School days

My sister and I spent our childhood in a place called Vicars Cross in Chester. The house we grew up in was on Langport Port Drive, a cul-de-sac and part of a large estate, with two schools, the Square One youth centre (the Youthie), a scout hut (here my dad would disappear one weekend a year for the Jamboree on the Air event, making radio contact with scout and guide groups around the world), a pub, a church, a library and a shopping parade with a home and garden store (later a chemist),  post office, newsagent and greengrocers (Meloncauli) right on our doorstep.

Oldfield infant school was two minutes walk from our house, which mostly meant  we got to go home for lunch. I remember milk time (milk was delivered in crates by the milk man and each pupil received a bottle of milk to drink each day) and a tuck shop. Mrs Cope was my teacher and I remember her teaching us patchwork. Mrs Hale was the headteacher – I remember she had a glockenspiel in her office and the sound the wooden bars made when they were hit. I also remember Mrs Simpson – she once told us that it snowed on her wedding day in June.  (I have learned in recent years that snow fell in the UK in June 1975, halting a Derbyshire versus Lancashire cricket game).

The junior school was a hop, skip and jump along a path which took you across the school playing fields to the larger school which still stands – the infant school has now been demolished and today houses stand in its place. Here we were prepared for attending high school, so lessons were more structured but I also remember singing (the headteacher, Miss Payne I think, trying to get us to sing The Beatles ‘When I’m 64’ and gently reprimanding the boys who really weren’t feeling it) and country dancing classes in the school hall.

I don’t remember there ever being any question that Rachel and I would attend the local schools or go to the same schools as one another, it was just the way things were then. Rachel and I both attended the same high school too, in the pretty nearby village of Christleton.

Each school day we would get the bus with other pupils or at least try to – there was always lots of pushing and shoving and shouting and not being the pushing and shoving and shouting type, I frequently landed up standing, as the bulging bus made its way along the winding roads to the school. I really don’t know how the drivers put up with us – we were perfectly horrid.

I remember my first day at Christleton High School very clearly – it was a sprawling metropolis compared to my earlier schools and I felt very much like a small fish in a big pond, with my huge school bag full of books. I guess the school must have realised that the younger pupils might feel this way though, as there were two playgrounds – one for years one to three and a second one for the older pupils including the sixth formers, who all seemed very grown up and had a room at the school just for them.

English and Home Economics were my favourite classes. Maths and science, not so much. One year I got straight A’s in Religious Education (RE). No one was more surprised than me. Called to Mr Birch’s office (the deputy headteacher), I thought I was in trouble but was rewarded with a stick of rock.

There were a number of school canteens and we had to eat with members of our school house. I remember we used to cover our school books in wrapping paper – maybe to protect them or maybe to be individual, anyhow, it was the thing to do. Also, we had two school uniforms, a winter uniform and a summer uniform made with fabric from Laura Ashley. It seemed that every year we would petition for the girls to be able to wear trousers during the winter months but this was never allowed. I also remember my science teacher, Mr Bradley shaving his beard off for charity and everyone crowding into the school hall to watch.

End of year assemblies were held in the sports hall, the only place big enough for the whole school to congregate and I remember sitting on the hard stone floor, usually reserved for tennis, football and five a side. One year I remember a teacher telling us all we would not need to know Pythagoras Theorem once we left school. He was right but they made us learn it anyway … the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. Why I still remember that I have no idea and more importantly, what does it mean?

There were no proms back then but on my last day, 22 May 1987, I took my camera into school and took photos of my school friends and we signed books and school shirts to wish one another well. By this time, I was pretty much going in for exams and revision sessions only – I remember spending a lot of time with my friends Emma and Claire at their home in the village and walking home with friends along the canal.

Later that summer, I started work as a YTS trainee earning £28.50 a week which at the time seemed like a small fortune and with which I think purchased a George Michael single and some makeup. At the time of writing this, it has been almost 30 years since I left school, sometimes it seems only yesterday, at others, a lifetime away.


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