So there we were – mixed infants with minimal exposure to formal physical education bouncing off the walls with untapped energy. By the age of seven, a diet of cooked breakfasts, school milk, stodgy school dinners and high teas rounded off with cake and unlimited helpings of bread and Robertson’ politically incorrect jam had turned us into lethargic blobs.
Well, not quite. In fact, none of my 40-odd classmates was remotely unfit or overweight and our classrooms were quiet, orderly places. The key to this educational Nirvana had nothing to do with health programmes or government initiatives.
First of all, we walked. For most people, the journey between school and home was wholly are partly by foot (when I started school, I also used to walk home for dinner). We also walked to the shops (twice if it was the Co-op and you forgot your mother’s divi number the first time), to the library, to the school canteen, to our friends’ houses and to the park.
Secondly, we played. Despite the fact that the infant’s yard had no play equipment, no markings and was at an angle of 45° (more or less), we had no shortage of games. There were occasional games of tag, but my main memories are of games such as “ring-a-ring-a-roses”, “oranges and lemons” and “the big ship sails through the alley-alley-o”.
When it snowed, we were able to take benefit of the 45° slope to create the most awesome ice slides (only people didn’t say “awesome” in those days). I should have said “awesome but short-lived”, as a slide created at the start of the school day would be salted out of existed by morning playtime in a rare concern for our health and safety (or, as we called it, “spoiling our fun”). The only other example involved lead mines – but that’s another story.Glossary of terms: divi number : a number which you had to commit to memory and give to the shop assistant at the Co-op. The number was written on a small yellow receipt and was used to calculate your mother’s annual dividend payment (“divi”).
“ring-a-ring-a- roses”: innocent childish game recalling the bubonic plague “oranges and lemons”: innocent childish game involving debt, naked flames and beheading Robertson’s jam: a preserve which used a “golly” (crude racial stereotype) to market sugar to children