David’s Bookshelf Issue 2 – Cup of Tea Tales
- David’s Bookshelf Issue 2
- David’s Bookshelf – Issue One
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A Lifetime of Global Successes, Disasters and Wonders! Space the Final Frontier.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hetchell Woods (Bardsey) and Crags – A Special Piece of God’s Own Country or County! One of my Favourite Places to Visit.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Wonderful Yorkshire Dales. Trollers Gill, a Place with a Mysterious Legend and the Hell Hole where I Diced with Death.
As I have said before, I loved Harehills C.P. School, and I think it was my experience there that set me on the road to becoming a teacher and spending my working life dealing with children, those who attended the school, and the childish behaviour of some who worked there and some who sent their children there.
One of Mr Harold Wilson’s introductions was the ‘Triers’ badges’. These were red felt shield badges, with a safety pin at the back. They were awarded, one to each class, for the child that had tried the hardest to achieve, behave or some other worthy cause and were presented in assembly each Friday. Mr Wilson was being quite progressive for these times as charts, with coloured and gold stars showed how students were achieving and behaving. Points for houses were also common. It was a time of dog-eat-dog. Students were ranked for every subject and streamed by ability, so recognition of non-academic merit was something new. I don’t think Mr Kelly was too keen on this progressive madness, as he would look at the register and ask who hadn’t received one that term or year and then choose one at random. Maybe he thought the top class didn’t need them to motivate themselves. Anyway, I know I was always delighted when I received one in assembly.
The opposite to motivation was corporal punishment and I remember witnessing children being slippered for some misdemeanour or other. Slippers were usually a gym shoe, or pump as they were known, sometimes modified by removing almost all the shoe but the sole, and this had the effect of producing a very impressive ‘THWACK!’, without too much discomfort. I remember once being told to attend a teacher’s classroom after lunch for not lining up properly. I don’t know the teacher’s name, but it was one of the lower Year Four classes, to the left of the stage and just behind it. There was a very long list of miscreants, and we marched forward, bent over and got an almighty whack with a blackboard ruler, one of the wide yard-long ones, and then we marched back to our classes. I can only think he was a young teacher who was struggling with a difficult class and believed discipline and respect came from fear. He was definitely wrong, but they were different times. I also remember one or two boys being slippered, I don’t think caned, on stage, in front of the school. I can only think this was for something very serious, as it had a big impression on me. At Roundhay school, corporal punishment was very common, but somehow I was never caned. Slippered, yes, and slapped in the face by a teacher, but never caned. I guess my teenage smirk and attitude was too much for some teachers to bear!
On a lighter note, I remember in Mr Kelly’s class making pinhole cameras. I believe that there was to be an eclipse, and it was too dangerous to look at with the naked eye, so we made boxes with a tracing paper sheet at the back. By putting a small hole in the front, you could make a pinhole camera that allowed light to pass onto the sheet of tracing paper and if pointed at the eclipse, you could safely look at the small image without harming your eyes. On the day of the eclipse, at about two in the afternoon, we traipsed out into the playground to point the cameras at the sun and be thoroughly disappointed by the tiny image of the eclipse. I also remember him informing us he was going to bring in a cow’s eye to dissect the next day, as part of science, and on another day it was a heart. This was far more interesting, and we watched as he struggled to cut a slimy large eye with a safety razor blade. It was hard going, but in the end, he managed, removed the lens, showed us the vitreous humor and grossed out some of the girls, but certainly captured most of the boys. The heart dissection was similarly gory, but we saw valves and learnt about the basic structure.
It was about this time I bought a book that is still available in a very modified form today. 365 Things to Do in Science and Nature, was quite a hefty book, with 365 experiments for eager scientists to carry out. Most of the experiments are now banned for safety concerns as they involved poisonous substances, explosive substances, or things that now are illegal. How to blow birds’ eggs is no longer thought of as an acceptable pastime. Taxidermy is not something a ten-year-old should be carrying out, particularly on the family pet or the old aunt. Crystal growing is fine, but all the chemicals suggested are now recognised as unsuitable, as they are poisonous. Potassium permanganate, copper sulphate and others worked brilliantly, but are not in primary chemistry sets. Neither are magnesium ribbon or phosphorous, for obvious reasons. Mind you, much that we did at high school is no longer permitted. Pouring mercury around the desk is rather frowned on in these P.C. days.
