Memories of Junior School – Cliff, Marc and Alice

Last time, amongst other things, I wrote about the film Gregory’s Girl which in turn led me to reminisce about my days at secondary school. This morning, whilst starting out on a project to declutter the house, I found a booklet that was printed around the time of the centenary of my primary school. A call had gone out asking ex-pupils to submit their memories, and many did, including myself – Unbeknownst to me until after publication however, most contributors stuck to a concise 150-200 words, whereas my “contribution” ended up being a good deal longer so kind of stood out like a sore thumb (nothing changes does it). I did notice however that the piece included a few references to the music of the day so I’m going to recycle it for this place – Hope you can forgive me this little indulgence.

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My old primary school

Extract from 1899-1999 Centenary Booklet (written in 1998):

If like me you joined the school in 1965, and spent the whole of your primary school education there, your memories of the experience will be very similar to mine. I spent an evening conjuring up images from the past and came up with the following whistle stop tour through the seven years.

In Miss Margaret’s Primary One class, courtesy of the Tom and Ann books, we all became literate. For many Aberdeenshire children this was no mean feat since these books were written in English and not in our native Doric. At the same time we were also becoming numerate courtesy of wooden rods number one to ten (or was it twelve in those pre-decimal days?). These rods came in the full spectrum of colours and I’m pretty sure that number three rod was quite an attractive lime green.

By the time we progressed next door to Miss Mabel’s Primary Two class we were ready to pick up on the finer points of spelling, writing and sums. Miss Margaret and Miss Mabel, being sisters and located in rooms next to each other, frequently brought their classes together. Sometimes it was for Music and Movement and sometimes it was to watch a film on the noisy school projector skilfully manned by Mr Anderson the headmaster. (Women in those days were obviously not to be trusted with advanced technology.) The film invariably had a Commonwealth theme (the young queen was very popular in the mid ’60s) and might have been about children on sheep stations in Australia or perhaps in African villages. At the time however I think I was more fascinated by the projector’s light beam picking up the slow moving mass of chalk dust that usually filled the air.

projector

For Primary Three we veered round the corner to Mrs Scott’s classroom next to the staffroom. I seem to remember that we were introduced to the wonderful world of “work cards” which dealt heavily with Stone Age man and the Romans in Britain. At age seven we were full of knowledge about the average Neanderthal or Centurion. Also at that time, it was very important for us to master the new metric system which would soon take over completely from the old imperial system of measurement. Over thirty years later and I still quote my height in feet and inches and order my curtain material in yards – What would Mrs Scott say?

Primary Four, back in 1968, was housed in a hut to the right of the main school building. Mrs Fraser was the teacher and although most classes at that time still had milk monitors, Primary Four was the only class that had a wood-burning stove monitor. A major turning point for the school came that year when the old wooden desks, complete with ink well, were abandoned in favour of new-fangled formica tables that had little plastic drawers on runners. Very much in keeping with the hi-tech furniture of the time.

There was great dismay however for me that year when Helen, my best friend since Primary One, left the village for a new life in Aberdeen (with her parents and younger brother Stuart I hasten to add). We lost touch for many years however met up again at University in 1978 and we both ironically became accountants in later life. Miss Margaret’s number one to ten rods must have had a profound effect on us.

As we come to Primary Five, my memories get more vivid. We were back in the main body of the school and our teacher was Miss Reid who impressed the girls at any rate, with her trendy crocheted waistcoats and short skirts. She also had amazing high hair usually adorned with elaborate accessories. It was now 1969 and great advances were being made in the world of Science and Technology. We were lucky enough to have Mr Bruce take us for science once a week and in one lesson he mass-manufactured bright blue eye-shadow for the girls (much to the anguish of our parents I’m sure). He also invited everyone to his lab to witness one of the first Apollo moon landings. To my eternal shame, not realising the significance of what we were to watch on the grainy black and white TV, I was so busy discussing with new best friend Sheena what a novelty it was to get off normal lessons, that I think I missed the whole thing.

