70S AND 80S SCHOOL Life
by Mark Nobes, chief editor
We all like to look back at the days we spent at primary and secondary school from time to time, although some of the memories would be better erased from of our brains forever!
On this page, I will ramble on about any memory from the 70s and 80s school life that suddenly pops up in my head, and knowing that we all had very different experiences, I hope that you will be able to relate to a few of them, at least.
There are so many memories of teachers lurking in my brain (good and bad!) that I'm finding it hard to know where to start. To get the ball rolling, I am now thinking back to my time at my local comprehensive school.
The first image that has popped up is one of the trendy, liberal vegetarian French teacher who wore shoulder-length hair which rested on his dark green velvet jacket. He also drove an eco-friendly Citroen 2CV and was one of many "new wave" younger teachers who were offering a new style of teaching. At every given opportunity, he would slot in sentences about buddhism, John Lennon and Jean Michel Jarre during our French lesson. His lessons were certainly unique, and he would also reward us with sweets for being good after each lesson. On one occasion, we even played Boules in the playing fields.
The older teachers were reluctant to use the newer teaching methods which were making their presence felt during the 80s. They refused to move out of the 70s, brylcreeming their hair and wearing 70s style sideburns and large-collared shirts. They would also call you by your surname in a patronising manor.
I'm pretty certain that I had a much nicer experience with the younger teachers and found their teaching methods a whole lot more engaging, allowing me to achieve better exam results as a result. Of course, there were exceptions, but overall this was my experience, at least.
Nobody can reminisce about their school days without mentioning the dinners. Many kids hated them, of course, but I have some fond memories of the meals served-up at primary school during the 70s. My favourite dish was chicken fricassee which came with a gorgeously crispy, over-fried triangle of white bread. There was no choice of menu in those days and you simply ate what you were given. Fortunately, the school cooks quickly learned that I hated carrots and rhubarb and used to leave them off my plate, although their actions did come with a warning; "Shush! Don't say a word to the teachers."
Ice cream was always served up once a week for pudding, and there was great excitement when the cooks started to unravel the hundreds of rolls of white ice cream wrapped in what looked like tracing paper. They would serve it with delicious chocolate custard which caused the ice cream to quickly melt into it. The contrasting hot and cold temperatures would leave a wonderful sensation in your mouth.
Other delights included spotted dick and apple sponge, both of which came with a generous serving of vanilla custard. However, my favourite pud was chocolate sponge with pink custard - scrumptious!
Unfortunately, I had a very different experience with school dinners at secondary school. If you didn't join the queue early then you would have no choice but to eat the cold left-overs that no one else wanted. I didn't really look forward to the prospect of over-boiled broccoli covered in cold baked beans, so I decided to start taking a packed lunch instead.
A small group of us used to congregate in "the sandwich hall" which was actually the old, out-of-use school canteen. My favourite sandwich filling was cheese and coleslaw, although my Mum used to try and add a different filling each day. These included cheese spread, sandwich spread or anything she could find that could be easily spread onto a few slices of Mother's Pride.
Sometimes there was corned beef or Spam which actually tasted half decent with some pickle. By the end of the week, my Mum was running out of ideas and it always seemed to be a simple jam or lemon curd sandwich on a Friday.
To accompany my sandwiches there would often be some kind of rectangular, chocolate-covered biscuit such as a Penguin or United bar, with a packet of crisps. My parents were often hard-up, so Snaps were a popular choice because they cost just 3p, and I was particularly fond of tomato flavour. Sometimes, there was a Tip-Top drink which was like a chemical-laden orange squash that came in a small, crushable plastic carton. I was really beginning to miss my primary school days when we used to receive a free mini bottle of milk with a straw.
Occasionally, I would find a piece of fruit in my Adidas school bag, although if it was a banana, somehow, I always managed to forget to eat it. Inevitably, a disgusting odour would fill the house every Sunday evening. After frantically searching for the source of the smell, my Mum would discover the banana rotting away in the bottom of my bag.
My packed lunch became slightly more exciting in February. There would be an additional delight such as a bourbon or custard cream, or one of those round, two-layered shortbread biscuits with raspberry jam in the centre which looked like a posh version of a jammy dodger. Why february? Well, these were the last remaining biscuits in the Rover tin which my gran had bought us for Christmas day.
I also remember discovering a slice of Christmas cake in my box just before we broke up for the Easter holidays. It was wrapped in tin foil, so I could sneakily break off small pieces from it to avoid the embarrassment of telling anyone what I was actually eating!
The Tuck Shop
halfway though my time at comprehensive school, there was an
announcement in the photocopied school magazine that a small group of
sixth formers were volunteering to start a tuck shop. It seemed like a
good idea at the time, and on its opening day most of the school decided
to join the queue at the same time, causing the head teacher to almost
have a heart attack!
there were many disappointed faces when we actually saw the paltry
choice that was on offer - mini cookies, iced gems and a small selection
of Golden Wonder crisps, and you could choose any flavour as long as it
was cheese and onion. The drinks selection included a few stacks of cans
such as Panda Pops and Top Deck shandy.
As time went on, the tuck shop became more well-stocked, with luxurious items such as pickled onion Space Raiders and BIG D salted peanuts adorning the once half-empty shelves.
