The Crone has flown home to the land of her birth (Boeing, not broom) to learn that her elementary school is closing after some 80 years. It seems that there are now fewer than 60 kids left at Newtownbreda Primary, Belfast and so it’s all over for the Crone’s alma mater.
The Crone was one of hundreds of pupils there in the 1960s. Then, the school smelt of gutties (you’d call them trainers, or tennis shoes) and basketballs, and chalk and school dinner and sick and the sawdust they used to mop up the sick. It had the traditional ‘baldy headed master’ (see full poem below), one Mr Ringland who used to smoke like a mill town full of chimneys and ride the Crone home in his Ford Anglia whenever she had an asthma attack, tapping his ash in the dashboard tray in front of her spluttering form. This is honestly true.
Every day, the classes used to break at 11am for government milk (this was before Margaret Thatcher, milk-snatcher stopped all that–just about the only thing she ever did that won the Crone’s approval.) There were no fridges, so the milk, (full fat cream) was always curdled and unpleasantly warm in summer and had chips of ice in winter, when the silver caps on the glass 1/3 pint bottles would have been pecked away by the blue tits. “Drink it anyway” the teachers said and kept you in from the playground if you didn’t finish your whole bottle. That suited the Crone just fine. The playground was where someone would steal your lunch ( jam sandwich and a Cadbury’s Mini Roll) or force you to turn a jump rope while they showed off their moves ( The Crone was too spluttery to skip) or pull up your skirt to check you were wearing underwear, just because one girl once, famously, had been caught without it.
There was artistic Peter McMinn, whose Auntie, Sadie Bunting, used to own the local sweet shop. Clever David Johnston who was an excellent female impersonator and kept loyalist Paramilitary propaganda in his desk (with the full knowledge and consent of the final year teacher), and the bad boys Keith and Colin. There was Hazel Lamberton who spent months in hospital because of a problem with her hip, and Maureen Bennett whose family had a farm.
The Crone loved her teacher Mr Thompson, reading James and the Giant Peach and walking home from school with Kevin Wood. She liked the smell of the make-up and grease paint they used to wear for school plays, and still fondly remembers her school trip to Stranraer in Scotland–not exciting, but at least a change from home. The Crone was scared of a hard-flung basketball, of the vaulting horse and beam in the gym, and of Mrs Morrison and her times table tests. She remembers that the toilet blocks were always cold and of course you had to get permission to go. Overall though, it was as good a place as any to learn to read and write, and the Crone is sorry it’s gone.
Our wee school’s a great wee school
It’s made of bricks and plaster
The only thing that’s wrong with it
Is the baldy headed master