Saturday, 23 March 2013

What Primary School Taught Me: To L and back again

“Good Morniiing Mister Bloggs..”

Whether you called it Primary school, Elementary, Kindergarden or us-kids-sitting-cross-legged-inside-a-shack-somewhere: all of us share a lot of the same memories of our earliest stages of education, mainly because these memories are drawn from largely the same pool.

Most of us, for example, had some variety of flavoured milk at break (I’m team strawberry, personally), we all knew to Never-Ever-Ever tell even your closest allies if there was something tooth-decaying in your lunchbox. Hordes of children kicked the bins and ran from even greater hordes of bees; scores of us attempted to grow little portable patches of cress and often staked bizarre levels of pride in our plant’s vertical progress. 

At the same time, it’s important to recognise each of us have our own pocket of experiences that our opening years of education have given us specifically. So, without any more textual dribbling, allow me to share three lessons Primary school have imparted to me and probably not you:

Lesson One: Hiding under your table is a valid alternative to doing homework

Back at the very start of my Primary school career, I hadn’t done my homework. You read right: try your best to abstain from clapping me in irons. For whatever reason, I hadn’t glued the macaroni to the sugar paper or whatever it was I was supposed to apply my mind to that previous evening. Additionally, I distinctly remember being worried because I hadn’t done well rehearsing the alphabet - or something like that - earlier that day.

If I had told the teacher (a nice lady who we’ll call Mrs X, well rehearsed in the follies of four-year-olds) I would have at worst been given a sentence-long rebuke. Maybe a charge to do it for the next day. As she went round the tables inspecting whatever it was everyone else had done, though, a sterling plan emerged in my muddled head: instead of telling the truth, I could hide. 

But where? 

The answer struck me like a gym-shoe to the face. I eyed Mrs X across the room, bent over and inspecting the handiwork of someone else; I eyed the peers in my group, too transfixed by their own mini-marvels to see anything in their peripheral vision, then decided to act. I edged out my little red chair from the desk slightly, kicked my schoolbag to the side and slithered off my seat and under the table. 

I told you it was sterling. Miraculously, nobody spotted this daring feat among the feet, or else perceived it to be too commonplace to be worth mentioning. 
Plan executed, I clasped the legs of my seat with my little hands, pulled the chair in and waited for Mrs X to nod appreciatively at my group’s pastapieces and move on, at which point I’d slither out, put this blip behind me and resume my travels through the education system.

A couple of minutes passed, and I was getting bored. I counted the shoes around me, fiddled with the straps on the schoolbags, tried to remember if lunch was soon. To a Primary one, lunch is always too far off (although, to a second-year university student, lunch is still always too far off).

I counted my fingers, recited rhymes, played with the velcro on my shiny school shoes. Not long now, I thought, not long now until she- 


Slowly, I arched my little neck round, and saw Mrs. X was crouched, looking at me, wondering what on earth I was doing amid all the schoolbags. Her mouth formed a small circle of surprise.

O. That was the letter I kept forgetting...

These guys saved my education. Except Quarrelsome Queen. Nobody likes Quarrelsome Queen.

Lesson Two: You are never ‘Too Young’ to partake in strategic conquests
Some geography is necessary: the entire outside area of my school was essentially a large ‘L’ shape nestled around the building itself. The upper side of the ‘L’ was the area for older students (between Primary 3-7), a big slab of grey tarmac where kids could trade cards, bounce balls and so forth. 

The other line was for the younger ones- a smaller area made of similar stuff where the Primary 1’s and 2’s could gain temporary respite from the trials of learning to pronounce their own names properly.

Now, just beyond that horizontal side of the L was a stretch of grass which sloped up lazily at one end to become a fair-sized knoll.

This patch of elevated turf came to be known by the older students simply as ‘The Hill’. We were a platonic bunch, really. To the bored older ones, ‘The Hill’ - particularly during summer - looked more appealing than back-to-back episodes of Bernard’s Watch. The light breeze would waft the shards of grass about, lazily inviting us to come destroy it with our footballs. Lost lunch money beckoned the adventurers, while other sun-gleaned areas called for the more silver-tongued striplings to make the case why the white colour is a necessity for crayon packs.

In the greatest outrage in the history of Scottish education, for most of our lunchtimes The Hill was decidedly, uncompromisingly, out of bounds. Whether that’s because certain days were allocated for certain year-groups, or it was only certain days of the week all were allowed on at the same time, I don’t really remember. 

This didn’t bother most, who were comfortable enough flailing about or throwing rubber balls hard at walls (and then acting surprised when it came charging back at their faces).

