Today was the little girl’s first day of school. She was four years old in October and her mother had enrolled her at the local primary school. Of course, the little girl should have been turning five years old in order to start school but her mother didn’t let a little detail like that stand in her way and had told the school that Elsie was five years old. The little girl was excited to be starting school; she only wished that she had long hair. Her older sisters, Wendy and Gillian, both had lovely long hair that her mother used to braid for them every day. Her mother wouldn’t let the little girl have long hair, she said that she had enough to do without having to look after another head of hair. The little girl had to wear her hair short, she even had it cut at the barber shop in the town.
The little girl set off on the walk to school with her brothers and sisters. The walk to school took the children past both of the Churches in the town. Each Church had a graveyard and the children felt very nervous walking past them. Some of the gravestones had a skull and crossbones on them. These were the graves of victims of the black plague. Other gravestones had very beautiful angels on them. These were the graves of babies and children. Outside one of the graveyards was a huge beech tree which had dropped lots of tiny little nuts all over the ground around it. The children all picked up a handful of nuts, peeling of the skins as they walked and eating the nutritious nuts.
When she arrived at school, the little girls was put in a class with the smallest children. Each child had his or her own desk and they were placed in rows. There was a coke stove in the classroom with a coal scuttle, full of black pieces of coke. On that very first day of school the small children were allowed to play with placticine, a putty-type kind of modelling clay. The placticine was a funny grey colour because it had been played with by so many children but the little girl loved playing with it and modelled all sorts of interesting shapes out of it.
The worst part of her first school day was a visit to the toilet. The toilet block comprised of a row of toilet cubicles behind a screening brick wall. The actual cubicles were covered but the passage in front of them was not. There were no doors on the cubicles and the smell from the toilets was terrible. The toilets were blocked and didn’t flush and there were puddles of wee all over the floor because the toilets all leaked. The awfulness of the school toilets gave the little girl nightmares for years and resulted in a fear of public toilets that lasted for the rest of her life.
The best thing about school was the singing. At playtime all the children went outside into the school yard to play. The children joined hands in a big circle and sang songs. They sang one of the little girl’s favourite songs called The Grand old Duke of York. The children also sang another favourite song of the little girl called Oranges and Lemons. Two children formed a tunnel by standing opposite each other and holding their arms up with their hands linked. The children formed a long line and then walked through the tunnel while the words to the song were sung. The second last line was “And here comes a chopper to chop off your head” and the two children with linked hands brought their arms down and captured the child passing through.
When dinner time came, some of the children went home for their main meal of the day. The little girl and her brothers and sisters had their dinner at the local tea room. They had to line up in pairs with all the other children that were going to the tea room for a paid school dinner. They walked to the town tea house. The little girl’s mother had given each of her children the money to pay for their school dinner for the week. The dinner at the tea room was an awful meat pie with mashed potatoes. The pastry had no fat in it and was very hard and chewy. The few pieces of meat that adorned the pastry were grisly and fatty. The mashed potatoes were made from dehydrated potato and had a consistency like glue. The little girl didn’t each much because she knew that her mother would have a shortcake when she got home. Shortcakes were the remains of any pastry used for a meat pie – it was rolled out and had a sprinkling of sugar, and if she was lucky, there might even be a current.
At the end of her first day of school, the little girl walked back home with her brothers and sisters, feeling really exhausted but brimming with happiness.
Robbie and Michael Cheadle are the co-authors of the Sir Chocolate Book series and Robbie Cheadle is the author of Silly Willy goes to Cape Town (coming soon)