Posts Tagged ‘Cargoes’

The floor of the hall at Tatsfield Primary was polished herringbone, the patina of which had been hewn by years of fluffy knickered or grey short-clad bottoms sitting in regimented rows at assembly time, listening attentively to the head teacher’s words of wisdom while inquisitive fingernails blackened as they traced grooves between the waxy, grime filled wood blocks. The hall was divided into three separate areas by battleship-grey concertina doors which allowed for Class Two at one end and the staff room at the other. These doors could be folded back to create one large room for such occasions as the Aberfan jumble sale or nativity play.

Mostly though, the hall was used as our dining room where Mrs Sutton, dressed in blue overalls and thick beige stockings, patrolled like a camp commandant, making sure we had eaten up every last morsel of the disgusting fare that was put before us.

In the afternoons we had lessons with Mrs Jones who wore tweed skirts and played the piano. She taught us Scottish dancing, where we learned the Gay Gordon’s and how to spin an eighth-some reel.  Sometimes we sang songs from the Singing Together pamphlet which included Big Rock Candy Mountain, but it was Quinquireme of Ninevah from distant Ophir and the dirty British coaster with a salt caked smoke stack* that I loved the most. I had no idea what it all meant but the words were exotic, the rhythm was exciting and set me dreaming of faraway places.

I’d still be dreaming about these faraway places when it came to arithmetic lessons with Mr Ripley.  We’d stand around his blackboard on its portable easel in the hall and he’d get more and more exasperated when I failed to grasp what was, according to him, the simplest of calculations. He would bash his stick of chalk against the board and get louder and redder in the face as he kept repeating his explanation over and over again. I blame him for my inability to understand anything numerical and am forever grateful to Sally Robinson for letting me copy her answers.

*From Cargoes by John Masefield – we had it set to a tune – thankfully I can’t remember that, but here is the whole, beautiful poem:

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

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