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
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
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.