Recent reading has led me to dredge up all kinds of memories of my primary school. All Saints C of E Infants and Junior Schools were hardly outstanding. Positioned on a triangular traffic “island” shared only with the All Saints Church*, it was the envy of other local schools because it had such a large playing field capable of taking a full 400m athletic track in the summer or a full sized football pitch in the winter.
The school itself was a concrete Lego reconstruction built in 1967, and was typical of that period. Both schools straddled one side of the triangle, but were (and still are) considered completely separate schools. Both had separate headteachers, separate dinner halls (sharing the same kitchen) and separate playgrounds. They did however share a caretaker, a gentle Irish handyman called Mr. Kelly who was (un)fortunate enough to live on the school grounds with his family.
The infant school had a playground surrounded on 3 sides by three blocks or 2 classrooms, one for each year. Also was a large hall, or so it seemed, with the entire front made of glass. On the concrete that regularly removed layers of skin from children’s knees was painted various games like hopscotch and a kind of railway track. On the fourth side of the playground was the edge of the field, although in the infants this wasn’t used for much else then somewhere to play in the summer. Mrs. Robins, the then terrifying headmistress, was identifiable by her large smocks and sequins and beads (It was the mid 70s!). She knew how to dish out punishment and someone being sent to her office was liable to fill his or her underwear (and they would regularly). She had a fixation with arts and crafts, and I remember a school fund being set up so we could buy a maypole (!). Another fund was set up to buy the school a climbing frame of the hexagonal half dome type, and much time was spent hanging upside down from it when it was finally purchased. Assemblies would be sat round in a horseshoe, sometimes to listen to a reel-to-reel tape of some programme on Radio 4, but mostly to be read a story and to sing hymns. Almost at the end of every Assembly a large cardboard cake would be wheeled out, and a lucky child would have the entire infants school sing happy birthday to them before getting the chance to blow out the real candles. Once every blue moon, a nice man called Mr. Wood paid a visit. Unbeknownst to me, he was the head of the juniors, and he would spend an afternoon talking to us all.
Moving into the juniors at the heady age of 7 was like moving into the big wide world. The new school had 2 playgrounds, one with 2 football/netball pitches marked out on the concrete. It was also the car park for the teachers, and was in direct view of the staff room so woe betide anyone with a bad kick in football to accidentally hit a teacher’s car. In hindsight, it was a daft place for them to leave the cars in the first place. Once every few months a child would be unfortunate to break a bone, and a small audience would congregate at the school gates in the hope of some gruesome view of dismembered limbs being dragged into the ambulance ready for the visit to the local Norwood Cottage Hospital, or in severe cases Mayday in Croydon. Only once do I remember actually seeing the severe injury, when it was my sister’s best friend who had broken her leg, and the bone had protruded from the skin. Many children were sent home that afternoon complaining of nausea, no idea why.
The other playground was surrounded on opposite sides by 2 blocks of 4 classrooms, once again 2 for each year. On the third side was a covered walkway, and the covering was held up with thick scaffolding poles. Behind this was another large glass wall leading to the junior’s hall. The walkway was ideal for re-enacting the final scene to Star wars, running between the entrance to the first and the third years. The fourth side of the playground once again led to the main school field, but this was via some steps or a low wall. This made the playground ideal for Bulldog, and entire lunchtimes would be spent running from one side to the other, or standing in awe at the boy who’s nose had just been busted and the puddle of blood left behind on the floor. Also, strangely, was a demountable classroom positioned on the edge of the school field. This classroom was put there as a temporary measure in the early 70s, and is still there today. It was a crossover for years 2 and 3, where the eldest children in the second year and the youngest in the third year would be mixed and the third year curriculum would be carried out. This meant the second years would do the same work twice over 2 years. Each classroom was furnished with 50s style wooden desks with folding lids, and wooden chairs in a matching style. The desks even had inkwells in the top edge, although the new fangled cartridge pens were the weapons of choice at this point. Along the back of each classroom was an area mainly used for art projects, and it would be a special day when you could go into this area. Some of the classrooms also had an adjoining door in this area taking you through to the other classroom of the same year, although generally these were locked and not in use.
Next to the main corridor of the front office and the head’s office was the staff room. Haven to the teachers and strictly out of bounds to the children, this was later to become my first educated experience of a computer, when it became the computer room for the Link 380z the school had bought in my last year there and a game called Pangolins.
In hindsight I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the school. It was friendly, homely, and a lot of learning was done. I’d like to think that everybody got on well with everybody else, although the occasional fracas was inevitable. 2 years ago, thanks to Friends Reunited, I arranged a reunion. 20 years to the month since we all left, some 20 of us met up in a pub some 400 yards from the school gates. We sat and reminisced about things that had happened to us in the 7 years we’d been there. We spoke about people that we hadn’t seen or heard of since. We drank a lot of alcohol (well most of us did, I was driving) and we had such a good time the following morning we all met up again for lunch and to nurse each other’s hangovers. It was strange. The boy who’d always been into computers and technology was now a painter/decorator. The boy with severe learning difficulties and had been labelled the thicko in the class was now a successful businessman. Even I knew I’d changed. I’d always been the shy one, afraid to speak out in front of the class. Now, through time, I have shaken off the shyness, and this stood good stead when it became time for goodbyes and yours truly fronted a speech made to everyone.
There’s something reassuring in knowing what happened to your classmates.
*All Saints’ church is a renowned landmark throughout South London. Look for the TV Transmitters at Crystal Palace, and you will see the spire next to one of them.
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