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The Day Before Yesterday: 5 - Serious Lessons

...Pencils were used for writing, though slates and chalk were still in use in some schools. A handle-operated pencil sharpener worked overtime in a corner of the room and another blackboard, not quite as large as the other, was on a wall at the side. On this was printed the times table up to twelve...

Gladys Schofield recalls schooldays - and a frightening occasion when she could not find her way home.

We soon got down to serious learning. A large blackboard was on one wall facing the class and to one side of this the teacher sat at a desk. Our desks were all fastened together in long lines and we sat on benches.

Pencils were used for writing, though slates and chalk were still in use in some schools. A handle-operated pencil sharpener worked overtime in a corner of the room and another blackboard, not quite as large as the other, was on a wall at the side. On this was printed the times table up to twelve.

Each morning the first lesson was reciting (parrot-wise) the multiplication table. We would carry on like this for a while, then the teacher would choose a child at random and ask the answer to a given times table. She worked around the class this way. It was a good way to open up our memories, most of us knew them all by the time we moved into the juniors at the age of seven.

We had a good grounding in all subjects at this school. Five-year-olds were taught to lace and tie in a bow, shoes, if they had not been taught at home. Two pieces of cardboard were used for this with holes punched in. This was a lesson in itself until everyone mastered it.

Telling the time was thought important too. We also were taught to knit, boys as well as girls, at this age. The school had access to old wallpaper books, given by a paint and paper store. The paper in these was used along, with a pot of paste, when we had handicraft lessons.

Have you ever felt the desperation of being lost, your tummy feels to be tied in knots? This happened to me once. I hadn't been going to school very long and had found a friend called Barbara. She told me her home was just up the road from school, right where the tramcar reached its destination.

I had never seen a tram turn around, although I knew it had a steering wheel at both ends and was interested to know just how the driver managed this. As the senior girls were always released later than us, I thought I had plenty of time, so off I went.

We stood watching the driver unhooking a long pole and changing its position ready for the journey back to town. The driver changed ends and off he went.

I liked the tram. It had windy stairs and you could sit outside if you wanted to. We didn't have them on the roads close to home so I hadn't been on one often as it was a journey in itself to reach one.

Time passed while we stood taking all this in and Barbara said, "Come see my mum, we just live there," and pointed to a narrow lane running up the hillside.
Time means nothing when you are five so off we went once more and soon arrived at her home. Her mum was a nice lady but showed concern when she heard I was meeting my sister, so giving us both a biscuit she said, "Come, we will walk you to the road, and remember to turn down the steep hill across from the school as your sister may have gone home now."

They pointed me in the right direction and off I went, deep in thought of what I had seen instead of concentrating on where I was going. I knew I must walk to the school but where had the school gone? My small legs took me down the long road where every few minutes a tram would hurry past dropping and taking on passengers on its way.

Not finding me waiting at the gate, Dorothy had set off home, thinking I was just ahead of her. I kept on walking and walking down this long road. Across the other side was a mill. It seemed to stretch for ever along the road. The clanging of machinery was very noisy with the smell of grease everywhere. I wondered how people could live so near a noisy place like that as I was passing rows and rows of houses, their stone walls blackened by smoke that poured out of a very high chimney.

As I continued my journey I could see in the distance the road forked, and as I wasn't getting anywhere on this road I decided I must cross the road. It was at this time I began to worry and realised I must be lost. Another tramcar came clanging past. I saw it on its way then crossed over the road.

This new road I had seen was leading in a different direction. It was very steep and cobbled and there wasn't a soul in sight. The children would be home long ago and I was tired and hungry and wondered if I would ever see my home again.

Tears came into my eyes and began to slowly trickle down my face, and I heaved a big sob because all I could see at the bottom of this road was another mill. I was so devastated I didn't hear the hurried footsteps behind me until a voice said,"Gladys, is that you?"

I lifted my wet face and there gazing down at me was a young lady. Her face seemed familiar and I tried to recall where I had seen her before. Seeing the confusion in my eyes she again spoke, "How is Dorothy? It's ages since I saw her."

I then remembered, she used to walk to school with my sister but had now started working. Her name was Grace.

"What are you doing so far from home?" she continued, and tried to piece together my jumbled explanation. I insisted this wasn't the way home as I had never seen this road before.

"You will soon see," she said laughing, gazing again at my sad little face.

We had now reached the second mill. No houses stood alongside this one, which was in a valley. Just another steep cobbled road climbed at one side with another winding out of my sight at the other side.

I seemed to recognise the steep cobbled hill, yes it was indeed Ben Hill. I had travelled to the bottom of here with my brothers, but this I will tell you later.

How my spirits rose, I was now on familiar ground. Forgetting my tiredness we headed up the hill together. Grace lived just at the top of this hill where it metour road so I thanked her there and walked the last few hundred yards myself.

I opened the kitchen door. Dad was playing the piano and the familiar tune drifted toward me. It stopped when I walked in and Mum said, "Where ever have you been child?" Everyone was turned in my direction as she continued, "We have been looking all over the place for you."

I spilled out my story, and Dorothy said I was lucky meeting Grace. Mum said she would not punish me as I had learned a big lesson.


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