All the talk was about underwear, and candle parties, who was attending which `keep fit` groups. The conversation of the young mothers had little interest in someone of my age group, waiting at the school gate to escort my grandchild safely home. I stood gazing across the school wall into the empty playground. Soon it would be bursting with shouts of pleasure as around one hundred five years old bairns rushed out into freedom.
Had things been the same when I attended the `infants school` all those many years ago? I can still recall the name of my first teacher, when I was enrolled at the tender age of four years old.
Outbreak of War, and the need for women to work in the munitions factories, prompted the government into early school placements.
No fancy computers then.
How well I can remember the small brown case to carry my slate, skailie (slate pencil), and a small Oxo tin, with a damp cloth to clean my slate
Before that tearful first morning, my mother had burned my name on the wooden frame around the slate with a poker heated to red hot in the open coal fire. “You’re a big lassie now, drink up the milk the teacher will give you, and do as you are told and you will be fine. Remember if you hear the siren then run for the air raid shelter after you have put on your gas mask. Mam will be here at home when you get out at four”
Perhaps there had been more said, but basically that was the message given to me and my other classmates. One girl in my class I recognised, as she lived with her Granny across the` close` from mine. Our playing together had brought me a rather painful experience. This followed having two beads surgically removed from my nose at the Infirmary, with a pair of vicious looking forceps, by Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse.
Granny had been non too happy when I announced before Grandad “ We were just playing at being Grannies and taking snuff up our noses like you do” Weavers and those in the linen trade developed the habit of snuff taken to clear the factory dust from their sinuses. Not something approved by my grandfather.
I can recall the look that passed between them.
My mother who was a very loving and caring person, out of character, smacked my backside as a warning of what to expect should I not behave myself when Granny was my minder. Fortunately the teacher never took such drastic actions. There must have been times when she was sorely tempted. Air raid shelter drill must have been a teacher` nightmare.
“Come along now, hurry up, quickly without running , into the shelter where you will be safe”. We all sat on a wooden sparred bench the length of the dark, dingy and damp smelling, windowless narrow corridors, designed to promote our survival. A teacher would hand us a hard boiled sweet. Chewing was supposed to lessen the noise of bombing !!!
“Now put on your gas masks and we will all sing some songs together” What `Ten Green Bottles Hanging on the Wall ` and `Underneath the Spreading Chestnut Tree`, sounded like I have no idea. The adjudicators at the Music Festivals would have had their work cut out reporting our efforts. Some of the class would start crying for their Mum. They were mostly the evacuees. My special friend had come from York, where the bombing experience had been bad. There were trainloads of evacuees arriving at the station. Labels were tied to their jacket collars, gas masks slung over their shoulders, and brown paper parcels of clothes under their arms. They were marched along the street to the Salvation Army Hall.
After tea and refreshments they were taken to their temporary homes to meet the unknowns who had volunteered to care for them. At four o`clock I would run along home with the other children who lived in the street. We all had keys tied with ribbon or a string tied around our necks. “The bairns need to get into the house if we are held up in getting home” was the given reason for this custom. The mothers who worked part time finished at four o`clock to be home about the same time as we arrived. Some had to pick up the younger children from the newly built nursery. Even the babies in my young day were doing their bit for the War Effort, by being separated from their mothers who were saving Britain in the manufacturing of bombs.
Free at last after tea. Out to play around the `back doors`. `Shoppies` in the outside lavatory. Grown ups did not approve of this game. With several families sharing the use of our `shop` for legitimate purposes, we seldom found it free for open business. Maybe a concert in the washing house. What a grand stage the boiler made. “There is someone’s Mam shouting. Sing up louder and we`ll say we never heard them”, one of the older bairns would say. “ Are you going to the `Sallies` tomorrow?” A choice of Activities. The Juniors or Young Soldiers. “ If you go forward and get saved you get a slice of dumpling “Yes I was saved.
“Would you bairns do as you are told and get away home before it`s black dark” was the orders of the washing `taker in` from the communal drying green. “The Bobbies or the Air Raid Warden will get you if you don`t get a move on” We were so innocent and safe apart from the threat of Hitler`s War.
“ Oh there you are. I thought that maybe you had got lost in the dark. Run up to the chip shop for a penny bag for your supper. That`s a good girl. Take the torch and remember to shine it on the ground because of the black out” What a treat a poke of chips was. No fear of the dark and passing the end of the closes. There was nothing to be frightened of but Hitler, and all the dads were away from home to sort him out. The chips were eaten on the way home. At first so hot you had to grip them between your teeth and blow. When you reached the bottom of the paper bag, the last few were congealed in a soggy mass of salt, grease and vinegar. Fingers licked clean, before touching the polished brass door knob.
“Tomorrow is Saturday and you`ll get a long lie. What`s happened to your skirt it`s torn at the back ?” “Must have been that nail on the lavvie wall for hanging the paper squares on”. No Soft toilet tissue for us. Newspaper squares finished off the job. “Need to try and mend it then for there are no clothing coupons, or money to get you another one. You cannot go to the school with a hole. in your skirt”
The school bell rang and brought me back to the present day.
“They`ll be out in a minute”, said the young girl who had joined me at the wall. Sure enough , out came a mad rush of blue, white and grey. Ties squint, shirt tails half tucked in waistbands. Blue uniform blazers trailing from shoulders. School bags of all colours, and decorated by Power Rangers, My Little Pony, Fireman Sam. “Hi Gran this is the work I did on the computer this afternoon,” said the joy of my heart, handing me a long sheet of print out paper. Before I had time to answer he added . “Can you take the car round by Sam`s house as I want him to come for tea and play in our garden”.
Other similar arrangements, were being made by the young mothers, waiting beside me. “Yes if you can pick the girls up from Brownies, then I`ll see to the boys from football training. One of the men can pick up the older ones from Orchestra and Choir practice. It will be easy for them after being to the meeting about `Children & Drugs Awareness` lecture.
No one going for the concert in the washing house, but of course everyone has Utility rooms now. No shops in outside lavvies. No drugs awareness either. Granny`s snuff was enough for us, and even then we were not brave enough to try the real thing. Hitler was our only `bogey man`. There never seemed to be funny men to offer sweets and take us away forever.
Things have certainly changed since my young days at infant school. I asked myself had it been changes for the better, was technology giving our bairns a better chance in life?
I wonder. ! ! !