16 March 2011

Was it better then?

Love or hate Facebook, it is a wonderful way to connect with schoolfriends, old work colleagues and family.  Skype too, is a great way to keep up to date with the happenings of everyone even if the video calls are quite dodgy.  I had a chat with a friend once, who seem totally unaware I could see them doing something their mother would have smacked their legs for! 

More and more people seem to be doing what we all swore we wouldn't when we were teenagers - talking about the 'good old days', remembering things from our pasts that gave us pleasure, pain or embarassment. Photographs start appearing with 'tags' which are slightly worrying but usually because you either can't remember the names of the people you were with or the fact you were wearing some monstrous outfit that was 'cool' in the 70s. 

The best ones are school photographs - preferably primary school - where everyone seemed to be sat on benches with matching haircuts, shoes and socks and smirks.  For me, the High School photograph (now residing with a friend) showed everyone with matching fringes thanks to the Beatles and strangely serious expressions - probably told to behave or have a detention!  My photo on this is vile as I was at the stage of wearing glasses which, in retrospect had something in common with Dame Edna Everage, and after hiding at the back, was told in no uncertain terms by one of the teachers (or were they called mistresses in those days) to move to the front where I appear to have put on an even more sulky expression.

My favourite school photographs though, are the ones taken when I was at Kettleshulme Primary School.  One shows me grinning with a super hand knitted jumper and a pony tail and in the other one I  remember I was wearing my 'best' dress for the occasion (a hand-me-down from my sister) and sitting astride a bench with my arms around another girl - possibly Pauline Boothby - and again, with a smile.  I wonder when the idea of serious faced children became fashionable. 

Talking of Kettleshulme Primary School reminds me of such a happy time.  It had two classrooms and two teachers.  Mrs Fidler looked after the little ones and when you moved into the big room, you got Mr Nixon, who was also the Headmaster.  This school taught me so much.  We did growing beans in jam jars with blotting paper, learnt to play musical instruments - in my case the triangle - learnt to embroider, were given instructions on how to reply to formal invitations and how to write 'thank you' letters, got introduced (giggling) to National Geographic, made knitted dishcloths for our mothers, calendars out of old Christmas cards, mastered punching leatherwork for purses, plus our nature rambles learning about trees, leaves, flowers and pond dipping.  I googled it on the internet and was thrilled to see how it was still going and had been expanded.

St James' Primary School, Kettleshulme

When I was there, the playground was brilliant.  In winter we used to build long slides on the ice and cause havoc racing up and down them.  No idea how we didn't hurt ourselves.  The girls had skipping and games of 'may I?', 'statues', 'tag', 'hopscotch and the boys had cricket, football and making the girls cry.  Occasionally the girls would be allowed to join in the boys games if they were short of players.  In winter, fierce games of snowballs would take place and we would dry out on the big, fat radiators.  They were very hot and you could not sit on them for long.    One way of keeping warm was to suck on Victor V's - they got so hot you always had to take them out to let your tongue calm down.

Victory V's

To heat the school, we had an enormous coke heap round the back of the school that we had strict instructions to leave alone.Obviously this was the ideal thing to race up and down getting filthy.  The toilets were outside and the girls were separated from the boys by a tall brick wall.  We all knew what the boys were doing the other side though - can't remember who got the highest!  The toilets were pretty awful being Elsans but it never seemed to bother us.  We were much hardier in those days than the kids today.  Played out in most weathers and Peter Kay's sketch about dinner ladies shouting kids inside from the playground because "it's spitting", reduced me to tears of laughter.

School dinners were cooked on the premises by lovely ladies who dragged us in to stir the sixpences into the Christmas puddings.  We sat at long tables next to the big windows at the back of the big room and Mrs Fidler and Mr Nixon sat watching us carefully for misbehaviour.  Can't remember if the boys got caught when they tried to set fire to one of the tables using the sun and a magnifying glass!  Christmas was special - we had the Nativity play of course - I was Mary one year and spoilt the effect by sucking my thumb happily all the way through it.  We had games of musical chairs but the best bit was making all the paper decorations to decorate the classrooms.  One sad aspect was that we had a lovely family of Jehovah Witnesses at school and although they helped make the decorations, they were never part of the rest of the celebrations.  Sad.

