Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Oaklands Primary School - infant impressions

One day in early September 1962, a month before my fifth birthday, my mother took me to school for the first time. I'd gone to nursury school for a year and half before starting at Oaklands, but this was the first day at Proper School.

Oaklands Primary School was divided into two buildings; a single-story Infants school, with its own headmistresses, and six classes with the youngest three years. Across a driveway was the two-storey Junior school, eight classes, with four years.

I remember well the smell of the varnished wooden floors (always the same smell at the beginning of each school year), the solid Edwardian architecture, gloss-painted doors, brass doorknobs, the cloakroom with its coat pegs, the nature table. I also vividly recall the smell of Magic Markers, thick-tipped felt pens used to name everything in neat hand-written letters on large rectangles of coloured card; "Door", "Table", "Window".

Always having had a lactose intolerance, I hated school milk, which was delivered in wire crates full of one-third of a pint bottles (around 200 ml) to each class for drinking during the mid-morning break. Passable in winter when the cold took away the taste, in summer, it made me retch. Still, I had to drink it, no getting away from that. Everyone got a straw, either punctured the silver foil top or removed it (that yellow cream in summer!) and sucked it down with a slurping sound. The taste of the paper straw also comes back to me. Free school milk was withdrawn by the state in the 1970s by then Education Secretary, Margaret Thatcher - "Milk Snatcher", but in the '60s, it was a daily ordeal I had to contend with.

The headmistress of the Infants School was Miss Golding; my first teacher was a jolly woman, Mrs Constance, (Class 6) who cycled in on a bicycle with a lady's frame and an enclosed rear wheel to prevent her skirt getting caught in the spokes. She taught me the correct way to walk with scissors (the blades in the palm of the hand).

Oaklands Primary was a state school - no fees. Yet there was a proper school uniform; a green blazer, piped in silver-grey, grey shirt, green and silver striped tie, grey V-necked jumper with green piping, grey flannel shorts for boys, with creases and turn-ups (which I'd wear even in mid-winter! Only in the final year were long trousers allowed), grey socks with green piping, and black shoes. And a green cap with silver piping and crest.

Although the vast majority of children were working class, there was a decency and sense of order. The infants school was run by middle class ladies who I sensed were dedicated to their jobs. Everything seemed in its place.

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