Friday, January 04, 2013

There is no HOT like the hot of a 1970s school day

NO heatwave is ever quite like the hot that was experienced when we were kids.

There are heatwaves going on all around Australia at the moment.  Bush Babe of Oz* has actually just blogged some Heatwave Fire Tips and has an awesome giveaway over at her blog today.

I won't kybosh your chances (although I will comment with a disclaimer), as I have already won - I was inspired to share with you a typical school day.

It matters not which year it was.  Somewhere between 1975 (because that is when I started primary school) and 1981 (because that is when I finished primary school), I would say.

It was definitely October, November, February or March - September is always a bit of a "oh, I will think about getting hot" month, but never sustains.  April can surprise, but prefers to shock with previews of Winter.

While it MAY have been December or January, back in the day when I was a girl, we had 3 term school years and decent Christmas holidays, which meant that these months were reserved for mustering.

School days, when I was a girl, consisted of getting persuaded to rise at a "reasonable hour" - in my childhood home, a reasonable hour was prior to 7am (otherwise, apparently, you missed the best part of the day).

If the HARRUMPH of Dad's cough as he went past on his way to the pool at 5am didn't wake you; if the SPLASH of Dad diving in to the pool didn't wake you; or the HARRUMPH of Dad coming back didn't wake you - then I can assure you, the wet washer applied to your face by said Dad at whatever o'clock he though was reasonable definitely did the trick.

We had to be ready and out the door by 1/4 to 8 anyway, as we had a 1km cycle to get to "The Bike Box".  That was a doddle for my older sister and my younger brother.  Me - well, my - ahem - creative thought patterns - meant that the dawdle could drag me away from my main goal, and the fact that I was the world's most distracted (and possibly slow) cyclist meant that I never did learn how to k-r-r-r-t-h-p over the halfway mark grid while still astride - and so encouragement (my ears tended to get distracted at times - I will call it encouragement) was required by my siblings for me to reach the bike box and stow the bike before the school bus came past.  There was more than one occasion where, indeed, we did miss the school bus - the good news was, it doubled back 5 minutes later and we could catch it from the OTHER side of the road, but the OTHER side of the road didn't have seating arrangements (i.e. stumps).

For the next hour, the bus would meander around various corrugated-gravel, bulldust and pitted bitumen roads, collecting our classmates and accounts of what was on tele last night.  There were occasional interruptions of the bus driver enquiring if we could possibly keep it down back there (and threats of teaching us what a horsebite was if we didn't).

Our school was a two-teacher school - high set, weatherboard, painted Dick and Dora on the little room's windows, rainwater tanks, Arbour day tree planting strategies, the most awesome playground that evolved from a P&C working bee one year, thunderboxes, ants nests, tennis courts and a parade ground.  Atmospheric control was through windows and ceiling fans.

Generally, we had a half hour before the bell rang where we put our bags on the racks and ran around playing.

One year, the hill on the other side of the town where the school was situation had a bushfire.  We were never in any danger, but we could see where the flames were, where they had been - the smoke was constant - not thick, just present - and the breeze was either non-existant or flame-heated and spiralling around you.

Then there was parade - all standing tall and proud, the older girls whistling the national anthem on the recorders as the boys took turns raising the flag.

When Mr McC - the best teacher ever - was in charge, we then would do a lap or two of the school grounds at whatever pace we could muster.  It was measured at 1.9km - I rarely did more than the mandatory one.  In answer to a gauntlet being put down one day, Mr McC and another student did 8 laps - and several of them were almost sprinted.

However, school days must go on - two hours of attention and learning, before a short break, another two hours of attention and learning and then a longer break (and softball training), and then the interminable hour and a half of a-t-t-e-n-z-z-z-z-zzzzzzz - huh?

Yeah, that last bit of the day really was wasted.  It was always about ten degrees hotter.  The sun shone across the wide veranda into the classroom door directly into every child's eyes.  The flies were more pestilent.  The fans were louder.  The heat shimmered across the playground and the second hand on the clock seemed to take a leaf and go slower and slower and s-l-o-w-e-r...

Finally 3.30 would come and we would all scream out of the classrooms (well, actually, we didn't scream - 2 teacher school, only 20 odd kids so those 2 teachers would know exactly who was screaming - and they KNEW our parents, and our parents would respond if reports of screaming were made) to line up for the bus.  So that it wasn't the same kids picking the best seats every day, the teachers would get us to line up in a different way every day.  Alphabetical - by first name, by last name, by middle name, by property name, age, birthdate, height, hair colour - they did it all - and we marched IN ORDER across to the bus.

The hour ride home was the reverse of the one in - and so as school mates hopped off, we took advantage of more seat space and window openings.

In those days, everyone wore shorts to school.  In those days, shorts were short.  In those days, seatbelts weren't fitted or compulsory, so you could slide along the seats.  In those days, seats were vinyl.  So if the bus, say, had been parked in a hot place, say, and you put your butt straight down onto the vinyl without the bracing of face muscles first (I don't know why it worked, but it did), you often took two or three good goes to descend.  Hot, hot, hot, sweaty vinyl.

