exams for entrance to the "big school".
In every classroom there were three high, almost church-like windows,
with deep recesses, much higher than any child, so that light penetrated
the room, but children could never look out. The infants were issued
with wooden framed slates and slate pencils which seemed to shriek
in protest at our efforts to form letters.
School administration must have been a comparatively simple affair
for the headmaster. "Father's occupation?" — "Miner" — without exception.
"Name of doctor?" — well it was either Dr Willie or Dr George. It
was many years before I realised they were brothers who shared the
surname "McEwan", but to avoid confusion were always addressed by
their Christian names.
The headmaster would ring a great brass handbell to announce playtime.
Boys would file out the boys' door and play in their own playground.
Girls would leave by a door at the opposite end of the shiny hall
and never the twain would meet!
The words "Girls Door" and "Boys Door" were carved out of the red
sandstone above each door, and were probably the first meaningful
written words we understood. A white wooden plaque with the words
"Cuthill Public School" was attached to the wall. This was not quite
so meaningful, as confusion set in when I learned to read a similar
sign a few miles up the road which read "Loretto Public School".
Later, much later, I realised there was a difference.
The playground wall at the rear of the school backed on to the sea.
At high tide and in rough weather, great white breakers would spray
over the wall at regular intervals. A popular playtime pastime was
a game called "joukin the waves" and pity the unfortunate child
who mistimed his run past the wall.
Playground games moved with the seasons. Skipping and marbles heralded
springtime. Summer brought "beds" and the search for a decent "peever".
Ball games were played to the rhythmic chants of
"Are you going to golf Sir?
No Sir, Why Sir?
Because I've got the cold Sir.
Where did you get the cold Sir?
At the North Pole, Sir.
What were you doing there Sir?
Catching polar bears Sir.
How many did you catch Sir?
One Sir, two Sir, three Sir.