Christmas time always was and still is an exciting time in the school year and as was often the case we performed a nativity play that year. I was the narrator, a major part that called for much learning of lines and constructing of angel wings and head-dress. If you were a girl however the most sought after role was always that of Mary (depending of course on whoever happened to be Joseph that year). The other event that made Christmas special was the annual Christmas party when before dances, the boys would line up on one side of the gym hall and the girls on the other as if about to go into battle. Nine year old boys and girls are not known for being socially at ease with each other but somehow we manfully made it round the hall on an annual basis mastering the finer points of the Gay Gordons, the St Bernard’s Waltz and the Bluebell Polka. To this day, every time I attend a Wedding or Dinner Dance, I thank my primary school for having taught me the rudiments of Scottish Country Dancing.

Incidentally, growing disquiet in the ranks over the choice of music for our annual bash (we were living in the psychedelic ’60s after all in the days of the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix) meant that the teachers had to take steps in acquiring some “pop” records for us as well as the Jimmy Shand perennial favourites. For some strange reason what they came up with was Cliff Richard singing When The Girl In Your Arms Is The Girl In Your Heart. It wasn’t until I was older that I realised it happened to be from The Young Ones filmed in 1961 – Not quite what we had in mind.

Primary Six was Mrs McPhee’s class in the room next to the “Higher Grade” girl’s cloakroom [this was a junior/secondary school that taught kids up to the age of 15 after which, unbelievably, they could leave school and join the adult world of work – A]. At age ten we were in awe of these “women” of 14 and 15 in their wetlook coats and boots, long sleek hair and chokers. Full decimalisation came about in 1970 and I remember the excitement on the first day about paying for our lunch tokens with the already circulated 50p and anticipating the change in shiny new pence. On receiving these new pence we hotfooted it to the local baker’s shop at break time where we regularly went to buy our sweets. Soon a dilemma was to be faced – Apparently during the transition period one new pence was to equate to both the old tuppence and thrupence. It was important to remember to buy a penny chew along with your tuppenny ice-pole or else you lost out bigtime. I think this was also the year that we broke some record or other by being the first school, thanks mainly to the endeavours of Mr Bruce, to have everyone over a certain age pass their cycling proficiency test. We were even photographed for the Aberdeen Press and Journal so fame indeed.

Educationally by this stage, we were covering the whole gamut of school subjects and even received extra tuition from the Higher Grade teachers. One of these teachers was Miss Jaffrey whom the girls at any rate, got for Sewing and Knitting. (I would have said Home Economics but at that age we were obviously not to be let loose with cookers, although when attempting to thread the needle of the electric sewing machine with my friend Lorna that year, we did inadvertently manage to stitch through the top of my finger!) Miss Jaffrey got married when we were in Primary Six and I remember the girls clubbing together to buy her a wedding present – Unfortunately for Miss Jaffrey this wedding present took the form of a pair of plastic ornamental bambis. Much to her credit however she seemed overwhelmingly pleased with her gift although I doubt if they ever took pride of place on her mantelpiece.

And so we come to Primary Seven, our last year in junior school. We were right along the corridor beyond the art room and the janitor’s cupboard. Our teacher was the heavily accented Miss Robertson [she was half German which often came about as a result of servicemen marrying local girls after the war – A]. I remember this being a really enjoyable year despite having to endure the dreaded 11-plus test at some point. Coming up to Christmas we feverishly collected for the Blue Peter Annual Appeal and were rewarded with a personal thank you note from Pete, John and Val. Brenda snuck in a copy of her big sister’s T. Rex LP to the Christmas party (Jeepster had been a big hit in the November of that year) and things were never quite the same after that. Roger and Stephen both got feather cut hairstyles and so ended the era of short back and sides for most of the boys in the class.

