FRESH FROM THE INKWELL

Crabby's Classroom, Fag Cards, and the Lollipop Man

April 11, 2014

Tags: childhood, school, England, Isle of Wight, Broadway Centre, demolition, heritage, memories, best friends, home town, teachers, playground games, cohorts, contemporaries, baby boomers, Victorian buildings

Surfing the Net one night, I came upon an article about a Victorian building in my hometown in England, scheduled for demolition. The high windows and natural stone in the photo triggered a memory of boys from Crabby Jones's class crouching in short grey trousers on the asphalt below and flicking "fag" cards. Without any other connotation in 1950s England, this was their term for collector cards issued by certain cigarette brands. The boys never shared their game, or marbles, or football with us girls. Around the corner in a separate playground, we had other amusements: cartwheels, trading beads, knitting with bobbins, French skipping with elastic bands around our ankles, and variations of tag.

This was Sandown C.E. Junior School, renamed the Broadway Centre, where I attended from ages 7 to 11, the equivalent of US grades 2-5. A nearby building housed the Infants, ages 5 and 6. Beyond the green gate, our "lollipop man" - so called for the shape of his official sign - escorted us across one of the town's main arteries, The Broadway, before and after school and at lunchtime. (Like most pupils, my sister and I walked about a quarter of a mile each way; very few arrived by car.) I'd remembered his name as Mr. Hunnicutt. Then I found an entry about him, complete with yellow-uniformed portrait, in an old exercise book. (See column on left.) It was Mr. Hunnywood.

I could fill a book with my Island childhood. I vowed to do just that as I jumped the waves in Sandown Bay at the age of 10. Birthday parties, carnivals, fetes, even shoplifting, already appear in my published works (ARROWHEAD'S LOST HOARD, HOMEWARD TRACKS, TAPESTRY OF TIME, AREOPAGUS MAGAZINE, FRISCO POETS ANTHOLOGY). Like Laura Ingalls Wilder, I write to keep alive the people and places I love. Writing pins down fleeting impressions of tactile experiences for family, myself, and perhaps a wider audience.

Fortunately, the decision about demolition of our old school has been deferred. But even if it goes ahead, no one can steal our memories - as I told my first "bosom buddy" Susan in a recent e-mail. Certain details are imprinted in our minds like indelible ink, though they may be different for each of us.

I like to think we could re-enter that building and hear the echoes of morning hymns, of multiplication tables and folk songs, of a teacher reading to us from Kipling and Twain. The two schools, along with Christ Church up the hill, where we performed our nativity plays and carol services, should all be preserved together. To me they are holy ground.