I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy my time at Harehills CP School. Apart from the caretaker sending me to see Mr Wilson for chasing around the cloakroom, they were some of the happiest times of my life. Compared to Stainbeck Preparatory School which was so homely and quaint, Harehills seemed enormous. Classes were large and the primary school probably had about three-hundred children. The school comprised of the Infants school, that I never attended and the primary school that was on the left hand side and the level above. There were two playgrounds and our primary one consisted of a sloping, walled, tarmac covered yard, with the caretaker’s house in the corner. School caretakers used to live on the grounds in these times and I suppose it meant that there was someone keeping an eye on the premises twenty four hours a day and seven days a week. They all disappeared when I started teaching, which was a shame and probably led to an increase in vandalism and break-ins. I am not sure that the caretaker or his wife would have enjoyed their walls being used as the cricket stumps or the soccer goals, but maybe they just got used to the constant thumping during morning and lunch breaks.
For the first couple of years the toilets were outside and fairly dire. They were bitterly cold in winter and not places you would want to linger. They replaced them after a year or two and I think the new ones were a temporary building and certainly an improvement. The entire school was structurally suspect though and was probably the reason it was demolished. We were told that the hall floor upstairs wasn’t strong enough to hold an audience of parents seated on chairs, which meant we didn’t have concerts where parents could attend. I remember very well being asked to come out of Mr Kelly’s class and to jump up and down on the hall floor whilst surveyors measured the movement. Again, I am not sure that children would be used as guinea pigs nowadays.
Regardless of all the school’s faults, I and the other children didn’t care. It was our school and it offered a world of opportunities and you just got used to lining up, marching across the crossing and down the road to have lunch in the hall under St Aiden’s Church, getting onto to double-decker buses to go for sport on the Soldiers’ Field, changing on the bus or in the classroom and I think walking to swimming, through Potternewton Park. It was just part of our everyday experience. I had loved Stainbeck Prep and I loved Harehills. In those days it was full of interesting things that had their own season, or you experienced as you moved through the school. My first class had metal double desks which were heavy and immovable, but these were replaced by more modern ones. I remember the time that we got ink pens. It was a major milestone and was full of mystery and special utensils. Inkwells had a large hole at the top of the desk and the little pots had to be topped up with ink on a regular basis. Only the most trusted became Inkwell Monitors. The ink had to be mixed with water and any ink on your fingers seemed to remain forever. The pens were bare wooden dowel, with a metal clip that held the nibs. The first time we got one it was special. I don’t think they were ever new, but that didn’t really matter. The nibs were new, at least for the first day and they were bright shiny, silvery sharp and pointed. The pointed end was split and there was a hole half way down the nib where the ink collected and flowed along the split as you added pressure. The watery ink took a long time to dry and we were issued with small squares of blotting paper. Writing with the pens was an acquired skill and it took a lot of practice to avoid tearing the paper, smudging the writing or blotting your work. It must have been hell for left-handed children as their hand would pass over the fresh writing as they wrote. In these days there weren’t many allowances made for left-handers and in Catholic Schools being left-handed, sinister (in Latin) was seen as the work of the devil. The devil sat at the left of us all and hence salt was thrown over the left shoulder into the eye of the devil, if it was spilt. Children would be chastised if they used their left hands, regardless of whether that was their natural side. That didn’t happen at Harehills, at least not when I was there, but I don’t remember any left handed scissors or the like.
We had special books that our parents had to buy where there were exercises for us to practise and copy the cursive style. One thing about Stainbeck Preparatory School, was that I was taught to write using block capitals as my four exercise books that my mother kept shows, and this meant I had no idea how to print and in fact it was a skill I had to learn as an adult when I became a teacher. At Harehills we learned to write Cursive handwriting and as a result I was never taught or learned to print. We were taught how to hold a pen correctly, how to use the blotting paper to dry the ink and how to use the correct pressure to avoid blotting. Of course there was a wide variety of skill levels in the class and some unfortunate children did feel Mr Kelly’s wrath and his famous, “Angels and Ministers of Grace Defend Us!’’ phrase he would use when exasperated.
The classroom had bare, rough floorboards and we soon got the skill of using the pens as darts. Thrown with the right amount of force and direction we could get them to stick in the floorboards and they would wobble, just like Robin Hood’s arrows would do in a castle doorway. Of course this didn’t do the nibs much good and the ends would become crossed and prove difficult to write with. We bent them back into shape, but they were never as good again until finally we plucked up courage to ask Mr Kelly for new ones. If we found him in a good mood then we would return to our desks with a replacement. If he wasn’t, then there would be a public dressing down on the ability to look after school property, before we were allowed to return to our places shame-faced in front of the class.
Latest album. Free to give it a listen on the Soundcloud player below.
The other use for our writing equipment was the making of blotting paper and ink balls. If the paper was soaked with ink then it could be rolled into a soggy ball of indigo and then we could either flick the balls at other children sat around us, or if it was pea shooter season, blow the balls of paper and ink at the back of the heads of children sitting in front of you. The pea shooters could be bought from the tobacconist/sweetshop across the road from the school. We would get dried peas, from home, and the tubes of metal had a cone of plastic mouthpiece. They were about eight inches long and you placed the ammunition in the hole at the mouthpiece and with a sharp, powerful blow send the pea shooting out with force. The hard peas could be quite painful, but in the instance of blotting paper balls, there was no pain, just and indigo stain on the head, face or hair. The one thing that was essential was to be fully aware of what the teacher was doing. It would have been more than your life was worth to be caught and so we tended to wait until Mr Kelly left the room. It only took a moment for warfare to break out as numerous pea shooters would appear, be loaded and the projectiles fired. We would wait all day, maybe even two or more before the opportunity arose, but it was well worth the wait.
I mentioned that most toys had a season and I think this was because eventually, marbles, whip’n’tops, pea shooters etc would be banned at school. I assume that Mr Wilson or Mr Kelly would have had a word at the shop to ask them not to sell them and so they disappeared before returning the next season. Of course I didn’t realise this at the time. It is only with adult, teacher eyes, that I realise what was going on.
The use of the dip pens disappeared during the second year that I was in Mr Kelly’s class. New ball point pens were introduced. These were primary coloured pens that tapered towards each end. They were about pencil length and with their arrival something sad happened as the dip pens and all the ritual vanished overnight. The ink monitors and equipment, as well as the skills we had honed were replaced and the modern world impinged. Technology made dip pens obsolete and the history from quills to the school dip pen ended. Mr Kelly even showed us how to make a dip pen using a large feather and he used his pen-knife to cut and split a nib. Technological advancement has brought many wonderful blessings, but it does come at a cost and I am sure that there are others who look back fondly on the simple times we grew up in. I guess every generation feels this and I am sure my father did. I know that he wrote on a slate at primary school in Scotland.