I don't know if these happy days gave me my love of history but certainly we learnt all about the ghost stories of the village and surrounding areas and one day we were taken to Lyme Hall (the scene of Mr Darcy and the wet shirt sequence) and learnt about its history and the superstitions that went with it.  Lyme Cage was particularly fascinating as we learnt about the escape route from the house that led to it.  We wanted to go inside and see if we could make it to the house, but obviously were not allowed.  It was rather rundown then but nice to see it in good condition now.

Lyme Cage today

Unfortunately for me, I did not stay on at the school to take my 11+ due to the fact that when my father enquired one evening what I had learnt that day, I stupidly told him we had been pond dipping in the village and judging from his expression, this was not what he had hoped to hear.  Very shortly after that, I was removed and did my 11+ year at Disley Primary School, which was a bit of a shock but turned out to be equally enjoyable in a completely different way.  It was a much bigger school with a huge playground and best of all, an old air raid shelter at the back - obviously we were banned from playing in it.  It was nice to have more children to be with and everyone was very friendly to me considering they had all been going up through the school since they were five.  My favourite teacher was a Mr King who had the awful task of coaching me in extra maths. 

Modern Disley Primary School

All the time I was in the 'big' class in Kettleshulme, I notoriously got nought out of 10 in mental arithmetic and goodness only knows what I got in the rest of the subject.  It was my most hated subject - still is - and when I got to Disley it was pretty obvious that I was completely out of my depth with it.  My 11th birthday present was unforgettable.  Sitting at breakfast thinking happy thoughts, I was immediately reduced to floods of tears because I was informed that in future, every Thursday after school, I would be having extra classes of maths with Mr King.  It is due to him that I can:  add up, subtract, multiply and divide which I can still do faster than modern kids with their calculators.  His patience with me was immense and it was only due to him that I passed my 11+.  He even whispered an answer in my ear during the exam - bless you Mr King!

Here in Portugal, it is quite common for children to have extra help from someone with their homework, which does beg the question about the standard of teaching.  When I help my students I am astonished at the way maths is taught these days.  It makes my students laugh when I look totally blank but then I fascinate them by doing 'sums' on a bit of paper and getting an answer in seconds or even more shocking, in my head.  They have to do myriad calculations that are completely beyond me and take - in my opinion - far too long to do. 

The downside of tutoring for me, is having to repeat things - I never, ever thought I would have to suffer Jonathan Swift and Gulliver again, nor 'the Scottish play', but two years ago, I did.  I have to say that Gulliver had not improved in the slightest for me.  I always hated the book and time had not altered my viewpoint on it.  Shakespeare I never have a problem with and that was quite enjoyable.  Science can be a challenge plus the fact that most of the separate subjects I remember, all seem to be grouped together under new titles.  French, I am pleased to say, is still the same but instead of a textbook, my student gets a photocopied booklet and they don't have to have a dictionary - something I cannot understand - or do a vocabulary book - Miss Worsley, my French mistress at Macclesfield High School, would have been shocked.

Another huge difference is homework.  I seem to remember (I hope), that we had homework set each night and gave it in the next day.  My student has a diary in which she writes her homework and there is a pattern to it which can vary from being given in after 10 days, 3 days, 2 days or next day.  This is fine for her as she is a good student, but others that I know, tend to leave it to the last minute or totally forget and get their marks reduced for it.  Modern children also seem to have a lot more homework each night than I remember and I always feel sorry for the amount of stuff they have to lug around.  In my day the teacher came to the class, these days, the kids have to go to the teacher.  Another big problem is the fact that because they have so many things to cart about, it is quite common for them to forget to pack books for lessons, or forget to put them in their bags for homework.  Another modern trend is to do homework online!  My student does maths homework on a special school site which she accesses with a password and can practice her answers - quite often we do 'best of three' so her mark goes up.  Weird.

One website we both enjoy is a BBC one where we can revise subjects for her school level.  It is pretty effective and I have secretly played this on my own at home to test my knowledge.  If you fancy testing yourself try www.bbc.co.uk/schools/ks3bitesize/game/questionaut.  Good luck.

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