Drawing of the book cover Water Under the Railway Bridge by Bill Gerty

4 My First Day at School



I only knew a couple of days before that I would be going to school when my mother showed me a new pair of sandals and a jacket that she had got for me. I also had a brand new skull cap, but my prize possession had to be a black shiny school bag. When the big day arrived I was up early, I don't think I had anything to eat I was far too excited about school. My mother had packed me up some bread and butter in some brown paper and I had a bottle of milk with a cork in it. My mother came outside and gave me a little cuddle. I set off with my father who was going to take me part of the way. We went up the lane past our house, across some fields and eventually to Coffey's farmhouse where my father left me. I remember there were two goats lying by the back door. It was the first time I met Jimmy Coffey and his older sister who were going to take me to school.
Mrs. Coffey was a nice friendly lady who was busy rushing around trying to get her two ready for school also. We set off down the lane by their farm until we came to a road junction where there were some milk cans by the roadside. We sat on these until a car came along and picked us up. The car was driven by another Mr. Coffey and sat alongside him was my new school teacher Mrs. Coffey. The car was packed out with children at the back so I had to stand in front of Mrs. Coffey and hang on to the dash panel, this was to be my place in the car for many months to come.
The school was about four miles away from our house in a place called Brackley. The school was one hundred yards up from the main road. Along side the main road was a large lake also called Brackley. The school was quite small, just one classroom, with a small room on the end, probably a kitchen for the teacher. On the front of the school was a small playground for the little ones like me and a large football pitch at the rear for the older ones. I sat on a long form at the front for first year pupils and alongside me sat a lad called Jimmy McVity and next to him was Isobel Coffey the teachers youngest daughter. Just behind me sat Jimmy Coffey and some other boys and girls. The teacher had another boy and girl at school but they sat at the back of the class and they used to cycle to school. Her eldest son had just finished school and she also had some other girls who had finished school before that.
Mrs. Coffey was a very nice lady and although she had a cane I never saw her hit anyone with it. She put us all to work straight away by giving us each an exercise book with a line of joined up writing at the top and another line halfway down the page. The idea was you had to copy these lines on the blank lines underneath them. At the time I probably never saw any writing like that before or indeed an
exercise book. However, there was no need to worry because along came Mrs. Coffey, put the pen in my right hand and then holding my hand dipped the pen in the inkwell, still holding on she began to copy the first line. When she got to the end she stopped and said now you have a go at the next line.
After a few weeks with her help I soon got the idea and could do the exercise quite well. All of us first year ones were taught the same way. We also had some beads for counting with. There was no such thing as drawing or painting but we did have some plasticine for moulding. When it came to reading we were taken individually to learn our A B C's then she would read us a short story and go over and over it again until we learned every word. We also had half an hours religious instruction every day. School started every day at nine and finished at three, we had only one break during the day and that was from twelve to one for lunch.
We always went outside for lunch and I found that if the weather was hot my milk would be sour but I drank it anyway because there was nothing else to drink. One day Jimmy McVity asked me if I would go with him to a little shop that he had passed on his way to school. "I've got a large penny to spend" he declared, so I thought we would be getting some sweets, but not so, he asked for a box of matches and the old lady gave them to him without batting an eyelid. On our way back to school he tried to set light to the hedge alongside the roadway. I think he wasted all the matches without any success. I hate to think what the teacher would have said if he had managed to set light to the hedge.
One day in the playground we were looking over the fence across the road at some nice apples in a garden, there was a small hole in the fence and some of the other boys said that I was the only one small enough to get through it and collect some apples. I managed to get through the hole and started to fill my pockets with apples. There was a noise and I looked around to see all the other boys scamper away as fast as their legs could carry them. As I turned around to run who should be standing in front of me but the farmer whose garden I was in. He picked me up and shook all the apples out of my pockets then standing me on my feet he said "If I catch up in here again I will give you a good trashing, don't steal my apples. If you want some come round to my back door and I will give you some" needless to say I never did.
Jimmy McVity suffered from epilepsy and when he had an attack it was usually a bad one. It would come on very suddenly and he would be rolling on the floor foaming at the mouth and shaking uncontrollably. Teacher always sent all the children outside when this happened, as I was his friend I was allowed to stay with him. Mrs. Coffey held his hands until the attack wore off and I think he was always glad to see me when he woke up. He never talked about his problem, it seemed that he took it for granted that this would happen to him from time to time.
After school all of us that went home by car walked down to the bottom of the road where we waited for Mr. Coffey to pick us up. Sometimes he was not there and we had to wait for him to arrive. It was during one of these occasions when we
were playing about that I received a very bad gashed leg. A boy was swinging his bag about and his pen nib was sticking out of the corner of the bag. He caught me on the inside of my leg and took a large lump of flesh out of it. I could feel the blood running down my sock into my shoe, it was half an hour later before I got home and had a bandage on it. It should have been stitched but in those days you had to put up with it. I was in agony for weeks and still have the scars to this day.
After school if the weather was nice I played outside with Vera. I remember we had an old wooden box with a bit of rope for a handle, our father had put two polish tin lids on it for wheels, it was the only toy that we possessed. We used to fill it up with leaves and bits of wood and drag it around the woods at the front of the house. Sometimes I would wander down to the big house to see what they were doing there. My mother never said you cannot go out because she knew that I would be back for tea with my father. He went off to work every morning with a gallon can and he would bring back our milk when he came home for dinner. I remember him as being shorter than our mother with black hair and going bald on top.


Next         Top