Today things have changed a little, in that children in the juniors will have an opportunity to experience a few visits to the ‘big school’ a year or two before actually being there full time. Big school…. ‘Big’ as in ‘Comprehensive School’ or ‘High School’, it’s all the same thing just depends on what part of the world you live in.
Being able to visit ‘big school’ whilst still in the juniors is a great idea, calms the nerves. It allows the children to have a gentle insight in to what is to come, but back in 1984 this wasn’t the case. It all starts with the last day of the junior school; having mixed feelings knowing that something bigger and more serious is on the way, shortly overtaken by the excitement of the six weeks summer holidays.
The week before the new term in ‘Big school’ starts, Mother Frantony says “We’re off to town to buy your school uniform!”…..oh joy! The colour was black with a white shirt, a choice of a blazer or jumper, purple tie with the odd diagonal stripe. Even at eleven years old I wanted to be cool whether shopping for school clothes or normal clothes. But that was never going to happen, not as long as Mother Frantony was going to dress me and pay for it. Plus the added extra cost and embarrassment, of me having to wear a vest (to stop me from catching a chill apparently) and on the odd occasion, Mother Frantony shoving two fingers underneath the collar and pulling to see if in fact I was wearing a vest. If I wasn’t, then it was back upstairs to my bedroom to put one on with her voice echoing in the background saying “You’ll catch a death of cold!” Whatever that means?
The new school uniform was always far too big for me in the beginning. The jumper and shirt way too long with the sleeves folded up too many times to count. The trousers shortened, not cut but ironed up inside and lightly stitched so they could be taken down throughout the year as I grew. The only problem with this was I had iron marks around my lower leg looking like tidal marks from each time I had a growth spurt. But of course those classic parental lines that every child hears when clothes shopping as you’re spun around in the shop “Plenty of room for them to grow in to!”
Back in my day, when I had new school shoes, they were always black, never the ones I wanted and always felt like they were chiselled out of granite. I can still picture Father Frantony hitting the top of the each heel with a hammer to soften up the leather, but even so, after the first day my feet would look like I had walked over hot coals whilst being whipped with the sharpest of brambles covered in miniature men holding a blow torch in one hand and a rasp in the other, all on commission to see who can bag the most skin off my feet. Also, the timing for a child to experience their parent’s clever thoughts of growing into their uniform always coincided with the schools clever thinking of the school photos (I assume while they still look smart and new). This never did me any favours, as my school photos looked like I was in some big man’s clothes as I hadn’t had the chance to grow in to the new school uniform yet, and I was always guaranteed a huge coldsore would erupt on my lip.
The choice of coat back then by Mother Frantony was the traditional ‘Parka’. The big, bulky, heavy Parka coat, which had zips and buttons everywhere you looked. Of course you couldn’t just do up the zip because of the huge flap to the side where the button holes were. So big, that if you didn’t button up the flap it was like leaving a door open in front of you all of the time. Also if I was made to put the hood up on a cold day, well……. that experience was like looking through a long tunnel with a complete Alaskan forest of fake Mink fur stuck around the edge. This made crossing any road a life or death situation. The Parka was always green and always had orange lining inside. On leaving the house, Mother Frantony would place my school bag (a plastic carrier bag) on the tips of my fingers, this was for two reasons, one because I couldn’t see them, and two, because only the tips of my fingers ever came out of the sleeves. This was the least of my problems, as me wanting to be cool never happened. Parkas have come a long way since then, I do like ‘The North Face’ Parka….. it’s very nice, I would like one to go with my coat collection but Mrs Frantony won’t allow me to part with £400 to buy one (She’s mean!).
Now being a parent, I haven’t forgotten that children for some reason don’t feel the cold as adults and say words like ”but I’m inside all day then I’m on the bus….I don’t need a coat!” I am now very wary what coat I buy my son; it must fit and must look stylish.
So the first day of big school, first time on the bus (a very posh bus which didn’t last long), it had a microphone. The drivers name was Huw, he had a beard and would let me sometimes use the microphone. I would always do a talking commentary on the sights and the different buildings we passed. Yes…… I thought I was funny. Once at the school I had no idea where to go, but followed the rest like sheep to the assembly hall where we were put in to our form classes, A, B, C, D class…… and no, I wasn’t in the D class! This was the first time that some of the local schools came together, so there were lots of new faces.
It was an old school, once a convent apparently. Each large corridor was dark, cold and dingy, smelling of damp, the wooden floors creaked, even if they were empty. Each time you’d pass certain older students they would say ‘At break time you’re going through the tunnel!’ Now the ‘tunnel’ wasn’t actually a tunnel, it was a large alleyway with a ceiling. But this was apparently some sort of old tradition, some sort of an initiation…. a welcome to the big Comprehensive school. The name of the game was that the thickest students (bullies) would line up either side and kick you whilst you were trying to run through as fast as you could to the other side. As predicted there was always one child that thought he was the ‘Karate Kid’ and one child that hid at the end for the element of surprise to give you a bonus kick. Every kid was bigger than me, but this was to my advantage as one of the 2nd year students put his hands on my shoulders and shouted “Dave’s too small, we’ll leave him go!” I said thanks, but I wasn’t going through anyway. I moved to the side and watched the dull initiation show commence……. with not one evil dinner lady in sight. Paid off to look the other way I reckon (you know how I feel about dinner ladies from my last blog).
