"Happiest Days."Whoever said schooldays were the happiest days of life must have had a dull time later on! And even if they were very happy, it wouldn't do justice to the rest of a life to say they were the happiest.
Here are some of my fourth class memories from the North Monastery primary school in 1957.
We polished the parquet flooring in our new school at Easter and Christmas, and the smell permeated the classroom for days.
Forty enthusiastic noisy ten year old boys in short pants, down on our knees, rubbing vigorously with rags and big tins of Mansion House floor polish. It was hard work, yet a welcome break from the repetition and memorising of boring lessons, and the ever present restraining atmosphere of strict discipline.
Above the blackboard, in a glass case, was an almost life size statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The Christian Brothers had a special devotion to "The Queen of the May." The statue was adorned with flowers during the month of May. And we sung
"O Mary! We crown thee with blossoms today Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May."Some of my school friends brought beautiful scented bouquets of roses and lilies from their gardens. We only had a back yard, with a single lilac tree, with its light purple flower. I wanted to be part of the celebration, yet I was a bit embarrassed by my modest contribution. Neat, precise handwriting was a much admired skill. The clattering of forty shiny brass ink wells signaled the start of the writing class.
We were cautioned to open and close them without making noise.
We wrote in specially lined copybooks with a nib pen. This was before we had fountain pens and long before biros. The pen had a shiny metal replaceable nib and a wooden handle. You repeatedly dipped your pen into the white porcelain inkwell containing black ink, which the teacher made by swishing powder and water in a large glass bottle.
Writing was not a pleasant task. Having carefully dipped my pen into the inkwell, I was nervous in case I blotted my copybook, even before I began to write.
My hand would quiver and my face would redden if the teacher was watching over me. Writing outside the lines was punishable, and an Ink Blob was a critical offence.
Our lay teacher was one of a fortunate few who owned an NSU Quickly. This was the famous German Moped, manufactured between 1953 and 1962, a revolutionary machine for its time.
We were proud that our teacher owned such a modern and stylish machine, as other teachers had only bicycles. The vehicle was maintained in pristine condition. Once a week teacher selected a boy to clean and polish the green Moped. We considered it a privilege to be chosen for this responsible task, and a very welcome break from lessons.
Our young imaginations were captivated by stories about the "Black Babies." We heard heroic tales of our brave missionaries, nuns and priests, serving poor people in distant lands, chiefly Africa. Pagan places where people were not granted the gift of Faith, who would benefit enormously from hearing the Christian message. We were urged to consider if we had a "Vocation", because "The harvest was great, but the laborers were few."
Though money was scarce, we were proud to contribute a few pennies now and again to support our missionaries. The money was collected in a small wooden box, on top of which was a plastic figure of a little African boy. He would nod his head in appreciation when you dropped in a penny.
Teacher had his own novel way of getting us to part with our few pennies. Once a week he would place the box on his desk, and offer to read a story if the class would contribute two shillings, or twenty four pennies. This was a very challenging target since at least half the boys would have no money on any given day. I sometimes reluctantly gave up the penny which I had been saving, torn between redemption for a black baby and a candy apple for myself.
When I think back to the school year 1956/57 I remember the fun we had polishing the classroom floor, the honoring of the "Queen of the May" with blossoms, and I recall with satisfaction the gleaming NSU moped. I was moved by the call of the "Black Babies" with their need for food, shelter and Christianity.
I was enthralled by Teacher's reading of The Coral Island, a perfect place where "a sandy beach of dazzling whiteness lined the bright green shore, and upon it fell a gentle ripple of the sea." And I dreamed of visiting a place like that someday.
I liked my teacher, and my school friends, with whom I shared carefree fun, yet I also remember days of unnecessarily strict discipline, especially towards the "slower" learners, so for me they were not the happiest days of my life! PS: The accompanying photographs were taken in 2011, fifty five years after I first polished the parquet flooring.
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