Saturday, January 24, 2009

Back to school

Tower housing stairs
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Spent the later part of this afternoon indulging in some nostalgia with a visit - my first - to Scotland Street School, now a museum of school life during the 20th century. The classroom which stirred the strongest memories was the 1950s one with the double desks, joined by iron tubing to the simple hinged flap of wood which was the seat and with a shelf under the lid on which you could park the books you might need during the lesson. The ceramic inkwells were missing from their holes - remember the bottle of ink with the long pouring nozzle? - but the inkstains showed where they had been, and we were amused at how small even the larger desks were. We had, perhaps, grown.

I was amused at the sudden memory of going back to school for the start of a new term and finding that the simple conical glass lampshades had been replaced by larger, inverted-tulip-shaped ones with grilles over the wider end - and there they were, the new ones, in the 1950s classroom! It seems that the brown varnished dado and conical lampshades of my earliest memories had been there at least since the 1930s, although we had lost the stepped classroom which had apparently been a health hazard for all - especially the hapless teacher with her barked shins. And the high desk and chair of the teacher - replaced, it was claimed, in the 1960s - were nevertheless an important feature of my first teaching job in what, in 1968, was the oldest school building still in use in Glasgow.

I was struck, actually, by how incredibly dull teaching and learning was in the past: those dreary textbooks with the lists of words to learn at the end of the passage you had read, the huge classes crammed together, the repetition and the retribution if you strayed. And yet we learned stuff, and I can still do long division (and a fat lot of good that does me now). And I thought of disorder among the raked ranks of the oldest rooms, and of how the failure with a class would still feel as bitter then as now. I looked at the belt/tawse/strap in its glass case (two strands: probably a Lochgelly, as the Glasgow Corporation regulation belt had three and was black, not brown): I was a competent belter in my day (technique was all-important when you weighed less than 7 stones and had to belt a large boy) and yet I would have hated to do any such thing in my later teaching career.

The final pang of the past struck at 5pm when the bell rang to tell us they were about to close - and was reinforced by someone asking us if we knew it had gone as we dawdled on the way out. "Did you not hear the bell?" was usually asked at the other end of the day. I'm glad I at last made it to this museum - it's a gem.


  1. ...and, of course that is where our father went to school!

  2. Anonymous3:57 PM