Thinking back to primary school again, I remember one day when my best friend "sneaked in" a couple og bottles of ginger beer and we hid in the toilets to drink them. We truly believed we were consuming an alcoholic beverage and would be severely punished if we were caught. Looking back, I'd imagine that our head teacher would simply have found the whole thing highly amusing had he caught us.
Well, kids have got it pretty easy these days haven't they? Here I'm tempted to use the old cliche "when I was a lad..." because things really were different several decades ago.
"Stand in the corner with your hands on your head facing the wall" was a typical punishment for disrupting the class. This one may still be as relevant today, but there were several forms of punishment for bad behaviour that certainly have since been banned, one of which included a wrap across the knuckles with a ruler. The other was the cane, although, as far as I am aware this was never used at either of my school's and was merely used as just a deterrent.
Perhaps, the most popular choice (with the teachers!) was 100 lines. During the school break you would occasionally find yourself repeatedly writing "I must not throw paper aeroplanes across the classroom as it could severely injure someone" for what seemed an eternity, on several pieces of lined paper that the teacher had given you. When you handed them in, the teacher would screw them up into a tight ball and simply throw them into the bin. All your hard work was destroyed in an instant, but that was the idea, of course!
Anyone not paying attention in class would often find a piece of chalk flying towards them and clipping their ear, and a long session of double-maths would result in the teacher running out of chalk. If that didn't work then you would find the blackboard duster/eraser landing on your desk, hopefully missing your head!
I remember one instance at primary school where most of the boys in the class (including myself) were being very disruptive. The teacher became absolutely furious and decided to send all of the boys into the playground. She then asked the girls to stand in a line outside and made all the boys march around the playground and also up and down the corridors as the girls watched on, most of them were trying to hide their giggles by placing their hands over their mouths. This was humiliation at its finest, but it really did the trick! I suspect that if any teacher tried this today they would, no doubt, be suspended.
I really enjoyed these lessons because they were an opportunity to express my artistic side, although woodwork really wasn't my forté. Nonetheless, every week I would waste a couple of hours working on utterly useless items for use around the home. I remember proudly presenting my parents with a wooden stand for the kettle. My Mum reluctantly took the unusual-looking, hexagon-shaped object from my hand with a puzzled look on her face and replied "Oh lovely, that will be really useful". I also managed to construct a rather unstable-looking spice rack, and a pencil case with a "sliding" lid, both of which were pretty much unusable, which brings me on to the next subject...
The Pencil Case
Everyone had a pencil case of some sort, and mine contained all manner of things that were hardly ever used. There was a 180 degree protractor, a compass, and a triangular ruler thingymajig (called a set square, apparently) which rarely saw light of day. The shatterproof ruler was kept separately in my bag as it wouldn't fit into the pencil case. It's main use was bending it over the edge of the desk to flick rolled-up pieces of paper at the girls with. I remember actually deciding to use the ruler on one occasion for drawing lines. This was in an art lesson which turned out to be a big mistake. The art teacher started shouting at me and told me that I should be drawing lines freehand. I was left wondering just when can I use my ruler?
Remember those combi erasers (we just called them "rubbers") which had a grey and a white end? The softer, white end was for rubbing out pencil, and the rough, grey end was, supposedly, for ink. However, when I tried to use the rough end it used to simply rub a hole into the page of my exercise book, much to the amusement of my friends.
The Industrial Pencil Sharpener
These were just called "games" at my school which was quite confusing as there often weren't any games, just a torturous exercise routine. And there was I thinking that we may be able to spend a couple of hours on the school's ZX81 playing 3D Monster Maze.
One activity I really hated was the dreaded cross-country run. Unfortunately, my secondary school just happened to have one of the toughest courses in the country. I remember that on one occasion someone discovered a shortcut through a gap in the hedge near the start of the course, and a small group of us decided to take the short run across a field which led us to near the other end of the course. We hid behind some trees for about half an hour and amused ourselves by telling each other dirty jokes. Eventually, the first cluster of sweaty, red-faced runners passed us on the nearby pathway, which is when we decided to jump back onto the course and run the 50 yards to the finish.
At primary school "games" took place in the school hall. The main activity involved balancing and walking along the long and narrow wooden benches which we simply turned upside-down. We would also throw soft, multi-coloured balls at each other and spin hula hoops around our waists. On sunnier days we would venture outside for a game of rounders.
It wasn't until we started taking our exams in the final two years of school, that I began to grasp just why we were there in the first place.
It was the summer of 1984, and the final day at school came as a bit of a shock. I suddenly found myself attending a farewell party in the local youth club, saying my goodbyes to all of those people I had known for the last five years, most of whom I would never see again. What the heck was I going to do now?
It was now time to decide just what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I felt ill-prepared, and the only advice I had been given was by a smarmy careers adviser who wanted me to join a Youth Training Scheme to become a chef. A chef? You're having a laugh!
These days you can get all the advice you need on the internet, and there are far more opportunities out there for today's youth, although the way some of them behave you wouldn't think so. If only I could take a few of them back to 1984 and show them how different it was back then, it really would be quite an eye-opener for them!
I could probably ramble on forever more about the many memories from my school days. But I have selected those that were more prominent in my memory and I hope you enjoyed reading about them. I believe they were some of the best years of my life, although, at the time it didn't always feel like it. If I had to choose between adulthood and childhood then the latter would most definitely be my choice.