We were lucky.  We could dream of the pool at home and how good it would feel when we got there. In those days, Mum hadn't yet started the battle of chlorination and filtering that would make the pool what it is these days - in those days, you skimmed the weed from the top, hope the toad numbers were low and try not to touch the bottom slime - but it was far cooler than the bus!

However - an hour.  Pitted bitumen roads.  Bye interesting television recalls.  Bulldust.  Bye fresh air through windows.  Corrugated gravel roads.  G-g-g-o-o-d-b-b-y-e classmates.

And then the cycle home.  I was the bane of my siblings existence.  "Hurry" they would barrack.  On I would shakily clamber.  Off they would go.

They would speed down to the grid - thk-thk-thk-thk they would zoom across the corrugations.  Not me.  Ka-thunk ka-thunk ka-thunk is what each bump is like at my speed - I had tested their theories of going faster out, and had ended up in a crumpled mess and so was sticking to what I knew best.

"Come on" they would entice from the halfway grid.  K-r-r-r-t-h-p and away they would go again.  Ka-thunk ka-thunk ka-thunk - dismount, hold bike by side and step-by-step I would start to walk it over the grid.

For those of you who are not quite sure of what a grid is (or think you know but want clarification) it is a dozen or so lengths of railway line welded in parallel and placed on the road (across a ditch) at a fenceline - designed to dissuade animals from thinking that the road leading out of the paddock is a thoroughfare for them AND allow mechanised vehicles easy access without the need to get out, open a gate, get in, drive through, get out, shut the gate, get in and drive on (or alternately take a child with you everywhere to save you several steps).

Please note 2 parts of that description.  "lengths of railway line" - which means metal - baked in the sun for upwards of 10 hours by this point in time.  "across a ditch" - which means unmowed long grass, ideal for all sort of critters to rustle in.

Now, I am not saying I am a wuss, but my - ahem - creative thought patterns would breathe life into many a monster in that long grass, and no matter how brave I talked myself up to be, that first step often would seem to inspire a hiss from unseen places.

"Come on" they would yell at me from the top of the hill, knowing that if they got home and left me there, odds are they would be sent back to see "what was keeping Jeanie so long" before they would be allowed to enter the pool, so they conserved energy and encouraged me loudly.

Their words of support did often spur me on, but added to the fear of the dangers beneath the grid, there was also the dangers of the grid itself - especially to an unshod child.  (Yes, I know mum did ensure we had shoes when we LEFT home, but no-one wore shoes at our school.)

Eventually (no doubt after a fierce rock-paper-scissors competition) one or both of my siblings would come back to the halfway grid and ensure that I survived relatively unscathed before I got a "come on" (in a possibly less upbeat tone) - k-r-r-r-t-h-p and away they would go again.

* Just one disclaimer - Bush Babe of Oz was one of those siblings.  She was the nice one.


Debby said...

I loved reading about your school days. Brothers can be huge poops, can't they?

jeanie said...

lol - I put him in it because he doesn't read the blog!!! Actually, on the sliding scale of brothers he is right up there - as a child, however, there are stories and scars...

Debby said...

Oh, I saw you at his b'day party, and you did not look as if you thought he was a poop now. It is just the opposite in my family. We were close as kids.

BB said...

Tried commenting last night but my mini ipad doesn't like blogger apparently!

This is one of the funniest, truest things ever... I was right back there trying to get you over that grid. Faster IS better, Jeanie!!!

Melody said...

Love this post. Love your writing.

♥.Trish.♥ Drumboys said...

Jeaeke, I really enjoyed this story. It has for me thinking about a bike box , our walk to the school bus is 800m not far but they still complain. I love that our boys are old enough to be gate openers lol best day ever. Have not tried crossing the cattle gird on push bikes , it is enough to walk across for me.

♥.Trish.♥ Drumboys said...

Autocorrect did not like Jeanie

Jen said...

I grew up on a farm and know what a grid is even though we didn't have one on our farm. I was a chief gate opener however.

And when I tell my son that we didn't have air conditioning at school he thinks I grew up way back in the olden days. My, things have changed.

jeanie said...

Oh Debby - we were close as kids too - close enough to pinch, stomp and hit as well as cuddle and wrestle. Methinks, perhaps, the bike ride home however was not the high point of their days!

Faster is kersplat, BushBabe, if our front tyre goes just a little bit off the path of true perpendicular!

Thank you Melody - and I still haven't worked out how to comment on your new blog layout!!! I do want to come and eat with you one day, though :)

Jen - we had many, many grids, as my dad isn't overly fond of the get out/get in repetition!

Trish - thank you. Bush Babe actually has a picture of our old bike box on this post -

Farmers Wifey said...

oh I love this story, thank you ! xo