Slow-Moving Chalk Dust

Memories of a North-East Education by Alyson


In Miss Margaret’s Primary One class, courtesy of the Tom and Ann books, we all became literate. For many Aberdeenshire children this was no mean feat since these books were written in English and not in our native Doric. At the same time, we were also becoming numerate, courtesy of wooden rods number one to ten (or was it twelve in those pre-decimal days?). These rods came in the full spectrum of colours and I’m pretty sure that the number three rod was quite an attractive lime green.

By the time we progressed next door to Miss Mabel’s Primary Two class, we were ready to pick up on the finer points of spelling and arithmetic. Miss Margaret and Miss Mabel frequently brought their classes together, sometimes for Music and Movement and sometimes to watch a film on the noisy school projector. This was always skilfully manned by Mr Anderson the headmaster, as women in those days were obviously not to be trusted with sophisticated pieces of machinery. The film invariably had a Commonwealth theme and might have been about children on sheep stations in Australia or perhaps in African villages. At the time however, I think I was more fascinated by the projector’s light beam picking up the slow moving mass of chalk dust that usually filled the air.

For Primary Three we veered round the corner to Mrs Scott’s classroom situated next to the staffroom. There we were introduced to the wonderful world of Work Cards which dealt heavily with Stone Age man and the Romans in Britain. At age seven we were all highly knowledgeable about Neanderthals and Centurions. Also at that time, it was very important for us to master the new metric system, which would soon take over completely from the old imperial system of measurement. Fifty years later and I still quote my height in feet and inches.

Primary Four, back in 1968, was housed in a hut to the right of the main school building. Mrs Fraser was the teacher and although most classes at that time still had milk monitors, Primary Four was the only class that had a wood-burning stove monitor. A major turning point for the school came that year when the old wooden desks, complete with inkwell, were abandoned in favour of new-fangled formica tables complete with plastic drawers on runners. Very much in keeping with the modern furniture design of the time.

As we come to Primary Five, my memories get more vivid. We were back in the main body of the school and our teacher was Miss Reid who impressed the girls at any rate, with her on-trend crocheted waistcoats and mini skirts. She also had amazing high hair, usually adorned with elaborate accessories. It was now 1969 and great advances were being made in the world of Science and Technology. We were lucky enough to have Mr Bruce take us for Science and he even invited everyone to his lab to witness one of the first Apollo moon landings. To my eternal shame, not realising the significance of what we were to watch on the grainy black and white TV, I was so busy chattering that I think I missed the whole thing.

Christmas time always was and still is an exciting time in the school year. At the annual Christmas party, the boys would line up on one side of the gym and the girls on the other as if about to go into battle. Nine-year-old boys and girls are not known for being socially at ease with each other but somehow we manfully made it round the hall on an annual basis, mastering the finer points of the Gay Gordons, the St Bernard’s Waltz and the Bluebell Polka. To this day, every time I attend a Wedding or Dinner Dance, I thank my primary school for having taught me the rudiments of Scottish Country Dancing.

Primary Six was Mrs McPhee’s class in the room next to the Higher Grade girls’ cloakroom. At age ten we were in awe of these “women” of 14 and 15 in their white wetlook coats and boots, long sleek hair and chokers. Full decimalisation came about in 1970 and I remember the excitement of paying for our lunch tokens with the already circulated 50p and anticipating the change in shiny new pence. On receiving these new pence, we hotfooted it to the local shop at break time where we regularly went to buy our sweets. Soon a dilemma was to be faced – Apparently during the transition period one new pence was to equate to both the old tuppence and thrupence. It was important to remember to buy a penny chew along with your tuppenny ice-pole or else you lost out bigtime.

And so we come to Primary Seven, our last year in junior school. We were right along the corridor beyond the art room and the janitor’s cupboard. Our teacher was Miss Ross and I remember this being a really enjoyable year, despite having to endure the dreaded 11 Plus examination. Coming up to Christmas we feverishly collected for the Blue Peter Annual Appeal and were rewarded with a personal thank you note from Pete, John and Val. Someone snuck in a copy of their big sister’s T. Rex LP to the Christmas party and things were never quite the same after that. Feather cut hairstyles became the norm for most of the boys in the class and so ended the era of the short back and sides.

In the summer of 1972 Alice Cooper was topping the charts with School’s Out and our class went their separate ways. There were choices to be made and some of us went to one nearby academy, some went to another and some stayed at the junior/secondary. We never forget our school days and if you are lucky like me, the memories will be happy ones. I will also never forget that slow-moving mass of chalk dust.

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