One thing I enjoyed, though, was the choir and also the recorders. I remember taking the note home that asked for permission to buy a recorder. I believe they were ten shillings, but I can hardly believe they would be that much. My mum signed the note, provided me with the money and Mr Kelly collected it the next morning and the order went in. Now, the creation of the recorder is clear proof the devil exists. No benign God would allow such an instrument of torture to be created. After forty years in schools, I can still wake in the early hours of the morning, shuddering with the memory of a class of children playing a recorder. The descant is by far the worst. It reaches a pitch that even dogs can’t hear and makes the scraping of fingernails on a blackboard seem like a wonderful melody. With only a few holes and the instrument supposedly tuned, it is difficult to see how much could go wrong. No one could prepare a teacher for the onslaught of a class of ten-year-olds blowing recorders like their lives depended on it. I now understand why Mr Kelly’s hair was white! Eventually, we, or at least some of us, improved. A recorder group of the less ham-fisted and ventilatingly challenged was chosen and we would play for school, sometimes in assemblies. Choir was similarly selected. During my time in teaching, any child wishing to join the choir had to be accommodated, but in those days, careful selection was made to separate the wheat from the chaff. I wonder how many were emotionally scarred for life as a result. Choir had to perform at some out of hours concerts and we had to wear a white shirt and a red tie. I have always loved singing and somehow I slipped through the vetting process. We also did a children’s operetta called something like, ‘Storyland’. Some children had quite big solos, and I had one line. I still remember it well. The cast introduced their characters, and I had to sing, ‘I’m Aladdin and not a sham’. This was followed by someone singing, ‘I’m old King Cole, Ho! Ho!’ Everyone then came in with the chorus, ‘Storyland is both wide and fair, everybody can travel there, big folk and little folk think it’s grand. Stor -y-land, Stor-y-land!’ Oh what fun!
One of the pleasant features of primary school is the art and craft lessons we had. One thing I remember we did every Easter time was to make wool pompoms. Two circles of card were cut and a smaller circle was cut out of the centre of each. The two card circles were placed together and wool, we wound yellow wool around the card. This must have been heaven for the teachers, as it took hours to wind sufficient wool around, to produce a woollen doughnut at the end. At this point, the teacher took over and cut around the edge of the doughnut and then tied a tight loop between the card circles. When the wool was then fluffed out, it produced a pompom. Each of us then made a slightly smaller pompom, and the two finished balls were fixed together and finally, a felt beak and two eyes were added to produce an Easter chick.
Each Christmas I seem to remember having to collect holly to bring to school. I would go with my dad to Hetchel Woods to collect pieces with bright red berries. The holly was cut into smaller pieces and painted. We had a shallow dish into which the holly, pine cones and a candle were placed, before plaster of Paris was poured in and allowed to set. When it was ready, the tray was removed. Some glitter and gold or silver paint covered the holly and cones before fixing, and then a ribbon was tied around the edge. They looked great! At the end of the Christmas term, I remember carefully carrying the candle set home for my mum. I have often wondered how many houses were set alight, by similar decorations produced at schools.
Another craft activity was simple embroidery on binka, the material with holes to guide young hands. Cross stitching and other techniques were used to produce bookmarks, or maybe a place mat. Names would be embroidered on them and it kept us busy for hours, and the teachers occupied re-threading needles, bodkins and undoing mistakes. I also remember learning how to do simple knitting. We learnt to knit squares with basic stitches and theses were joined up to make a blanket. I seem to remember it was for some charity such as Oxfam and it was presented in assembly. The other type of knitting that we learnt was French knitting. All the class had to bring in wooden cotton reels. Four small nails were hammered into the top and we wound wool in a certain way and then unhooked it and it formed a slowly increasing sausage of wool through the hole in the reel. Eventually, it was removed and sewn into a round disk of knitted wool that could be used as a place mat.
