Eeeh when I wur a lad…
My primary school was Much Woolton RC (St Mary’s) in Woolton. The building is still there but the school has moved to new buildings some time ago. Primary school or Infant school, in the Uk at least, runs from 5 years of age up to 11ish so I guess that included junior school for me. These days classes are all like year 35, Inset, and shite like that. When I was at school it was 1st year infants, and so on until you got to 3 year infants and then, unless you were exceptionally dim, you moved into 1st year juniors and stayed there until you were about 11 and sufficiently indoctrinated enough to process to secondary
It used to have a big thing on stilts outside near where the big window is. Well you couldnt see the big window for the stilty thing. The stilty thing was the assembly hall and gym though it turned out to be more of a storage place for those horrid chairs you see in British community centres and church halls. You know them horrid canvas seats with metal tubing. I think at some point in the eighties their futility was recognised and someone thought it better to rivvet hardboard to the tubes instead for safety reasons without conceiving that 80’s child was full of vex and often they would be ripped off using brute force and applied to the back of someones head in a sharp clouty movement.
When I started at the school in 1977, the school was ruled by the mysterious Mrs Sloane. I think she went on to be a mass murderess or a lesbian or something. But later a Mr Mcbride, who had the most pockmarked face you could ever see, took over as head master. One of his sons cost me perfect 20:20 vision and the other was responsible for my tobacco habit in the 90’s.
The uniform was originally a blue blazer, blue cap & brown leather satchel. Boys needed to suppliment their dress with brown sandals, grey socks, charcoal shorts and a white or blue shirt. Girls had to wear a light blue gingham dress or frock and knee high socks. The dress code lapsed when McBride took over and with that lapse went law and order, to my eyes at least.
My inception or first year infants class was governed by Mrs Oakley, guardian of the magic apple and keeper of the Wendy house that Katherine Warberton often used as a latrine. I can only just remember Mrs Oakley. She had a kind grandmotherly face and I think she wore brown flora dresses as were popular in those days. I recall her coming to my rescue when Duncan Nealey and David Griffiths threatend to boil me in a pot and eat me. I think she had a nice matronly bosom as all I can think of when I try to picture Mrs Oakley as I write is breasts, I’m sure I’m not having a man moment. I’m fairly certain she had a nice matronly bosom.
Anyway, Mrs Oakley’s class had nice thick hot water pipes running through it. I’m sure that in todays health and safety climate they would have been surrounded by a perimeter fence. However, this was the 70’s and if you hurt yourself then it was your own damn fault, so stop crying like a big baby and sit down. The pipes were also the best area to store the daily milk.
In the 1960’s, before Margaret Thatcher spoiled it for everyone, milk was given to school children to supplement their diet. Most of the children in the 1960s didn’t have milk like the rest of the world. Instead, grubby little urchins would suckle on the family dogs teat at breakfast and share a cornflake or piece of discarded skin. Mrs Thatcher thought that this was a terrible waste of money and said parents should stop spending money on repairing their crap old Ford Anglias, Capris and Escorts at the weekend and pay a milkman to deliver milk instead. So over night Maggers took away milk for under 7’s something that eventually spread to be under 6’s in cash strapped Labour controlled Liverpool. After all the Mayor needed new tyres for his Daimler. Anyway, Mrs Oakley’s class was used as a storage area for the school milk as it was handily tucked away at the back of the school behind Miss Gradwells class1. What better place to store milk? But right next to the red hot heating pipes. But hey! This was the 1970’s! Salmonella hadn’t been invented yet.
Most of the time Mrs Oakley’s classes revolved around A B C and 1 2 3 I remember getting many gold stars and dolly mixture sweets because I was good boy. But some of the classes were your basic “Jesus is your friend and loves children” indoctrination bollocks. Of course at 5 none of this really makes sense. So I was expectant of Jesus to call round to my house to play cricket with Paul Midgely and me in my back garden. The bastard never came so he obviously didn’t love me that much.
Lunch would be served in the canteen (now a private house) on St Mary’s Street. The furniture would be those awful seats (only mini versions for kiddies) and those tables that had a habit of collapsing. Those fortunate to live locally could go home for their lunches, I didn’t live all that local. When an adult from my family was unable to bring me home for lunch I had to suffer the schools hot meals . The sausages were wrong. I can still taste their foulness. In fact they kind of put me off sausages for some time. The mash, lumpy and crunchy 2. The carrots strained (as in strained to grow). Malnourishment was something that only occurred in children from the 1940’s and Ethiopia hadn’t been discovered in 1978. So after being force fed the daily council offerings we were allowed to return to the playground and then back to class. But only after we had washed our hands.
The end of the week, Friday, was toy day. Instead of the teacher actually doing some teaching, children were able to bring their favourite toy into school to play. Often this would be a parade of the rich kids’ toys to the kids from less affluent families. I remember looking on at Jonathan Fairhurst’s toys with great jealousy. His dad worked in a toy factory so Jonathan had all the latest toys indeed he had some I that I had never seen anywhere else since. Cahill Walsh, Guy and myself had “hand me down” toys (Guy and I had elder brothers. I think Cahill’s parents were trainee nurses and so not very well off). Often toys would be broken out of spite, and often toys would be not brought in but Mrs Oakley’s magic classroom had jigsaws, picture books and other games to play with so not all children had to suffer the shame of having crap toys.
If you survived the shaming and the food poisoning, managed to navigate Katherine Warberton’s piss puddles, and avoid breaking your neck on the slimey Yorkshire stone toilets from hell, you were allowed to collect your coat, blazer and cap from your own personal coat hook and enter the playground and greet the parent or guardian who had been sent to collect you. I always looked forward to Granddad collecting me as he wore braces and braces were fun to play with. Second favourite would be Auntie Joyce, who would often have sweeties followed by whoever else came to collect me. Legend has it that Granddad was almost stopped from collecting me because the teachers were unfamiliar with him but that uncertainty was lost when I ran up to him and gave him a big hug.
The walk home would be either through the village via Roughlees sweet shop (best for comics and little toys), up the steps and through the church car park via Pownall’s sweet shop (best for penny mix) or Up the steps, through the church carpark, up the hill toward Woolton Mount and the big spooky burnt out buildings with windows that dead faces look out from 3
To be continued
Feedback, as always, much appreciated
1 – On reflection Mrs Oakleys class was only accessible through Miss Gradwell’s class. This was probably to stop children running away as Miss Gradwell was an olympic Swedish shot putter. Though this may have only been more through resemblance than actual skill.
2 – Crunchy mash! It could only be Smash. Or cockroaches. I suspect the latter.
3 – I suspect this route was the one chosen by my brothers who probably delighted in hearing me scream because dead people looked out of derelict and burnt out windows. Either that or it was handy for conkers.