The most coveted position in the classroom when I was at primary school was that of ink monitor. To be entrusted with the big bottle of ink and the funnel was a great honour...each desk had two inkwells in the middle...shared desks you see, with sloping lids, and at the top was a groove to put your pen.
The inkwells were very small and I think they were made out of some sort of white pottery...can't really remember...but at the end of every term they were all soaked in the sink and left upside down to dry before being replaced in their holes at the start of the next term.
We had wooden pens with metal nibs that sort of bent out of shape if you pressed down too hard while writing, and it was a skill to get just enough ink in the nib without making a splodge on the page. If you managed to get through the entire day without getting ink on your fingers you had a red star on the class chart...and a whole week ink free and it was a gold star.
Stars were handed out for several different reasons...coming top in spelling for instance. Whoever had the most gold stars at the end of term received a prize...usually a book or a jigsaw, always wrapped up in pretty paper and tied with ribbon...
One term it was Kenneth who had the most gold stars and his parcel was bigger than usual...it was a pair of brand new rubber boots and a pair of thick socks. Kenneth's family were poor and he used to come to school in the middle of winter wearing plimsolls...when he opened his parcel and saw what was inside he burst into tears and sat on the floor to put the socks and boots on...years later I was chatting to one of my classmates when we were both waiting at a train station...he asked if I remembered Kenneth getting the socks and boots...apparently Miss Otter, our teacher, had bought boots and socks for all Kenneth's brothers and sisters and the gold star prize had been rigged for the occasion.
We had rough copy books where we practised writing neatly and so on and then proper copy books which we took home to cover in brown paper and they were for our best work.
Friday afternoons were for play...we completed jigsaws or read a book...painted a picture which would be hung up on a length of twine with a clothes peg until it was dry...played Snap and Happy Families...Miss Otter would look out of the window on winters afternoons and tell us to get our coats on...time to go home before it gets too dark.
In the summertime we'd go into the field next to the school and play rounder's or see who could do a handstand...sometimes we just picked bunches of buttercups and made daisy chains...
To find I'd passed the eleven-plus exam and would be going to the High school was alarming...and on arriving...dressed in a thick royal blue skirt and itchy jumper...seeing all those girls milling about and long corridors and a vast hall where we all had to go for assembly...I thought I'd rather die than suffer a minute longer. The head teacher was a dragon...named Miss Dibb, she wore stout laced up shoes and tweed...she walked with a cane which tapped ominously on the highly polished floors and we were all petrified of her.
Now we wrote with fountain pens and brought our own ink to school with us...we had our own desks as well and didn't share with a friend and there were chairs rather than benches...the windows were too high to see out of and dust motes danced endlessly in the air when it was hot and stuffy in the classrooms.
The French teacher was scathing about my Normandy accent...the English teacher never believed I wrote essays without help...and the Maths teacher gave up on me after the first week and let me sit at the back of the class and read. I was scared of the Bunsen burners in science and refused to dissect a frog and wouldn't cut an earthworm in half...the Science teacher said I must be simple...History must have been the most boring subject ever invented...the teacher droned and was patently willing away the next three-quarters of a hour so he could escape to the staff-room...so we learned the most important dates by rote and hadn't the faintest idea who or why...
Around the end of my first year of the hellish high school Fathers chickens caught Fowl Pox and all had to be destroyed by the Men from the Ministry...this was to be my salvation in a way because he sold up and we moved to where the only school available was a Covent.
Best to skip over my time at the Covent actually...it made the high school look like Shangri-La...
We upped sticks and moved again...Father didn't receive the amount of compensation he was expecting so he took a job as a manager of a Turkey breeding unit and such joy and happiness because the only school with vacancies was the local Secondary Modern.
Mother never lived it down that a daughter of hers was at the local sin-bin where all the pupils were as thick as two short planks...her words, not mine. She never set foot in the school so I've no idea where she formed her opinions...
It was a happy friendly school...I made friends...wasn't criticised for my French Normandy accent...no-one suggested cutting up live frogs...I learned how to make chocolate éclairs and to sew an apron and came top in English...still couldn't make head nor tail of maths but Mr Cross...who never was cross...would ask me would I rather go to the art room...and the games teacher did the same after it dawned on her I was never going to leap confidently over the horse...
The postman brought a letter one day when Mother was out...and the envelope clearly stated it was from the High school...and I opened it. There would be a vacancy at the beginning of the coming term...I put the letter on the fire.