To an elect few, however, The Hill still beckoned, and this same select few strove to meet it. To reach our desire on one of these ‘out of bounds’ days, an elder student would have to navigate through the younger playground - the wrong side of the L all the while avoiding the patrolling sentries that were the Teaching Assistants - in reality, adults trying to make sure no-one had decided they were human agents of the god of war, but to us, nefarious masterminds who wanted children to enjoy themselves as much as Alcatraz inmates.

To successfully travel to to The Hill, then, we had to get strategical. This we did one summer, where a band of us developed several strategies to bypass the staff, get to our grassy destination and play our fill of Ninjas versus Commandos.These ingenious plans included: 

The Pawn - works better for larger parties. Send a pair of unlucky martyrs to get deliberately caught while a larger party sweeps across the other side of the playground. Success chance: moderate.

The Disguise - works better for individuals or younger groups. Crouch and stroll nonchalantly across, pretending, without ever drawing attention to yourself, that you’re a younger child. Last minute dash necessary or Assistants will see you on the grass. Success chance: unlikely.

The Shuffle - this one is a stroke of genius - walk along the wall of the school building, facing the building and keeping your back to everyone behind you. You’ll blend right in and look totally subtle. Success chance: if you try this, you’re an idiot.

Sometimes our stratagems would work, other times we’d get easily caught and marched back to the grey slab. 

By the end of term, we spent so much time on our military-style excursions I wouldn’t have blamed the staff if they wondered whether cane wasn’t actually a pretty swell idea after all.

Still, it was a fun few weeks that educated me greatly in the merits of teamwork and pragmatism, though I probably owe a few apologies to several faculty members, and more than one box of chocolates. Sorry, guys.

Moving swiftly on.

Lesson Three: Each teacher is equipped with at least one eye of Sauron

Between the two semi-narratives above lingers a memory, far shorter yet too vivid not to be recalled. The situation was thus. 

In class one morning, the assembled mass of marginally-literate children were writing some form of story or poem or doctoral dissertation or something. As we all know, kids imagine they are the best at everything they do. Indeed, if a child clearly, unavoidably loses at something, that something immediately becomes relegated to the ‘not worth doing anyway’ pile. Anyway, We were all getting quite invested into our writing, and the classroom was so quiet you could hear every flick of a pencil, every moistened lip, every rustle of anyone potentially taking refuge under a nearby desk.

Arthur: everyone's closest childhood friend

If you remember, I earlier discussed that a lot of our memories are collective, not individual, as they come from the same source. The ‘I’ll say I like yours if you say you like mine’ tactic is probably in this fold.

For those few unaware, ‘I’ll say I like yours if you say you like mine’ idea is simple: Child A will provide Child B with approval for their creative work if B reciprocates the gesture. ‘I’ll like yours if you like mine’ may miss the point of compliments, but no more than teenagers calling themselves ugly on their Facebook photos. Like my friend Peter, some people never grow up.

On my quest for validation, I decided to implement the ‘‘I’ll say I like yours if you say you like mine’ tactic on the girl sitting next to me, grievously disregarding the silence that pervaded the room. Before a few syllables had left my high-pitched tongue, Mrs. Y issued me with what I can only describe as the Stare of Rage. Her eyebrows swooped like a bird hovering, hunting. The mouth tightened, the pupils widened, her whole body tautened tight as a Trebuchet.

My juvenile tongue instantly glotted in my throat, and my voice climbed up to a somehow higher octave before fading away to nothing. I feared for my life, my sanity, my...then, quick as that, Mrs. Y walked on. Justice had been served with a simple look. 

Evidently, she had other fish to visually fry.

Cliche images aside, it was terrifying. I never crossed the teacher for the rest of the year, and a good fifteen years on can still can see that Stare of Rage (TM). 

Now that the fear has passed, though, I want to find her and ask her to teach me her ways.  I could stop wars, elect presidents, get someone else to pass the salt - all from a simple stare.

So, school-bound friends,  next time you’re about to do something stupid - make sure there’s no teacher nearby. There isn’t a table in the world that can save you.

Do you have any unique primary-school memories?
To read how my education fares now, go here.
To see how I procrastinate my education, go here.
If you just like hyperlinks, go here.


  1. You need to change your font. It's really tricky to read for us with bad eyesight, and probably not much better even for those with good eyesight.
    I sound like an OAP now don't I...

  2. Yeah, it seems to be playing games with me - i made it Times for the text but sometimes changes to this chubby mess. I'll try again.