A little piece of nostalgia that resides in my files and was first posted here in June, 2010. Well, another airing won’t hurt and the Christmas bugs that hit us this year mean that I am slow to catch up! I hope you enjoy this sneak into the past…
January 1962: I’m five years old and eager to begin the first day, of the first term, of the rest of my school life. Frost white pavements stretch for miles. My shoes tap out an excited rhythm on their blank pages. A warm gloved hand in mine – mother’s hand.
Nearly there, nearly over the bridge that crosses the railway tracks where today, I do not stand to watch the last of the old steam trains chug through on their way to nowhere. Today I fly past, wings on my heels. My breath bursts forth in steamy clouds, my cheeks tingle in the biting January wind.
Nearly to the corner where the lollipop lady stands, in her white coat and coal black peaked cap, hair tightly permed, tendrils escaping from beneath the brim. ‘Chatty Kathy’ the mothers call her.
“Hello there, first day?” (Don’t stop Mum, don’t stop and chat, not today … please.) I squeeze the gloved hand harder, our shoes tap tapping along and round the corner. Good, we are past Chatty Kathy.
Almost there … two more steps and we’re in through the gate.
We stand for a moment and survey the scene; big sister runs off to greet her friends. There they are, the children clad in navy mackintoshes just like mine, scratchy gabardine, too big, stiff and uncomfortable. I wear it proudly.
My school is black and white, built just after the second world war, with timbered walls, a gabled roof, three playgrounds, infants, junior boys and junior girls. We cross the infants’ playground; I hold tightly still to the gloved hand in mine. Up the steps and down a corridor – I breathe in the smell of blackboards, chalk and polish – then out into a second playground, across the shiny tarmac, through a group of jostling boys, already mud-washed and unkempt, and up three wooden steps that creak in welcome – we are here! This is my hut.
I have a yellow butterfly above my coat peg. A warmth creeps into my limbs as my mac is hung up and mother’s hand smoothes my hair. Gone are the flowing locks of yesterday, snipped off in a neat round, clipped to one side.
“You’ll be losing all those ribbons – better this way,” says Mother as she snip-snips so that I won’t lose my ribbons, “Done!”
Mother has gone, and teacher and I go into the classroom. My eyes pick out a little girl with dark brown hair and a bright red cardigan with holes in.
“This is Audrey. She’ll look after you.” Audrey, my first school friend, has ribbons that slide down her ponytail and hang in desperation to the last strands before floating, mostly unseen, to the floor. Audrey’s been here since September; she knows where everything is – the dolls, the bricks, the coloured beads, the thick black pencils and sugar paper and the toilets – but she isn’t any good at finding her ribbons. I like Audrey.
Another day now, warm and sun splashed. I sport sandaled feet, socks that crumple around my brown ankles, sleeveless dress with flowing skirt that billows in the breeze as we run.
– Run Audrey run! they’re getting closer. Quick, behind the girls toilets, onto the coal bunker!-
Our hearts beat faster, our hands and knees scrape the concrete bunker so that we can stand triumphant on high and survey the losers – grinning boys, sandy haired, grubby faced, dancing around us on our granite pedestal.
“Scaredy cats, scaredy cats! Dare you to run, dare you…”
Audrey and I leap off, landing cat-like on the tarmac, nimble-limbed and rosy-cheeked, and we’re off again – twice round the yard and then …
“Help, Audrey!” she turns and flies at them but they get us with their horrible wet tongues before we are free. Wet kisses on our cheeks, we shriek with laughter as the school bell rings and we are saved. Audrey eyes me sympathetically. I’ve ripped my dress and bloodied my knee.
“Never mind,” Mrs Jones, the helper, says. She always says that. Mostly I don’t.
I have a new friend now: Jaqueline. Whatever happened to Audrey? Audrey has gone to another class and is therefore lost – but Jaqueline and I are good friends. We watch the little ones begin in reception class. We are bigger infants now.
Rain darkened pavements shimmer as we drag our feet and our satchels on the ground.
“Can I come home to dinner today mum?”
-It’s that ginger-haired boy with the silly grin; he waits for me every day at playtimes-
“There she is, there’s your girlfriend!”
“Girlfriend, Eddie’s got a girlfriend!” Jeering chants remind me he’s there even if I don’t see him. I stand on the top step and wait for my chance. A breathless chase through the playground, over to the girls’ toilets, ends with me hiding inside until the bell goes. Eddie’s waiting.
“Ha ha, we know you’re there! Eddie’s bird!”
“Can I just come home for lunch, please mum?”
“Not today dear,”
Audrey wouldn’t have let him pester me like this; Audrey would have seen him off. Where are you Audrey? I see you over there with your new friend, skipping and playing ball like we used to. I wish you were still in my class.
Dinnertime is the worst; he’s waiting there for me when I leave the canteen. He doesn’t do anything; he just stares at me and grins. Sometimes he grabs my hands; he has sweaty palms and smells of marmite. I think Eddie is horrible. The dinner hour passes slowly.
September 1965: Another year, another term and I am free. I am a junior now and horrible Eddie is in the boys’ playground. I laugh at the memory. I see Audrey sometimes but we have grown apart and don’t play together all that much. She doesn’t wear ribbons in her hair anymore; her mother uses elastic bands.
“Elastic bands split your hair,” Mother tells me. Jaqueline and I have secrets we share and jokes that we laugh at.
Jaqueline and I will be friends forever.