These experiences must have been before being in Mr. Kelly’s class, as I can’t think he was into needlework. I specifically remember making matchbox tricks with him that involved a loop of brown, gummed tape. I can still remember the strong distinctive taste of the glue on the tape. The trick was that you opened the box, put a penny in it, or similar coin, and then shut the box. You would say a magic word and open the box and the coin would disappear. This amazing trick was very simple and a loop of brown tape would hide the coin if the box was opened from opposite end and it could reappear, by simply opening it from the original end. We also made a cardboard wallet with a cover of marbled ink. I loved the marbling because it produced such a wonderful swirl of colours as the inks were floated on water and the paper laid on top. The wallet had diagonal ribbons that crossed the covers and, similar to the matchbox trick, a note placed in the wallet could be made to vanish when the wallet was opened and closed. The skill was in the way you opened and closed the wallet. One way the note was hidden behind the cover and the other way it was at the front.
The two most used items in art and craft were sugar paper and the coloured, gummed squares of paper. Later, as a teacher, I was amazed at how poor the quality had become. The sugar paper was so thick and the coloured squares made wonderful Christmas chains and paper mosaics.
Mr. Kelly’s magic tricks must have impressed me, as I did a magic performance in a talent show at the end of one term. I just used some tricks from a magic set magic I had for a birthday and I performed in front of the school. I made coins disappear in a hanky, could tell what card someone chose from a pack. It can’t have been too exciting for the audience that was a long way off. Other performers were dancers, musical turns and even some children miming to a song.
We did once have a craft fair and we could enter a whole range of things. I was at a loss about what to do, but with help from my mum and dad, we decided on a desert scene. We bought a square terracotta pot and planted with a few cacti. A small mirror was placed amongst the cacti and then fine white sand from dad’s work was poured over the potting compost. The mirror looked like an oasis and it made a decent desert scene. I then added some tiny Airfix Bedouin figures and tiny camels to finish it. I remember carefully carrying it into school and it was put on display with other entries. There were different categories and I remember getting a star or something similar for mine and I proudly took it home where it went on display in the front room window, where it lasted for a long time.
Now one vivid memory I have is country dancing. Again, I don’t think Mr Kelly was the teacher who took this. We were paired up, boy/girl, in two long lines or sometimes in a circle, and the teacher demonstrated the basic steps. We must have challenged the patience of the teacher, as most of us boys were rhythmically or otherwise challenged. Eventually, with a lot of counting, one, two, three, four, over and over again, we managed the basics and something resembling a dance was produced. I don’t remember if we ever danced at the May Day in Roundhay Park, or whether we just went along to watch those accomplished performers who had got beyond the most simple of dances. I enjoyed it though and maybe it was the holding of a girl’s hand as we danced that gave it added excitement. Certainly, hormones were happening in the final year of primary school and there was a lot of interest in birthday parties and who was invited. Postman’s Knock was as far as it ever got, but it was the start of the change that truly appeared in high school. I could see why there was a girls’ and boys’ school at Roundhay, but the thorny hedge between the two playing fields proved little of a barrier for the horny teenagers we were to become.
My time at Harehills was a golden time in my life. We were learning, loving learning, full of optimism in a world that was changing so rapidly after the Second World War. Science was going to be the saviour of our bright new world and in many ways it has been. It was a time of improvement for the world and the people who inhabited the planet and we saw such change. Unfortunately, children are presented with doom and gloom scenarios now at school, even though great strides have been made in health, pollution, energy production and standard of living. In the early fifties and sixties, there were major outbreaks of diseases such as polio, measles, mumps, rubella, rickets, smallpox, bronchitis and many others. We were some of the first to be inoculated for childhood diseases and saw real benefits.