I made new friends quickly and was excited to see lots of new girls, not that I was a ‘stud’ or as cool as the ‘Fonz’ and YES…… I realised that I was now too old to play kiss chase (shame). Wouldn’t that make a weird grown up game? (Let’s not go there!) It wasn’t long before I had my first big school girl friend…. it didn’t last long she dumped me; she was far too advanced for me anyway. Plus she was costing me a fortune in bus fare on the weekends; she even went nuts on me because I had cards off other girls on Valentine’s Day. I tried explaining to her that I was not in control of any girl that gave me the cards as it was anonymous….. she still went mad, I now realise I had a lucky escape with her. I was sure that if I was with her any longer she would have changed her hair to blond curls like Glenn Close in the film Fatal Attraction and boiled one of my imaginary bunnies that I didn’t have.
I’m also still scarred from the first time I experienced cross country running, freezing cold with frost on the ground on top of a mountain……ridiculous!! Then there was the first experience of having French lessons, of course Welsh was also on the menu as I live in Wales. Didn’t have a clue with either but would love to speak them today. I did love the experience of the Bunsen burner in the science class, still going strong today as a favourite for children. It always amazed me that they allow gas to be piped straight up to a desk with a hand full of Bunsen burners fully attached and on the go, with each child resisting to create a slight curve in their pen from the heat. Of course in the eighties it was far more dangerous for the girls to be around Bunsen burners due to them wearing lots and lots and lots and lots of hair lacquer, it was never a good combination.
Ahhhhh the eighties……… girls and their hair lacquer; you could never put your fingers through any girl’s hair without your finger being jammed and entwined (again may I remind you I am far from being a stud or anything like the Fonz). Not only was hair lacquer a problem but so was chewing gum. Bit of a task to be romantic back then for a boy. To kiss a girl, you had to wait until she took her chewing gum out of her mouth. In fact some girls who clearly had no hygienic issues would say ‘Give me some of your chewing gum’ and not the one in your pocket, the actual gum that you were chewing! Always a tricky situation if you placed the chewing gum in your mouth just after you’d eaten a packet of beef flavoured crisps.
Now as you know, even though I am Welsh, rugby and I don’t get along so in the end my P.E teacher would allow my friend and me not to play, so long as we were good. He came to the conclusion we were all wasting our time if we did play, so as long as we didn’t cause any trouble we could go for a walk or watch the girls play netball…… and very pleased about it we were too! Half the boys nearest the windows would also be watching the girls play netball. We’d sit on the bank and watch the girls hoping that one of them would be my girlfriend, so I thought maybe if I put a piece of grass sticking out of my mouth that would be cool. I now understand that a piece of grass sticking out of my mouth isn’t cool….. more like you look a tool….. than cool!
After two years the school moved to a new building, thankfully!! Light actually came through the windows, we had more space to walk around and there was no smell of damp anymore. The dinner breaks consisted of going in to town with friends working out who you were going to pair up with to buy food with, the reason why? On the menu was a fresh loaf of uncut bread where the shop keeper would cut it in half. Then we’d pull out the inside and eat it before going to the chippie, order bag of chips, share the chips and squeeze them in to the now hollowed out half loaf of bread with loads of salt and vinegar. Some days would be extra special because the chippie would have lots of ‘Scrumps’ as we called them. This I believe, was loads and loads of broken off batter from the fish at the bottom of the fryer ‘AMAZING!!’
So after a busy day in school it was home time, which meant back on the bus and as I said, the nice buses didn’t last long. This depended on where you lived in the surrounding areas of the school. I lived on a council estate and being honest, the bus reflected this. Other children from other parts of the area had nice buses, the type of bus you would go in on a day trip. But our bus looked like it had been used for target practice by the army. The seats all worn and stained with no support and as I‘ve said, this was the eighties so you could guarantee that the ashtray on the rear of the seat in front of you was always stuck open and full of ash, cigarette butts and without fail, a used chewing gum rammed in there somewhere.
Then there was the classic tomfoolery that was every child’s nightmare which happened on our bus on many occasions. Usually the same culprits that lined up in the so called ‘tunnel’ at the start of the year. There’s always one or two, but mostly three or four that go straight to the back seat of the bus. A top tip, if any of them have a larger than normal grin on their face whilst walking up the aisle of the bus, then something you don’t want to happen is about to happen. Once seated and the bus moved off away from the school, you could feel the tension building. However hard you’d stare out of the window trying to mind your own business hoping that you’re not going to be part of the collateral damage……. you were always part of the collateral damage. One of them would stand up whilst the rest of the gang who were in on the act would sit cackling. Too scared to look, you could hear the rustling of a bag opening….. not just any bag but a bag of flour which had been stolen from the cookery department. Then with an almighty stretch back of the arm before catapulting forward, the bag of open flour would shoot forward. Every single child would be showered in white flour. Both sides of the bus had a bag each and as quickly as it happened, the thicky child would sit back down with the rest of the thickies as if nothing had happened. Only………. and you didn’t need Jessica Fletcher, Colombo, Inspector Morse or even Poirot to work out who done it, as the culprits all sitting on the back seat were clean, still in black school uniform, whereas the rest of us all resembled Casper the Ghost. One time even the bus driver had it, I didn’t know his name, most probably ‘Drive’. The people in the street must have thought we were all going to a Casper the Ghost convention or a fancy dress party. If that wasn’t enough the usual bullies would stop certain children from getting off the bus at their stop by holding them on until two or three stops later, you could guarantee this would happen on a rainy day.
At sixteen years old when it was time to leave, I did, but had always wished I stayed on until I was eighteen years old, too late now though…..must get my Time Machine fixed.
As ever on the Easy Blend I’m listening to some great music, today it’s Pink Floyd – Another brick in the wall
You can find out more about my book ‘Farrago: Ten Tall Tales’ and buy it here…. (click on the cover)
Until the next Easy Blend blog………..
Stay warm and fuzzy……..