The wind up to the end of term and the Christmas holidays was something that I enjoyed and looked forward to. The teachers always seemed in a good mood in the last few days and it was only when I became a teacher that I understood why. The weather was miserable and we left home for school in the dark and it was darkening as we made our way home. Often it was wet and we would have to spend lunch and break times stuck in the class. At these times the classrooms were extremely noisy and even though teachers patrolled the rooms, the atmosphere and noise was enough to fray the nerves of even the most patient teachers and Mr. Kelly had a pretty short fuse at the best of times.
Due to these and other factors I am sure that the end of term couldn’t have come soon enough for the staff. We usually had art and craft work that we were getting ready for Christmas and these would include a Christmas card and, most years, a candle ornament for the table. These usually involved holly, pinecones, ribbon, glitter and plaster of Paris. You had to go in search of holly and cones and this meant a trip to Hetchell Woods near Bardsey, where there was always a good supply of holly with berries. As I have mentioned in a previous memory, I wonder how many houses were burnt to the ground as a result of school made gifts. Towards the end of term carols would be sung in assemblies and there was a real anticipation of something special coming. Who could forget, ‘Good King Wenceless Last Looked Out, or While Shepherds washed their Socks that night, All Seated Round the Tub, the Angel of the Lord Came Down and Showed them How to Scrub, and We three Kings of orient tar, selling soap at tuppence a bar, chewing gum seven pence, toffee eleven pence, that’s all the prices are!‘ Oh the innocence of the times and the lack of teaching what the correct lyrics were. As we got older the words became less innocent.
I came across my only photograph from Harehills. This is the choir from 1965-66? I am third from the right on the back row. If any of you recognise who everyone is then let me know and I will add the names and if you would like me to email a copy I am happy to do so.
The fog was beginning to become less likely, and there was frost and the possibility of snow. The classrooms began to have a special atmosphere as winter set in due to rows of wet socks, gloves, hats and scarves drying on the hot heating pipes that edged the classroom. The air could be pungent and steamed up the very tall windows along the outside wall of the room. When the teachers, in our case Mr. Kelly, could stand it no longer out would come the long window pole and the top windows’ catches would be hooked and tugged with quite a force to make them open. When we returned to the classrooms after lunch and breaks in the yard our hands and feet would be frozen. Those, like me, who had holes in the soles of our shoes from playing soccer and from sliding on the frozen tarmac playground, suffered at these times. I learnt very quickly that frozen hands and feet should not be placed on the hot pipes. It was not that the pipes were extremely hot, but rather that the nerves in the hands and feet were numb from the cold and the sudden shock would result in over excited nerves that were excruciatingly painful. Usually, the pipes failed to dry socks and gloves between breaks and lunch, but rather just heated them up. It was a more pleasant experience slipping warm, if wet, gloves and socks onto our feet and hands, but pushing feet then into wet shoes was not enjoyable. If it was thick snow then we would probably have wellies, but we avoided them otherwise as they prevented you playing soccer. My gloves were hand -knitted, as were my scarves and hat, but the luckier children might have leather gloves. These were what every boy wanted as you could make great snowballs without them sticking in little pieces to the wool.
Apart from the cards and candles, we were occupied by getting us to make paper chains and streamers. The chains were made from sqares of coloured gummed paper. We would cut strips, ruler width, and then form loops and link the next one through the first loop. A quick lick of the unpleasantly tasting gum, and we hoped they would stick. You had to hold them together for quite a while. Mr. Kell must have loved it as it took hours to make even a short length of chain. When we had sufficient, we would join them up to others and Mr. Kelly would then hang them around the room from the top of the tall step ladders. Sometimes we cut strips from rolls of crepe paper and joined them up with sellotape and twisted them to make streamers. We loved it. It was so much more fun than the usual lessons and we were allowed to talk as we worked. Other decorations would also appear and these opened out from flat shapes to make honeycombed paper bells. The colour had faded a bit over the years they had been used and then stored again, but there was something special about them.
On one of the days before the end of term, we would have our Christmas school dinner. I don’t think we knew until we arrived in the hall beneath the church, but the sight of the dinner ladies wearing party hats was always a give away. Dinner was sliced turkey, roast potatoes, parsnips, sprouts, stuffing and gravy. It was great apart from the parsnips and the sprouts, but I now like sprouts. The teachers and dinner ladies were quite jolly and the pudding was Christmas pudding with custard, but it may have had just a taste of brandy in it. I believe that there were threepenny bits in foil inside some, but that might just be my wishful thinking. Nowadays health and safety would not have allowed such foolishness.
The other event in the final week was the class Christmas party. There was a lot of excitement on the morning and we all came to school with our donation to the feast we were to have. In came a wide range of potted meat sandwiches, sausage rolls, luncheon meat sandwiches, iced buns, butterfly buns, jelly, trifle, cake, egg sandwiches and all manner of culinary creations. Hundreds and thousands and those little silver balls often decorated the icing and there were paper plates and paper bowls for the cake and desserts. The desks were all pushed back around the room and unprinted newspaper was used to cover them. We placed our offerings, hoped they were good enough and went to inspect what else was on offer. My mother was never a great cook and so I think I always brought sandwiches, but some produced some quite impressive cakes. Mr. Kelly had a record player in the room and the chairs were edging the three sides away from the desks with the food and cordial. I thought the room looked smashing, with the streamers, chains and other decorations. I don’t remember there ever being a tree, but maybe there was one in the hall. I don’t know what Mr. Kelly did to occupy us all in the morning, but maybe we went into the hall, had an assembly and maybe sang carols for a while to keep us all out of mischief. I think we may have had a general knowledge quiz to help pass the time.
Finally the party started and we didn’t have a disco in those days, but we did play games. I remember musical statues, where when the music stopped you had to remain motionless. Mr. Kelly would decide who was the last to stop and they had to sit down. Eventually there were just two left and there was great competition to be the winner. Another game was musical chairs and we had to bring our chairs out and sit facing away from the next person in a line. The music would start and we had to march around the chairs waiting for the music to stop. Mr. Kelly removed one of the chairs and when the music stopped we scrambled to find a chair to sit on. One was unlucky and they had to sit out. This continued and could become quite aggressive as children almost fought for a seat. You were not allowed to cut through the line and once again it got down to just two people. This was fairly serious now and there was great kudos to winning a game. The music seemed to go on for ever, but finally the needle was lifted off the old record player and there was a scramble. The winner was heralded, but I don’t remember prizes. I am sure that there must have been other games, but at some point were were allowed to eat. You were told, in no uncertain terms, not to be greedy and if you took it, you had to eat it. After a while we were allowe to go back for seconds or to start the desserts. After this we played some more games, but I am not sure what. Finally the end of day came along. We had to help clear up, get rid of the rubbish and make sure we collected plates etc. that came from our homes. I am sure Mr. Kelly must have sighed with relief as we all traipsed out and the room became silent. He must have beaten a hasty retreat to the staff room and had a relaxing cigarette.
The next day was spent cleaning up and taking down streamers etc. I think we must have had a lot of silent reading to keep a lid on the excitement. I do remember one year a message coming to the room and we all had to go down to the gym for Christmas Carols. We all got down, sat in our appropriate lines and Mr. Wilson, the headmaster, came in. I think it was his idea of a joke as he sat down and read A Christmas Carol to us. This was the last afternoon and I think he was being kind to the teachers. We sat and listened and I really enjoyed it. I loved listening to stories and this must have been a children’s version. What more could a boy or girl want, than ghosts, death and a happy ending. Merry Christmas to you all. Bah! Humbug!