given my very first maths exercise book, which was slim and yellow and ruled with chunky squares inside. Miss personalised everybody's book by writing a selection of digits and symbols on the front cover in coloured paint. I remember being distinctly unimpressed by her choice of numerals, and insisted that she give me an out-of-curriculum 'zero' as well. I think she smiled as she painted it, but that may have been a fixed grin.

I later made acquaintance with the class guinea pig, or at least the straw-filled cage in which it supposedly lived. We didn't do pets in my house, what with my dad being allergic to all things furry, so this close encounter was quite a revelation. Several months later I'd make the mistake of convincing my teacher to let me take the cage home for the weekend, which would lead to an impromptu science lesson when an entirely predictable itchy rash broke out.

During afternoon break I learned from my new classmates that there was to be a very special Guy Fawkes treat the following day. Every child in the school was going to be given a sparkler, a whole entire sparkler of their very own, and then allowed to wave it around in the lower playground as it flashed and spluttered and fizzed. There were no nannying health & safety risk assessments in those days - teachers simply stuck a lethal weapon in our hands and let us get on with wielding it. I was extremely excited, until I remembered that tomorrow was a Wednesday and I didn't yet come to school on Wednesdays. This was undoubtedly the day's low point.

I'm sure I pestered my mum something rotten when hometime came around, but I was told point blank that I definitely couldn't come back until Thursday. If only the teachers had told me back then how rare a day off would be in the future, I doubt I'd have complained quite so much about my sparkerlessness. But my first day at school had achieved its intended goal and I was already aching to come back. It wouldn't all be jigsaws and guinea pigs on the several thousand schooldays that followed, but I wouldn't be where I am today without the education that Miss and her talented successors provided.

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