Posts Tagged ‘primary schools’

I had a bizarre experience a couple of weeks ago. While visiting Mum, we decided to take a trip to the local supermarket so she could stock up on provisions. However, once we got there, Mum decided that, on account of a dodgy knee, she’d rather sit in the car while I whizzed round with her list. Which I did. In double quick time.

I decanted the shopping from trolley to conveyor belt in frenzied fashion, mindful of Mum waiting in the car on an unusually hot day, thinking of those stickers you see in windows about dogs being left in sizzling cars reasoning, well, it’s only her leg she’s having trouble with, surely she could open the door in case of emergency. But you must have experienced this type of scenario: the angst just increases with every minute…

“Do you need a bag?” asked the sales assistant.

“No thanks, I have one here,” I said breezily in my I’m saving-the-planet-single-handedly voice, smugly rummaging around for my trusty fold-up carrier. (Eco-friendly or what?)

And then, without changing tone and whilst swiping the barcode on a loaf of bread, she said, “Are you Jennifer?”

I looked at her incomprehensibly for what felt like hours but was probably a nano-second or so. She looked at me and waited. I squinted at her name badge. Tina. Ah, a clue. Tina…Tina Perkins. Tina Perkins. Yes, right, got it. I’m there, back in time aged about nine at our local primary school. Tina Perkins was in the year below me. It was all coming back to me now…

Tina and her friend Gillian spent much of their time giggling at the back of the classroom not doing as they were told. To be fair, Tina was probably led by Gillian – the only girl in a large family of feisty brothers well able to look after themselves. You definitely wouldn’t cross Gillian – it was probably a sensible move to make her your friend. Gillian had decimated Dad’s coconut shie at our school’s annual June Fair one year, being an ace shot with a wooden ball, knocking the fruits off the wobbly wooden poles. She and Tina left the stall with armfuls of the things.

Anyway, I learned that Tina had moved away for a while and lived ‘Up North’ but she returned recently to the village where some of her family are still living to discover that the place had changed substantially in the half century since we were children and it just wasn’t the same. (I didn’t say anything here, I promise). The sweet shop that we all used to make a bee-line for after school – Miss Knight’s, we called it, had closed years ago.

Miss Knight’s sweet shop could easily have been the inspiration for Roald Dahl’s ‘Grubber.’ Essentially it was the front room of her house, a stone’s throw (well, for Gillian, at least), from the school gates. Shelves were lined with huge dusty glass jars of sweets – lemon drops, fizzers, liquorice twists, fruit salads, cough candies, black jacks – you remember them, they’d be there. You’d be able to fill a little white paper bag for four-a-penny and then ruin your teeth on the walk home. There was a malevolent ginger cat who sat on Miss Knight’s makeshift counter next to her scales, scowling in a feline way at all the children waiting in line to be served. In the summer you’d be able to purchase a home-made penny lolly – iced water that Miss Knight had attached sticks to and added various shades of dubious food colouring. We’d end up with lips stained bright blue or poisonous green. Health and Safety being a thing of the future, we all managed to survive somehow.


As I finished loading the shopping I asked Tina how on earth she had recognised me in the first place, whereupon she replied that I didn’t look any different. Which I suppose I could have taken as a huge compliment had I been comfortable with my nine year old appearance (I was often mistaken for a boy), but since she reckoned the last time she saw me I was dressed as Tufty the road-safety squirrel, I don’t think it was. Tufty – remember him? ROSPA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents introduced Tufty and his chums as far back as 1953 to encourage children to learn how to cross a road safely and I was in costume, taking part in the village carnival.

Every year, there was a fancy dress parade for us children and this particular year, a Tufty costume (in my size, unfortunately), had become available. We borrowed it from another student who attended my swimming lessons at a nearby pool – his mother and mine had become pals in the viewing gallery while we all floundered away below with our polystyrene floats, choking on the chlorine as we attempted a width without drowning. Tina and I reminisced away, but that latest swimming pool memory had nagged something in the back of my mind.

Lordy! I’d forgotten about Mum, cooking away in my car. Much to the relief of the queues that had built up behind me, I bade Tina a hasty goodbye and hot-footed it out of there.








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I love this time of year: crisp mornings giving way to the last vestiges of summer; condensation on the car windscreen a tell-tale sign of how chilly the nights are becoming. Hedgerows around here are heavy with rosehips and blackberries; feisty little spiked green balls concealing chestnuts hang low on the trees, or lay scattered, empty beneath, where squirrels have had first pickings. Yesterday I sat outside to read, the early autumn sunshine unseasonably warm. It put me in mind of harvest festivals.

Before the age of eleven I attended a tiny Church of England primary school where one of the best celebrations on the school calendar was the annual Harvest Festival. I think I preferred this even to the Nativity, (possibly because, due to an untimely attack of the mumps, I never got to dress up as an angel. God moves in mysterious ways).

Whether it was made more of back in those days, or whether it was because we were a rural community surrounded by farmland, Harvest Festival meant something to us. We spent time rehearsing harvest hymns, understanding the sentiment of ‘ploughing the fields and scattering the good seed on the land.’ We may not have, as children, appreciated ‘all good gifts around us’ but our village certainly had them in abundance. We were all encouraged to bring something in for our harvest table, which would later be transferred to the church up the road for the Sunday service and then distributed to elderly folks in the community.

I don’t think my sister and I, or any of the other children for that matter, were aware that there were needy folk in our village; we assumed it was just a nice gesture, and we’d rush home to tell Mum and Nanna that it was time to make our harvest baskets.  pyo-mushroom-basket[1]

Nanna, my maternal grandmother (who lived with us), and Mum would help us create beautiful little baskets of fruit and vegetables to take in. We’d start with a cardboard mushroom punnet, cover it with crepe paper in autumnal colours and finish off with a contrasting zigzag around the edge. Next, we’d scrunch up some newspaper to put in the bottom before layering with some dried autumn leaves. On top of this, we would lay our vegetables: a few carrots, potatoes, beans; perhaps some apples or plums – anything to make a colourful arrangement – maybe a sprig of redcurrants to finish off, with a curling strand of ivy around the handle.

There was no competition – the girls at school tended to go the basket route while the boys favoured a box, jars of homemade jam, new laid eggs or simply an armful of one produce or another. The bakery always donated a loaf, in the shape of a wheat sheaf which formed the centre of the display. The trestle table creaked under the weight of our offerings.

photo from Pinterest

photo from Pinterest

One year, I remember, our harvest table looked a bit odd. Someone had added, in amongst the home-grown produce, a Fray Bentos pie. It sat menacingly, like an alien spacecraft, nestled amongst the corncobs and rhubarb. My sister, even more than me, was as outraged as any eight year old can be. The metal monstrosity had ruined our rural tableau of plenty.  Harvest Festival would never be the same again.

the offending pie

the offending pie

And it isn’t. While my sister and I cannot think back to that time without hilarious reference to that pie, which for us has overshadowed those old Cider with Rosie moments of harvest baskets, the Festival is now a time to remind ourselves that even in affluent, leafy, stockbroker-belt Surrey, there are families struggling to make ends meet. Some children, in this day and age, are coming to school hungry, not just because they missed their breakfast, but because they had no evening meal the night before, either. We are actively encouraging our students to bring a tin to school for our hectic local food bank. Someone, back in the day, had some foresight, after all, with that Fray Bentos pie.

Kind of brings the meaning of Harvest home, doesn’t it?

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