Also that year I suffered a nasty bout of appendicitis which took me into the Sick Children’s Hospital for quite some time and off school for about a month. When in hospital I received a box of fruit from the class (as was usual) and Scoop Bookclub paperbacks (remember them?). Unfortunately a schedule of schoolwork also came in the box which I conveniently mislaid and then pleaded ignorance when asked about it later. (Well, there had to be some advantages in having your appendix removed.) In the spring of 1972 both the boys and girls were heavily involved in football and netball tournaments which took us to distant lands (other villages 5 to 10 miles away) – Most of the time however I didn’t even make it into the first team which kind of put me off competitive sport for life although I discovered later that they just didn’t want me to overdo it since I’d been so recently in hospital. The grand finale of Primary Seven was School Camp in Abington, Lanarkshire. We had a great time and made lots of new friends from all over Aberdeenshire, many of whom we met up with in later years [in fact Mr WIAA’s predecessor was a boy I fell for at School Camp who hailed from a nearby village – A].

So there we have it. In the summer of 1972 Alice Cooper was topping the charts with School’s Out and our class went their separate ways. There were choices and some of us went to one nearby academy, some went to another and some stayed at the junior/secondary (although by this time the leaving age had increased to 16). I hadn’t really thought much about my school days until recently when it was time to enrol my daughter for pre-school [this was written in 1998 – A]. I suddenly decided that we would have to move house as I wanted her to go to a school like the one I attended. This must certainly be a testament to the time I spent there, the inspirational teachers and the friends I made along the way.

School’s Out by Alice Cooper:

Until next time….

School’s Out Lyrics
(Song by the Alice Cooper band)

Well we got no choice
All the girls and boys
Makin all that noise
‘Cause they found new toys
Well we can’t salute ya
Can’t find a flag
If that don’t suit ya
That’s a drag

School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
School’s been blown to pieces

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher’s dirty looks

Well we got no class
And we got no principles
And we got no innocence
We can’t even think of a word that rhymes

School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
School’s been blown to pieces

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher’s dirty looks

Out for summer
Out till fall
We might not go back at all

School’s out forever
School’s out for summer
School’s out with fever
School’s out completely

Postscript:

Interestingly, despite the fact we wanted more Beatles and less Jimmy Shand (MBE) in the late ’60s, it turns out that much of Jimmy’s success in the charts in the ’50s was down to none other than George Martin! Yes once signed to Parlophone, the master of the button box accordion was given George as a producer, and became the only leader of a Scottish Country Dance Band ever to enter the UK Singles Chart.

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was recorded for the film of the same name and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might finally work out the answer to his question, "What's it all about?"

13 thoughts on “Memories of Junior School – Cliff, Marc and Alice”

    1. Oh Neil, I think this blog is very much my memoir, with a few songs thrown in.

      Of course you won’t know about thrupenny bits where you come from – A fine looking coin with 12 sides that was worth an 80th of a pound sterling. Incidentally “thrupenny bits” is also cockney rhyming slang for something else, but a bit rude so I won’t go there!

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  1. Great piece on your primary school days Alyson. Brought back some memories and the fact that I also spent part of my Primary 7 year in the Sick Kids due to appendicitis. I was intrigued by the 2 teacher/sisters at your school and the days of Primary School dances. Over the years I guess attitudes changed drastically, with teachers realising that in future they would have to be “hip”.
    Regarding thrupennies – don’ you think our new pound coin is just a rip-off of the marvellous old thrupenny?

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    1. Gosh lots of 11-year-old kids with appendicitis back then it seems – It was all a bit dramatic in my case with a mad dash into the city with my grandad driving and me, my mum and dad in the back.

      Yes the sisters were a bit of a local institution and had spent most of their teaching careers at the school – We caught them just at the end before they retired. Christmas Dances in Scotland even now focus on the Jimmy Shand material but I must admit, having learnt these “social dances” at a young age has stood me in good stead over the years and if at an event in England these dances usually go down really well, especially if the men are all in full Highland dress.

      You are right, the new pound coin is just like the old thrupenny bit in shape just a bit more two-tone. Hope you’ve got rid of all your old ones as time’s nearly up on them.

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  2. I never did figure out inches and yards, it was centimeters from the beginning, maybe for the best! I wasn’t even born, so I missed the moon landing too. It’s the breaks between classes (and after school) I remember vividly from those years. The actual lessons for some reason I have a tough time recalling. If I found the old textbooks I’m sure it would start to come back to me.

