Monday, April 10, 2006
This is Rutland Street School. My first school, but then again I only went to two, finishing my education at age 14 years. (That's part of Summerhill at the top of the street)
This school, as I mentioned below, was known by the pupils as The Red Bricked Slaughterhouse. And well named it was too! Back then you could (and would) be beaten for something as simple as not knowing the solution to an easy sum. And it didn't mean just a slap on the hand. Oh no! All teachers carried a bamboo cane which was used by many of them on any part of your body. I remember seeing kids with red weals on their bare legs from having been lashed by one of the teachers with a cane. Some teachers even had thicker sticks and one even had a leg from a chair! If the teacher walked up the aisle between the desks to hit you and he/she had forgotten the cane then you received either a slap with the open hand, or if you were very unlucky you received a punch. The good old days? I think not.
My earliest memory of this school is my first day. My Ma and Gran got me ready that morning, and I was trembling because I'd already heard some of the horror stories even at that age (4 years old) Anyway, I was scrubbed and my hair carefully combed, my clothes checked to see that they were clean... and off we went, walking from Gardiner Street (where we lived at that time) to Rutland Street. The first thing I noticed (after the huge forbidding looking red building) was a man with wild grey hair and wearing a dusty looking grey suit(who turned out to be the headmaster) standing on the hill beside the school, furiously ringing a handbell and calling to the stragglers to get a move on.
Then I was brought into the head teacher's office where I was enrolled and from there I was brought into the room that was to be my classroom. This room was huge, high ceilings, rows of desks, kids paintings tacked to the walls, a blackboard on an easel and a big table behind which stood my first teacher. She looked huge to me. I clearly remember the smell of her perfume and a huge bosom that very nearly smothered me as leaned over me, put her arms around me and asked my name. Timidly I told her my name was Jimmy, but she called me James anyway. She lifted me onto this huge rocking horse and started it moving and I was happy enough with that until I looked around and saw that my Mam and Gran were gone! That was enough for me... I was gone too! The teacher must have been looking the other way because I don't remember anyone trying to stop me as I ran through the door, down the steps and out into the street, crying my eyes out and very scared.
No sooner was I out in the street than I met my cousin Betty (or Liz as she's known on the GB) and she put her arms around me and comforted me, then took me home in Summerhill (my Aunt Mary's). I heard later that while I was sitting there eating bread and sugar, my Dad, Mam, Gran and the teacher were out looking for me. A four year old kid had vanished! Well to them I had anyway. But by then Betty had encouraged me back to the school, left me in my classroom and went off to the girls part -- boys and girls were strictly segregated.
But this time the teacher was more alert to 'The Great Escaper'. I couldn't get away again because she kept me under very close observation. Then my Ma and Gran showed up, having heard about my great escape, and I noticed that my Mam was weeping, but the teacher wouldn't allow them to speak to me so I suppose I had to make the best of it. The teacher gave me a piece of board and some coloured chalks and left me to my own devices. I don't know what I drew on that board, but whatever it was would have been seen through my tears because I think I must have cried for a week. But eventually I settled in and began to enjoy playing with the other kids in the schoolyard.... and learning how to escape again. Another story for another day.