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    1. No you’re lucky to have been born after the metric system was fully in place as those of us born earlier than that still get confused all these years later.

      I think I must have a bit of a photographic memory for places and scenes as I find it really easy to remember all this stuff even now. Most of this however was written for the centenary of the school back in 1999 – Still going strong though and will do for another 100 years I suspect.

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  3. Such lovely writing and evocative memories and as I was only a few years behind you there are so many familiar references too – those counting rods (I remember the longest one was orange, and somehow they all seemed to have different characters) and milk monitors (but never a wood-burning stove monitor, now that does sound exciting!) Decimalisation came in at a good time for me as I was only 7/8 so the old way wasn’t too deeply ingrained, but I do remember saying goodbye to thrupenny bits (yes I thought the same about the new £1 coin) oh and didn’t you love those tiny sixpences? Funnily enough I think of height, weight and distance in inches, stones, miles, etc. too – it’s just in there.
    As you say in your reply to CC, those longer ago memories remain persistently clearer than so many recent ones…hmmm.. yes all a bit scary. I’m getting terrible with names in particular – can recall every primary school teacher by name but not people I worked with ten years ago – what’s that all about?!

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    1. Thought it would resonate with lots of people around our age although as I pointed out above this was written nearly 20 years ago for that centenary booklet – I was a tad embarrassed when it came out as everyone else wrote a paragraph but I came up with this tome so kind of hogged the thing.

      Ah, thrupenny bits and sixpences – I actually have a bag full of silver thupennies somewhere as my granny used to collect them to wrap and put in her Christmas puddings. I don’t remember them ever being in circulation myself but they definitely existed.

      This is the first week since giving up work that I’ve actually been able to do anything as we had visitors at the end of Sept and then I was ill all of last week. Mr WIAA seems to be quite busy at the moment so I’m going to concentrate on decluttering the house for a while so expect all sorts of gems to turn up on these pages. I am a bit of a hoarder (in a tidy, organised way!) but the time has come to be ruthless or we’ll either have to move house or build an extension and neither is really an option!

      As for the memories, one of the main reasons for me giving up work is that over the last couple of years my mum’s memory has totally disappeared, both short-term and long-term. Nothing can be done but very sad although of course she doesn’t realise there is anything wrong which is some solace I suppose. We’ve discussed this before haven’t we but those extra 10 years that people get nowadays are often shit years – Personally I think I’d rather go when I can still remember everything, but just in case, it’s all being written down here for posterity!

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      1. Will look forward to hopefully reading about and seeing what you rediscover in your decluttering escapades! I’m so sorry to hear about your mum – must be very hard for you – yes I guess you have to seek solace in her own oblivion to what’s happening but still I know it must be so sad. My mum died just a few weeks after her 70th birthday, far too early, but in some ways I guess I was spared other things! My dad (now 88) and I have very little contact and it’s all a bit too complex to explain here but again I’ve been spared a lot of the worry of him ageing as he hasn’t been in my life much, although that seems to be coming back into the picture now so god knows what the future holds and how I’ll deal with it – I haven’t had any practice! I can’t really think about my own old age and the future too much, far too depressing – we must stick to the “enjoy every sandwich” maxim!

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  4. A lovely piece, Alyson, and I love the fact that you left school in the year Alice had his biggest hit. Bit concerned about your school abandoning inkwells when they did as I remember inkwells fondly ten years later. I must have lived in the backwoods. We also had a classroom in a hut too though… I still remember pushing another boy through the interior wall between cloakroom and store room. It wasn’t a particularly hard push…just very weak walls.

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    1. Yes that was good timing re School’s Out by Alice – I always remember the year it was a big hit because of it being such a landmark year.
      Odd about the hi-tech desks but the wood-burning stove – Bit of an anachronism but things changed gradually back then. By the time I got to secondary school there were lots of temporary huts used as classrooms but this was very much a fixed hut that had been used for years – All very cosy in winter what with the stove ‘an all.

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